Wednesday, June 13, 2007


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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tactical victory for Iraqi oil workers'

PRESS RELEASE from Naftana

Dear all,
Below is the full translation of a message received today, Monday 11 June 2007, from Hassan Juma'a, president of the Federation of Oil Union (IFOU) declaring a tactical victory in the ongoing struggle of Iraqi oil workers. On behalf of Naftana, we would like to extend our thanks to all, from across the world, who have campaigned and written to express solidarity with the oil workers and the IFOU. Naftana will continue to relay news ofthe oil workers in their struggle to improve living and working conditions,assert trade union rights and protect Iraq's oil from the proposed oil law,championed by the occupation governments.


Full text of message:

Warm greetings, We would like to inform you of the latest developments in the oil workers strike in the south. Finally the workers have won in in demanding their legitimate rights. That is why an enlarged meeting was held with his excellency the minister of State for the Parliament Affairs lasting five hours resulting in thecessation of all the failings resulting from the conduct of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and the irresponsible stance of the oil minister.

Most ofthe issues within the remit of the prime minister were dealt with. The meeting was very successful, because the minister represented the prime minister. The activation of the committee formed by the prime minister to deal with the outstanding problems was affirmed.

And after deliberations within our union, the two sides agreed to halt the strike and to use dialogue in dealings to resolve the outstanding issues. On the other hand, all problems were presented to His Eminence Sayyid Sistani, and the Iraqi ministry of oil was reprimanded for its improper conduct.

Therefore, we would like to say to all that the workers will is indestructible. The workers can achieve what they want by the means available to them and their strength. And the oil workers are very strong, because they have a legitimate right. The workers have scored a thirdvictory in demanding their rights.

Long live the Iraqi working class.
Hassan Juma'a Awwad

The Commissar


Last night at our socialist film club we showed the 1967 Russian film, “The Commissar” by Alexander Askoldov. This is a truly great piece of art, but is perhaps slightly inaccessible for those more used to the Hollywood conventions of film making.

The film was a political disaster for Askoldov, being made both on the 50th anniversary of the October revolution, and also completed immediately after the six day war in the Middle East. He was never allowed to make another film, expelled from the Communist party (CPSU), and exiled from Moscow.

Instead of an heroic piece of “Soviet Socialist Realism”, the movie about a Red Cavalry unit during the civil war shows them in a very unglamorous light. What is more it is very sympathetic to the interpretation that the Soviet Union failed the Jews - a politically unacceptable message to the CPSU after Russia's allies in the Middle East had just lost a war to Israel.

Top Russian star, Nonna Mordyukova, plays Klavdia Vavilova a Cavalry Commissar who is pregnant by her lover, another soldier who has been killed in action. Because she has been in the saddle for the last three months, the doctors have told her she is too late for an abortion, so while she has the baby she is billeted on the family of a poor Jewish tailor, played by the brilliant Rolan Bykov.

Suddenly she is taken out of the energetic maelstrom of war, and finds herself in a family leading a slow paced small town life. The movie does not shy away from the fact that the Red Army commandeers a private room for her, as an officer, although this means that three adults and several children of the Jewish family have to share one room.

Slowly she becomes acclimatized to family life, and has the baby – the child birth scenes are especially brilliant and certainly this must be the most imaginative use of cavalry and field artillery in cinema! In her civilian clothes and with her baby she is ashamed to meet her former comrades.

But then the Red Army pulls out of the town, and she must stay behind with the family while they await the advancing white army: the Jews fear a pogrom. As they huddle in the cellar the family keeps their spirits up with the simple pleasures of singing and dancing. But as Bykov asks whether the Jews will ever be safe in the world and can their be an “international of kindness”, Mordyukova replies that the important thing is not the “international of kindness” but a workers’ international that will free humanity not through kindness but through steel determination and discipline. Her words seem like a foreign language to the family.

We then have a flash forward to the holocaust, as the Jews of the town are herded together, and we have a vision of Jews in the uniforms of the Nazi death camps.

Later, the Commissar watches the white armies entering the town, and in a desperately moving scene she abandons her baby so she can rejoin her regiment to stop this rising tide of fascism. The film ends with the Red army advancing across the battlefield, but the abiding memory are the words of the Jewish mother, when they find that the Commissar has abandoned her baby: “What sort of people are they?”

This is not a good film to watch if you want easy reassurance about the Russian revolution, but is a fantastic celebration of the human spirit and parental love. It also shows that war is unspeakable, even when it is just.

It is also worth mentioning the extraordinary score by Alfred Schnittke.

The paradox of the Soviet Union is that such challenging and intelligent cinema came from Russia during this period, but also that the Communist Party would ban such a humane artistic work for being off message.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Panic Attack: art in the punk years

"Wreckers of Civilisation" (Nicholas Fairbairn Tory MP, denouncing the COUM exhibition at the ICA 1976)

Punk kind of passed me by. The social, political and cultural event didn’t have much impact on me as I was around 7 years old and dancing around the living room listening to ABBA (ok, don’t hold that against me….). But having much older siblings who were into the punk scene I was able to witness the changes but memories are still hazy of that period.
So I was interested in the exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery which is celebrating punk and post-punk art (1977-1983). The blurb in the pamphlet talks about it being a tumultuous time with political and social upheavals.

A very insightful book littered with personal anecdotes to read in conjunction with this exhibition is "Left Shift" by John A. Walker.
The first pictures set the scene with the (in)famous iconic artwork of Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen". One of my criticisms of the exhibition is that it’s kinda patchy and lacked coherence. Next to Reid’s work is John Stezaker’s conceptual art ('post-Duchampian art')based on collage and image. Art is this subjective animal and I have to say Stezaker's work never grabs me in anyway. His cut and paste postcards of 1950s London may have been transmitting some radical concept about the metropolis but it just smacked of dressed-up mediocrity but in a new style.

Conceptual art at its height challenged the nature of physical art as a commodity but now I would argue it challenges nothing and fits quite snugly in the bosom of the Establishment where value in terms of financial gain outweighs saying something important. A capitulation to comformity as opposed to radical opposition.
Victor Burgin's work intertwines Freud, Marx and Barthes and I was kinda transfixed by it with his juxaposing text and images (I much prefer his work in this period than his later work as he seems to have flipped over to postmodernism... ).
Though I was fascinated by his photography (UK76 and US77) as he explores urban and human alienation. One picture (Nuclear Power, 1977) is of an ordinary family with this text alongside that challenges the notion of the heterosexual nuclear family and the power dynamics.
What I did find powerful were the images of Stephen Willats, Martha Rosler and COUM transmissions. This is a mixture of video, performance and DIY art. Art that is easily accessible, goes beyond the boundaries, experiemental and is transgressive in its message but also has something to say without sticking rigidly to the usual format and medium. Even now I found their work refreshing and modern.

COUM transmissions - "Prostitution" caused controversy in 1976 and for the ICA 'cos of their performance art that included sexual acts, porn (can porn be subversive art?) and used tampons in their art work. Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti who later became Throbbing Gristle. What gave it the extra kick was photocopies of the newspapers of the day with their “shocked” “utterly shocked”, "moral decline" and “appalled” headlines. Brought a definite smirk to my face.
The issue of alienation is further explored by Stephen Willats in his excellent mixture of collage and DIY photography, "I Don't Want to be Like Anyone Else" (1976) and Martha Rosler's "Secrets from the Streets" (1980).
The lower floors were a mish-mash of work. It was fascinating to see women artists influenced by feminism, Hannah Wilke (So Help Me Hannah, 1979-1985), Barbara Kruger and Linder. The influence of feminism was prevalent in much of the work. Patriarchal norms and subverting the female form using performance art and video. Parallels can be made between the work of German Dadaist Hannah Hoch and Linder as both explored the position of women in society by using collage and photomontage as their medium (Hoch's The Beautiful Girl and Linder's Pretty Girl No. 1 are worth comparing as both depict the many fragmented and contradictory roles women play in this society)

The later post-punk kinda lacked any coherent message again the work of Tony Cragg, Tony Oursler, and graffiti artist of Jean-Michel Basquiat were bunched together without any real analysis. The influence of conceptual art and, for me, the artwork wasn’t saying much and not as clear as previous work. There was this kind of respectability and slickness in its presentation.
Photography of Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe (I like their work a lot) but again what was their significance and how were the pictures chosen? To be able to appreciate their work you need to be able to see a varied collection of work and I do think you really need to see the a lot more of Goldin's "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" I would be interested to know why these particular photographs were chosen. I can see the logic of including them as they include people who are seen to live on the margins of society, gritty realism, no overly stylised content (a kind of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder") and an exploration of sexuality and sex.

