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Radical Left Solidarity with Ukraine. Olivier Besancenot: “This Russian imperialism reconnects with the tsarist expansionist tendencies..”

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Radical Left Stands With Ukraine.

Many people on the left back Ukraine. The reasons are too obvious and heartfelt – human solidarity – to need detailed geopolitical accounts of the invasion, its causes and effects. Acts of this fellow-feeling – are overshadowed by the problems Ukrainians face with the terror and killing and mass displacements caused by Russian imperialism,

Acts of solidarity from the left with Ukraine are only a small part of the wider feeling of support for the country across Europe. But, as ‘campism’ and the ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ still exists, the connections left groups, from a variety of backgrounds, from mainstream social democracy to the radical left, have made, have something to contribute.

Kelly Rogers, Ruth Cashman, and Tom Harris have just returned from a visit to Ukraine (3-8 May) with the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine. (AWL)

The Ukrainian left and trade unions need our solidarity. That is why we joined the solidarity delegation to Ukraine.

The delegation included MPs, trade unionists and activists from several European countries. The Network explained its purpose as:

“Moral, political and material solidarity with the resistance of the Ukrainian people, in particular with the initiatives of their political and trade union left-wing organisations.”

The delegation attended a conference in Lviv hosted by Sotsyalnyi Rukh (Social Movement), a grassroots democratic socialist group in Ukraine. Reports from the Ukrainian side were presented by representatives of Ukrainian trade unions across health, transport, construction and energy, and social activists working in a diversity of organisations and work including LGBTQ+, Roma, women’s rights and mutual aid.

Anticapitalist Resistance also has a report. International conference of European solidarity with Ukraine

On May 5 and 6, 2022, a two-day international conference of the European Solidarity Network with Ukraine with the support of the NGO “Social Movement” was held in Lviv, Ukraine. The international delegation included left-wing politicians, parliamentarians, trade unionists, journalists from Austria, Argentina, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Poland, Finland, France and Switzerland. Published here is a report by Tom Harris an activist of the Public and Commercial Services Union who attended.

There have been other report-backs, including an in-person meeting in Brussels (Compte rendu de la délégation en Ukraine / Verslag van de solidariteitsdelegatie naar Oekraïne).

A French delegation attended. It included some of the best known activists in the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA see also, Guerre en Ukraine : notre dossier (communiqués, réactions, articles, vidéos)).

One of those we went to Ukraine was Olivier Besancenot who is well known to many people on the European left. Coming across as an articulate spokesperson for the radical left Ligue Communiste révolutionnaire (LCR) he won 1.2 million votes, 4.25%,  in the 2002 French Presidential elections. In the first round of the 2007 Besancenot received 4.08% of the vote, just short of 1.5 million votes, placing him fifth and eliminating him from the race. The ‘Facteur’ or, often, ‘postier’, (postman) as he was known, Besancenot joined the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) when it was formed in 2009, has continued to work for the French Post Office (PTT), and is member of the left union, Sud PTT.

The former Presidential candidate spoke in on-line meetings last year about his jointly authored book, an imaginary visit by Karl Marx to Paris during the Commune Marx à Paris, 1871. Le cahier bleu de Jenny Michael Löwy, Olivier Besancenot (2021). This appealing uchronia indicates one of the reasons why Besancenot is liked by many people, beyond radical left circles. He was a spokesperson for Philippe Poutou, NPA candidate in the 2022 French Presidential elections (0,76% of the vote).

This background may help explain why the report from Olivier Besancenot on the same visit and meetings is of particular interest.

How should one approach the conflict as an anti-capitalist activist? Back from Ukraine, Olivier Besancenot believes that the progressive forces of the European continent must support more frankly the Ukrainian people, victims of Russian imperialism.

From Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières. Translated from French by the Fourth International.

A spokesperson of Philippe Poutou, the candidate of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in the last presidential election, Olivier Besancenot was in Ukraine between May 3 and 8, accompanied by representatives of various European left-wing parties, including the movement Ensemble!. He spoke to Laurent Geslin and Mathilde Goanec.

Laurent Geslin and Mathilde Goanec: Why go to Ukraine today, as an activist of a political party?

Olivier Besancenot: We were responding to an invitation from the Social Movement , an organization of the Ukrainian left, in connection with the European Network of Solidarity with Ukraine and Against the War . We spoke with political activists and trade unionists. We also met two feminist collectives (Feminist Workshop and Bilkis ), who evoked with great emotion the fate of women raped in the occupation zones, or that of those who are caught up in prostitution networks when they flee the country.

