Thursday, May 31, 2007

The cheek by Jowell

Tessa Jowell has responded to an e-petition about money being siphoned off from voluntary organisations to fund the Olympics.
Jowell reiterates that, “The amount going to the VCS (voluntary and community sector) will therefore continue at the levels planned. Given your concerns, we hope that you will welcome this approach.”

But……don't get too excited, ”The remaining £250 million will come from the other Lottery distributors, with the exception of UK Sport, between 2009 and 2012. The other distributors have said that this need not impact on any existing commitments. The impact on future commitments will be assessed in due course..”

In other words areas such as arts and heritage will be hit for cash. It may not have an impact in the short-term but on future commitments. It seems to me there will be inevitable cuts.

Central government will be contributing a staggering £6billion to this 2-week jamboree. This London based elitist event will inevitably deny the majority to participate.
Jowell again argues, “We hope that you consider that this represents a fair approach to funding such an important national event” …

Hmmmm. Fair? An important national event? Who is she trying to kid? Jowell would prefer to see countless voluntary orgs fall by the wayside due to a slashed budget and no matter how much she promises that cash won’t be diverted it won’t be the case. They continuously have to raid various public purses to bale themselves out of the mire.

Btw: There is a debate in Parliament planned for the 6th June to discuss the impact on arts and heritage of the diversion of lottery funding to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Where Next for McDonnell supporters?

A good outcome from the McDonnell leadership campaign is that it has put a lot of the Labour Party left into active contact with each other, and I recommend the new collective blog, Labour Left Forum , that has got off to a good start. In particular I found the post Which Way Forward for the Left quite realistic and sensible.

But how it strikes me as an outsider is that the Labour Left seems to organise around Labour Left Briefing, and through the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and the McDonnell campaign, which are structures that are actually OUTWITH and independent from the Labour Party, but as a peculiarity they require LP membership to participate in them.

To really operate as a Labour Party left they have to organise WITHIN the Labour Party structures, seeking to control wards and CLPs, getting union branches to send left delegates to the CLP, get on the council, forming a left caucus of councillors in town halls, having a left block on the NEC (which means breaking from the Brownites in the Grassroots Alliance). Have a clear left slate for the National Policy Forum elections, with alternative policies that they want to pursue. Forcing their issues onto the conference floor.

I think the argument about whether socialists should or should not be in the Labour Party is a futile one: comrades are going to come to their own conclusions one way another based upon their own experience. However much hot air and ink is expended on the issue, we are not going to convince each other. The approach of the Socialist party and Respect to say McDonnell’s defeat shows you are wasting your time come and join us, is unhelpful in the extreme, But similarly the approach from some of the Labour left, that all of those who have decided not to be in the party are incorrigible sectarians and ultra-lefts is equally unhelpful.

If the Labour Left is going to build on the McDonnell campaign they need to build practical activity. They must work to develop specific left policies and campaigns, sometimes in cooperation with the socialist left outside the Labour party: then these can be promoted through the movement, the unions and the single issue campaigns.

But they also need to promote them through the Party. Only if they can demonstrate success in winning commitment to left policies from the Labour Party, and then implementing left policies in local councils under left control, can they demonstrate that work in the Labour Party is effective. I see that John McDonnell is writing a position paper to discuss where next for his supporters, I will be interested to see what practical strategic steps this spells out.

To be frank comrades, the rhetoric of “its hard but we just have to keep beavering away till it gets better” is wearing thin.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Psychiatric ASBOs coming to you very soon...

“Ensure that people with full decision making ability cannot be forced to have treatment imposed upon them against their will”. (One of the six amendments from the Lords scuppered by the Government)

I wrote recently about the Mental Health Bill specifically Community Treatment Orders. The Government and the Lords were locked in a battle over safeguards. Patricia Hewitt and Rosie Winterton were hostile to the proposals made by the Minister for Health Services).

The Bill has been going through committee stage and unfortunately every single amendment proposed by the Lords has been overturned. But what is more surreal is this latest research commissioned by the Dept of Health states:

"This review has found very little evidence of positive effects of CTOs in the areas where they might have been anticipated. None of the nine experimental studies found evidence suggesting that CTOs reduce either hospital readmission or length of stay, or that they improve compliance." (Rachel Churchill – International Experiences of Community Treatment Orders)

Even New Labour’s mental health Tsar, Louis Appleby, admitted that the review had “not reliably demonstrated the effectiveness of CTOs”…

And many others aren't too keen either on this Bill most recently the psychiatrist Suman Fernando has stated he will not accept the OBE in protest to this Bill.

"It seems most strange that the Government say they want to recognise my services to BME Mental Healthcare at a time when they are trying to push through legislation that would make things worse for black people caught up in the mental health system, in spite of strong objections by many people (including myself) expressed both publicly and in private to Government ministers."
“Failure of mental health services to meet the needs of BME communities results from institutional racism and injustices are evidently mostly in the experiences of black Caribbean people who are disproportionately sectioned and subjected to inappropriate – often damaging ‘care’”

New Labour is rushing this draconian Bill through at break-neck speed, wilfully ignoring and junking academic research and professionals. The Bill will be coming up for its 3rd reading but if it gets Royal Assent in its current state it will mean compulsion and containment. The Manic Depression Fellowship (MDF) carried out research in the late 1990s and found that 1 in 5 of respondents said that if CTOs were introduced they would be too frightened of the consequences to seek help from professionals. And who can blame them as trust and support will be replaced by coercion.

The Government will get their psychiatric “ASBO” which will revolve around that great panacea, “medication”, “medication, “medication”. Nowhere in this Bill is there any attempt to focus on alternatives to medication instead New Labour panders to the populist belief that people need to be “protected” from the “mad, bad and dangerous” to know by dosing them with a chemical cosh to make them compliant.

Hewitt has the audacity to argue that this Bill strikes a balance between the user and public safety. The rights of the user have diminished to nothing added to the continued stigmatisation, victimisation and oppression but as long as the public are “protected”…

New Labour believes it should be beyond legal restraint. The Mental Health Bill lacks safeguards, rights and principles. Who will make the decisions? Will someone on a CTO be allowed to appeal? How will the CTOs be monitored? Who will do the monitoring? Where is the accountability and transparency? It is one continuous attack on civil liberties, self-determination and autonomy. A trend and pattern is emerging with various measures introduced by this authoritarian Government such as the raft of anti-terrorism laws, ASBOs, and the latest attack on civil liberties from Reid arguing for a 'sus' law.

Unfortunately, come late June one ex-PM desperate for a legacy won’t be having his freedom curtailed charged as a war criminal and doing a stretch in Belmarsh.

BNP - Griffin faces leadership challenge


This month’s Searchlight contains the fascinating story that BNP Führer Nick Griffin is facing a leadership challenge from hardline Nazi Chris Jackson, formerly the party’s North West regional organiser (pictured)

The local elections in May were pretty disastrous for the BNP. Despite standing many more candidates their share of the vote fell, in many places dramatically. In the East Midland in 2006 their candidates got 28% of the vote, one year later this fell to 18.5%; in the North West the vote fell from 20.6% to 14.9%. In every region the vote was down. The national average vote fell from 19.2% for 363 candidates last year to 14.7% this year, for 742 candidates.

The won 9 seats, but lost eight they were defending, and one BNP councillor in Stoke has left the party since the election.

Had they been predicting just holding on, they might have been philosophical, but they were confident of doubling their number of elected councillors from 49 to 100.

Of course the BNP vote is still troublingly large, but they are cherry picking favourable seats, and their ability to get a reasonable protest vote at local council level does not translate into sustained and stable electoral support.

Jackson’s leadership challenge would probably not have happened if Griffin’s strategy was paying off. As I wrote last year : “Knowing that the BNP is decades away from forming a government, Griffin is hoping to play the long game. It must seem very galling that a post-fascist like Gianfranco Fini can be deputy Prime Minister in Italy, while Cambridge educated Griffin is talking to 20 numbskulls in a pub skittle-alley in Keighley. In the medium term if the BNP could win a swathe of councillors across the country, it might be able to shift the political agenda so that race and immigration are part of mainstream debate. If it could distance itself from its fascist past it might be able to join coalition administrations in councils, it might get MEPs, and members of the London Assembly elected. With this higher profile it might become a permanent part of the political landscape, a much better foundation for launching a future openly fascist party.”

But why should hardline nationalists put up with Griffin’s attempt to water down their message of race hate in order to position the BNP as a post-fascist party like Fini’s Alleanza Nazionale, if it isn’t even working?

Again, as I wrote last year: “Any sustained organisation requires a cadre of activists that are motivated by an ideology. The current leadership and cadre of the BNP come from fascist backgrounds, and have the criminal records to prove it. This creates a complex difficulty for Griffin. To turn out the existing cadre to work in elections requires sufficient concessions to them that the BNP is not just a racist, but an active race-hate organisation, which is an obstacle to gaining greater respectability. What is more, the party is unable to have a truly candid debate about the need for a shift without revealing the Nazi ideology of many of its supporters, and even exposing them to prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred. The fascist core of BNP supporters are correct to fear the possibility that the BNP could become what it is pretending to be. If Griffin could get elected to the European parliament he would be mainly interested in sustaining his own electoral career.”

So Jackson’s leadership bid is significant. He is standing on behalf of the Reform Group, a small network of Tyndall supporters, and he is seeking to reach out to those fascists that have been excluded by the Griffin regime and are now huddled in the National Front, England First, and other miniscule groups.

As such, his base within the BNP is very limited, but he may tap into a wider discontent with the arbitrary and capricious way Griffin runs the party. Searchlight speculates that the BNP's cultural officer, Jonathan Bowden and elections officer, Eddy Butler, may back Jackson. Anything less than a convincing victory for Griffin, with 80% or more of the membership vote, would seriously damage his authority.

Certainly Griffin’s strategic choice to steer the party towards the political mainstream is problematic. As I argued before: “It is important to understand that the BNP are an openly racist not an openly fascist organisation. The interplay between its fascist and populist elements is a source of weakness for it.”

If Griffin fares poorly in the leadership election this will strengthen the open fascists in the party, weakening the electoral strategy, and increasing the party’s image problem. On the other hand, if Griffin wins a convincing victory, then the fascist cadre of the party may walk out, strengthening the mood that the party has lost momentum, and reducing the number of committed activists prepared to do the donkey work.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What a feat for the British!


The Morning Star has printed a really interesting article by FIDEL CASTRO, president of Cuba, about Britain's new Astute class submarines. The cost of these terrible weapons would have been sufficient to train doctors to care for 150 million people


THE press dispatches brought the news. The new nuclear submarine belongs to the Astute Class, the first of its kind to be constructed in Britain in more than two decades.

"A nuclear reactor will allow it to navigate without refuelling during its 25 year of service. Since it makes its own oxygen and drinking water, it can circumnavigate the globe without needing to surface," was what shipyard boss Nigel Ward told the BBC.

"It's a mean-looking beast," said another.

"Looming above us is a construction shed 12 storeys high. Within it are three nuclear-powered submarines at different stages of construction," reported yet another.

Someone said that "it can observe the movements of cruisers in New York harbour right from the English Channel, drawing close to the coast without being detected and listen to conversations on mobile phones."

"In addition, it can transport special troops in minisubs that, at the same time, will be able to fire lethal Tomahawk missiles for distances of 1,400 miles," a fourth person declares.

The Chilean newspaper El Mercurio emphatically spread the news.

The Royal Navy declares that it will be one of the most advanced in the world. The first of them will be launched on June 8 and will go into service in January 2009.

It can transport up to 38 Tomahawk cruise missiles and Spearfish torpedoes capable of destroying a large warship. It will possess a permanent crew of 98 sailors who will even be able to watch movies on giant plasma screens.

