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Row in Northern Ireland Labour Party, Boyd Black: ‘Maoist’ BICO Resurfaces.

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Image result for British and Irish Communist organisation

BICO Once again.

There is, as yet, no comprehensive history of British and Irish ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Popularly known as Maoism, for the various groups’ alignment with Beijing during the 1960s, this political current had influence in much of the rest of Europe, and in the United States, where it was described as the New Communist Movement in the 1970s (1) French Maoism continues to draw attraction, with many colourful escapades to its name, and even a proto-armed wing, La Nouvelle Résistance Populaire (NRP), and the leader of the Gauche Prolétarienne, Benn Lévy, the hardest and the hard M-Ler, who became Sartre’s secretary and ended his days as student of the Torah in Jerusalem. (2) The former M-L Dutch Socialistische Partij, Socialist Party, with parliamentary representation, and its counterpart in Belgium, the, Parti du travail de Belgique /en Partij van de Arbeid van België, also attracts interest, not least in the latter’s days as enthusiasts for North Korean Juche.

But here possibly only Alexei Sayle’s learned tome stands out. Largely concerned with his activism in the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) he summarised their, and his orthodox Communist parents’ activism as, “my hobby and my family’s hobby was the elimination of private property via the violent expropriation of landowners, industrialists, railroad magnates and shipowners…”(3)

Maoism is however back in the news. A former member of  the British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) are apparently involved in the controversies taking place in the Northern Irish Labour Party.

John Rogan writes,

There was an article in the Belfast Telegraph about the ruction in the Labour Party in NI by its ex-Secretary (Kathryn Johnson) which may be of interest.

The main person she seems to be angry with is Boyd Black. As a curious historical footnote for Leftist Trainspotters everywhere, Mr Black was at one point a member of the pro-Stalin, pro-Mao, pro-Kymer Rouge British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO) and stood as a “Unionist” candidate in the 1986 Fulham by-election.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/kathryn-johnston-the-fight-for-the-soul-of-the-labour-party-in-northern-ireland-36016846.html

Black seems to have something of  a history of “controversy”.

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His background is acknowledged.

On another occasion, “Boyd Black, Blacks election agent confirmed that he had been a member of the British and Irish Communist Organisation at one time.” 

Whatever his present relations to the group, if there are any, are  we note that BICO’s publication in Britain at the present is Labour Affairs which takes a keen interest in the Labour Party.

This is how they describe their present form,

Who We Are

Monthly journal of the Ernest Bevin Society.  It is a small independent left-wing magazine based in Britain, but covering the wider world.  Previously Labour and Trade Union Review.

The Ernest Bevin Society began as the British portion of the British and Irish Communist Organisation, but then decided Leninism was no longer relevant.  In the 1970s it advocated Workers Control as general reformism as the best way forward in Britain.  It warned ahead of time that the methods being used to fight Thatcher were going to fail.  But retained a general confidence in socialism after the Soviet collapse.

We did also warn well ahead of it becoming obvious that Yeltsin was going to fail.  And said in 1989 that People’s China was not in fact about to collapse.

We condemned New Labour for having adjusted to Thatcherite fantasies rather than what actually existed.  And were flatly against the war on Iraq, fully expecting Saddam’s rather bad system to be replaced  by something much worse.

See out publisher’s website at Athol Books.

For historians we lack a complete organigramme of the groupuscule’s original relations to other supporters of Marxist Leninism. Indeed while Wikipedia mentions this it is difficult to see the nature of the link to either the “first wave” M-L split with orthodox Communism, based on the Sino-Soviet dispute, or the “second wave” , which arose from enthusiasm for the Cultural Revolution.

Wikipedia sets them out as this,

Brendan Clifford was an Irish emigrant from the Sliabh Luachra area of County Cork who had migrated to London and become involved in left-wing politics there.[1] Clifford and some of his followers had been in Michael McCreery’s Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity and later they joined the Irish Communist Group.[2][3]

This body consisted largely of Irish people who were living in London and were opposed to the Soviet-aligned communist organisations intended for Irish people. Following a 1965 split, the Maoist wing named itself the Irish Communist Organisation, which later became the British and Irish Communist Organisation. The broadly Trotskyist wing, led by Gerry Lawless, became the Irish Workers’ Group.[4]

The ICO undertook an investigation into the development of Maoism, and concluded that it was not a suitable model for an anti-revisionist group. The Chinese Communist Party had supported some aspects of Nikita Khrushchev‘s “revisionism“, and then been dishonest about its past positions.[5]

One founder-member, Dennis Dennehy, was Secretary of the Dublin Housing Action Committee, which organised a highly successful protest movement in the early 1960s.

In 1968, the ICO issued a press release which defended the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

BICO is known, above all, for the writings on the Irish Question of Brendan Clifford. According to the Bible in such matters, he was an “unemployed Jesuit trained, gravedigger” who spent time in Trinity College Library Dublin researching Irish republicanism. This is what he found in works on the founders of this tradition.

“Having blown off the dust he was flabbergasted to discover that these saintly heroes, who he had been told were the Irish equivalents of Garibaldi and Mazzini, were a shower of bigoted, racist, shitbags, who hated England because it had prevented Ireland from establishing its own empire with its own blacks to chain up and flog. The odd man out among this unsavoury crew was Wolfe Tone, a Protestant who view of the Vatican tallies closely with that Ian Paisley.” (John Sullivan. As Soon As This Pub Closes)

The ‘two nations’ theory which he developed from these studies made Clifford’s name. His collected articles, from the Irish Communist, published in 1971 under the name Aspects of Nationalism (1972) begin with a long discussion of Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question. On this basis he took a stand for “Protestant national rights”. .

There is no mention of Clifford or a forerunner to BICO in Bob Purdie’s authoritative history of the Civil Rights movement Politics in the Streets (1990). It can be safely said to be beyond marginal to People’s Democracy – the most important grass-roots radical organisation in the land since the 1920s.