There are also many women involved in the fighting, and they testify to the sexist reflexes that exist within the Ukrainian battalions. These women especially recalled that it is not a question of “Russian brothers” who attack other “Ukrainian brothers”, but rather of Russian soldiers who attack men and women from Ukraine.

What surprised you in this country that the West ultimately knew relatively little about before the war?

The most surprising thing is to see how much political life persists despite the conflict, with different realities of course depending on where you are in the country. Social issues have not disappeared in the fighting. The trade unionists we met, engaged in the resistance against Putin, continue their struggles against the liberal policies conducted by President Zelensky. His government uses, for example, the context of the war to facilitate lay-offs in factories and businesses.

Other environmental activists protest against the cutting of forests, cuts which had been suspended before the war and which has been authorized again. These battles are not in any way trivial. From a political point of view, these militants of the Ukrainian left also intend to signify to the French and European lefts that the Russian aggression has a name: it is an imperialist offensive.

More than thirty years after the fall of the USSR, it is still difficult to call yourself left in Ukraine…

The activists with whom we discussed call themselves socialist. A law on “decommunization” was passed [in 2015 – editor’s note] in Ukraine: all those who refer to communism are considered Russian allies, even those who are resisting against the invader. Affirming this political identity nevertheless retains all of its strategic meaning. These activists oppose Russian imperialism, and are in favour of a democratic society, which of course has nothing to do with the bureaucratic and totalitarian systems of the past. They are thus part, in their own way, of the continuity of an anti-Stalinist left that has always existed in Ukraine, and more broadly in Eastern Europe. They have also established relations with certain independent and dissident socialist groups in Russia, even though it is very complicated today. Many of these Russians are currently living in hiding or have fled abroad.

Is there a legacy of Nestor Makhno, the famous anarchist, and his movement today in Ukraine?

I met two “anti-authoritarian” militants linked to an anarchist territorial defense battalion positioned in the south of Kyiv. Collections are organized throughout Europe to bring equipment to this battalion, helmets, drones, bulletproof vests. These fighters almost have to organize themselves, like many territorial defense units. A call was therefore made to European libertarians and anti-fascists for help.

These activists insist on the need not to remain blind to the Ukrainian resistance, by focusing only on the Azov battalion. The Wagner militias, in the Russian camp, are of the same ilk. Above all, they underline the fact that there are also left-wing activists in the territorial defence units. In the city of Kryvyi Rih , for example, trade unionists have sent many of their members to fight in units in the region.

What is the NPA’s position on the war that has been going on in Ukraine since 2014?

Our rule may seem elementary: we are on the side of the oppressed, never on the side of the oppressors. My hope, in order to overcome prejudices and a priori judgements, consists in believing that by initiating a direct dialogue with feminist activists, or trade unionists in Ukraine, new sectors of the French social and political left will end up understanding that the Ukrainian left also exists. From railway workers to railway workers, from nurses to nurses, from energy workers to energy workers, from academics to academics, concrete solidarity is already being put in place. In the NPA, we believe that our place is to act in solidarity alongside peoples who struggle for their emancipation and freedom, regardless of the status of their oppressor.

Imperialism is not an Anglicism, it is not reserved for North American policy on the Latin American continent. French imperialism exists, Russian imperialism too. It is an embodied reality, which responds to economic objectives and which refers to history. This Russian imperialism reconnects with the tsarist expansionist tendencies, which the Bolsheviks had shattered after 1917 by speaking out for the right to self-determination, before the Stalinist counter-revolution. Putin did not forget to oppose Stalin to Lenin during his declaration of war.

What can this war teach the European left?

I do not have the pretension to have to teach anything on the subject nor to give lessons. I simply believe that this war is one of the major issues affecting the rebuilding of the European radical left. The conflict in Ukraine marks the end of a cycle, that of the “happy globalisation” of the capitalists. Competition between the blocs has reasserted itself in recent years and Putin’s Russia hopes to find new outlets outside its borders. Rosa Luxemburg also explained that wars are often the extension on the military terrain of a competition which until then only took place on the economic terrain. This competition is also being played out in Ukraine, and the outcome of this war will therefore have an impact on social and political forces around the world. The situation will not be the same whether imperialism wins or loses.

What is your opinion on the position of La France insoumise concerning this conflict and has the subject been part of disagreements during discussions with the NPA over the legislative elections?

It’s not up to me to speak in the name of La France insoumise, and I do not intend to hand out advice. What I do know is that we need a collective movement, as broad and as unitary as possible, to carry out effective actions of solidarity with this Ukrainian left. This must overcome partisan differences.