The new Astute will carry the latest generation of Block 4 Tomahawk torpedoes which can be reprogrammed in flight. It will be the first one not having a system of conventional periscopes and, instead, will be using fibre optics, infrared waves and thermal imaging.

"BAE Systems, the armaments manufacturer, will build two other submarines of the same class," AP reported.

The total cost of the three submarines, according to calculations that will certainly be below the mark, is £4 billion.

What a feat for the British! The intelligent and tenacious people of Britain will surely not feel any sense of pride. What is most amazing is that, with such an amount of money, 75,000 doctors could be trained to care for 150 million people, assuming that the cost of training a doctor would be one-third of what it costs in the United States. You could build 3,000 clinics fitted with sophisticated equipment, 10 times what our country possesses.

Cuba is currently training thousands of young people from other countries as medical doctors.

In any remote African village, a Cuban doctor can impart medical knowledge to any youth from the village or from the surrounding municipality who has the equivalent of an A-Level education.

Using videos and computers powered by a small solar panel, the youth does not even have to leave his home town, nor does he need to be contaminated with the consumer habits of a large city.

The important thing is the patients who are suffering from malaria or any other of the typical and unmistakable diseases that the student will be seeing together the doctor.

The method has been tested with surprising results. The knowledge and practical experience accumulated for years have no possible comparison.

The non-lucrative practice of medicine is capable of winning over all noble hearts.

Since the beginning of the revolution, Cuba has been engaged in training doctors, teachers and other professionals. With a population of less than 12 million inhabitants, today we have more comprehensive general medicine specialists than all the doctors in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population exceeds 700 million people.

We must bow our heads in awe after reading the news about the English submarine. It teaches us, among other things, about the sophisticated weapons that are needed to maintain the untenable order developed by the United States imperial system.

We cannot forget that for centuries and until recently, England was called the Queen of the Seas.

Today, what remains of that privileged position is merely a fraction of the hegemonic power of her ally and leader the US.

Churchill said: "Sink the Bismarck!" Today, Blair says: "Sink whatever remains of Great Britain's prestige!"

For that purpose - or for the holocaust of the species - is what his "marvellous submarine" will be good for.

Dear John

John McDonnell failed to get sufficient nominations to get on the ballot for Labour Leader. His campaign was not a personal vehicle but a challenge to the neo-liberal programme of the government. Where does it go now? John is producing a consultation paper. Here is an email I sent him dealing with the question of how socialists inside and outside the Party might continue to work together.

Dear John

I will be interested to read you consultation paper referred to on your latest blog entry. I think there have been two types of response to the fact that you failed to get on the ballot paper. On the Labour Left we have heard something along the lines of ‘we did all right, keep on keeping on’. Outside the Labour Party it has been seen as confirmation that you should all leave, e.g. the letter in the Guardian from Dave Nellist and the CNWP.

As somebody who is not about to rejoin the Labour Party, I still believe that a socialist alternative to Labour is necessary. However, such an alternative is not a prospect in the short term, owing to the sectarianism of the main socialist groups (such as the SWP and the SP) and as a result of the collapse of the electoral base of the Scottish Socialist Party. That is a discussion which no doubt will continue.

However, I think the most productive approach in the current situation, is to examine ways that socialists inside and outside the Labour Party can work together to build resistance to the attacks of the government on the working class.At the same time the fact that the overwhelming majority of union sponsored MPs nominated Gordon Brown, the author of the government’s neo-liberal ‘reforms’ of the public sector, raises the question of why they are sponsored, and what the unions get in return.

This surely highlights the need to be more selective in sponsoring MPs and candidates. The GMB policy for instance, even if not yet vigorously applied, is that the union will not automatically sponsor Labour candidates, but only those who support the broad outline of union policy; above all, opposition to privatisation. I believe that this is a key issue on which socialists in the unions (be they Labour Party members or not) can collaborate. What is the point of our members’ money being handed over to MPs/candidates who do nothing to further their interests, but support job cuts, privatisation, and refuse to support even the not very radical Trade Union Freedom Bill? We require a major campaign across the affiliated unions on this. Let's only support candidates and MPs who support our members.

What framework is there for socialists inside and outside the Labour Party in which to work together? I’m not sure that the Labour Representation Committee is the vehicle for the simple reason that you have to be a Labour Party member to join it. OK, you can have associate membership (but no vote). This presents an obstacle probably to some thousands of socialists who are not members of the groups, would like to work with you, but will not join/rejoin the Labour Party, especially since most local parties are empty shells. Ironically, the RMT and FBU, both of which are affiliates of the LRC have supported candidates standing against Labour, yet they remain as participants. If this is no obstacle to these unions why present an obstacle to individuals? It does not make sense.

To attract such people you would either have to turn the LRC into an organisation which was not an internal Labour Party group, or consider another organisational vehicle.

Ironically, within the Labour Left there does exist some sectarianism in which acceptance of the ‘correct’ position on the Labour Party (to ‘reclaim’ it, or turn it into a vehicle for socialism) is seen as the key test for socialists. Those who ‘fail’ this test are seen as hopeless people who tend to be lectured.Real life is different. You said in your last blog posting, assessing your campaign:

“More importantly the vast majority have expressed real determination to continue the campaign for socialist advance within and beyond our movement.”

The last phrase recognises the need to reach out beyond the Labour Party. Just as many people outside the Labour Party supported your campaign, they would be happy to continue to work with you and the left in the Party. However, if they are presented with the ultimatum that they must agree on the Labour Party question, then all the Labour Left will succeed in doing is isolating itself. We must find a means and a framework for uniting socialists in campaigning activity in order to rebuild the labour movement and to challenge the neo-liberal policy of the Brown government, and most importantly developing policy alternatives to neo-liberalism.


Martin Wicks


Margaret Thatcher:
"The NHS is safe in our hands. The elderly are safe in our hands. The sick are safe in our hands. The surgeons are safe in our hands. The nurses are safe in our hands. The doctors are safe in our hands. The dentists are safe in our hands.

David Cameron:
"it's not just a question of saying the NHS is safe in my hands. My family is so often in the hands of the NHS - so I want them to be safe there."

New Labour. UNISON, labour link news - june 2007

Thanks to John Nicholson, for bringing this to my attention

This is England


My God yes, this is England: not the only England, but one England among many. It is certainly an England I have lived in.

What Shane Meadows does brilliantly is capture and express a specific time and place, and root his story in the real experiences of working class life. Skinheads rejoiced in how the English often see ourselves, as hard drinkers and fighters, brave men who “can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.” It was a youth sub-culture born of cultural impoverishment, but also rebellious, exuberant and cheeky. Being a skinhead meant being part of a gang that approved of you, and the values of being a skinhead were generally ones celebrated in English culture (I am not saying that is a good thing!) This is underlined by the frequent references to the Falklands war.

Thomas Turgoose turns in a fantastic performance as Shaun, the troubled 12 year old brought into a local gang of skinheads, attracted by their camaraderie, and the way they boost his self esteem. What the film does very well is show how precarious and out of control life is when you are young, as the gang changes around Turgoose’s character, and the bond of loyalty to the gang becomes more sinister and explicitly racist.

Stephen Graham as Combo, the racist skin just out of nick is electrifying. The review in the Guardian described Combo as “deeply objectionable”, but that soooh misses the point. The truth is that anyone who has ever been in a youth sub-culture has had mates like Combo. Older men who, like Peter Pan, shelter from life’s disappointments by being the respected elder in the gang. He is objectionable from the point of view of a Guardian journalist, but from the point of view of a 12 year old on a council estate, Combo is quite glamorous.

The contradiction that Combo was both a violent racist, but also conscious of the multi-racial origins of Skin culture was convincing. Back in the 1970s I had friends very sympathetic to the NF who would listen to ska music, and thought Desmond Dekker was like unto a God. This is part of a very contradictory world view that understands class grievances, but articulates them through racism. So there is an ambivalence about black people who share the same class experience.

Indeed, in the late 1970s and early 1980s most (white) working class teenagers knew people in the NF. I found the NF meeting in a tatty pub completed convincing, and I liked the way the film showed the NF as reasonably attractive for these alienated lads, while at the same time most of the skins saw through it as a pile of shit.

There are some lovely touches in the film. The fact that combo only has a provisional driving licence is comically deflating in an understated way, and the indignity for Shaun, that DMs don’t come in children’s sizes!

There were some things I was not too sure about. I think the film tried too hard to explain why Combo was a loser, whereas I think the audience could have been trusted to work that out without the Oprah moments. I am also not entirely sure that skins in 1983 were listening to ska so much , as opposed to the Cockney Rejects and Angelic Upstarts. There was also a political problem, that in 1983 the NF would not have been talking about Englishness, but Britishness, and it would have been the Union Jack, not the Cross of St George behind the NF speaker.

But generally, this is a great, and very English, film.

Monday, May 28, 2007

More debate in SWP's international

Back in March this year, I made a post on this blog asking where the SWP’s international group, the IST, was going, and pointing out that there had been a series of splits in most sections. This post caused a lot of debate, including contributions from Canada, France, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand from members of IST affiliates, and from the groups with similar politics but outside the IST.

The need for an open international debate about the IST is clear, given the fact that there seems to be little principled political difference between the groups within and without the IST, although there are differences of strategy and tactics, as you would expect in any living political tradition.

Earlier this month, the New Zealand affiliate of the IST, Socialist Worker(NZ), published a statement calling for the IST to have a more positive alignment towards the Venezuelan revolution, and querying some organisational changes proposed by the British SWP’s Alex Callinicos (pictured above reviewing the troops).

Today, the Socialist Worker(NZ) have issued the following call for a debate on their website, UNITYblog. They want “to start a debate among all serious socialists and revolutionaries, inside and outside the International Socialist Tendency, on how we should be responding to the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela. Please send your contributions to UNITYblog . All serious contributions to the debate will be published. Silly and/or sectarian stuff will be binned with a grin.”

This follows the reply by Alex Callinicos, which they have also published . In view of the fact that UNITYblog have issued this call for a debate about Venezuela, it seems much better that the debate is carried out there rather than here, so I will make no further comment about the specific issue of Venezuela.

However, one comment by Callinicos is especially illuminating:
“As we put it in our ‘International Perspectives 2005’ …the most important front in the struggle against US imperialism is in Iraq.’ It is the resistance in Iraq that is in the process of inflicting the most serious defeat American imperialism has suffered since the Vietnam War. By tying down the Pentagon’s military machine in Iraq, the resistance has made a decisive contribution to creating the space that has allowed the resistance in Latin America to develop and, in the cases of Venezuela and Bolivia, to develop a more explicitly anti-capitalist dynamic. Therefore we believe that the most important single internationalist task of revolutionaries today is to build the international movement against the ‘war on terrorism’. Defeating the Bush administration’s imperialist offensive is critical to the success of every struggle against neoliberalism and capitalism, including those in Venezuela and Bolivia. This is particularly important for revolutionaries in the advanced capitalist world since it gives a task that relates directly to the politics of our own societies rather than merely leave us to cheerlead for Latin American revolutions.” (My emphasis)

It is entirely characteristic of the SWP to overemphasise the significance of the Iraq war, and to overestimate the degree of political radicalism which opposition of the war engenders.

In fact, the war is not even the most important issue on domestic British politics, as housing and job insecurities are the biggest cause of friction between New Labour and its traditional electoral supporters; and pensions and privatisation are the biggest friction between the trade unions and New Labour. A correct strategic orientation in Britain on how to reverse the neo-liberal consensus would therefore be concentrating less on Iraq, and more on the issue of public ownership, and council housing. The victory of the right over these issues has largely been because of the idea, as Thatcher argued, that “there is no alternative”. The significance of Venezuelan solidarity work is of course that it demonstrates that there is an alternative. The Bolivarian revolution has started to turn the tide.

