Archive for the ‘Trotskyism’ Category
Breaking “UKIP Monopoly”.
“The neoliberal Tory-boys of UKIP should not have a monopoly for opposing a corporate-dominated, anti-democratic EU whose policies they largely support.”
“The No2EU campaign will be standing in the 2014 Euro elections under the slogan ‘No2EU -Yes to Workers’ Rights’.
“Our movement created the basis for democracy in the 19th century with The Chartists and the demand for universal suffrage which is now being taken from us in the 21st century by the EU.
“The only rational course is to leave the EU and rebuild Britain with socialist policies,” he said.
No2EU TUC fringe meeting
Yes to workers’ rights!
As the myth of ‘Social Europe’ is finally exposed how can workers reclaim their rights?
Monday September 9 at lunchtime
Venue: The Hermitage Hotel, Clifton Suite, Bournemouth
Speakers: RMT general secretary Bob Crow
John Hendy QC trade union rights lawyer
Former Labour MP Dave Nellist
Communist Party chair Bill Greenshields
It is sad to see an old comrade, Geoff Martin, involved in this Vanity Politics.
Who will support this?
That is, apart from Bob Crow, the Communist Party of Britain, and Dave Nellist’s Socialist Party.
More on this sorry tale here.
There are further calls to arm the Syrian opposition from the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste,
“Nous devons obtenir la livraison de l’aide indispensable (vivres, soins, équipements, armes) aux représentants des collectifs syriens qui se battent pour la démocratie, la justice sociale et la dignité nationale dans le respect de toutes les composantes du pays. ”
We must ensure that indispensable aid – food, medicine, necessary equipment, arms – is delivered to representatives of the Syrian collectives battling for democracy, social justice and national dignity and who respect the diversity of the country.
September the 5th.
Jacques Babel (a member of the NPA responsible for international work and in particular coordinating work with and in the Arab region).
At the end of August (that is prior to the latest threat of intervention) an important on-line debate on the left on the Syrian opposition took place organised by the US Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD).
The issue of arms played an important part in this in the discussion.
Michael Karadjis has thoroughly put the case that there are strong reasons to back democratic forces on the ground,
Throwing the whole Syrian uprising into the “jihadi” camp undermines the very forces within the revolution that confront this reactionary trend on a daily basis (see for examples of popular demonstrations, slogans, declarations etc. against these currents and their actions here, here, here,here, here and elsewhere).
His position is summarised as, while ”defending the right of Syrian revolutionaries to obtain arms, he believes that the ongoing militarisation of the conflict favours both Assad and the Islamists; therefore he thinks a ceasefire would be in the best interest of the revolution, allowing a revival of the mass movement that initiated the revolt against the regime.”
Salameh Kaileh begins from the standpoint of the Syrian Revolution. He states that, “rebels should find other ways to get weapons, and must establish real army forces capable of struggle until victory.”
Others roundly attack any idea of intervention, direct, or indirect. Michael Eisenscher calls for an arms embargo.
CDP Co-Directors, Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy, conclude.
“Consistent with our strong opposition to any kind of military intervention in Syria by the U.S., or other foreign powers, we also oppose providing air cover or establishing no fly zones. We do believe, however, that the democratic opponents of the Assad dictatorship have the right to get guns where they can, while resisting all attempts by those who provide arms to acquire political and military influence in return.” We continue to defend this right, and we agree with Karadjis that merely receiving arms from foreign countries has never been the “final determinant” of a revolutionary movement’s politics. But we also recognize that since none of the governments in the region or in the West actually favour a mass popular democratic victory, they are extremely reluctant to offer the democratic opposition significant weaponry. Moreover, like Karadjis, we do not call on the United States to arm the rebels, because we are unwilling to take responsibility for the way that the U.S. government will inevitably use any offer of weapons to attempt to manipulate the struggle and buttress its ongoing reactionary role in the Middle East.
