Archive for the ‘Greens’ Category
Sheldon: Better leader than John Rees.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity is a welcome initiative.
It comes at a time when there is a need to concentrate minds and activism on the fight against the Liberal-Tory Coalition.
It is a response from what Ernest Bevin would call the “bowels of the labour movement”.
And a lot more, Greens, anti-cuts campaigns, and plain ordinary people sick with austerity politics.
Its ideas reflect the young brilliant writer Owen Jones who has been taken to the heart of that labour movement.
People around the country are already inspired.
But, and there’s always a but, there are concerns.
Why has John Rees appeared as a leading figure cited in the Independent?
John Rees is, to put it mildly, ‘controversial’.
Some people, and I have spoken to them face-to-face, say he is a good person.
However, the politics of the group he leads, Counterfire, (a split from the SWP with very similar policies and ideas) are not universally admired.
On any measure Rees is not a suitable figurehead for a unifying movement.
We are at a crucial political point.
Our movement has to respond to the hate and fear of the Liberal-Tory Coalition with unity.
There is no place for discredited divisive figures.
Personally I would prefer Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to head our movement.
* I have to cite comrade Anna in detail.
For who do we see at the helm? John Rees and his Counterfire crew — the usual suspects with the reverse Midas touch, turning everything to shit; arch-bureaucrats bringing order and stasis to the struggle like Blue Meanies invading Pepperland. If you want to see what’s in store for this much-needed initiative, it would pay to examine what’s happened every time the former Socialist Workers Party (SWP) leaders — the John Rees/Lindsey German axis — have bolted themselves to the head of a campaign: how Rees took an axe to the Socialist Alliance (SA); how they sunk Respect; and how they sat on the anti-war movement in the Stop the War Coalition (STWC). They can’t see a flicker of life without holding a pillow over its head and declaring themselves king and queen of the castle.
like some Mafia don testing out a henchman intent on making his bones, Rees instructed me to carry out a character assassination on them in the SA email lists and media for being late.
There are some interesting political movements on the British left that deserve a wider audience.
Left movements and parties in the UK that inspire hope are, at the moment, of great importance.
But this is one.
At Ipswich Trades Council yesterday this event was raised.
3 Mar 2013, 12 noon : EAST ANGLIA RED & GREEN CONFERENCE
A conference to look at how we can all help build a powerful movement of the broad green left, including trade unions and all progressive organisations. We must create an alternative movement to oppose the present dire policies of the ConDems and New Labour that put the 1% before the 99%.
Bird in Hand public house, New Writtle Street, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 0RZ
The Alliance for Green Socialism is helping organising this conference.
This is “a political organisation devoted to the building of a peaceful, environmentally safe and socially responsible world. A world in which diversity is both respected and celebrated. A world in which relations are based on mutual understanding and not force, where rights and a decent life are available for all, not just the rich. The AGS believes this can come about by the development of a democratic, socialist and environmentally conscious society. Our two basic principles are summed up in our name.
Green is for a world where the serious issues of pollution and global warming are properly dealt with. This means tackling the oil-driven system of big business, which drives us into successive wars and conflicts.
Socialism is the opposite of such a system in which the needs of the people take priority and the power of big business is curbed. A key element in this being an expansion of various forms of public ownership, from taking the railways back into the state sector to an expansion of cooperatives.
Linking these two indivisible themes is a commitment to openness and democracy.”
Wikipedia adds this,
During the 2009 European elections the party campaigned as part of the No2EU alliance which combined many minor parties on the left-side of politics to campaign against the perceived ‘pro-business’ and xenophobic attitude of the European Union. The alliance secured 153,236 votes, but no seats. However the AGS left this because the name suggested that they are firmly against the EU, which they are not.
Having had some – brief – contact with the AGS it is pleasant to hear that they have close contacts with the French Alternatifs and other green left groups, such as FASE (Fédération pour une Alternative Sociale et Écologique).
They are a small network but have some big, and sound, ideas.
We wish the Alliance for Green Socialism well.
Mirroring the worst excesses of left wing sects?
From our good friends at Socialist Unity.
Reinstate the Bromsgrove One – Rectify the Anomaly Soon!
By Abu Jamal
As the Green Party of England and Wales gathers in Nottingham for it Spring Conference featuring the 40th Anniversary of the Founding of the Party, one person who will be not attending this event is Mark France.
Mark a longstanding Labour Movement and Socialist Activist who joined the Green Party in June 2010 was Expelled by a decision of the Green Party Regional Council at a meeting held on the Weekend of 2nd/3rd February 2012.
