Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Archive for the ‘Communism’ Category

Momentum’s Crisis: Serious Debate Breaks Out.

with 2 comments

Image result for chesterfield socialist conference

From Socialist Movement to…..Momentum?

“Momentum exists to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign to increase participatory democracy, solidarity, and grassroots power and help Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century.”

A common assumption on the Labour Left, so deep rooted that it almost never said, is that the main failure of previous Parliamentary left groupings is that they needed organisation in the country. At the back of their minds I imagine are the “Brains Trusts” set up up in support of Bevan’s ideas in the 1950s, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy in the 70s and 80s, and the Socialist Movement.

If the first had problems in moblising and co-ordinating with the Parliamentary left around  Aneurin Bevan and his (dispersed) successors, the second was and is a grass-roots body focused on labour constitutional issues (MP re-selection), NEC elections,  the third came closest to the Social Movement model some saw in Momentum.

The Socialist Movement grew out of the Socialist Conferences held in Chesterfield, Sheffiled and Manchester, in the years following the defeat of liners’ strike. Initiators included the Socialist Society, an organisation of left intellectuals including Raymond Williams,  Richard Kuper, and Ralph Miliband, the Campaign Group, a left-wing group in the Labour Party, the Conference of Socialist Economists, and the network generated by the socialist feminist book Beyond the Fragments. The largest conferences were in 1987 and 1988.

The Socialist Movement was open to different left traditions, green as well as red, for exploratory, grassroots debate and research on socialist policy making.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

Is Momentum A Socialist Conference bis?

Unlike the Chesterfield events, still cresting the ebbing Bennite wave, its role was not clear from the start.

Is ‘participatory democracy’ channeled into supporting Corbyn the Labour Leader?

That would result in the kind of ‘left populism’ attempted by Jean Luc Mélenchon  in La France Insoumise and (in a different more democratic way) Podemos’s Pablo Iglesias, around a rather unlikely figure, who, to his credit has always refused the role of Chief around which everything else revolves.

Or does it mean trying to work in the policy areas that the Socialist Movement tried to think out? Given that Labour seems short of clear policies on a variety of issues – the Welfare state, a recent announcement of a group looking into Basic Income might be one sector where Momentum could contribute?

What structures does it have for this purpose?

Does it mean taking up issues of ‘grassroots power’, which many would take to imply changing the Labour Party’s present make-up with a “movement” that moblises on more than electoral issues?

Or is to be a kind of super Bevanite Brain’s Trust, that Bean never managed to hook up with, that can carry Corbyn’s message from the party into the country?

These are just some of the background issues behind the present crisis in Momentum.

The most recent Workers’ Liberty carries this exchange:  A debate about Momentum   (Solidarity. 15.2.17).

“This explanation by Jon Lansman of recent events in Momentum was circulated in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Since it contains nothing confidential, and is the only political explanation available from the Momentum leadership other than the article by Christine Shawcroft in Labour Briefing (Feb 2017), which we replied to last week, we reprint it here.”

Jon Lansman.

I wanted also to counter the lies and misinformation which are widely repeated by sectarian elements on the Left who wish to turn Momentum from a broad alliance it was intended to be, seeking to maintain the broad centre-left coalition that elected Jeremy Corbyn to support his administration, democratise the party along the lines long advocated by CLPD, and help Labour win elections into a hard-Left organisation reminiscent of the LRC designed to put pressure on Jeremy from the left.

There has been no “coup” within Momentum, though there had been an attempt over the last year by various Trotskyist and other sectarian organisations to use Momentum local groups, often at the cost of driving away non-aligned activists, as a basis for seizing control of regional networks and the former national committee of Momentum. It became very clear how wide the disparity had become between these bodies and the membership of Momentum from the survey conducted in conjunction with a pre-Christmas message from Jeremy Corbyn.

Lansman takes account of what observers have predicted for months, that a National Momentum Conference risked becoming a sectarian bear-pit,

  • We could battle for two months in the run up to a planned national delegate conference narrowly foisted on the national committee — with some delegates who disagreed being forced to vote in favour in spite of having been elected by STV in order to preserve the pluralism of regional representatives, which would inevitably have undermined efforts to maximise left representation at this year’s conference, support local Momentum activists in preparing for CLP AGMs, and mobilise for by-elections and a possible early general election.
  • We could avoid this internal battle, by calling immediate elections for a new national body based on a new constitution reflecting the wishes of members as revealed in the survey and circulated for agreement of members in the way we would have had to do at some point anyway.