Callinicos’s comments about the IST itself are also illuminating.

He says: “The SWP in particular has argued that Seattle opened a new period of anti-capitalist struggle that has created major opportunities to renew the revolutionary and radical left. We have accordingly been pursuing dialogue with other currents and exploring the possibilities of regroupment on a very extensive scale.”

Seattle was a long time ago. What is more, the social forum movement is becoming increasingly attenuated. An Italian friend of mine who attends the European Social Forum meetings (ESF) observes that the SWP’s policy of opposing the Social Forums in Britain, while simultaneously attending the ESF meetings as the British delegates, has now given way to there being no participants from Britain.

Furthermore, within Britain the SWP wound down the regroupment exercise of the English Socialist Alliance, in favour of a creature that excluded the rest of the activist left, Respect. This process was described succinctly recently by Charlie Pottins : “As for the Left, having gathered some strength (including former Labour Party actvisists) around in the Socialist Alliance, the SWP was quick to liquidate it so they could form a local Respect, though so far it has been almost a non-runner, and at best an also-ran. The sad thing is that some of the local SWP actvists are old-campaigners, better known and respected in the area under their own flag, whereas people just scratch their heads or look away when they turn up as Respect.”

In contrast, Callinicos describes Respect thus: “Our domestic experience has demonstrated, positively with Respect and more negatively with the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party, this process involves opening out to more than the established revolutionary left.”

I was recently discussing Respect with anti-war activists from Bristol and Oxford, both non-members of the SWP, but positively inclined towards them. They told me that in Bristol, none of the former labour lefts who were active in the SA have joined Respect, and the comrade from Oxford resigned from Respect because all decisions for the local branch were taken in advance by the SWP caucus, and if the Respect branch reached a decision about something that the SWP had not previously worked out their position on, then it would be overturned by the SWP at the next meeting. This is not what we mean by regroupment!

Callinicos then says: “The IST has a very simple structure. It consists of organizations sharing a common tradition and approach to revolutionary politics. Its meetings are devoted largely to political discussions, with very few decisions being made. These decisions are normally taken by consensus: the only real exception was the exclusion of the ISO (US) in 2001, which followed the ISO intervening to help to engineer a split in our Greek sister organization, SEK.”

We are entitled to ask, why was the ISO allegedly trying to cause a split in the SEK an offence requiring expulsion. Whereas Tony Cliff boasts in his autobiography that he split the German and French groups? And Callinicos himself sought to engineer a split in the ISO(USA). why is there one rule for the goose, and another for the gander?

We are also entitled to wonder whether this consensual model is true, given that Callinicos also says that one of the tasks of his proposed committee is “addressing problems in specific groups”. That is interfering in the internal lives of other affiliates, as Cliff used to do, and Callinicos did with the American ISO.

Callinicos claims that hitherto, the leadership of the IST has been run from London because “the British SWP … has far greater resources and partly because of the political authority its leadership has enjoyed in the Tendency.”

But on what basis has the SWP greater political authority? Surely not on the basis of achievement, as they are a fraction of their former size, with a much reduced influence in the unions and workplaces, and their activities in the Socialist Alliance, Respect and SSP have earned them enormous distrust from other socialist activists.

Indeed, the reduced authority of the SWP is one of the reasons why so many organisations that share their basic politics, such as the American ISO, the Socialist Alternative group in Australia, or the Socialisme Internationale Group in France are outside the IST.

The debate that is being opened up is an entirely welcome one.

Deputy leadership hustings

Last Saturday six of us from Swindon joined the Stop the War Coalition protest outside the Labour Party deputy leadership hustings in Bristol. We were expecting Gordon Brown to be there, but I don’t think he turned up. It is always nice for me to go to Bristol and meet up with comrades who I worked with in the past.

There were about 40 people present outside, and unfortunately the policing was unnecessarily heavy (Peter Hain is Northern Ireland secretary). Although, I estimate only half were members of the SWP, the fact that there were too many Socialist Worker placards and paper sellers gave the impression that it was a SWP protest, which is a bit of a counter productive image to project if trying to have a relationship with the Labour Party, and more than one non-SWP member expressed discomfort about it to me.

The logic of standing against Labour in elections has also seemingly undermined the strategic understanding that SWP comrades had about the Labour Party. As one Asian labour councillor drove past he was castigated in hostile terms for the fact that he had stood on an anti-war ticket to get elected, but was not active in the anti-war movement. This seems exactly the wrong tack to take: he should be encouraged for standing as an anti-war candidate, which is in itself a form of participation in the peace movement, even if he doesn’t go on demonstrations.

According to the report in the Morning Star 250 trade unionists attended the hustings. This seems unlikely to me, I had a chat with one of the stewards from Amicus and had a look at his list, and from that I estimate attendance nearer the 100 mark.

The most unequivocally right-wing candidates, Alan Johnson and Hazel Blears, are both stressing their links with the trade unions, but not calling for any change in policy. Bizarrely, the Shop workers union, USDAW is backing Hazel Blears, seemingly simply on the basis that she is an USDAW member. But USADW also claims that: “Gordon Brown’s … brilliant management of the economy and undoubted leadership skills [show he] is the right choice to build on Labour's achievements since 1997 continuing to build a prosperous Britain and secure a fourth term Labour Government”. Britain’s fifth biggest union, with 360000 members, USDAW is clearly sending a message by backing Blears that there needs be no change of direction. Privatisation and PFI, growing inequality, no repeal of Tory anti trade-union laws, deregulation, attacks on civil liberties, wars of aggression, a housing crisis, and Labour’s vote falling to its lowest ever level are all signs of success for USDAW.

The other deputy leadership candidates are all to one degree or another wooing the activist vote. Hilary Benn has called for new legislation to bridge the pay gap, and improve flexible working rights, and has on that basis been backed by the tiny ceramics union, Unity, which has only 9000 members mainly in Stoke on Trent.

Peter Hain is being backed by ASLEF, BFAWU and UCATT. Hain himself is playing a funny game, both backing and opposing privatisation of the NHS for example. “As a very general principle I believe public services should be publicly provided unless there is a very good reason why not. For instance in Northern Ireland I used the private sector to clear a massive waiting list backlog, and that was absolutely the right thing to do

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas is backed by UNITE, the newly amalgamated T&G and Amicus. Unite joint general secretary, Derek Simpson said: "Jon Cruddas' stated policies mirror our members' desire for better job security, decent pensions, affordable housing and public services provided by the public sector. Jon is unlike any other candidate standing for the deputy leadership - he alone is calling for a change of direction in order to reconnect with the Labour party's core supporters."

There has been some criticism of UNITE for backing Gordon Brown, and interestingly I seems to have been a decision of only the GEC of the T&G and not Amicus who agreed to do so: “The Unite amicus section's political committee agreed .. that they would back Mr Cruddas, while the Unite T&G section's decision to nominate Cruddas and Brown was taken by its General Executive Council.”

Too much can be read into union leaderships supporting Brown, as I wrote back in February : “The union leaders want influence, and also want a change of direction. They will reason that backing Brown keeps them close to him, and they could maximise pressure on the new PM by backing a deputy leader closer to the unions’ agenda. As has been shown at the last two party conferences, the union leaders are very disciplined (or spineless, depending on your perspective) at sticking to their own agenda, and not supporting left initiatives over Iraq, etc. Cruddas himself has a good prospect of being not the “left candidate” but the “unions’ candidate”, in the same way that Callaghan was for leader. I think those union leaders wanting to pull Labour towards their own agenda may back Brown and Cruddas.”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Two Viceroys and a loyalist

The establishment, the best word to describe the individuals concerned, apologies for haters of clichés, has got together a commission to decide what should be done with Iraq. Apparently leaving this up to the Iraqi people is boring. The grandees who help to rule Britain and the southern area of Iraq are maybe feeling miffed that their opposite numbers in the US are enjoying cooking up “Iraq study groups” and “benchmarks” with which to dictate to the government of Iraq what they should be doing i.e. hurry up with the oil law to let the US/UK oil companies get their hands on the oil reserves that currently belong to the people of Iraq.

The commission is chaired by a Tory former viceroy of the statelet of Northern Ireland Tom King, Lib-Dem Lord Ashdown, former viceroy of Bosnia and Baroness Jay. Apart from voting against the Government on some votes on House of Lords reform the Baroness has loyally voted New Labour time and time again. This includes voting through the super draconian powers the government decided that it wanted for “fighting terrorism” and for bullying people through the mental health system.

Baroness Jay said that “The Iraq Commission aims to produce a long term strategy for Britain’s role in Iraq”. You can bet a month’s salary that this long term role will not include getting out and staying out. There are eight “Commissioners” who will help the barons and baroness. These are various luminaries of the foreign policy elite spiced up for the Guardian reading classes with Maeve Sherlock, Asim Siddiqui and Brian Brivati.

Sherlock is the former Chief Exec of the Refugee Council but is perhaps more notable as a New Labour apparatchik and former NUS president. Though she won’t feel too alone as another former NUS president will also be on the commission, Stephen Twigg

Asim Siddiqui is a British Moslem who is allowed in as he is a City slicker. Brian Brivati is an academic from the Unversity of Kingston. Brivati seems to live in a particularly high ivory tower. He thinks that history will come to regard Tony Bliar as a truly great statesman (I am not joking) and that you can have such a thing as a humanitarian war.

No one from the Iraqi community in Britain.

No one from the anti-war movement.

No one with an ability to think for themselves.

NB: Paddy Ashdown in today's Observer about the Iraq Commission

California Green Party to split?

The train wreck that seems to be threatening the California Green Party has been very little discussed on the British left, but is of some significance. I have not been following events closely myself, and welcome corrections and clarification from those who know more, and understand better.
The following two blog articles give some background, here and here including some debate from all sides in the dispute.

Why does it matter? Well firstly the California Green Party is relatively large for a progressive party in the English speaking world, with some 40000 members, and has had modest but significant electoral success, despite the fact that the American political system discriminates against minor parties even more than the British system.

Secondly, some of the issues in dispute are relevant to debates in the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) about structure and accountability, and are also interesting for the left as showing both the opportunities and problems for the socialist left orienting on the Green Party.

At one level this appears to be a left/right conflict. The supporters of former Santa Monica councillor Michael Feinstein, are arguing for fusion with the Democrats, or allowing Democrats to be endorsed with the Green party ticket. On the other hand, Peter Camejo, a former member of the Socialist Workers Party (an organisation with a different political tradition from the British SWP) is seeking to rally the left. Camejo is a major player, and was the running mate of Ralph Nadar for the 2004 presidential elections. Itself somewhat confusing as Green party leader, David Cobb was himself running against Nadar.

On the plus side, the American Greens have succeeded in a modest way in building a broadly progressive electoral base for a left of centre party, and also one that has been relatively open to allowing socialists to work within it. The British SWP’s former sister organisation, the ISO, also orients on the Greens now, but from what I gather in a way that is felt by other activists to be a bit of a raid.

However, the difficulties for the Greens have been compounded by a culture of seeking consensus and being seen as nice and woolly. Bizarrely every Green party meeting in California has a moderator, who shouts “Vibes!” if they sense that someone is becoming too passionate or committed to a non consensual point of view! I know that some people on the British left find the GPEW’s culture refreshing compared to the sometimes competitive culture of the far left groups. But Camejo points to Jo Freeman’s classic feminist text, The Tyranny of Structurelessness, to show how consensus doesn’t work.

As Freeman argues: “structurelessness becomes a way of masking power [and ] is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not.) For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit.”

Certainly anyone who ever had any dealings with Ian Bone’s Class War anarchist group in the 1980s will tell you how its lack of formal leadership structures was completely undemocratic.

The Consensual culture of the California Greens requires that if full consensus cannot be reached then an 80% majority is required, leading to paralysis of concerted action.