Mark was never given any clear indication of what charges were laid against him or provided with any evidence or documentation relating to these charges. Mark was not able to provide any defence. There was no hearing in which Mark was able to participate in nor was he able to present any defence. Mark was given no clear indication of the Disciplinary Process despite numerous unanswered attempts to clarify this with Green Party Officers.
To and insult to a series of injuries Mark was not even informed of the outcome of this Disciplinary Process until after he protested loudly via social media at his mistreatment. When he finally [19th February] received a special delivery letter from the party
For a political party of the Left with an avowed Republican Socialist Feminist, Caroline Lucas as the Green Party MP in Westminster, the treatment of Mark France seems to make a mockery of the Green Party rally cry ‘Fair is Worth Fighting For!’
The article continues,
At the same Green Party Regional Council meeting on the 3rd of February another longstanding activist from Cardiff, Anne Greasby, was also expelled from the party. Her ‘crimes’ seemed to centre on public criticism of Pippa Barlotti the Leader of the tiny semi-autonomous Green Party in Wales.
In Mark’s case, some jokey comments made on this website over two years ago were apparently used to accuse Mark of “promoting violent revolution under the banner of the Green Party” this reason for his expulsion was given to a London Federation of Green Parties meeting by a member of the GPRC.
If the “Libertarian” Green Party is capable of mirroring the worst excesses of left wing sects then something deeply disturbing is affecting the political culture in England. Finding the source of this undemocratic culture of control is something that all socialists need to address. Defence of the victims of this culture is part of rebuilding a genuine spirit of social solidarity.
More details of this sorry tale and the Greens’ “Dispute Resolution Committee”.
This should be read with the following:
Joseph Healy, a founder member of the Green Left. 2012.
The battle lines became obvious over the issue of local government budgets and cuts at the GPEW conference in spring 2011. At that point the Greens had not yet taken control of Brighton, but it was clearly on the mind of the party leadership.
An amendment was put to an anti-cuts policy motion by Green Left and some of the Young Greens. It called for local Green councils to fight the cuts and to defy the government by setting an illegal ‘needs budget’. Councillors were dragooned by the leadership to speak against it and finally it was defeated by just 3 votes.
For many of us this was the writing on the wall and a sign that should the Greens take Brighton, they would implement the cuts. It led to a real fall in morale among many of us on the left of the party.
Painfully aware of the impact of any cuts budget in Brighton on the national party’s reputation and on its relationship with the wider anti-cuts movement, as well as the new political movements such as Occupy, I supported a motion calling for a last minute debate with a Green councillor from Brighton on the budget there. The motion fell and the majority abstained, prepared to accept any decision reached by the Brighton councillors.
It was now clear to me that the iceberg was fast approaching the SS Green Brighton, with its consequent impact on the reputation of the Green Party nationally. The collision happened when the cuts budget was passed at the end of February. However, the budget passed was even worse than predicted and was the Labour-Tory version, which the Greens swallowed whole in order to remain in office.
A few days later at the party’s national conference, despite vigorous objections from Green Left, the party voted to support the Brighton decision. Pragmatism had defeated principle, realpolitik triumphed over radicalism.
I resigned on the same day.
Healy adds this on how the Greens Treat dissent. Read the rest of this entry »
End of an Era for SWP?
Owen Jones, the SWP and Networks.
The SWP is “imploding”. The fall out from the Martin Smith affair, and perceived hostility to women’s rights has been devastating. “Activists are reported to be in open rebellion at their autocratic leadership, or are simply deserting en masse,” writes Owen Jones in the Independent. This, he continues, is of importance to the whole left. Not only has the SWP been behind political movements, such as the Stop the War Coalition’s giant marches against the Iraq war, but that many, “thousands” have passed through its ranks over the years, “only to end up burnt out and demoralised”.
Intellectuals such as China Mièville and Richard Seymour, and grass-roots activists, are now publicly challenging their party’s leadership. It would seem that the days of the SWP as Britain’s largest “Leninist sect” are drawing to an end.
There are some similarities with the late 1970s dissolution of European far-left groups. The much more intensely “revolutionary” French Gauche Prolétarienne (GP) wound itself up in 1973. Tales of arbitrary central rule, the domineering ways of Benny Lévy, bullying and personal traumas emerged later, which resemble some of the stories emerging from the SWP. The Italian Lotta Continua (LC) broke up by the late 1970s over the avant-garde role of any ‘party’, and issues of personal politics and feminism.
