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A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity
The internet in the epoch of
decline: Paul Demarty on
claims for new digital media
No 1003 Thursday March 27 2014
Towards a Communist Party of the European Union
n Letters and debate
n Russia and sanctions
n ULU bans SWP
n Miners’ Great Strike
How to vote
on March 29
March 27 2014 1003 worker
Letters may have been
shortened because of
space. Some names
may have been changed
Ben Lewis states that “Carl Simmonds
doggedly insists on asserting that Karl
Kautsky, VI Lenin, Lars Lih and I hold
the working class, ‘in disdain’ …” (Letters,
March 20). I’ll plead guilty to doggedness,
but not the rest. It should be apparent to
anyone reading my letter in the previous
week’s paper (March 13) that Lewis is
distorting my argument.
I did accuse those who repeat today
the mantra that the working class is only
capable of trade union rather than socialist
consciousness of viewing the working class
with disdain. If you doubt there are people
who believe this to be a fundamental article
of faith of Marxism-Leninism, well, just
head over to RevLeft and do a search.
Incidentally, this is not a view held by
Lars T Lih - see his article online: ‘How
a founding document was found, or 100
years of Lenin’s What is to be done?’ The
only person on Lewis’s list whom I might
conceivably be accusing of holding this
view is himself. I say ‘might’ because his
butt appears to be so firmly impaled on the
metaphorical fence that, despite his two
letters, it is still difficult to see what his own
position on the contemporary relevance
of Lenin’s 1902 formulation is. We may
be fundamentally in agreement, but then
again we may not be.
Lewis accuses me of not understanding
the difference between a “clumsy or
unsuccessful formulation” of a valid
point and an invalid point. I must admit
that, while I am perfectly capable of
conceiving the distinction in the abstract,
I can’t see its relevance to our present
discussion. In plain English, making a bad
argument in support of a good idea, which
your opponents subsequently exploit, is a
mistake. We should not repeat that mistake.
When people attempt to elevate that
mistake to the status of an article of faith
of Leninism, then they need to be told that
Lenin made a mistake and subsequently
abandoned the formulation. As Lenin
himself put it, “Obviously, an episode in the
struggle against economism has here been
confused with a principled presentation of
a major theoretical question: namely, the
formation of an ideology.” This should be
clear enough for anybody.
His formulations in WITBD should
not be taken as the Marxist position
on the relationship between class and
ideology. Lih himself has shown that “By
1906 WITBD was already being treated
(even by its author) as a document from a
superseded episode in party history.” I’ll
state again so as not to be misinterpreted
that I do not accept the rightwing narrative
that WITBD indicates Lenin’s ‘dictatorial
tendencies’ or ‘disdain for the working
class’ with which Lih is primarily taking
issue. However, like any Marxist, Lenin
was capable of making mistakes and this
formulation was one of them.
Lewis repeats his claim that Lih has
shown Trotsky’s 1939 account of the issue
to be inconsistent with contemporaneous
accounts. Lih certainly disagrees with
Trotsky’s account, but he has hardly
shown it to be unsupportable. What are
Lih’s actual arguments? His strongest is
Lenin’s short October 1905 article praising
Stalin’s repetition of his formulations. This
is mentioned by Lewis. However, it is not
like this article was any kind of surprise
to Trotsky. He deals with it and dismisses
its significance in subsequent paragraphs.
Other than the 1905 article, Lih’s
main argument appears to be the lack
of contemporary criticism of Lenin’s
formulations by other Iskra supporters.
However, the weakness of this argument
is that a lack of public criticism, and a
basic agreement with Lenin with respect
to the ‘economists’ does not necessary
signify agreement with him on particular
contentious points, such as section 2 of
WITBD. I would urge the “lazy readers”
of the Weekly Worker, whose laziness I am
supposedly encouraging, to read the online
transcript of sections 8 and 9 from the
Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
1903 congress and judge for themselves.
It seems to me that the supporters of
Rabochee Delo, Martynov and Akimov
are attempting to use the issue to drive a
wedge between Lenin and other supporters
of Iskra, in particular Plekhanov.
As far as academic historians go, I don’t
think Lih does a bad job. Many of his points
are interesting and his position is preferable
to openly anti-communist historians like
Service and Conquest. My beef is rather
with those who attempt to elevate Lih’s
views to a new orthodoxy, and use them to
attack Trotskyism and promote some kind
of neo-Kautskyite revival, as if the world
hasn’t moved on and Marxism developed
since the Erfurt programme. The CPGB’s
attempt to portray groups on the Trotskyist
left as latter-day ‘economists’is in my view
ahistorical tripe.
In regard to Lewis’ final points about
discussion of internal party differences
in public, I’m not in principle opposed
to public discussion. However, there is
nothing in Lenin that suggests a party
doesn’t have the right to set the bounds of
such a discussion in accordance with its
party statutes. As to whether the Socialist
Party has used this right wisely, I think
Ben Lewis should probably address that
question to someone who is both a member
of the Socialist Party and familiar with the
points at issue.
Carl Simmonds
Dirty hands
Regarding the conception that socialist
ideas come from outside the working
class, where did Marx, Engels, Lenin and
Trotsky get their ideas then? From the
working class! Socialist ideas don’t just
pop into the heads of brilliant thinkers. The
founders of Marxism read books about the
working class and its history. They listened
to workers and lived with them.
To create separate compartments for
trade union consciousness and socialist
consciousness is undialectical. There
is a combined interaction between the
two: militant trade union consciousness
confronts the police, the courts and fights
scabs, which can lead to a process of
socialist consciousness. Naturally, there
are contradictions between the two. Trade
unionism works within the boundaries
of capitalism, while pushing against
those boundaries. Lenin emphasised the
contradiction. I think we need to emphasise
the unity of these opposites.
Most of the daily class struggle is
not about taking power: it is the practice
ground and school for the working class.
We can easily isolate ourselves, like
Daniel De Leon and the Socialist Labor
Party, who in the United States denounced
trade unionism as reformist. The fight for
socialism means dirtying our hands in the
small battles in the unions and communities
where we work and live.
Earl Gilman
PA openness
I was pleased to read Peter Manson’s
report of the People’s Assembly recall
conference (‘Keep it broad, keep it safe’,
March 20). I hope that people reading it
won’t be too put off by the undoubtedly
problematic arrangement.
The Weekly Worker has devoted a lot
of detailed coverage to the formation of
Left Unity - understandable, given the
CPGB has decided to participate in the
new party. So I welcome the attention on
what may be, in the short run, a much more
significant entity in terms of its geographic
spread and influence within the working
class movement.
In the North East, for example, there
are more active People’s Assembly groups
than branches of LU. I’m not suggesting
that the two organisations are comparable
in terms of their function, but that LU will
struggle to incorporate comrades from
existing electoral parties. The breadth of
the PA is both its strength and its potential
weakness, which is why I hope the CPGB
will be fully engaged in the debate on the
PA’s structure and strategy.
The Teesside PA was launched due to
the initiative of one comrade, who called for
a meeting of activists from the area straight
after the North East People’s Assembly
in Newcastle last year. My view of the
PA is that it was badly needed years ago,
but organisations like the Socialist Party
and Socialist Workers Party, which have
influence within the major unions, were
unwilling or unable to establish a united
anti-austerity organisation. So, although
the PA is late, it is still needed - and I hope
that the SP and SWP will remain involved.
Certainly, at a local level, activists
from all the different socialist/communist
organisations participate in the PA, and this
can and does overlap with membership
of different trades unions supportive of
the PA at a national level. It’s a shame
that the motion we sent to conference on
the subject of economic democracy, cited
in Peter’s article, was not discussed or
voted on directly - I wrote the first draft
and it was greatly improved by clarifying
amendments from two comrades. In
addition to the debate at the PA meeting,
I led off a discussion on economic
democracy at a ‘general assembly’ of the
Teesside Solidarity Movement, an activist
network which is mostly sceptical of the
People’s Assembly’s potential.
Certainly, in Teesside PA we haven’t
shied away from controversy and have
had comradely debates on the strategy for
defeating austerity, what Grangemouth
means for our movement and our clearly
differing views on whom to back in
elections. This openness has not prevented
effective solidarity action: it has allowed it
to take place.
James Doran
Jack Conrad writes that “it is clear” that
I, like the CPGB, oppose age-of-consent
laws, and goes on to reformulate my
proposal as a system of positive proof of
consent when the partners in a relationship
straddle the age of 16 (Letters, March 20).
This is really a matter of how to
formulate the idea I am advocating.
Jack’s idea seems thoroughly compatible
with mine in reality, but obviously both
my position and his formulation of it as
‘positive proof’ depends on some sort of
age threshold to hang it around; otherwise
the idea does not work.
Whether this should be called an
‘age of consent’, or some other term that
sounds less forbidding (but sufficiently
so not to be ignored), is a question that
requires some consideration.
But Jack is right about the principle
that people who are close in age but on
either side of the ‘line’ (whatever you
call it) should not face prosecution for
obviously consensual sex, and even
in cases with a greater age difference,
provided consent can be proven, there
should be no crime involved.
