Monday, April 30, 2007

Ignorance "Shall Not Be Infringed"

The Virginia massacre is still making the news in the most inane way: “…constitutional right,” stated the correspondent; “…constitutional right,” reflexively muttered another correspondent; “…constitutional right,” bleated yet another correspondent. And so it went: no broadcast was, or indeed is, complete without reference to the alleged constitutional right of Americans to “bear arms”. The predictable verbal diarrhoea of any correspondent is only matched by the fact that it will be regurgitated by his or her fellow club member.

However, the constitutional right that the correspondents lean on as crutch of first and last resort is not quite as it seems. Ratified in 1791, the famous amendment (one of ten that make up the Bill of Rights) that Blighty’s correspondents refer to so readily and with apparent thorough knowledge reads as follows: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In the case of the highly-paid correspondent the right to ignorance “shall not be infringed” - and it hasn’t, and doesn’t look like being so.

Now, how many a correspondent, apparently so knowledgeable about the U.S. constitution, has read it and its amendments? About none would be my considered calculation. One would imagine that at least one of the motley crew would find a few seconds to quote the famous second amendment. That at least would wake the sonorous: “…what… what…Militia?”

A literal reading of the seldom read, frequently incorrectly quoted amendment would suggest - demand? - that only a “well regulated Militia” has the right to “keep and bear Arms”, and that it is not an individual right.

The NRA, of course, disputes this. Interestingly, they refuse to state the amendment in its entirety, in fear of the truth, no doubt. There is a lively debate in the U.S. around this issue, not that you would be so informed by the scores of lucky correspondents who have made it across the pond to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Not being particularly well-acquainted with the intricacies of how this clear stipulation has been ignored and that almost anyone with the urge to buy an assault rifle being allowed to do so is evidently a shortcoming. Perhaps the Supreme Court has ruled - or rather overruled, if you see my meaning - that the right applies to individuals, not to the state Militias entrusted to keep freedom alive. If anyone knows, drop me a line.

Although it is dangerous to try to read into what those who ratified the amendment in 1791 had in mind, I do not think these chaps had assault rifles in mind (operative word: assault). Since the forces of the nation state are now so overwhelming, one would be inclined to suggest that no individual has the capacity to counter F-15 jets and “Daisy Cutters”. Therefore the “freedom” argument melts away, unless, that is, U.S. citizens should have access to awesome military firepower. Best not give the NRA any ideas.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Labour's priorities: deaths up 25%, prosecutions down 75%.

The building workers union, UCATT , recently published a report
they had commissioned from the Centre for Corporate Accountability

The report was published on 28th April, which is workers memorial day, commemorating workers who are killed at work. In the construction industry alone there have been 80 deaths during the last twelve months.

Remarkably UCATT’s report finds that in a six-year period from 1998 to 2004 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions in construction deaths plummeted from 42 per cent to just 11 per cent. The study covered the deaths of 504 construction workers. It often takes over three years following the death of a construction worker before a company is brought to trial and convicted.

So convictions have dropped by 75%, and during the same period work related deaths have increased by 25%.

The worst year for prosecutions following the death of a worker was 2001/2 when just 9 per cent of companies were prosecuted. The conviction rates are far below the HSE’s own research which estimated that in 70 per cent of construction workers deaths management failures caused or contributed to the deaths. Although prosecutions are not always possible a recent HSE internal audit , estimated that prosecutions should occur three times more often than the current reality, creating a target of 60 per cent.

As Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, says: “The failure of the HSE to prosecute companies who kill their workers is profoundly shocking. The HSE are clearly failing to follow their own rules and guidelines on prosecutions. Serious questions must be asked about why the HSE is so spectacularly failing to prosecute more companies.”

Whether or not there is a prosecution is often entirely a question of whether or not the HSE has the will to do so, which is illustrated by the striking regional variation in the likelihood of a company being prosecuted when a construction worker is killed. It is three times more likely that a conviction will occur in the South West (31 per cent) than in the East Midlands (9 per cent). While convictions rates for England and Wales are both 22 per cent, in Scotland they are only 18 per cent.

Being able to go to work without endangering your life is a basic human right. Yet ten years into a Labour government we don’t see the situation improving, we see it getting worse. As a question of deliberate policy the HSE has fewer inspectors, carrying out fewer inspections, and prosecuting less often.

When enforcement notices are issued then companies ignore them, secure in the knowledge that the labour government will not make the enforcement of workplace safety a priority. To draw attention to this, on 1st May the GMB are calling a protest outside the head office of Marks and Spencer, because M&S's supplier, Bakkover Park Royal, has ignored no less than seven HSE enforcement notices, and several workers have been injured.

The yawning gap between the reality of New Labour, and the hopes and aspirations of its working class supporters could not be clearer.

Friday, April 27, 2007

CP on TV - You've waited 37 years!

For the first time since 1970, the Communist Party have this week had a party political broadcast, which had five slots on TV, and two on radio. It was broadcast on HTV last Sunday and on all other channels on Wednesday.

This is becasue the CP are standing in all regional list seats for the Welsh assembly. I have to say, it is quite a good broadcast. If I was in Wales I would vote for them.

This is the English language version.

You can watch it in Welsh here:

(Actually it is not exactly the same, perhaps becasue Angharad Halpin doesn't speak Welsh?)

"TUC promotes business benefits of unions to employers"

Call me old fashioned but I was brought up with the notion that building trades unions meant convincing workers to join them, and getting them involved. However, in the wake of the news that union membership has declined by around 100,000 despite all these wonderful New Labour 'union friendly' policies, Brendan Barber has come up with a startling new plan to build up union membership.

The TUC is going to ask employers to organise workers! It saves us the effort doesn't it.

The TUC is targetting non-union companies in "a concerted attempt to convince reluctant employers that, rather than posing a threat to them, union involvement in their workplaces could actually prove to be an asset to their businesses".

"An employers' introduction to trades unions" tells these ill-informed bosses that union reps can settle individual disputes and save them going to time consuming and expensive Tribunals.

Union reps have "a positive benifit on the UK economy", and save days lost though accidents.

Brendan Barber says that over 2,500 companies have realised that working with unions makes sound business sense" chosing to recognise unions. Perhaps it's a slip of the toungue but Brendan "hopes that this marketing drive" will convince more to do the same.

Perhaps somebody should tell Brendan this is not a new idea. The EEPTU/AEU used to approach employers rather than workers to get recognition agreements. The only problem was that the workers were denied the right to chose which union represented them. A small price to pay for a 'partnership' which is directed at achieving success in the global market place, I suppose.

I really don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Historical Revisionism in Estonia

Yesterday’s violent clashes in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, due to the government’s intention of removing a war memorial to Red Army soldiers, and the defence of the monument by Estonia's Russian speakers, has thrown light the plight of the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. (The other Baltic republic, Lithuania, does not discriminate against Russians)

Russians comprise 25.6% of the Estonian population and 29.2% of the Latvian population, but in both countries they are denied citizenship rights, and are not allowed to vote. New language laws also exclude non Estonian and Latvian speakers from certain jobs. Yet only 14% of Estonian Russians speak Estonian (a phenomenally difficult language to learn being Finno-Ugric), and only 23% of Latvian Russians speak Latvian.

Estonia is the darling country of the European Union (EU), with a successful market economy, and is supposedly a liberal democracy. The systematic discrimination against the large Russian minority is due to the state not recognising anyone as a citizen if they cannot establish descent from someone who was a citizen of Estonia in 1940. The Estonian government has also refused to cooperate with the Simon Wiesenthal centre in bringing to justice Estonian’s Nazi war criminals. In 2006 the Estonian state prosecutor, Heino Tonismagi, described the Nazi collaborator Harry Mannil, who personally murdered several civilians in Tallinn in 1941, as “one of the most outstanding Estonians” and cleared him of any criminal responsibility, on the ludicrous grounds that the Estonian authorities had no responsibility as the country was occupied at the time.

Significantly the EU has made no complaint about the denial of citizenship by Estonia and Latvia, and systematic discrimination against significant minority populations. Nor have voices been raised against Estonia’s protection of Nazi war criminals.

In 2002 a war memorial was raised in the Eastern city of Parnu celebrating the Estonians who served in the Waffen SS, describing the Nazi invasion of Estonia as “a war of liberation for the fatherland”. The worrying current here is the equation between Soviet communism and Nazism as equally bad.

Let us consider an analogy. There is a difference between a reckless driver who kills 14 people in a road accident, and a serial killer who systematically hunts down and murders 14 people.

The Soviet Union during the Stalin era did see terrible crimes, but this was in the context of a very backward country seeking to industrialise, and operating in a hostile environment where other states were threatening it and seeking to undermine it. What is more the official ideology of the USSR was to promote the concept of human liberation, and the excesses and crimes were despite not because of what the USSR stood for.

In contrast, the crimes of Nazi Germany were deliberately planned and executed by a state who intentionally sought to engulf the world in a nightmare of barbarism. One of the most economically developed and cultured countries in the world established modern industrial processes to slaughter human beings by the methods of mass production. The victims were transported by the most advanced railways, the extermination was administered using the most modern IBM computers, the gas chambers were designed by professional engineers, and human beings were turned into soap and lamp shades.

Had Nazism triumphed, this would have represented a catastrophic and cataclysmic defeat for the soul of humanity. The values of compassion, solidarity and fraternity would have been stripped away, and we would have been engulfed in a maelstrom of darkness, torture and despair.