Avoiding this predictable fight was the goal.

This is something critics have to grapple with.

Lansman  also notes,

I have personally been subjected to appalling abuse to which it is difficult to respond without simply perpetuating their attempt to personalise “blame” for the alleged wrongs of which they unfairly accuse me. I regret that Martin [Thomas] has chosen to act in this way. I have worked with him within CLPD since the early 1980s. I have done so because he and his colleagues from Socialist Organiser, as his organisation was originally known, showed a genuine commitment to CLPD they never showed to the LRC or any other left organisations in which they pursued the opportunistic self-interested methods we are used to from all Trotskyist sects.

I halt at this point because there is little doubt that Jon Lansman is absolutely right to complain about the abuse.

This is how one of his leading critics, Tony Greenstein, thought by some people to be a “genius” described his action in promoting an on-line survey of Momentum members,  all too recently ( Jon Lansman’s Xmas Punch Could Sucker Corbyn)

There is a reason that dictators have always loved plebiscites.  That is because they get to choose the questions and to frame them in such a way that they get the ‘right’ answer. Most people won’t remember Hitler’s plebiscites on the Rhine and the Saarland but they haven’t had a very good reputation ever since.

Greenstein some might say is a special case, whose vitriol is hurled  at present lie at another target:  Owen Jones – the Final Betrayal – Supporting Zionist Apartheid & the Jewish Labour Movement.  Supporting Israeli Apartheid and the Palestinians is not compatible.

But he is far from alone.

It would take a moment’s Googling to find more abuse.

Now Alan Thomas is, from the AWL, a respected activist and writer, but his reply on this point, is not convincing,

Jon Lansman identifies “sectarian elements” almost entirely with us (“Trotskyists”), but at the same time finds these “sectarians” so numerous among Momentum’s 21,000 members that the clash can be resolved only by abolishing Momentum democracy. At stake here is no “sectarianism” of ours, but the issue of what socialism is and how it can be won.

The liberation of the working class can be won only by a vivid movement where each participant is a lively contributor with her or his own ideas; which is full of bouncy debate; in which even the deepest prejudices and the most revered leaders are subject to question. In a new movement like Momentum, we have reasoned patiently and tactfully, rather than bloviating.

I leave to one side the claims about the AWL, often made by people with their own political – ‘sectarian’ agenda.

The fact is that if we can define sectarians at all – a hard task –  it is that they are loudmouths who are in a permanent storm of self-righteous attack.

Often they come out of the pages of William Hazlitt’s People with One Idea,

People of the character here spoken of, that is, who tease you to death with some one idea, generally differ in their favourite notion from the rest of the world; and indeed it is the love of distinction which is mostly at the bottom of this peculiarity.

Table Talk : Essays on Men and Manners (1821 -22)

Other times they are loyal simply to their faction, with no other loyalties.

Those familiar with the left could write a new essay, People with Too Many Correct Ideas…

One is always the Other Sectarian for a Sectarian…..

But I digress…

There are many other problems about Momentum, but whether they are numerous or not, they are still loud. Shouty. And, in Greenstein’s case – I single him out for his visibility but he is far from alone –  highly unpleasant.

Greenstein and another ‘anti-Zionist’. Gerry Downing, are very active in the Momentum Grassroots Moblising Conference. 

This is what the former says, “Lansman’s Momentum is destined for the knackers yard because without democracy you cannot have a movement.”

More simply many people do not want to become involved in a shouting match between different left groups, or, if it happens on more cordial terms, a struggle for influence.

Alan is nevertheless spot on to comment,

Yet Momentum would have contributed more, not less, if it had actively promoted a left Remain vote, free movement across borders, opposition to Trident renewal. It would be stronger now if its national office as well as its local groups had campaigned in support of workers’ disputes like at Picturehouse, and for the NHS. It would have done better if (as we urged) it had organised a presence at Labour conference 2016. It would be healthier if it had had a proper discussion on left antisemitism (in which Jon Lansman and we would have been broadly on the same side), rather than trying to quell the issue administratively. All those things are not “sectarian” caprices, but would have happened if Momentum had been allowed to develop “normally”, democratically.