All COBI is known for is the ‘two nations’ theory. The view retains a certain intuitive appeal, no doubt reinforced by later Irish ‘revisionist’ histories which look at the conservative sides of nationalism, and Catholic cultural and political domination of the Republic In less studious environments problems immediately arose. COBI therefore backed protests such as the Ulster Workers’ Council and all attempts by the Protestant side to resist Irish unity. The one problem, no doubt unforeseen, but perhaps familiar to anybody who ever met Unionists, not to say, Orangemen, is that a group so dominated by violent racist bigots would be hard to find, although American ‘white nationalists’ stand muster.

The remnants of BICO seemed to have pursued with the Historical Review. The British branch became the Ernest Bevin society. The have been fading into decent obscurity.  They are rare creatures. The present writer may be one of the few people alive to have met them…..

****

(1) Revolution in the Air. Max Elbaum. Verso. 2002.
(2) De Pierre Victory à Benny Lévy, de Mao à Moïse. Philippe Lardinois. Editions Luc Pire. 2008.
(3) Page 132. Stalin Ate My Homework. Alexei Sayle. Sceptre. 2010. Sayle accurately makes this description, “Woodcraft Folk…. they formed the paramilitary wing of the Co-operative movement.”(P 91) See also the less amusing, Thatcher Stole my Trousers. Alexei Sayle. Bloomsbury Circus. 2016.

Update, for a serious account of this dispute: Clarion.

LPNI WTF?

By Labour Party of Northern Ireland members

The Labour Party in Northern Ireland’s executive committee has recently undergone a catastrophic breakdown in communication, followed by a series of resignations which received a degree of local media attention and attention on the left. Sadly, the explanations given by those involved have been consistently misleading. Whilst the context is political, as might be expected, much of the upset is interpersonal and the motivations of those involved represent a complex combination of the two. As things stand, there is a toxic air about this local party’s dissent into in-fighting, but if we look carefully it might be possible to discern some lessons for the Labour left.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

August 14, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Background Information on White Supremacist ‘Unite the Right’ in Charlottesville.

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The MSF America Today carries this story,

Trump’s Charlottesville disgrace: White supremacists aren’t just another ‘side’

Cheri Jacobus, Opinion contributor. 

To elevate Trump’s deplorable, evil fringe as equal to the rest of us united was extraordinary for a U.S. president — and nothing short of vile.

The Guardian has this to say,

President laments ‘hatred, bigotry and violence from many sides’ but senior Republicans and Democrats demand condemnation of far-right extremists.

Donald Trump has faced bipartisan criticism after failing to explicitly condemn the role of white supremacists in clashes with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in a car running into a crowd, killing at least one person.

This is known,

Man charged with murder after car rams anti-far-right protesters in Charlottesville.

BBC,

White nationalism is the big story after today’s violent “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Here’s what we know and some resources to deepen your knowledge about what’s going on.

On Saturday (August 12), thousands of White supremacists, many armed, attended a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Organized by a self-described “White advocate” and University of Virginia alum Jason Kessler, the rally was slated to be in protest of the pending removal and sale of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in a park that was renamed Emancipation Park in June. Charlottesville was the site of a Ku Klux Klan rally that ended with the deployment of police tear gas last month. In attendance at today’s action were a range of White activists who promote or participate in racist terrorism including Neo Nazis, White supremacist biker gangs, the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the neo-Confederate League of the South, Identity Evropa and various figures from the so-called alt-right.

While “Unite the Right” was permitted by the city, a related action on Friday night was not. At that action, hundreds of White men and women carrying lit tiki-torches marched on the campus of the University of Virginia, yelling “You will not replace us!” “Jew will not replace us!” and “Blood and Soil,” a slogan of Nazi Germany. The White supremacists surrounded the campus’ St. Paul’s Memorial Church as an opposing multifaith, multiracial prayer service let out and then violently clashed with a small group of student counter-protesters at the university’s rotunda.

Read the full post here.

Spencer Sunshine wrote this before the rally,

A GUIDE TO WHO’S COMING TO THE LARGEST WHITE NATIONALIST RALLY IN A DECADE

 

Sunshine had underlined the importance of this event:

Spencer Sunshine on The Largest Fascist Rally in Recent Memory. Original Air Date: 8.10.17 “Make It Plain.”

 

The Largest Fascist Rally in Recent Memory Is Expected This Week — Can the Left Unite Against It? Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Update.

The Guardian picked this up during Sunday.

‘Increasingly Nazified’ white nationalist rally descends on Virginia amid expected protests.

Speaking earlier, Spencer Sunshine, who wrote a report for Political Research Associates assessing Saturday’s rally, said: “This is a national gathering that the far right have been planning for months. It’s their big event.”

In response, local demonstrators and anti-racist activists from all over the country are coordinating a counter-protest, which they are hoping will dwarf the far-right event.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 13, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Skwawkbox Goes “undercover” in Venezuela and finds a Horn of Plenty in Supermarkets.

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Venezuela, March 2017, Queue for 2 Bags of Goods.

“If seeing is believing, then these simple, everyday scenes that would be familiar to anyone in a developed nation should be enough to cast serious doubt on the perception that the Establishment media seem eager for us to adopt.”

UNDERCOVER VIDEO SHOWS FULL SHELVES IN #VENEZUELA SUPERMARKETS

On Thursday the SKWAWKBOX published a first-hand account of the situation in Venezuela that challenges the prevailing portrayal and exposes the ugly reality of much of the opposition ‘protest’ as violent, even murderous and co-ordinated with ‘economic war’ on the socialist government to create the impression of a failed state.

A key part of the ‘failed state’ narrative is the claim of nationwide shortages in food and other key goods, as corporate and Establishment news attempts to convince that the socialist project has been a disaster.

That shortage-narrative has been raised by objectors to Thursday’s article as proof of the claims of the right-wing opposition.