We are agreed on the principle, I think
- precise formulation of it needs care, as
this is a sensitive subject.
Ian Donovan
Fear not
Having spent many years thinking and
occasionally writing about gender and
sexuality from a Marxist standpoint, I’m
gratified that the CPGB takes this aspect of
capitalist society seriously and, particularly
at this time, the important questions
lurking under the label, ‘age of consent’.
I must take issue with Vernon Jacks,
however, when he says that it is impossible
to debate this publicly because of state
repression (Letters, March 20). The same
reasons could be cited for not discussing
proletarian revolution.
However, a development of our theory
is needed if we are to escape a purely liberal
problematic. As a pointer in this direction,
why has the notion of ‘paedophilia’
become so overwhelming in recent years,
displacing ‘homosexuality’as the dominant
policing concept of sexuality? The answer
must lie in the changing form of family:
perhaps ‘homosexuality’ corresponded
to the hegemony of the nuclear family
(having itself displaced earlier notions
such as ‘fornication’ and ‘sodomy’), while
‘paedophilia’ fits the needs of a society in
which marriage has significantly eroded,
so that responsibility for children falls more
firmly back on the mother in a context of
commercialised sexuality.
The recent Daily Mail campaign
against Harriet Harman and others
has highlighted the utopianism of
attempting a rational reform of sexuality
while capitalism rules supreme. But
let us not be afraid of developing our
critique of the current repressive order
and our ideas on the general direction
in which sexual relations might develop
in a communist society.
David Fernbach
Sex crime
Ian Donovan (Letters, March 6) is
surprised at my “focusing on one narrow
aspect” of the debate on ages of consent.
But I wasn’t writing a major article on the
issue; I was simply submitting a letter,
where it is normal to confine oneself to
one or two subjects (February 27).
Turning to the actual subject, I am
not convinced, as Jack Conrad is, that
Ian is arguing for abolition of the age
of consent. Clearly (to me anyway), not
only is he arguing for an age of consent,
but in favour of the age of consent, as
understood by the British state. Why, for
example, should a person of 17 having sex
with a willing and consensual partner of 15
be subject to proof of consent if nobody
in the relationship has any complaint or
accusation that consent wasn’t given? Why
should a fellow 15-year-old not require
such written or validated proof of consent?
The proposition is nonsense.
Jack’s legal draftsmanship is equally
nonsensical. He suggests university
tutors should be sacked for consensual
relationships with their students. Given
that, typically, a student will be 19 or 20
before starting a university course and
they have enough gumption to get into
university, one would expect they will
know with whom they want to have sex.
These are not patients in a mental hospital
or old folk in a care home subject to the
power of their care staff, but adults. The
fact that a tutor is in a position of authority
is irrelevant. As a number of people have
now said, if someone feels pressured or
coerced into sex against their wishes, this
is not consent, and normal rules of sexual
abuse and rape apply. We are talking
here only of voluntary and consensual
The idea that sexual partners should fill
out an ‘exemption from prosecution’ form,
apart from being a real passion-killer, is
totally inapplicable to most spontaneous
and casual sexual encounters - or will
we also require a period of courtship
and references before engaging in sex?
Why presume it is the older person in the
relationship making the advances anyway?
I have very happy memories of making
all the running with a middle-aged blonde
bombshell in my very early teenage years.
Did she take advantage of me? Ha, you’re
having a laugh.
I know I wasn’t unusual and, although
things are now shrouded by the legal sword
of Damocles and being whisked away into
involuntary detention of the laughably
named ‘care system’, I am sure young
teenagers of either sex still think like that.
I am sorry Tony Rees had such bad
early sexual experiences (Letters, March
20), but, to be honest, his bad experience
was really down to his own confused state
and insecurity, rather than being some
helpless child with whom some creepy
old professor had his wicked way. Abuse
and exploitation happens among adults,
and Tony’s problem falls into that category.
Why should a person of any age having
sex with a 15-year-old in Britain be subject
to the most tyrannical penalties, when no
other country in Europe would impose
them? The CPGB sees itself as a party of
the European Union, but wants to defend
a peculiarly British age of consent. Why?
Because British teenagers are less aware
of their bodies or have some mental defect
which prevents them understanding what
sex is and what consent is while their
continental peers do?
Many countries around the world fix
their age of consent at 12 and the sky
doesn’t fall in. As far as I know, nobody
is particularly subject to “being coaxed”
into things they don’t want to do, as Ian
suggests. The odd thing is, in countries
with the lowest age of consent, less
young people actually do have sex than
in countries where it is older. Could it be
that the moralist obsession with child and
teenage sexuality in Britain engenders a
more precocious exposure to it?
I think your earlier position on abolition
of the age of consent, while strengthening
laws and culture which outlaw actual abuse
and rape, is clearer than Ian’s confused
proposition, which I am sure is prompted
by the highest motives. I do not want
anyone to get the impression that I am
not interested in that either - the neglect
and abuse of children breaks my heart. I
simply consider the age of consent actually
contributes to that.
I remember when my own daughters
reached puberty and debated with me
going on the pill. I assured them they had
to make the decisions and choices they
were comfortable with. Truth be known,
I, like many dads, would never be happy
with them having sex with some bloke,
whatever age he was, because, apart from
believing none of them were good enough,
and nobody would love and care for them
more than I did, I guess I wanted them to
stay little children.
But life in the real world isn’t like that
and sex is a normal and natural part of life.
Young people need to be able to choose
whether to engage in sex or not free of any
legal or social pressure.
Don Browning
Pan fight
Responding to Dave Vincent’s letter of
March 13, I think we can definitely say
what Karl Marx’s views on immigration
controls would have been. His programme
was for the abolition of nation-states and
the international unity of the workers.
He saw with his own eyes the effects
on the British working class of mass
Irish immigration and argued for their
incorporation into the working class, not
their exclusion.
His analysis of capital was that it always
creates a reserve army of labour, constantly
pushing workers out of jobs and pulling
workers into exploitative labour relations.
Ireland is a good example, losing a third
of its population. Living standards went
down for the masses because the reserve
army of labour was maintained, so profits
went up. Capital cannot serve the interests
of the working class.
Successful resistance to capitalism
makes it malfunction. Unemployed
workers in Britain now have benefits,
meaning that they can choose not to be
part of the reserve army of labour. But the
campaign for immigration controls will
turn out to be a campaign to attack benefits
and restore capital to rude health. It is not
enough to reform capitalism; that only
makes it malfunction. We have to replace
it with the economy of the working class:
an international task.
I have found a Lenin quote, from 1915,
in a letter to the Socialist Propaganda
League in the USA: “In our struggle for
true internationalism and against ‘jingosocialism’, we always quote in our press
the example of the opportunist leaders of
the SP in America, who are in favour of
restrictions of the immigration of Chinese
and Japanese workers (especially after the
Congress of Stuttgart, 1907, and against
the decisions of Stuttgart). We think that
one cannot be internationalist and be at the
same time in favour of such restrictions.
And we assert that socialists in America,
especially English socialists, belonging to
the ruling, and oppressing nation, who are
BCM Box 928, London WC1N 3XX l 020 7241 1756 l l [email protected]
worker 1003 March 27 2014
not against any restrictions of immigration,
against the possession of colonies …, that
such socialists are in reality jingoes” (www.
Dave asks if aboriginals have any
rights. Not according to capitalism. Rights
are a question of power, not morality.
Aboriginals need the overthrow of
capitalism for their interests to be properly
addressed. It is a task for communism to
create a society fit for all human beings.
I agree with John Smithee (Letters,
March 13) that there is a very real problem,
but there is no short-term or easy solution,
especially because the unions are so weak
at present. Capitalism has a long record
of getting round immigration controls
and, when they can’t, they take the jobs
to where the cheap labour is. We need a
pan-European fight for full employment,
with equalisation of living standards up to
the level of genuine subsistance.
Phil Kent
various trades councils, who were more
representative of workers. A decade
later, London Trades Council reversed
its position. The Jews formed their own
unions as part of this process. Some 50%
of Phil Piratin’s voters, who successfully
elected him as the Communist Party
candidate for Mile End constituency,
were Jewish. It was a radicalism born
of the fight against fascism, immigration
controls and other capitalist evils. There
was no contradiction between the interests
of the “indigenous” working class and the
Jewish working class.
Vincent’s chauvinist and racist letter is
premised on the idea that the world’s poor
are just waiting to come to Britain. He
talks of immigrant workers as ‘outsiders’.
Clearly, the unity of the working class
takes second place to cross-class alliances.
He seeks a capitalism which is benevolent
to ‘indigenous’ workers and allows the
capitalists to play divide and rule.
Tony Greenstein
However he spins it, Dave Vincent
is a social chauvinist with his call for
immigration controls. He doubts that
Marx would have supported open
borders, but there isn’t a hint in his
writings or actions to the contrary.