Did those Estonians who volunteered for the Waffen SS know this? Or were they simple misguided patriots? With the advancing German Wehrmacht into the Baltic states in 1941 came the Einstatzgruppen. Special detachments who individually hunted and murdered Jews, gypsies, trade union activist and communists. Even before these Estonians joined the SS they would have seen atrocities against Estonian Jews by German troops. Did they know? Everyone knew.

Every Estonian, every Latvian and every Lithuanian who wore the uniform of the Waffen SS was a fascist murderer. During Nazi rule the Baltic states witnessed pogroms, in many case with mass popular participation, where Jews were murdered in their thousands.

Of course the history is complicated by the absorbtion of the Baltic states into the Soviet sphere of influence in 1940 following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and subsequent repression. But we need to understand the context that the USSR did not believe after the defeat in Spain that the Western demcracies would ever stand up to fascism, and was seeking to build a military buffer zone.

And when the Red Army entered these countries the second time they did so as liberators. They stopped the mass murders. They stopped the transportation to the death camps.

It was a crime to forcibly incorporate the Baltic republics into the USSR, a deviation towards Russian chauvinism, and a mistake by Stalin.

But the current attempt by the Estonian government to equate the Russian annexation of their country with the murderous and genocidal occupation by the Nazis carries the terrible risk of normalising and excusing the fascist barbarism, and covering up the role of Estonian Nazi collaborators.

Updating the blog roll....

Hello comrades,

Spring is upon us so we decided to do some spring cleaning on the old blog roll. We removed a couple of blogs that have not been updated for some time and included a couple of blogs we find informative, interesting, good and sometimes makes us chuckle....

The blogs we decided to include are the Shiraz posse that is Voltaires_Priest, Jim D and Tami (good luck with exams btw), The Gaping Silence, Ken MacLeod's The Early Days of a Better Nation and last but certainly not least.. Belledame's Fetch Me MyAxe. Forgot to include the blog Feminists 4 John McDonnell. Very remiss of me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The unions and the SNP

The fact that two relatively small but still important unions, the RMT and FBU are no longer affiliated to the Labour party does not mean that they have no political voice. (They are also, of course, not the only unions without political affiliation)

In many ways it is the unions who represent the real centre of ideological opposition to New Labaour. It has been significant that in recent months it has been the unions, the GMB in particular followed by the T&G, who have made the political case against private equity.

It is also not beyond the bounds of possibility that we may see more future cooperation from those unions who have moved further away from the business union model that held sway in the 1990s. The RMT, FBU, PCS, and perhaps the CWU and GMB.

But what is going on in Scotland?

On 17th April, the RMT issue a press release slamming into the Scottish National party (SNP) for dropping their opposition to rail privatisation. As RMT leader, Brother Crow argues: “It seems the SNP would rather take money and support from the likes Souter and non-executive director of Stagecoach, Sir George Mathewson rather than putting the interests of passengers first. Public money should no longer be wasted on a franchise system that is discredited, inefficient and costly and it is time to bring the failed experiment to an end".

But on the very next day, it is announced that the Scottish region of the Fire Brigades Union is donating money to the SNP! The Tartan Army's Justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill, who is fighting Edinburgh East & Musselburgh and is top of the Lothians list, has been given £500 by the firefighters union and West Lothian council group leader Peter Johnston has received £250.

This clearly shows that some greater coordination between the more radical unions is necessary.

Munyaradzi Gwisai on NZ radio

Leader of the International Socialist Organisation of Zimbabwe, Munyaradzi Gwisai, a former MP for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for the Highfield constituency in Harare, was recently interviewed on New Zealand radio. This is a 30 minute long and in depth interview that provides a brilliant socialist analysis of the current situation in Zimbabwe.

Listen to the interview here on Radio New Zealand

The interview deals with the support of the ISO for the seizures of the land by Mugabe's government from white farmers, which was one of the major issues for which Gwisai was expelled from the MDC. The ISO correctly argues that addressing poverty in rural areas requires land distribution, and their criticism of ZANU-PF was that the land taken by Mugabe was often given to the rich supporters of ZANU-PF, rather than to the local poor, and also there was not enough support given to those poor farmers who did get land. Gwisai also brilliantly explains why there should be no compensation for the white farmers, as the land was stolen under colonialism, and the rich whites have been already more than adequately compensated by the profits they have made.

Gwisai explains that the danger of the MDC's opposition to land seizures is that this permits the ZANU-PF to masquerade as the friends of the rural poor, and it runs the danger of allowing ZANU-PF to drive a wedge between workers in the cities and the rural poor.

The interview also makes a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the recent general strike, and there is now a rolling series of general strikes every three months, which the ISO argue are fundamental to overthrowing Mugabe.

He also explains the need to not only get rid of Mugabe, but also to develop a society that addresses poverty, economic independence and opposes neo-liberalism.

Gwisai comes over as a mature socialist leader, and the ISO are clearly an impressive party, that have learned and grown from the experience in the mass movement.

Tommy Sheridan - the great helmsman

One of the most excruciating but hilarious TV comedies of recent years was Marion and Geoff where mini-cab driver Keith Barrett (played brillinatly by Rob Brydon) gave monologues to a camera as he drove. ( I found a clip of Marion and Geoff on You Tube

The humour was very dark, based upon the depth of Keith's self delusion, as he resolutely interpreted devastating hammer blows to his personal life in a positive and cheery manner. He rationalises his attitude to glib salesman Geoff who now lives with his ex-wife Marion by saying: "I don't feel like I lost a wife, more like I gained a friend". Meanwhile Keith becomes homeless, and Marion and Geoff turn his children against him.

One wonders therefore whether Peter Mullan ( My name is Joe ) was taking the piss when he suggested that Solidarity's party political broadcast should follow the same format as Marion and Geoff.

Again the humour is very dark, based upon the depth of Sheridan's self delusion, as he resolutely ignores the utter destruction of his personal political reputation and integrity, and literally rants to the camera for five very long minutes. I wasn't sure whether Tommy was supposed to be portraying a cab driver or a kerb crawler. I literally laughed out loud, mainly out of embarassment.

Watch Solidarity's broadcast here.

In contrast, the Scottish Socialist Party's first election broadcast was witty, informative and Stylistically innovative. Watch the SSP's broadcast here.

As Colin Fox said at the time, Tommy Sheridan starting a rival socialist party in Scotland was like two bald men fighting over a comb, but it is clear that the SSP took all the talent, cheek and style, and Solidarity were left with the ego of a bright orange balloon.

STOP PRESS: The SSP's second broadcast is just as good. Watch it here.

PCS - Freud Review and Welfare Reform Seminar

I attended this meeting on the Freud Review and Welfare Reform organised by the PCS. There was discussion about Job Centre Plus being contracted out. Charities will be promoting their own self interest and concerns were raised about faith-based organisations especially highlighting issues around equal opportunities and opting out.

The organisation TUDA (Trade Union Disability Alliance) rightly described the Freud Review as ignorant, ill informed, retrograde and the importance of the government to ask disabled people what their own needs are and not some banker called David Freud (who oversaw the privatisation of Railtrack... don't you just have faith in the man??!!) I am sure the world of banking could do with a review orchestrated by welfare rights activists....

New Labour is fixated with penalising claimants but the same can't be said with employers for discriminating against disabled people. Even organising a case under the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) is incredibly hard and access to legal aid is difficult.

Also the whole political strategy of Freud joins up neo-liberalism, marketisation and compulsion. What kind of service will claimants receive from private companies? Contractors will be paid by results and the incentive will to pack as many into the job market. Nothing about the quality of the employment offered.

Mark Serwotka spoke about the far reaching consequences the Freud Review and the overall attacks on welfare. There has been no public debate or discussion about privatisation public services. Instead of improving service delivery New Labour will be cutting 40,000 jobs from the DWP. It is all about opening up the market.

One of New Labour's newest principles are diversifying the chain of supply and outsourcing even if that means de-skilling, pushing down terms and conditions, and redundancies. The public sector, with resources and financial commitment are better at delivering services than the private sector.

Nowhere in the Freud Review is there a mention of benefits and tax credits or any discussion about minimum income standards. With greater income inequality the rich are getting richer the poor getting even more stigmatised.

The trade association Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) has been campaigning for Britain to adopt the Australian system of contracting its employment services. And their shareholders do very nicely out of this carve up. The conclusions drawn from today's meeting show that the Freud Review will create more discrimination, fear, misery, poverty, job insecurity and stigmatisation.

The biggest problem (and I had a few) I had with the meeting was that opposition to the Review was muted and the most vociferous criticisms came from disability rights activists. It is all well and good to continue to have these "discussions" but surely we need to back this up with activism?

Even in the blurb from the PCS they use the word "stakeholder" which kinda alarmed me. And why the hell was Terry Rooney MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Parliamentary Select Committee chairing this meeting as he thinks the Freud Review is a good financial step in the right direction of getting people back into the workplace....

I was pleased to see John McDonnell at the meeting as well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

GMB win landmark equal pay case

Council faces compensation bill of up to £350,000 for dinner ladies on top of £560,000 previously awarded

The House of Lords has today ruled in favour of 36 school dinner ladies who claimed they were victimised by St Helens Borough Council in Merseyside after they brought equal pay claims against the local authority. The women’s fight for justice was backed throughout by their trade union the GMB.

In a damning verdict, the five law lords unanimously backed the women in their claims against the council for sex discrimination and victimisation. The result means that a tribunal will now assess the award due to the women which could be up to £10,000 each.