This is something that Lansman ignores, many people on the democratic left, and this includes the AWL agree on these policies.

We certainly need a voice for them.

Alan may equally well be often right to say,

The new imposed constitution is out of line even with the (heavily manipulated) online survey over Christmas. That suggested decisions by online voting of all members. Under the new constitution, online votes can scarcely even stall office decisions in extreme cases. Real power rests with the office and with a seldom-meeting “coordinating group” in which only 12 out of 28 or 32 places are elected by Momentum members.

10 January was a coup. Imagine its analogue in general politics: Theresa May declares that, on the strength of a 50%-plus-one majority got in an hour’s emailing round the Cabinet, she is abolishing Cabinet, Parliament, and an imminent general election in favour of office rule plus a future “coordinating group” in which elected citizens’ representatives are a minority. Or, if that’s too much, imagine the analogue in any other left movement. Despite it all, Momentum’s local groups will continue to organise, and I don’t think the panic-stricken officials can stop them.

But the real issue is not an organisational form, and behind that whether this or that factional grouping, or alliance, is competing for power in the structures.

It is what aims and functions  does Momentum have beyond rallying support for Corbyn.

Nothing that’s happened so far has disproved the judgement of many left-wingers that clear goals, from ‘think tank’ policy-formulating (that is as a pressure group within Labour with specific ideas), and a hook between Labour and a variety of campaigns (such as Stop Trump!, or union disputes) already have vehicles in Constituency parties, Trades Councils and other bodies.

Many of us are all in favour of Momentum finding some way out of this dispute, a modus vivendi.

But…..

Momentum includes people like Nick Wrack who state (RETHINKING LABOUR: MORE OF THE SAME OR CHANGE OF COURSE?)

… it is important to recognise that there is a huge difference – a vast chasm – between what is called social democracy and socialism or communism. I use socialism and communism as synonyms for a system that is based on a complete transformation of society, breaking with the present capitalist system and the exploitation of labour to make profit. Socialism is a society based on democratic common ownership of the means of production – land, factories, transport, technology and science. It is a society based on production for social need rather than for private profit.

…..I am now of the opinion that all Marxists should, at the very least, join Momentum. We can play a key role in helping to defend Corbyn and defeating the right. Where possible, therefore, Marxists should also join Labour. This is best done as an organised group, rather than as individuals. The purpose of joining is two-fold: to strengthen the forces in defence of Corbyn and against the rightwing in Labour and the trade unions and to argue for a Marxist ideas in the mass movement around Corbyn. There is no knowing how long this battle may last or what the outcome will be. Those coming into Momentum and into the Labour Party will include thousands of people who simply want change. But many will have no clear idea of what that change should be or how it can be accomplished. Marxists have to engage with the debate. What change? How can it be achieved? What programme is necessary?

So what is he doing trying to join or influence a social democratic party?

Wrack’s position, which is shared by others,  is not so easy to dismiss as the notorious cranks who insult ‘reformists’ , ‘Zionists’ and the rest.

It is, crudely, that Momentum should be a kind of political mill pond for them to fish in to build their ‘Marxist’ line.

Never forgetting the “vast chasm” that separates them from social democracy, that is a very substantial chunk of the Labour Party membership and support.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm

George Galloway: An Appeal.

with 5 comments

Image result for george galloway with lindsey german stop the war coalition platform

Galloway with old Stop the War Coalition Friends: John and Lindsey.

Where are George’s friends now when he’s down on his uppers?

It seems like only yesterday: Respect (a “Zionistfree party” according to National Council member Yvonne Ridley), MP for Benthal Green and Bow, MP for Bradford West, Big Brother, employment for the prestigious Iranian state Press TV, and campaigning for Brexit with one the world’s top politicians, Nigel Farage.

Now George Galloway is alone, terribly alone.

Orbiting the world on Sputnik TV.

Reduced to trying to offload copies of his remaindered DVD, Kevin, Perry, George and Tony Blair Go Large,  to The Works.

With his memories, and his Twitter account.

The least the Stop the War Coalition (StWC)  could do is to offer George back his usual platform on the London demonstration this coming Saturday.

Alas.

This does not seem probable.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 2, 2017 at 11:04 am

Counterfire: People’s Brexit and the anti-Trump Movement: ‘Socialism or Barbarism’.

with one comment

Image result for socialism or barbarism

Socialism or Barbarism – on the Agenda says Counterfire. 