I cannot detect any support for
immigration controls in the famous
Communist manifesto, which declares:
“The proletarians have nothing to lose
but their chains. They have a world to
win.” Nor in Yitzhak Laor’s formulation:
“The nation that oppresses another
nation forges its own chains.” Marx
was opposed to anything dividing the
working class. He was hardly likely
to have appealed to the bourgeoisie
for support for immigration controls!
Eleanor Marx was a vociferous
campaigner against the 1905 Aliens Act.
Dave Vincent points to sections of
the bourgeoisie who oppose immigration
controls because wages are lower for
immigrants. He omits to mention that
the capitalist class collectively, through
the Tory Party, has always supported
immigration controls. Perhaps he hasn’t
noticed that his position is also that of
the UK Independence Party and the far
right. The right is motivated not just by
immediate economic gain, but by the
prospect of appealing to ‘native’ workers
on a nationalist basis.
Vincent refers to “indigenous labour”.
I wonder if that includes me, since my
grandparents came to Britain in 1912.
In an imperialist country, this is, by
definition, a racist concept. The settler
working class in most of the white
dominions - Canada, Australia, South
Africa, etc - opposed the immigration of
black and Asian labour.
Vincent asks whether native
Americans, Aborigines and Palestinians
should accept “free movement of people”.
This is a false analogy. Immigrants to
Britain don’t, despite fascist propaganda,
come with the aim of colonisation and
dispossession of those already here.
They are looking for work or fleeing
the consequence of imperialist wars.
The immigration of Jews to Palestine or
whites to the United States was with the
specific and declared aim of colonising
- ie, stealing the land from those already
living there and transferring or enslaving
the indigenous population.
Vincent skirts round the Aliens Act
by asking a totally fatuous question as
to what the Bolsheviks would have done
during a period of war. Clearly, when you
are fighting 20 capitalist countries using
spies and subversion where possible, one
may not practise open borders. This is
entirely different from civil society.
To remind him, the 1905 Aliens
Act was brought in by the Tories under
Arthur James Balfour, who was also a
devout Christian and Zionist supporter.
But the Jewish workers of the East End
did what successive waves of immigrants
have done. They organised and showed
British labour the way ahead. That was
why the TUC congress decision of 1882
to support the introduction of immigration
controls was subsequently opposed by
I am surprised by John Smithee’s
reasoning (Letters, March 13), which
is presumably socialist in motivation: a
socialist society has a right to implement
immigration controls, since managing
labour resources is no different from the
management of any other resource in a
rational and planned economy.
We concede no such right to capitalism,
because the control of immigration is a
control on labour, which in turn is part
of the exploitation and subjugation of
the working class. The influx of cheap
European labour has not depressed UK
wages: UK capitalism has.
In any case, Smithee’s is a peculiarly
nationalist way of looking at things,
which has little to do with either Marxism
or capitalism. Quite apart from Marx’s
internationalism (“Workers of the
world”), Lenin’s theoretical revolution
makes it abundantly clear that in the
epoch of imperialism there is no such
thing as a national working class. This is
not just an idea in Lenin’s head: it is also
reality. Today, the working class and the
reserve army of labour are international
realities, just like capital flows.
Of course, anyone is free to continue
to see things from the point of view
of market-town parochialism. But
there are consequences. You start by
defending national borders against
the incoming tide of cheap labour,
motivated by the purest of socialist
principles, and one day you find
yourself patriotically supporting your
country’s right to defend its front lines
in some far-off country.
Something to meditate, as August 4
Susil Gupta
Commenting on comrade Mike Macnair’s
article on Left Unity two weeks ago
(‘Indecision and irrationality’, March
13), there is one glaring activity
not considered at all. Why has the
author put forward only a dichotomy
between electoral activity on one side
and strikes and protests on the other?
Why has he given the impression that
formulating and proposing long-term
policies for society-wide action is tied
at the hip to electoral activity?
Surely, a more reliable means of
obtaining political support would entail
membership recruitment campaigns
based on unambiguously thorough
political education? What about party
members who ironically do not wish
to cast a ballot for their own party,
based on healthy scepticism towards
the electoral system as a whole? What
about ballot spoilage campaigns?
On a European note, the only
reliable organisational measure to
avoid being wedded to the “dominant
nationalism” of the British left is for
Left Unity to affiliate unquestioningly
with the European United Left-Nordic
Green Left.
Jacob Richter
Mark Adams brings up a straw man
in his January 30 letter. He quotes
Marx, who said of Georg Daumer:
“… modern natural science ... has
revolutionised the whole of nature and
put an end to man’s childish attitude
towards nature ... it would be desirable
that Bavaria’s sluggish peasant
economy, the ground on which grow
priests and Daumers alike, should
at last be ploughed up by modern
cultivation and modern machines” (K
Marx CW Vol 10, pp241-46).
Marx appears to characterise Daumer
as some modern-day, sandal-wearing,
long-haired hippy. Later in the review
that Adams quotes, Daumer says:
“Nature and woman are the really
divine, as distinct from the human and
man .... The sacrifice of the human to
the natural, of the male to the female, is
the genuine, the only true meekness and
self-externalisation, the highest - nay,
the only - virtue and piety.” Marx in his
reply comes across as misogynistic and
I doubt that by the time Marx
encountered Lewis Morgan’s
anthropology he would have remembered
Daumer. But Daumer’s words should
give us pause for thought about the
contribution of anthropology and our
relationship to the environment. The key
insight of Engels’ The origin of the family,
private property and the state, was that
early human kinship was matrilineal. Our
knowledge and understanding about early
and extant hunter-gatherers has vastly
improved. Now this is not to stay that
we can go back to some “stupid rustic
idyll”, as Marx says, but we can now
understand what it means to look through
hunter-gatherer eyes into this world.
Adams is not too subtle when he uses
phrases such as “irrationalist hogwash”
and “manipulation” in terms of our
“future” mastery of the environment.
It was as if we had not already learned
to master nature, but perhaps we have
forgotten in modernism’s rush to
overturn tradition. For, if any group of
people have got a command of nature,
surely it is those hunter-gatherers
which the 1850 Marx wants to bury.
Extant hunter-gatherers have no or
little accumulation of food. They live
in a world of abundance and as such they
have confidence that the environment
will provide for them. We moderns don’t
have such confidence. We live in a world
of scarcity, where brokers gamble on
food supplies and thousands die of
hunger every day. Who has the better
mastery of nature?
We should have a little more
reverence and humility for the
environment. The current trajectory of
capitalism is unsustainable. There is a
lot we know and a lot we don’t, but we
do not necessarily need machines to
command nature.
Simon Wells
CPGB podcasts
While I can certainly appreciate the
positive sentiments behind Mike Hunt’s
poem, I did find it a bit lightweight
(Letters, March 20). If we really want
to deal with the curse of reformism in
poetical terms, then we must toughen
up! I am big fan of Aragon and I always
loved his line, “Shoot the trained bears
of social democracy”. Lately I’ve been
trying to put myself in Aragon’s shoes
to figure out how he would deal with
today’s fake-left charlatans.
I’ve worked out a whole load of
what I call ‘SPEW sonnets’, which
is a play on the Weekly Worker’s own
amusing acronym of the Socialist Party
in England and Wales. I don’t think your
readers are ready for all 300-plus lines,
but here’s a quick snip:
Comrades, I’m down and feeling blue
My politics are all covered in SPEW
But, oh! Epiphany!
A Marxist sponge with a bit of bleach on it
Is a pretty good way to clean up vomit.
Lloyd Dowry
Searchlight 50 years on
Every Monday we upload a podcast commenting on the current
political situation. In addition, the site features voice files of public
meetings and other events:
London Communist Forum
Sunday March 30, 5pm: Weekly political report from CPGB
Provisional Central Committee, followed by open discussion and
Capital reading group. Calthorpe Arms, 252 Grays Inn Road, London
WC1. This meeting: Vol 1, cVol 1, chapter 28, ‘Bloody legislation
against the expropriated’.
Organised by CPGB:
Radical Anthropology Group
Introduction to anthropology: the science of mythology
Tuesday April 1, 6.15pm: ‘The trickster: core of hunter-gatherer
religion’. Speaker: Camilla Power.
88 Fleet Street, London EC4 (next to St Bride’s church, 5 minutes walk
from Blackfriars tube). Admission free, but donations appreciated.
Organised by Radical Anthropology Group:
Left Unity conference
Saturday March 29, 11am to 6pm (registration from 10am):
National policy conference, Museum of Science and Industry,
Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester M3. Registration: leftunity.
Organised by Left Unity:
Welsh Labour Grassroots
Saturday March 29, 6pm: Meeting at Welsh Labour conference,
Somerset Hotel, Llandudno.
Organised by Welsh Labour Grassroots:
Young People against Austerity
Saturday March 29, 9.30am to 12.30pm: Workshop discussions,
Sunderland Minster, High Street West, Sunderland SR1.
Organised by Young People Against Austerity:
Stop the racists and fascists
Saturday March 29, 1.30pm: Demonstration, St Mark’s Road,
Sunderland SR4.