There is a short film directed by Derek Jarman (I saw Jubilee in my early teens and still have a penchant for it) with Jordan (not that Jordan) resplendent in a tutu dancing around what only can be described as a bomb site. A very hazy looking silent film which finishes with the Union Jack burning in the background.
Overall I was disappointed as there was no interpretation of punk instead we were presented with an elastic interpretation stretched beyond belief. Why Gilbert and George were there struck me as strange. On the plus side, I was pleased to see so many women artists.

Where was the graphic design, and DIY stencil art which adorned many punk fanzines and LPs? Where was the fashion or anti-fashion that questioned conformity and identity that was an important part of punk? More questions than answers but if you want to see some interesting art that has something to say then go to this as it makes a change from the stagnating conformity that passes for art nowadays.

Can the forward march of Labour be restarted?


The situation that the left finds itself in after the defeat of the McDonnell bid for the Labour leadership is a complex one. A bit of a debate has broken out about this around a statement issued by Socialist Resistance (SR) This was published on Liam Mac Uaid’s blog :

The key passage is: “McDonnell’s defeat throws the Labour left into serious crisis. No spin can hide it. The project of reclaiming the Labour or the idea that the Labour Party is a fruitful arena for the left to work in have been dealt a devastating blow.

“All this has implication for Respect, which should be taking the initiative to open or re-open a dialogue with those on the left who are currently not in Respect as to how they see the way forward.

“The Morning Star and the CPB are a case in point. They are likley to find it increasingly difficult to cling to a policy of reclaiming Labour. Apparently a new discussion has already opened up on this internally in the CPB. The Morning Star had already called a conference in June on “Politics After Blair” at which the issue will now be unavoidable.

“But Respect needs to be open and flexible in this situation to any new forces from the Morning Star or the trade union left. It should do whatever is necessary to ensure that new forces have space to make their influence felt. If it can do this it could break it out of its current impasse and open up a new stage of development.
“Respect’s task in this process is to turn the tide of politics back towards the left. Rebuild ideological and practical opposition to the market. Work with the left in the unions to build an independent pluralist left alternative alongside the struggle to regenerate the unions and rebuild trade union strength and organisation.”

To which I posted a comment to the effect that SR are making two mistakes: i) in not understanding that Respect is not a vehicle around which left unity can be built; and less explicably ii) that SR seem to completely fail to understand the political perspective of the CP.

I concluded my initial remarks by saying that currently “the building blocks for any serious alternative to Labour are utterly absent, but where the situation isn't hopeless either.”

Given the undemocratic manoeuvrings in and around Respect, the media galavanting of George Galloway, and the dispersal of the layer of left social democrats who had aggregated around the Socialist Alliance in various parts of the country, then I would characterise Respect thus: “Who is Respect? Galloway or the SWP? Anyone else? Will either of those forces play the productive role you are calling on them to play? If there is no actually existing force within Respect who will steer the organisation to play the role you think it could play, then how could it happen?

“Even were the SWP or Galloway to have a damascene conversion, would anyone on the activist left trust them? No-one is going to join Respect, or particularly want to work with them. The whole project is basically an embarrassment now.

“If we are looking for a left unity project, then we have missed the boat. The wave of left activists who left the labour party after Clause IV and over the Iraq war could have been attracted to an organisation that respected labour movement norms of behaviour. But were never going to be attracted to respect.”

SR are utterly self delusioonal if they believe that the CP or any significant left from the unions would touch Respect with a barge. Even were the Political Committee of the CP so minded, and I have no reason to think they are, then the membership would probably not agree to it.

The failure of McDonnell’s campaign has produced unhelpful knee-jerk reactions from Respect and the Socialist Party that the Labour Left should join them in their equally unsuccessful campaigns outside the Labour party. They remind me of the mayor of Amity, swearing that the water is safe. For example Thornett writes: "It¹s right to say to the Labour left, and those like the CPB (and some of the trade union left) who have clung to a Reclaim Labour policy for so long that after the McDonnell collapse the only rational conclusion in the cold light of day is that the Labour left has no useful future in the Labour party. There is no point in saying anything else."

In fact this approach is completely misguided. Instead of looking at whether we can reconstitute the greatly diminished left around already flawed projects, we need to take stock of the current political situation.

The overwhelming features are i) that the right within the Labour Party are utterly triumphant, and their victory is structurally irreversible. ii) The Labour party has failed to make the same shift to the right with its electoral base – the enduring progressive and social democratic attitudes of labour voters was well described recently on the SWP blog, Lenin’s Tomb ; iii) that the far left have failed to break that progressive base away from electoral loyalty to the Labour party; iv) the unions – on the whole - maintain ideological and political opposition to New Labour values, as can be seen by the way the unions make the running in opposing PFI, Academies and private equity. v) the structural problems of the unravelling British state.

So how can we seek to harness the positive aspects of the current situation to strengthen the left?

Alan Thornett has replied to me and asked whether I think Respect’s genuine electoral successes are the “wrong type of voters”. In a sense they are, but not in the sense he implies. Respect has done well particularly with that minority of voters for whom the war is the overriding political issue, but for the majority of the working class that is not the case, and opposition to the war has been subsumed into the general cynicism about politics.

This is where SR’s misunderstanding of the CP’s position is clear, because the CP are talking some sense over this issue:

As Robert Griffiths, the CP General Secretary: recently wrote : “But what is needed now more than ever is for the trade union movement, once again, to take on its historic responsibility to ensure the existence of a mass party of labour. For all the assistance that socialists and communists can render, the unions alone have the human, financial and organisational resources, as well as the class interest, to take the necessary steps.

“Together with the non-sectarian left, they need to work out a political strategy which takes account of current realities. For example, most major unions remain affiliated to the Labour Party and are unlikely to leave it in the near future.
“The first steps in this direction might be for all the major unions to affiliate and participate fully in the Labour Representation Committee. Deals between union leaders in smoke-free rooms to win resolutions at Labour Party conference are not enough. The active involvement of unions and their members in the LRC would be the clearest declaration of political intent.

“The LRC could itself go the extra mile and allow full membership status to socialist organisations including the Communist Party, respecting their right to participate independently in elections in return for an agreement not to campaign for the dismantling of the Labour Party through further union disaffiliations.
“In their relations with the Labour Party, unions should stop all financial, logistical and political support for MPs who consistently vote against key union policies. “

SR are correct to highlight the Morning Star conference as important, not least because the CP still able to punch above their weight, and alongside John McDonnell, we also have Ken Livingstone and Jon Cruddas attending. At the deputy leadership hustings at GMB congress last week Cruddas came out in favour of starting to renationalise public utilities.

The Labour Left were crushingly defeated in the PLP, but the McDonnell campaign has gathered together a nucleus of activists, who are less isolated and more motivated than they were before the campaign. It is as fruitless for us to argue with then that they should leave the party as for them to argue we should join it – comrades need to come to their own conclusions.

The way forward is for all the left, inside and outside the Labour party, to promote the trade unions in exercising their own political voice. By and large, the unions will not abandon their stake in the labour party until they have exhausted its historical usefulness. But currently they are not making enough demands on the party, and so not testing the usefulness of the link.

The Labour Representation Committee could become a vehicle for the unions to exercise collective political voice and if a substantial section of organised labour is to draw the conclusion that a party of labour needs to be refounded, as they effectively did in 1931, then the LRC could be the body around which that debate tales place.

Of course there are serious obstacles, not least of which is the LRC’s requirement for Labour Party membership, which is a serious obstacle to many grassroots trade unions and community activists. But again the way forward is for local trade union bodies to affiliate and open a dialogue about being able to send delegates who are not individual LP members.

In the meantime, we have largely missed the boat in England of building an electoral alternative to New Labour. There may still be a case of standing against Labour, but this can only be done by building grassroots links first, not by building the roof before the walls like Respect and the CNWP have done.