There are few better illustrations of the confusion of the Brexit left than Counterfire, the groupuscule which runs the remains of the People’s Assembly, and which has great influence in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).

One minute it was exulting in the ‘actuality of the revolution’.

The next warbling about a People’s Brexit.

Here is their latest dire warning.

The right in power, resistance and transformation Jack Hazeldine. 24.1.2017.

As the political centre collapses and politics polarises – as it has begun to do here and in the US – such mass movements of resistance, combined with the popularisation of left wing and socialist ideas have huge potential to advance a transformational alternative to the false claims, failure and scapegoating of the populist right in power.

Indeed, they absolutely must in this situation. As Rosa Luxemburg famously described: it is socialism or barbarism.

Yet in fact Counterfire has lurched further to the protectionist side:

Only a People‘s Brexit will bring the change we need Ben Myers. 22.1.2017.

The People’s Question Time ‘Brexit: What are our demands?’ provided a good platform for this. Now we need to form a strong opposition to an ultra-capitalist Tory Brexit, by fighting for a People’s Brexit, where industry is protected, and workers‘ rights are expanded.

To further the interests of the working class communities that voted Leave last year, our objectives should be: to push the government into protecting trade union rights, protecting and enhancing our right to withdraw labour, and a renewed defence of freedom of movement.

Also, we must continue to challenge the racism and xenophobia of the political right and argue for a truly internationalist Brexit.

Internationalist, that is, which protects British industry, and leaves the EU labour and social legislation, and by its very nature restricts freedom of movement.

While the drawbridge of Castle Britain is being hauled up eyes turn to the USA, a topic Counterfire is a lot happier to talk about.

As the old order stumbles, our side must embrace the internationalism that underpins anti-Trumpism, asserts Kevin Ovenden 24.1.2017.

Building on the unity of Saturday from below, against whatever lash-up Trump and May come up with.

That is an approach that can help undermine Trump in the US and May in Britain. That is what we did with the rise of the movements which marked the start of this century, from Seattle, through Genoa to the global anti-war movement.

We didn’t do it by looking to one trading block of capitalism and alliance of states against another one.

How true.

With socialism or barbarism on the horizon the historical tasks facing Counterfire are truly enormous.

Perhaps they should team up with another lost soul, Alex Callinicos, who now bravely declares:

Accepting Brexit is indispensable to offering an alternative to neoliberalism.

Socialist Worker. 24th of January.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 24, 2017 at 4:49 pm

After Corbyn’s Peterborough Speech: Unity Possible on Brexit Around our Pro-Brexit Programme: Communist Party of Britain.

with 8 comments

Image result for communist party of britain Lexit

CPB Seers’ Predictions.

Left Unity Possible on Brexit Around our pro-Brexit Programme: Communist Party of Britain.

Today the news is full of Donald Trump’s welcome for Brexit and a promise for rapid trade deal with the UK. This comes as Teresa May is reported to be in favour of a Hard Brexit. In response to the latter Labour MP Caroline Flint has given priority support for a two-tier immigration system for EU citizens, giving free access to better off, qualified workers over the unqualified.

Where does the left stand on the current state of Brexit negotiations?

A few days ago Jeremy Corbyn spoke on the issues around Brexit at Peterborough. He said, “Whether you voted to Leave or to Remain, you voted for a better future for Britain. One thing is clear, the Tories cannot deliver that. So today I want to set how Labour will deliver that vision of a better Britain.”

People’s Brexit.

Over the weekend Communist Party of Britain General Secretary Robert Griffith welcomed Corbyn’s speech (Unity for a People’s Brexit from the EU). He welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s declaration. To Griffith, “It offered a united way forward for the labour movement on the divisive question of Britain’s exit from the European Union.”

The Communist leader noted that, “It’s hardly a secret that the left and labour movement have been divided on the issue of EU membership”. Corbyn however bolted down one continued source of division: he opposed a second referendum. This, Griffith claimed, answered “powerful forces” who wish, “to keep us enmeshed in membership of the European Single Market with its rules requiring the “free movement” of capital, goods, services and people across the EU. That free movement of capital.”

