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Spain in Our Hearts. Americans in the Spanish Civil War. 1936 – 1939. Adam Hochschild. A Review.

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Spain in Our Hearts. Americans in the Spanish Civil War. 1936 – 1939. Adam Hochschild. Macmillan. 2016.

Arthur Koestler wrote in 1937 of Spain’s civil war, “Other wars consist of a succession of battles; this one is a succession of tragedies.” (Spanish Tragedy) As a Soviet agent, a correspondent with the Republican Army who had been captured and then freed from Franco’s gaols, the author of Darkness at Noon (1940) embodied the sadness of twentieth century history. In that record the Spanish conflict was exceptional. Spain in Our Heart opens by noting that the Caudillo launched the “fiercest conflict in Europe since the First World War marked by a vindictive savagery not seen even then.” (P xiv).

Hochschild is the author the landmark Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005). It put centre stage the activism of Thomas Clarkson, the radical Quaker and admirer of the French Revolution in the British campaign against slavery. The present work explores the lives of American (and three Englishmen) involved in Spain, International Brigade volunteers and reporters, Hochschild manages the difficult task of honouring those who fought for the Spanish Republic without losing sight of the broader catastrophe in which they had become involved.

2,800 Americans fought in Spain’s battles, with an estimated 750 dying during these crucial years in the country’s history. About three quarters of the US volunteers were members of the Communist Party, or its youth league. With the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the Great Depression sweeping the world, the Soviet Union “became a place into which millions of people projected their hopes.” (Page 11)

Some had not stay at a distance building dreams of the Soviet Union. In 1935 the Merriman couple moved from Berkley to Moscow, as Robert, Bob studied the newly collectivised farming joined by his wife, Marion. But fired up in 1936  by the defence of the elected Popular Front government against far-right military rebellion the couple, despite her misgivings, left for the Iberian Peninsula. As they arrived in 1937  the drama of the desperate combats, socialist, anarchist and republican democrats facing the anti-Semite, feudal and arch-Catholic Franco-led military rebellion with its reactionary social support, was already unfolding.

As a an officer in the US Army reserve, with ROTC training (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) fresh from Moscow (with an exaggerated ‘year’ at a Communist Academy’), Merriman was appointed by that harshest of task-masters André Marty, the American Lincoln Brigade’s second-in-command. He joined the Spanish Communist Party. The volunteers, few of whom “had ever been under military discipline”, were flung into the battle to defend the Madrid-Valencia road. It did not help that their arms, from the only country willing to supply them the Soviet Union, initially were as antiquated and obsolete as to be “barely usable”. The Spaniards called one set of artillery pieces “the battery of Catherine the Great” (Page 118)

Wounded under fire, his wife Marion accompanied Bob, and joined up to work in International Brigades Headquarters in Albacete. He was a committed supporter of the Soviet Union. Above all, “Physically fearless, he inspired such loyalty that at least two Lincoln veterans would name children after him.” (Page 289) Spain in our Hearts does not lose sight of this brave couple, right to the final confirmation, in 1987, of how Bob Merriman died under Nationalist fire in Gadensa.

Hochschild traces the stories of many others engaged in the fight to defend the Republic, including those who perished in the increasingly difficult journey to Spain. There is the Briton Pat Gurney, Oliver Law, the black CP organiser appointed Captain, the machine-gunner David McKelvy White, and Toby Neugass of the mobile American medical team. There was also Vincent Usera, who resurfaced in the US Navel Academy in 1939 lecturing on the war. With a full US military career during the Second World War, he ended in military intelligence. One of his last posts was “as a military adviser in Vietnam” (Page 233).

The US ‘Moral Embargo’. 

Could America have been brought to support the Republic? A propaganda and information war was fought out in the American press. In the New York Times there was an “indirect duel” between the reporter on the republican side, Herbert Matthews, and the very pro-Franco William P. Carney.