The tyranny of assuming that ideological and political differences can be subsumed into consensus also leads to lack of transparency and accountability of the leading bodies in the Party. In Los Angeles County, 20000 members were led by a single committee of six, five of whom were Feinstein supporters. What is more, there are serious allegations of financial impropriety of cheques made payable to the Green party being paid into Feinstein’s personal account, with an alleged embezzlement of some $30000.

Clearly there is no suggestion of financial or political impropriety with the GPEW, but I helped a friend recently who was standing as a local Green candidate, and I was shocked by the lack of democratic culture or structures in the party at local level, where democratically agreed leaflets were rewritten without consultation, and candidate selection does not seem to be through a transparent process. This would not be tolerated in, for example the Labour Party.

Voice goes fortnightly


Due to the financial impact of losing representation in the Scottish parliamant, the SSP is reluctantly switching their excellent paper to fortnightly publication. SSV is one of the best English language socialist publications, often carrying articles that you wouldn't find elsewhere, for example in this week's issue there is a fascinating discussion of how Cuba has excelled at organic and sustainable agriculture since the fall of the USSR.

Above all the paper reflects the humanity and sense of humour that are always evident from the SSP. I would urge all socialists, and those in England and Wales in particular, to take out a subscription to support our Scottish comrades.

The editorial team has issued the following statement:

It’s only human to look for silver linings, but sometimes a cloud is just a cloud.
After a horrific two years of internal battles, centred on a shabby pantomime court case, and the splinter of socialism in Scotland, topped off with electoral wipe out for all the forces now representing the left - we found ourselves in a pretty dark and dreary place.
The financial impact of our heavy defeat in the elections sees the Scottish Socialist Party with little choice but to cut back on staff. All the party staff have discussed the situation along with the Executive Committee and agreed on redundancy.
There will be a reduced number of staff across the whole party, including the Voice, and that means, for now at least, we have to scale back to fortnightly production.
There’s no denying that’s a big setback. The Voice went weekly six years ago, in May 2001, having already established itself over four years as Scotland’s only socialist newspaper.
It was a huge achievement for the SSP - for the first time in 50 years a weekly socialist paper, printed and published in Scotland, was for sale on our streets.
It’s been a hard task maintaining that achievement over the last few years. The SSP’s star burnt brightly, a burst of light on the Scottish political scene so sudden that the party’s finances have sometimes struggled to fuel it.
At times, just three full time staff, with the sterling help of volunteer contributors, have pulled the Voice together and kept it coming out, week after week.
And the conditions haven’t been easy either. Everyone involved in the SSP has felt the stress and frustration of the tumultuous times the SSP has been dragged through.
The Voice, however, has remained dignified, political and focussed outward - on campaigning, on raising ideas to change the world.
Because all the time, struggle burnt on the streets of Scotland and the Scottish Socialist Party was involved, and the Voice was there to report. And that will remain just so.
In the current period, fortnightly production will still be a big challenge for the remaining staff - and they’ll need the support and help of everyone who values the Voice.
If you can contribute in any way, whether you’re up for writing stories, taking pictures, or just have some ideas you think the Voice should cover, please get in touch.
Or if you can offer to help out with any of the labour intensive administrative tasks, which make sure we’re not just talking to ourselves, you would be a proper hero.
Keeping the Voice coming out as regularly as possible is the driving force in maintaining our socialist campaigning presence in our communities.
The Voice won’t be changing its style or its content - it’ll still be your unmissable guide to the battles undertaken by people fighting against injustice, from Pollok to Peru. We’ll still be a space for the voices, ideas and aspirations of ordinary people, unmitigated by the whims of a millionaire owner or the pull of big business’ advertising budgets.
We need everyone to muck in, and we are sure you will.
The members of the Scottish Socialist Party have stood united through an appalling time and defended the integrity and principles of our party. New people have joined us too, inspired by our ideas, our actions and our downright temerity.
We have held together, and together now we face the future.
The thing about clouds is, they’re never permanent - the skies are always changing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

RCTV: Chavez defends the revolution

In 1992 the British government ended the licence of Thames Television, which since 1968 had broadcast to London. The government had changed the franchise rules in the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which minimised the requirement of a high quality of service, in favour of allowing bids to be decided by money alone.

There was widespread discussion at the time that the Thatcher government had been politically motivated in changing the rules specifically to enable them to end Thames's licence because of the award winning 1988 documentary, “Death on the Rock” where Thames TV exposed the British government’s murder of three Irish republican volunteers in Gibraltar in 1988.

The Thatcher government recognised that there is no such thing as free speech, and acted in their own class interests. Nevertheless, there was no international outcry about “censorship”, or claims that Thatcher was a dictator.

Thames TV’s licence had come to an end, and the government, who was responsible for issuing licences, had exercised its legal right to award the licence for the next period to a different broadcaster, Carlton.

The Venezuelan government has now decided not to renew the TV licence of the channel RCTV. It has not banned the channel; it did not even cancel their licence prematurely. They have simply exercised their right as a sovereign nation, as the British government did in 1992, not to renew a public broadcasting licence, through an entirely transparent process. Nor is this unusual, since 1969 the American Federal Communications Commission has closed three stations: WLBT-TV in Mississippi, CBS affiliate WLNS-TV in Michigan, and Trinity Broadcasting in Miami.

Nevertheless, despite acting legally, and within the international norms of a public broadcasting licensing body, the Venezuelan government are being accused of dictatorial conduct and censorship, an accusation being echoed by some of the more superficial voices on the “left”.

The question of free speech is being raised. However freedom of speech is not an abstract concept, but one rooted in social and political conditions.

Trade unions offer no right for management to speak at trade union meetings. It is even normal practice in British trade unions for management grades to be organised in different unions or at least different branches, because we seek to keep management out of meetings so that those they supervise are not intimidated by management’s point of view. These are both restrictions on an abstract freedom of speech, but are obviously unexceptional.

The RCTV channel not only encouraged and promoted a military coup in 2002 that briefly overthrew the government, but during the so-called oil strike of 2002-2003 (actually an employers' lock-out of employees who wanted to work) the station repeatedly called upon its viewers to come out into the street and help topple the government. As part of its continuing political campaign against the government, the station has also used false allegations, sometimes with gruesome and violent imagery, to convince its viewers that the government was responsible for such crimes as murders where there was no evidence of government involvement.

But RCTV has also been guilty of various financial irregularities under the Venezuelan criminal law, such as the withholding 0f six billion Bolivars of national insurance contributions.

Venezuela is a country in the middle of revolutionary change. Power is being disputed between on the one hand the radical popular movement, rooted in the workplaces and communities, and on the other hand the boss class, the corporations, and the imperialists. The Chavez government is a progressive one, that is helping to roll back the idea that there is no alternative to neo-liberalism, and is seeking to encourage and build the popular movement.

In these circumstances, the debate about freedom of speech is not an abstract one, it is a question of whether the state defends the interests of the popular movement and the working class, or whether it allows the boss class to undermine the revolution through their ownership of a tatty tabloid TV station. The question is in which class interest is the state acting, and in Venezuela the government has acted in the interests of the working class by revoking RCTV’s licence. Well done Chavez!

The following 25 minute documentary clarifies the issues very well (Spanish with English subtitles)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cruddas: We have to return to class politics

Thursday's Morning Star carries the following very interesting interview with Dagenham MP JON CRUDDAS, who is the only Labour deputy leadership contender who isn't in the Cabinet. As I have argued on this blog, trade union backing has turned Jon into a strong candidate. His campiagn is significant as being the vehicle by which the trade unions can express their disatisfaction with the government's current course

Morning Star editor, John Haylett Writes:

ALONE among the Labour deputy leadership hopefuls, Dagenham and Redbridge MP Jon Cruddas does not want the job to come gift-wrapped with the deputy prime minister label.

"I don't see the job as a stepping stone to the baubles, country houses and so on," he makes clear.

In his opinion, there are too many people in positions of influence in the Labour Party whose vision is of a "virtual party, a message delivery system," which concentrates, US-style, on a tiny proportion of swing voters and key constituencies located in the mythical country of Middle England.

"They regard the ideas of a political party and membership mobilisation as old-fashioned, believing that the future should be decided like a market strategy."

Cruddas is also the only contender who has not sat in the heart of the Cabinet loyally parroting the new Labour neoliberal and pro-imperialist line, although, for a current outsider, he began as an insider, working in 10 Downing Street during the first Blair government.

"I recall sitting in Downing Street in 1998-9 when BMW pulled the plug on Rover and one of the advisers said that this was marvellous news - 'a great opportunity to move from the old industrial economy to the new knowledge economy,' based on new technology."

Such people, who had the Prime Minister's ear, saw the new Labour government as ushering in a new epoch, which would remove the Labour Party from the working class, creating a new economy and new support base for the government.

Cruddas points out that only about one in five jobs is in the knowledge sector, with 80 per cent still taking a traditional form, although, increasingly, based on low skills, low wages and done by women.

"To move forward, the first step is to look at the economy as it is, not at some kind of dream world," he says.

"They have this idea that the government should remove itself from the economy and we have to confront that debate and return to class politics," Cruddas declares.

Deindustrialisation has certainly hit his own constituency, with car assembly at Ford Dagenham ending in 2000 and causing a huge effect on attitudes and voting patterns.

"There has been a big decline in support for Labour and the largest drop has been in social groups D/E, whose attitudes are coloured by insecurity in work, a shortage of council housing and problems in accessing public services," he explains.

"Those who backed new Labour and still do are social groups A/B, many of whom are the new knowledge economy professionals."

Since Labour won the 1997 election, it has shed 4.5 million voters, the vast bulk of whom fall into four main groups.

• The manual working class, which has seen well-paid jobs exported to low-wage economies

• Public-service workers, who resent private-sector penetration and government "reforms"

• Black and ethnic minorities, who have reacted against the Iraq war and ministerial racist scapegoating

• Urban intellectuals who have switched, largely to the Liberal Democrats, over the war.

A recent YouGov poll revealed that 15 million people self-identified as Labour voters, but one-third of them said that they would not vote Labour under present circumstances.

"The important point is that these voters are not switching to the Tories, which means that it is possible to rebuild the Labour Party as a modern, pluralist, federalist democracy," Cruddas insists.

However, he is aware that, in a number of areas, including his own, disillusioned working-class voters are switching to the racist British National Party.

"About 10,000 people voted BNP in my area. That doesn't mean that there are 10,000 nazis. These are insecure and vulnerable people, for whom, as far as they are concerned, the Labour Party has failed them," he states.

Unlike neighbouring MP Margaret Hodge, whose response to this phenomenon was to wallow in the gutter with the BNP by proposing discrimination in housing against recent migrants, Cruddas has worked the streets with a broad coalition of anti-racist groups.

In response to the lies peddled by the BNP, he has delivered the excellent factual newspapers prepared by Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation, door-to-door.

It is an uphill job, especially since, while the BNP concentrates its headline propaganda against Muslim religious symbols, there is a material basis for the refusal to vote Labour any longer.

"They won't vote Tory on class grounds, but they see the main parties as interchangeable," says Cruddas.

"We need to talk to people, change the debate and see how to re-enfranchise working people."

The scale of the problem becomes apparent when he reports on some of the problems coming into his regular constituency surgery and affecting the living standards of his constituents - a Lithuanian construction gang being fed stale bread and cold beans and paid £15 a day and a roofer whose rate for the job has fallen by £2.50 an hour in six months.

And there's even one man who has put a cooker in the shed at the bottom of his garden and rents it out to hot-bedding migrants working in the shadow economy.

"So, you have a combination of exploitation, abuse and criminality," Cruddas comments.

He is passionate about employment rights, not only for indigenous people but also for the large number of undocumented workers whose ruthless exploitation also drives down the living standards and expectations of everyone else.