There is serious work that can be done, but the vehicle for that work is not Respect nor the CNWP, the focus remains where it perhaps always should have been, with organised Labour in the mass organisations of our class.


Last Saturday’s
“Enough” march in solidarity with Palestine was a reasonable size, perhaps 7000 or 8000, would have been my judgement based upon comparison with a reasonable home attendance for Swindon Town FC. However, the Morning Star claimed 20000, which seems a bit optimistic, but they may have had a better view then I did. In particular it was good to see banners from a number of twinning groups, showing the gradual spread of very practical solidarity work, supporting Palestinian towns and communities. Just sending the photos of the demo to our twinning partners in palestine helps them know they are not forgotten.

Given the significance of the 40th anniversary of the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights it is perhaps surprising that more emphasis wasn’t put in this demo, but it seem to have become slightly overshadowed by the 24th June demo in Manchester. In the end just eight of us came down from Swindon.

The British left was there in all its farcicality. A naive observer would think that we must be so strong to support such a diverse range of publications.

And London is a weird place

By making my way to a pub in Whitehall, for refreshment after the demo I was in place to see 500 naked cyclists going past, apparently something to do with opposing car use.

Then on the way to Embankment tube station I was privileged to see the bizarre spectacle of an Orange march, with assorted nut-jobs from all parts of these fair islands wearing their bowler hats and sashes, swaggering and beating big drums. When Gordon Brown talks of British values, this is presumably not what he means? But what else is there about Britishness? A fictitious national identity to forge together our island nations into an imperial project of bigotry, conquest and plunder.

We were told off by the police for mocking them, and I was told I could be arrested for pointing at a sweaty middle aged fool in a suit with a union jack clown hat and asking if he was part of the master race. Even under new Labour I am not quite sure what legislation this is against.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Further update on Iraqi oil workers' strike...

Press release from Naftana:
The president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), Hassan Juma’a has informed Naftana* at about 3.30 PM London time (Friday 8th June 2007) that the arrest warrants against the leaders of the Federation have not been withdrawn, and he made an urgent appeal to world trade unionists and the anti-war movement to step up the solidarity campaign with Iraq’s oil workers and trade unionists.

Hassan Juma’a said “the arrest warrants, issued by the prime minister’s office, are still in force, despite the Federation’s decision to postpone the strike till Monday 11th June to allow for further negotiations.”

US jet planes were buzzing the skies of Basra as he spoke to Naftana on the phone. He added that Iraqi army tanks and other forces were still besieging workers in Sheiba, in Basra governorate, but that the workers will resume the strike on Monday if their demands were not met.
(The pic is of Hassan Juma'a Awad with Ewa Jasiewicz)

Pakistan's "No 1 terrorist" protected by Britain?

There has been remarkably little coverage in the British press of the fact that Imran Khan the former international cricketer, is using the British courts to try to bring Altaf Hussain, head of the semi-fascist Muttahida Qaumi Movement, to justice for the massacre of 42 democracy protestors in Lahore on May 12th. Khan is using the well known human rights lawyer, also called Imran Khan.

According to Pakistani paper, the
Daily Times:

“Three weeks ago, gunmen opened fire on a rally supporting Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, triggering bloodshed that left 42 people dead. Khan along with lawyers, human rights activists and opposition parties accuses Hussain of orchestrating the carnage from his residence in London. “The entire incident was planned. No British citizen is allowed to sit in London while directing terrorist operations abroad, so why is there an exception for Altaf Hussain?” said Khan, describing the MQM as “a fascist movement run by criminals”. “

As Imran Khan has pointed out: “The British government is involved in a war against terror but is giving Pakistan’s No 1 terrorist sanctuary”.

For the past 16 years, Hussain has lived in self-imposed exile in the UK initially as an asylum-seeker and currently as a British citizen. He fled to London to escape from criminal prosecution in Pakistan He is now based in an office block on Edgware High Street in north London, from where he rules his party by phone apparently directing his closest lieutenants in long, late-night conversations.

But Hussain does not fit the media profile of a terrorist neatly enough for the British press, or the British government to be interested. His party, the MQM tries to project an image based on secularism, economic development and support for the “war on terror” since entering a coalition government with President Pervez Musharraf in 2002, himself an Ally of Britain and the USA.

In reality the MQM has always been liked to extortion, gun smuggling and international crime networks, it is also an ethno-linguistically defined supremacist party, representing the Urdu speaking community who fled to Pakistan following partition in 1947.

So why is New Labour, usually obsessed with terror, so quiet? Why is the British press so quiet about a murder gang being allegedly orchestrated from Britain against democracy protestors ?

Could it be because Altaf Hussain’s party is included in President Mussaraf’s government?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Update on the Iraqi oil workers' strike....

Update from Hands Off Iraqi Oil website about the strike:

"Naftana members spoke to IFOU leader Hassan Jumaa Awad today who alerted the support group to an arrest warrant issued by Prime Minister Maliki's office. The warrant names four leaders of the Federation including Hassan Jumaa Awad and demands their arrest for 'sabotaging the Iraqi economy'. The Federation is asking for unions and organisations world wide to support them in their unfulfilled demands and to protect them from repressive measures.

Please send faxes and emails of support for the union to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and Oil Minister Dr Hussein al Sharastani. There is a model letter on the website".

Hassan Jumaa Awad: "One person from the Ministry of Oil accompanied by an Iraqi military figure came to negotiate the demands. Instead it was all about threats. It was all about trying to shut us up, to marginalize our actions," Awad said. "The actions we are taking now are continuing with the strike until our demands are taken in concentration."

There seems to be a total media blackout about this strike in Britain. We need to show our solidarity with these strikers as there's a strong possibility that brute force will be used to smash the strike by killing trade unionists.

Migrant Workers To Vote on Strike Action at Roadchef Services

Roadchef’s withdraws five times a day staff transport costing £150,000 per annum to M3 service station with motorway only access and no public transport links

Roadchef's withdraws five times a day staff transport costing £150,000 per annum to M3 service station with motorway only access and no public transport links

GMB Southern Region has given permission for an industrial action ballot to be held for GMB members employed by Roadchef on the service station between junctions 8 and 9 north of Winchester. The dispute is over the withdrawal of coach transport to and from the site for staff from June 9th 2007.

The coach travels from Southampton and picks up at Eastleigh and Winchester to the service station north and the service station south and then back to Southampton. It takes an hour to travel from Southampton to the service station south. There is no interchange between the service station north and the service station south and the only access to these two service stations is from the motorway and there is no public transport links whatsoever. The service operates five times a day at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 2 p.m., 10.p.m. from Southampton and 7 p.m.from service station north back to Southampton. The service is used by over 90% of the 80 staff who are mainly migrant workforce who are mainly from Polandand Portugal. The overwhelming majority of these staff are GMB members. The company has had difficulty recruiting staff to work at this remote service station and had to lay on transport to attract a workforce.

The employers have been threatening to withdraw the service on the grounds that it is costing them too much since February of this year. The staffs have been in a state of uncertainty for almost five months. On the 17th May 2007 the company have given formal notice that the transport service will be withdrawn as of the 9th June 2007. After that date staff will have to make their own arrangements to get to work. Management have offered staff £5.80 a day towards the cost of travelling over 70 miles round trip each day on the motorway. The only way staff can get to work is by road transport and 90% of the staff do not own cars and could not afford to buy and run them since they are low paid workers.

Negotiations between the company and GMB at local level have failed to reach agreement and the union faced with the unilateral withdrawal of the service on 9th June are now proceeding to an industrial action ballot to secure the reinstatement of the essential staff transport. This is because members who are unable to get to work will be deemed to have dismissed themselves.

Gary Cook, GMB Organiser said, "This is a cowardly attack by an already profitable company on some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK on the grounds of reducing the cost of an essential transport service just to boost profits. GMB will defend our members and we will respond to this attack. GMB will get overwhelming support from our members for action to solve their problem of getting to and from work.

GMB want to meet the owners Delek to sort out this problem. We want them to maintain the transport service until we arrive at a solution."

Posties vote for strike.