As Thursday’s article showed, what shortages there are appear to have been manufactured by opposition-run monopoly corporations – but even those appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

For her Empire Files series, journalist Abby Martin filmed undercover in a series of Venezuelan supermarkets – and found something very different to what those watching BBC and other mainstream news would expect.

Skwawky reminds me of a certain Édouard Herriot (1872 – 1957) Parti Radical, and many times French PM) who remarked during a visit to Stalin’s Russia in 1933 that, the “Soviet Ukraine was “like a garden in full bloom”.

This is what Wikipedia has to say, Shortages in Venezuela.

Under the economic policy of the Nicolás Maduro government, greater shortages occurred due to the Venezuelan government’s policy of withholding United States dollars from importers with price controls.[6] Shortages are occurring in regulated products, such as milk, meat, coffee, rice, oil, precooked flour, butter prices and other basic necessities like toilet paper, personal hygiene products and medicines.[4][7][8] As a result of the shortages, Venezuelans must search for food, occasionally resorting to eating wild fruit or garbage, wait in lines for hours and sometimes settle without having certain products.

This is what Human Rights Watch says (2017 report),

Under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez and now President Nicolás Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, persecute, and even criminally prosecute its critics.

Severe shortages of medicines, medical supplies, and food have intensified since 2014, and weak government responses have undermined Venezuelans’ rights to health and food. Protesters have been arbitrarily detained and subject to abuse by security forces.

Police and military raids in low-income and immigrant communities have led to widespread allegations of abuse.

Other persistent concerns include poor prison conditions, impunity for human rights violations, and continuous harassment by government officials of human rights defenders and independent media outlets.

Here is what the Morning Star said in July,

OVER 100,000 Venezuelans queued at the San Antonio del Tachira border crossing into Colombia over the weekend to buy foods and medicines that are in short supply at home.

It was the second weekend in a row that the socialist government has opened the border with Colombia, which was closed, as were all crossings, a year ago to obstruct smuggling.

Speculators were accused then of causing shortages by buying state-subsidised food and petrol in Venezuela and taking them to Colombia to be sold for far higher prices.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has played down talk of a humanitarian crisis, blaming his government’s political enemies and self-serving smugglers for shortages.

He dismissed as a “media show” televised images of 500 women pushing through the border checkpoint a few weeks ago claiming to be desperate to buy food.

Venezuelan state TV ran footage on Sunday of citizens returning from Colombia empty-handed, dissuaded by “price-gouging” and the threat of violence from their neighbours.

So Skwawkbox have been caught out spinning faubations yet again.

Any shortages are the fault of the ‘monopoly capitalists” and….well there are no “real” problems with food in supermarkets as a single video shows.

Perhaps one could ask who, with hyper-inflation, can afford to but anything.

Full marks for ‘undercover’ investigation into a Venezuelan supermarket though.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 12, 2017 at 10:51 am

The Tragedy of Venezuela, Michael Roberts: How Should the Left Respond?

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The Morning Star reports,

LABOUR MP Graham Jones declares that he would have “gone further” than shadow foreign minister Liz McInnes’s criticism of Venezuela.

McInnes had urged “the government of Venezuela to recognise its responsibilities to protect human rights, free speech and the rule of law.”

She demanded a response to concerns expressed by the “international community” about supposed authoritarianism and very real hardships affecting Venezuela’s people. This is presumably the US-led “international community” rather than regional states such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba that have declared solidarity with Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution.

Jones, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela, advised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that he must make a statement “at some point” and told frontbencher Chris Williamson that “he’s backing the wrong side.”

Several Labour MPs, including Corbyn, and many unions support the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, but Jones wants “everybody in the Labour Party (to) condemn the Venezuelan regime” for not looking after its citizens. His colleague Angela Smith asks Corbyn to condemn President Nicolas Maduro’s government as “a very serious threat to democracy in that country.”

If Williamson is on the “wrong side,” it follows that Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable and Tory MP Mark Pritchard, who all attacked Corbyn for his silence, while on holiday, over Venezuela, must be on the right side.

What would the Morning Star say about this?

Michael Roberts Blog

Blogging from a marxist economist

The tragedy of Venezuela

As the Maduro regime tries to impose its new Constituent Assembly as a rival or replacement of the existing Venezuelan Congress and arrests the leaders of the pro-capitalist opposition, the dire economic and social situation in the country continues to worsen.

According to the IMF, Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% below 2013 levels, or 40% in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than during the 1929-1933 Great Depression in the US, when US GDP is estimated to have fallen 28%. It is slightly bigger than the decline in Russia (1990-1994), Cuba (1989-1993), and Albania (1989-1993), but smaller than that experienced by other former Soviet States at the time of transition, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine, or war-torn countries such as Liberia (1993), Libya (2011), Rwanda (1994), Iran (1981), and, most recently, South Sudan.

So, on this measure, according to Ricardo Haussman, former chief economist of Inter-American Development Bank, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe or the rest of Latin America.

Back in 2013, I warned that the achievements of the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ under Chavez were seriously under threat.  Chavez had improved the conditions of the poorest with increased wages, social services and reduced inequality.  But these improvements were only possible within the confines of capitalist economy by using the revenues of oil exports at a time of very high global oil prices.  But oil prices started to mark time and have virtually halved in the last two years.

Oil exports fell by $2,200 per capita from 2012 to 2016, of which $1,500 was due to the decline in oil prices.  The Maduro government started to rack up huge foreign debts to try and sustain living standards.  Venezuela is now the world’s most indebted country. No country has a larger public external debt as a share of GDP or of exports, or faces higher debt service as a share of exports.

More,

The minimum wage – which in Venezuela is also the income of the median worker, owing to the large share of minimum-wage earners – declined by 75% (in constant prices) from May 2012 to May 2017.  Measured in the cheapest available calorie, the minimum wage declined from 52,854 calories per day to just 7,005 during the same period, a decline of 86.7% and insufficient to feed a family of five, assuming that all the income is spent to buy the cheapest calorie. With their minimum wage, Venezuelans could buy less than a fifth of the food that traditionally poorer Colombians could buy with theirs.

