Archive for the ‘Labour Movement’ Category
France: Pro-Palestinian Protests and anti-Semitism at Sarcelles, Defending the Right to Demonstrate.
Defying the Ban on pro-Palestinian marches in France, on Saturday,
About 6,000 mostly peaceful protesters assembled in the Barbès area of northern Paris in defiance of a government ban. When the march was blocked by police lines after only 500 metres, a minority of young protesters started to hurl stones, bottles and sticks at the riot police.
A leader of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) said, “«La solidarité avec les Palestiniens doit pouvoir s’exprimer à Paris», a expliqué samedi à l’AFP Sandra Demarcq, membre de la direction du NPA, qui juge l’interdiction «illégitime et scandaleuse». We should be able to express solidarity with the Palestinians, explained to AFP Sandra Demarq, part of the leadership of the NPA, who judged the ban “illegitimate and scandalous”. According to the reporter at around 15.40,
Soudain, des groupes extrêmement équipés et organisés ont commencé à fendre la foule pour monter au contact des CRS. Ils avançaient en ligne, le visage couvert. A l’évidence, ils n’avaient rien de militants venus défendre la cause palestinienne. Certains arboraient des tee-shirts du virage Auteuil, une tribune du Parc des Princes.
Suddenly, extremely well organised and kitted out groups pushed their way through the crowd towards the front row of the CRS (riot police).
They advanced en bloc, faces covered. From what could be gleaned they had nothing of the look of activists who’d come to defend the Palestinian cause. Some of them were wearing the colours of Auteuil, a supporters’ group named after a football stand at the Parc des Princes.
In Sarcelles on Sunday however events took a clearly and illegitimate anti-Semitic turn,
France’s interior minister on Monday slammed “intolerable” acts of anti-Semitism after a rally against Israel’s Gaza offensive descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses.
Sunday’s demonstration in the north Paris suburb of Sarcelles was the third to deteriorate in a week, as shops were looted and riot police lobbed tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd.
The rally had been banned amid concern the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend tried to storm two synagogues in Paris.
“When you head for the synagogue, when you burn a corner shop because it is Jewish-owned, you are committing an anti-Semitic act,”Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters outside the Sarcelles synagogue.
In the Paris suburb sometimes nicknamed “little Jerusalem” for its large community of Sephardic Jews, the rally descended into chaos when dozens of youth – some masked – set fire to bins and lit firecrackers and smoke bombs.
Eighteen people were arrested after looters wrecked shops, including a kosher foodstore and a funeral home as protesters shouted: “Fuck Israel!”.
The Independent says,
Riot police held back a mob of youths who tried to attacks two synagogues in the town of Sarcelles in the northern Paris suburbs.
A pro-Gaza demonstration in a town with a large Jewish population began peacefully but degenerated into attacks on Jewish and Chaldean businesses and four hours of running battles between youths and police. Several cars were burned. Three shops, including a Kosher grocery (1), were burned and pillaged. A railway station was severely damaged.
The interior minister, Bernard Cazeneve said today: “When you menace synagogues and when you burn a grocery because it is Jewish-owned, you are committing anti-semitic acts… That is intolerable. Protest against Israel is legitimate. Nothing can justify such violence.”
Roger Cuikerman, head of the French umbrella groups of Jewish organisations, CRIF, said there was a growing anxiety amongst French jews.
Protest against Israeli government actions was one thing, he said. Attacks on Jews for being Jews were “deeply disturbing”. “They are not screaming ‘death to the Israelis’ on the streets of Paris,” he said. “They are screaming ‘death to the Jews’. They are attacking synagogues which are places of prayer.”
Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking at Sarcelles this morning, said (Le Monde),
Devant la presse, il a estimé qu’il était « légitime » de pouvoir exprimer une position sur les événements de Gaza, où au moins 502 Palestiniens ont été tuésdepuis le 8 juillet. En revanche, il a jugé « intolérable que l’on s’en prenne à des synagogues ou à des commerces parce qu’ils sont tenus par des juifs. Rien ne peut justifier de telles violence ». Dix-huit personnes ont été interpellées après les heurts, selon la police.