Organised by North East Anti-Fascists:
Hands Off Venezuela
Monday March 31, 7pm: Debate: ‘What is really happening in
Venezuela?’ Bolivar Hall, 54 Grafton Way, London W1. Speaker:
journalist Ewan Robertson.
Organised by Hands Off Venezuela:
No to Atos
Tuesday April 1, 9.30am: Demonstration against work capability
assessments, Atos assessment centre, Elvet House, Hallgarth Street,
Durham DH1.
Organised by Durham Community Support Centre:
Education under occupation
Tuesday April 1, 6.30pm: Stories from West Bank and Gaza students.
P21 Gallery, 21 Chalton Street, London NW1.
Organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
How should we remember World War I?
Thursday April 3, 7pm: Anti-militarist debate, St James church,
197 Piccadilly, London W1. Speakers: Julian Brazier MP; John
Blake (editor of Labour Teachers); Lindsey German (Stop the War
Coalition);Jeremy Corbyn MP.
Organised by Stop the War Coalition:
Under Israeli occupation
Thursday April 3, 7.30pm: Public meeting, Friends Meeting House,
2 York Street, Bath. Speaker: Raed Debiy.
Organised by Labour2Palestine:
Campaigning for Palestine
Saturday April 5, 10am to 3.30pm: Trade union conference, TUC,
Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell Street,
London WC1. Delegate registration essential:
Organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
Monday April 7, 10.30am to 5.30pm; Tuesday April 8, 9.30am
to 5.30pm: Conference, University of Northampton, Park Campus,
Boughton Green Road, Northampton. 50th anniversary of Searchlight
Organised by Searchlight: [email protected]
Palestine solidarity
Saturday April 12, 2.30pm to 5pm: Brighton and Hove Palestine
Solidarity Campaign AGM, Community Base, Queens Road, Brighton.
Organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
Queer free thinking
Saturday April 12, 12 noon till late: Discussion, performance and
exhibition, Ron Todd House, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1.
Organised by Unite London and Eastern Region LGBT Committee:
020 8800 4281.
The future of Occupy
Sunday April 13, 12 noon: Meeting, Common House, Bethnal Green,
London E2.
Organised by Occupy London:
CPGB wills
Remember the CPGB and keep the struggle going. Put our party’s
name and address, together with the amount you wish to leave, in your
will. If you need further help, do not hesitate to contact us.
March 27 2014 1003 worker
West’s wounded imperial pride
Eddie Ford calls for opposition to the escalating campaign for sanctions against Russia and to ‘nonlethal’ military assistance to Ukraine
ensions are still very high
following the ‘illegal’ referendum
in Crimea, which seemingly saw
a large majority vote for merger with
Russia. Western leaders and some antiRussian left groups insist that we have
witnessed an “annexation”, despite the
obvious fact that there was popular
enthusiasm for union with Russia and
there is absolutely no evidence that
recent events in Crimea were the result
of a carefully planned plot by Vladimir
Putin - rather, he saw an opportunity
open up and did not hesitate to take
swift and ruthless advantage.
Ukraine announced its intention
to pull its forces out of Crimea on
March 24. Their departure comes after
Russian forces seized naval facilities
at Feodosia, the last Crimean military
base under Kiev’s control. In a highly
symbolic gesture, the Russian defence
minister, Sergei Shoigu, met troops in
Crimea and went on a tour of military
bases - we are now in control. He
also appointed Denys Berezovsky the former head of Ukraine’s navy
and one of the few officers to switch
allegiances before the referendum - as
deputy commander of Russia’s Black
Sea fleet. Reward for a job well done.
On March 24, Sergei Lavrov,
Russia’s foreign minister, held
preliminary talks with his Ukrainian
counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsya,
during a nuclear security summit in the
Hague - their first direct meeting since
the crisis began. Lavrov also met John
Kerry, the United States secretary of
state, who expressed “strong concern”
about the “massing” of Russian forces
on Ukraine’s borders - were they poised
to invade? After the meeting, Lavrov
declared that Russia had laid out its plan
to establish “good national dialogue”
with “all” the residents of Ukraine and
insouciantly mentioned that it would
be “no great tragedy” if Moscow was
expelled from the G8, as threatened by
the US and EU. After all, he added,
Russia is “not clinging to that format”
- the rules of the game are changing.
Thus, as things stand right now,
a military confrontation between
Russian and Ukrainian forces is not
on the cards. However, the danger of
a serious escalation remains very real the main threat coming from belligerent
western leaders out to repair wounded
imperial pride. Looking at Crimea, a
common imperialist complaint is that
Russia is set on “redesigning” the postSoviet Union world order - a clearly
unacceptable notion to the imperialists.
Something must be done, but what?
One thing that might be done is to say
goodbye to the ‘peace dividend’ that
was apparently reaped by the collapse
of the Soviet Union. That is, cuts to
the army should be stopped - perhaps
even reversed - and the dust should be
shaken off the west’s nuclear arsenal.
General Philip Breedlove, Nato’s
supreme commander, declared on
March 23 that Russia had assembled
a “very, very sizeable and very, very
ready” force on Ukraine’s eastern
border that could be planning to head
for Transnistria (or the Pridnestrovian
Moldavian Republic). A Russianspeaking enclave located mostly on a
strip of land between the River Dniester
and the eastern Moldovan border with
Ukraine, it declared independence
from Moldova in 1990 and two years
later fought a very brief war with that
state. As part of the July 1992 ceasefire,
a joint control commission, comprising
Russia, Moldova and Transnistria,
supervises the security arrangements in
the demilitarised zone. Needless to say,
Nato: threatening both military and diplomatic action
Transnistria is not recognised by any
state in the world - except Moscow,
of course.
Anyhow, Breedlove described
these Russian manoeuvres as “very
worrisome” - indications of a possible
rapid incursion into Transnistria - he
claimed that some of the elements of
the Crimea scenario are also present in
the breakaway republic (last week the
speaker of Transnistria’s parliament
urged Russia to “incorporate”
the region). More generally, he
argued, Russia appeared to be using
the so-called “frozen conflicts”
in neighbouring territories like
Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia
and Nagorno-Karabakh as a “tool” to
stop them ever becoming part of the
EU or Nato. In which case, according
to general Breedlove, Nato needs to
rethink the “positioning and readiness”
of its forces in eastern Europe so they
can counter - and repel - any moves
by Moscow.
Similarly, the former UK general,
Richard Dannatt, has stated his view
in The Daily Telegraph that Britain
should cancel army cuts as “a message”
to a “resurgent” Russia - therefore a
newly formed brigade of 3,000 soldiers
should be deployed to Germany
(March 23). For him, the recent
crises in Syria and Ukraine meant
the international landscape was more
“challenging” than when the coalition
government came to power in 2010 therefore this is a “poor moment” for
the west to be “weak in resolve and
muscle”. The government is cutting the
regular army from 102,000 to 82,000
by 2020 and intends to withdraw
all 20,000 British troops from their
bases in Germany, ending the 70year military presence. But Dannatt
wants the government to declare that
“greater military capability” must
underpin its diplomacy. Jaw-jaw is no
good without the threat of war-war.
Indeed, resorting to a clapped-out
historical cliché, he writes that there
are “uncomfortable shadows of the
30s” - meaning imperialism needs to
start tooling up again.
Unfortunately for Dannatt, the
prime minister has rejected his
suggestion. However, David Cameron
has said that the British army will help
“beef up” Nato defences in the Baltic
republics - all of which, of course,
have substantial Russian minorities.
In a further show of support, David
Lidington, the Europe minister,
embarked on a two-day visit to
Latvia and Lithuania to “underline
our commitment” to those countries.
Furthermore, Cameron reminded
Russia of Britain’s support for the
“collective defence principle” of Nato
- article 5 of the treaty stating that an
armed attack against one member is an
attack against all.
So there has been aggressive rhetoric
- especially from the US, dissatisfied
with the response from some European
capitals. In an interview published ahead
of his arrival at the security summit,
Barack Obama said that Putin needed to
“understand the economic and political
consequences” of his actions in Ukraine
- though he did not believe, naturally,
that the country should be viewed as a
“battleground” between the east and the
west, as that kind of thinking “should
have ended with the cold war”. What
a hypocrite.
Now, Obama talks of “broad
sanctions” against Russia if it makes
any attempt to move its troops beyond
Crimea and into eastern or western
Ukraine. The US would be “ready
and willing”, to target energy, arms,
financial services and trade - even if
that had an adverse effect on the world
economy. Europe, especially Germany,
has close economic ties to Russia being particularly dependent on it for
its energy requirements. So the desire
to take punitive action against Russia
has been tempered by caution over the
potential knock-on effects. More to the
point, Angela Merkel is not exactly
excited by the prospect of Berlin going
very cold in the winter if Moscow turns
off the tap. Not very convincingly
though, Obama has vowed that the
economic impact on Russia would be
“far worse” - yeah, sure.