In his address Corbyn took up four issues: “First, people want to leave the EU in order to “bring control of our democracy and economy closer to home.” Second, they want the promise kept of extra investment in the NHS from money saved by cancelling Britain’s contribution to the EU budget. Third, people have had enough of an economic system and an Establishment that work only for the few and not the many.
Finally, they want their concerns about immigration to be addressed.”

Above all the Labour leader, was, it is implied, recognised that, “detailed polling analysis shows that democratic sovereignty was the single biggest reason why people voted Leave last June — and that a slight majority of people who regard themselves as anti-capitalist (30 per cent of the electorate) also voted Leave.”

It is hard to see exactly how a ‘transfer’ of EU budget contribution to funding the NHS can take place, unless Griffith imagines there is some magical system ring-fencing for government funds for this or that objective.

The key issues are sovereignty and immigration.

The Peterborough Speech.

Corbyn announced, “People voted for Brexit on the promise that Britain outside the European Union could be a better place for all its citizens. Whatever their colour or creed. A chance to regain control over our economy, our democracy and people’s lives.” This assertion, unsupported by evidence, would imply that people voted for Brexit because they want to manage industry and commerce themselves. That leaving the EU was perceived as a means to “regain” (how exactly was it lost?) control over democracy and their everyday existence is also highly ambiguous. No socialist would consider that quitting the EU means leaving capitalism, the world market. Exactly how will this challenge the role of the City? The protection of its privileged position is at the very centre of negotiations – with not a word from Labour to challenge it.

The idea that ‘democracy’ is extended by abandoning pooled sovereignty for national sovereignty is unsupported by any specific examples other than a vague commitment to taking “back real control and putting power and resources right into the heart of local communities to target investment where it’s needed.” This is a declaration made by every government for the last twenty years.

On the issue of “colour or creed”, Corbyn avoided the left’s concerns that calls to restrict EU migration are fuelled by xenophobia. His wobbling over free movement of labour aside the only specific statement the Labour leader made was that, “Labour will demand that the Brexit negotiations give us the power to intervene decisively to prevent workers, from here or abroad, being used and exploited to undermine pay and conditions at work.” Nevertheless proposals to deal with this, for example by insisting that recruitment agencies are compelled to take on only the unionised, have been shown to be impossible to enforce.

Labour Movement.

For a party that prides itself on its roots in the labour movement the CPB General Secretary failed to talk about the key issues the Trade Union Congress has raised. These include not just plans to protect jobs, reform fiscal and monetary policy, and promote industrial planning, investment in infrastructure but “protections for working people’s employment rights, pay and pensions.” (Working people must not pay the price for the vote to Leave. TUC).

Instead of looking at Brexit as an opportunity to reaffirm national sovereignty we should be considering its implications for the labour movement.

It is possible that post-Brexit the former, enfeebled by the loss of transcontinental framework, may be reconfigured. But the latter, that it rights at work, will be irredeemably harmed by Brexit. The more so in that May is reported to wish to sever even the tie to the (non-EU) European Court of Justice. More direct threats include not only the loss of working hours directive and a hist of other legislation, but the end of cross-continental Works Councils, which play a key role in strengthening the hands of trade unions in negotiations.

It is clear that any deal with Trump – a TIPP writ large? – will reinforce the right-wing ‘neo-liberal’ agenda that the CPB claims to oppose Unable to leave the world market the claim, by those forces on the left that Brexit would offer a better way forward than membership of the capitalist EU, will turn out to be hollow.

Finally, there remains “concerns about immigration”.

Griffiths sheds tears that “Too many EU supporters on the left and in the centre have spent the past six months smearing Leave voters as gullible, undereducated, narrow-minded racists. Some critics have become so unhinged as to accuse the Communist Party of being in bed with nationalists, racists and neonazis, although we conducted an anti-racist, internationalist campaign against the EU, wholly independently of all sections of the political right.”

That’s as may be, though the more common change was the CPB’s sovereigntism led to nationalism it is hard to see exactly what is anti-racist about calling for immigration controls. Or how a two-tier migration system is anything other than a class based attempt to regulate entry into the UK and pander to hostility towards foreigners.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm

The Latest Musings of Tariq Ali.

with 6 comments

Image result for tariq ali

Ali’s Latest Wistful Musings….

Dead Centre; The Year in Shock with Tariq Ali. 