In front of the press he considered that it was “legitimate” to be able to express a position on the events in Gaza, where at least 502 Palestinians have been killed since the 8th of July. By contrast he judged that it is “intolerable that people attack synagogues and businesses because they are run by Jews. Nothing can justify such violence.” According to the police 18 people have been asserted after the incidents.
(1) The shop had been already the subject of a grenade attack in September 2013 (see here).
In an important Editorial today Le Monde says that the government’s ban on demonstrations is an admission of its impotence, “Manifestations interdites : l’aveu d’impuissance du gouvernement.”
The statement notes that President Hollande is right to be concerned about the “importation” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict into France.
But they note that the right to demonstrate, within reasonable limits, is part of the foundations of the Republic.
Article 10, “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.”
Le Monde then accuses the government, through its ban on demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinians, of playing, “aux pompiers pyromanes.” (firefighting arsonists, figurative, “fig., personne qui provoque volontairement les maux qu’elle est censée combattre.”, somebody who creates the very problem they claim to be solving).
“Toute manifestation doit être déclarée à la Préfecture de police, en indiquant, au moins trois jours avant, sa date, son heure et son parcours. En d’autres termes, le droit de manifester fait partie des libertés publiques, mais il est légitimement encadré.”
Every demonstration, its timings, and its route, must be notified to the Police authorities, at least 3 days in advance. In other respects the right to demonstrate, within defined limits, is part of our public freedoms.
Le Monde is absolutely right.
Positions of left parties:
Parti de Gauche “L’interdiction de la manifestation de soutien à la population de Gaza contre l’agression décidée par le gouvernement israélien était bien une provocation et une manipulation.” NPA, “La solidarité avec les Palestiniens est légitime et n’a rien à voir avec de l’antisémitisme !” Front de Gauche, “”Amplifier la solidarité avec le peuple palestinien, défendre le droit de manifester”.
Update: Declaration today (Monday 12st July) against ban on demonstrations by the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, GAZA CROULE SOUS LES BOMBES, ISRAËL S’ENFERRE DANS LA RÉPRESSION, LES INTERDICTIONS DE MANIFESTER DU GOUVERNEMENT FRANÇAIS ATTISENT LES TENSIONS
Demonstration on Wednesday now authorised, Le Monde.
Grandma Gilles on Ipswich Demo. (Thanks Ellie).
Over 300 people came to the demo in Ipswich called by the Trades Council and local unions, Suffolk Needs a Pay Rise, yesterday.
In Ipswich there were well attended pickets at the Russell Road Borough and County Council offices, at Crown Pools, the Borough Council Waste depot (dust-carts – the majority of which did not go out), and HMRC offices in Lower Brook Street.
59 Suffolk schools were affected by strike action and 17 closed for the day.
At the march and rally there were members of UNISON, GMB, FBU, UNITE, PCS & NUT, NUJ, DPAC, the Peoples Assembly, other unions and campaigns, as well as members of the public.
The Suffolk People’s Assembly (Facebook) report notes,
Many speakers at the rally expressed their anger at the wage freeze public sector workers have faced over the past 4 years. This has led to a 20% decline in real wages at the same time as increased workload. One PCS member said that he was now doing 2 peoples’ jobs and facing constant performance reviews, which was destroying his job satisfaction.
A parent talked of her support for the teachers’ strike, to defend her and other people’s education. The Ipswich NUT Secretary, Margaret Bulaitis, spoke about how the the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, denigrated the work of her profession, and was more interested in promoting academies and privatisation than the needs of school students.
Martin, from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), gave an impassioned speech on the effects cuts and changes to the benefit system were having on those with disabilities.
Support came from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Their representative suggested that Grandma Gilles (above) would not have put up with the attacks on public services by the Liberal-Conservative Coalition.
Ipswich Tory Attacks Strikes.
Ipswich Tory MP, Ben Gummer, disagrees.
He said (Ipswich Star) that, “public sector workers had fared better than the private sector during the recession.”
He said striking teachers were damaging the education of the children in their classes.