Today, a form of political paralysis is affecting the French left: if you are for the withdrawal of Russian troops, you are necessarily a CIA agent, and conversely, if you denounce NATO as being part of the problem, you pass for an FSB agent. We need to reconnect with complexity, to understand that something is at stake there, and that this war is not a shameful subject that sticks to us like a piece of band-aid.

What is your position on arms deliveries to Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia? These could lead to high inflation in Western countries and ultimately affect the most economically fragile populations…

We find it understandable that the Ukrainians are asking for weapons, especially defensive weapons that allow them to control the skies. Those with whom we discussed there repeat that they do not intend that forces other than their own replace the Ukrainian resistance.

On the question of economic sanctions, we are campaigning to sanction the oligarchs, but we are still very far from the mark. In Great Britain, in Cyprus, we are at one hundredth of what could be done.

Ukrainian environmental activists also explain that it is urgent to draw all the consequences, at the same time, from our dependence on fossil fuels, on gas, but also on the dangers of nuclear power. Imagine that the power stations are affected during the fighting? The war in Ukraine once again raises the question of the energy transition. Ukrainian trade unionists are proud of their industrial tool, of producing energy, but within the framework of the Social Movement, they have no hostility to discussing with environmental activists.-

The Ukrainians now say they want to fight until victory. Some European diplomats, on the contrary, want to put an end to the conflict, by finding a way out for Russia. How to make peace and at what cost?

It’s up to the Ukrainians to decide, not up to us. It is a question of renouncing any paternalistic attitude towards them. The question of a lasting peace obviously concerns everyone, but it involves showing solidarity with the peoples who are the first victims of Putin’s policy, the Ukrainian people, the Russian people as well. And time is running out. In fact, the Ukrainians I have seen are no longer quite in the same position as at the start of the war. The possibilities of a ceasefire or an agreement recede as the weeks go by and the crimes add up…

The right to self-determination will probably not be about just holding a referendum or imposing a military solution. A genuine democratic process should allow all Ukrainians, from East and West, to recognize themselves in the solution found. This requires that we let them decide freely on the Ukraine of afterwards, once the withdrawal of Russian troops has been obtained. Without being stuck between Russian imperialism, which has attacked this country, and the interests of Westerners. Without having a gun pointed at their head. Without the whole planet, which defends its own interests, inviting itself to the table to tell them how to do it.

We sense in Ukraine a desire to “overturn the table”, to organize a “reset” of the political system in the country. Society has organized itself to defend itself and people explain that it will be necessary, after the war, to free itself from the influence of the oligarchs. People want to take control of their destiny…

The reset is indeed an expression that I have heard. Many people want to oust the oligarchs once and for all and end corruption. The question of cancelling the debt imposed on Ukraine is a key issue from this point of view. The idea of the members of the Social Movement is to immediately bring out all these social issues, without waiting for a bright future. This democratic vitality persists even in times of war.

With them, we do not find, on the one hand, the soldiers who go to the front and, on the other, the militants who contribute to the democratic discussions. In reality, these two worlds are intimately linked. Some territorial defence units have even set up very partial forms of self-organisation.

Sweden and Finland will certainly ask to join NATO. Are we forced to choose between Russia and NATO, or can we criticize both sides?

We criticize Russia and of course NATO, which not only did not disappear after the end of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, but continued to develop, and not for the defence of the human race… NATO will still be part of the problem and not part of the solution.

What do you think of the action of the European Union (EU) in the war in Ukraine?

It is absolutely appalling to allow refugees to be sorted according to their country of origin at the European Uunion’s borders. At the start of the war, Prime Minister Jean Castex explained that France could accommodate 100,000 Ukrainians, and that’s good. How many times have we been told that the principle of freedom of movement and settlement that we were defending was certainly honourable but completely impractical. For years, I heard “we would like to but it’s impossible”.

We have sad proof today that when the reception of refugees has not worked in favour of Afghans, Kurds or Syrians, for example, it is not because the authorities could not, but because that they didn’t want to.

To build another Europe, of workers and peoples, which breaks with the liberal treaties, we must start from terribly concrete things. Our Ukrainian comrades are asking for many things and many debates. They want to know in detail what European integration has meant, in terms of social and democratic rights, for the Eastern European countries that have joined the EU. In fact, even among supporters of European Union membership, there is no illusion but that a collective balance of power will be necessary in any case to achieve emancipatory horizons shared by all.

11 May 2022

In the meantime, this pro-Nato contribution has caused some people to have the screaming hab-dabs.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 16, 2022 at 4:35 pm

May Local Elections: Set-Back for Left of Labour Parties.

