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As Ukraine Armed Conflict Begins What Side Will the Pro-Kiev Left Take?

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Reports this morning indicate an accelerating fight in the Ukraine.

Ukraine crisis: Casualties in Sloviansk gun battles

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian armed men have traded gunfire in a battle for control of the eastern town of Sloviansk, the interior minister says.

At least one Ukrainian officer was killed and both sides suffered casualties, Arsen Avakov said.

Pro-Russian forces took over the town on Saturday, prompting Kiev to launch an “anti-terror operation”.

Kiev and Western powers accuse Moscow of inciting the trouble. The Kremlin denies the charge.

BBC

Le Monde puts this in the context of a “general offensive”,

Le gouvernement ukrainien, confronté à des insurrections armées prorusses coordonnées dans l’Est, a lancé dimanche 13 avril une opération « antiterroriste »de reconquête à hauts risques.

The Ukrainian government, faced with armed pro-Russian and co-ordinated insurgencies   in the East, has launched a highly risky  “anti-terrorist” operation of reconquest on  Sunday, April the 13th

So how will those who stand ‘for’ the Ukraine react?

Will they ‘choose’ sides and back the “anti-terrorist operation”?

This is the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty position on the Ukraine.

Russia: hands off Ukraine! Keep Russian troops out!

Western governments: cancel Ukraine’s debts!

The labour movement should back Ukraine’s left in its efforts to create “third pole” against both Russian imperialism and the Ukrainian oligarchs.

This is Socialist Resistance’s line,

A defeat for Russian imperialism in Ukraine is both a victory for that mass movement and the Russian working class. Socialists in imperialist countries should see their primary responsibility as establishing links and building support for those groups in Ukrainian and Russian society which are opposing the oligarchs and organising a real movement against them. That is rather different from helping Putin hold on to power by annexing his own imperialist “buffer zone”.

Others are less decided.

This is the Left Unity Party’s view,

Left Unity statement on Ukraine

Left Unity has issued a statement on the situation in Ukraine, saying that there should be “no foreign intervention in Ukraine – whether political, economic or military”.

The acting officers of the new left wing party are calling for “democracy and equality for all the people of Ukraine”, condemning the different forms of nationalism, corruption and neoliberalism, and the drive to war.

Against nationalism, corruption, privatisation and war

The continuing political and economic crisis in Ukraine is taking a dangerous military turn.

Left Unity takes the position that there can only be a political solution to this crisis and that neither foreign military intervention nor foreign political and economic intervention provide the answers to Ukraine’s complex problems.

But does this also mean ‘backing’ the ‘anti-terrorist’ offensive?

We simply ask.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

In the Era of Wars and Revolutions. American socialist cartoons of the mid-twentieth century.

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http://lawcha.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/02-April-1945-Labor-Action-Carlo.jpg

 In the era of Wars and Revolutions. American Socialist Cartoons of the mid-twentieth century. Edited by Sean Matgamma. 

“Although in some places, notably in the Untied States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents, and develop into an organised movement with a petty Fuehrer of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative. The Trotskyist is against Stalin just as the Communist is for him, and, like the majority of Communists, he wants not so much to alter the external world as to feel that the battle for prestige is gaining in his own favour.”

George Orwell. Notes on Nationalism. 1945. ( Orwell and Politics. Page 355. Penguin 2001.)

In the Era of War and Revolutions publishes American left-wing cartoons for the most part long unavailable (even on the Web). They are largely from the papers of what became the Trotskyist American Socialist Workers’ Party, and their publications, such as Labor Action, the Militant, Socialist Appeal and New Militant, although there are some from the Communist Party (US), Daily Worker.

It is immediately striking that capitalists wear top-hats, and are corpulent. while workers are muscle-bound titans. No punches are pulled. Stalinism is a horror, American capitalism is embodied in Jim Crow and Lynching, As Sean Matgamma says in the Introduction, this is “clear and stark class-struggle politics, counterposed to both capitalism and Stalinism.”.

Orwell was simply wrong to say that Trotskyists were single-minded opponents of Stalin and Orthodox Communism. There  is an equal focus on capitalism, the 1930s struggles of the US labour movement, Fascism, and, as World War 2 approached, and was fought, imperialism.

It would have been useful to have outlined the political evolution of the SWP (US) and the publications in which the cartoons appeared.

Its opposition to American participation in the World War – the subject, or sub-text,  of many of the designs -  takes some explaining.