And he said the government was taking action to clamp down on tax avoidance by the rich and to help the low paid.
“This government has lifted two million people out of paying income tax altogether and the gap between rich and poor is getting smaller for the first time in 20 years.”
Gummer’s figures are certainly creative.
Sky news states (May 2014),
“The gap between rich and poor in Britain has become wider, with 10% of the population now owning almost half of the nation’s household wealth.
Those same one in ten households own assets worth over £1m – that’s almost 1.4 million homes.
Teachers’ Unions argue that it is Michael Gove’s ‘reforms’ are undermining education.
Their dispute about pay, pensions and working conditions, is linked to the government’s efforts to devalue teaching, and open the way to private companies profiting from the schooling system.
Gove’s changes have created excessive workloads, and let free schools operate without democratic control and public accountability.
On public sector workers’ pay the TUC says,
Public sector workers are £2,245 worse off as a result of the coalition’s austerity policies, according to the Trades Union Congress.
NHS staff, teachers, firefighters and local government workers are among those that have lost out following pay freezes and limited pay rises since the government took office, the TUC said.
The figures, which show the average fall in real terms pay suffered by workers since May 2010, were published a day before a wave of strikes among UK public sector workers over pay, pensions and working conditions. Government policies on public sector pay have had a big impact on the spending power of almost six million UK households, according to the TUC.
The Liberal-Conservative Coalition has one overarching policy for the public sector: turning it into a source of profit for private companies.
As Thomas Picketty has noted,
“Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.)
The trade unions, backed by the People’s Assembly, are fighting back!
Update: this how private companies making money out of public services in Suffolk fail to deliver:
Bosses at the private firm providing community healthcare in Suffolk have defended themselves following concerns over equipment provision.
Jane Basham, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for South Suffolk, criticised the Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare after patients spoke of equipment delays.
Ms Basham heard how one elderly woman was told she would have to wait three weeks for a walking aid, while she also heard of delays for equipment for paediatric services as they were no longer stored in Suffolk.
It comes after concerns were raised in January about the performance of the Community Equipment Service (CES), part of Serco-run Suffolk Community Healthcare.
In October 2012, Serco took on the role of providing community health services to 600,000 patients in Suffolk.
The CES is an integrated service providing equipment for people with health and social care needs.
However, delays of up to five months in providing equipment, such as specialist beds, slings and hoists, and poor communication were among the concerns raised at a Suffolk health scrutiny committee meeting.
How Should We Look at Work?
The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly.
Chartist Free E-Book.
O Laziness, have pity on our long misery! O Laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues, be thou the balm of human anguish!
Paul Lafrague. The Right to Be Lazy. 1880.
One of the sections of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century deals with the justification of colossal salaries and wealth. The media, he observes, is full of stories about business ‘stars’. They are used to indicate how graft and talent are rewarded. There is a “just inequality, based on merit, education, and the social utility of elites.” (1) Everything is slanted to suggest that that the majority of high-earners and the well-off deserve their rewards. Criticisms of pay and bonuses come when these are gained without apparent hard work.
Piketty enjoys pointing out that is impossible it is to demonstrate any connection between effort and reward in the modern economy. The part of social wealth going to Capital, and the well-off, increases regardless of individual cleverness or toil. Much depends on “luck”, the ability of top mangers to fix their own pay, and the influence of the wealthy to press for low taxes. Entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, turn into rentiers, with more cash as they get older, they live off an initial innovation that was rarely one person’s discovery in the first place. In sum, to those that have, shall be given.
Many accept this case. But there are deeper problems. It is not just that certain kinds of elite work are valued, leaving others – the majority – aside. Why is ‘work’ itself such a self-evident virtue that it makes those not-in-work look as if they are afflicted by vice? O’Kelly begins the excellent and thought-provoking The Work Agenda, by stating, “Work is seen as good in itself and maximising the number of people working and the amount of work done as self-evidently right.”