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Election Results were “still modest”.

Not long ago sections of the left in the UK were arguing about the perennial idea of launching new parties to the left of Labour. Under the new leader, Keir Starmer, an appeal to a lost electorate in the Red Wall, and the nation as a whole, with policies based, in one version, on the “values of family, work and community” and “national reconstruction” (Labour Together), look far from any form of socialism. Perhaps more than the quiet dropping of policies to expand public ownership to end the reign of profiteering utilities companies, silence on public sector outsourcing, and no new moves to reform to stop the wealthy business cheats, the resort to patriotic symbols has been seen even by those who have no visceral feelings on the issue, as gesture politics.

As Bryn Jones wrote in Chartist at the end of last year, “Labour might better aim to convince property-less voters, with insecure jobs and finances, to register and promise more secure employment and personal finance policies, than to wrap itself in the Union Jack and pro-business pinstripes.”

Some, claim that the left could be reborn in “extra-parliamentary struggles” For a while it was said that Jeremy Corbyn, still without the Whip and suspended from the Parliamentary Party, was pondering the prospects of a new political party. the area which a few people dream of as the source of Corbyn’s Labour leadership, ““Corbyn’s support came from disparate sections of the extra-parliamentary Left – anti-imperialists, environmentalists, alter-global activists, veterans of the student movement, anti-cuts campaigners, Trotskyists and Communists – who united in opposition to austerity.” (wheeled out by Oliver Eagleton ©, cited by Michael Calderbank on Labour Hub).

Yet as Calderbank observes that Corbyn won the post of Labour leader by Labour members’ support. As part of the conventional ‘parliamentary’ system, support for radical politics has to be registered in elections, through votes. The old SWP/Counterfire view that something called the “struggle” is more important than elections may or may not be true. But if you cannot register in the ballot box you are not making steps towards political influence and power.

There are traditions on the left for which elections call for “witness candidates” – ones with no hope of winning but there to bear testimony before history that their politics exist.

This does not seem to be the strategy for candidates for the non-Labour left parties in the May elections.

The Communist Party of Britain said in March,

We do not pretend for a second that voting will change a capitalist system. But for some it’s a statement of protest. For others, linked to campaigns, its an opportunity to get out in communities and organise for change. A voting campaign on general and local issues also provides the chance to bring together various struggles and campaigns such as against food poverty, for council home building and municipal control of local transport.

In other words, “organising”,riding on the back of protest voting, is one of the CPB’s ambitions – though one imagines putting the time in to get people to vote for them implies they would be happy to get somebody as a councillor to help stimulate this process.

We have yet to see a detailed break down of the Communist Party of Britain’s results in the May local elections. No doubt it would develop Roger Griffiths’ observation on the 8th of May, ” Congratulating the Communist Party’s own candidates on their vigorous local campaigning, the CP executive decided to place its election commission on a permanent footing and tasked it with increasing participation in next year’s council contests.” ( 8th of May CPB)

This is are not untypical scores (CPB running for electoral registration reasons as the British Communist Party),

Hastings, Braybooke Ward.

 Nicholas William Davies The British Communist Party 22 1%Not elected

Newcastle, Heaton Ward.

Mel Bishop (Conservative) 209

Lara Ellis (Labour) 1642

Andrew Gray (Green) 545

Steve Handford (Communist Party of Britain) 66

Fiona Punchard (Liberal Democrats) 477

Many would say that this kind of score is more likely to result in laughter from the CPB’s opponents on the left than any organisational benefit, for party or a payback for “vigorous local campaigning”.

The Socialist Party publishes a fuller account of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition electoral campaign and results.

TUSC election results

Nearly 30,000 voters put an ‘X’ next to the name of a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate on 5 May. With working-class people facing impending recession and plummeting living standards, there was no other widespread group of candidates offering a socialist alternative to further local austerity and cuts.

Socialist Party members were among the over 200 TUSC candidates fighting for an alternative to the bosses’ establishment parties.

The Socialist Party participates in TUSC alongside the RMT trade union, Resist, and others.

By standing candidates and putting forward a fighting socialist programme, we are able to build an important platform for socialist ideas, and also help the process of developing a new mass workers’ party.