A film, directed by Communist fellow-traveller Joris Ivens, The Spanish Earth, which involved Hemingway, which many expected would powerfully influence American opinion in favour of the elected government, failed to change Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to back a “Moral embargo” on weapon sales – while Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy showered military support on Franco The official arms ban was accompanied by turning a blind eye to Texaco boss, and dictator admirer, Torkild Rieber’s gift to Franco of an “unstinting stream” of oil, on credit. (Page 248) When, in 1938, there was an apparent move toward lifting of the embargo, it never materialised.

Spain in our Hearts both brings to life individual lives, through memoirs, books, letters, through events, grief and passion,  and to make cautious points about the battles going on inside the Republican camp. It lends support to the view that winning the war had to be a priority over social revolution. He asks if the moral economy of the collectivised enterprises in Catalonia and elsewhere would have long survived in their initial, pure, non-capitalist co-operative form. In the event the Spanish Communists and Socialists were determined in an attempt to win middle class support and international respectability, to restore market norms and crush the anarchists and independent Marxists of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista. Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista)  along with this spontaneous socialisation. Was it also possible to run an army democratically? Some would agree that it was equally right to end this experiment.  Ernest Hemingway said, “I like Communists when they’re soldiers. When they’re priests I hate them” (Page 290)

Could the Communist military commissars escape the paranoia and distorted morality of the Stalin priesthood? Not everybody was a hero of the stamp of Bob Merriman. Louis Fisher, who appears in the present volume as the quartermaster of the International Brigade, wrote that “André Marty, French Communist leader and the chief commissar of the Brigade “loved power and abused it, in the GPU way, through nocturnal arrest sand similar outrages.” (In The God That Failed. 1950)

Perhaps this is the final judgement of this deeply researched, insightful,  and moving work. Portraying the devastation wrought to secure Franco’s victory and its aftermath, Hochschild states, “If the Republic had won, Spaniards would not have had to endure 36 years of Franco’s ruthless dictatorship.”(P 353)

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 14, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Cameron Gone: Another Victory!

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He’s Gone….

 

Counterfire held off the threat of a Tory coup in 2015.

Counterfire joins calls to confront ‘Tory coup’ on the streets May 6th 2015.

John Rees, from radical left activist group Counterfire, said confronting a possible “Tory coup” will require action “on the streets”.

He told CommonSpace: “Astoundingly, the Tories and their supportive press are not only trying to paint the SNP as illegitimate but also to declare illegitimate any Labour administration that relies on the SNP for support. This at the same time as the Tories are willing to rely on the deeply reactionary DUP and UKIP for support.”

“The immediate task will be to confront a Tory coup, if this is what happens, on the streets,” Rees added.

 

Socialist Worker advocated before the EU referendum,

Finish off David Cameron – vote to leave the EU.

The struggle has paid off:

David Cameron resigns: Former PM quit over Brexit and did not want to be ‘backseat driver’ says aide.

Oddly this resignation letter does not mention the SWP and Counterfire contribution to his disappearance.

Typical cowardly bourgeois politician.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 13, 2016 at 11:36 am

Putin as Abraham Lincoln: Counterpunch Bid to Outdo European Political Confusionionism.

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Vladimir Putin: Russia’s Abraham Lincoln says Counterpunch. 

Political confusionism is an ideological trend on the rise

As the word suggests (from the French leftists’ ‘confusionnisme‘:  see this site) is means the confused politics of merging left and right, of adding conspiracy theories to wild assertions, the anti-imperialism of fools to ‘anti-capitalism’, that goes in search of red-brown alliances, acknowledged or not.

Its starts with Israel, ‘anti-Zionism’, travels to Putin’s Russia (often), visits Syria, looks at the IMF, TTIP, Globalisation, Occupy Wall Street (what was that?), NATO (a bit boring this stuff..),  supports Lexit/Brexit, ‘sovereigntism’, and, hey presto, always gets back to Israel.

Counterpunch (a long time ago described as “left wing”) is the best known example of confusionism in the English-speaking world, though its echoes may be felt in, say the ramblings of British supporters of the idea that there’s a transnational Jewish/Zionist bourgeoisie. It is so easy to find confusionists at work on Twitter and Facebook that’s it barely worth bothering citing them,

US left-wingers (on the Marxism List and no doubt elsewhere) are up in arms about this article in this august journal of reference for international confusionism, patronised by such weighty figures as Tariq Ali and some people who should know better.