Postal Workers Back Strike Action
Results announced at the CWU's annual conference in Bournemouth:

Royal Mail Pay:
Yes: 66,064 (77.5%)
No: 19,199

Post Office Ltd (Counters):
Yes: 2740 (73%)
No: 993

Cash In Transit:
Yes: 545 (66%)
No: 283

Postal workers have voted strongly in favour of taking industrial action over pay, in what would be the first national postal strike since 1996. However the union seems to be using the ballot result as a bargaining chip, rather than showing seriousness that they will fight.

According to Deputy General Secretary, Dave Ward: "This yes vote shows absolutely clearly that Royal Mail workers have rejected the company's business plan, the company's leadership and the unacceptable pay offer. Royal Mail leaders say they listen to people; this is the clearest message they have ever had. Royal Mail has to listen and return to serious negotiations."

But he goes on to say: "Because we care about the service there will be no immediate announcement for strike action – we want an agreement – not a strike for the sake of it. So we will give Royal Mail a further opportunity to back-off from their cuts and come back to the negotiating table with a fresh approach."

The dispute is partly about Royal Mail's 2.5% pay offer. A series of walkouts will now be held by about 130,000 CWU members unless new talks can lead to a breakthrough in the dispute. But as Dave Ward points out: "The key issue in this dispute remains the unacceptable cuts in postal services – cuts in postal jobs - and attacks on our members’ terms and conditions. Royal Mail’s plans include 40,000 job losses – later deliveries - reductions in collections – reductions in weekend service. The closure of delivery offices and mail centres – and the destruction of the rural and crown office post office network."

But as I have pointed out before, the underlying issue is whether or not the CWU stands up for the idea of defending Royal Mail as a public service. So-called “liberalisation”, opening up the publicly owned Royal Mail to competition, was introduced in January 2006, as a result of EU legislation, but the free market zealots of New Labour decided to deregulate three years earlier than competitor countries. The response to this from the CWU was revealing. Billy Hayes complained “We all know that postal liberalisation is coming, but the CWU cannot understand why a British regulator [has placed] the nation’s postal service at a competitive disadvantage” (emphasis added)

All along the CWU has accepted that liberalisation and competition could not be opposed, and therefore even if Royal Mail does stay in the public sector, it will be subject to market pressure. So it will be run as a business not as a public service.

The CWU needs to take a political stance against liberalisation, and demand that Royal mail continues to run as a public service. This is a long haul argument, but is one that the RMT has effectively mounted over renationalisation of the railways. The advantage is the not only can we start to turn the tide over the political idea there is no alternative to the market, but it would make the workforce more confident and inspired to fight. It is never a good way to fight, to first concede that your opponent is correct in principle!

The Royal Mail's plans to respond to market forces, "Shaping the Future" were accepted last year by the CWU. But the inevitable consequences of the scheme are now becoming clear.

Given the liberalisation and competition then management will be determined to stand firm. The posties have a real fight on their hands, and the union's leadership needs to show the required determination. If not then the grassroots activists need to prepare to take the lead themselves.

Why we need the boycott

Some of the discussion about the proposed academic boycott of Israel has missed a crucial point. For example, the Guardian reports it as already having started: “The boycott was launched by the UCU, which represents more than 120,000 academics, at its inaugural conference.” But there is no boycott, only a decision to debate whether there should be a boycott.

The motion was passed with a decisive majority at the UCU conference precisely because of the way it was phrased. The motion requires the union to hold a debate about having a boycott in every college and university up and down the land.

Therefore, those who seeking to overturn the motion in the name of academic freedom are in reality seeking to suppress the debate which is being proposed, and disempower the lecturers from debating the question of Palestine.

What is true is that if/when the union does pass a resolution for a boycott the new General Secretary Sally Hunt has pledged she will try to overturn it with a ballot of all members.

That’s a further reason why activists need to ensure the debate involves as many members of UCU as possible. The very process of having the debate with union members is an excellent contribution to raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinians, and puts further pressure on Israel.

The Jewish Week , a New York newspaper, accuses those advocating the boycott of anti-semitism and quotes Nachman Ben Yehuda, dean of the faculty of Social Sciences at Hebrew University in Jerusalem saying: “What does it mean to boycott the Israeli academy? It means to boycott Jewish professors. We need to put this on the table”

But there is not question of academics being boycotted because of their Jewishness, it is the institutions that are being targeted, because of the exceptional nature of the forty year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Asaf Wohl, writing on the Ynet news site says: “One of the official reasons for the boycott on the Israeli academy is the occupation. Isn’t it ridiculous to hear such criticism from the citizens of a country that sends its army to the other side of the earth just to keep under its colonialist patronage two arid scraps of land in the middle of the ocean? From the citizens of a country that refuses to return Gibraltar to its legal owners? Not to mention its soldiers who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

However, the occupation of Palestinian lands is exceptional and unique in the modern world because of the question of the settlements. Israel is seeking to illegally annex East Jerusalem despite the fact that international law is now unequivocal that territory cannot be illegally acquired through conquest, and there are half a million colonists illegally living in the new Zionist towns and settlements in the West Bank.

The exceptional nature of these settlements, the land grab that they represent, and the systematic destruction of the Palestinian economy and civil society that they cause require pressure to be brought onto Israel.

The EU and USA have sanctions against the Palestinian Authority freezing funding, because the elected Hamas government does not recognise Israel. The symbolic issue of Hamas's refusal to acknowledge Israel is considered more important that the actualy existing failure of Israel to respect the territorial integrity of Palestine.

As the governments of the west have no intention of pressurising Israel, it falls upon civil society, and particularly the trade unions, to apply measured and targeted sanctions on Israel. As Kamel Hawwash, the only British Palestinian delegate to the UCU conference wrote in a letter to the Financial Times: "The mere discussion of boycotts took the debate on to the next (and in my view) necessary level. ... I am very pleased with this as a British Palestinian academic and I look forward to following the debate over the coming 12 months. I see the decision of the UCU as an opportunity for Israeli society as a whole and not just academia, to come to a historic realisation that they will only achieve peace and security when the Palestinians have their due rights and there is an independent, confident Palestinian state living side by side with Israel and not inside Israel."

The proposed boycott is in the interests of justice,and without justice there can be no peace.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Harriet Harman: still desperately seeking deputy leadership

Lucky old me, I received this morning a leaflet from Harriet Harman's election campaign for Deputy Leader. She plays up her left-wing street cred ("legal adviser to the women in the first equal pay strike" and also "the two-year long union recognition at Grunwick"). And her special pitch is that she is a woman. Well, so is Hazel Blears and neither one will be getting my vote. But the icing on the cake was the quote from Glenys Kinnock:

"It is unthinkable that the Labour Party should elect a deputy leader who isn't a woman. That woman has to be Harriet because she has that empathy with women and families"....

And it was the "empathic" Harriet who abolished the lone parent rate of Child Benefit.....

More cheek by Jowell...

Well, it seems that Tessa Jowell has lied through her pearly whites as the Big Lottery Fund will cut £120m from its programmes. What? A New Labour politician lie... surely not..? Ok, economical with the truth...

So much for the promises she made that the voluntary sector would be “protected” from the effects of the extra £425m contribution the BLF made to the 2012 Olympics. The BLF are making up the financial raids by cutting the funding of two programmes. One of the programmes up for the chop is specifically aimed at disadvantaged young people but hey, this is New Labour and when it comes to young people it is case of victimising, stigmatising and ASBOing the little blighters!

And let’s refresh our memory at what Jowell said in March this year: “we have agreed with the Big Lottery Fund that resources for the VCS would be protected from this transfer. The amount going to the VCS will therefore continue at the levels planned.”

The Big Lottery Fund has declined to confirm or deny the proposed cuts before being discussed at its country committees in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And I am sure that this level of cuts will continue. But hey, don’t despair as your local community-based organisation goes down the drain due to being cut to the bone, it is all for a good cause…watching a bunch of athletes run round a track.

Money well worth spent indeed, eh Tessa?!!

NB: The new Olympics logo is causing controversy (you can rate it on the BBC website..personally I don't think it deserves the wooden spoon deserves far worse!) and even Ken Livingston has given his tuppence halfpenny on the "catastrophic mistake" which, btw, cost £400,000. This cut and paste garish collage (they coulda bought the materials for a fiver at WH Smith) is about as exciting and stunning as Kate Moss's summer collection (note to Kate: the strappy grandad vests are a real no no and soooh last year...).