Summary points from the results include:

  • The total vote for all TUSC candidates on 5 May was 29,169, comprised of 23,991 votes for the council candidates, and 5,178 votes for the three mayoral candidates.
  • While the results were still modest, in all three of the directly-elected mayoral polls it contested TUSC increased both its absolute vote and percentage share compared to when it had previously stood.
  • Leading the ‘league table’ of all the TUSC results of five percent or more was the 18.3% polled in the Seven Kings ward in the London Borough of Redbridge – which secured a second place finish – followed by the 18.2% won in Knowsley council’s Northwood ward.
  • In 40 wards the TUSC candidate polled over five percent, including in eight of the twenty wards contested by TUSC in the North East London borough of Waltham Forest.
  • In Waltham Forest, the TUSC candidates polled a combined total of 3,490 votes. The other councils where the TUSC candidates polled over a thousand votes were Coventry, Cardiff, Ealing, Lewisham, Newham, Sheffield and Tower Hamlets.

Many of the policies of these two electoral fronts are attractive – with the big exception of their Brexit ‘ultra’ stand which they share with the hard right. Both TUSC and the CPB are anti-austerity and for an expansion of social ownership. Public transport should be publicly owned and subsidised as part of wider green policies. Local government is visibly suffering from Tory austerity and Labour should offer a more comprehensive funding alternative. The Health service needs all the defenders it can get.

One can only comment that with no councillors, the results are not just “modest” they are an indiction of a failure to get even toe-hold into local elected municipal politics, a serious platform in which such policies can be aired. As for the idea that a new “mass workers’ party” is being built…not many people, even without knowledge of the ‘strict’ internal regime and practices of the SP, will take this seriously. TUSC was founded in 2010 – its impact is not just “still modest”, it has not made headway at all.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 12, 2022 at 4:40 pm

Left of Labour Parties, May Local Election Results: Going Nowhere.

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No Breakthrough.

No candidate claiming to offer a left alternative to Labour from the Peoples Alliance of the Left (PAL) pact, or the Communist Party of Britain, was elected in Thursdays local elections.

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB), not a member of PAL, but whose politics on many issues, such as its hardline pro-Brexit stand, are close to those of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), stood some candidates.

Here is the CPB result in Greenwich,

Blackheath Westcombe had a Communist Party of Britain candidate, Stewart McGill, but he was beaten by the Official Monster Raving Loony candidate Trevor Allman by 125 votes to 79.

Debate still rages as to whether the NIP mascot is a ferret, a whippet or a weasel. These were their candidates.

That was their star result:

The shrinking groupuscule Left Unity congratulated the organisation that has a Mustela nivalis on its logo (note to the Party of the European Left – what the hell are you doing let this More Borders body affiliate to your group?).

The Breakthrough Party – another micro-party – stood two candidates:

Afzal MuhammadLabour Party2463
Choudhury JahidLocal Conservatives216
Coke Raymond GeorgeWe Matter Party127
Gerald Dorothy ElizabethWe Matter Party148
Hakim LokmanLocal Conservatives177
Hussain MumtazLiberal Democrats2542
Kauser NaginaLabour Party2223
Khan AyoubLiberal Democrats3012
Meah Nazma BegumBreakthrough Party265

TUSC, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, a hard-line pro-Brexit outfit, stood 273 candidates across 69 local authorities and got a few scores of over 300 votes, but won no seats.

Here is the TUSC/Socialist Party candidate in Coventry, Dave Nellist (who stood in the Birmingham Erdington by -election in March and got 2,1% of the vote). Nellist is a former MP, expelled from Labour in the 1991 for his membership of Militant (and as a person widely respected).

Election CandidatePartyVotes%Outcome
 David Stuart WelshLabour189870%Elected
 Mary TaylorConservative27010%Not elected
 Dave NellistTrade Unionist and Socialist Coalition2579%Not elected
 David Neil PriestleyGreen Party1817%Not elected
 Karen WilsonCoventry Citizens Party1144%Not elected

This was more typical for a front that claims to be creating a “mass workers party” on what they call a socialist “program” (programme).

George Galloways Workers Party of Britain is a red-brown front, in thrall to President Putin, but self-identities as left. They got one result with , but have been silent about the scores of their other candidates, 16 in all.

Heckmondwike is in the Batley and Spen constituency, where Galloway stood in the July 2021 by-election and won 21,9% of the vote.

More Brown than Red, Ex-IMG renegade Piers, in Southwark (wrongly spelt in tweet).

For a Red-Brown Front analysis read the official Monster Raving Greenstein Partys latest:

When TUSC publishes its full results we expect they will say that their campaigning brought a socialist message to a large audience. It should be clear that, be that as it may, there is a little appetite to vote for the mciro-parties and Socialist Party front and one wonders what the RMT union is doing backing TUSC.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 7, 2022 at 8:40 am