The women, along with 473 others, claimed equal pay with male road sweepers in 1998. The majority accepted the terms of a settlement offered by the council but the remainder took their claim to an employment tribunal and won. The tribunal awarded them £560,000 for their equal pay claim.

Just two months before their claims were to be heard a senior council official sent two letters, one to the women and the other to all the catering staff, claiming that if they continued their claims and were successful, there would be “a severe impact on all staff”. It was, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury said, “effectively a threat”. The letter warned of redundancies and said there was a danger that the claimants might deprive children of school dinners.

The letter sent to all catering staff resulted in, according to Lord Hope of Craighead, “some odium” for the claimants from colleagues, who feared for their jobs and their ability to pay for their children’s lunches.

This was, the Law Lords said, “a classic case of blaming the victims”.

The Lords said that the original ET had been right to conclude that the women had been victimised. They said the letter was “intimidating” and said that the indirect threat it contained was just as likely to deter an employee from enforcing her claim as a direct one.

Noting that equal pay claimants are “particularly vulnerable to repro ach”, the Lords said that “however anxious the employers may be to settle, they should not exploit that vulnerability in their attempts to do so”.

Commenting on behalf of the 36 claimants, GMB National Secretary for Public Services, Brian Strutton said: “All they did was to exercise their legal rights as low paid women workers to claim equal pay for the jobs they do for St Helens and for the community. And yet they were victimised by their employer as a result. They were made to feel they would be personally responsible for the council’s claimed financial difficulties if they were successful. It was extremely distressing to be told by their employer that their action might lead to cuts, to children going hungry at lunchtime, to colleagues losing their jobs or not receiving pay rises.

Frankly it felt like blackmail and it took a lot of courage by them to keep going. St Helens acted wrongly towards these women and now they’ll have to pay up for it. The fact that GMB took these women’s equal pay claims to employment tribunal in the firs t p lace should have told the Council that we would not stand by and let our members be victimised. We are proud to represent our women members in the pursuit of equal pay with the support of Thompsons, our lawyers, and the support of the EOC, the CRE and the DRC. We are very pleased with the outcome and hope that it serves as a warning to other employers”.

Michelle Cronin, the women’s solicitor at Thompsons said: “As Baroness Hale says in today’s judgement, women workers have suffered injustice in the labour market for centuries. There is still an unacceptable gender pay gap. The Equal Pay Act 1970 provides a mechanism by which women workers can establish that their work is “equivalent” to that of male colleagues and the right to claim equal pay. That the victims of the injustice of unequal pay are then victimised for pursuing that right is disgraceful.

Today’s judgement should make clear once and for all to employers what their response to equal pay claims should be. They can negotiate with the trade unions and their solicitors by all means to avoid litigation for all parties, but they cannot intimidate individuals and expect to get away with it.”

Women in prison: Corston report

I attended a meeting organised by Women in Prison which had special guest speaker Jean Corston. The chair of the meeting was Inquest Co-Director, Deborah Coles, who gave an initial overview of the history of the report. Organisations like Inquest and Women in Prison argued for a public inquiry into the 6 deaths of women prisoners in Styal prison (one of them being Pauline Campbell's daughter, Sarah).

Instead, then Home Secretary Charles Clarke ordered a review of the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. I attended as I have experience of working with women (and men) in the Special Hospitals regime and there are parallels between the two. So I was interested in the discussion of this meeting and I am also involved in Women in Prison. Corston's recommendations include a commitment within six months to a 10 year programme to replace existing women’s prisons with small local custodial units. An end to routine strip searching in women’s prisons.

Improved sanitation conditions as called for by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Women in Prison have called for a radical rethink towards imprisoning women. Only last week 2 more women committed suicide bringing the number to 4 which exceeds last year's figure. There are around 4,500 women in prison contrast that number 12 twelve years ago when the figure was 1,800. There has been an increase of 196% while for men the increase has been 52%.

The average sentence for a woman prisoner is 42 days...! Long enough for her to lose her kids and home. Many of the women in prison have mental health problems. Women make up 6% of the prison population yet they account for more than half of incidents of self-harm.

The prison system is a dumping ground for vulnerable and powerless people. Lets not forget as well a high number of women are in prison on remand and a third are released. What was also highlighted was a high proportion of women in the prison system have been sexually abused in childhood (a similar parallel is the "special" hospital regime where, at its height during the 1990s, around 85% of the women incarcerated had been sexually abused in childhood). So how does the state deal with this? They chuck damaged people with low-esteem, no confidence, who feel worthless into the human dustbin known as prison! Indeed condemning is far easier than understanding.

Also the huge distances people travel to visit their loved ones. Corston gave an example of a woman who committed suicide after she was told she was moving to Durham from Holloway. Her partner and family lived in that geographical area. The idea of moving and not being able to see her partner and family was too much for this young woman. Another statistic for New Labour. Corston was a passionate and powerful speaker and I believe she has women prisoners best interests at heart.

She spoke of the different sentencing patterns for women and her belief that the underlying view that those who don't conform are treated more harshly. Ironically, in her report, she stops short of including any recommendation on sentencing policy. Again, she discusses the high number of women in prison due to drug offences and the need for better treatment and rehab facilities but a radical rethink would, surely, be legalising the drugs industry. Pauline Campbell's contribution highlighted the issue of culpability. Where does the buck stop with deaths in prison?

Deaths in prison and police custody which New Labour want left out of the Corporate Manslaughter Bill (the Lords voted to keep in) and what she considers a "shameful indictment which reflects badly on this government". What is the point if there's no responsibility, transparency or accountability, more people will go on dying in dire surroundings. There was discussion of having supportive environments for women when they leave prisons such as housing co-operatives and therapeutic enviroments which cost a fraction in comparison to the figure it costs to keep a woman in prison.

Corston talked of "good practices" for gender specific policies. Corston spoke of shocking comments made by prison officers who seem to routinely tell women and men prisoners who are doing a long stretch that they should forget about their children, forget about the outside world and just to keep your their head down!! Words utterly fail me.

The other issue that was raised was the appalling assumption that a prison can seen as a "place of safety". Corston admits that there are women with mental health problems locked up as magistrates, for example, believe a prison is the best place for them and "will do them good". How on earth can a prison be considered a place of safety and what kind of positive outcome be achieved?

A police cell, under section 136 of the current Mental Health Act is also considered a "place of safety" and campaigners are arguing that there should be a restriction of the use of police cells as a "place of safety".. Restriction?

They should just stop using them full stop. Regarding Corston's report and whether New labour will accept these recommendations is open to debate and Baroness Scotland will be writing on behalf of the government in the next 3 months. There will hopefully be debates both in Parliament and the Lords within the coming months.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Should Respect challenge Ken?

There has been a very interesting exchange of views in the Morning Star recently about the wisdom of Respect standing a candidate against Ken Livingston for mayor in 2008.

On 12th April, an editorial argued: “On both domestic and international issues, the mayor of London has provided a progressive base around which socialist, environmentalist and other progressive forces have been able to unite. At the last mayoral election, the Respect candidate polled 4.67 per cent, with just 26 per cent of her second preference votes going to Mr Livingstone. In the event of a close-run contest next year, such a tally of more than three missing percentage points could prove decisive in working out whether we have a progressive mayor - warts and all - or a disastrous return to the discriminatory and divisive policies associated with Tory rule. The left cannot afford to indulge in the luxury of division. A unified popular movement, shattering the narrow confines of new Labour neoliberalism, could deliver a Livingstone victory and open the way to further successes based on unity of the left.”

The Morning Star is nominally independent of the CP, but there is no doubt that it is the party speaking here. They make the excellent point that this will be a dirty election. “Tory leader David Cameron has told the Jewish Chronicle in a recent interview, which proclaimed that "my values are Jewish values," falsely accused the London mayor of "borderline anti-semitism." And the Standard, which monopolises London's evening newspaper market, carried five substantial articles attacking the mayor's policies in a single fortnight. These included Mr Livingstone's links with Cuba and Venezuela, including the exchange of cheap Venezuelan fuel for expertise and advice, which London Tory leader Angie Bray misrepresented as a one-sided deal to benefit one of the world's most prosperous cities at the expense of Venezuelans struggling below the poverty line. The Standard also slated the mayor's transport policies, including free travel for under-18s in full-time education, free travel on buses and trams for under-16s and free travel on Tube and Dockland Light Railway for under-11s in the company of an adult. Such policies are generally popular in London, but there is a clear intention by Mr Livingstone's opponents to carry out a drip-drip incessant campaign to distract the public from the essence of his policies and to convince voters that he has character defects that will reflect badly on their city.”

Of course they also recognise that: “Although seen largely as his own man, he may still lose some votes on the basis of his party affiliation, as part of the rising tide of dissatisfaction with new Labour. And some issues - such as the envisaged contracting out of the East London Line that was forced on Transport for London by the government as a quid pro quo for bringing the North London Line under TfL control - have angered the trade unions and risk losing him some support.”

This isn’t a clear cut issue, and on Monday 23rd, Lindsay German and George Galloway replied , reminding us that the Respect candidate came fifth in the last Mayoral election, beating both the British National Party and the Greens.

They argue that: “The electoral system for London mayor actually makes it very hard for the vote to be split, since it operates on the basis of transfers - all candidates bar the top two have their second preference vote distributed to eventually determine the winner. Respect's candidate was the only one to call clearly for transfers to Ken in 2004 and more than a quarter of those voters responded - a relatively high proportion. … Not to stand for mayor would put Respect at a disadvantage in relation to these other parties, especially with regard to the list for the assembly, where, last time, we narrowly missed the 5 per cent that would have got us elected. … Without a mayoral candidate, the party has no access to the booklet which goes into every London household, no chance of appearing at hustings, little media exposure and no television and radio broadcast. That would mean Respect standing with one hand tied behind its back."