There seems to be series of debates going on in activist circles these days that are inter-connected, the continued plight of Alison Weir and her abysmal treatment by various NGOs  and the issue of who to stand in solidarity with in regards to Syria. Both are informed essentially by one foundational theoretical point, the argument over the role of the neocons in Washington and the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), with a significant group of people seeing everything going on in the region rooted in the PNAC policy suggestions that led us down the road to the war on Iraq and continued the brutalization of the Palestinians under George W. Bush.

There follows some garbled ‘history’ about the unification of Germany, the Berlin to Bagdad railway, and the “convoluted and intertwined family trees of John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Nelson W. Aldrich.” and the interesting information that ” differences between neocons and neoliberals on domestic American social policies were quite profound (abortion, sexual orientation, Affirmative Action), their policies in international colonial policies were identical.”

Quite.

Thereafter lost, we only resurface at this point,

In this sense, Wall Street does want to see the ouster of the Assad government because it would benefit their profits. It is a basic fact that Bashar al-Assad, just like Slobodan Milosevic, is not a saint.

A brave thing to say.

Plunged again into the deepest confusionism we get this,

They yearn for their idealized American democracy while refusing to acknowledge that, if black and brown voices did not matter in 1776, that means the entire edifice of electoral politics and American parliamentarism is a clever and well-funded farce, defined as an ideological state apparatus by the French philosopher and quasi-Maoist Louis Althusser. This apparatus is quite powerful and underwrote why many activists jumped on the Shachtmanite Chairman Bernie Sanders bandwagon in the last eighteen months. (1)

Althusser would not doubt endorse the view that backing for Bernie was proof of his theory of ideological state apparatuses. The Sander’s campaign showed capitalist “know-how”, the ” high priests of the ruling ideology” mould subject positions and domination for the “the reproduction of the conditions of production” within the Democratic Primaries.

Thank you for the warning about the way the Shachtmanites have colonised the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties).

We are now aware of how these misleader tout the ‘Representation’ of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to their Real Conditions of Existence

Finally there is this,

We should also seriously interrogate the notion of politicians and look to Marx himself for inspiration when dealing with Assad and Putin. He knew exactly what Abraham Lincoln was and was not as a white former railroad lawyer and son-in-law of a slave-owning family. Yet his journalism for Horace Greeley and letters to the president would make you think that the Great Emancipator was a premonition of Lenin. That is not because he was blind to Lincoln’s many massive flaws. Instead it was because he saw the Union Army as an engine of historical progress despite the flaws.

Does Vladimir Putin have similar flaws? Yes, many, but his challenge to NATO and the imperial project is objectively a progressive goal and effort despite the flawed engine that delivers it. For those who would rebut me with accounts of Putin’s crimes, which I do not doubt, just take a look at the depravity of Sherman’s march to the sea, a massive moving line of marauders who killed quite a few black and white men and raped quite a few black and white women. Yet Marx called their actions “matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.” This is the difference between English empirical thinking and German dialectical thinking. In the former, the morality of the individual actors is key. In the latter, the outcome of the actions in history, despite the individual actors and their flaws, is all that matters.

German dialectical thinking and, hop, we can see Putin’s challenge as a “progressive goal and challenge”.

It’s called the unity of opposites and the ‘aufheben’ of dialectical contradictions: the very rational kernel of the revolutionary programme of Counterpunch….

Inspired to back Putin and Assad, to the tune of Counterpunch new Battle Hymn of the Republic, Andrew, if I may call a fellow Andy, concludes,

The way to control American policy is through direct action politics, or, to quote Howard Zinn, “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.” Electoral politics is able to be used as a tool to further radicalize voters into militant activists. The delusion otherwise dismisses the fact that abolitionists ended slavery and not legislators, who were forced by abolitionists to pass laws.

Hats off Comrade Stewart.