Art Forum begins,

THE STUNNING RISE OF NATIONALISM, populism, and fundamentalism has roiled the world. It is tempting to imagine that we are witnessing just another rotation of political modernity’s cycle of progress and backlash. But we can situate the undoing of the demos in democracy’s longue durée while rejecting the false comfort of the idea that what’s happening is not new, that we’ve seen it all before. How did we get here? How did we create the conditions for Trump, for Brexit, for Mosul, for a daily sequence of devastating events, whether shootings or strikes? Is shock, that quintessentially modernist avant-garde strategy of instigating mass perceptual—and therefore political—change, somehow more prevalent than ever, albeit in radically transformed ways? Does shock, in fact, go hand in hand with apathy and desensitization?

Indeed, masses of perpetual  longue durées is a must for the quintessentially modernist avant-garde demos.

In this roiled (I have no idea of what this meansm but it suggests rolling all over the place) piece the Sage of Islington replies with his musings on this rotational cycle.

 Choice extracts:

Speaking of Brexit and Trump the veteran pundit, awake from a much needed twenty year doze, admits,

…what strikes me as unexpected is the speed with which this right-wing recrudescence has taken place. Suddenly, in every major European country, you have right-wing groups developing along anti-immigration lines, saying, “We’ve got too many foreigners in our country,” trying to unite voters around populist xenophobia.

On the wars and deaths that have led people fleeing from the conflicts in Iraq and Syriya he is clear where the blame lies.

Not with Assad at any rate….

we confront the fact that the US and its EU allies uprooted these populations in the first place. When you bomb Arab cities and Arab countries, reduce them to penury, destroy their social infrastructures, and effectively create a vacuum in which religious fundamentalists come to the fore, it is not surprising that millions of people want to run away.

Honesty compels him to admit,

We waged a left-wing campaign called Lexit, Left Exit from Europe, which was very small and had limited impact, but our position certainly did chime with the views of a number of people we talked to on the streets, etc., who said that the country was wrecked and that staying in the EU would prevent us from doing anything to fix it.

Brexit was far from the only recent instance in which far Left and Right have found unlikely common ground.

Apparently the real problem is what Ali (and nobody else) calls the “extreme centre”.

I wish I could say that I think the extreme center has been put on notice by the past year’s turmoil and by Trump’s election, that new prospects for the Left and for direct democracy have opened up in the wake of Corbyn’s and Sanders’s campaigns. Unfortunately, I can’t. In the 1960s and ’70s, there was a great deal of optimism. There were few victories, but the defeats weren’t of such a nature that we thought they were going to be permanent or semipermanent. We live in bad times, I feel—the worst through which I’ve ever lived. There was a ray of hope during the height of the Bolívarian experiment in South America, where Chávez’s incredibly moving idea to unite the continent against the empires was very heartening. His death and the dramatic drop in the price of oil have of course brought Venezuela to a dire state. While Ecuador and Bolivia are doing somewhat better, people feel that we are going to be defeated there. And then, with the economic changes that the United States wants in Cuba, one is wondering how long it will be before Cuba becomes a US brothel again. I hope that doesn’t happen. But if it does, I won’t be surprised…

Nothing would surprise Ali…

But thankfully Good News and Merry Cheer is on the way,

Given the state of the world, I’ve been revived somewhat by working on a new book for the centenary of the Russian Revolution next year, The Dilemmas of Lenin. Lenin was a visionary inspired by utopian dreams, a man of practical action and ruthless realism. Rereading him and related works has been a real treat, so much so that my dedication is actually quite optimistic. “For those who will come after: The road to the future can only be unlocked by the past.”

Alan Partridge  could not have expressed these thoughts with such a deft touch.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Let Battle Commence!

The path to what’s coming starts from the beginning what went before.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 17, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Fidel Castro passes: his anti-colonialist legacy

leave a comment »

Muere Fidel Castro, el último revolucionario

Muere Fidel Castro, el último revolucionario.

Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro, one of the world’s longest-serving and most iconic leaders, has died aged 90.

We make no apologies for reproducing in full this not uncritical tribute, by Dr Manuel Barcia, and published by Al-Jazeera, which stands out as one of the most balanced.

Fidel Castro’s anti-colonialist legacy.

Soon after his capture in 1953, following an attack he led on the Moncada Army Barracks, a young Fidel Castro was put on trial.