My own cut and paste Olympics design would have been a simple drawing of someone flipping their middle finger with the prosaic though good old fashion slogan: "Fuck the 2012 Olympics" and cheap at the price as well.

Dunno, could catch on and maybe indulge in a bit of graffiti art (eat ya heart out Banksy).. Now, where's my spray can..?

Pakistani socialist arrested again

Leader of the Labour Party of Pakistan, FAROOQ TARIQ, has been arrested again by police. This is in the context of a continuing crisis for the government of General Musharraf

Farooq’s lawyer explains the current situation:

•Police has no detention orders (up till now) for him, so we can say the arrest is very illegal.

On MOnday he was initially detained in Hurbancepura police station
from 4:00 am to 10:00 pm. Many civil society activists visited to him
including Joint Action Committee and Pakistan Social Forum's officials.

•At 10:00 pm Tuesday he was shifted on unknown place by the police.

•By a provision of the law, within 24 hours of the arrest police have
to produce the arrestee with the statement of alligation/alligations or some evidences to the duty session Judge. After the arguments by the lawyers and judgment, Judge may send him to jail or retain him with the police for further investigation.

•Now the limit of 24 hours is crucial, to avoid the provision of law
police shifted him to another unknown place before the 24 hours are passed.

•Police officials are denying providing any information or legal status to anybody regarding Farooq.

•A habeas corpus petition against the police by the Lahore Bar
Association is in process.

•To day SHO provide some false statements/allegations verbally before
the Judge and did not produce Farooq as per notice given by the court.

•The Court passed fresh orders to Police Superintend of the region to
produce Farooq tomorrow with the allegations or detention orders by the interior ministry. Now the date 07-06-2007 would be important in this regard.

•All District Bar Associations of Lahore, High court Bar Associations, Media Associations, Political Parties and civil society organizations are in solidarity with us.

Rifondazione row over Cuba

Tensions in Rifondazione Comunista, the Italian hard left party were already high following the support of the party leadership for maintaining Italian troops in Afghanistan, as the price of maintaining the L'Unione coalition in government. As a consequence they have done badly in the recent round of local elections, losing between 20 and 50 percent of their own votes from last year.

Now there is a big row brewing over Cuba.

It started with two articles by Angela Nocioni on the 31st May in the party's daily paper, Liberazione, which attacked the Cuban government, the Five Cubans imprisoned in the US, and Giustino Di Celmo, an old Italian, whose son was killed by Posada Carriles in 1997 in a terrorist bombing in Havana.

This produced a huge response from readers, and on the Internet. For several days running, Liberazione has been publishing entire pages of letters against those articles.

On the 5th June, there was a letter by Marco Consolo, who is in charge of the Latin American desk in the International dept of the PRC, who says that the paper is breaking with the party over the question of Cuba.

However, both the paper editor, Piero Sansonetti, and some party heavyweights like Rina Gagliardi have come out on the side of Nocioni.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Solidarity with striking Iraqi oil workers'

Oil workers in Basra went on strike yesterday. The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) was set to enter its second day of strike action today. The TUC has sent a message of support to the striking oil workers. There is the EDM 1180 that needs supporting so please contact your MP and also raise the matter of the striking oil workers' in your union.

They need your solidarity at a time when the Iraqi oil is to be ripped off, if the US/UK governments get their way, by the Western oil companies.

Deputy leadership candidates interview

Socialist Campaign Group News has conducted an interview with each of the six contenders for the Labour Party deputy leader.

Jon Cruddas comes over as by far the best candidate, not only in terms of policy content but because he answers the questions clearly without any beating round the bush.

Should the government halt further privatisation in the NHS?
Jon Cruddas: Yes. I’ve called for a moratorium on private sector involvement in the NHS. I think we urgently need to take stock of where we are and what is and isn’t working. I also think that the pace and scale of reform has left the NHS and the people who work in it reeling.

In order to tackle the gender pay gap, do you believe the government should legislate for mandatory pay audits?

Jon Cruddas: Yes. I was disappointed that the Prosser Commission didn’t recommend it. There is an enduring 17 per cent gender pay gap.

Should Trident be replaced by a new generation of nuclear weapons?
Jon Cruddas: No. I voted against Trident. Trident and any upgrade are relics of another era. The events of July 7 2005 demonstrate that we face very different security threats.

Is the government pursuing the correct policy in Iraq?
Jon Cruddas: It is withdrawing troops but I think we need to review whether that is being done speedily enough. My view is that they should be drawing in multilateral forces and using diplomacy to try and find a settlement to the whole Middle East problem.

Should the government reject the hostile campaign of the US administration towards the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela, which has overseen enormous social progress that has been repeatedly endorsed by the Venezuelan electorate?
Jon Cruddas: Chavez heads a democratically elected government which is doing amazing things for the poor. Any interference by the US or any other state should be rejected.

In contrast none of the other candidates gave a clear answer about privatisation of the NHS. Blears and Benn rather mendaciously redefined the issue as if the NHS cannot be privatised if “treatment free at the point of use” is still supported. Peter Hain defended his us of the private sector in Northern Ireland. Alan Johnson said: “Private innovation and competition can be beneficial”

All of the candidates except Jon Cruddas support nuclear weapons. Benn argued: “In the differently dangerous world we now live in, I don't think we should give up our deterrent.”, and he cheekily said that Trident replacement was necessary because it was a manifesto commitment.

On the question of Chavez, Hilary Benn thinks the real issue is falling into the trap of anti-Americanism; and Hazel Blears lectured the Socialist Campaign Group over the need to stay on the “centre ground” of British politics. Alan Johnson clearly believes that Britain’s relationship with the USA is too important to jeopardise: “Britain's relationship with the US will be led by Gordon Brown, but I will support him in any way I can. Whilst Gordon is wanting to maintain a strong relationship with the US, I firmly believe that he will not shy away from any issue, such as this, in private.”

All the candidates expressed support for extending council housing, but Alan Johnson worryingly said: “Borrowing against an authority's rental income could be a source of funding. ” I have a suspicion that the Brownite right are contemplating allowing local authorities to set up ALMOs themselves that can borrow money at commercial rates – so they will be publicly owned commercial companies.

TUC response to the Freud Review

The TUC has just published their response to the Freud Review, "Reducing Poverty, Increasing Support".

Their response makes two main points:

"Benefit claimants, including disabled people and lone parents, need extra support to help them to get jobs, not the threat of penalties".

"There is no need for privatisation or contracting out of services currently provided by Jobcentre Plus. We pay particular attention to some of the problems that may follow from contracting out to faith organisations".

Monday, June 04, 2007

CWU snubs Johnson


I know some of you are getting fed up with the Labour Deputy Leadership election, but it is a significant defeat for the leadership of the postal workers union that their support for the right winger, Alan Johnson, has been overturned by rank and file delegates at conference today. This underlines how the Deputy Leadership contest has allowed some debate in the unions about their future relationship with the Brown government. From what I gather support for continuing the link with the Labour Party is very weak within the CWU, and if there is a large scale strike this year - as seems likely - then pressure may grow to follow the FBU's example and disaffiliate.

This report is from the Morning Star:

CWU delegates in Bournemouth overwhelmingly voted to reconsider the union's decision to support Labour deputy leadership candidate Alan Johnson on Monday.

An emergency motion pointed out that Mr Johnson had failed to support the Trade Union Freedom Bill and the union's campaign against post office closures and had publicly supported Royal Mail's unpopular plans for employee share ownership.

Conference agreed to censure the NEC and instruct it to reconsider its decision to support Mr Johnston in line with the decisions taken at last year's conference and inform the membership of the decision prior to the ballot commencing on June 6th.

South London delegate Bob Cullen pointed out that deputy general secretary Dave Ward had said that he would rather "support a lamppost" than Mr Johnson, who was once the leader of the CWU.

"Let's support the lamppost," he urged delegates.

"If he can privatise what was his own industry, what would he do to others? He has no time for us working people. He should not be considered."

London Divisional representative delegate Martin Walsh branded Mr Johnson "the weakest" of all the candidates.

"He does not support the policies of this union, yet we still support him. That is wrong," he said.

"He walked away from this union, we did not drive him away."