This assumption looks strange in the light of 1960s (and much later) predictions about automation and the ‘leisure society’. Paul Lafargue looked forward to a time when, thanks to the abundance created by technology, slogging your guts out was not the goal of existence. The 1970s and 1980s saw criticisms of ‘productivism’ and the cult of labour in socialist ideology. André Gorz’s Adieux aux proletariat (1981) took up these ideas. He suggested that in a “post-industrial” society people should control what is produced. They could share work according to need, and wants, with a universal guaranteed income, and more and more free-time. More modestly the French left in the late 1990s thought that the 35 Hour week would be a step in this direction.
Today, however, O’Kelly says, the obsession with the absolute value of ‘work’ blocks people from considering a “rational way of sharing the output of a society across all the members of society.” Many people may well spend time on benefits, over the course of a lifetime. Others, of a whole range of reasons, may be on them for much longer. Structural long-term unemployment is a feature of all Western societies, as is the need to help those who are incapacitated
Instead of recognizing this, and adapting social spending to it, governments, from Tony Blair onwards, have tried to push everybody into work – regardless of their medical condition, the needs of the labour market, and the rights or wishes of those to be pushed in this direction.
Putting the Disabled to Work.
The Work Agenda does not dwell on the ideology of work. Instead it is devoted to how the doctrine is used to undermine the basis of social benefits. This is most obvious from changes to the benefits for the disabled. The idea that ‘work is the best form of welfare’ is applied to the sick (which covers a multitude of diverse categories of people). There is an economic rationale, “Getting people into work is pursued primarily as a way of reducing transfers between working and non-working people; in simple terms: the cost of benefits.”
Fitting square pegs into round holes barely begins to cover the injustices that have resulted from these policies. Known to the general public through the scandals surrounding ATOS, and the ‘assessments’ of those claiming disability benefits, these are part of a much wider picture. O’Kelly’s background in the social security system helps him come to grips with the detail. He clearly knows the operations of what is now the DWP inside out, and uses them to great advantage.
The Work Agenda lays out the history and rationale of the present structure, “The driver behind the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and the creation of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was the belief that by changing the definition of incapacity sick or disabled people could be made capable of work.” As he notes, “Until recently the medical situation was taken as an objective starting point to which the benefit system then had to respond. The great change in 2007 was to take the needs of the benefit system as the starting point (my emphasis) and to change clinical definitions to conform to those needs.” This was, as we know, a Labour government, or ‘New Labour’, that made this turn.
O’Kelly argues (on the basis of close acquaintance with the civil service decision-making) that there never was a time when large numbers of people were classified as medically unfit in order to reduce the unemployment figures. There were always rigorous tests. What has changed is that governments have decided to change their nature.
Now it might seem reasonable – and it’s repeated often enough – to assert that there are large numbers of people who “choose” not to work. But in the case of invalidity benefits there is a simple way of determining this: medical advice. Present legislation is designed to alter the character of this criterion. Instead even ill people can be judged “capable” of working – according to a fairly loose test of what being able to carry out basic tasks is, including those even those objectively unwell can do. This O’Kelly says, means. “Effectively moving sick people into employment without improving their health”. This process is “likely simply to transfer the costs of sickness from the benefit system to statutory sick pay and private sick pay schemes.”
The problem then is not that ATOS is a particularly venal organisation – though opinions might differ on this after the company’s dissembling and bleating about being harassed. It is the changed nature of the tests for incapacity that drives the injustices that they have caused.
A persistent case is that mental troubles are rarely easily definable according to a check-list of questions and a short interview with an assessor. There are plenty of other not always ‘visible’ illnesses. As the pamphlet indicates, “It is a striking fact that the classes of people whom the government is most anxious to take off benefits for incapacity overlap very largely with those whom no rational employer (in either the public or the private sector) would want to take on.” As somebody who has sat, during various employment courses, with people with very serious mental-health issues, and others with deep health problems, we might equally ask why they are obliged to take these “preparation for work” training schemes.
Back to First Principles.
Returning to question the principles he began with, O’Kelly makes the observation that “Work (i.e. paid work) is essentially economic activity; the creation of goods and services. It is not a form of welfare, it is not a form of therapy and it is not a punishment. It can of course be used in any of these ways, rather as a stiletto heel can be used to hammer a nail into a wall. It does not do the job very well, however, and it is not very good for the shoe either.”