He recalls with anger that, on the same Friday morning that 125 Labour MPs backed a Trade Union Freedom Bill initiated by, among others Cruddas and John McDonnell MP, former leftwinger and trade union official turned new Labour minister Jim Fitzpatrick filibustered to talk out a Bill on agency workers' rights.

The Dagenham MP believes that it is necessary to tighten regulation of employment agencies and to insist on the kind of public procurement clauses on fair pay and non-discrimination that Ken Livingstone introduced in the Greater London Council days, before the Tory government outlawed them.

Cruddas was among those who addressed the May Day amnesty protest in Trafalgar Square, calling for regularisation of undocumented workers.

"This is a huge problem. There are a third of a million people in London alone with no legal status. If we are not prepared to acknowledge their existence, they will be open to the worst abuses," he says.

So, what are the policies on which Cruddas will campaign for the deputy leadership and pursue his campaign to rebuild the Labour Party as a "modern, pluralist, federalist democracy?"

Apart from workplace rights, he insists on the need for an upsurge in council house building and notes ruefully that, at recent hustings, Cabinet members who have said nothing on the subject in years have jumped on the council housing bandwagon.

"We've passed motions on this at party conference for four years and had the door slammed firmly in our faces, but there are now 100,000 more on the council house waiting list in London since 2003 and a total of 1.6 million people on waiting lists."

Private construction companies constantly bank land, while complaining about "red tape" restrictions on where they may build, but they stick rigidly to building 170,000 units a year, guaranteeing a real-terms annual price rise.

"We used to build 200,000 council homes a year," says Cruddas, pointing out that the government's compliance with "the EU golden rule" of a borrowing limit of 3 per cent of GDP lies behind its determination not to increase the public-sector borrowing requirement.

In his view, this is "unsustainable. It has to change. It is an exercise in political will."

On public services, he wants a moratorium on the involvement of the private sector, saying that the necessary first step is to stop rigging markets in favour of the privateers.

"In the NHS, there is low morale and public support is in decline as a result of the internal market. Paper work, which used to take up 4 per cent of costs, is now 11 per cent and privately provided operations cost 11 per cent more than NHS operations."

His opposition to Trident is based on it being a "relic from a previous era, the cold war," which was useless to defend people on public transport targeted by terrorists on July 7 2005.

Cruddas voted for the invasion of Iraq, explaining: "I saw the case for removing a tyrant who was a threat because of his possession of weapons of mass destruction and who had already used them against his own people.

"I now state unequivocally that I was wrong, not only over the original premise but also on account of the consequences since," he admits.

"If the Democrats in the US can begin to debate a framework for withdrawal, why can't Labour in this country?"

So, if he stands on a left alternative to new Labour neoliberal orthodoxy, why didn't he sign up to John McDonnell's leadership campaign, which shared many of his policy priorities?

"I held out until a late stage, until it was clear that he wasn't going to get enough votes, since even Campaign Group members were signing up for Gordon Brown.

"There was a strong argument for a contest, but it wasn't going to happen."

Those who back Cruddas believe that he would have isolated himself by supporting a doomed McDonnell challenge and that the policy priorities that he champions would have been "drowned out" and discounted.

Whatever, the labour movement and, especially, the left have a choice - back a candidate who speaks out on many of the issues laid out by McDonnell or take part in a beauty contest of new Labour Cabinet members.

When you look at it like that, ruffled feathers and hurt feelings aside, it seems an easy decision to make.

Pakistan's Workers' movement fighting for democracy

“Most widest and broadest gathering” in support of Advocates movement

Report by: Khaliq Shah

The advocate solidarity conference decided to stir up more public support for the advocate’s movement for an independent judiciary and an end of military dictatorship. It decided to brig more and more people in the demonstrations and rallies planned for future.

“Without participation of the working class, the movement can not achieve its real goals” was message echoed again and again.

Organised by Labour Party Pakistan in collaboration with Labour Education Foundation at Lahore Press Club on 23rd May, the conference was the “most widest and broadest gathering so far in support of the advocate movement” according to Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali, a former foreign minister and a leader of Pakistan Peoples Party. Asif Ahmad Ali was one of 35 speakers at the conference.

Over 60 radical organizations participated in the conference. It was almost all the radical forces of Lahore that got together. The president Ahsan Bhoon and secretary Sarfraz Cheema of Lahore High Court Bar Association, the main leaders of the movement, spoke in length about the movement and why they need all the help from the trade unions, radical social organizations and professional organizations.

Chaired by Talib Nawz, central president of Pakistan Workers Confederation, the main trade union body in Pakistan , speakers after speaker warned the participants that this is last chance to get rid of the dictatorship, it is matter of life and death, many commented.

Several commented on the most recent statement of the General Musharaf who said that he will not take of the military uniform and that he is so used to the uniform that it is like his skin and I can not take of my skin.

“The skin will be taken of like we do it during the sacrifices of the animal on Eid days, but we are not professional butchers, so there will be many cuts on the skin while taken it of, there will be a lot of pain for the General during this process, we are sorry for that but we will take it of in any circumstances, we will not tolerate the military uniform as the president of Pakistan” commented Sarfraz Cheema, the young and ever fighting secretary of Lahore High Court Bar Association.

The conference tone was very radical. It was a message of defiant. It was a full support for the movement of the lawyers that has inspired every one. It made it clear that we not only need to change the faces but also to change the system. Speakers made it clear to the leaders of the political parties and even to the leaders of advocate movement that any deal with the military dictatorship will not be accepted. It is to get rid of dictatorship.

The common declaration not only opposed the process of privatization but it suggested nationalizing all the denationalized industry. The declaration adopted unanimously demanded an end of neo liberal policies and a minimum wage of 10,000 Rupees (US$ 170) a month. It demanded an immediate resignation of Generl Mushjaraf, formation of a transition government under the representatives of civil society organization in consultation of political parties and a formation of an independent election commission. The transitional government must organize a general elections within three months and hand over power to the elected representatives.

The advocate solidarity conference, the first of its kind so for was attended by the following political parties, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group, Awami National Party, National Workers Party, Awami Tehrik (Peoples Movement), Istiqlal Party, Labour Party Pakistan. These were the invited political parties and they all came.

The Ihsan Wain general secretary Awami National Party (ANP) was one of the main speakers at the conference. 26 members of ANP were killed in the Karachi May 12 incidents by MQM thugs, a semi fascist group in Karachi supporting military government when they were in the streets of Karachi to welcome the chief justice. It was a bloodiest day in the history of Karachi , over 43 was killed and many hundreds injured. He told the conference that I have fought against three military dictatorships during the past 50 years. I can say after judging the mood of the people that this military government will not survive either. “Join the movement, the days of the dictatorship are numbered, kick them hard, it is a fight of life and death” Ihsan Wain told the conference.

Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali categorically denied any deal of Benazir Bhottu with the military dictatorship. “I was in Dubai last week on the invitation of Benazir Bhottu, She has asked me to make it absolute clear that PPP will fight under the leadership of the advocates to get rid of this military dictatorship.

Choudry Gulzar Ahmed general secretary All Pakistan Trade Union federation and president Pakistan Workers Confederation Punjab, Yousaf Baluch chairman National Trade Union Federation, Mian Qayum, president All Pakistan textile workers union and several more trade union leaders asked the working class to join the movement.

Shah Taj Qazalbash convener Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights, Gulnar of Women Action Forum, Rabia Bajwa a fomer finace secretary of Lahore High Court Bar Association, Nazli Javed of Labour Education Foundation, Azra Shad of Women Workers Help Line spoke of women participation in the movement and need to bring more and more women in the movement.

A joint Action Committee from the Lahore High Court Bar Association decided to meet every Tuesday at Lahore High Court with representatives of trade unions and social organization to coordinate the movement.

The massive presence electronic and print media showed the importance of the event.

The Messages of solidarity from international left organizations were handed over to the representatives of the advocate’s movement.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jim Murphy and the role of trade unions...

What does lurk in the mind of Work and Pensions Minister, Jim Murphy? In his speech today at the TUC’s Disability Conference, he’s states:

"Unions represented many workers in traditional industries who went straight from work onto incapacity benefit. I want to explore whether unions can contract with government to support those on benefit get back into sustained employment.
So I invite you today. Why not use those skills to become providers of welfare to work services? The attributes you possess are invaluable."

According to the logic of Murphy, to be able to achieve the most effective and efficient service, both private and public sectors will need to take a role in providing welfare to work programmes, and that trade unions have much to offer in terms of experience and expertise…..

This amounts to confusion by Murphy about the function and role trade unions play. The role of the TUs is to keep workers in their jobs and not sacked due to “ill-health”. Otherwise to make sure employers provide an environment in which people can work at meaningful jobs where the disabilities that they face are worked around in a practical way and not used as a means of bullying and victimisation.

To quote an oft favourite line from EastEnders: “Er, what’s going on...Jim”?

Union demands no smoking in prison


The Prison Officers Association has always been a contradictory beast.

So at their conference this week, national chairman Colin Moses attacked 10 years of new Labour's broken promises, warning Prime Minister Tony Blair that he "should be ashamed of himself."

Moses told delegates that the government had treated the POA with "derision" since it came to power, and he pointed out that Gordon Brown, who had attacked officers' wages, was unlikely to give the union its trade union rights back when he becomes Prime Minister. "Enough is enough. We must demonstrate that this union has a voice and it must be heard. …. We will continue to campaign and we will take our fight to Europe, the government and the TUC. We will join with other unions for justice and fairness."

He also pointed out, in reference to the government's increasing use of the private sector to run Britain's jails, that "public services should not be run for profit."

So far so good, this is normal trade unionism, indeed the POA is backing the RMT initiated national Shop Stewards Network, with its next conference in July.

But the POA also represents those in the front end of enforcing the repressive role of the state, and often has less than enlightened views about prisoners’ rights.

The week POA conference attacked the government's decision to allow prisoners to smoke in their cells once the smoking ban in public places and at work comes into effect on July 1 in England and Wales.

The POA complains that the exemption gives prisoners more rights than prison officers. Staff at Wakefield's maximum-security prison were banned from smoking last year when it became the first to introduce a clean-air policy. Warders cannot smoke anywhere in the jail, but prisoners are still allowed to light up in their cells.

General secretary Brian Caton told conference that prisoners should not be allowed to smoke in jail. "They have broken the law and been sent to prison as a result. That was their choice and they knew the consequences of their actions … Prisons are not hotels and it is wrong that prison staff are being treated like second-class citizens.”

The equation by the POA is entirely false that it is unfair that prisoners can smoke while staff cannot. Staff can nip outside for a smoke, and can go home each day.

It is important that prisoners have as much control over decisions about their own life and welfare as possible, this is necessary for self-esteem. As long as smoking is legal in wider society, then it should be legal for prisoners.

The difficultly is that the shift in social attitudes towards smoking has led to a widespread exaggerated misunderstanding of the real risk of second hand smoke, which has fed into the POA’s attitude. This is the government’s fault as they have colluded in exaggerating the understanding of risk in order to promote an otherwise laudable public policy objective.

The balance struck by anti-smoking legislation itself is correct over this issue, but the way that the public debate was conducted in an atmosphere of moral panic has created an issue of potentially serious friction between prisoners and staff.

The state versus Andrew Murray

Bristol City Council is prosecuting Andrew Murray, national chair of the Stop the War Coalition, in connection with posters that were flyposted onto walls in Bristol. The trial will be at Bristol Magistrates Court on 24th June.

There is no suggestion by the prosecution that Andrew Murray personally posted these up, or even that he was in any way involved in a decision to do so. He is being prosecuted as the head of the organisation allegedly benefiting from the Flyposting. I believe there are 14 counts, each of which carries a possible maximum fine of £2000.