It’s all kicking off, everywhere!

Update:

(1) We have been asked, what is Shachtmanism?

Shachtmanism is the form of Marxism associated with Max Shachtman. It has two major components: a bureaucratic collectivist analysis of the Soviet Union and a third camp approach to world politics. Shachtmanites believe that the Stalinist rulers of Communistcountries are a new ruling class distinct from the workers and reject Trotsky‘s description of Stalinist Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state“.

Confusionnisme.info

Written by Andrew Coates

September 12, 2016 at 4:29 pm

TUC: Frances O’Grady Speaks to and for the Whole Labour Movement.

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Frances O’Grady Speaks for Whole Labour Movement.

If you want proof that the whole of the British labour movement has not taken leave of its collective senses in the last few months Frances O’Grady  stands in a place of honour.

This is her statement on the Brexit result.

O’Grady addresses the referendum result:The referendum result on Britain’s membership of the European Union heralds a whole new era of uncertainty for the working people we represent.The General Council asked me to lead a campaign that talked about what was in the best interests of working people. About the rights we enjoy – fought for by unions but guaranteed by the EU. About the risks to our economy and our public services – our precious NHS. And about what life outside the single market could mean for jobs.The campaign wasn’t easy.

For me personally, facing Boris and Andrea Leadsom in the BBC debate was quite an experience. And not one I’d be in a hurry to repeat. But, as someone told me, at least now I can say I’ve played Wembley.

The campaign wasn’t clean, or even honest. Fake promises of more money for the NHS. Dog whistle appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment. And the bizarre spectacle of a self-styled anti-Establishment vanguard.

Led by a serial back-stabber, a former stockbroker and a member of the Bullingdon Club.

While many sat it out, we stepped up. We made sure our members knew what we thought. And, in the end, our polls showed that a majority of trade unionists voted Remain.

For many it wasn’t an easy decision. And I respect those who thought differently. Especially those in our movement, who made the judgement they thought best. And those in the communities we have always championed. Who paid a high price for globalisation, And are still paying the price of the crash.

In this movement, we’re democrats. We accept what the British people have said.

So I say this: Whether you voted Remain or Leave; our job now is to get the best deal possible for working people. And to build a Britain that is successful, prosperous, fair. A Britain of great jobs for everyone.

We face a new government and a new prime minister too. Now, as a rule, I’m all in favour of having more women in charge. But it’s no secret that this isn’t one I would have chosen.

Nevertheless, in three weeks’ time she will be stood in a hall like this one. Giving her big speech to an audience that’s… well, a little different from this one. And, woman to woman, I’m going to take the liberty of giving some advice about what she should say.

After all, on the steps of Downing Street, the new prime minister admitted that life is much harder for working people than many in Westminster realise.

She promised us social justice. She vowed to govern for the many, not the privileged few. So my advice to the new prime minister is this: prove it. Show us that your top priority is to make sure workers don’t pay the price of Brexit.

There are five tests that must be met before you pull the trigger on Article 50.

First: EU citizens living and working in the UK must be guaranteed the right to remain. They are our friends, our neighbours, our workmates. It is plain immoral and inhuman to keep them in limbo. The public agrees: guarantee their right to stay.

Second: we need an all-Ireland agreement on economic and border issues. This movement worked hard for jobs, justice and peace. It would be foolish to take that for granted.

Third: we keep being told that Brexit means Brexit. I’m not sure many union leaders would get away with saying a walk-out means a walk-out. A strike means a strike. And that’s that.

At some point we’d have to spell out what we want. What we think we can get. And win a mandate from our members to negotiate. The same goes for the prime minister.

How can her government know what to negotiate for if it doesn’t know what the country thinks?

Or what the rest of the EU would accept?

Now in some corners of Whitehall there is talk about Canada and the CETA [Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] model.

Well, let me give the government fair warning. Britain didn’t vote for new trade agreements that: destroy jobs, set up secret courts and open the way to privatisation. If they go for the son of CETA, we will make opposition to TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] look like a tea party.