But these groups were ideologically fluid. Their ideas were part of a world of unsettled alignments and doubts, fuelled by the changes in mid-1970s China and the horrors of Cambodia, or, in Italy, with the emerging ‘armed struggle’, about the nature of ‘revolution’ and Marxism.
Supporters and opponents in the SWP by contrast look to the ‘IS tradition’ that held them together for decades. Solidarity and the Weekly Worker report a continuing battle by opponents of the Central Committee’s “bureaucratic centralism”. Their objections are framed within a common set of assumptions.
There are other differences. Britain is, to say the least, is also not a natural home for ‘revolutionaries’. Yassamine Mather in the Weekly Worker describes the dedication and stringent organisation of the Iranian left in the wake of the Khomeini Islamist take-over and the contrast with the SWP’s centrally directed, but less welded together membership. Those familiar with the Continental European left, where violent clashes with the state and mass movements on a scale unknown in the United Kingdom are not unknown even today, find the SWP’s ‘revolutionary’ claims, for all of the legacy on the 1980s miners’ strike, hard to swallow.
Owen Jones observes, rightly, that the ‘Leninism’ of the SWP is “obsessed with replicating a revolution that took places in a semi-feudal country nearly a century ago”. Yet the SWP emerged from the post-1968 events, not the foundation of the Third International. That is, like the Gauche Prolétarienne and LC, and the whole “new vanguard” (as the International Secretariat of the Fourth International called it), they were shaped by mass strikes and student movements, dividing the left, and without any clear central leadership, that did not resemble 1917. Close to the GP André Glucksman argued in 1968 that there was not a Bolshevik” model for the “party”, in the widest sense, of the revolutionary left to adopt (Stratégie et revolution en France 1968. 1968). The forerunner of the SWP, the International Socialists, was of a similar mind.
It was only during the 1970s that a wide section of the post-68 European left began to ‘Bolshevise’. Tony Cliff’s biography of Lenin is said to mark a key moment in this process. It was resisted by important a section of the old IS, who broke away as the SWP was founded in 1976. Lars T. Lih, has argued that for Lenin the proletariat was ready for Marxism, that there would be no division between teachers and taught, and that socialism and the working class would ‘merge’ (Lenin. 2011) For the IS there was always a distrust of “substitutionism”, that the party would suddenly announce that it was the unique bearer of Marxist truth. Critics (including former members) of the new SWP were not slow to say that this was exactly what it was doing.
The SWP theoretical view of the ‘party’ resembles that out forward by the Fourth International’s (FI) Ernest Mandel, that it “proves its right to exist only through it connection to the real class struggle and by its capacity to transform potentially revolutionary class consciousness into actual revolutionary class consciousness of broad layers of workers.”(The Leninist Theory of Organisation 1975) The party is linked to these conflicts and interests by a wide network of activists, through listening to people’s grievances, to discussions, through participation in self-organised revolts. In Leninist terms the party then organises during a revolutionary situation, or “dual power”, to conquer power and ‘smash’ the existing bourgeois state.
Sometimes the SWP’s role as a ‘Leninist organisation’ can almost seem to disappear. You would be hard pressed to find any reference to the Party in SWP leader Alex Callinicos’ Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (2003). Callinicos addresses the ‘anti-capitalist movement’ (which he prefers to alter-globalisation and other expressions). He offers a defence of the critique of capitalism based on justice, efficiency democracy and sustainability and a “transitional programme’ to pave the way for a democratically planned socialist economy, without mentioning the Party’s role. The “revolutionary process” he outlines, that might lead to this end, does not even include the words ‘dual power’.
The SWP can tolerate a wide range of theoretical diversity, as Callinicos’ often brilliant writing illustrates. But rather than waste time looking for references to the party in the writings of SWP intellectuals (which would include Chris Harman, John Rees’ appropriation of Lukács, and many others) it is their practice that is most relevant. The SWP operates what it would no doubt call “revolutionary centralism” Barry Biddulph goes back to the pre-1914 Marxist left to find the origins of what is widely called, rather differently, ‘bureaucratic centralism”. (2) He asserts, correctly in our opinion, that ‘democratic centralism’ is always centralist never democratic. Certainly the SWP does not prove the contrary. Their organisation if marked by the following: the Central Committee’s (CC) debates are not revealed to the members, only its decisions are, the CC is elected at the annual conference by the ‘slate’ system (similar to the old Communist Party of Great Britain’s ‘panel system’), which offers delegates a list of candidates which cannot be a amended, all party members are bound by the decisions of the CC, internal party factions, or groupings, are only permitted, within defined limits, during the run up to the conference, members can be expelled for breaking these conditions. This ensures “unity in action”, or more accurately, “doing what you’re told.”