The SWP’s own supporters claim that (2008),

The Socialist Workers Party…… maintained the Marxist view that in the modern epoch there is no progressive wing of the capitalist class. The major industrialized capitalist rivals, dominated by finance capital—what Marxists term imperialism—are constantly driven to wars of conquest in which they try to redivide the world’s territories. The working-class vanguard, the party held, needs to explain the imperialist character of the war and why workers and farmers must oppose it, fighting instead for their own class interests worldwide.

Vanguard workers in the United States came under increasing attack as Washington sought to drum up a patriotic campaign in support of its war drive. The Smith “Gag” Act was passed in 1940, prohibiting the advocacy of “overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States.” Under this thought-control law, 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Teamsters Local 544 in Minneapolis were railroaded to prison for their class-struggle course in the labor movement, including opposition to the imperialist war. They spent between 12 and 16 months behind bars.

Not everybody, one suspects, will have much sympathy with that stand. Apart from the wider problems it raises it stood uncomfortably close to the US ‘isolationists’ of the period.

Yet Stalinism, for all Orwell’s cavils, is something that was rightly a major issue for the American Trotskyists. In the Era reminds us that there were people on the left prepared to speak their opposition, and dramatically illustrate it in their publications. That some of the SWP became so obsessed with the Soviet Union that they became what would be later be called ‘neoconservatives’ perhaps shows the difficulty of maintaining a Thrid Camp position.

The SWP itself still exists, a small group of property developers who continue to publish Trotksy and use their other resources to back Cuba.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are to be congratulated for publishing this material. It deserves a place on every socialists’ bookshelf. For this Blogger, who has only a passing familarity with the American left, it is a useful reminder of its rich past.

In an era of wars and revolutions, by Carlo and others, edited by Sean Matgamna. 312 pages, £8.99. To order by post, pay £8.99 plus £1.60 postage here.

More information from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

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Note on some of the cartoonists -  Laura Gray (Slobe),

 From Labor Action.

Labor Action regularly published cartoons and caricatures penned by Jesse Cohen, who worked under the name Carlo, while the Militant ran graphics by Laura Slobe, whose party name was Laura Gray. Despite the new wave of public and scholarly interest in the history of comics and cartoons, neither Carlo nor Laura Gray has attracted much attention from historians of the graphic arts. Readers of this magazine might recognize Carlo’s work from the short profile we published in issue 37 (Summer 2004); now it’s Laura Gray’s turn.

Like Jesse Cohen, Laura Slobe attended high school in the 1920s, came of political age during the 1930s, and remained active on the far left after World War II. She was born in Pittsburgh, but grew up in Chicago, where she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before working for the Works Progress Administration Art Project. As a young, avant-garde artist she concentrated her efforts on painting and sculpture, which remained her lifelong passions. She joined the SWP in 1942, and her first cartoon appeared in the Militant two years later. The labor journalist Art Preis later remembered that, “From the first, her work added such a fresh, bright, satirical note to the paper that it was enthusiastically hailed by our readers everywhere.” According to another SWP writer, “The cartoon’s subject matter was on the agenda of the Militant’s staff meetings. After the staff discussed and decided what the topic would be, Gray would go home and start to draw.” In addition to serving on the staff of the Militant, Gray “worked at a series of jobs to support herself, including painting store mannequins and creating window displays for some of New York’s big department stores.” She remained the SWP’s in-house artist from 1944 until her death in 1958. Tragically, she had contracted tuberculosis in her early twenties, and had a lung removed in 1947. She died after a brief bout with pneumonia.

Stalin 5

Written by Andrew Coates

April 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

Left Unity “moderate” “mishmash” or step forward?

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Weekly Worker says, economic policy  is ” mishmash“.

Left Unity is encouraged, rightly in the Tendance’s view by having achieved some national resonance.   1,520 signed-up members – and 200 in the immediate run up to their Manchester Conference.

But steel-hardened cadres beware!

Peter Manson reports in the Weekly Worker.

The economics policy commission, which made up the first real business of the day, remains a mishmash of lofty aspirations and minimalist reforms. It starts by describing the effects of the global financial crisis, yet does not go on to call for the party to be committed to a campaign for an alternative society. It states: “Radical measures are necessary to ensure a transformation in the economic structure and a reversal of the damage inflicted over the last 30 years of attacks …” It calls for “an expansion of public spending in pursuit of a policy of full employment”.

…incredibly, no debate was allowed on this monstrosity of a document.

We can only be dismayed.

Except that to most people it seems a pretty good approach to take, a radical programme of structural reforms, and a positive attempt to offer an alternative to the Privatising State and Austerity.