The fourth point. Negotiating our exit can’t be left to the Tories. This shouldn’t be about managing the internal politics of the Conservative Party. It’s about shaping the future of our country. We need a cross-party negotiating team, including the nations, London and the North. And it can’t be a case of cosy chats with the City and the CBI either. As the voice of working people, trade unions must be at the table too.

And that leads me on to the fifth and most important point. Before we go for Article 50, we need proof that workers’ rights will be safe. We fought hard for those rights. They weren’t gifted by Brussels, but won by trade unionists. And people didn’t vote Leave to get rid of holiday pay; to lose time off to care for sick children; or junk rights for temporary and agency workers.

And our European neighbours won’t agree good access to the single market if Britain undercuts them as an offshore haven for cheap labour.

So, prime minister, no ifs, no buts. Guarantee workers’ rights, now. And for the future. And tell us about your plan for the economy.

Just one week after the vote, the TUC published a national action plan. To protect jobs. To protect investment. To make sure ordinary working people don’t pay the price. They can’t afford it. After all, workers in the UK have already suffered the biggest fall in wages since the crash of any developed economy, except Greece.

Now, you won’t catch me talking down industry. We know the importance of confidence. But, delegates, we remember the recession after the financial crash. We know, all too well, the risk of complacency too. And union reps across the country. Convenors at our biggest workplaces. They are telling me about the worry and uncertainty their people are facing.

Investment plans stalled. Job hires on hold. That means government must be ready to step in. And work to keep the advantages we get from membership of the single market. For all of our industries – not just the City.

That’s the key to a successful Brexit for working people.

 Her speech to the TUC today in Brighton is just now being reported.

TUC chief Frances O’Grady slams ‘greedy firms that treat workers like animals’ in keynote congress speech

“Let me give fair warning to any greedy business that treats its workers like animals – we will shine a light on you,” she said.

“Run a big brand with a dirty little secret? A warehouse of people paid less than the minimum wage? A fleet of couriers who are slaves to an app? Let me put you on notice.

“There will be no hiding place. We will organise and we will win. Britain’s unions will not rest until every worker gets the fair treatment they deserve.”

Ms O’Grady said Brexit, which has prompted a “whole new area of uncertainty”, was led by “a former stockbroker, a serial backstabber and a member of the Bullingdon Club“.

She told Mrs May: “Show us your top priority is to make sure workers don’t pay the price of Brexit.”

The union chief demanded more council homes, the building of High Speed 2 and a “Make Your Mind Up Time on Heathrow” – expanding the airport.

….

“Taking back control” should start with steelworkers’ jobs and Tories should end “an economic philosophy that treats people as nothing more than a commodity”, she said.

She slammed the Tories’ “silly spiteful” Trade Union Act, a crackdown on the right to strike, but insisted the government was pushed back on key issues.

She added: “You can’t build a strong economy without a strong NHS and strong public services too.

“So listen up please government, pull an emergency brake on austerity and end that public sector pay squeeze now.”

Unions have already warned workers will suffer unless they are prioritised in Brexit talks.

The TUC said jobs and rights would be at risk if Britain was a “bargain-basement economy” after quitting the EU.

Ms O’Grady urged Government to get “the best deal we can for workers” and tackle investment.

TUC research showed one of the biggest risks of Brexit was loss of foreign investment.

Between 2010 and 2014, the UK performed “very poorly” in spending on industrial plants, transport and housing.

Full version: (TUC)

Frances O’Grady address to Congress, Monday 12 September 2016

Thanks.

I want to formally move the General Council Statement and campaign plan.

But first I want to put on record my thanks.

To you delegates, for your loyalty to the working people we represent.

To the President and to the General Council, for their good humour and camaraderie.

And to the staff of the TUC and all our unions.

Their dedication and professionalism is second to none.

I also want to send our solidarity to workers:

Staff on the railways and in the Post Office – about time we had that People’s Bank;

in schools and colleges; offshore workers; the junior doctors and the whole health team; Marks and Spencer and fast food workers;

Ritzy cinema staff still fighting for a real Living Wage; at Uber, Amazon, Asos and Sports Direct.