Income poverty increased from 48% in 2014 to 82% in 2016, according to a survey conducted by Venezuela’s three most prestigious universities. The same study found that 74% of Venezuelans involuntarily lost an average of 8.6 kilos (19 pounds) in weight. The Venezuelan Health Observatory reports a ten-fold increase in in-patient mortality and a 100-fold increase in the death of newborns in hospitals in 2016.

Importantly,

Before Chavez, most Venezuelans were desperately poor after a series of right-wing capitalist governments.  But now once again, under Maduro, this is the situation for the poor and the majority of the Venezuelan working class.  No wonder support for the Maduro government has subsided while the forces of reaction grow stronger.  While the majority struggle, many at the top of the Maduro government are as comfortable as the Venezuelan capitalists and their supporters who are trying to bring the government down.

The Maduro government is now relying increasingly not on the support of the working class but on the armed forces.  And the government looks after them well.  The military can buy in exclusive markets (for example, on military bases), have privileged access to loans and purchases of cars and departments, and have received substantial salary increases. They have also won lucrative contracts, exploiting exchange controls and subsidies, for example, selling cheap gasoline purchased in neighboring countries with huge profits.

As Rolando Asturita has pointed out in a series of posts.  the army has strong direct economic power, since the FANB directs and controls a whole series of companies: the bank BANFANB; AGROFANB, for agriculture; EMILTRA, transport; EMCOFANB, company communications systems of the FANB; TVFANB, an open digital TV channel; TECNOMAR, a mixed military technology projects company; FIMNP, an investment fund; CONSTRUFANB, constructor; CANCORFANB, Bolivarian Mixed Company; Water Tiuna, water bottling plant; And then there is CAMINPEG, the anonymous military, mining and oil and gas company.

Many of the Maduro government elite have used the economic crisis to their own personal benefit.  They have bought up government debt for rich returns, while at the same time ensuring that there is no default, all at the expense of falling living standards for the people who must pay this debt through taxes and foregone oil revenues.  Foreign exchange earmarked for the payment of foreign debt has been offset by the reduction of imports of food, medicines or essential industrial inputs.

Robert’s concludes,

What went wrong with the laudable aims of Chavismo? Could this tragedy been avoided? Well, yes, if the Chavista revolution had not stopped at less than halfway, leaving the economy still predominantly in the control of capital.  Instead, the Chavista and Maduro governments relied on high oil prices and huge oil reserves to reduce poverty, while failing to transform the economy through productive investment, state ownership and planning.  Between 1999 and 2012 the state had an income of $383bn from oil, due not only to the improvement in prices, but also to the increase in the royalties paid by the transnationals. However, this income was not used transform the productive sectors of the economy.  Yes, some was used to improve the living standards of the most impoverished masses. But there was no plan for investment and growth.  Venezuelan capital was allowed to get on with it – or not as the case may be.  Indeed, the share of industry in GDP fell from 18% of GDP in 1998 to 14% in 2012.

Now the right-wing ‘free marketeers’ tell us that this shows ‘socialism’ does not work and there is no escape from the rigors of the market.  But the history of the last ten years is not the failure of ‘socialism’ or planning, it is the failure to end the control of capital in a weak (an increasingly isolated) capitalist country with apparently only one asset, oil.  There was no investment in the people, their skills, no development of new industries and the raising of technology – that was left to the capitalist sector.  Contrast that with ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, albeit in the largest country and now economy in the world.

Just over a year ago, I argued in a post that, to save the aims of Chavismo, “it is probably too late, as the forces of reaction gain ground every day in the country.  It seems that we await only the decision of the army to change sides and oust the Chavistas.” 

 Left critics of Maduro:

Criticizing Venezuela from the Left. ANDRÉS FELIPE PARRA 30 May 2017  Open Democracy. 

Venezuela, increasingly, resembles today’s liberal democracies, where institutions are becoming formal appendages of the power of the markets and securitization. Español

Venezuela and the Left.

RAFAEL UZCÁTEGUI.  May the 3rd.

The human rights situation in Venezuela is getting worse. Fortunately, some on the Left are deciding to speak up. Español 

Just after the Sunday vote this declaration came out from a small Trotskyist group.

¡Contra el fraude constituyente redoblemos la movilización! ¡Fuera Maduro!  (Unidad Internacional de los Trabajadores – Cuarta Internacional).

El gobierno hambreador, corrupto y represivo de Maduro, consumó el pasado domingo un gigantesco fraude en alianza con el CNE.

Au Venezuela, ce sont les travailleurs qui ont le droit de dire à Maduro : dégage !  30th of July.

Against Venezuela’s authoritarian turn . May 3, 2017

On May 1, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro signed an executive order to form a Constituent National Assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. Predictably, Maduro’s right-wing opponents howled about a lack of respect for democratic rights and procedures, which they themselves routinely violated in seeking the overthrow of Chavismo.

But many on the left see the latest move by the ruling Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) to consolidate its power as a dangerous further lurch toward authoritarianism. Here, we reprint a March 29 statement by Marea Socialista , which joined the PSUV when it was founded in 2007 by the late President Huge Chávez, but left it in 2015 in protest of the course set for the party by Maduro. The statement by Marea Socialista’s National Operations Team was first published in Spanish at the Aporrea website and appears here in a version edited by Todd Chretien of the English translation published at the Portal de la Izquierda website.

How should the Labour Party respond?

Two Views:

Jeremy Corbyn will be on the right side of history – if he condemns Venezuela’s left-wing leaders. James Bloodworth. New Statesman

The country appears to be marching toward full-blown dictatorship.

The demand that a politician “condemn” something is usually an exercise in political performance. It typically has no measurable impact beyond a minor point scoring exercise. But calls for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to condemn the government in Venezuela are different in one important respect.

On seemingly good terms with the government of Nicolás Maduro, Corbyn’s words may actually carry weight in Venezuela. This is a matter of some importance when the country appears to be marching toward full-blown dictatorship.