The work agenda is used, in effect, to “Micro-manage the lives of the poor”. Not only the disabled on what is now the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but anybody on benefits,
are now subjected to close surveillance over their lives. This erodes personal autonomy, and increases dependency. The DWP, and private companies gaining rent from public contracts, are entrusted with the power to grossly interfere in people’s lives. They claim rights over claimants. They have fewer and fewer responsibilities to them.
For those “success stories” who get off benefits, O’Kelly notes, “The present system does also however offer scope for giving notional employment (or self-employment) to people who are able to do very little and who will continue to get the great bulk of their income through the benefit system whether nominally ‘employed’ or not. Some of these people will get psychological benefits from ‘working’; for others the effect will be the reverse.”
It might be suggested, as O’Kelly does, that the Ministers in charge of these policies have little experience of the world of ordinary work themselves. More insidious is the influence of the welfare-to-work industry. They influence policy to an undue degree, essentially with their claims to propel people into the – self evidently good – world of work. That claimants dislike them and that they are unable to meet the demands of their contracts (notoriously over the Work Programme) and capable of dissembling about their operations, is ignored.
In the meantime few people question the absolute value of this “work”, or why so many people spend their lives in low-paid, insecure, unrewarding employment. Or why those with Capital get so much more, including a slice of the revenue of those obliged to claim benefits – forced onto the welfare-to-work schemes run with the profits of wealthy private contractors foremost in mind. The culmination of this process will come when claimants will, as the Help to Work programme intends, have to work for their benefits. (2)
(1) Page 419 Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.
(2) Picketty suggests that some free marketers propose the following “Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541 – 2 Op cit). This is in effect happening in the United Kingdom, beginning with PFI. The welfare-to-work industry in effect is given a chunk of the welfare state and everybody’s taxes are used to pay rent to the owners of their enterprises.
You can read The Work Agenda as a free E-Book by clicking here.
Alex Callinicos begins and ends his latest assessment of the “present situation” by resigning himself to the weaknesses of the “radical left”(1). A paradox, given, apparently, the SWP leader asserts, that capital is also weak.A feeble economic recovery after the Bank crisis of 2008 is not met by any renewed left. Indeed there is a “weakness of credible anti-capitalist alternatives.” Not only in the larger continental European organised parties, he modestly cites his own small group the SWP’s ‘troubles’, a subject which his article addresses.
The King’s College academic stops short of advocating the “communist pessimism” of Pierre de Naville or Walter Benjamin,. But he finishes by citing Daniel Bensaïd need for “a slow impatience”—in other words, “an active waiting, an urgent patience, an endurance and a perseverance that are the opposite of a passive waiting for a miracle”. This implies, an ” effort to intervene in and shape the present …”
Callinicos claims that there was a time when all seemed sailing towards a renewed radical left. This was, “the era of good feelings (1998-2005) the impulse of a growing movement was to play down or finesse political differences in the name of unity.” Not everybody will recall the creation of communalist groups like Respect, and the part played in its formation, and self-destruction, by the megaphone Ego of George Galloway, in the same way. The “Split” in this lash-up, in 2007, was apparently of great importance, though only the SWP (the splitters) took it as the milestone it apparently was – for the SWP. The subsequent misadventures of this ‘party’ are passed over, as if they had been written out of history.
Nor is the judgement that, “The radical left began to have an impact on the bourgeois political scene” quite as secure as it might appear. The May 2005 French referendum on the European draft constitution, lost by the neo-liberals backing it, was certainly significant. But the effect this had on the French left, notably the scission of what is now the Parti de Gauche from the French Parti Socialiste, and the formation of the Front de Gauche, are apparently (for Callinicos) of less significance than the fact that the LCR/Nouveau parti anticapitaliste, lost three tendencies (he does not bother to name them or describe their politics) to the FdG, one at its formation in 2009 (Gauche Unitaire) the other two in May 2005.