So far, the US and EU have
responded with a series of sanctions
targeting those individuals, including
senior officials (“Putin’s cronies”),
whom they accuse of involvement in
Crimea’s “annexation”. Hence the US
has imposed sanctions on 31 people in
a campaign crafted to target Russian
officials with close links to Putin, but
without damaging US businesses - a
tricky act to pull off.
At the end of the nuclear security
conference, Obama called Russia a
mere “regional power” that would
always struggle to compete with
America’s global influence - the US
being the “most powerful nation in
the world” and the one other countries
looked to for a lead on global crises,
such as the conflict in Syria. We are the
global super-cop and that is the way it
will remain. Meanwhile, on March 21
White House officials revealed that the
Pentagon was providing “non-lethal”
assistance to the Ukrainian military
- presumably just as they did to the
anti-Assad opposition in Syria.
Lesser evil
Communists unequivocally oppose the
pro-sanctions campaign mounted by
the west and the attempts to more or
less demonise the Russian authorities
- making out that its “expansionism”
is the central cause of the conflict.
This is clearly nonsense. At the very
least, the western-backed orangebrown ‘revolution’ in Kiev and a
resurgent Ukrainian nationalism are
equally to blame. A nationalism that
by definition is virulently anti-Russian
and to a certain extent coloured - or
shit-stained - by anti-Semitism.
Though it should hardly have to be
said, being the ‘A’ of Marxism - never
mind about the B or C - alas we find
that we have to remind some comrades
of an irreducible maxim - communists
are implacable foes of nationalism and
national chauvinism. Therefore, we in
the CPGB condemn the noxious, proimperialist stance of the increasingly
Russophobic Alliance for Workers’
Liberty, last week’s Solidarity proudly
proclaiming that the AWL is for the
“Ukrainian armed forces” in any “fight
against Russian domination” (March
17). Straight into the first camp without
passing ‘go’.
Not that Socialist Resistance
is much better. Ridiculously,
the comrades inform us that
“socialist participants” in the antiYanukovych/Maidan demonstrations
- such as Ilya Budraitksis of Vpered
(Forward), Russian section of the
Fourth International - saw the mass
movement as “containing the germs
of a revolutionary process” . More fool
them - worshipping spontaneity always
leads to a fall. We are then stupidly told
that Crimea is “roughly analogous” to
the north of Ireland - ie, has a settler
population that displaced the original
inhabitants and denied them the right
to a state. Thus, Putin is using the
ethnic Russian population in Crimea in
the same sort of way as the British state
has “used the presence of a Protestant
population which is opposed to a united
Ireland to claim sovereignty over Irish
territory”. In other words, the Russian
population of Crimea have no right to
self-determination, as presumably they
are an ‘oppressor’ people.
Woefully, SR goes on to argue that
Russia “stage-managed a flagrantly
ridiculous referendum” and “used the
result to seize Crimea” - which makes
Russia “the aggressor”, as it “violated
Ukraine’s national sovereignty”.1 It
is interesting, isn’t it, that these two
groups - both of them involved in Left
Unity, as it happens - repeat so closely
the phrases of the imperialists?
However, it goes without saying that
we equally oppose pro-Putin apologetics
- the idea being that, because Ukraine
is so infested by fascists and Nazis, as
we are constantly told by Russia Today,
then we have to support Russia as the
‘lesser of two evils’. A pitiful position.
But one manifested by Socialist Action,
another group that has members in LU.
On its not particularly dynamic website
we find an article dated March 4 that is
the reverse image of the AWL. Whilst
correctly noting that the EU’s plans are to
“subordinate” the economy of Ukraine such as it is - to the “interests of western
European capital” and that the US
hopes to “integrate” it into Nato, it then
proceeds to slip into a vicarious Russian
nationalism. First by telling us that not
only the right to self-determination of
“all the regions” in Ukraine should
be “defended”, but so too should
“any assistance that Russia extends
to ensuring that”. In fact, that means
“defending the right of the Russian army
to come to the aid of the eastern regions
to prevent Kiev enforcing its control”.2
A recipe for nationalist civil war, with
the AWL and SR cheering on one side,
and SA the other.
Even worse, if anything, is the
extraordinarily superficial analysis
proffered by Eamonn McCann in the
Irish Times on March 20 and faithfully
reprinted on the perhaps misnamed
Stop the War Coalition website on
March 23. 3 A prominent member
of United Left Alliance and long
associated with the Socialist Workers
Party, he really should know better then again, maybe not. His starting
point is generally sound - “Neither
Washington nor Moscow has had
genuine concern for the interests of
any section of the Ukrainian people,
but have been engaged in an exercise
of self-interested great power politics”.
But it deteriorates quickly from there.
Though comrade McCann admits that
Putin has been busy “manipulating
fears” and “stoking tensions” for
strategic advantage, he disastrously
concludes that, though it “might be a
close run thing”, in this instance Russia
has “more right” on its side than the
west - which for the comrade is the
“same thing as saying, more simply,
that Putin and Russia are right”. Thus
the truly crass, and quite shameful,
headline to the article: “In the game of
great power politics, if we have to pick
a side over Crimea, let it be Russia”.
All these comrades demonstrate
where the ‘lesser of two evils’
approach to politics takes you - the
total abandonment of working class
independence. Instead, we say:
Neither Kiev and its western backers
nor Moscow and the government of
Vladimir Putin. For the international
working class l
[email protected]
1. March 24 (
worker 1003 March 27 2014
The new moral panic
Charles Gradnitzer looks at the most recent move to further ostracise the SWP
Self-appointed arbiters
6. See ‘Autonomists in “feelgood” attack on SWP’
Weekly Worker December 19 2013.
7. The Guardian December 6 2010.
Communist University 2014
Saturday August 16 to Saturday August 23 inclusive
Goldsmiths University
Surrey House, 80 Lewisham Way,
New Cross, London, SE14 6PB
Full week, with accommodation: £200 (£250 solidarity, £110 concessions)
Full week, no accommodation: £60 (£30 concessions)
First weekend (one night’s accommodation): £40 (£25)
One day: £10 (£5). One session: £5 (£2.50)
New Cross
New Cross Gate
Surrey House
80 Lewishham
Nothing new here, of course - it has
often been the case that freedom of the
press, speech and assembly have been
curtailed on the grounds of protecting
the public from harm.
The argument here bears a striking
resemblance to that put forward in 1919
by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the
US supreme court when he upheld the
conviction of socialists Charles Schneck
and Elizabeth Baer for distributing antiwar literature. In his statement he argued
that it was right to prevent freedom of
speech on the grounds that allowing the
Socialist Party to agitate against World
War I posed a “clear and present danger”,
in that it would bring about “evils” that
Congress had a right to prevent.5
To my knowledge nobody has
ever claimed they have been sexually
assaulted at Marxism or any other SWP
public event. Rather, as is the absolute
norm, sexual assault occurs in private
circumstances and where the man is
known to the victim. But, by presenting
their decision as a matter of women’s
safety, the ULU guardians of morality
are attempting to protect themselves
from criticism: you are either ‘with us’
or you are a ‘rape apologist’. The result
is that the very people who defend the
turning over of SWP stalls, setting fire
to copies of Socialist Worker and tearing
down SWP posters6 are now demanding
a ‘safe space’ for themselves.
Furthermore, this selective
application of the ‘safe spaces’ policy
serves to demonstrate that the ban has
little to do with making campuses safer
for anybody. In December 2010 the
NUS leadership actively campaigned
against the 30,000-strong demonstration
organised by National Campaign Against
left in awe at the amount of cognitive
dissonance the author must have had to
endure in order to produce it.
Of course, nobody expected SWP
leaders to hold their hands up and
admit that they nearly destroyed their
own organisation in order to cover up
allegations of rape made against their
national secretary. It was, after all,
the very bureaucratic centralism that
produced the crisis in the first place that
still prevents them from admitting any
wrongdoing or even acknowledging
many of their other wrongdoings over
the past three years.
Having said that, however, the
statement produced by ULU is simply
wrong, both in terms of the arguments
it makes and the conclusions it draws.
The first argument is that the SWP is
a gang of victim-blaming rape apologists
and that in order to support young women
on campus the SWP must be prevented
from speaking there. The sabbatical
officers at ULU presumably believe,
having won a student union election on
the back of a 2% turnout, that they have
been appointed arbiters of what is and
is not acceptable to say, to determine in
advance the harmful consequences of
allowing the SWP to speak on campus,
and relieve us of the responsibility of
deciding for ourselves what we might
not want to hear. As abhorrent as the
SWP’s defence of Martin Smith has
been, we are all grown-up enough to
make that decision.
The second argument is that the SWP
should be kept off campus ostensibly
on the grounds of protecting students
from sexual harassment and violence
- freedom of assembly and freedom
of speech are collateral damage.
of the SWP, yet still oppose the ULU
ban, to see that this deference to personal
experience mysteriously vanishes as
soon as it comes into conflict with their
conclusions. However, this hypocrisy is
rarely pointed out simply because most
people do not assert political or moral
authority over others on the basis of their
experience or identity.