…..

Demanding an apology from those who did not see the true nature of the Venezuelan government earlier on would be self-indulgent. It is also, for many, wildly hypocritical. Britain sells weapons to Saudi Arabia after all, another brutal dictatorship. Those getting on their high horse about Venezuela include admirers of Margaret Thatcher, whose relationship with Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet makes Corbyn’s relationship with the Venezuelan leadership look decidedly frosty.

Yet Corbyn, who engaged in a cordial conversation with President Maduro over the telephone in 2014 for the television show En Contacto con Maduro, arguably has it in his power to influence developments in Venezuela. However small his influence might be, he ought to be calling publicly for the release of the political prisoners López and Ledezma.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn like to say that their man has always come down on the “right side of history”. If this is to mean anything at all, then it should also mean speaking out against the abuses committed by one’s own side.

 A different approach is offered here:

Written by Andrew Coates

August 4, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Commemorating Jean Jaurès.

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A YEAR has passed since the death of the greatest man of the Third Republic. Events the like of which history has not previously known have welled up almost as if to wash away Jaurès’ blood with new blood and to divert attention away from him and to swallow up even his memory. But even the very greatest events have only partially succeeded in this. In France’s political life a great void has been left behind. New leaders of the proletariat answering the revolutionary character of the new era have not yet arisen. The old leaders only make us remember the more clearly that there is now no Jaurès.

The war has thrown on one side not only individual figures but a whole era with them: the era during which the present leading generation in all spheres of life had been educated and brought up. Today this departed era on the one hand attracts our thoughts by the obstinacy of its cultural heritage, the uninterrupted growth of its technology, science and workers’ organizations; and on the other seems petty and characterless in the conservatism of its political life and in the reformist methods of its class struggle.

After the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871) a period of armed peace and political reaction set in. Europe, if one excluded Russia, knew neither war nor revolution. Capital developed on a mighty scale outgrowing the framework of nation-states and overflowing into the remaining countries and subjugating colonies. The working class built its trade unions and its socialist parties. However the whole of the proletarian struggle of this period was impregnated with the spirit of reformism, of adaptation to the existing order and to the nation’s industry and the nation’s state power. After the experience of the Paris Commune the European proletariat did not once pose the question of the conquest of political power in a practical, that is, a revolutionary way. This peaceful, “organic” character of the era reared a whole generation of proletarian leaders thoroughly steeped in distrust for the direct revolutionary mass struggle.

When the war broke out and the nation-state embarked on its campaign with all its forces armed to the teeth, this generation could without difficulty place the majority of the “socialist” leaders down on their knees. The epoch of the Second International has thus ended with the violent wrecking of the official socialist parties. True they are still standing as monuments to a past age and supported both indirectly and forcibly by the governments. But the spirit of proletarian socialism has fled them and they are doomed to collapse. The working masses who have in the past accepted the ideas of socialism are only now, amid the terrible experience of the war, receiving their revolutionary baptism of fire. We are entering upon a period of unprecedented revolutionary earthquakes. New organizations will be brought to the fore by the masses and new leaders will stand at their head.

The two most outstanding representatives of the Second International have left the scene before the onset of the era of storms and earthquakes: namely Bebel and Jaurès. Bebel died in ripe old age having said everything that he was able to say. Jaurès was killed at the age of 55 in the full flower of his creative energy. A pacifist and a sharp opponent of the policies of Russian diplomacy, Jaurès fought right till the last minute against French intervention in the war. It was considered in certain circles that the war of “liberation” could not commence its march other than by stepping over Jaurès’ dead body.

Jean Jaurès  Leon Trotsky. July 1915

Two important and recommended books on Jaurès

Gilles Candar – Vincent Duclert, Jean Jaurès, Fayard, 2014.

This  biography has set a new standard. Beautifully written, with a proper ‘critical apparatuses’ (not a noted feature of many French biographies or indeed works of political theory), it is the best study of the French socialist leader that I have come across.

Candar (of the Société d’études jaurésiennes  and Duclert (a specialist on the Dreyfus affair) point out that, while never  held office, Jaurès remains one of the most influential figures in the country’s history, revered on all sides. Amongst its many merits the book is illuminating on the general history of the 3rd Republic, from the Dreyfus Affair, in which the Socialist, initially reluctant, was drawn to take the side of those defending not just the unjustly accused by the universal values of human rights, to the separation of state and Church, the foundation of French Laïcité . The authors do not skirt around one issue, which has always irked me, the absence on the French left at the time (indeed up till say, the 1970s…) of any recognition of the importance of feminism. The socialist leader, active in the Second International where these issues were raised more frequently than in France, was they illustrate, was committed to women’s rights, if, as a homme du Midi of the age, he was marked by  patriarchal culture.

Jaurès’ struggle for peace on the eve of the Great War and the ferocious hatred that he inspired on the French nationalist right, today, on the anniversary of Passchendaele has passed, and xenophobia has returned throughout Europe, serve to underline the grandeur of  one of the greatest leaders of international socialism.

Jean-Paul ScotJaurès et le réformisme révolutionnaire, Seuil, 2014.

For many  Jaurès’ socialism is summed up in the phrase, “the republic must be made social“. Scot argues that it  rested on deeper foundations. Tracing his intellectual development the author of unravels a  dialectic between a belief in the reformist (though not ‘revisionist’) belief in  ‘evolution’ and the need for radical change. Taking from Marx the concept of  “évolution révolutionnaire” to bring the two sides together Scot, illustrates this through the socialist leader’s speeches, articles and political career.  Jaurès began as a republican, much as his British counterparts in the late 19th century, started as “radicals”. He became a ‘collectivist’ and republican socialist, but, with his reading and experience began, Scot argues, to offer a perspective  that went beyond the structures of capitalism.