In general Left Unity has some pretty good policies. It refused to follow the  Gadarene herd into the sea of Scottish nationalism and an independent capitalist Alba. It rejected calls for  ‘unity’ with groups like the SWP (which some of Left Unity’s main members recently split from acrimoniously) and the No2EU supporting Socialist Party.

It would have been interesting to see  some balance-sheet of the experience of other left party initiatives, particularly a self-criticism from those who were until not so long ago part of the cabal around George Galloway’s Respect Party.

None has appeared.

Even Cde. Mason admits its policy on Europe is an excellent start,

Crouch End’s motion called for support for the statement of the European Left Party and its “refoundation of Europe on a socialist basis”. This was carried unanimously. Of course, there are big differences on what exactly is meant by that, and those around Andrew Burgin, Kate Hudson and so on who support it have very different ideas in practice on what is meant by “socialist”. But this convergence around the notion of all-Europe unity – as opposed to left nationalism – was striking.

This is a major advance for the British left.

The comrade writing in the organ of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB accurately  observes (following no doubt the judgement of Tendance Coatesy) that the motion on racism was a load of, how shall we put this politely, cack.

Cde Mason remarks,

“It was fitting that this intersectionalist motion was moved by Richard Seymour. He was urged by comrade Macnair to accept that the motion was “framed in the wrong way” and should be referred back.”

Comrade Macnair pointed out that its sectionalist/intersectionalist basis was “inconsistent with global opposition to capitalist rule”. Blacks (or women) per se cannot lead such opposition. Secondly, it saw no difference between the racism of old and today’s “nativism”. It accepted the whole multiculturalist agenda, which was driven by the bourgeoisie and sought to divide opposition from ethnic groups by upholding their separation from each other and promoting ‘community leaders’ who claimed to speak for them and helped sideline any united class response to cuts, etc.

Quite right comrade! (we are not being facetious  here)

In his reply, comrade Seymour dismissed the concern about intersectionality. The various oppressed groups “intersect”. So “what’s the problem?” As for the divisive nature of multiculturalism, that seemed to pass him by. Showing just how all-pervasive are the backward ideas associated with multiculturalist intersectionality, the CP was virtually alone in calling for a referral-back: the motion was carried overwhelmingly.

To repeat.

The motion passed.

This alone shows something is going wrong.

Whether Left Unity will amount to a successful intervention in national politics remains very much an open question.

One larded with doubts.

We consider that initiatives like the People’s Assembly have deeper roots and can achieve more results – fighting austerity uniting trade unionists , social movements and individuals – than a new party.

But we shall leave to conclusion to Cde. Mason.

The whole day was very tiring, but it was nowhere near as frustrating as the founding conference. But, despite some success for the “extreme left”, March 29 marked another step on the road towards Left Unity becoming a broad, “moderate” party incapable of organising consistent working class opposition to capital. However, there is a lot to play for yet.

A rather different report on the Conference in Links International.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 5, 2014 at 11:42 am

Left Unity Conference: the Good and the Not-so-Good.

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As Dave Osler has said, Left Unity is a party created not by deals between left groups but primarily by the hard work of activists alone.

Its Manchester Conference is to be congratulated on opening up a space for real debate on the left.

Many of the policy positions of the group, on Europe (it rejects the ‘No’ stand), and on economic policy (firmly anti-neo-liberal), are real steps forward.

“Left Unity opposes all programmes and demands for a British withdrawal from the European Union. By the same measure we oppose the EU of commissioners, corruption and capital. However, as the political, bureaucratic and economic elite has created the reality of a confederal EU, the working class should take it, not the narrow limits of the nation-state, as its decisive point of departure.”

We are for joining with others across Europe to campaign for a different form of European Union, a ‘socialist reconstruction’, as called for by the 4th Congress of the European Left Party.

Left Unity, we learn, would not take a position on the  Nationalist left campaign for a ‘Yes’  vote in the Scottish Referendum.

There are a host of other good policies on green issues such as fracking, Housing, and defending welfare.

In these areas some serious work has borne fruit.

There are wider topics, about the role such a party may take, and its relation to the broader labour movement and the left, that many will not agree on. Above all “coming soon to a Ballot Paper near you”.

These will be discussed here (as no doubt many others will do)  but not today.

But for the moment we have to signal that some material passed by the Conference is less than appealing to every internationalist and socialist. (see here).

The text of the Anti-Racist Commission begins well. It talks of the need to defend migrants, and to fight all forms of racism.

But this is extremely confused, when it is not plain wrong.