Socialists must fight for the
freedom of assembly, association and
speech on a consistent and principled
basis. These rights are not special
privileges only to be afforded to ideas
and organisations we can tolerate; they
are not privileges that can be denied
through the infallible clairvoyance of
the benevolent NUS bureaucracy.
We champion these rights in our
own interest - we need them in order
to agitate for our own ideas. If we think
that somebody is a rape apologist or an
organisation is institutionally sexist,
then it is our right to argue that and to
convince others. But it is not our right
to pre-empt the decision of others and
prevent them from coming to their own
conclusions. By doing this we make
not just ourselves, but everybody else,
a prisoner of our own narcissism.
These rights are important because
they allow us to sharpen our arguments,
clarify ideas and arrive at the truth.
Nobody has the right to determine
which subjects are acceptable to discuss.
To allow such a thing to happen is to
hand over the ability to think and to
make decisions for yourself to a stale
bureaucracy. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg
observes in Zur russischen Revolution,
“Without general elections, without
unrestricted freedom of press and
assembly, without a free struggle of
opinion, life dies out in every public
institution, becomes a mere semblance
of life, in which only the bureaucracy
remains as the active element”8 l
n March 11 a statement
announcing that the Socialist
Workers Party had been banned
from holding its annual Marxism event
at University College London by the
University of London Union was posted
on Facebook. It was signed by five ULU
sabbatical officers, with many student
activists adding their names in support.
It was then subsequently published on
the student union website1 - after a vote
on the ULU executive, where six officers
were in favour, two voted against and
one abstained.
After the statement was published,
the initial five sabbaticals were joined
by a further three - including ULU
president Michael Chessum, who had
been accused of trying to overturn
the decision and ignoring the various
attempts of the ULU women’s officer to
contact him. One notable absence from
the list of signatories is the ULU vicepresident and member of the Alliance
for Workers’ Liberty, Dan Cooper.
While Cooper seems reluctant to state
his position regarding this decision,
the AWL has produced a reasonable
statement opposing the ban on Marxism.2
At the National Union of Students
women’s conference on March 19,
the person who spearheaded the
ban, Susuana Antubam, was elected
national women’s officer of the NUS
on an intersectional-feminist platform,
narrowly beating the Labour Studentsbacked candidate,3 and was pleased to
announce that she had “annoyed” the
SWP in her hustings speech.
In an unprecedented move the SWP
responded with a statement of its own.4
This statement is a flat-out denial of
matters of public record and one is
Fees and Cuts, preferring instead to hold
a poorly attended candlelit vigil, on the
grounds that the demonstration would
be unsafe.7 Today some of the very same
people who organised that demonstration
in the face of massive police repression
and violence are now signing a statement
justifying the banning of an event on the
grounds it is unsafe.
We arrive then at the third and
final argument: the SWP is simply
not worth it. Having looked into
their crystal ball and determined that
the SWP cannot be won round to
intersectional, feminist politics, the
sabbatical officers have declared that
they are out of reach of any sort of
“progressive debate” and therefore
have no right to use ULU facilities.
It may be true that die-hard SWP
loyalists like Rhetta Moran need
deprogramming rather than debating, but
no-one in the SWP ought to be regarded
as being beyond persuasion. And what
about those on the periphery - including
new members or contacts - who have
not been involved in the factional
struggles of the past three years? It is
important to fight against this culture
of anathematisation among the left - a
culture that, ironically, the SWP itself
has promoted and encouraged in the past.
When the subject has been broached
on the internet, a common argument
has been that to oppose the ban on the
Marxism festival is to contradict or deny
the ‘autonomous decision of an oppressed
group’. The idea that a statement signed
by 80-odd people representing less
than one percent of ULU’s student
population, a third of them men and a
quarter of them studying at universities
in Scotland or Birmingham, represents
the ‘autonomous’ will of women at ULU
is absurd. This is a political statement
from people who subscribe to particular
variety of bureaucratic feminist politics
- a politics that claims that one’s identity
makes one beyond challenge.
Either the knowledge and historical
memory of oppression has no objective
basis and can only be derived from
personal experience - in which case
the rest of us are left with no frame of
reference, should intra- or inter-group
conflict arise; or we can learn from
collective experience, which can be
analysed and discussed by everybody.
Indeed one need only look at the response
of intersectional feminists to those who
have themselves suffered at the hands
March 27 2014 1003 worker
How to vote on March 29
Mike Macnair outlines the recommendations of the Communist Platform
he final agenda for the Left Unity
policy conference was published
on March 25.1 At a meeting two
days earlier, Communist Platform
supporters discussed our attitude to the
various policy documents and motions
- as they stood before amendments and
compositing (see p11). Then in the
evening of March 25 the CP steering
committee agreed on our attitude to
the final version, noting in particular
the amendments and composites. This
article gives some comments and
recommendations for voting on the
basis of these decisions.
Regrettably, it is clear that
discussion of all of the issues on the
agenda will be severely cramped. There
will be 70 minutes to get through all the
motions on the economy and austerity;
55 minutes for health and housing; 45
minutes for migration and Europe;
30 minutes for electoral strategy; 20
minutes for trade unions; 25 minutes
for environment; 30 minutes for antiracism and the national question; and
30 minutes for foreign policy. For
a number of motions, listed at the
back of the pack, time has not been
allocated; and the various resolutions
on aspects of building LU have,
rightly, been referred to the incoming
national council.
Policy commission representatives
will have five minutes, movers of
motions three minutes, movers of
amendments two minutes, and speakers
from the floor - where time is allocated
for them - variable very short times
(for example, six minutes in total is
allocated to speakers from the floor on
the important and disputed question of
whether LU should support proposals
for a ‘basic’ or a ‘citizen’s’ income).
Certainly none of the motions for
which time has not been allocated
will be reached. To the extent that
this concerns motions put forward by
individual members, this is in theory
justifiable under the constitution
adopted in November; but there are
question marks over the political
choices made by the standing orders
committee, which has included some
individual motions under the relevant
agenda headings, but has omitted
others, and some branch motions.
These are perhaps legitimate political
choices, but in the absence of a
published explanation of the reasoning
it is hard to see what the ground of the
choices is.
Thus, for example, though there
is an agenda heading on ‘the state’,
including Northampton’s motion on
the right to protest and Glasgow’s
on Edward Snowden, Norwich’s
motion on the monarchy and House
of Lords as well as Tina Becker’s and
Peter Manson’s on democracy and
Emily Orford’s and James Turley’s
on freedom of information are not
included. On the other hand, in the
agenda section on ‘internationalism
and the national question’, Glasgow’s
motion is supplemented by the
inclusion of individual motions put
forward by Steve Freeman and Russell
Caplan and by Ben Lewis and Justin
Constantinou. The choice is clearly
not driven by the idea that we should
discuss issues which appear to be
controversial, since time has not been
found for Nottinghamshire’s motion
on sex workers or the LGBT caucus’s
‘wrecking’ amendment to it.
Even in spite of this pruning of
the agenda, it will still clearly be too
tight and we should expect at least
section 8 (foreign policy, etc) to drop
off. Cardiff, Crouch End and Hackney
have rightly proposed that the foreign
policy commission document should
be referred back. It would be better,
therefore, to have this vote at the
no doubt be some poor sod of a junior
official in a benefits office who got
charged, not the senior policy-makers,
the Daily Hate Mail journos, or the
financial sector insiders who are at the
end of the day behind the creation of
Health, housing
beginning of the conference, in order
to enable the SOC to re-timetable.
It cannot be stressed too strongly
how undesirable, irrational and antidemocratic is the method LU has de
facto adopted of overloaded agendas
in one-day meetings, making any
serious discussion of individual
issues impossible. It would have
been a lot better to limit the agenda
further to allow proper discussion
of fewer issues, but this is now past
praying for. The same can be said of
the more fundamental alternative: that
LU should have gone for a two-day
delegate conference (even then on
a more limited agenda) to enable a
proper discussion.
It also appears that the SOC has
adopted the anti-democratic ‘Citrine’
line that passing one motion causes
another on the same topic to fall (eg,
at section 3 on Europe), as opposed
to the more democratic procedure
of establishing whether motions are
counterposed to one another and, if
they are, voting them one against
the other. They have not followed
Citrine consistently: in relation to
the economic policy commission
document, subsequent motions which
are partially counter to its present text
are to be treated as amendments to it
if they pass.
Not all of the necessary compositing
has been done. It is clear that all the
housing motions could and should
have been composited together, since
there is nothing actually counterposed
in any of them, but merely differences
of expression (with the single
exception of a small idiotic proposal
in the Farnos/Healy motion from the
LGBT caucus to abolish buy-to-let
mortgages, which as drafted would
abolish the ability of councils and
housing associations to borrow for
Similarly, it is clear that on Europe,
motions 21 from Lambeth and 22
from Manchester, and Nik Barstow
and Ruth Cashman, definitely should
have been composited, since both are
merely variants of the Alliance for
Workers’ Liberty’s model motion.