Joseph Daher (of the the Syrian Revolutionary Left Current - closely inked to the NPA) argues that there are groups in Syria that meet the description of those favouring the democratic opposition. Daher’s own Blog is here. It contains this statement, there are “two fronts in Syria right now: the jihadists on the one hand, and the regime on the other.” There are not a lot of posts on display with which to gauge the grouping’s influence.
Daher, the NPA, and many others (such as their British comrades in Socialist Resistance, Workers Power and teh International Socialist Network, appear to place their hopes in the ‘Local Coordination Committees‘.
The Committees’ site is important.
It includes, amongst many others, links to articles from International Viewpoint and the British SWP.
Their profoundly moving declaration includes this statement,
As we insist, in the present very special circumstances, on the direct right of the Syrian people to affirm its right of self-determination before the international community, we assure that all calls based on the ground of “droit d’ingérance,” “devoir d’ingérance,” “humanitarian intervention” or “responsibility to protect” should not hinder the aspiration of the Syrian people to cause peaceful change by its own forces; or lead to dealing with the Syrian people as yet another sphere of influence in the game of nations.
The recalcitrance of the Syrian regime to meet its international obligations in terms of respect of human rights and international humanitarian law, may require, in this particular moment, that the international action contemplated above be supported by the sending of a United Nations observers mission, to be approved by a resolution of the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The mandate of the observers mission must emphasize prevention and assistance in building appropriate political conditions to achieve a peaceful democratic transition in Syria. The observers mission must comprise civilian components holding nationalities of countries known historically for their neutrality, and under the direct supervision of the Secretary General of the United Nations, in cooperation with the League of Arab States. The observers mission’s staff members must be in such numbers as to allow them to be present in or reach any town or village at any time, to monitor and report to the United Nations Secretary General, on any violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as on progress of the political process to achieve a peaceful democratic transition pursuant to appropriate constitutive procedures as shall be solely determined by the Syrian People.
We affirm the priority of using dialogue and peaceful persuasion, including the use of non-coercive and non-violent measures. Yet we have no illusions as to the Syrian regime’ obstinate responses and its attempts to buy time. Experience has shown that the granting of time has not rendered the Syrian regime less resolute in committing yet further violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Such time costs the Syrian people more killing and destruction. Every day that passes means more people killed, and Syria finds itself even more remote from any possibility to find political solutions.
There is no mention of arms.
No doubt times have changed since this statement was made two years ago. But the NPA’s case includes an argument is that weapons should have gone to these bodies then.
We have also few means to gauge the real importance of these groups.
But the side-bar ”LCC in the news” lists their (‘a group of anti-regime activists’) declarations on unfolding events.
There are reports that the Pentagon is preparing more serious attacks than thought - here.
The situation is increasingly unclear, though Jihadists are now openly attacking Christian targets. .
Perhaps this is one reason some on the left who back the Syrian Revolution are starting to flail about.
Louis Proyect posts this,
From documentary film-maker Ben Allinson-Davies:
The Free Syrian Army are hugely different to the al-Qaeda-linked fruitloops that so many leftists, regime apologists, and unsavory, sneering internet experts (most of whom have restricted their research to listening to the incoherent, generic ramblings of Syrian expat Syrian Girl Partisan for a few minutes) would have you believe. I didn’t see a single jihadist or hardline Islamist during my travels across Idlib. If the closest I can get to finding one is a fighter from Tunisia who took his religion seriously, then it doesn’t cast the media coverage of the Syrian genocide in a good light at all. It seems like they parrot reports which parrot reports which come from shady sources with affections for the Assad regime – notorious ‘journalists’/shills like Cockburn, Fisk, and countless others.
When they’re not fighting, they’re living with their families in neat, respectable looking homes (despite shortages, family homes are still where the heart is for everyone) where children toddle around playing, and relatives and friends come and go for a meal, a glass of tea, or a chat – many spend much of their time looking after their children, using radios and the internet to coordinate and plan their next moves (again, the picture of fabulously armed, US-backed rebels really doesn’t add up at any point whatsoever), and enjoying family life.