They also make the good point that the prospects of the Tories coming up with a serious candidate who can beat Ken are looking remote.

They stress the advantages of a left campaign: “it is important that a strong left voice is heard round many of the issues facing Londoners - the acute housing crisis, which is not being dealt with, the transport system, which is both the most expensive and one of the worst in the world, the privatisation of the East London Line and the business agenda, which is making London a worse place for many of the poor to live. “

Respect are correct to point out that Livingston has a flawed record on delivering services to working class Londoners, and his. “popularity …. tends to be over those issues where he differs from the Labour government - his anti-racist and anti-war stances, his support for countries such as Venezuela and his commitment to equal rights. ….. Ken has a year to bolster his own support by stressing these elements of his programme and further distancing himself from Blair and Brown. Many Londoners are dissatisfied with the record of new Labour in government and will not turn out to vote Labour in the numbers that they once did. A vote for Respect by these people will help the left and can help Ken by lifting the left vote overall from people who might otherwise abstain.”

They also argue that a “good vote for Respect will also help to keep the fascist BNP off the assembly. More votes for new Labour will not keep the BNP off the assembly, because the proportional representation system favours the election of smaller parties. So, the only way of keeping the BNP off is to vote for a left-wing, smaller party.”

This last argument was also used by Respect in the North West constituency in the Euro elections in 2004, and is based upon an incorrect understanding of how the d’Hondt voting system works. There is a good discussion of the argument by Pete Cranie here . Basically, this is only true if Respect get more votes than the BNP, but a lot has changed since the 2004 mayoral elections and the BNP are much stronger now in London. What is more, a tactical vote in the London regional list to keep the BNP out would be better placed for the Greens, who are the minor party most likely to get more votes than the BNP.

But the big issue is not the BNP, but the strategic task of building opposition to neo-liberalism, and an alternative to New Labour.

The key point to grasp here is that the progressive base of the Labour Party, its working class electoral constituency, and its reservoir of support from the unions is largely intact, but the party itself has irrevocably moved away from that base towards neo-liberalism and an authoritarian agenda of social conformity.

But building an alternative to fill the space vacated by Labour, will perhaps require a long process of patient work. I was at Southern Regional Council of the GMB last Friday (which covers London south of the river), and although we decided to support Peter Hain for deputy leadership, when I talk to the other delegates it is clear that dissatisfaction with New Labour is extremely high. But this key layer of movement activists are not ready to break with Labour, rather they want Labour to be better than it is.

It is essential that any attempt to build a left alternative to Labour simultaneously works to strengthen the hand of our friends and allies who are still in the Labour Party. Most union activists will not abandon hard won ground within the Labour party until they have exhausted their options of trying to move the Labour party closer to an agenda in the interest of working people. Now in reality, the right within the party have decisively defeated the left and unions, but many trade unionists (perhaps due to the triumph of hope over experience) have not yet acknowledged that. For all his faults, Ken Livingston is someone who socialists can build a progressive campaign around, both inside and outside the Labour party, and inside and outside the unions, which consolidates the progressive base for future battles.

Of course, part of this argument is that the last four years have not seen Respect develop towards being a party that established labour movement activists would join or support. It is widely seen as undemocratic and an SWP front, and Galloway’s standing is in tatters after Big Brother, his low profile in the constituency and general reputation for being self serving.

Lindsay German is a good mayoral candidate for the left, a talented woman, a dedicated activist and a good speaker. But the interests of the left, including the long term interests of building a left alternative to labour, are not best served by a Respect mayoral challenge next year. Paradoxically, the best way in the long run to build an electoral challenge to Labour may be to back labour for mayor.

Stories we missed

One aspect of writing a blog is that there are lots of issues which we don’t get to cover, for reasons of time, and also because perhaps we don’t have anything unique or particularly insightful to say.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Obviously the French election is extremely significant, including the remarkable 1.8 million votes for the LCR. Olivier Besancenot’s declaration
is published at Liam’s blog.

The excellent progress towards a united socialist party in Venezuela is analysed very clearly by Korakious over at the Squirrel’s lair.

Finally, it is good news that Fidel is seemingly back to good health and making public engagements again. His credentials on green issues are probably better than any other world leader, so his recent attack on biofuels. is a significant contribution to debate.

As Castro argues “reducing and moreover recycling all motors that run on electricity and fuel is an elemental and urgent need for all humanity. The tragedy does not lie in reducing those energy costs but in the idea of converting food into fuel”. He believes that growing fuel to be converted into fuel will further distort the market against the interests of the poor, and increase famine.

It is also worth drawing attention to the fact that Des Warren’s book about his experiences as one of the Shrewsbury Two (along with Ricky Tomlinson) is back in print. There is more background over at Charlie Pottin’s blog .

Monday, April 23, 2007

Job Centre Plus: privatisation put on back burner...

In a leaked letter to the Guardian, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Timms, told Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, John Hutton, that -

'... it might be helpful to clarify the position reached on the funding of the proposals set out in David Freud's report.

‘As the chancellor made clear, it is not possible to develop or pilot a new funding model in the immediate future.'

Hutton welcomed the Freud review as setting out a 'compelling framework for the next stage of welfare reform', Budget 2007 report gave no commitment as to when any greater private and voluntary sector involvement in the provision of employment support may begin.

And Hutton and Murphy were rather cock-a-hoop at the prospect of the voluntary and private sector providers carving up the spoils of Job Centre Plus. And proposed incentives included providers eligible for financial rewards for helping claimants to find and stay in work.

Has the proposal of part-privatisation of Job Centre Plus bitten the dust?
We shall wait and see...

NB: Bad news......New guidance has been issued by the DWP regarding lone parents and work-focused interviews and will come into effect from the 30th April 2007. The main points being:

to be interviewed every six months; and
in certain areas with an only or youngest child aged 11 to 13 to be interviewed quarterly.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Community Treatment Orders: the psychiatric ASBO

“The Bill is not about service provision. It is about the legal processes for bringing people under compulsion.” (Department of Health, 2005).

This week saw the second reading of the controversial Mental Health Bill. The Bill has faced a rocky read in getting this far and New Labour and the Lords are locked in a battle over Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) which the Lords in January this year amended and New Labour want to block when it gets to committee stage. As Patricia Hewitt argues:

"We are not prepared to accept the amendments that have been made there restricting the use of community treatment orders to patients who have been detained as compulsory patients at least twice. I believe that would be a wholly unacceptable restriction on clinicians."

One of the amendments from the Lords that New Labour wants to see gone: “Ensure that people with full decision making ability cannot be forced to have treatment imposed upon them against their will”.
Bizarrely, Hewitt goes onto argue that the Bill strikes a right balance between improving patient safeguards and protecting more people. Who is she trying to kid as there aren't no safeguards?! The first so-called safeguards were the substantial amendments by the Lords. And the amendments include safeguards for children which, again, New Labour want to scupper!

A CTO removes the right of a service user to choose whether or not to continue receiving their medication once they have been discharged from hospital. As Tony Zigmond, Royal College of Psychiatrists argues:

"Furthermore, there is the ethical issue of whether CTOs are fair. Should any person who is capable of making a decision about their treatment be forced to accept medical treatment they don't want solely to benefit their health?

New Labour are on their lonesome with this Bill as even that bastion of radical ideas, The Royal College of Psychiatrists oppose much of this draconian Bill along with over 80 organisations/individuals (though the voices of the service users has been drowned out by the of professionals and the carers. The mental health user movement is pretty much in a weak state).
The government claim that around 1,450 will be placed on CTOs yet according to research by the King’s Fund it is estimated that there will be a gradual year on increase of numbers. They believe it is more likely that between 7,000-13,000 service users could be placed on CTOs over the next 10-15 years....

The Bill also resembles CTOs currently used in Australia and New Zealand. CTOs are a way, New Labour claims, of reducing psychiatric admissions yet studies have shown in Australia, that CTO placement, aboriginal ethnicity, younger age, personality disorder and previous health service use were all associated with increased admission rates. The authors conclusion stated that we “should question the rationale for CTOs and advocate more effective treatments” (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2004).

The Institute Of Psychiatry’s “International experiences of using CTOs” (March 2007) noted as well that ethnicity data from Israel, USA, New Zealand and Australia,“indicate that relative to the proportion of the general population comprised by their ethnic group, most ethnic groups might be over-represented amongst CTO recipients.”

At the moment young Black men are 38% more likely than the average to be sectioned under the current Mental Health Act and with the lack of safeguards this disproportionate number of Black people being forced onto CTOs will remain.

The psychiatric system reflects the sexism, racism and homophobia that exists in this society and without any kind of anti-discrimination this will continue (though there is an amendment regarding this but New Labour want to see it ditched).

The Mental Health Bill can be reduced to the 3 C’s of New Labour (compulsion, coercion, containment). It is a retrograde act and will terrify mental health service users. It will destroy trust between service user and professional. Instead of support service users will feel policed. If a person can live in the community then they should be trusted in whether they take their medication. It is about choice. And surely the service user is the best person to know whether medication works or doesn’t work? And if the service user is experiencing dire side-effects are they expected to keep taking it?

The emphasis being on that panacea known as medication and alternatives aren’t given any credence. The voice and the rights of the mental health user will be lost to ever growing concerns about “protecting the public”. And during the past week there has been debate over “predicting behaviour” in light of the shootings in Virginia.