Callinicos manages to avoid discussing the mass basis and actions of the Front de Gauche (which has plenty of its own problems, starting with Jean-Luc Mélenchon) not to mention its election results (11,11 % for Mélenchon in the 2012 Presidential election’s first round, 10 MPs, and 4 MEPs this year) . He does however devote space to criticising the much more successful electorally Greek left bloc/party Syriza (26.5% of the vote in the 2012 European elections), apparently on the slippery slope to neo-liberalism after backing Juncker as European Commissioner.
Let us state clearly. This analysis of left retreat is lop-sided. The results of the May European elections indicate that the ‘radical left’ did not do badly at all. Indeed in Spain they reached historically high levels of support, adding to the weight of the Greek Syriza. In France (FdG) and Germany (Die Linke) left groups remained at stable levels of support. But the Front de Gauche (for all its internal problems) remains a player in the political and social game. These observations would be extended across the continent. Only if we take the ‘revolutionary left as a measure of left influence can we reach Callinicos’s conclusions about weakness and marginalisation.
Callinicos observes that for some parties may be in crisis, but the movements are fine. On the basis of some well-publicised protests (beginning with Callinicos ‘ high moment’ Seattle protests of 1999, though this remains firmly stuck in the – good – period of “good feelings” ) there has been a ” panorama of decentralised horizontal struggles that simultaneously subvert capital and outflank the ‘old left’”. These (initially referring to Paul Mason’s wildly over- enthusiastic, Why its All Kicking off Everywhere 2012 – really? ), “started with the Arab revolutions (rebellions as much against the polarising and impoverishing effects of neoliberalism as against autocracy) and the echoes it gained in the North with the 15 May movement in the Spanish state and Occupy Wall Street and its numerous imitators.Other protests—somewhat earlier (British students, 2010) or later (Brazil and Turkey, 2013)….”
Callinicos does not discuss the view widely circulated by commentators, that these are protests of the liberal middle class, or their inability to effect any substantial change in any government’s policies- a serious balance-sheet. They have all, in other, words, been kicked into the long grass, if not brutally suppressed. The sole exception, Tunisia, looks increasingly, a ‘normal’ democracy, a welcome result compared to the alternatives. As with the mass ‘centrist’ parties (see definition of the ‘radical left below) this is carried our without any serious examination of these movements, in all their diversity. Above all there is no serious attempt to grapple with politics of the ‘movement’ that has become the focus of British activists, trade unionists, and the grass-roots left: the People’s Assembly. Instead it is largely dismissed on the basis of the strategy of the union, UNITE, to “reclaim Labour”.
Instead, the SWP theorist reminds us of the timeless truth, “The trouble is that the state, the broader political process of which it is the focus, and the parties that struggle over it remain fundamental determinants of the social, whatever autonomists and neoliberals fondly claim. ” Furthermore, “The wager of Leninism is that a revolutionary party can intervene in the political field in order to help bring about the overthrow of capital. From this follows, as Bensaïd also stressed, the centrality of strategy—of the determined, persistent, organised effort to relate specific tactics to the overarching aim of socialist revolution. ” There views are bolstered, by appeals to Gramsci. One might say that citing Leninist aims does nothing to answer those who see Leninist practice, or rather the SWP and other groups, in the multiple crises Callinicos only begins to sketch.
Callinicos finally gets to some genuine meat, ‘anti-politics’. “The structural divorce of the political class from the citizens it is supposed to represent and its integration into the moneyed world encourages popular rejection of all parties, summed up in “¡Que se vayan todos!”—All of them must go!—the slogan of the Argentinian revolt in 2001-2. This rejection—which can be called “anti-politics. He continues, “on the whole the right-populist currents that have been most successful in exploiting this mood are not themselves “anti-politics”.” This is not new. Known in France as “anti-system” parties, these are have been a long-standing feature of European politics, going (in the case of the Hexagone) back to General George Boulanger’s at the end of the 19th century.