This is the third high profile prosecution by the Liberal Democrat controlled Bristol City Council for Flyposting, and a previous prosecution was also against a different anti-war organisation. (Similarly, in Swindon where I live, it was the Lib Dem councillors who made a big fuss in the local papers seeking for anti-war Flyposting to be prosecuted).

This is a very dangerous precedent, if the leading figures of national political organisation can be prosecuted for events over which they have no control. Not only is it a restriction of the ability to effectively protest, and organise democratic dissent, but it obviously leaves individuals vulnerable to provocation, if opponents and enemies of our movement put up posters in order to get us prosecuted.

The legislation is clearly poorly drafted. Hopefully Bristol’s Lib Dems will see sense before the trial and drop the prosecution.

B52 Two not guilty

Jury decides - not-guilty: intention to damage US bombers destined for Iraq was lawful

On Tuesday 22 May, at Bristol Crown Court, the trial of two Oxford peace activists Philip Pritchard and Toby Olditch (known as the 'B52 Two') concluded with the jury returning a unanimous verdict of not-guilty- in less than three hours.

This was the first retrail of fairford disarmers, as all three earlier trials resulted in undecided juries.

The next retrial will be of Josh Richards, scheduled to start on 30 May, and Margaret Jones and Paul Milling – who non-violently disabled three tankers used for refuelling the bombers – from 2 July. All trials will take place from 10am at Bristol Crown Court, The Law Courts, Small Street, BS1 1DA. Please be there to support them if you can.

Philip Pritchard is 36 years old, and a self employed carpenter and father. Toby Olditch is 38 years old, and a self employed builder. They both live in Oxford. The two men were arrested inside the perimeter fences at RAF Fairford in the early morning of 18 March 2003, just two days before the bombing of Iraq started. They carried with them tools to damage the planes, nuts and bolts to jam the aircrafts engines, pictures of ordinary Iraqi civilians and paint symbolizing blood and oil. They also carried warning signs for attaching to any damaged planes which would help alert aircrew to their action. The two men acted nonviolently in a way which would not result in harm to anyone, including the military personnel at Fairford. They intended to stay with the planes and tell the operators what they'd done.

The two were charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 18 March 2003 when they tried to safely disable US B52 bombers to prevent them from bombing Iraq[1]. The court heard the two men acted to prevent damage to life and property in Iraq, and war crimes by the aggressors.

The trial started on Monday 14 May 2007. This is the second trial for the alleged offence; the first in October 2006 ended in a hung jury, after 12 hours of deliberation spread over three days. The two accused were facing up to ten years in jail. There are two other similar cases awaiting re-trial, due to hung juries, at Bristol crown court.

The two activists maintain that war crimes were committed in the bombing as cluster bombs, which spread unexploded bomblets that kill and maim civilians (like mines) were used, as were 'bunker busting' bombs tipped with depleted uranium that fragments, spreading radioactive toxins which are harmful to civilians.

During the trial the prosecution accepted that even delaying the bombers would have prevented civilian casualties, as it would have allowed those fleeing cities more time to escape. In his hour and a half summing up today, Justice Crowther explained the legal tests that must be met for the prosecution to succeed, he reiterated the facts and summarised the evidence. A document 'steps to verdict' had been provided to assist the jury.

Toby Olditch said "We're overjoyed, and thankful for the good sense of the jurors, for the wonderful support we've received, and for the commitment and expertise of our legal representatives. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people have still suffered as a result of the Government's actions. It shouldn't have come to the point that people had to take direct action to try to check the abuse of executive power."

Phil Pritchard "I am delighted that the jury have returned a unanimous not-guilty verdict. Our action in trying to prevent illegal attacks on the people of Iraq in 2003 is vindicated. I hope war of this kind never happens again."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Remploy factories to close

It was announced today that 43 Remploy factories will close. Remploy employs 5,000 disabled staff at its factories across the UK, which manufacture a variety of goods for firms. I was sent information regarding the closures as Unite T&G section represents some of the factories meant for closure as well as the GMB. And are also part of the Remploy Trade Union Consortium.

"The trade unions will now seek authority for a national official strike ballot in all 83 Remploy sites. The company and the government have taken no account of the advice given to them over the past 12 months".

What to me is utterly bizarre is the letter that appeared in the Guardian from organisations such as Mencap and MIND supporting these closures. And quite understandably TUs and workers alike are annoyed by this letter especially with the current attacks on welfare benefits and disability.

Whilst I know very little about about the other organisations who signed this letter, I do know MIND and when they say they represent and champion the rights of mental health users, don't believe the hype because they certainly don't listen to the demands and the needs of the very people they purport to represent!
I would be interested to hear what disability rights activists say and their take on this especially the organisation TUDA.

The French presidential election

Here is another longer article, from Murray Smith.


The French presidential election should be seen as a whole. It is of course possible to analyse the results of the first round (1) but they only take on their full significance in the light of the second round. What was at stake in this election was who would succeed Jacques Chirac as president. The candidate who was supported by the Medef (the French employers’ organization) and by the overwhelming majority of the French ruling class and their allies internationally, was Nicolas Sarkozy. Of course if Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal had been elected that would hardly have been a disaster for the French ruling class. Since the early 1980s Socialist governments have alternated with right-wing ones, both pushing forward the neo-liberal agenda of privatization, deregulation and attacks on social protection, as well as attacks on immigrants and democratic rights. The plural left government of Lionel Jospin from 1997-2002 was particularly effective in this regard.

Nevertheless, the ruling class wanted Sarkozy, and for reasons more than its usual instinctive preference for the Right. This was no ordinary election and Sarkozy was no ordinary right-wing candidate. He stood on a programme that was explicitly for change, for a break (“la rupture”) with the presidency of Chirac - who belonged, however, to the same party as him. And he defined very explicitly what he was proposing to change. He announced clearly that he was going to launch an offensive against what is left of the post-war consensus, of the gains obtained by working people at the Liberation. The London Economist, which has a fairly unerring instinct for the interests of its class in Britain and elsewhere, urged Sarkozy to be firm in “taking on unions, insiders [read: public sector workers and others who have some job security], pensioners and others with a stake in today’s over-protected system”. Which is just what Sarkozy has announced he will do.

Grim-faced, leading Socialist Party member Dominique Strauss-Kahn recognized on French TV on election night that the Socialist Party had suffered a serious defeat and pointed out that it was the third presidential election in a row that the party had lost – to the advantage of the Right. But this election was different. In 1995 Jacques Chirac won by promising to overcome the “social fracture” - and proceeded six months later to launch an attack on the social security system that provoked the November-December 1995 strike movement. In 2002 Socialist candidate Jospin was punished for his record in government by being eliminated in the first round. Chirac won the second round by a landslide, mobilizing a broad political spectrum against the far right National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. In both cases he won by presenting himself as something he was not – concerned with social inequality, a bulwark against the National Front – and in both cases his actions as president were in contradiction with his electoral discourse. This time Sarkozy won on an explicit and aggressively right-wing platform – neo-liberal social and economic policies only slightly nuanced by references to defending French industry and French interests in Europe, harsh law and order proposals and an aggressive assertion of the French nation and French national identity with strong racist undertones.


The election saw a high degree of polarisation. Sarkozy fully mobilized the vote of the traditional right and most of the far-right vote – he took part of the National Front vote in the first round and most of the rest of it in the second round. But he made only very limited inroads into the left vote, which largely held up. Royal won 57 per cent of white collar workers and 59 per cent of blue collar workers – though Sarkozy won the votes of a majority of private sector workers, and also of the most low-paid workers. That is not a fact to be neglected, it may indicate a beginning of chipping away the sectors of the working class that are the least organised by the traditional workers’ movement, unions and parties. Among young people, Sarkozy won only 40 per cent of the votes of 18-24 year-olds (15 points less than Chirac in 1995). Indeed, Sarkozy had majority support only among the over-50s, with the notable exception of the 25-34 age group, of which he won 57 per cent. (2).

Significantly, Sarkozy gained his votes largely on a positive basis. According to the survey from which we have just quoted, 63 per cent of Sarkozy’s voters voted for him rather than against Royal, whereas 53 per cent Royal’s voters were above all voting against Sarkozy. Among those who voted for Royal, the sectors whose vote was most motivated by rejection of Sarkozy rather than commitment to Royal were blue and white collar workers.

As is often pointed out, the majority has changed at every legislative election since 1981, as voters rejected neo-liberal governments of both right and left. For presidential elections, the story is not quite the same. Mitterrand was re-elected in 1988, but that was after two years of cohabiting with a right-wing government and parliamentary majority. Chirac was elected in 1995 after two years of a right-wing government, but as we have pointed out, on a demagogic basis. Sarkozy, a minister in a government which has launched a series of attacks on workers, pensioners, immigrants and young people since 2002, and had many more victories than defeats, won by distancing himself from that government only in the sense of announcing a more thorough and consistent programme of attacks. Being elected in such conditions, especially if, as is highly likely, the Right wins a parliamentary majority, represents a break in the sequence of alternating left and right governments. Faced with the chronic incapacity of the Left to offer an alternative rather than just alternating governments, the Right has seized the initiative.

No surprise

If Sarkozy’s victory was bad news, it was no surprise. He led consistently in the opinion polls, both before the first round and between the two rounds. His first round score of 31.1 per cent was well ahead of Royal, who had just under 26 per cent. Furthermore, Le Pen won 10.5 per cent of the vote and another far-right candidate, Philippe de Villiers, won 2.2 per cent. Given that most of those votes were expected to go to Sarkozy, as they did, he approached the second round in a very strong position. What was Royal’s position? She had her own nearly 26 per cent of the vote. That was actually quite a high vote for an SP candidate in the first round. The problem, was, where would the missing 25 per cent come from? The reservoir of votes from candidates on her left who had been eliminated in the first round was far from sufficient, even supposing she won them all (she did win most of them). The total of the votes of the LCR’s Olivier Besancenot, Marie-Georges Buffet of the CP, Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvrière, unitary alternative candidate Jose Bové and Dominique Voynet of the Greens came to just over 10 per cent. So the left total was about 36 per cent. One reason for the low reservoir of votes on the left for the second round was that many voters who actually had more affinity with the radical left candidates chose to “vote usefully” in the first round so as to make sure there was no repeat of 2002, with the Socialist candidate eliminated.

This left the third candidate, the centre-right François Bayrou, who falsely portrayed himself as neither right nor left, in a pivotal position. Bayrou scored 18.5 per cent, nearly three times his score in 2002. Apart from his core base, many people voted for him on the basis of his presenting himself as new and an alternative to the two main parties: others, even some well to the left, just felt that he was better placed than Royal to beat Sarkozy. Royal assiduously courted Bayrou and his electorate between the two rounds, to little avail. The most she got was a declaration by Bayrou that he would not vote for Sarkozy. In fact, Bayrou’s electorate broke down in the second round to approximately 40 per cent Sarkozy, 40 per cent Royal and 20 per cent abstention.

Before moving on to the left candidates, a word about the Royal campaign. Early on in the campaign, she expressed admiration for Tony Blair – not exactly a vote-winner on the French Left. She would no doubt have liked be to the French Blair, and probably still does – her campaign was certainly the most right-wing of any Socialist presidential candidate in the Fifth Republic. But she forgot that Blair was able to be Blair because of two things. First of all Thatcher had carried out the neo-liberal/neo-conservative counter-revolution in the 1980s and smashed working-class opposition. Secondly, Blair’s predecessor, the thuggish Neil Kinnock, had effectively purged the Labour Party. So neither within the party nor outside it did Blair have to deal with any serious opposition. That is not the situation in France. So Royal had to adjust her campaign, tacking tack a bit to the left and a bit to the right, and ended up looking much less coherent than Sarkozy.