London delegate Phil Walker added that Mr Johnson offered "little or nothing" to the union in his leadership manifesto.

"We have to look at the most acceptable candidate. Let's have another look at them," he said.

"Policy issues should be key to our judgment. Let us get what change we can out of this deputy leadership contest."
London Parcels delegate Paul O'Donnell said that Mr Johnson's nomination sent out the wrong message.

"It's like having a fry up for the bailiffs before they repossess your cooker," he said.

Kent Invicata delegate Sean Tait added: "We can't send divided messages to our own membership. We should make sure the people we support, support us."

Before the voting, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes urged delegates to reject the motion, insisting: "What you're saying is that the NEC is not entitled to an opinion. We are deciding the next Deputy Prime Minster."

The NEC will meet on Tuesday to decide who they will now support.

UPDATE: There is a good online report also in Socialist Worker . They make the point that: "It should be noted that not all the executive had supported Johnson at the executive meeting in question, with three supporting Jon Cruddas."

It is also worth saying that The Morning Star are wrong that Bob Cullen is from South London, he is from Oxford.

We are back


Sorry for the interruption in posting recently.

The blog was temporarily blocked by Google because they decided it was a so-called "Spam blog".

It seems they have an automated tool that searches blogs and tries to identify automated blogs being used for nefarious purposes, and their algorithm is too aggressive, and there are loads of false positives.

It is illuminating to read the Google help group, which is a forum for people with blogger problems, as this issue affects loads of people using Google Blogger.

There was one poor guy blocked at the same time as us who makes his living out of his blog, and has 400000 hits per month (which is slightly more than we get) - he was blocked. And what is so frustrating is there is no way with Blogger to get to speak, or even e-mail a human being.

Anyway, we are back, and we have resolved to migrate to Wordpress soon.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Lecturers' union condemns Israel

The UCU Congress yesterday passed 2 resolutions:

Boycott of Israeli academic institutions
This requires the Union to

circulate of the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches
encourage members to consider the moral implications of links with Israeli universities
organise a UK campus tour for Palestinian academic trade unionists
issue guidance to members on appropriate forms of action
actively encourage branches to create direct educational links with Palestinian educational institutions including nationally sponsored programmes for teacher exchanges etc.

European Union and Israel
This requires the Union to campaign for:

The restoration of all international aid to the PA and all its rightful revenues
No upgrade of Israel’s status with the EU while the occupation and human rights abuses continue
A moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions

The Morning Star has the following report of the debate:

DANIEL COYSH writes:>.

DELEGATES at the newly formed university and lecturers' union defied their national executive on Wednesday evening and voted for a nationwide debate on whether to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The debate on whether to hold a debate had always promised to be one of the more controversial aspects of the inaugural UCU congress and the hall was packed with speakers, delegates, observers and hacks, hungry for a juicy row.

In the event, most left disappointed. Strong opinions were voiced, but everyone managed to avoid the hysterical smears and name-calling that so often heralds the hijacking of discussion by hard-line Israel supporters.

Although many opposed any demand for a boycott, every speaker was insistent on their support for the Palestinian people and their condemnation of Israel's actions. Opponents of a boycott instead argued on the grounds that such a step was counterproductive, would divide the union or would stifle "academic freedom."

The boycott call was launched in April 2004 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). It is supported by 60 Palestinian trade unions, NGOs and political and religious organisations.

UCU delegates discussed a motion calling on UCU to circulate the full text of the PACBI call to all branches.

The motion also condemned Israel's 40-year occupation of Palestine and its "denial of educational rights for Palestinians by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students."

Opening the debate, University of Brighton delegate Tom Hickey welcomed growing international condemnation of Israel as an "apartheid state" and detailed the devastating effect of the occupation on the Palestinian people.

"If we do nothing and look away, we make ourselves complicit in it," he argued.

Executive member Mary Davis spoke against a boycott, calling the motion "divisive and disingenuous."

She said that, if the same principles were applied to Britain, then all British academia would be boycotted over Britain's shameful role in the attack on Iraq.

Instead, she proposed concentrating the union's efforts on pro-Palestinian activities, such as stopping arms sales to Israel and supporting the importation of goods produced in free Palestine, such as olive oil.

However, the final vote saw 158 delegates back the motion, with 99 against.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Hickey said that the next step would be to organise a series of regional debates over the next year, with as wide a range of speakers as possible, including academics from both Israel and Palestine.

He stressed that the form any potential boycott could take was up to the union, but he suggested that it could include such measures as a refusal to attend conferences organised by Israeli universities or a ban on joint grant applications with such institutions.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, who had spoken out against a boycott prior to the debate, commented: "Today's motion means all branches now have a responsibility to consult all of their members on the issue and I believe that every member should have the opportunity to have their say."

She also pointed out that a previous motion had endorsed an official policy on "greylisting and boycott" by the union's transitional arrangements committee, providing a series of "key tests" which would have to be passed before any boycott could be implemented.

Cannon on socialist legality


The recent decision of the Venezuelan government not to renew the broadcast licence of the RCTV channel has raised quite a lot of interesting debate, that has thrown light on some of the underlying political assumptions and attitudes of those participating in the discussion.

I have already posted about the facts of the dispute, and explained why the Bolivarian government are justified .

But one point came up in the debate at the Red Squirrel blog that is worth pursuing further.

One of the “left” voices joining in the chorus of criticism of Chavez was TWP from the Shiraz Socialist blog, which is loosely aligned with the politics of the British AWL , an avowedly Marxist group but which takes some eccentric positions.

TWP wrote : “How many of us have “openly called” for the overthrow of capitalism? Well apparently Tariq Ali doesn’t see the irony in his statement about Chavez’s failure to renew a TV licence for the anti-government channel RCTV. By his logic most of the newspapers of the far left could be legitimately closed down in Britain.”

As Ken Macleod points out:
“There's another troubling aspect of the Shiraz Socialist's take on this. She seems to think that the far left 'calls for the overthrow of capitalism' in the sense of calling for the overthrow of democratically elected governments! Apart from the absurdity of making such a call at present, most of the far left does no such thing, and it's quite dangerous to concede that it does. Cannon's Socialism on Trial is … very much to the point here.”

From June to November 1941, leading members of the Socialist Workers Party in the USA (no relation to today’s SWP in Britain), were no trial in the Minneapolis, MN, District Court of the United States.

James P Cannon defended the party brilliantly from the witness stands, and the court transcripts are a very valuable resource, because they contain a clear and simple explanation of socialist politics.

Some of the issues raised are very relevant to the current debate, in particular relating to the attitude socialists take to violence and the constitution, and in particular the explanation that as democrats we will always try to achieve our aims through peaceful means – but reserving the right to defend democracy by any means necessary.

Of particular interest is Cannon’s very clear explanation that even the Russian revolution was constitutional and legal.

Here are some excerpts from the book: Socialism on Trial"