If this is fast becoming a commonplace – a much better starting point for looking at the May European elections, and the rise of groups like M5S (Italy) and UKIP, as well as the Front National, there are some systematic difficulties with Callincos’s analysis. One certainly does not have to accept a neo-Foucaulean analysis of the articulation of a neoliberal subjectivity to see that these materialised policies have sapped the basis of left politics. Thomas Picketty is a better guide to the ideology of justly reward success – underpinning the growth of the share taken by owners of capital, and high earners - offers an indication of how the “losers” despair at overcoming their inequality by collective action.This is a structural feature of Capital in the 21st century, a deeper causal mechanism behind economic restructuring, and the inability of the workers’ movement to oppose neo-liberalism. The transformation of the state into a gigantic renting operating – by which most of the population pay rent to private owners of public services – is a greater challenge than the venality of the political class.
Significantly Callinicos does not discuss the one leftist bloc, the Spanish Podemos, which has attempted to combine ‘anti-politics’, new methods of organising, with electoral participation and the building of a ‘broad party’.
Attacking the claim that the Leninist ‘model’ has had its day is a necessary task for a leader of the SWP. Awareness of the largely forgotten writings of Alain Badiou on the new “political organisation” that will replace Leninism, or John Holloway’s writings, at least indicates an awareness that Lenin is not an unchallenged authority. It would take longer than this brief notice to discuss Lars Lih’s reconstruction of Lenin’s political ideas. The same applies to Callinicos’ observations of feminism – which others will not doubt discuss in detail.
But one point stands out in Thunder on the Left: what is wrong with broad parties of the left? Why, given the present ideological and political diversity of the left, are they not the ideal vehicle (wide enough…) to work out differences? What is wrong with broad democracy – on the network model? Those who have elft the SWP, engaged in such groups inside Left Unity, are unlikely to be convinced by a few warm words about feminism, and criticism of the tortuous liberalism of “intersectionality”.
Why does a Leninist ‘Combat Party’ – to all the evidence in terminal decline, riddled with problems, from democracy onwards – still fascinate people like Callinicos? Some of us, who recognise strengths in Lenin’s analysis of political conjunctures, have never adopted the model of the Leninist ‘party’ in the first place. Even the Acts of the Apostles were never much of a guide to historical Christian practice. Hankering after a party’s glory years, whose first acts on taking power were to suppress opposition groups – an ever-widening number – raises more problems than it solves. All the evidence is, that we will have to hang around for a long time for a new revolutionary Party that fulfils the role of a Messiah that can do better than these imperfect, “centrist” (as the Leninists call them) broad left parties.
But then the leader of the SWP shows every sign of waiting, impatiently, a very long time in Perry Anderson’s Watchtower.
This is worth reading,
Alex Callinicos: take a look in the mirror Louis Proyect.
It ends with, “Displaying a shamelessness on the order of a Washington bourgeois politician, Callinicos spends a thousands words or so defending his party’s understanding of the “woman question” against Sharon Smith of the ISO who views Tony Cliff’s analysis as lacking to say the least. If Callinicos can’t make the connection between a certain theoretical deficiency in the SWP and the commission of inquiry that asked the female rape victim about her drinking habits, then he is beyond help.
In his conclusion, Callinicos writes:
The present crisis is much more diffuse, but in some ways more threatening, because the revolutionary left is much weaker than it was in 1979. This makes the attempts to split and even to destroy organisations such as the NPA and the SWP so irresponsible.
Now I have no idea what is going on in the French NPA since the comrades are not particularly engaged with the English-speaking left (who can blame them?) but I doubt it has anything to do with a rape investigation that had more in common with those conducted in the American military than what we would expect from a Marxist party. In terms of attempts to destroy an organization, my suggestion to Alex Callinicos is that he takes a look in the mirror at his earliest convenience. There he will find the miscreant most responsible.”
As can be seen above, we do know what happened in the NPA and Callinicos is talking bollocks.
People left it because they saw the Front de gauche (which the NPA denounced – as they memorably described their politics, “between us and the Parti Socialiste, there is nothing“) as the best way forward for broad – mass – left politics.
(1) Callinicos, “By “radical left” I mean those currents that reject neoliberalism, whether on an explicitly revolutionary basis or in a manner that avoids the choice between reform and revolution or even embraces some version of left social democracy. This is the spectrum from the NPA and the SWP to the Front de Gauche and Die Linke, with Syriza somewhere in between. In this article I concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on Europe.” On this definition alone his claim that the left has precipitously declined is false. Taking the crisis of the remaining ‘Leninist’ groups for the left is, of course, just one of his solipsistic errors.