And workers everywhere standing up for their rights.

Full text here.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Labour Purge: Labour suspends Michael Foster over Corbyn ‘Nazi stormtroopers’ article.

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Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?

As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.

Labour suspends donor over Corbyn ‘Nazi stormtroopers’ article

Michael Foster, who has given party £400,000, says he did not use word ‘Nazi’ in piece referring to leader’s Sturmabteilung.

The Labour party has suspended a prominent donor for likening Jeremy Corbyn’s team to Nazi storm troopers.

Michael Foster, a former celebrity agent who has donated more than £400,000 to the party, said the Labour leader and his team had “no respect for others and worse, no respect for the rule of law”.

His comments were published in article published in the Mail on Sunday, titled: “Why I despise Jeremy Corbyn and his Nazi stormtroopers’, by Jewish Labour donor Michael Foster.”

The piece appeared on 14 August after the high court ruled against Foster’s bid to stop Corbyn from being automatically allowed to stand for re-election as leader.

The former Labour parliamentary candidate in Camborne and Redruth said: “To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy.

“The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers).”

Foster has said that he did not use the word “Nazi” in his article, but it was included in the headline by the Mail on Sunday.

This is what the relevant section of the article says,

To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy. Once political parties believe they are above the law it ends with all opposition silenced, whether it is my grandparents in Dachau, or the Left in Erdogan’s Turkey rounded up and held uncharged in prison.

The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers), but on Friday afternoon the Appeal Court handed down a big decision for British democracy.

It disallowed the attempt by arriviste followers of Corbyn to flood the Labour electoral college. This caused the mask of reasonableness of the Corbynista leadership to slip even further.

Suddenly the most holy of holies, the NEC, was labelled a shoddy organisation capable of using a ‘grubby little device’. Cross this lot and you are straight into the firing line.

Corbyn no longer has a clear path in his bid to destroy the Labour Party as we have known it in Government and in Opposition for the past 70 years.

The Mirror adds,

Mr Foster insists his remarks referred to Mr Corbyn’s “leadership cadre”, and could just as easily have compared them to the “Pretorian Guard or Revolutionary Guard or Red Guard – a group there to secure the leader and his political plans.”

There are already voices from the left calling, ironically or not, for support for Foster against the decision to suspend him…

This is not the only example of complete political hysteria and  confusion in the Labour Party.

A  few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time.

Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,

“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.

“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”

“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”

Politics Home.

The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),

On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.

This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.

Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.

You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!

Exactly.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 11, 2016 at 11:18 am

Labour Party and Trotskyism: Spotting Marks for David Aaronovitch’s BBC Four Progamme.

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Trotskyist Groups in the UK (to be Updated…)

Trotsky, Trotskyism and Trotskyites was on Radio Four last night.

The central committee of Tendance Coatesy gives the programme:

  • 7 out of 10 marks for intelligibility  Dr Bert Patenaude , historian of Trotksy,.
  • 8 marks to Michael Crick for saying as many nasty things about Militant and the Socialist Party as he could in a few minutes.
  • 1 Mark for the history of British Trotskyism and the International Marxist Group (IMG), for – well-established rumour has it –  ex-IMGer Prof John Callaghan.
  • 1o out of 10  for fun to Amy Leather of the Socialist Workers Party, for her breathless rant delivered in an authentic, and touching, Mockney accent
  • Zero points to David Aaronovitch because he failed to repeat his funny dinner party story about International Marxist Group’s (IMG) Earth Mothers and Hip Acid trippers during his brief time as Oxford (was this just forgetfulness or because of something people have since reminded him of?).

The claim that Trotskyist groups are peripheral to Corbyn’s success, tiny in number,  and peripheral to politics, may well be true.

It might nevertheless still be a slur on comrade Gerry Downing, The Posadists, Red Flag (of the League for the Fifth International), the News Line, and indeed the Brent Soviet, that their august opinions were not solicited on this, and many other, vital points.

But more important issues, on which they have little informed comment to make, are at stake.