Marxism and violence

Q: Now, what is the opinion of Marxists with reference to the change in the social order, as far as its being accompanied or not accompanied by violence?
A: It is the opinion of all Marxists that it will be accompanied by violence.
Q: Why?
A: That is based, like all Marxist doctrine, on a study of history, the historical experiences of mankind in the numerous changes of society from one form to another, the revolutions which accompanied it, and the resistance which the outlived classes invariably put up against the new order. Their attempt to defend themselves against the new order, or to suppress by violence the movement for the new order, has resulted in every important social transformation up to now being accompanied by violence.
Q: Who, in the opinion of Marxists, initiated that violence?
A: Always the ruling class; always the outlived class that doesn’t want to leave the stage when the time has come. They want to hang on to their privileges, to reinforce them by violent measures, against the rising majority and they run up against the mass violence of the new class, which history has ordained shall come to power.
Q: What is the opinion of Marxists, as far as winning a majority of the people to socialist ideas?
A: Yes, that certainly is the aim of the party. That is the aim of the Marxist movement, has been from its inception.
Marx said the social revolution of the proletariat—I think I can quote his exact words from memory—“is a movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority”[2] He said this in distinguishing it from previous revolutions which had been made in the interest of minorities, as was the case in France in 1789.
Q: What would you say is the opinion of Marxists as far as the desirability of a peaceful transition is concerned?
A: The position of the Marxists is that the most economical and preferable, the most desirable method of social transformation, by all means, is to have it done peacefully.
Q: And in the opinion of the Marxists, is that absolutely excluded?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say absolutely excluded. We say that the lessons of history don’t show any important examples in favor of the idea so that you can count upon it.
Q: Can you give us examples in American history of a minority refusing to submit to a majority?
A: I can give you a very important one. The conception of the Marxists is that even if the transfer of political power from the capitalists to the proletariat is accomplished peacefully—then the minority, the exploiting capitalist class, will revolt against the new regime, no matter how legally it is established.
I can give you an example in American history. The American Civil War resulted from the fact that the Southern slaveholders couldn’t reconcile themselves to the legal parliamentary victory of Northern capitalism, the election of President Lincoln.
Q: Can you give us an example outside of America where a reactionary minority revolted against a majority in office?
A: Yes, in Spain—the coalition of workers’ and liberal parties in Spain got an absolute majority in the elections and established the People’s Front government. This government was no sooner installed than it was confronted with an armed rebellion, led by the reactionary capitalists of Spain.
Q: Then the theory of Marxists and the theory of the Socialist Workers Party, as far as violence is concerned, is a prediction based upon a study of history, is that right?
A: Well, that is part of it. It is a prediction that the outlived class, which is put in a minority by the revolutionary growth in the country, will try by violent means to hold on to its privileges against the will of the majority. That is what we predict.
Of course, we don’t limit ourselves simply to that prediction. We go further, and advise the workers to bear this in mind and prepare themselves not to permit the reactionary outlived minority to frustrate the will of the majority.
Q: What role does the rise and existence of fascism play with reference to the possibility of violence?
A: That is really the nub of the whole question, because the reactionary violence of the capitalist class, expressed through fascism, is invoked against the workers. Long before the revolutionary movement of the workers gains the majority, fascist gangs are organised and subsidised by millions in funds from the biggest industrialists and financiers, as the example of Germany showed—and these fascist gangs undertake to break up the labor movement by force. They raid the halls, assassinate the leaders, break up the meetings, burn the printing plants, and destroy the possibility of functioning long before the labor movement has taken the road of revolution.
I say that is the nub of the whole question of violence. If the workers don’t recognise that, and do not begin to defend themselves against the fascists, they will never be given the possibility of voting on the question of revolution. They will face the fate of the German and Italian proletariat and they will be in the chains of fascist slavery before they have a chance of any kind of a fair vote on whether they want socialism or not.
It is a life and death question for the workers that they organise themselves to prevent fascism, the fascist gangs, from breaking up the workers’ organisations, and not to wait until it is too late. That is in the program of our party.

The Same way Lincoln did

Q: Now how do you expect the capitalists to abrogate the elections? How will they accomplish that purpose?
A: They can do it in various ways—by decree, by vote of Congress declaring there is a state of emergency which requires dispensing with election struggles, and handing the power over to the president or somebody to rule for this period, which may be long or short—but most likely it would be long.
That is precisely what was done to a legally constituted parliament elected by the suffrage of the French people, containing representatives of various parties—Socialists, Radical Socialist, Conservative, Communist and other parties. This parliament was dissolved, and a dictator appointed with power to rule the country at his will until further notice. That is what happened just like that (indicating).
Q: Supposing they don’t do those things that you anticipate, and you get yourself elected into control of the government, control of the Senate and the House, let us say, and you elect a president, too. Do you expect then that the army and navy are going to turn against you and try to resist your authority?
A: I anticipate that some of the officers would—those who are tied most closely to the upper circles of the ruling class. I would expect some of them to attempt to dispute the authority of the people’s government That happened in other instances.
Q: Yes, I know you are illustrating by that. I am talking about this country. You have got yourself elected into control of the government now. Now tell us how you expect the resistance against your authority is going to be made. Who is going to do it and how is it going to be done?
A: It would be done by the agents of the ruling class that is facing dispossession.
Q: Do you expect the army and navy of the United States government to turn its guns against you when you are in duly elected control of the government?
A: Yes, I would expect some of the officers to do it—not all of them. If all of the army and navy would be of such a mind, it would be manifestly impossible to be elected in the first place, because the army and navy are more or less in their ranks reflective of the general population, and if we are elected by a majority vote, you can be sure that our popularity in the masses of the people will be reflected in the military establishment That is always the case.
Q: Well, how would you resist this uprising against you?
A: The same way Lincoln did in 1861.
Q: Would you already have an army, or would you use the army that you find standing when you came into power?
A: We will just use what measures are possible. A good section of the American army and its best officers in 1861 revolted against the authority of the legally elected government of Lincoln. Lincoln took what he could and recruited some more and gave them a fight, and I always thought it was a wonderfully good idea.

The legality of the Russian revolution
Q: Now, can you tell us anything about the legality of that revolution?

A: Yes.

The Court: Judged by what standards?

Mr. Goldman: What I mean by that is to have him explain exactly how the revolution occurred, because counsel for the government tries to present it as a violent upheaval of the minority against the majority, and the facts are the very contrary. I want the witness to explain the nature of that revolution.

A: The czar and czarism were overthrown in March by an uprising of the masses, of the people in the big cities, and the peasants.

Q: Was the Bolshevik Party responsible for that uprising in any way?

A: No. The Bolshevik Party was a very infinitesimal group at the time of the March revolution.

Q: What is the meaning of “Bolshevism”?

A: The world Bolshevik is a Russian word meaning majority. It acquired a political meaning in the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party. In the Congress of 1903 a controversy developed which divided the party into groups, the majority and the minority, the majority called the Bolsheviks and the minority called Mensheviks.

Q: Those are Russian words meaning minority and majority?

A: Yes. They split up and divided into parties. Each called itself the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party and in parentheses on the end “Bolsheviks” or “Mensheviks”, as the case might be.

Q: Now, will you proceed and tell the jury what happened during the October Revolution, or in our calendar in November 1917.

A: Well, to show the chronology: When czarism was overthrown by the masses of the people, the whole structure of that tyranny was destroyed. A new government was constituted, but the new government machinery was based on the Soviets, which sprang up spontaneously in the revolutionary upheaval. Soviets of workers and soldiers were established everywhere. In Petrograd, the workers and soldiers sent delegates—deputies—to the central council or, as they called it, the Soviet; similarly in Moscow and other places. This body was recognised as authoritative.

The government that was constituted after the overthrow of the czar was headed by Prince Lvov, with Miliukov as foreign minister; it derived its authority from the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies and the Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies. In April they had a National All-Russian Conference of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets, and there they elected an All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets. In May, the peasant Soviets had an All-Russian Congress and elected an All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the peasants.

Q: What proportion of the population did those Soviets represent?

A: They represented the people, the great mass of the people. I think it was impossible even to speak in terms of majorities or minorities. They were the masses themselves. The peasants and the soldiers and the workers were the people; those two bodies, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets and the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Peasant Soviets, formed a joint body which was recognised as the most authoritative and representative body in Russia. It was by their consent that the government cabinet ruled.

The All-Russian Executive Committee of the Soviets repudiated Miliukov, who was the leader of the bourgeoisie. The Soviet body opposed him because of his foreign policy, involving secret treaties that had been exposed. He therefore had to resign, because without the support of the Soviets, authority was lacking; and I think that could be likened, as an analogy, to the French system of the resignation of the prime minister when there is a no-confidence vote in the Chamber.

Q: So that the Soviets constituted the authority of the people of Russia?

A: That is right.

Q: In what way did the Bolsheviks progress to power?

A: I wish to go on with the chronology, if you will permit me. Following the fall of Miliukov, Kerensky rose—there is a popular impression in this country that he became premier with the fall of the czar. That is not so. Kerensky became premier in July. He was made a minister and eventually premier because he was a member of the Social Revolutionary Party. That was the peasant party, which then lead the Soviets. He was also supported by the worker element, because he had been a labor lawyer. That was the basis of Kerensky’s office; that is, his authority was derived directly from the Soviets.

Now in this period the Bolsheviks were a small minority. They did not create the Soviets. The Soviets were created by the masses; they were initiated by the masses. Neither the Bolshevik Party nor any other party could do anything without the support of the Soviets. In the midst of the revolution of 1905 and again in the overthrow of the czar in 1917, the Soviets sprang up simultaneously.