Mental health service users already, for good reason, feel stigmatised and victimised and this Bill only increases that fear. One of the biggest criticisms from mental health service users (and from my own personal experience I echo it) is not being listened to and your needs, demands, concerns regularly ignored by professionals this will indeed create more powerlessness and lack of control over your surroundings. This will add to the distress and will in no way increase better mental health.

Professionals will err on the side caution as they will be worried about the “what ifs” and these CTO’s will be handed out on a regular basis. How long will service users be expected to on CTOs? There is nothing in the Bill which explains length so in theory you could be put on one indefinitely.
A cross-party of over 100 MPs have signed motions expressing their concerns about this Bill.

This Bill, along with agenda of New Labour, attacks civil liberties and will instil fear, stigma, mistrust and create a tightly controlled passive society.....
The umbrella group which is campaigning against the Bill is the Mental Health Alliance ( Their website seems to be down at the moment.

: Spending my Sunday afternoon trawling through the Mental Health Bill specifically the CTOs section I was unable (though correct me if I am wrong) to find any provision which gives the user right of an appeal against the decision for a CTO, implementation, review, right of service user to look at the information the CTO is based on and/or monitoring decisions on a regular basis i.e. discrimination. These important safeguards make professionals accountable for their decisions are conspicuous by their absence. Shows that New Labour don't give a damn for basic human rights.

(Have tried to upload suitable pic but Blogger is playing havoc maybe a suitable dose of cyber medication will resolve the problem).

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Radical Left in Western Europe

This is a bit of a longer piece than we usually publish on this blog, but is an extremely interesting article by Murray Smith:

The Radical Left in Western Europe
Murray Smith

For some years now it has been clear that we are witnessing the appearance on a European, or at least West European, scale, of a series of new political formations on the left. The process is uneven from two points of view. In the first place, between countries: some countries have new political formations at various degrees of development, others have hardly moved, and there have been some false starts. But the process which began in the early 90s and accelerated around the turn of the century has further developed in the last couple of years. The unevenness is also political: some of the new parties are much more radical and explicitly anti-capitalist than others. That only underlines that we are dealing with real political movements, which do not conform to pre-arranged schemas. But it is clear that we are looking at a tendency towards the appearance of a new radical Left on a European level. Over and above the different expressions of this tendency in different countries, the fundamental causes producing new political forces are the same.

How can we define this “radical Left”? Why is it appearing now and not 20 or 25 years ago? And then, radical Left, anti-capitalist Left, anti-liberal Left, revolutionary Left, is it all the same thing? One of the debates in France, which may seem somewhat esoteric from the exterior, but is not without interest, is about whether there is one Left, or two or three or more. There are of course, several Lefts. There are organisations and currents which are explicitly revolutionary, there are parties and other forces which are more or less clearly anti-capitalist. There is a traditional social-democratic Left, not anti-capitalist but anti-liberal and which really believes in reforms. And there is obviously the social-liberal “Left”. The frontiers between these different Lefts are obviously not impermeable, people move in one direction or another. That is actually the only level on which it makes sense to speak of a single Left.

Nevertheless, there seem to me to be two main dividing lines. The first is between currents which are anti-capitalist - that is to say that they are clear that there is no lasting way out of the ravages of neo-liberal capitalism without breaking from capitalism as a system – and those which are not. The latter extend, of course, from currents that merely wish to soften the effects of neo-liberal policies to those who consistently oppose neo-liberal policies, without being convinced that there is an alternative to capitalism, or at least not in the immediate future. Within the anti-capitalist Left there is a difference between those who call themselves revolutionary and those who do not. I will explain later why I think that this difference is less decisive in practice than many people think.

When it comes down to practice, there is a second and much more immediate dividing line. It is between, on the one hand, the Left which has, pardon the play on words, left the left. That is to say, the parties which still claim to be on the left and are still seen as such but which consistently apply neo-liberal policies – the British Labour Party, the German SPD, the French Socialist Party and their co-thinkers in other countries. And there is the Left that refuses the neo-liberal consensus, and which goes all the way from revolutionaries to honest reformists who think it is possible to go back to a more humane Welfare State type of capitalism without challenging the foundations of the system, that is, it encompasses both anti-capitalists and anti-liberals, and shades between the two. It is from this common refusal, this resistance which can be expressed both electorally and on the streets, that we have to start in order to regroup forces to build parties that will challenge capitalism. That does not resolve all the problems, but it creates a framework where they can be resolved in the course of action.

Over the last couple of years we have seen electoral advances by parties of the radical left in a number of countries - from Denmark to Portugal to Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany. But the most striking events on the electoral level took place in two of the most important countries in Europe. On May 29th, 2005, voters in France rejected the projected European constitution, which aimed to set neo-liberal policies in stone. In fact, although the actual victory took place in the polling booths, it was above all the consequence of an energetic and broad campaign for a “No from the left”, a mass political campaign over more than six months. The French “No” was followed a few days later by the Dutch, after a campaign in which the radical Left also played an important role. On September 18th, the new Left Party alliance between the Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (WASG) and the PDS in Germany won 8.7 per cent of the vote and 53 deputies, breaking half a century of the monopoly of political representation of the working class in the former West Germany by the SPD. These results caused considerable worry for the European ruling classes, and so they should have: in different ways, the two votes were the expression of a significant current within the working class that rejected neo-liberalism. They were correctly perceived as potential obstacles to the “reforms” or rather counter-reforms, that the ruling class considers so necessary.

What worried our rulers is that both of these events were political. Because, contrary to the ultra-left rhetoric that still marks some of the revolutionary Left, what worries the enemy is not only, or even especially, resistance on a social level. They are used to strikes and demonstrations in protest at this or that measure. Except in exceptional cases they carry on regardless. We occasionally win battles, up to now they have been winning the war. We could look at each country and examine the record of social movements, and see how many of them have actually stopped measures.

France is no doubt the exception that proves the rule. The level of social resistance has probably been the highest in Europe. But it has at most slowed down the neo-liberal agenda, it has not stopped it. Privatisation and counter-reforms of pensions, health insurance and so on have advanced inexorably. The exceptions are few, such as the defeat of the projected CIP (a reduced minimum wage for young people) in 1994 - even the strike movement of November-December 1995 only won a partial victory. And of course at the beginning of 2006 there was the victory over the CPE - a formidable victory for the mass movement, but which should not hide the fact that the CPE was only one element in an arsenal of measures designed to dismantle job protection. Of course, if there was a new May 1968 …but that is unlikely and can certainly not be counted on as a basis for political perspectives. And it is often forgotten that in 1968 there was no credible alternative on the left.

Of course there is no question of denying the importance of social movements. Indeed, the more the new formations win elected positions, the more important it is for them to keep the centre of gravity of their activity outside Parliament. But we need parties which combine the two forms of struggle. Because without politics the social movements run out of steam. That is why it is perfectly sterile for some far-left currents to launch incessant appeals to workers to ‘extend and strengthen the struggle’, etc., without offering them any political perspective. When there is a strong social movement, we should seek to offer it a political perspective. When faced with currents who seek to reduce politics to the institutional framework, we should stress the importance of social mobilisation. We have to walk on both feet. Big social movements can have repercussions on the electoral level, even when they are defeated. French voters took revenge for the defeat of the 2003 strike movement at the polls in 2004. But the absence of political perspectives will leave even victorious social movements without perspectives. In spite of the victories over the European Constitution and the CPE, we are faced with a bleak scenario for the presidential election, with Sarkozy conducting an aggressively right-wing campaign, while Royal is arguably the most right-wing Socialist candidate in the history of the Fifth Republic. Rather like a French version of Thatcher versus Blair. And no credible alternative on the left.

Whether Sarkozy or Royal, or conceivably the centrist candidate Bayrou, wins, there will be a fresh wave of neo-liberal attacks. In this situation, the forces to the left of the SP are providing the sorry spectacle of three candidates issued from the united campaign against the European Constitution, plus the inevitable candidacy of Arlette Laguiller of LO. The French radical Left has lost what is arguably its best chance so far to lay the foundations of a new political force. Whatever the outcome of the elections, and however the various candidates to the left of the Socialist party fare, we have not yet seen all the repercussions of this failure.

Of course, the necessary rebuilding of the workers’ movement cannot be reduced to building new parties. A key factor, and very often the key factor, in the defeat of social mobilisations, is the unwillingness of union leaderships to fully mobilise, either because they basically share the neo-liberal politics of the social-democratic parties or because they are limited to a vision of simply trying to soften the blows. It is also necessary to rebuild the unions on a class struggle basis, articulated with new social movements, associations in the neighbourhoods, etc. But that cannot be seen in isolation from the building of a political alternative. Militants who are armed with a political perspective will be more effective on the social level and parties with roots in the workplaces and social movements will be better able to resist the pressures of institutionalisation.

The first formations of the new Left arose around 1990. As far back as 1989, several formations came together to form the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark. A couple of years later the PRC, which was of course a much more substantial organisation, emerged from a split in the Italian Communist Party. At the height of the tsunami of capitalist triumphalism and the ‘death of socialism’, these organisations represented points of resistance. But it was towards the end of the decade that the radical Left developed further. In fact, it was at the European elections in 1999 and in a series of national elections around the same time that the new Left really became visible in a series of countries – in Scotland, Portugal, the Netherlands and elsewhere. The result of the LCR-LO campaign in France was seen as part of this process, though it was in fact a somewhat different phenomenon, a bloc between two far-left organisations. Since then, parties and alliances of the radical Left have become serious forces in the national political life of several countries.