In fact, there is no obvious reason in
principle why these motions should
not have been composited with 23
from Milton Keynes, and that of Sarah
McDonald and Phil Kent. The general
line is the same: for common action of
the workers’ movement on a European
scale, as opposed to ‘left Ukipism’; the
AWL model has some more detail on
action in the European elections, while
Milton Keynes/McDonald and Kent
(based on the Communist Platform’s
model) has more on the sort of Europe
we want to see. Both 21/22 and 23
have in effect a common line with 19
from Crouch End - the refoundation of
Europe on a socialist basis - but, since
Crouch End’s motion mainly recites
the declaration of the European Left
Party, compositing would have been
cumbersome. All the same, all three
motions can stand together, and 21-23
should be part of the same discussion
with Crouch End’s motion and
Southwark’s, rather than (as the SOC
has decided) forming a separate one
after voting on 19-20 has taken place.
economic policy
We agreed at our March 23 CP meeting
that the ‘economics policy’ commission
document (No1) should be referred
back: it is written too much within the
framework of imagining that the UK
can on its own break with the main
lines of the dominant policy of the
international capitalist class, and is in
consequence unrealistic. It is not clear
if there will be an opportunity to move
reference-back. If not, a vote against
the document would be appropriate.
However, some of the amendments
would worsen it and others would
improve it. The commission’s
arguments for rejecting the
‘unconditional basic income’ proposal
are sound, and the amendments
proposed by Leamington Spa (1A)
and by Micheline and Christine Wilson
(1B) should therefore be rejected.
Brighton and Hove’s amendment
1C to add that “We would disregard
intellectual property rights where those
rights pertain to inalienable natural
commons ...” is weak - there is a strong
case even for free marketeers, let alone
for socialists, for the complete abolition
of intellectual property rights.2 But it
is an improvement on the existing text
and should be supported. Manchester’s
amendment 1D adds the useful point
that an LU government would be
willing to use expropriation as a
means of coercing capitalist sabotage
and should be supported. Lambeth’s
amendments (1E), on raising the state
pension to median income levels, on
placing the economy “in the hands of
the majority” and democratic decisionmaking, on a 35-hour week without loss
of pay, the abolition of VAT, and raising
the top rate of income tax to 90%, are
all supportable.
The Class Struggle Platform’s
‘programme for resistance’ (2) is a
typical Trot ‘action programme’, a
combination of minimalist and utterly
vague proposals. It was also already
out of date in November 2013 and is
even more so now. It should be rejected.
West London (as amended by
Sheffield and Loughborough - No3)
proposes a unity approach to anticuts campaigning: clearly correct.
Southwark (4) proposes a campaign
for a 21-hour week - more radical than
the commission’s 35-hour week, but
not strictly counterposed. This idea
should be supported. The Manchester
Central/Manchester South motion
on zero-hours contracts has been
improved by Oxford’s amendment to
add in working with trade unions (5);
it should be supported.
Bristol, as amended by Barnet (6),
calls for support for Owen Jones’
‘Agenda for hope’, and for LU to
affiliate to the People’s Assembly.
It is quite right for LU to affiliate to
the People’s Assembly - the more
unity in action, the better. But the
‘Agenda for hope’ is another Britainonly utopia. For this reason, if the
resolution cannot be taken in parts, a
vote against is appropriate. Norwich
(7) offers another ‘action programme’.
Brighton and Hove (7A) have correctly
proposed that this “needs more work
and should be remitted”.
Birmingham (8) proposes a
campaign against the proposed USEU trade deal (TTIP). The reasoning
is national-sovereignty based and thus
unsound, but the substantive proposal
is supportable.
Leicester’s motion on Atos (9) is
slightly dated, given the company’s
announced withdrawal from its
contract, but makes the fundamentally
correct point that “in so far as an
assessment of particular individual
needs is necessary, it should be
undertaken by properly qualified
professional experts”. Glasgow (9A),
for some reason, proposes to amend
this by adding at the end “… who are
in full-time work within the DWP”.
Why this is appropriate is not obvious:
why would it not be appropriate for an
assessment to be made by, for example,
the claimant’s own GP or relevant
specialist? Glasgow’s amendment
should be rejected and Leicester’s
motion should be passed.
Wandsworth (10) proposes to
“make it illegal to leave a person
destitute: ie, without any money to
live on”. This proposal should be
rejected. Who would be charged with
this proposed crime? If it were actually
to be adopted in legislation, it would
We took the view on March 23 that the
health policy commission document
(11) is supportable. On Tuesday the
steering committee discussed the two
amendments put forward by Hackney
(11A - one to add to the “immediate
demands”, and the other attacking “big
pharma”). We agreed that these should
be supported. Lambeth’s amendment
(11B), directed against conflicts of
interest in persons responsible for
NHS purchasing, merely states the
current law. It is therefore redundant,
but mostly harmless3 and should be
passed. Islington, West London and
Barnet’s composite (12) calling for a
unitary approach to campaigns for the
defence of the NHS is clearly correct
and should be passed. Birmingham’s
motion on defence of the NHS (13)
appears to be redundant, duplicating
material in the policy commission
document, but if put to the vote should
be supported.
I said earlier that the housing
motions should all have been
composited. Given that they have not
been, they should all be supported,
with the exception of the Farnos/
Healy LGBT caucus motion (17). The
main problem with this motion is its
sectionalist method: it makes (mostly
sound) proposals for general housing
policy, but motivates them entirely by
the suggested concerns of a particular
section (lesbians, gay men and trans
people). These concerns could and
should have been addressed by way
of an amendment or amendments
to a general motion. LU needs to
offer a global political alternative
in the interests of the working class
as a whole, synthesising rather than
merely aggregating the concerns of
particular sections. It is a minor point
that, as indicated above, the motion
contains a proposal on banning ‘buyto-let’ mortgages which is stupidly
Both Liverpool’s motion (14) and
the LGBT caucus motion contain a
small error: the demand to “re-legalise
rent strikes”. Since rent strikes have
never been legal (until 1977 they
amounted to criminal conspiracy, and
since then have continued to amount
to tortious conspiracy), the right word
would be ‘legalise’. But, apart from
making LU look slightly silly, the error
does not affect the substance.
Liverpool’s motion also contains
the proposal that “Housing should be
aesthetically pleasing to the eye and
take into account existing designs of
properties in the local area”. This is
probably a legacy of the old Militantled Liverpool Labour council in the
1980s (which built new terraced
housing because that was what locals
wanted), but risks sounding like prince
Charles’s anti-modernism. Diversity
of housing provision and mixed-use
neighbourhoods are, in fact, most
likely to produce the aesthetic merits
aimed at. Nonetheless, this minor
weakness is not a reason to oppose
what is generally a supportable motion.
West London’s amendment 14A
to Liverpool’s motion, in support
of housing cooperatives, should be
supported. 4 Lee Rock and Sarah
McDonald have composited their
motion on housing with Milton
Keynes’s 16 (both are derived from
the Communist Platform model) and
propose the remaining difference as an
worker 1003 March 27 2014
amendment (16A). So Milton Keynes
calls for rents set at an “affordable”
level, and Rock/McDonald, following
our original model, for them to be set
at a “token” level. The substance of
the difference is that the Communist
Platform believes housing provision
can and should be taken wholly into
the need-based sector.
Europe, migration
The first item on this agenda point is
No18, the anti-racism policy group’s
document on migration policy. This
document is substantially better
than the general ‘anti-racism policy’
document produced by this group, but
is still written within the framework
of the sectionalism dominant on the
left, and also consists to a large extent
of factual claims which will result in
its becoming rapidly obsolete. We
would argue for reference-back with
an instruction to strip it down to the
core of long-term policy proposals.
But if - as seems likely - there is no
opportunity to move reference-back or
this fails, the essential policy proposals
in the document are supportable and
we are recommending that comrades
vote for it.
I said above that most of the
motions on Europe should have been
composited. No19, from Crouch End,
supporting the European Left Party’s
declaration for a “refoundation of
Europe”, has been weakened by
the acceptance of West London’s
amendment, adding that “There is no
question that the EU is an anti-working
class institution and we support the
struggles against ... ongoing neoliberal
attacks which are intrinsic to the
EU”: true enough, but in this context
it omits to mention that the UK is
also an anti-working class institution
and “neoliberal attacks” are equally
intrinsic to it (through its dependence
on City finance), so that the effect
of the amendment is to convey the
impression that the EU is more antiworking class than the UK, which is
straightforwardly false. Nonetheless,
in spite of these weasel words, the
motion is supportable.
Southwark’s motion 20 on LU’s
stance in the 2014 EU elections - urging
neutrality except where regions decide
otherwise, where there is a threat of
a “fascist or xenophobic” victory
- should be rejected. The idea that
LU should automatically be neutral
where the choice is between Labour
and Conservatives is nonsense: the
Conservatives are as “xenophobic” as
the UK Independence Party. We should
not automatically call for a Labour
vote - among other reasons because
there may be better left candidates;
but we should not make neutrality the
starting point.