Tony Greenstein in a temperate mood.
Comrade Tony Greenstein’s resignation from Left Unity sent shock waves last month throughout the world progressive, labour, and socialist movement.
The news was published in the august pages of the Weekly Worker on the 5th of June.
Now on his Blog he explains his standpoint.
I resigned from Left Unity nearly a month ago. Set up in a blaze of publicity, it has fallen victim to identity politics and navel gazing. It reports that it has 2,000 members. If so they make next to no impact. There is no internal life in the organisation, no paper or journal, and criticism of policies such as ‘safe spaces’ for women are frowned upon or, as is the case in Manchester subject to censorship and suspension
Using dialectical tools honed in years of struggle Brighton’s Best continues.
It would be a pleasure to reproduce the text in full but for reasons of space and attention-span we confine ourselves to extracts.
Cde Greenstein has no doubt where some of the blame for the rise of UKIP lies,
….most mailings from the Centre have concerned elections for the multiplicity of posts in LU. Barely a word has been issued concerning prioritising campaigns such as the destruction of the NHS or the welfare state. Bogus issues of interest to just a handful of careerists, such as intersectionality, have been deemed of more importance instead.
It is little wonder that LU didn’t see fit to stand candidates in the European elections when it has such pressing internal issues to deal with. The result is that UKIP and its anti-immigration policies have been given a free ride and LU has abandoned what could have been an effective platform for introspective navel gazing.
This post continues in this vein and reaches this conclusion,
LU’s leadership could do worse than to look at the success of Syriza in Greece and try and learn some lessons. However I fear that they are too fixed in their views and politics to learn lessons from anyone. They insist on following the same strategies that embraced Respect and destroyed the Socialist Alliance. Politically LU has demonstrated complete impotence on questions like Ireland. My conclusion is that the time for success has now passed and what is left is a terrible missed politically opportunity.
I have therefore decided that no purpose is served by my continuing to remain a member and I have decided to resign from Left Unity.
In case anybody has sympathy with some of these views – which include criticisms of ‘intersectionality’ (poor old Richard Seymour’s latest hobby horse) and ‘safe spaces’, not to mention Greenstein’s comments on the LU failure to campaign on welfare – this has been brought to the Tendance’s attention (ME),
TO THOSE on the left who derive sado-masochistic entertainment from the more bilious of its internal debates, Tony Greenstein will need no introduction. But for anyone who doesn’t think that spending endless hours on email discussion lists and internet message boards is an appropriate and productive use of their time, it is necessary to provide a little background.
Tony Greenstein is a socialist based in Brighton who engages in a form of political masturbation that consists basically of attacking the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the most poisonous terms known to him at every possible opportunity. Tony attacks the AWL for its small size, but he is not on very firm ground arguing numbers with a group more than 100 times the size of his own: the Tony Greenstein sect of one.
Tony’s ferocious hatred of the AWL overrides all rational political thought; so, for example, when Tony stood as a candidate for the Socialist Green Unity Coalition (in which the AWL also participated) in the 2005 General Election, Tony felt it appropriate to write a letter to the CPGB newspaper Weekly Worker attacking the AWL in characteristic terms, even though he knew this would harm the coalition of which he himself was part. This sort of behaviour is illustrative of Tony’s general approach – not rational, worked-out criticism but frenzied slander. His diatribe in What Next? [‘The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – Britain’s Revolutionary Imperialists’] is no different. It is embarrassing in its lack of rigour, in the way it substitutes anecdotal slander for political critique, and in its use of blatant lies, distortions and half-truths.
More on What next? site.
In a long political career on the outside of the outside left Cde Greenstein has accumulated a broader range of enemies than the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) - they extend, let us say, from senior figures in the trade union movement to just about every party and groupuscule on the left (his latest bug-bear is Socialist Resistance).
He has even got the goat of somebody genuinely loathed by all progressives, Gilad Atzmon.