In fact the only effective way to combat Sarkozy was frontally, with a programme that systematically countered his – anti-liberal, and capable of countering his law and order and nationalist campaigns.

Unity and disunity on the left

No one could have seriously expected that of any Socialist Party candidate. But following on the victory of the ‘No’ in the European referendum of 2005, a ‘No’ largely brought about by the campaign for a ‘No from the left’ which involved a united front going from the left of the SP via the Communist Party to the LCR and also involving many independents, global justice campaigners, trade unionists, etc., there was a new situation to the left of the SP. The unitary collectives set up to run the referendum campaign survived it and in fact developed even further in 2006 in the perspective of a united anti-liberal campaign for the coming presidential and legislative elections. At their height, the collectives involved about 15,000 people.

As everyone knows, it did not happen, and the result was several candidates. Was this inevitable, and what would have been the potential of a united campaign?

First of all, was it inevitable? Chronologically, the first to pull out of the collectives, in September 2006, was the LCR majority (a substantial minority of the Ligue remained). The reason given was that there was insufficient clarity about participation or not in a future SP-dominated government. This was widely felt outside the LCR - and by the “unitary” minority within it - to be an excuse to get out and stand Olivier Besancenot as an LCR candidate.

Very few of the many articles and documents dealing with the movement of the collectives and the attempt at a unitary candidacy have been translated into English (3) and as far as I know none of the main documents of the collectives have. It seems useful to quote the passages concerning an SP-dominated government from a key document entitled “Ambition-Stratégie” adopted by a national meeting of the collectives in September 2006.

"We will not be part of a government dominated by social-liberalism, which, by its composition and by its project, would not give itself the means of finally breaking with liberalism, would not respond to what people were waiting for. The Socialist Party, in particular, has adopted a programme which turns its back on a clear break with liberalism. It is out of the question, for us, to negotiate on this basis a contract of government whose action, letting people down once again, would lead ineluctably to the return of a harder Right"

And further:

"If we do not take part in the government, our group in Parliament will not take part in a majority made up to support this government, but will vote in favour of any legislative provisions going in the direction of the interests of the population. We will also use our parliamentary strength, along with all those who will take part in social mobilizations, to get a certain number of positive measures adopted or to get negative measures withdrawn; to translate our programme into law and reality. We reserve the right to judge and to discuss publicly how the government and its majority act in the course of the legislature".

In a document written in English to explain the point of view of the LCR majority (4), François Duval, a member of the Ligue’s Political Bureau, wrote:
“There was a single issue about which we were not ready to make a compromise. Not an unlimited series of pretexts: just one simple and single issue that needed - and still needs - an answer, a clear answer, an answer without any ambiguity. As you have surely understood it, the question we raised from the beginning of the process has remained the same: the question of the relationship with the SP, related to government and Parliament. And the answer we wanted to hear was: no, an anti-liberal candidate will not be member of a government led by the SP. No anti-liberal candidates for general elections, if elected as MPs, will either belong to the same parliamentary majority or support a government led by the SP.
We have not heard such an answer”.
And later on: “it [the document] does not clearly state that it will be impossible to join a SP government, nor to support it in the framework of a common parliamentary majority with the really existing SP, its programme and its leadership”.

I find it difficult to read the quotations from “Ambition-Stratégie” above and agree that “we have not heard such an answer” or that the document “does not clearly state”. No doubt the formulations could have been sharper, but they do not seem equivocal. That document was voted for by a broad arc of forces including the Communist Party, which certainly had reservations about it and sought to leave itself a way out. So it is true that as Duval says, “the leaders of the French CP have a double-faced speech”. But the formulation of the document represented the feeling of the collectives on the question> As Duval also admits: “the main problem was not the average mood of activists from the anti-liberal collectives. A significant number of them more or less shared our point of view, even when they thought that we were exaggerating the importance of that issue. The main problem was ¬ and still remains ¬ the political approach of the CP”. In fact, the LCR (and it should have known this) was never going to get a cast-iron guarantee that the CP would never, ever, under any circumstances go into government with the SP. Whether, after the damage participation in government in 1997-2002 did the party, it was actually likely that they would repeat the experience this time is another question. And one which is likely to remain academic, short of a victory of the Left in the legislative elections that would be little short of miraculous. In any case, it is far from evident that on the basis of what was adopted in September, the LCR could not have stayed in and combated the CP, as many independents wanted it to do. That could have led to quite a different situation when the CP tried is takeover in December, which we now come on to.

The role of the Communist Party

The second and fatal blow to a unitary candidacy was the attempt by the CP, in December 2006, to impose its own general secretary, Marie-Georges Buffet, as candidate of the collectives. After the disastrous result of Robert Hue at the presidential election in 2002 (3.37 per cent) following five years in government with the SP, Buffet pulled the party back from the abyss, on a line that combined demarcation from the SP with a readiness to open out and work with other forces. The first notable dividend from this orientation was the result of the list led by Buffet herself at the regional elections in Île de France in 2004, where, coming from behind in the polls, she distanced the LCR-LO list, in spite of the fact that this list was headed by Laguiller and Besancenot. The second success was the leading role the CP played in the referendum campaign in 2005 and the way the party worked loyally with other forces, even sharing its TV time with them. Subsequently the CP participated in the unitary collectives and appeared to seriously think that it could get away with having Buffet adopted as their candidate. When that failed, Buffet carried out a change of alliances. She broke with the refondateur current, with which she had worked throughout the unitary period – a current that is very much in favour of working with other forces on the left and even of moving towards a new movement or party of which the CP would only be one component. She then formed a bloc with the partisans of Hue, who are advocates of a strategic alliance with (really, satellisation by) the SP, and with the so-called “orthodox” current, which stresses the party’s identity but whose orthodoxy does not exclude opportunistic deals with the SP.

Why did Buffet do this? Like many other aspects of the debate around this issue, the answer you give depends a bit on where you are coming from. The LCR majority emphasizes that the CP wanted to have a free hand to negotiate with the SP, and couldn’t be confident with a non-CP independent (or even a CP refondateur) as candidate. That may have been a factor. But a determining factor seems to have been the need to avoid a serious internal crisis with Hue and the orthodox wing if there was no CP candidate – with maybe even the threat of a wildcat Communist candidacy. The LCR majority predicted that the CP would never agree to support a non-CP candidate and that they would stand Buffet, and they turned out to be right. But there was a choice to be made, and the many people who thought it possible that the CP would make a different choice were not being irrational. In the light of the result of the presidential campaign, it is far from certain that Buffet made the right one. If the aim of the candidacy was to avoid a crisis in the party, it only succeeded in putting it off until after the election. It can be argued that if the CP had supported a unitary candidate who, it is safe to say, would have got substantially more than the 1.9 per cent that Buffet got, the party would be in a better position today – including from the point of view of negotiating with the SP over the legislative elections.

Buffet felt confident enough of her position to have her choices submitted to internal ballots of party members. In November they were consulted as to whether the party should propose – not impose – Buffet as candidate of the collectives. The result was 59,103 for, 2.663 against. A month later, faced with the refusal of the collectives to accept Buffet, another ballot was held as to whether she should be a candidate anyway. The result was 42, 365 for, 9.937 against. So Buffet became the candidate of an “anti-liberal unity” in which the CP united with itself. Or rather with part of itself, since the nearly 10,000 who voted against became the basis for the “Unitary Communists” current, which now functions in an increasingly autonomous way.

The withdrawal by the LCR and the failed takeover by the CP left the collectives in disarray. It is this context that must be borne in mind when appreciating the Bové candidacy which began to emerge in January, and which we will come back to later.

The total of the four serious candidates to the left of the SP was just over 8.5 per cent. The total of the LCR, LO and the CP in 2002 was about 13.5 per cent. If you deduct the CP from the 2002 total – a not unreasonable thing to do, since the party was still in government in 2002 – the LCR and LO still got nearly 10 per cent, as against 5.4 per cent this time – to which can be added Bové’s 1.32 per cent. The fact that the LCR more than held its own in a difficult situation should not conceal the fact that the radical left as a whole lost ground – a fact that was commented on with great satisfaction by the bourgeois media, which attached much more importance to that than to the LCR’s relatively good performance..

Two questions arise? Why, and what else if anything, was possible?
First of all, why? This is another case where your answer depends on where you’re coming from. Roughly speaking, if you are coming from the LCR majority or the CP leadership, you emphasize the effect of the ‘useful vote’ for Royal (or even Bayrou). If you are coming from the unitary collectives, the minorities in the LCR and the CP, the Bové campaign, you emphasize the effects of the division on the radical left.

Both were factors. There is not the slightest doubt that the pressure to ‘vote usefully’ limited the vote for the radical left. That was, if you like, an objective factor, in that not even the best campaign could have completely eliminated it. But it seems equally obvious that the fact of having several candidates to the left of the SP actually magnified this tendency and that a united candidacy would have created a dynamic and got a better result than the sum of the parts. Not to everyone. Daniel Bensaïd has argued: “A unitary candidacy on a clear political basis would certainly have had a dynamic that would have been attractive for those who were hesitating, but experience proves that unity is not a simple question of addition, and that a part of the respective electorates of the CP, LO, and the Ligue would not have identified with a unitary candidacy. So we can seriously doubt that in the difficult conditions of this campaign such a candidacy would have had the cumulative result of 8.5 per cent” (5). I find the second part of this reasoning unconvincing. It is no doubt true that there were some sectors of the electorates of the CP, LO and the LCR who would not have voted for a unitary candidate, it is difficult to judge how many. But it seems reasonable to suppose that they would have been more than compensated by the number of hesitant electors who would have been attracted by a united campaign. I have never found convincing the wilder surges of enthusiasm by the partisans of unity, going so far as to predict that a unitary candidate could have got more votes than the SP. But I think he or she would certainly have got more than 8.5 per cent. Between 10 and 15 per cent seems a perfectly realisable objective. At that level, the relationship of forces on the left starts to change, and a serious marker is laid down for the future.

The candidates to the left of the SP

Let us look now at the candidates to the left of the SP. I leave out Schivardi as irrelevant and Voynet because the Greens may be on the left, more or less, but they are hardly to the left of the SP. So that leaves Besancenot, Buffet, Laguiller and Bové.

The most successful campaign was unquestionably Besancenot’s. He got 4.08 per cent, which was marginally less than 2002, but he gained 280,000 votes more because of the higher turnout. His meetings were big. Everyone’s were in this campaign because of the heightened politicisation, but Besancenot’s were frequently twice as big as in 2002 and sometimes bigger. He put across a clear anti-capitalist message, clearly independent of the SP, he was a very capable candidate, there was a professional campaign, an excellent web site, wide coverage in the media. Having decided to go it alone and run its own campaign, the LCR did it very well. In a situation where the overall vote to the left of the SP went down, it more than held its own. And it will no doubt recruit substantial numbers of new members. So in the terms set by its majority leadership, the campaign was a success. Whether from the point of view of building a credible alternative to social-liberalism it was the correct thing to do is another matter. It is worth noting the composition of the vote. It was high among young people – half his electorate was under 35, and he got 10 per cent among those under 25. He also got significantly above his national average among workers and the unemployed. But only 35 per cent of those who voted for Besancenot in 2002 did so again in 2007, 36 per cent of them voting for Royal, 17 per cent for Bayrou. However, Besancenot got 45 per cent of his votes from electors who did not vote in 2002. The rest of his votes mostly came from former LO or CP voters. While it is positive that he was able to appeal to new voters and those who did not vote last time, the high rate of turnover indicates that his electorate remains unstable.