This brings us back to the question of where the fundamental dividing line lies. Some people think that the fundamental dividing line, today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow, is between revolutionaries and reformists. Well, yes, in the last analysis…But the essence of Leninism is the concrete analysis of a concrete situation. And concretely in Europe today we are not in a revolutionary situation but in a defensive struggle against the neo-liberal offensive with its concomitant militarist and repressive aspects. And in a situation where the bulk of the political apparatuses apply or accompany this offensive, accompanied by an ideological offensive whose aim is to demonstrate not only that capitalism is the horizon beyond which we cannot go, but also that neo-liberal policies are the only ones that are possible within that capitalism.

It is in this concrete situation that the task of rebuilding the workers’ movement is posed. And the essential task is to bring together the forces which refuse the neo-liberal agenda. Some of the new parties are clearly anti-capitalist, not revolutionary in the traditional (far-left) definition, but they are parties that are rooted in today’s struggles and have a perspective that goes beyond capitalism, towards socialism. Examples are the SSP and the Portuguese Left Bloc. But there are other parties which are less clear politically but whose creation represents a step forward and in which revolutionary socialists should intervene to try and take them forward. An example is the new Left Party in Germany, which is anti-liberal but far from clearly anti-capitalist and in which coexist radically different approaches to the question of governing with the SPD. The exact nature of these new parties, their degree of political clarity, depends on a number of factors – the history and traditions of the workers movement in their country, the level of class struggle and the political landscape, the nature of the political forces involved. But they are where we have to start from.

What is on the agenda in the short and medium term, is not the socialist revolution, but the rebuilding of a political representation of workers starting from responses to the problems with which they are confronted. Since neo-liberalism is the form of really existing capitalism, the need to combat neo-liberalism can be the starting-point for new parties So it can be a question of building parties in defence of public services, against privatizations, war, etc. Nevertheless, since it is impossible to seriously combat neo-liberalism without taking measures that are anti-capitalist, the parties need to become clearly anti-capitalist. We can put it this way: opposition to neo-liberalism can be the basis for action, for alliances and fronts and even for new parties - it depends on the concrete situation. But to actually try and apply an anti-liberal policy that would stop short of attacking the bases of capitalism would be a dead-end. It makes no sense to argue that it is possible to return to a more humane, social capitalism. Even worse would be an alliance with social liberals with the idea of influencing them to the left. The French Communist Party demonstrated the futility of such a perspective in 1997-2002, which has not stopped the PRC going into government with Prodi in Italy. Parties which are not clear on anti-capitalism and class independence may be necessary stages in some countries. But they will remain unstable as long as these questions are not clarified.

Today one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of the ruling class is of course the refrain that Margaret Thatcher pioneered :“There is no alternative”. This should not be under-estimated when it comes from a chorus encompassing the entire political establishment, including the social-democratic leaderships, and the media. It can lead to resignation, to the idea that all that can be done is to attenuate the course of things but not to reverse it. Even when victorious, social resistance remains on the defensive. Political opposition involves proposing an alternative. It is not just a question of saying “we don’t like what is happening to us” but of saying that something else is possible. One cannot build parties in a durable way only on the basis of refusal, of the negative. And though we can start by saying “another world/Europe is possible” we have to give it a content. It is necessary to propose the perspective of an alternative to capitalism, a perspective of socialism, of course by arguing for it and differentiating it both from the tragedy of Stalinism and the debacle of social democracy.

This brings us to the question of what kinds of party have arisen at different stages in the history of the workers’ movement. It is a commonplace to say that the type of organisation or party that is needed is not always the same, that there is no ahistorical model independent of time and space. Most people would agree with that: nevertheless large sections of the far left have over a period of decades sought to mechanically reproduce the model of the Bolshevik Party, often with quite miniscule groups and in very different circumstances.

It is possible and in my opinion correct to see a progression from the First to the Second to the Third International. There is a progression from fairly elementary forms of working-class organisation – trade unions, political societies, etc. – to mass workers’ parties. And then with the split in international socialism during and following the First World War, to communist parties, which took on a mass character in a series of countries. That is where the progression stops. The crystallised reformist degeneration of the social-democratic parties and the victory of Stalinism posed the question of the creation of new mass parties. The question was posed but not answered. The unfavourable conditions of the 1930s did not permit it and when the Fourth International was founded it brought together only small groups. The unfolding and outcome of the Second World War and the long post-war boom created, in a different way, equally unfavourable conditions.

The Trotskyist movement lived for decades on the perspective of a sort of return to the golden age, where the famous ‘whole layers’ of the working class would break from the treacherous leaderships and converge with the revolutionary nucleus to create mass revolutionary parties. This coexisted or conflicted with periodic illusions (after 1945, after 1968) in the possibility for groups of a few hundred or at best a few thousand to grow in a linear fashion into mass parties. And to a variety of theories as to the necessary or possible mediation via “centrist” parties en route. But the breakthrough never came, neither in the 1930s, nor after 1945, nor after 1968. History had taken a fork, gone backwards and sideways. The much utilised term of “detour” is unsatisfactory. It implies that there is a main road and anything that deviates from it is, well, a detour. But there is of course no predestined high road to socialism. Any illusions on that score should have been dispelled by the experience of the last twenty years. When the much-awaited divorce between the masses and the leaderships began to take place, it was in a way that no one had expected.

To go back to our starting-point, why have forces of the radical Left emerged over the last 10-15 years? And why in Europe – or at least part of Europe? Let us make one thing clear in passing. The recomposition of the workers’ movement and of the Left is not a purely European phenomenon, far from it. It is occurring on a world scale – under the impact of globalisation and the collapse of the Stalinist states and their effects on a whole series of political currents – reformist, nationalist, populist, Stalinist, etc. But this recomposition does not occur in the same way in every part of the world – in Latin America, Asia, Africa or Europe- and does not produce the same kind of parties. It is not a question of saying that what happens in Western Europe is more important or more interesting than elsewhere. You only need to look at Latin America today to dispel any such idea. But Western Europe is important, and above all it is where we are. And it produces parties that are linked to the specific histories of our societies.

We are witnessing the emergence of a new Left in Europe because of the evolution of the old Left faced with capitalism’s turn to neo-liberal globalisation and with the upheavals in international relations. After 1945, in the framework of what can be called a social compromise or the post-war consensus, there were established in a series of countries in Western Europe, models of the social state or Welfare State. Some were more advanced than others. But the overall result was to create economies with significant nationalised sectors, state intervention in the economy, free or almost free access to health and education, unemployment and sick pay, state pensions, virtually full employment and rising real wages. It was a compromise, not exactly between the working class and the bourgeoisie, but between the political and trade union bureaucracies of the workers’ movement and the bourgeoisie. But this compromise brought real benefits to the working class. It was not strictly speaking a West European phenomenon, but also concerned other advanced capitalist countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

So this model was proper to most of the advanced capitalist countries, to different degrees, but with a common base, and it was possible because of their wealth and the long period of capitalist expansion. The model was put into practice by governments of the Right as well as the Left, proof that it was a general orientation of the ruling classes. In fact, as has often been the case with reforms, the new model was a product both of struggle from below and concessions from above. However, the working class considered its own organisations as the surest guarantees of keeping what had been won and extending the gains. So there was a strengthening of unions and parties. The major exception was of course the United States, where concessions were certainly made, but where there was not a European-style Welfare State, nor indeed a mass workers’ party.

What was done after 1945 lasted as long as the unprecedented period of capitalist expansion, until the crisis of 1973-74. This economic and social stability formed the basis for political stability in the workers’ movement. Revolutionaries were exiled to the fringes, a very small minority. Capitalism’s Indian summer was also the golden age of reformism. The traditional parties kept the support of the working class because they were able to deliver. Reformist consciousness is not “natural” for workers. Reformism arose first of all in Britain, then in the other imperialist countries towards the end of the 19th century, for precise reasons which there is not space to go into here. Its hold was severely shaken in the period 1914-45, when there were a whole series of revolutions and revolutionary and pre-revolutionary crises in Europe. But after 1945 its hold became so solid that it survived even the wave of class struggle in several key countries in the period 1968-75. Workers frequently engaged in struggle and sometimes showed revolutionary aspirations, but continued to follow non-revolutionary parties, which while blocking revolutions (very effectively in 1968-75 in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal) continued to defend their gains. This placed objectives limits on the growth of the revolutionary Left. It did grow qualitatively after 1968, first of all from youth and then from a layer of workers. But it never gained a mass base, despite the variety of tactics employed. It is no doubt clearer today than it was then that this was for essentially objective reasons.

The crisis of the 1970s brought about a change in the orientation of big capital. The relative social stability brought about by the post-war consensus became too expensive. Starting with the attacks of Reagan and Thatcher and leading on to the generalised offensive of the last 20 years in the framework of the European Union, the whole of the post-war model began to be dismantled, not of course without resistance and not entirely, so far at any rate. What concerns us here is the role played by the traditional parties of the working class. Without exception , the social-democratic parties joined in the neo-liberal offensive. They did not just “accompany” it, they applied the policies, often with zeal. It is difficult to find a fundamental difference between Aznar and Gonzalez, Major and Blair, Jospin and Juppé. Sometimes, like Schröder in Germany, the social-democrats were even more courageous than the Right in defence of the interests of the bourgeoisie.