While conducting his own defence, Castro accused then-President Fulgencio Batista’s regime of depriving Cuba of democratic rule and of establishing a dictatorship.

He finished his speech with a phrase that has become well-known in Cuba and abroad:”You can condemn me but it doesn’t matter: History will acquit me.”

Interesting enough, Castro’s subsequent actions placed him in one of those inconclusive historical wormholes where agreeing on anything about him, let alone an acquittal for his actions, is almost an impossibility.

To some, he was an irredeemable monster who submerged Cuba into a long, dark age of tyranny and human rights violations.

To others, he was a socialist superman who brought about social equality – at least partially for women and for Afro-Cubans – and who introduced free education and universal healthcare.

From an economic and political point of view, Castro’s rule was characterised by a catalogue of mistakes that over the years led to more than one “rectification of errors” campaign. Domestically, many of his policies seemed bound to failure from the start.

A heavy dependence on the Soviet Union as a result of an unremitting American embargo left the country exposed to the rough forces of the free market in the early 1990s, fostering an economic crisis known in Cuba as the “special period in time of peace” that arguably still continues.

Internationally, Castro’s involvement in world affairs, especially those concerning Latin America, was a thorn in the side of US policies.

His alliance with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, which brought the USSR and US to the brink of nuclear war in 1962, was an early red flag that Castro was not about to back off when it came to confronting US imperialism.

Castro lent his support to Latin American armed groups fighting US-backed dictatorships countless times in the following decades, and in some cases supported movements taking on democratically elected governments, such as that of Romulo Betancourt in Venezuela in the 1960s.

Cuban secret agents wandered across the continent, training guerrilla commandos from Guatemala to Argentina.

One of the icons of the Cuban Revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, even lost his life while trying to set up a guerrilla movement in Bolivia to topple the government of President Rene Barrientos.

Beyond the confines of Latin America, Castro’s influence grew steadily throughout the Cold War years.

In 1979, Cuba was elected to take over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), an organisation formed in 1960 to offer a peaceful alternative to the belligerent East-West blocs that characterised the Cold War.

Castro’s presidency of the NAM came as recognition of Cuba’s role in the international arena and was widely accepted and praised by all NAM members.

However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan only three months into Castro’s presidency of the NAM caused havoc among the member states, and in particular affected Castro’s leadership since he was forced to side with the USSR.

In doing so, he failed on two fronts. He failed to stick to the actual principle of non-alignment enshrined in the NAM name and constitution, and he did so by turning his back on one of the NAM member states while supporting a Cold War power.

Even though Castro’s stock took a massive tumble afterwards, he continued to influence international politics, and nowhere more so than in Africa.

Cuba in Africa

Castro’s (and Guevara’s) role in assisting the decolonisation process in Africa was second to none. From the early 1960s, Castro threw all his support behind the Algerian liberation struggle against France.

Cuban doctors and soldiers were some of the first to arrive in Algeria to offer a hand to the independence forces fighting to push French colonialism out of their country.

In the following years, that support increased in size and scope across the continent. Castro offered Cuban support to the liberation struggles in Mozambique, Namibia, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Guinea-Bissau, and Angola, among many others.

In some cases, this support involved military interventions that did not always go according to plan.

For example, in the mid-1970s after Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the Derg regime, Castro was forced to change sides – as the Soviets, East Germans, Czechs, and Americans also did – during a realignment of forces in the region provoked by ongoing disputes between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Cuban personnel were required to abandon their former ally Mohammed Siad Barre, the Somali president, who now sided with the Americans, and take sides with their new ally Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Cuban troops fought the Somali invasion of the Ogaden alongside Ethiopian forces, and by remaining in Ethiopia gave at least tacit support to Ethiopian campaigns against Eritrean armed groups fighting for independence.

This position almost certainly became a political dilemma for Castro, who until then had always supported anti-colonial movements of liberation across the world.

While Castro’s intervention in the Horn of Africa was characterised by dubious decisions and tainted by the purges that Mengistu’s regime would eventually carry out between 1977 and 1978, his involvement in the Angolan war is the outstanding episode in his career as a champion of decolonisation.

Not only did he demonstrate to the world that Cuba was far from being a pet project of the USSR – Cuba’s support for the socialist MPLA was done without the approval of the Kremlin and almost certainly against its wishes.