The Central Committee  wishes to let it be known that the programme, ostensibly about Trotskyist entrists in the Labour Party, had one big gap, and that gap has a name, Socialist Action.

Socialist Action is a small Trotskyist group in the United Kingdom. The group was founded in 1982 when the International Marxist Group entered the Labour Party and changed its name to the Socialist League. It became generally known by the name of its publication, Socialist Action, which first appeared on 16 March 1983…………

From the mid-1980s Socialist Action became an entryist organisation, attempting to take over other organisations, with members using code names and not revealing their affiliation. It maintains a website but no publicly-visible formal organisation.

The organisation was linked with the 2000–2008 Greater London mayoral administrations of Ken Livingstone, although Livingstone was never a member.[Four of Livingstone’s key advisers were Socialist Action members; all made the “top 25” in the Evening Standard‘s 2007 list of the most influential people in London.

Fast forward to the present,

Following Jeremy Corbyn‘s election as Labour Party leader and Leader of the Opposition in 2015, it was claimed (by former member Atma Singh) that Socialist Action were building “a real power base” around Corbyn. Simon Fletcher – who according to Singh had been on the SA central committee – was appointed Corbyn’s Chief of Staff while John Ross has been linked to Corbyn’s inner circle. Former SA member Kate Hudson also works closely with Corbyn as president of CND, with Corbyn now vice president.

Now we happen to know that this account is not entirely accurate.

But was this elite entrist group mentioned?

No it was not.

We were mortified to learn that the only person John Callagham and the rest of the people on the programme could recall from our halcyon days in the IMG was poor old Liberal Democrat voting Tariq Ali.

Or so it was claimed.

Was Callaghan a member of IMG Tendency B? Were any others involved in the broadcast members, ‘sympathisers’ or ‘moles’?

We think we should be told.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 9, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Nuit Debout: “It did not take off”, Frédéric Lordon.

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Nuit Debout: A Spark that did not Light a Prairie Fire.

Nuit debout was a French movement that began on 31 March 2016, arising out of protests against proposed labour reforms known as the El Khomri law or Loi travail. The movement was organised around a broad aim of “overthrowing the El Khomri bill and the world it represents”. It was compared to the Occupy movement in the United States and to Spain’s anti-austerity 15-M or Indignados movement. Occupy, and its much smaller imitation in the UK, Like the former, and unlike the latter, it failed to make any lasting connection with wider political forces. 

Nuit Debout was best known for its months long 2016 occupation of the Place de la République in Paris.

Organisers refused to set out a specific list of political demands in advance, although they did denounce the government’s proposed reforms as regressive, and they called for the construction of a new political project that would be “ambitious, progressive, and emancipatory”.

Lordon played an instrumental role in the rise of the Nuit debout movement. He wrote a piece in the February 2016 issue of Le Monde diplomatique on François Ruffin‘s film, Merci patron!, describing the film as a clarion call for a potential mass uprising. This prompted Ruffin to organise a public meeting which led to the organisation of the public occupation of Paris’s Place de la République on 31 March 2016. Lordon delivered a speech at the 31 March protest, highlighting the goal of uniting disparate protest movements. He subsequently refused to talk to national media about his role in the movement, explaining that he did not wish to be seen as the leader of a leaderless movement. More Frédéric Lordon, Nuit Debout ‘Leader’: Diamond Geezer, or….Not?.

Lordon has also been criticised for his ‘soverigentist’ tendencies: that is a belief that French democracy must first be transformed,  however grass-roots led – on a national scale. This means he is against the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, attacking its ne-libeal and amrket inflection but   offers no concept of how internationalist democracy may be built. (1)

A more radical critique is offered of this type of politics in the latest Red Pepper,

Occupations, assemblies and direct action – a critique of ‘body politics’ Joseph A Todd .

Todd argues that the demand for “presence” at such assemblies (Occupy Wall Street, London, the small camp at St Paul’s, the  Place de la République), is questionable.