Ernest Mandel’s model of democratic two-way party process between members and leaders left the way open for party ‘factions’. This has been the practice in the Fourth International he was part of. It may be compared to the French Parti Socialiste, which is made up of a permanent, and shifting, set of tendencies, or ‘courants’ whose views are put to the party conference and form the basis of a proportionally elected leadership. In the FI aligned International Marxist Group, which also underwent 1970s ‘Bolshevisation’, this was the norm. It remains the case in the French Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA). The NPA has been criticised by the SWP for this democratic system. ‘Permanent factions’ Callinicos has frequently observed, waste party energy, and turn it inwards.
Factions can also lead to splits – as the NPA has recently experienced. Nevertheless it could be argued that it was the inability of the NPA to adapt flexibly to the new conditions – the formation of the Front de gauche (FdG) which its former tendencies have joined up with – that casts doubt even on this more open ‘Leninist’ model. The French FI hearkened back to their Trotskyist origins and simply refused to join up with the FdG “reformists”.
However, factions, tendencies and other aspects of permanent democratic debate have roots in the nature of politics, particularly important for the left. The left works within ‘stasis’, that is the upsetting of existing political arrangements. It is a means to break up the consensus – today around neo-liberalism – and, as Owen Jones notes, the “crisis” of capitalism.
Jacques Rancière argues that it is only through “dissensus” (Dissensus 2010). This has many aspects but one is relevant to this debate, “Political struggle proper is therefore not a matter of rational debate between multiple interests; it is above all, a struggle to have one’s voice heard and oneself recognised as a legitimate partner in debate.” Denying members of a political party this “right to be heard” as a partner, is to “police” them, to make them less than equal. It is dissensus which enables new issues to be raised, to make a party a place where people do not just exchange their experiences while the carry out orders, but somewhere where people come out with new ideas, ‘outside the box’. Bureaucratic centralism is not just bad practice; it is an attempt to wipe out politics itself.
The SWP operates on the assumption that people radicalised ‘by the struggle’ will turn towards it. Its own activity with other groups, unions, campaigns, political parties, is directed on this basis. Its vehicles are no secret. Vargas Llosa once described Trotskyists in South America as all about standing around selling papers. Apart from Socialist Worker the SWP organises meetings, preferably large public ones. It’s what they do. They then recruit, and if people get sucked in they can enjoy the life of a party run by bureaucratic centralism. And have their activities on Facebook overseen.
The End of an Era?
The SWP since the 1970s has been one of the factors that has prevented the British left from offering a coherent challenge to capitalism. Beginning from the late 1970s, when it tried to impose the Anti Nazi League over a network of local anti-racist and anti-fascist groups, it participated in another network, the Socialist Movement, (the Chesterfield Conference) with the intention of ‘exposing’ the ‘left reformists’ of the Labour left. It joined in, but can hardly be said to have shaped the strategies (never put into effect) that emerged, which combined democratic reforms, green policies, and a pan-European version of the 1970s Alternative Economic Programme.
After that it was back to the usual round of campaigns, frenetically taken up, and then dropped, opposing. The most successful were on international issues, the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia and the first Gulf War. Following the electoral successes of French Trotskyists in the 1990s and the emergence of the Scottish Socialist party, the SWP looked more favourably on ‘electoralism’. It came to dominated the late 1990s electoral front, the Socialist Alliance, operated without regard for democratic norms inside it, and then dumped it in favour of a hook-up with George Galloway in the communalist Respect. An attempt to capitalise on the successes of the Stop the War Coalition’s marches was the foundation. The SWP then left Respect (No doubt largely because large egos couldn’t stand Galloway’s even bigger one) , got rid of its most Islamophile ‘anti-imperialist’ wing around Lindsey German and John Rees, and, cutting a long story short, is now trying to split the anti-cuts movement with the…Unite the Resistance campaign.