Buffet’s campaign was a disaster for the CP. She came across as neither the candidate of anti-liberal unity she claimed to be, nor as clearly a party candidate. She lost both to the ‘useful vote’ for Royal and to candidates on her left. Vote against the Right? Might as well vote Royal in the first round. Anti-capitalist? Besancenot did it better. Unitary? Why not Bové? (In fact, leading party members campaigned for Bové). Within the party the result has been that Buffet’s new-found allies are turning on her, while her former unitary allies have organised themselves separately. An extraordinary party congress later this year is likely to be dramatic, but not necessarily decisive. The party is headed for a deepening of its chronic crisis, which Buffet only temporarily stemmed.

It is not worth spending too much time on the LO result (1.33 per cent). This very peculiar organisation, with all the characteristics of a sect, occupied for a period an important place to the left of the SP on the electoral level. It did so for a number of reasons, linked to the decline of the CP and the difficulties of the LCR at the time. LO made its breakthrough in the 1995 presidential election, when it got over 5 per cent. But its success did not change its character of a propagandist sect. It stood aside from the massive anti-Le Pen protests in 2002, denounced the European Social Forums and the global justice movement and did not take part in the campaign for a ‘No from the left’ in the European referendum. Its place has largely been taken by the LCR, which differed from it in all those respects and which puts across an anti-capitalist message that is more modern and less economist.

Finally there was the Bové candidacy – the most surprising and unexpected one of the campaign, which clearly irritated both the LCR and the CP. Bové had been one of the possible unitary candidates of the collectives in autumn 2006: he had withdrawn along the way – because he felt that he did not have enough support, because he knew that whatever happened the CP would veto his candidacy. In January there appeared an online petition asking Bové to be a candidate. The method has been criticised by quite a few people, notably Pierre Rousset and Daniel Bensaïd, as being fundamentally undemocratic. It certainly left something to be desired from that point of view. But we have to look at the context. The dynamic behind Bové’s candidacy in January was a lot of angry people from the collectives. I have never seen anything from supporters of the LCR majority or from the CP leadership which took into consideration the independents who had been left high and dry when those organisations decided to present their own candidates. What were they supposed to do? Go home and get on with their lives, choose between Besancenot and Buffet? Not much of a prospect. Whether these people represented a minority or a majority of the independent forces in the collectives is neither here nor there, though they won a majority at a national meeting in January They represented a force that was not ready to accept a fait accompli, and there were enough of them to launch the candidacy. And frankly, given the pressure of time, an online petition was one quick way, and maybe the only way, to break the logjam.

The first thing that was absolutely remarkable was that Bové obtained the 500 signatures of mayors and other elected representatives that were necessary in order to stand. His improvised campaign did in six weeks what it took the LCR and LO nine months to do. And it seems that only 15-20 of the signatures came from the unitary CP, and perhaps a few more from left Greens who supported him. What was the nature of his campaign? The LCR has sometimes referred to it as the “radical ecologist” campaign. That is somewhat inadequate – even Bové was a bit more than that, he was also a global justice campaigner, anti-liberal...And ‘radical ecologist’ really does not anything like cover the diversity of his supporters. The starting point of the campaign was to refuse the division brought about by the LCR and CP candidacies, therefore to be the unitary campaign. It was quickly described by the CP and LCR (including some of its minority) as just another candidacy or even a supplementary cause of division. That is going too far. The Bové campaign was not the unitary campaign. But it was a unitary campaign; It was the only one that brought together people from different backgrounds – part of the LCR minority, most of the Unitary Communists, dissident Greens, trade unionists, ecologists, militants from the collectives. The campaign showed the signs of improvisation, its web site was a nightmare, its communication in general was pretty erratic, but it got most of the main issues right, although Bové occasionally made somewhat eccentric statements, like proposing to appoint the freelance ecologist Nicolas Hulot prime minister... But the campaign had a definite dynamic. It won support from significant figures from immigrant communities and Bové spent a lot of time in the ‘banlieues’ where they live and which were the centre of the riots in November 2005. And especially towards the end, his campaign \attracted big meetings. To take just one example, the LCR rightly congratulated itself on attracting 4,000 people to its meeting in Paris in the last week of the campaign. But the same evening, Bové got between 4,000 and 5,000 in the southern city of Toulouse. Any serious analysis of the Bové campaign should look at its strengths as well as its weaknesses. In spite of its modest score of 1.32 per cent it would be a mistake to simply write it off as a failure. For those who read French, it is worth consulting the very frank and lucid balance sheet of the campaign by Jacques Perreux, Bove’s campaign director and long-time leading CP member (6).

Much has been made of the fact that Bové, between the two rounds, accepted a proposal from Royal to make a report on food sovereignty and that he made his call to vote Royal at a press conference along with her. He would also have spoken at the big SP rally at Charléty before the second round if his campaign team hadn’t stopped him. But his campaign team did stop him, and furthermore issued a communiqué calling for a vote against Sarkozy (not for Royal), stating that it had no illusions in Royal and pointing out it did not assume responsibility for Bové accepting the report proposed by Royal (7). Those who opposed the Bové campaign in the LCR and elsewhere largely publicised Bové’s statements around this time, which certainly show some political confusion, though nothing he did or said implies that he would have supported a social-liberal government. But the communiqué of his campaign team was virtually ignored.

After the victory of Sarkozy

There is now obviously a debate beginning on the French left on how to analyse of the situation after the victory of Sarkozy. Does it represent a move to the right? A change in the relationship of class forces? Is Sarkozy going to be the French Thatcher? It is perhaps useful to look at the original Thatcher. When she came to power in 1979, it was only five years since the last Conservative government had ended ignominiously, wounded and finally brought down by working-class opposition, of which the backbone was two national miners’ strikes. In the subsequent period class struggle remained at a significant level. The arrival in power of a government determined to take on the working class and the unions did not in itself change the balance of class forces. But it did give a serious advantage and the initiative to the most hardline sections of the ruling class. And it still took nearly a decade of class battles, which Thatcher won, taking on one section at a time and aided by the complicity of the Labour leadership. It was only when she took on the whole working class at once with the poll tax, and faced a movement largely led by revolutionaries, that she lost an important battle.

Sarkozy’s victory is not in itself a decisive defeat. There was no significant shift of left electors to the right, there was rather, as we have seen, a polarisation. But Sarkozy will use his position to push through his agenda and we have to look at the situation in which he will do it. It is no use just applauding the combativeness and the anti-liberal sentiments of French workers and youth. The balance sheet of resistance to neo-liberal policies is far from being only positive. A few victories, many defeats, some without a fight: overall the neo-liberal machine advances, we win the occasional battle, they are slowly but surely winning the war. It is surprising to read from the pen of Alex Callinicos, in an otherwise good article, that: “The last major attempt to push through neo-liberal measures in France was in 1995. It provoked a huge public sector strike that was the first in a series of social explosions that have stalled such plans” (8). Unfortunately, this is not quite the case: there have been constant attempts to push through major and minor neo-liberal measures and most of them have succeeded and have not been stalled by social explosions. The 2003 pension reform was a major attack and in spite of a movement that was broader if less intense than 1995, it went through. Its author, by the way, was François Fillon, who has just been appointed as Sarkozy’s prime minister. In a document written after Sarkozy’s victory, François Duval has recently written (in French) a very lucid and realistic contribution on the extent and limits of resistance to neo-liberalism and the relationship of class forces in France today (9).

In reality, after 25 years of attacks, the French working class is in a much weaker material position than the British working class in 1979. The big difference is on the level of political consciousness: contestation of the ruling class agenda, of neo-liberalism, is infinitely stronger, as evidenced by the 2005 referendum and also by the consistently high (over 60 per cent) level of public support for strikes and other movements of resistance. There is also much greater mobilisation and politicisation of young people. But overall, the situation is not favourable. And this mass anti-liberal consciousness has no credible political expression. In this situation, the ritual leftist rhetoric about the ‘third social round’ and general calls to resistance and defeating Sarkozy in the streets are of little use. There will be resistance to Sarkozy’s attacks, there is no guarantee that it will be successful. What is needed is to patiently build a social and political opposition to Sarkozy. Social and political. We will not just defeat Sarkozy in the streets, it is necessary to build a credible political alternative. In the first place, the lack of such an alternative makes social resistance harder. And secondly, if the only alternative to Sarkozy remains the social-liberal Left, then further disillusion and demoralisation are on the way.

Once the legislative elections are over, and assuming the Right wins them, the internal struggles the Socialist Party will start in earnest – they are already rumbling. Over and above personal rivalries, there will be a debate about the future of the party. Some will defend the status quo, some will argue for a thorough “social-democratisation” (really, bringing discourse into line with its neo-liberal practice) of the party and for an opening towards Bayrou and the centre-right. Some will argue for opening out to the non-Socialist left. The relatively weak forces which participated in the unitary collectives until last December are likely to be isolated, with little perspective inside the SP and no alternative that can act as a force of attraction outside it.

The forces of the radical left have a considerable responsibility. It is unfortunately far from clear that they are capable of assuming it. The legislative elections will see around 500 candidates each from the CP, LCR, LO and the Greens (there are 577 constituencies, including the overseas ones). The CP will save some of its 20 or so MPs, the Greens will have three or four, courtesy of a minimal agreement with the SP, the LCR and LO will have none, as a result of the highly undemocratic electoral system. The motivation for this multiplication of candidates (it seems there will be an average of 13 per constituency) is partly financial (state funding depends on how many votes a party gets) and partly just self-affirmation by the parties. But it is not an encouraging sign for the future. The unitary collectives and Bové committees will run about 80 candidates under the label ‘Alternative Left 2007’of whom they say about a third involve real unity with other forces, and will support about 50 other unitary candidates. The LCR will run 460 candidates of its own and support 40 unitary candidates, some of them under its own label. The number of unitary candidates is higher than might have been expected following the presidential campaign, but division prevails.

As for the future…It is difficult to see the CP having either the will or the ability to take any positive initiative in the near future. The LCR will undoubtedly be ready for unity in action against Sarkozy and may well be capable of taking some initiatives in this direction. But it seems unlikely, to say the least, that it will take any serious initiative towards building a broader anti-capitalist or anti-liberal force. The Ligue appears to be concentrating on recruiting from its successful presidential campaign, which it would be foolish not to do. Unfortunately, there appear to be quite strong tendencies towards de facto abandoning of the perspective of a broader party, or at least reducing it to just a larger version of the LCR. We will see over the next few months whether that is in fact the case, as the Ligue is also planning to hold a congress before the end of the year.

It seems unlikely that the forces of the unitary collectives and the Bové campaign will just disappear or disperse. There is a plan to hold a conference in the autumn. It can scarcely just reproduce the unity of a year ago, including the LCR and the CP, as if the presidential campaign had not happened – if for no other reason, neither the LCR nor CP leaderships appear to want that. Nor will it in itself constitute the unitary alternative that is necessary. At best, it may create a movement, a forum for discussion and action, open to members of the CP and the LCR and other organisations, as well as independents , which may be able to help bring that closer. But, overall, what might be called the “French paradox” – the contradiction between the level of social resistance and anti-liberal sentiment and the absence of a broad anti-capitalist party – is likely to continue for some time. But it is likely to become more acute as Sarkozy starts to apply his programme.

Murray Smith


(1) See (in English) Daniel Bensaïd: “Assessment of the outcome of the first round of the French presidential election” (introduction to “The French elections and our strategic project”) IV online 388, April 2007. Also two articles by supporters of the Bové campaign: John Mullen, “The Presidential elections in France: Polarization and Crisis” and Colin Falconer, “Radical left vote falls in French election” , April 28, 2007: And Murray Smith, “Crunch comes in French presidential elections”, Green Left Weekly, 3 May, 2007
(2) The figures are taken from the article by Eric Dupin in Le Figaro, 8 May, 2007, Ánalyse: un clivage gauche-droite renforce”.
(3) Those who read French will find practically all the important articles and documents, from before, during and after the presidential election, on the sites and