The most influential one naturally was in Petrograd, which was the seat of government. The Bolsheviks were a small minority in this Soviet at the time of the overthrow of the czar. When Kerensky became premier, the combination of his Social Revolutionary Party and the Menshevik Socialist Party—those two parties together had an overwhelming majority in the Soviets, and ruled by virtue of that. The Bolsheviks were an opposing faction.

During that time Lenin, as the spokesman for the Bolsheviks, said over and over again, “As long as we are in the minority in the Soviets, all we can do is patiently explain.” The Bolshevik Party opposed any attempt to seize power by a putsch.

Q: What is a “putsch”?

A: An armed action of a small group. The Bolshevik Party demanded, with Lenin as their spokesman, that the Social Revolutionary Party and the Menshevik Party take complete control of the government by removing the bourgeois ministers and make it a completely labor and peasant government, and they issued the promise that, “If you do that we promise that as long as we are in the minority, we will not try to overthrow you. We will not support you politically, we will criticise you, but we will not undertake to overthrow the government as long as we are in the minority.” That was the policy of the Bolsheviks in the March days of the revolution against the czar, and into July.

In July the workers in Petrograd staged a demonstration with arms, against the advice of the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks advised against it on the ground that it might unduly provoke the situation, and tried to persuade the workers in Petrograd not to go into that action. It was not a rebellion; it was simply a parade with arms. This action, carried out by the Petrograd workers against the advice of the Bolsheviks, brought repressions against the workers on the part of the Kerensky government.

Then the Kerensky government undertook to discredit and frame up the Bolshevik Party. They accused Lenin and Trotsky of being German spies. This was the predecessor of Stalin’s Moscow trials. They accused Lenin and Trotsky and the Bolsheviks of being German spies. Trotsky was thrown into jail, Lenin was forced into hiding, and repressions continued against the Bolsheviks, but it did not do any good, because the policy and slogans of the Bolsheviks were growing in popularity. One by one the great factories and soldiers’ regiments began to vote in favor of the Bolshevik program.

In September an attempt at counterrevolution was made under the leadership of General Kornilov, who could be properly described as a Russian monarchist-fascist. He organised an army and undertook to overthrow the Kerensky government in Petrograd, with the idea of restoring the old regime.

The Kerensky government, that had put Trotsky in jail, had to release him from prison to get the support of his party to fight down the counterrevolutionary army of Kornilov.

Trotsky was brought from prison and went directly to the Military Revolutionary Committee, in which government men also sat, and there drew up with them plans for a joint fight against Kornilov. Kornilov was crushed; the counterrevolution was crushed primarily by the workers under the inspiration of the Bolshevik Party. They tied up his railroad trains, he could not move his troops; his best troops were induced to fight against him, and his counterrevolution was crushed.

As this was going on, the Bolsheviks became more popular all the time, as the genuine representatives of the revolution. They gained the majority in the Petrograd Soviet, the most influential Soviet in the country, and in Moscow and others. The Kerensky government was losing ground because it was not solving any of the problems of the people. The Bolsheviks’ slogans of “Bread”, “Peace”, “Land”, and other slogans—those were the slogans that the masses wanted.

On November 7 was held the Congress of the All-Russian Soviets of Workers and Soldiers. The Bolsheviks had a majority there, and simultaneously with the meeting of the Soviets, where the Bolsheviks had a majority, they took the governmental power.

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Q: When you were tracing the history of the Russian Revolution, you said this: “The Kerensky government was losing ground because it was not solving any problems of the people. The Bolsheviks’ slogans of ‘Bread’ and other slogans—those were the slogans that the masses wanted. The Bolsheviks got a majority in the Petrograd Soviet. On November 7 was held the Congress of the All-Russian Soviets. The Bolsheviks had a majority there, and simultaneously with the meeting of the All-Russian Soviet, where the Bolsheviks had a majority, they took the power from the government.” Now, do you want us to understand from that, that the Bolsheviks took power by virtue of a majority vote of the Congress of the Soviets?
A: That is right.
Q: Do you not mean that the contrary was true?
A: No, I do not.
Q: Don’t you know that there was a planned insurrection before the Congress, and that the insurrection actually took place before the Congress met?
A: No. The Congress met the morning after the struggle had begun, and confirmed the new government.
Q: The fact is that the insurrection was started and was completed before the Congress ever met, isn’t it?
A: No, the power was in the Congress, and the Congress was the real power.
Q: Well, just answer my question, please. Isn’t it a fact that the insurrection had been planned and actually carried out before the Congress ever met?
A: No. The question was submitted to the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets on November 7. That is why they call it the November 7 Revolution.
Q: Don’t you know, further, that Lenin persistently warned against waiting for the Congress and doing it in a legal way?
A: Oh, that was one time that Lenin was overruled.
Q: And who won?
A: Trotsky won.
Q: Isn’t it also a fact that Trotsky ridiculed the notion that it was done legally?
A: No, on the contrary, Trotsky commented on the legal sanction of the action by the Soviets. That was why it was delayed to November 7.
Q: Isn’t it also true that he lulled Kerensky into inaction by pretending to wait until the Congress met, so that it could be decided legally who was to take power?
A: He did not pretend to wait. He waited.
Q: I submit that the contrary is true, in that Mr. Trotsky said so, and I would like to read to you about ten pages or so from the Lessons of October, and then you can tell me whether I am right or wrong.
(Mr. Scheweinhaut reads from pages 74 and 80 of Trotsky’s Lessons of October.)
Mr. Goldman: I submit Your Honour, that this book was ruled out of evidence. I have no objection if he wants to read one or two or perhaps three sentences, but to take advantage of cross-examination and put into evidence what the Court has ruled out, I think is going a little too far.
The Court: Well, this has to do, I suppose, with the dispute between counsel and witness, as to the facts with reference to which the witness takes one position and counsel takes an other. Now this is an attempt to impeach the statements of the witness by the means indicated. I assume he has a right to do that. He may continue to read it.
Mr. Goldman: Exception.
(Mr. Schweinhaut reads pages 80-91 from Trotsky’s Lessons of October.)
Mr. Schweinhaut: Now, am I right or wrong, Mr. Cannon, that the insurrection actually started and was concluded before the Soviet Congress put its seal of legality on it?
A: If you will permit me, I will show you where you are wrong. You misunderstood the whole thing; my authority for the evidence I gave here was Trotsky. He wrote the most authoritative and authentic history of the revolution. Perhaps I should mention several things to show where you are wrong:
First those pages you have read show that there were three different opinions in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Lenin said they had a majority, and they should take the power without waiting. There was the opinion of Zinoviev and Kamenev who thought the Bolsheviks did not have a majority and should not take the power. And the third opinion was Trotsky’s that they could base the assumption of power on the legality of the Soviets.
Second, those pages you read prove that both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks derived their authority from the Soviets. In November it became clear that the Bolsheviks had won the majority in the Soviets. Kerensky, who formerly had the majority in the Soviets, prepared to move troops from the capital. What did the troops do? The troops refused to go until ordered by the Congress of Soviets. The Congress of the Soviets convened on November 7. It was revealed that the Bolsheviks had the majority, and their assumption of power was confirmed.
In this All-Russian Congress of Soviets were present the other parties who had been the majority of yesterday. They spoke and debated there. When the vote was taken, the Bolsheviks had the majority. The Bolsheviks offered to give proportionate places in the government to the other parties. They refused and walked off. The Bolsheviks did, as a matter of fact incorporate into the government, a section of Kerensky’s party, the left wing of the Social Revolutionary Party.
It seems to me that here is an excellent illustration of how a revolutionary party, after long propagandistic work, succeeded in a political crisis in winning over to its side a majority of the population represented in the most authoritative body, the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. And the Bolsheviks, adapting themselves to the legality of this authoritative body —
Q: Now, just a minute. Are you still telling us how it occurred, or are you just telling us now that you think it was a mighty fine thing?
A: No, I am explaining the legality of the development as against your interpretation that it was illegal. And it seems to me —
Q: I don’t want your opinion on that. If you want to go on and tell us what happened, all right. Don’t characterise it.
A: I don’t think you will ever get a more legal revolution than that.