With Breast Expanded. Brian Behan. MacGibbon 1964.
“For my own part. I had always contested the right of any party to control my actions and to force me to carry out decisions with which I did not agree. I believed then as I do now that a man must finally be true to his own conscience and follow the dictates of his own experience. The greatest of saints and humanists can founder and do terrible harm once they relinquish this right. My whole life has been a search for an organisation that would bring happiness to humanity, only to find that all organisations become an end in themselves, thriving on, and perpetuating, human misery and backwardness. As far I’m concerned, any organisation of more than one person (except one man and one woman) is suspect.” Brian Behan. With Breast Expanded. Page 42.
“Brendan and Brian did not share the same views, especially when the question of politics or nationalism arose. Brendan on his deathbed (presumably in jest) asked Cathal Goulding (Behan’s half-brother following a relationship between Stephen Behan and Goulding’s mother), then the Chief of Staff of the IRA, to ‘have that bastard Brian shot—we’ve had all sorts in our family, but never a traitor!’” Brendan Behan Wikipedia.
One of the best books ever written about the left is With Breast Expanded. It is a memoir, not a political tract. But many of the things we talk about today, about parties, about ‘democratic centralism’ and – above all – authority – come up in what was an extraordinary life.
The author, Brian Behan (1926 – 2002) was the brother of Brendan, who has an entry in the Oxford Companion to English Literature, and whose play, the Quaere Fellow remains seared in many people’s minds. Their family, raised in the Dublin slums and, then, council estates, of the 1930s and 40s, was left-wing, republican, and trade unionist. They were closely linked to the, pre- and post independence, IRA. His mother was a friend of Micheal Collins. The brothers (there was another, the songwriter, Dominic) were part of a circle of exceptionally talented working class and bohemian radicals. There was also a sister, Carmen.
Brendan was actively involved in the IRA from the age of 16. For his self-appointed attempt to blow up Liverpool Docks in 1939 Brendan served time in the Suffolk youth penal institution, Hollesley Bay. He wrote about this sentence in Borstal Boy.
Brian recalls in With Breast Expanded, “It still warms my heart to remember the long letters Brendan wrote me from Bostral when I was in Malin. (Page 202) Malin, the Artane Industrial School, was where petty thieving led Brian to spend his teens. Run by the Christian Brothers, “where the rule of the boot and the fist still predominates”, it was a physically and sexually abusive institution. Its control methods “would have put Stalin to shame.” (Page 27)
After Malin there was the Army Construction Corps, labouring, a job creation scheme (the ‘Turf camps’), Brian developed as a left-wing and trade union activist. Some accounts put him already as an anarcho-syndicalist. But With Breast Expanded he says that he was a Communist and met up with left-wing IRA men, influenced by Marxism. This “put me in violent opposition to nine-nine-point-nine per cent of my fellow men. Since a child I had known that the bosses were our enemy. And to me, my enemy’s enemy must be my friends. It never entered my head they might just be peas in a pod.”(Page 37)
Exported to to England.
Facing long-term unemployment and continuous trouble with the Irish authorities Brian left for England. “For hundreds of years prime cattle and mature men have been Ireland’s chief export to England.”(Page 95) The meat of With Breast Expanded is the account of his experiences on building sites, and as rank and file trade union activist. Hard manual labour, hard digs, and hard men, surrounded him. But Brian found the time, and the energy, to become politically active in the Communist Party of Great Britain. During a landmark strike on the Festival of Britain site, they were selling 180 Daily Workers a day and “defended every last action of Joe Stalin’s.”(Page 134)
During a campaign against the post-war ban on May Day marches Brain found himself sentenced to two months in Brixton Prison. Discharged the CP were waiting for him to take bring him to a public meeting on Korea, “At that precise moment I would sooner have shown my arse, or anything else for that matter, but a public meeting was not my idea of the best way to spend my first day of freedom.”(Page 124) held out in the open the defence of North Korea only attracted the “anger of the toilers”.