So the objective bases for detaching the masses from the reformist apparatuses began to exist. But since real life is always richer than the best theoretical projections, it was not because the masses had swung leftward and broken with the reformists, but because the reformists had swung to the right, abandoning the workers. So at first, and still to a large extent today, a certain space has been created which has not immediately been occupied. As John Rees of the British SWP has written, “millions of workers feel that their traditional home has been taken away from them and they are not sure about the alternative”. The “traditional home” is of course the Labour Party in Britain, but what is said goes equally for other countries.

What could occupy the space thus liberated? Here, vocabulary has its importance: it is a question of occupying a space, which demands political initiative, not just filling a vacuum, an automatic process. One reaction, very evident in France for a period, was to flee politics and fall back on social movements and trade union action. But experience only underlined the necessity of politics. So what political forces could fill this space? Let us look at the possibilities. First of all, left splits from social democracy. Well, overall, what is striking has been the absence or extreme weakness of structured left oppositions in the social democratic parties in reaction to their social-liberal evolution. There are at least two exceptions. First of all in the 1980s there was a real Left in the Labour Party, which had to be broken so that the party could again become a reliable instrument for the ruling class. That was done by Kinnock against a background of the defeats imposed by Thatcher. That was what made Blairism possible. A left split from Labour and the creation of a new party might have been possible in the 1980s. The only, late attempt, the launching of the SLP in 1995, had a real echo, ruined by Scargill’s sectarianism and Stalinism.

Secondly, in France, left currents have continued to exist in the Socialist Party. This is certainly not unconnected to the relatively high level of social resistance to neo-liberalism in that country. Some of these currents, in particular the PRS (“For a Social Republic”) current of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, demonstrated during the European referendum campaign their ability to act concretely on the ground against neo-liberalism. They can be potential components of the emergence of a new political force, if one emerges. But they are unlikely to take the initiative. Faced with the failure to make such a force emerge from the referendum campaign they have retreated, for the moment at least, into the SP.

The essential point is that nowhere has the space created by the social-liberalisation of social-democracy been simply occupied by left splits from these parties. It is important to be precise. There is a difference between organized currents of these parties (as in France) and individuals and small groups who remain in them or leave to go nowhere in particular, but who may be available for a new political force, for example in Germany and to a much lesser extent in England. It is certain that there are still honest militants in the social-democratic parties of Europe. From the moment that these parties adopt neo-liberal politics, they are faced with a choice. To join the new course. To withdraw from politics or fall back on trade unionism. To go elsewhere, but where? The communist parties are in crisis. The far left is often too marked by minority activism and an ideological approach to politics. So some choose to remain. But they do not in general constitute organised left currents. In Germany the WASG was created by trade unionists who were also members or ex-members of the SPD, but they did not emerge within the party as an organised current. Lafontaine joining helped make the new party a pole of attraction for disillusioned SPD supporters. But he did not, either, lead an organised current out of the party.

Then, there are the Communist Parties. Weakened already by the discredit of the Soviet model and by their national policies, they were hit head-on by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. There has been a tendency on the far left to simply write them off as ineluctably doomed to disappearance or to become satellites of social-democracy. Fifteen years after the fall of the Wall and the disappearance of the USSR it seems that the process is longer and more complicated. These parties have undergone different evolutions. At the end of the Second World War, they were the majority parties of the working class in several countries. In the 1980s only the Italian CP was in this situation. The PCF had been reduced to a secondary role by the Socialist Party under Mitterrand, and in Greece, Portugal and Spain, in spite of the antifascist record of the CPs, social-democracy had emerged dominant after the fall of the dictatorships. It was thus parties already weakened or in crisis which were struck by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The smallest became really marginal and some have been on the verge of extinction. But those which had a mass character survived, and a thorough analysis of their evolution is needed. The majority of the Italian CP, principal workers’ party in a country where social democracy was weak, was transformed into the Left Democrats, a centre-left formation. It is the only case where the tendencies to social-democratization of the communist parties, which were (and still are) at work everywhere, went all the way. Elsewhere parties like the PCF and the Greek and Portuguese parties maintain a mass character. One cannot say that these parties defend in a consequent way the interests of the working class, but nor did they simply go over to neo-liberalism. The PCF took part in the social-liberal government of Jospin and was severely punished for it in the 2002 elections. But it came back by operating a turn to the left and a unitary tactic, which enabled it to play a central role in the European referendum campaign and to become an element that it was impossible to circumvent in the debates on how to follow up this victory. The Greek and Portuguese CPs combine outrageous sectarianism with an opportunism that is sometimes disconcerting, but they are not neo-liberal parties.

It has to be remembered that the CPs always had a more active and militant base than the SPs. Today the PCF has been marginalised electorally by the SP and is in competition on this terrain with the far left. But its influence on the ground is still significant and out of all proportion to its national electoral results. The essential point is that the communist parties with mass influence did not collapse or simply join the social democracy. We can work on the hypothesis that they will not simply disappear, not even automatically with the appearance of a new radical Left force. Depending on the situation, they will form part of it, or they will split and part of them will do so, or else they will maintain a sectarian stance and are likely to be progressively marginalized. But nowhere where these parties represent a force will we build new parties without engaging with them and their militants.

Let us come back to the nature of the distance between the social-democratic parties and their traditional social base. We have said that initially it was not the masses who moved but the parties, leaving their social base stranded. So in the beginning the refusal of neo-liberalism developed without political representation. It was expressed by the advanced layers through social resistance, sometimes by the appearance of new social movements, and by a rejection or avoidance of politics. This rejection was expressed at a mass level, by the rise of abstentionism in working class areas, and by many other workers simply voting for social democracy as a lesser evil. It was only later and gradually that the absence of a political alternative started to be felt. For those who want to propose a political alternative to neo-liberalism, it is a question of going to find people where they are, i.e. starting from their refusal of neo-liberalism, to offering them a political perspective. Apart from forces coming from social democracy and the CPs, there are other forces who will be part of new parties - ecologists, trade unionists, global justice campaigners, etc., and there are also the currents of the far Left.

The "traditional" groups of the far left cannot in themselves constitute an alternative, for a number of reasons. The tens and hundreds of thousands of people who are in search of a political alternative will not be won directly to a revolutionary programme. Not to mention the fact that many far-left groups maintain ways of functioning that are antipathetic to militants from other traditions and to ordinary workers. They therefore have to work with other and anti-capitalist and anti-liberal forces to build coalitions, fronts, parties. Some revolutionaries would argue that it is impossible to unite reformists and revolutionaries in one party and that there are ‘strategic differences’. But what actually divides those who define themselves as revolutionaries from other socialists? Two things. In the first place they understand that you can not simply take the machinery of the capitalist state and use it for the transition to socialism – though many left reformists also understand that, more or less clearly. Secondly, the Trotskyist groups especially have a solid theoretical heritage, which applied in a non-dogmatic way is still largely relevant. Neither of those things prevent them working in parties with others who do not share those characteristics. It is perfectly possible, and it can be verified in practice, for many militants who do not define themselves as revolutionary and are not members of any group to have a class struggle approach which often extends, for example, to an understanding that it is wrong to enter social-liberal governments.

The term “strategic differences” between reformists and revolutionaries could imply that both revolutionaries and reformists have a strategy. That is very much open to question. Which reformists are we talking about? If it is the social-liberals, they have no strategy for the transition to socialism, they share the strategy of the capitalists, to which at best they give a social veneer. If it is the anti-liberals, I think it is very questionable that the French CP for example has a strategy. Oscillating between mobilising against neo-liberal policies and collaborating with the SP is hardly a strategy. As for revolutionaries, clarity about the nature of the bourgeois state, an understanding of the need for extra-parliamentary mobilisations, self-organisation and their theoretical heritage does not amount to a strategy. No revolutionary organisation in Western Europe has one, and for a very good reason. We are operating in advanced capitalist countries with a long tradition of bourgeois democracy, and no socialist revolution has ever taken place in such a country. For one to succeed it is reasonable to suppose that a mass party will have to be built and that that party will have to combine parliamentary and extra-parliamentary work and solve a series of tactical problems in the course of experience, problems which have only begun to be posed in some cases.

The debate that is beginning in the LCR, in the pages of Critique Communiste and elsewhere, underlines this. It raises many questions and it can be fruitful. But the result will not be that the LCR will have a strategy to take us from now to the socialist revolution. Hopefully it will have a better idea of the kind of party and the kind of tactics that will have to be combined to help work out such a strategy with the aid of practice.

There is therefore no reason why revolutionary Marxists cannot work with other militants in a party that is fighting really existing capitalism and trying to outline a socialist alternative to resolve these problems together. Especially since we are in a phase of resisting a capitalist offensive and fighting for reforms. Reformism and revolutionary politics may be antinomic, but reform and revolution are not, they are, as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out a long time ago and as Claudio Katz has more recently underlined, two phases of the class struggle.

Existing revolutionary organisations can make a decisive contribution to the building of new parties, but there is no guarantee that they will. Experience has shown both examples of where the far left has made the key contribution, or an important one, to building new parties (Scotland, Portugal, Denmark), others where it has consistently failed to do so (France…) and the case of England which is between the two. The problem is that in order to make such a contribution these organisations have to change in a number of ways. They have to leave behind a mentality that was formed when they were beleaguered revolutionary minorities faced with the bureaucratic apparatuses, seeing themselves as the nucleus of future mass parties, with the idea that everyone had to be won to their politics. This approach was always flawed; it is quite unadapted to a period when it is a question of replacing these parties, of building new mass parties with other forces on a basis of equality, and of revolutionaries taking account of the fact that they might actually learn something from these other forces. There is also a fundamental question which concerns the larger revolutionary organisations. If they are going to contribute to building new parties they will have to cease to exist as independent entities and become currents within them. That is a big step when you have built a sizeable organisation and an apparatus (press, printshop, premises, etc.) and there is a certain conservatism, a certain reticence to take risks. Which is entirely understandable but plays a negative role.