Lucid and always readable this essay ploughs into the world of 19th century socialism. We are spared the details of the rifts between the Marxism of Jules Guesde  and the  Parti ouvrier français,, pure republican revolutionaries (Parti socialiste révolutionnaire),  mutualists, the allemanistes,  the electric ‘integral socialism’ of Benoît Malon, and the wider current of reformism,  (possibilistes)  as Scot underlines Jaurès’ ability, as an “Independent” to bring most of the left together for the creation of the Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière (SFIO, French Section of the Workers’ International), the first French Socialist Party in 1905.

This hopeful essay, which does not skate around  the difficulties Jaurès lyrical French republican side leaves us, but focuses on the profound  problems created by capitalism, is a  tonic against those who imagine that the division between Right and Left  can be wished away by the election of a new President.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Venezuela, Honesty and the Left.

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Time for the Left to Defend Human Rights in Venezuela.

Many people will have watched yesterday’s report on Venezuela on  the BBC  Newsnight.

It was deeply disturbing.

“In Venezuela, activists say the government is using torture and imprisonment without trial against those who oppose it – a claim the government denies. So who are the people hoping to overthrow President Maduro? Vladimir Hernandez reports.”

The programme showed evidence of repression that would shock all supporters of human rights.

I am not in a mood to listen to those who will try to cast doubt on the BBC report.

There are plenty of other reliable sources of information which confirm their facts begining with, La represión de Maduro se salda con al menos 36 muertos en un mes.  El País (May.

The Guardian reports today, “It takes a lot of courage’: Venezuelan protesters tell of rising police violence.As general strike begins, more than 100 have died and hundreds more arrested in anti-government protests since April. Spanish language media takes the same angle, Una huelga general endurece el pulso contra la Constituyente de Maduro. Tres muertos, 367 detenidos, calles desiertas y barricadas en el paro organizado por la oposición a una semana para la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente. El País (Today). The mass emigration of the population is also startling, Les Vénézuéliens s’exilent en masse vers la Colombie. (le Monde)

The splits inside the Chavista side (signaled in the Newsnight film) are well known: La procureure générale du Venezuela critique la répression de l’opposition.

Here is some more of the BBC coverage:

How is the left reacting?

First of all we have the Morning Star’s ‘reports’ which say nothing of state repression.

VENEZUELA’S right-wing opposition launched a 48-hour “civic strike” yesterday, calling on workers to stay at home in its latest campaign to derail plans to convene a new constituent assembly.

President Nicolas Maduro has confirmed that Sunday’s elections will go ahead to choose the members of the assembly, despite the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition’s three-month campaign of rioting which has led to hundreds of deaths.

The CTV union federation, which supported the 2002 coup against late president Hugo Chavez, said its 333,000 members would join the strike.

On Tuesday, Mr Maduro said Venezuela would “choose between peace and war, between the future or the past and between independence or colonialism.” He has said that the new constituent assembly will promote peace and reconciliation.

Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada has demanded answers from the US over “systematic” efforts to overthrow its elected government. He said there was a “campaign of intelligence operations at the highest level to overthrow the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro.”

The Foreign Ministry accused Washington of providing “finance and logistical support to the Venezuelan opposition as an integral part of its destabilising efforts against democracy.”

It also condemned former president Barack Obama for extending his 2015 decree designating Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US national security” before leaving office in January.

It also attacked Mr Obama’s successor Donald Trump for additional sanctions imposed since he took office.

This is what Cuba said….

Cuban Communist Party second secretary Jose Ramon Machado denied claims Havana would mediate between the government and opposition.

He said it was up to the Venezuelan people and government to overcome their challenges “without foreign meddling in their internal affairs.

“Those who from the outside try to give lessons on democracy and human rights while encouraging coup-mongering violence and terrorism should take their hands off that nation.”

Counterpunch,

Time for the “International Left” to Take a Stand on Venezuela    July the 17th

Venezuela is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open civil war could become a real possibility. So far over 100 people have been killed as a result of street protests, most of these deaths are the fault of the protesters themselves (to the extent that we know the cause). The possibility of civil war becomes more likely as long the international media obscure who is responsible for the violence and as long as the international left remains on the sidelines in this conflict and fails to show solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement in Venezuela.

 …

So, instead of silence, neutrality, or indecision from the international left in the current conflict in Venezuela, what is needed is active solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement. Such solidarity means vehemently opposing all efforts to overthrow the government of President Maduro during his current presidential term in office. Aside from the patent illegality that the Maduro government’s overthrow would represent, it would also be a literally deadly blow to Venezuela’s socialist movement and to the legacy of President Chávez. The international left does not even need to take a position on whether the proposed constitutional assembly or negotiations with the opposition is the best way to resolve the current crisis. That is really up to Venezuelans to decide. Opposing intervention and disseminating information on what is actually happening in Venezuela, though, are the two things where non-Venezuelans can play a constructive role.

Socialist Appeal (17th of July) continues in this vein,

Defeat reaction with revolution

The reactionary opposition represents the interests of the oligarchy (bankers, capitalists and landowners) and imperialism which stands behind them. If they were to take power they would launch a massive austerity package on the Venezuelan workers and the poor, with brutal cuts in public spending, the abolition of the Bolivarian social programs, the privatisation of social housing, the privatisation of expropriated companies, the privatisation of re-nationalised utilities, the abolition of the main rights and protections in the Labour Law, etc. At the same time, they would launch a political purge of all state institutions, ministries and state-owned companies and  an all out assault on democratic rights, unleashing a lynch mob against chavistas and their organisations.

For this reason we must oppose their reactionary campaign and stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan working people.

But,

As we have explained elsewhere, this does not mean giving support to the present policies of the Maduro government, which are ineffective in combatting reaction and by making constant concessions to the capitalist class undermine the social base of support of the Bolivarian movement. Even now, during the campaign for the Constituent Assembly elections, the so-called “patriotic businessmen” are advocating the privatisation of expropriated companies as well as the use of the Assembly to “strengthen private property rights”. This is the main plank of the campaign of Oscar Schemel, for instance, with the full backing of businessman and minister Perez Abad, which has been given ample time in all the state media. That road leads directly to disaster.