Brian’s account of the CPGB remains instructive. He felt real anger (which leaps from the page into your gut) about life in the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Embassy in London lavished food and free fags on the ‘labour movement’ guests at their regular beanos and did they same to those who visited their lands. In Moscow the city centre was like Hyde Park. But in the outskirts, “were slums, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Dublin. Worse still, I found building workers toiling away under the threat of armed guards. I was told the guards were there to prevent sabotage. But it also seemed also a magnificently handy way to discourage agitation.”(Page 128) A trip as part of delegation to China showed the same divisions, “”in one you ate old paptoa leaves, in the other you wined and dined till your guts ached.”(Ibid)
Behan, as a rank-and-file building workers’ leader, ended up elected to National Executive Committee of the Communist Party, “selected by the top, and blessed by the sheep down below, would be a better description.”(Page 131)
The Communist Party was stuck in the doldrums. The contrast, well known to everybody on the (British) left, between influence in the trade unions and irrelevance in the ballot box clearly rankled with Behan, who described the former as the result of the reward of dedicated “fanatics”. The theory that the latter dismal results – he had got around 181 votes in an election – show the “mathematical average of loonies in each area of Britain” is appealing. (Page 146) If this is true the number of the mentally challenged has a much greater variety of electoral choices today, from UKIP further onwards, and has grown in size.
Hungary and After.
Deeper issues were at stake. Behan instinctively revolted at the lack of workers’ rights in Russia, and at accusations that Communists fiddled votes in the E.T.U. Discontent came to a boil over the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He stood up for Edith Bone – a Hungarian born British Communist. The rebels released her. Nobody had heard of her for seven years. As Francis Beckett puts it, she was “tortured, half-starved, tormented by arthritis, her guts ravaged by the prison food, ragged and barefoot.” (1) An attempt to publicly condemn Bone’s imprisonment was lost – 31 to 1 on the National Executive. This was not the end of it. “..the Hungarian Revolution turned me upside down.”(Page 151) He wavered from supporting the revolution, but finally was driven to leave the Party. “It may have made little or no difference, but I would be a much happier person today it I’d fought harder for people who were resisting the guns and tanks of state capitalism.”(Page 151)
Behan did not desert the building sites, and battled – with further time in gaol – in the great South Bank strike of 1959. Left politics still loomed large in his life. Outside prison and outside the CP, he resolved to join one of the “fanatical little groups who waited to net the stranded fish. They were latter-day Communists hoping and praying for a return of a Trotskyite Russia. They rattled his old bones with all the fervour of black with-doctors. Each little sect claimed that it was the inheritor of the revealed truth.”(Page 169)
Healy and After.
To be exact he joined the group that later became the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, at the time known as the Club before it became known as the Socialist Labour League. (2) With Breast Expanded describes its leader, Gerry Healy, as follows, “He as a small man, made revolutionary by his failure to make a fortune selling floor-polish door to door.” (Page 169) A dispute, which Behan puts down to his proposal to put the Party’s printing press under workers’ control and others link to his hostility to Healy’s proposal to ‘enter’ (merge into) the Labour Party, soon erupted. (3) It was not long before Behan, and his friends, were expelled.
That is as may be, but this rings true. Healy shouting at a meeting, “I want all you comrades to appreciate that M.I.5 have now developed a new device which they simply point towards a window and pick up the sound vibrations that bounces off it.” “I ask all comrades to speak with their backs to the window, and if possible direct your sound waves to the floor.” “..as one man, lecturers, trade unionists and working women turned their chairs away from the window and commenced looking to the ground. One man, a psychoanalyst in a big London hospital, was bent double, his waves smashing into the wood blocks.””(Pages 170 – 171)
Behan briefly worked with London based anarchists and syndicalists, including some of the historic Spanish exiles. He had only a brief encounter with the latter. Of the former, and thinking of the Wobblies he describes them (and himself) as “the leavings of the great movement that rolled across the American prairie organising lumberjacks, wheat men and cotton pickers. Any resemblance between us and them was purely coincidental.”(Page 183) Behan noted the self-regard of one “conceited wretch” who brought a tape recorder to keep intact his meeting speech – and his alone – for posterity. Yet these were not the anarchists in fashion in the late 50s and early 60s, as CND and the Committee of 100 rose. He was spared the high-minded, but even more narcissistic, pacifist anarchists recently brought to the screen in the recent Ginger and Rosa (2012).