In the current state of affairs, the most advanced parties of the radical left in Europe are probably the SSP in Scotland, the Portuguese Left Bloc and the Danish Red-Green Alliance. These parties are clearly anti-capitalist, for socialism. They are parties which have succeeded in rooting themselves in the social and political combats of their countries by projecting an image and a vision of socialism that breaks from Stalinism and social democracy. And they have succeeded in building parties which if they are not yet mass parties, have a mass audience, and in winning elected positions in parliaments and local councils. In Scotland and Portugal the initiative for new parties was taken by revolutionary Marxist organizations - SML in Scotland, the UDP and the PSR in Portugal - which had first of all the will and then enough weight to play this role and to attract other components (coming from the CP in Portugal, of various origins in Scotland) which could not have taken the initiative alone and whose forces would undoubtedly otherwise have dispersed. These organisations are quite explicitly anti-capitalist and they have the potential to grow, which does not exclude future regroupments. But there are other cases where the arc of forces is wider and the politics less defined in an anti-capitalist sense. That is most clearly the case in Germany. If these parties involve broad forces, it may be that not just revolutionaries but consistent anti-capitalists will be in a minority and there will be sharp battles to be fought.

It is not a question here of making an exhaustive list of the whole European radical left, but of looking at some specific cases. We have said that the most advanced cases were those where the revolutionary Marxists had played a leading role. These are not models to be slavishly followed independently of national circumstances, they are examples of successful initiatives. There obviously exist other cases, other types of parties, failures, half-successes. Let us look at some of them.

In England, the building of a force of the radical left has known failures and half-successes - the failure of the SLP, the experience of the Socialist Alliance which did not fulfil all its potential. The creation of Respect marked a new stage. Respect is the product of the antiwar movement, not in the sense that it involves all the forces of this movement, but in the sense that the forces which make it up started to work together in this movement. If the principal political force is the SWP (the section of the FI is also present) the element which makes Respect qualitatively different from the Socialist Alliance is the involvement e of important forces coming from the Muslim population. That has led to some criticism in England and much on the French Left, the balance sheet of whose relationship with the Muslim population hardly authorizes it to give anyone lessons. It is true that most of the areas where Respect obtained its best results have important Muslim populations, which were strongly committed to the antiwar movement. However it is clear that the programme of Respect is not addressed only to Muslims, and does not speak only about the war but also about social questions (which also concern Muslims...) Respect’s references to socialism are more than vague (this appears now to be intentional on the part of the SWP) but it is certainly clearly opposed to really existing neo-liberal capitalism, which is a good starting point.

The real problems lie elsewhere. It appears that the policy of the SWP is to keep Respect as a loose coalition, in spite of declarations like that of John Rees at the end of the "Marxism 2005" event, "Respect must become a mass party of the working class”. The result is that its programme has not evolved much and its internal democracy leaves a lot to be desired. Respect does not seem to be growing and in particular is not attracting serious trade union support. It needs to become a real party with a programme and democratic structures, with respect for pluralism. The criticisms made by the Respect Party Platform and of Socialist Resistance in this respect are correct.

The Party of Communist Refoundation in Italy is a party of tens of thousands of members, with an important group of deputies. It remains strongly marked by its origins in the PCI, but was able to integrate important forces coming from the far left, as well as many new members and to link up with the global justice movement. Its imminent degeneration was often announced by those who specialize in this kind of prediction. But until 2004 its trajectory was overall towards the left and a break, not complete but real, with Stalinist culture. However it has subsequently evolved rightwards and joined the centre-left government of Romano Prodi. This has produced strong tensions and a crisis in the party, which places big responsibilities on its left wing.

A particular case is that of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands. As its name does not necessarily suggest, it is a formation of the radical Left. It was originally a Maoist group which made the decision the 1980s to build a broad socialist party. It played a leading role in the victory of the "No" in the referendum over the European Constitution. Today the SP claims over 50,000 members. It has made big gains in local and national elections over the last year and now has 25 deputies in a Parliament of 150. Such an evolution of the relationship of forces starts to pose, without solving it, the problem of going from a radical opposition to neo-liberalism to the need to represent an alternative to it. The SP’s choice is to proclaim its readiness to govern, preferably in a coalition with the social democrats, possibly even with the Christian Democrats, though not on any terms. It has therefore remained outside the new Social Democrat-Christian Democrat coalition government. But whatever criticisms cane be made of the SP, its success underlines one thing. When you are seriously challenging the social democrats as the first party of the Left (which is the case), it is quite impossible to avoid the question of governmental participation, and you have to say clearly why you will not go into government and on what conditions you would.

Important developments are now taking place in a key country, Germany. Since the unification of the country, the PDS has incarnated the resistance of a large part of the population of the ex-GDR to the consequences of the restoration of capitalism. This party has many defects - it takes part in regional coalition governments with the SPD, its cadres remains essentially those of the old single party, the SED. It however continues to have an important base of support in the ex-GDR. But its particular history means that the PDS never penetrated in the West, wherein lies the importance of the emergence of the WASG: the alliance won 8.7 per cent of the vote and 53 deputies at the federal elections September 2005. The definitive fusion of the WASG and the PDS appears to be on course for June. It is by no means an anti-capitalist force , but clearly anti-liberal. And just as the SSP and the Left Bloc are advanced examples, the forces which launched the new party also determine its political content, but in the direction of limiting it to a left Keynesian reformism. However, the essential thing is that something is moving moves in what was before a political desert and that this party has a real echo among workers. The forces of the far left in Germany which take part in it are certainly right to do so.

It is certainly in France that the contradiction between the high level of social resistance - but also political resistance, as was shown in the referendum campaign - to neo-liberalism and the absence of a broad anti-capitalist force is the most obvious. The "No" campaign was carried by a broad coalition, with a movement of hundreds of unitary collectives involving up to 15.000 people, which even took on new life and expanded in the run-up to the 2007 elections, adopting programmatic documents and aiming to present candidates in the presidential and legislative elections. But first the LCR withdrew to run its own candidate and then the CP made a clumsy attempt to have its general secretary adopted as presidential candidate, which the movement refused. This led to sharp conflicts and to situations of crisis in both the LCR and the CP, and seriously dislocated the movement. The attempt to overcome this situation through the candidacy of Jose Bove is laudable but perhaps too partial and too late. However, the movement for unity of the anti-liberal Left is not dead and will re-emerge in the coming period. And whatever the results of their candidates, the conflict in the LCR and CP is not over either. There is no doubt that the LCR carries part of the responsibility for this situation. In principle, it is committed to the perspective of building a new anti-capitalist force. However , even before the current elections, it has never succeeded, not only in concretising this perspective, but in taking an initiative that is even a little bit serious. The reasons advanced for this, variously the objective situation and political obstacles, are very much open to question.

There exists a coordination of anti-capitalist parties, the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL), whose coordinating group consists of the SSP, the Left Bloc, the RGA and the LCR. There is also the European Left Party (ELP), which brings together some of the former (and some who still are) CPs and left reformist parties, who are not necessarily very radical, not neo-liberal but not really independent of social democracy. But the borders between the two international groupings are not watertight. The PRC and the Greek coalition Synaspismos form part of the ELP but have sometimes attended, as observers, the meetings of the EACL. The Left Bloc is also now a member of the ELP, as is Respect. Though it is certainly the EACL which it is necessary to build, it is also necessary to know to maintain a flexible relationship with the components of the ELP. And there is now an initiative from the Dutch SP, which is not affiliated to either the EACL or the ELP, to convene an international meeting this summer.

What is called the radical Left thus covers very different realities. We can define it as consisting of all the forces and all the currents which refuse neo-liberalism. In it there are parties that are explicitly anti-capitalist, but there is not always a clear line of demarcation between anti-capitalist and anti-liberal. Between having rather general anti-capitalist and socialist references and integrating the anti-capitalist dimension into the everyday life of the parties there can be some distance and even a range of situations.
The final goal is not to build broad parties for the sake of it, but to build parties comprising significant forces which in the long term, undoubtedly after many differentiations and conflicts, will be able to lead processes of socialist transformation, therefore to become revolutionary parties. But this evolution cannot be imposed against the rhythm of development of the class struggle and of the evolution of political consciousness. It is a question of advancing towards such parties by working out a political strategy through many social and political battles. The role of revolutionary Marxists is to take things forward in this direction, to build these parties while making their contribution in the fields of programme and practice. At the beginning it seemed that the task was simply to bring together forces and build anti-capitalist parties. But reality has shown that in some cases, Germany certainly, France if the process restarts, it will be les sharply defined than that to start with. That is worth living with if a real political force can be built. There is a French saying, “the best is the enemy of better” i.e. if you try for the maximum you will miss the chance of a real step forward of the movement, which as Engels said, is worth ten programmes. Many debates, and even sharp battles, can be conducted within a common framework.

How revolutionary Marxists intervene in these parties will depend to a large extent on the concrete context in which they have to act. The intervention of a revolutionary Marxist current will not be the same in the SSP or the Left Bloc or the RGA as in Rifondazione, where it is a question of combating an erroneous orientation. It will be different again in the new party in Germany. But it is in these real processes, which begin to touch the mass of workers and to make things change, that revolutionaries must engage today.

Murray Smith