The only way to defend the conquests of the revolution is by unleashing the revolutionary self-activity and organisation of the masses of workers, peasants and the poor. An example of what is possible can be seen in the campaigns organised by groups like the Bolivar Zamora Revolutionary Current (which has organised Popular Defence Brigades) or the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force (which is calling for a new revolutionary leadership).

The offensive of the oligarchy must be defeated, but it can only be defeated by revolutionary means.

The duty of revolutionaries and consistent democrats internationally is to oppose the insurrectionary attempts of the reactionary opposition and defend the gains of the Bolivarian revolution. Taking a “neutral” position puts you objectively on the side of counter-revolution. We must wage a relentless campaign against the lies of the international media, to denounce our own imperialist governments which support reaction in Venezuela in the name of “democracy” and “human rights”. At the same time we must support and encourage those in Venezuela who are beginning to draw the correct revolutionary conclusions from this crisis: we cannot make half a revolution.

These might be fringe leftist groups but more seriously El Pais has accused Podemos of complicity with Maduro: Cómplices de Maduro (28th of July). That is, “guardan silencio, cuando no justifican a Maduro y acusan a la oposición de antidemocrática..” Podemos leaders have kept silent, when they are not justting Maduro and accusing the opposition of being antidemocratic.

Others are beginning to ask broader questions.

Being honest about Venezuela. Socialist Worker (USA, no relation these days to SW UK).

The world’s media, overwhelmingly hostile to the Bolivarian process, sneer at President Nicolás Maduro’s rhetoric while presenting the right-wing parties, which certainly launched this wave of violence, as defenders of democracy. This definition of democracy apparently allows whole populations to fall into poverty and illness, with nearly 100 people left to die in the streets.

Meanwhile, the international left has accepted the explanations government spokespersons offer, still believing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, when a helicopter attacked government buildings on June 28, some observers simply added the event to the catalog of right-wing violence.

It is, unsurprisingly, far more complicated than that.

Oscar Pérez, a retired officer of the state security services, piloted the helicopter. Pérez has close ties to ex-Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres, whom Maduro dismissedin 2014. Torres, like the majority of the current cabinet and around half of Venezuela’s state governors, belongs to the military. He also leads one of a number of Chavista factions angling for power.

Behind a façade of governmental unity, another struggle is developing, but none of the groups are fighting to continue the revolutionary project or to reconstruct the mass movement that saved it after the attempted coup and the bosses’ strikes of 2002-3.

The opposition is also split into rival factions. Some advocate dialogue with the president, while others, especially the group that Leopoldo Lopez and his partner Liliana Tintori lead, almost certainly support the most violent street fighters. They aim not only to get rid of Maduro but also to destroy Chavismo itself.

Most Venezuelans know the major players on the right: they belong to the wealthiest and most powerful families, who controlled the economy until Chávez arrived. Since the first street barricades went up, Maduro has tried to work with representatives of these right-wing sectors. In 2014, for example, he called in Lorenzo Mendoza, head of the Polar multinational and one of the richest Venezuelans.

Gustavo Cisneros, another member of that exclusive clan, has remained untouched in the nearly 20 years of Chavismo. He recently claimed that Venezuela needs a Macri, referring to the militantly neoliberal Argentine president, who is currently working to dismantle that country’s public sector. Cisneros likely speaks from knowledge of the right’s strategic thinking.

As the economic and political crisis deepens, it’s become obvious that neither the government nor the opposition will offer any real solutions. While Maduro betrays the revolution by courting the bourgeoisie and sliding backwards into neoliberalism, right-wing forces have brought in violent mercenaries to try and disrupt the country even further. As these two groups struggle for power, ordinary Venezuelans are watching the gains of Chavismo slip away.

It must have been hard for the comrades of the ISO to say the above, but it needed to be said.

Nobody can accept the state version of what is happening in Venezuela, or its claim to ‘defend’ anything resembling socialism.

We have to defend human rights.

It is time for those in this country who are close to these issues to speak out.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 28, 2017 at 11:34 am

English Labour Network, a “Patriotic” initiative.

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Identity Politics?

Jean-Luc Mélelenchon perhaps set a precedent.

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“They nourish national vanity and the love of supremacy by force. “We alone,” they say, each behind his shelter, “we alone are the guardians of courage and loyalty, of ability and good taste!” Out of the greatness and richness of a country they make something like a consuming disease. Out of patriotism–which can be respected as long as it remains in the domain of sentiment and art on exactly the same footing as the sense of family and local pride, all equally sacred–out of patriotism they make a Utopian and impracticable idea, unbalancing the world, a sort of cancer which drains all the living force, spreads everywhere and crushes life, a contagious cancer which culminates either in the crash of war or in the exhaustion and suffocation of armed peace.”

Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse, 1917

Denham and key Corbyn ally join forces for “patriotic” English Labour initiative

A former Labour cabinet minister has joined forces with one of the leading lights of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign for the launch of a “patriotic” initiative to give English voters a voice.

John Denham, the former communities and local government secretary under Gordon Brown, has set up the English Labour Network in an attempt to help the party win again in the largest of the home nations.

The network aims to build on Labour’s progress in the June general election and allow it to take the seats in the “large towns and small cities”which are necessary to be able to form a government.

It will provide “practical support” rather than be “yet another internal party group lobbying for individual policies or individual candidates”, Denham writes on LabourList today.

George Orwell famously distinguished between patriotism and nationalism. “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.” (Notes on Nationalism. 1945)

It is unclear if things are so clear cut, we find plenty of people talking sentimentally about ‘their’ nation, places and culture, in good times,  but using these to defend the superiority of their way of life against all others. Or simply giving priority to ‘their’ ain folk. It surely is not a coincidence that the ‘identitarian’ movement in the European extreme right tries to connect the two.