It is not the intention to write a précis of With Breast Expanded, though the memoir is so good that a horde of further anecdotes and incisive words come to mind. Behan, if not always likable, is lovable. He is all the better for this final citation, about his brother Brendan – amongst many, less complementary thoughts, “When, in my ignorance, I sneered at homosexuals, he turned on me like a tiger and told me to keep my dirty ignorant thoughts to myself.”(Page 201) We could equally note that he, despite admiration for his formidable mother Kathleen, never exactly caught the importance of feminism,. His wife, Celia, appears on in a side-role. The book’s epigraph is not designed to win friends in that quarter. Brian’s further career (he died in 2002 at 75 years old) as a lecturer, writer and a playwright, was impressive. He never did find the organisation that would take decisions he never disagreed with, or indeed, any party at all. Perhaps we are all better off for that.
Thanks to JM for information on the Dublin Left.
(1) Page 134. The Enemy Within, The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party, Francis Beckett. 1995. Beckett offers an excellent account of the effect of the Hungarian Revolution on the British Communist Party.
(2) “Then, in 1958, Brian Behan obtained work as a labourer on McAlpines South Bank site. Whoever took him on very quickly learned their mistake, a very costly mistake. Behan was fired and, despite the fact that there were a number of inexperienced and unorganised workers on the site, the shop stewards committee – which was led by Hugh Cassidy and was both experienced and resolute – called a strike. The whole organisational weight of the Club was thrown behind the dispute. Special issues of The Newsletter were produced and strike bulletins and leaflets rolled off the press. For the first time since the general strike of 1926, middle class revolutionaries joined the workers on the picket line. Brian Behan’s brother Brendan (the playwright) appeared dispensing ten bob notes and not a few pints of Guinness. The police were much in evidence, arrests were made and, after one fracas, Brian Behan was arrested and given three months in Shepton Mallet prison.” Jim Higgins. 1956 and All That (1993)
(3) “Politically, Behan could offer no serious alternative to Healy’s opportunism, his call for the proclamation of a revolutionary party by a few hundred militants being foolishly ultra-leftist. But, contrary to Healyite mythology, Behan was not so sectarian that he denied the need for fraction work in the Labour Party. Nor was he incapable of making some correct criticisms of Healy’s unprincipled political manoeuvring. ‘The zig-zags of policy from “right” to “left” and back again’, Behan wrote, ‘result from the opportunist considerations of a small clique …. Those who opposed the turn to open work a year ago were denounced as reformists and capitulators to the right wing, but now the leadership are fighting to return to the old form of work in the Labour Party.”
“It was on the organisational question – the concentration of power in Healy’s hands – that Behan’s attack really hit home. Not only did Healy hold the posts of SLL general secretary, IC secretary and, in practice, League treasurer and print shop manager, Behan pointed out, but he hired and fired full-timers and purchased expensive equipment, all without prior consultation with the League’s elected bodies. Behan also opposed as grossly undemocratic Healy’s control of the organisation’s assets, the SLL’s press being jointly owned by Healy, the Banda brothers and Bob Shaw. Behan described it as ‘farcical that even if the whole conference should decide on a change of policy, four people could frustrate the will of the conference by simply splitting and walking away with the assets’. He proposed to place all the League’s property under the control of the membership.” Bob Pitt. The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy. Chapter 5.