Inclusion in the polis was premised on physical presence – both in that decision making was conducted in general assemblies for extended periods of time, but also in that non-participation in the general assembly constituted a symbolic exclusion from the performative spectacle that became the symbol of the movement. And while the lack of demands was partly rooted in a distrust of existing institutions, we can also trace it back to body politics, the belief that bodies together is enough to create change, that bodies in space could prefigure the revolution.

Others have criticised the “consensus” ideal of these movements, which excludes serious debate, and represses minorities, while allowing for a fictitious agreement to be manipulated by an unacknowledged and unaccountable  leadership – the “tyranny of structurelessness”.  Or, more simply, the offputting rules that govern these assemblies, including strange signs to signify intervention in discussions, agreement, or disagreement. Nuit Debout did not enforce consensus – voting was by majority – but adopted many of these alienating procedures.

Nuit Debout existed for some months, brought important issues about the effects of markets, and the failings of democracy in French society and Europe  to the fore, had some interesting debates about democratic structures and the remoteness of official French politics, and inspired some to continue to seek an alternative to liberal pro-market politics.

It never touched the core of the labour movement or the banlieue.

Now we learn that Lordon, still one of the leading voices in the movement, acknowledges it has failed to take hold.

Frédéric Lordon fait le bilan de Nuit Debout : “On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas pris”

la puissance de la multitude” – the might of the multitude has not taken off.

The Bondy Blog interview is in a typical, highly abstract and philosophical vein,  complete with references to Spinoza (one hears echoes of Toni Negri here, as the term multitude suggests already), and La Boétie.

It is heavy going, even for those used to Lordonese.

Fortunately Les Inrocks summarises the key points in which Lordon assesses the successes and the – very evident – petering out of the movement:

Tous les mouvements insurrectionnels commencent à très petite échelle. Le problème pour le pouvoir c’est quand ‘ça gagne’, quand la plaine entière vient à s’embraser. On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas (ou pas encore) pris. Je crois cependant que beaucoup de gens qui étaient loin de l’événement l’ont regardé avec intérêt, et qu’il s’est peut être passé quelque chose dans les têtes dont nous ne pouvons pas encore mesurer tous les effets.”

All insurrectional movements begin small scale. The problem for those in power is when this “takes off”, when the social terrain is swept up in their heat. I am not going to hide the fact that in this case the spark has not (or has not yet) caught fire. I consider nevertheless that many people who were distant from the event watched it keenly, and what took place inside our heads has had effects which we have not really come to grips with yet.

Lordon talks of the “violence des “gardiens de l’ordre” which radicalised the participants in Nuit Debout. But he denied that there was any link between the movement and the ‘casseurs’ (hooligans) who led attacks on the Police and property to demonstrations in France earlier this year, and who provoked a strong counter-reaction.

 The Inrocks also cites Nuit debout, l’instant d’après. Pour un bilan qui n’en soit pas un by .

This is a more intelligible and serious balance-sheet (bilan) of the movement.

Marzel celebrates Nuit Debout’s existence in an “oligarchic regime” and presence in the ” imaginaire politique alternatif”, its democratic experiments, and – apparently – resistance to “narcissism”  as victories in themselves. It did not, however, help stop the new Labour law. And, “Nuit debout s’est rapidement élargie à une contestation de toute la politique du gouvernement et à un rejet global du capitalisme mondialisé.” – it quickly expanded to challenge all the government’s policies, and a complete rejection of globalised capitalism.”

Manzel does not hide that there problems with sexism, intoxication, internal disputes, inside Nuit Debout. Yet he considers that core message of  of the protests was part of the “Miracle” of politics in the sense celebrated by Hannah Arendt.  That is, we might comments,  creative action and reflection by equal citizens that breaks  governmental routine and helps create free public realm.

While some may hope that a new wave of protests may arise in France this autumn Nuit Debout has reached some kind of terminus.

*****

 (1) “Frédéric Lordon offers a radical critique of the construction of Europe. We can only agree when he interprets ‘the oddity of building Europe as a gigantic operation of the political elimination … of popular sovereignty itself’. The Enchanted World of Common Currency – On the Article by Frédéric Lordon).