Racism against Muslims has deep roots in British history, extending into the colonial era.  Its most recent manifestations can be traced to the period after the ‘Rushdie affair’ when Muslims were increasingly identified as a ‘security’ problem, and a menace to national ‘values’.  Following the riots in northern cities, the government extended this attack to British Asians in general, alleging that they were ‘self-segregating’.

In the context of the ‘war on terror’, these discourses about British Asians were focused on Muslims in particular, and a neo-Powellite argument took hold that ‘multiculturalism’ had failed.  Politicians and media outlets claimed that by allowing diverse ‘cultures’ to ‘do their own thing’, Britain had tolerated islands of extremism in its midst. This counterinsurgency narrative validated a series of high profile attacks on the rights of Muslims, such as the Forest Gate raids in 2006 or the long-term imprisonment without charge and subsequent deportation of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan – only the most severe examples of the day-to-day state repression and racism experienced by the Muslim community.

The language of this ‘new racism’ blames racially oppressed groups themselves for failing to ‘integrate’ or ‘confront extremism’.  In so doing, it both validates racist repression and simultaneously instils fear and discourages resistance to racism.

The fact that it is culture and creed, rather than colour and breed, which is the ideological focus of these measures allows politicians to pretend that they are not racist.  Yet, there is a long history of ‘cultural racism’, which has become especially dominant in the aftermath of Britain’s colonial era.  Even the most biologistic forms of racism have always been supplemented by essentialising cultural stereotypes. The representation of Muslims as a monolithic bloc embodying the most hateful characteristics belongs to this tradition.

As an account of the Rushdie affair its stupidity and reductionism, not to mention the failure to defend Rushdie’s right to free speech, is reactionary in the extreme.

The rest is a completely jumbled up account of this aspect of race-cultural-relations in the UK.

There is not a word for a  strategy that is opposed Islamism.

Islamism may as well not exist.

No words are written on the Sikh, Hindi, or other religious communities (you can guess the obvious absence, it begins with ‘J‘).

Or indeed to defend secularism and advance secularist policies of equality  as the only basis on which a coherent anti-racist position can be built.

Then, while well-intentioned, this is their unreadable conclusion,

For all the negatives in the British situation, there are grounds for optimism.  Popular views on immigration and race are actually far more complex and ambivalent than opinion polls would suggest.  The ambiguities of popular opinion are, moreover, not a concluded fact but raw material which can be worked with by those seeking to draw out the best instinctive responses of ordinary people.  Anti-racism actually forms part of the common sense of millions of working class people who, thanks to decades of large-scale immigration, experience a ‘lived multiculture’ that is remote from the stereotypes of ‘failed multiculturalism’.  A left political articulation that operates on such lived experience, linking a popular anti-racist politics to a wider critique of class injustice, can begin to shift the balance, and offer a counterpoint to the racist Right which the mainstream parties cannot.

Now Tendance Coatesy wholly endorses this aspect of their policy,

Left Unity must challenge racist ideas in the labour movement, and even sections of the socialist movement.  Some openly support or implicitly endorse the idea of “British Jobs for British Workers” – the supposed need for greater and “tougher” immigration controls to defend worker’s rights. Left Unity must contest this wherever it appears.

But the previous material  on religions and multiculturalism?

It is no surprise that we learn that Richard Seymour was behind this confused document – and indeed moved it at the Conference.

He’s obviously been flipping through those 1980s Stuart Hall articles or old Paul Gilory stuff.

And observed nothing since – notably the latter’s critique of multiculturalism,

Like this,

“The fundamental challenge of our time, asserts Paul Gilroy, is to imagine an ethical and just world that truly fulfils the promise of humanism and enacts the idea of universal human rights.”

Update Seymour Addresses the Popular Masses: Pic of him reading out in support of above Motion.

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Tony Benn: an appreciation

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Shiraz hits  (Sean Matgamna)  the right  note,

The first thing that should be said and remembered about Tony Benn, who died on Friday 14 March, is that for over four decades he backed, defended, and championed workers in conflict with their bosses or with the “boss of bosses”, the government.

That put him decidedly in our camp. The political ideas which he too often linked with those bedrock working-class battles detract from the great merit of Tony Benn, but do not cancel it out or render it irrelevant.

And then  this,

He shifted radically halfway through his life – back to the Radical seam in British political history….

Benn was a socialist. But first and foremost a British radical.

But not the socialist, in the European Marxist sense.

A wonderful type, I have no words to go on about this.

But not really “one of us.”

Written by Andrew Coates

March 20, 2014 at 4:24 pm