It also helped raise his profile, and that of Cuba, to new levels of recognition and influence throughout the developing world.

Securing Angola’s independence

Cuban backing for the MPLA helped Angola to secure independence from Portugal in 1975, and helped repel the joint attempts of the South African apartheid government and Zaire’s Mobutu regime to occupy Angola.

Growing up in Cuba at the time, I can certainly say that I don’t recall any other Castro enterprise that united Cubans behind the regime to such an extent – except perhaps Cuba’s resistance to the 1983 US invasion of Grenada.

Contrary to what has been argued for years, Cuba’s involvement in Angola was a response to previous US and South African interventionism and to the very tangible threat of a South African invasion.

After almost two decades of struggle, when Cuba’s troops left Angola, they had secured not only the independence of the country, but had also contributed significantly to the independence of Namibia and to the fall of the apartheid regime.

Little wonder, then, that Raul Castro, in place of his brother, was one of the few world dignitaries asked to speak at Nelson Mandela’s funeral a few months ago.

Ultimately, Castro’s legacy in Africa is more of a Cuban legacy. Everywhere I have visited in Africa, from Dakar to Addis Ababa, from Niamey to Luanda, I have been welcomed with open arms and big smiles as a Cuban.

Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, in response to a New York Times question about Cuba’s role in Africa, said: “I am not sure that there is a single Cuban in the African continent who has not been invited by some members of the continent. So long as this is the case, it is not easy to condemn their presence.”

I am far from certain that history will acquit Fidel Castro. More likely history will record his journey through the past six or seven decades as a controversial one.

Almost certainly, he will continue to be an irredeemable monster to some – and a socialist superman to others.

Dr Manuel Barcia is Professor of Latin American History at the University of Leeds.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Socialist Worker: Left Needs to Focus on “Energetic Rallies” and not “internal” Labour Battles as the Socialist Party Calls for Victory by Letting it Join.

leave a comment »

Image result for as soon as this pub closes

Always Ready with Good Advice.

It’s a hard task, but –  hell knows –  somebody has to keep up on what the non-Labour left is saying these days.

How else would we know what the vanguard is telling us?

Socialist Worker reports,

The Labour right has defeated the left in recent battles inside the Labour Party—ensuring it holds its grip on party structures.

Candidates backed by the right won all leading positions at a meeting of the party’s National Policy Forum last Saturday. Its policies shape Labour’s manifesto.

It followed right victories at regional conferences and annual general meetings of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).

The paper continues,

There is a danger that the defeats could encourage the Labour left to step up its attempts to win internal battles.

Labour left group Momentum has focused on winning more seats for CLP representatives on the party’s national executive committee (NEC). The NEC had been set to meet on Tuesday to debate changes to its rules and make-up.

Momentum had focused its efforts on an online campaign in the weeks running up to the meeting, calling on its members to demand more CLP seats.

FBU union general secretary Matt Wrack recently called on all Momentum supporters to back the campaign. He warned, “Time is running out to transform Labour”.

But late on Monday evening the proposed changes were removed from the NEC’s agenda—meaning the left was defeated before the meeting even began.

The recent victories for the right show that the left is at its weakest when fighting internal battles against Labour’s right wing bureaucracy.

Weeks of campaigning can swiftly be quashed by backroom manoeuvering. And Labour’s new mass membership clearly has little enthusiasm for getting bogged down in internal battles.

But the left is stronger when it looks outwards. Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election campaign was successful because it drew tens of thousands of people to energetic rallies that promised a fight for a radically different society.

The Socialist, paper of the, you’ve guessed it, Socialist Party, has another option,

To be successful, Corbyn and those around him need to boldly come out for a programme to transform Labour and to transform the lives of working and middle class people.

That means opening up the Labour Party to all anti-austerity forces, allowing them to affiliate on a democratic, federal basis. It means inviting back into Labour all those socialists who have been expelled or excluded from membership by the Blairite party machine. It also has to involve being clear and open about what alternative is necessary..

Big public speeches, letting the Socialist Party join Labour….It’s all boiled down to what comrades have always said about these two groups: 1) The SWP organises “rallies” – that’s what they do. 2) The SP ‘builds the SP” – that’s what they do. Their lines have the merit of putting in second place all the other stuff about class struggle, nationalisation, revolution, People’s Brexit etc.