Orwell is nevertheless useful when we realise that it’s issues of power, that is the state, which mark nationalism. Sovereigntist ideas, on the populist right, and sections of the left which try to create their own radical populism, which see the capture of national sovereignty by the ‘people’ as the premise of political success, have a tight link to nationalism. If the right bases itself on the People against a variety of Enemies, from Globalised elites, to migrants, the left version targets Oligarchs and claims to ‘federate’ the people. There is some convergence in  that both could be said to reflect something of  Zygmunt Bauman’s idea that today, in ‘late modernity’  “the settled majority is ruled by the nomadic and exterritorial elite” (Liquid Modernity 2010).

David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere (2017), is perhaps  the most recent attempt to put forward this themes in British terms.  His  writing, on  the opposition between ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’, talks of the need for the left to take up the concerns of ‘decent populists’. He argued for the importance of the ‘restless’ anywheres who dominate Labour policy making to take up the concerns of those, who vlaue   “group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family)”. 

Drawing on this feeling for “a particular place and way of life”, in the line of  Blue Labour, along with “work family and community”, the English Labour Network, now proposes the following.

Labour Vision interviews John Denham on launch of English Labour Network. He tells us: “No Labour manifesto in my time has gone as far as this year’s in recognising the political identity of England”

Sam Stopp ” a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Brent and is the Chair of The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness. He has written regularly for LabourList, LeftFootForward, Progress Online and Open Labour. “

  •   Labour has to aim to win England for two reasons. One is that, despite the strength in Wales and the fact we’ve recovered in Scotland, we can’t rely on sufficient MPs from those two nations to give us a UK majority. But the second reason is that it will be harder for Labour to implement policies that will be controversial in England if it doesn’t have an English majority, or is a long way behind the Tories. So we have the aim for an English majority.”
  • The second (point) is a constitutional and democratic point. The Welsh and Scottish Labour parties have a great deal of autonomy from UK Labour, but there is no place in which England is actually discussed. And I think the history says that one of the reasons that England has remained so centralised … and all of the failures to devolve have failed … is that the whole thing is being governed by the interests of Wales and Scotland, rather than the ideas of England. So I think we need to have a clear place for England within the Union and a clear decision on how we’re going to devolve inside England. And that is now long overdue.
  • The third thing”, Denham tells me, “is the cultural one, which is that Labour lags in support among English-identifying voters. Now, that’s going to be particularly critical. If you look at the seats that we need to win at the next election to form a government and the ones that we have to defend if the Tories get their act together, they are largely seats that are actually pretty evenly balanced between leavers and remainers and more of the older, working-class leaver voters than the places that we won at the election. And so to lag behind amongst those voters is very dangerous. And the reason that identity is important is that people want to be respected for who they are.”This is where Denham gets passionate and it seems as though this third issue is the one that stresses him the most. “If somebody feels English”, he goes on, “nobody ever acknowledges that they feel English. It’s a clear way of saying that we don’t understand you, or we don’t know where you’re coming from. The irony is that we live in a society where all sorts of multiple identities are possible, but it’s almost as though Englishness is the one that’s not legitimate. If Labour behaves as though there’s something inherently wrong with being English, we’re never going to reach those voters. When we talk about the importance England and Englishness, nobody is suddenly going to vote for us because of this, but it opens the door to discussions about public services or industrial strategy or austerity or spending and all the other things.”

offers some important critical reflections.

Labour has slipped rightwards on immigration. That needs to change

 

Both Denham and Liam Byrne stress that they want good, not bad, patriotism. But Byrne also asks us not to dwell on “dusty history”, as if the toxic nature of modern jingoism isn’t derived precisely from the predominant chauvinistic version of our nation’s past. It will take more than a half-baked rebranding exercise to deal with these deep-seated issues. After Brexit, the idea that our national identity should be simply celebrated rather than critically re-examined is not only irrational but deeply irresponsible. Currently, the ELN looks more like a triangulating appeal to rightwing voters than a serious project for reimagining and building a more inclusive England, with all the difficult conversations that will necessarily involve.

This is connected to a wider strand of thinking in and around the Labour party that sees xenophobia and racism as confined to a minority of cranks on society’s fringe, with the current high levels of public antipathy towards immigrants being due for the most part to nothing more than the “legitimate concerns” of primarily working-class voters. It’s a view resting on spectacular naivety about the true nature and breadth of prejudice in Britain (which is in no way class-specific), as well as the misconception that it is experience of, rather than prejudice about, immigration that drives this antipathy.

This narrative becomes a shade more sinister when the dubious category of the “white working class” (apparently neglected more due to its whiteness than its class) is elevated to the status of Labour’s “traditional” support – the “core vote” residing in the “heartlands”. One wonders where in the pecking order this leaves the non-white working-class residents of Grenfell Tower, for example. It would be unfortunate if the answer to that question were to be found in the expressions of sympathy one hears from some Labour figures for people “anxious about … the rate of change of communities”. Labour neither has nor deserves a future as the party of those who don’t want black and brown people moving into their street.

We suspect that the problems lie deeper than this.

It is not just the cultural issues Wearing rightly highlights and which make a mockery of efforts to revive a ‘national identity’  from the left.

Brexit has been followed by the attempt of some inside the Labour Party to assert their own brand of sovereigntism.

Calling on support from ‘anger’ of the anti-EU camp, the sturdy “northern working class” to the people of England who have not spoken yet, these forces – they have a name, and that is those within the Lexit campaign, and supporters (who include Labour leadership advisers) wish to mobilise the ‘people’ against any commitment to oppose the Tories’ Hard Brexit. They believe that they can ‘federate the people’ around a new version of the old Alternative Economic Strategy, Keynesian economics administrated by  a ‘captured’ state.

The real difficulty is that the world is too ‘liquid’ economically and culturally, for any radical left  government both to moblise popular enthusiasm and to build the links we need with ‘other’ nationalities, other peoples with their own loves of place and “particular ways of life”, without at the very elast making direct agreements across Europe, inside and outside of the institutional structures of the EU.