SWP campaigns work in a cycle. There is intense effort made to build then – or to take over existing bodies – there are meetings, demonstrations, and, they hope recruitment. A hysteria takes hold. Then they largely disappear, or are shunted aside for future use. This is somes called the ‘united front as tactic’. Each intervention has left casualties in the party and outside of it. Once they have secured support the SWP goes on its way without bothering too much about what anybody else thinks. This leaves casualties, or, more often, just distrust and indifference to the next all-important mobilisation. People are wary of co-operating not just with the sellers of Socialist Worker but with other activists, divided against each other in each successive wave of ‘unity’ and then, ‘dis-unity’.
The SWP, like all political parties, treats people as instruments, means to an end, not ends in themselves. It is distinguished from most political bodies nevertheless by the degree to which it does this, casting people aside – expelling them if they are members – and acquiring a cadre prepared to carry out this with ‘Bolshevik ‘ ruthlessness. Towards those they don’t have a direct grip on they can be alternatively charming, glacial or hectoring. The threat of violence is not unknown.
Owen notes that the failings of the SWP are not unique. Nor is its lack of success. Members of his family have participated in previous ‘party-building’ attempts.
Is, as he argues, the Labour Party offers a way of connecting with the working class and ordinary people? There are doubts on this. Labour is a professionalised party, with links to voters that are pretty obvious, as we have ballots to show them, and ties to trade unions which are less secure. There are strong arguments to be involved in the Party, though its internal structure offer little way of influencing policy in depth. . The serious left does not want to be an “echo chamber” – talking to itself alone, as Luke Akehurst argues. In the meantime we are not likely to stop criticising the Labour Party, not least because it fails to live up to being even a social democratic party.
If it is so far from being a socialist organisation what do we do? New left parties seem, as Owen says, to be a non-starter. Jones argues that the left, labour and non-labour, should get together in networks. Toby Young in the Daily Telegraph ironically states that Jones want to “his fellow travellers to form a new political movement – a sort of non-sexist version of the Socialist Workers’ Party.” It is indeed tempting to be ironical about the SWP but I doubt if even Young laughs much when we have an effect, in anti-cuts groups, or in trade unions. Because, as Owen knows, we already have our networks, established by a degree of trust and respect, including his own umbrella group, the Labour Representation Committee (of which I am a card member). These are ‘broad networks’ dealing with bread and butter politics.
The ‘Bolshevisation’ of the 1970s was followed by successive waves of activists leaving parties like the SWP, or fragmenting, as happened with the IMG, into a variety of small tendencies. A majority of the erstwhile ‘far-left’ operates in flexible networks and journals, like Chartist, the Commune, and Labour Briefing, or small Marxist groups like the Weekly Worker or the Alliance for Workers Liberty. Red Pepper, the descendent of the Socialist Movement, offers reports on networking campaigns, most recently on the Indignados and the small American movement, Occupy Wall Street. Although we may differ on many things a democratic commitment perhaps marks us off from the SWP. It would not be too much to say that this is reinforced by the possibilities offered by the new information technologies, technologies which appear to drive the SWP to distraction.
Owen concludes, “The era of the SWP and its kind is over; a new movement is waiting to be born.” Perhaps we should be thinking of organising something like the May Day Manifesto, the Beyond the Fragments conference, or the Socialist Movement. This will be hard, there is a lot to overcome. But please, this time, SWP Central Committee – stay away!
(1) “Revolutionary centralism is a harsh, imperative and exacting principle. It often takes the guise of absolute ruthlessness in its relation to individual members, to whole groups of former associates. It is not without significance that the words ‘irreconcilable’ and ‘relentless’ are among Lenin’s favourites. It is only the most impassioned, revolutionary striving for a definite end – a striving that is utterly free from anything base or personal – that can justify such a personal ruthlessness.” Page 167 My Life. Leon Trotsky. An Attempt at an Autobiography. Penguin 1975.
Barry Biddulp states, “Democratic Centralism is not democratic; leaders decide on how much democracy there should be, depending on their interpretation of the circumstances. The concept has been compatible with authoritarian personalities and top down undemocratic parties. Simon wants to fill an undemocratic form with a democratic content, but the usual undemocratic content was demonstrated recently in a scandal in the British SWP. The content is tied to the form of a small central leadership mimicking the centralization of state decision-making. A post capitalist society can only be established by the self emancipation of the working class, not a handful of leaders invoking the values of so-called democratic centralism and substituting for the class.
Update: This post, from the dissident SWP site Interrnational Socialism (Hat-Tip Shiraz) , about how the ‘party’ cadres moan about people writing on the Internet is worth looking at for amusement value alone.
The last image is from a brilliant guide to various ends-of-the-world in Libération today.
We shall see!