The AWL-model motion in its
two forms from Lambeth (21) and
Manchester/Barstow and Cashman
(22), is also supportable. Manchester
proposes four amendments (21A)
to Lambeth’s version. The first and
third should be rejected. Contrary to
the first, opposing entry to the euro
(in reality, this is not a live issue) is a
British nationalist position. Rejecting
the statement is just flat-earthism. The
motivation offered for opposing euro
entry ignores the equally undemocratic
and unaccountable character of the
Bank of England (and its undemocratic
and unaccountable character when it
was formally nationalised).
Manchester’s second amendment
would substitute “For a Europe of
democratic socialist states” for the
original’s “For a European workers’
government”. ‘Workers’ government’
slogans in the abstract are pretty
meaningless, but “For a Europe of
democratic socialist states” promotes
socialism-in-one-country politics. This
amendment should also be opposed.
The third amendment is to delete
from the original “To refuse support
from LU as an organisation to all nonworking class parties and candidates
and all parties supporting cuts, austerity
and privatisation of our services”. This
amendment should be supported for the
same reason that Southwark’s motion
20 should be opposed: we should not
be completely and automatically neutral
between the open representatives of
capital (Tories, etc) and the Labour
Party, which claims by its name to
represent the independent interests of
the working class.
C r o u c h E n d ’s a l t e r n a t i v e
amendment to this point - to add at
the end of the original paragraph 5
“without excluding the possibility of
specific discussions, for example with
the Green Party, over how to ensure
that a far-right or fascist candidate is
not elected” - should be rejected. It
reflects the common illusion that the
Greens are part of the left - and is in
any case nonsense, since, where there
is a real threat of a far-right candidate
being elected, LU support for the
Greens would not make the slightest
difference to the outcome.
West London (22A) proposes to
delete the paragraph in the Manchester/
Barstow and Cashman version which
identifies demanding withdrawal from
the EU as British nationalist. This
proposal should be rejected, on the
same grounds as Manchester’s proposal
to amend Lambeth’s point 3: it is flatearthist. (The underlying problem is
that there is a large part of the British
left, including much of the Trotskyistderived section, which wants to play
footsie with British nationalism, but
does not want to recognise itself as
advocates of British nationalist ideas
and ‘national roads to socialism’. The
result is bizarre contortions.)
Milton Keynes’ motion 23, also
moved by Sarah McDonald and Phil
Kent, is our own proposal from the
Communist Platform and we obviously
support it. The argument of the SOC
that the motion should automatically
fall if motion 22 and amendment 22A
are carried is anti-democratic. While
amendment 22A would delete the
opposition to EU withdrawal from
motion 22, it would put nothing in
its place. Even if the two resulting
motions are counter, they should be
voted against each other rather than
following Citrine’s method.
Electoral strategy,
the state
Rugby’s motion 24, calling for steps
towards “one party of the left” is
plainly correct and should be passed.
The same is true of Pete McLaren’s
and Dave Landau’s motion 27 calling
for discussions with a view to avoiding
clashes and to electoral pacts in the
2015 general election.
What was previously Crouch End’s
motion to the November founding
conference and West London’s and
Huddersfield’s amendments to it is now
motion 25, put forward in the name
of West London. The amendments
improve the motion, but leave in place
the ‘poison pill’ that the best (election
campaigns with local mass support) is
made the enemy of the good (election
campaigns as a means of winning local
mass support). It should be rejected.
So should Rugby’s amendment 25A,
allowing local LU groups to contest
elections, but to choose “under what
electoral label they stand”. This would
leave LU merely as an umbrella group
for the left status quo ante.
Bristol’s motion 26 calls for
prospective Green and Labour
candidates to join us in campaigning
for an eight-point plan (related, though
not identical, to the ‘Agenda for hope’).
This is the opposite error to the autoanti-Labourism of Southwark’s 20 and
Lambeth’s point 5 in No21, turning LU
into a mere pressure group auxiliary to
the ‘official lefts’ in Labour. It should
be rejected.
Northampton’s motion 28 on
defending the right to protest,
especially on campuses, is clearly
supportable, though the call for
support for John McDonnell’s early
day motion from February is a little
dated. We should also obviously vote
for Glasgow’s motion 29 on support
for Edward Snowden.
As I indicated at the outset, it
is odd to have an agenda item, part
of which is on ‘the state’, and then
exclude from this item Norwich’s
motion 49 on the monarchy and House
of Lords, Tina Becker’s and Peter
Manson’s No53 on democracy, Emily
Orford’s and James Turley’s No54 on
freedom of information, and Moshé
Machover’s and Steve Cooke’s No55
on governmental power (the last three
from Communist Platform): we are
going to talk about ‘the state’, but only
about concrete instances of repression,
not about general principles. I guess
that this exclusion reflects the desire of
some LU people to dodge the choice
between constitutional loyalism
and pursuit of independent working
class politics. This is also reflected
in the Manchester and West London
amendments to the Europe motions,
which falsely present the EU as more
anti-working class than the UK’s
constitutional monarchy.
Trade unions,
Very little needs to be said about
the motions on trade union strategy.
Composite 30 from Sheffield, as
amended by West London and
Birmingham, should be supported.
So should amendment 30A from
Lambeth, which strengthens it, and
West London’s motion 31, which
makes more elementary but still
correct points.
The environment motions are also
all supportable, though they would
clearly have benefitted from more
compositing and a certain amount of
editing. Southwark’s motion 32 on
floods and climate change is largely
composed of a newspaper-style article,
but the substantive policy proposals at
the end are sound.
Milton Keynes’s motion 33 on the
environment, based on the Communist
Platform’s model, is more general in
character; we obviously support it.
We also obviously support Michael
Copestake’s and Robert Eagleton’s
amendment 33A to restore to it the
point from the model version that “Left
Unity rejects the claim that workers
create all wealth under capitalism.
There is also the wealth that comes
from the labour of peasants, the petty
bourgeoisie and middle class strata.
Above all that, there is nature too.”
We oppose Lambeth’s amendment
33B, which would delete the point that
“Concrete jungles, urban sprawl, huge
farms and uninterrupted industrialised
agriculture are profoundly alienating
and inhuman. Towns and cities should
be full of trees, roof gardens, planted
walls, allotments, wild parks and little
farms.” It is not clear what the point of
this amendment is.
The Stockport and Manchester
composite 34 on fracking is also
clearly to be supported.
national question
This agenda item consists of the
anti-racism policy group’s main
document, plus three resolutions on
the national question. We would urge
reference-back of the former (35).
It is framed by the assumptions of
sectionalism and ‘intersectionality’;
it fails to recognise the existence
of forms of nativism, particularly
against European migrants, which
cannot without extreme artificiality be
characterised as ‘racism’ or as part of
the same complex as empire-derived
racism; and it fails to recognise the
existence of systems of carrot-based
divide and rule, under which the state
treats certain ‘elders’ of particular
BME ‘communities’ as authoritative
interlocutors and beneficiaries of
largesse from central and local
government. Reference-back would
allow these serious problems to be
corrected and some of the worthwhile
policies proposed to be adopted on a
clearer basis - or at least a fuller debate
than is possible at this very rushed
conference. If it is not referred back,
we would recommend a vote against.
We support Glasgow’s motion 36
on internationalism and the national
question, and oppose Cardiff ’s
amendment 36A to remove “Left Unity
will not support Scottish or Welsh
nationalism”, which attempts to take
the edge off it. We also oppose West
London’s amendment 36B, for reasons
referred to above in connection with
the Europe agenda point.
Support for Glasgow’s motion and
opposition to Cardiff’s amendment
obviously implies opposition to Steve
Freeman’s and Russell Caplan’s
motion 37 (supported by Southwark
and Worcester), which is in substance
advocacy of a ‘yes’ vote in the coming
referendum on Scots independence.
We - obviously - support Ben
Lewis’s and Justin Constantinou’s
motion 38, which is the CP’s model
motion offering a strategic alternative
policy on the national question.
Foreign policy
We agreed on March 23 to urge
reference-back of the foreign policy
commission document (39) as
incoherent and informed by ‘socialism
in one country’ ideas. It is pleasing
to see that Crouch End, Cardiff and
Hackney (39A) are all proposing to
refer it back, and this proposal should
clearly be supported. An alternative
refer-back version with positive
directions from Hackney appears out
of logical order as No39C. How this
will be voted is not clear, but I guess
the Hackney version, 39C, will be
subsumed in the general proposal; if
not, it is supportable.
If reference-back fails, amendments
will be taken from Crouch End,
Nottingham, Lambeth and Leicester.
Crouch End’s amendments (39B) are
fiddly and hard to follow; they appear
to be within the same incoherent
general framework as the policy
commission document and should be
rejected. Nottingham’s amendment
(39D) usefully stresses Britain’s
imperialist past and present, and
should be supported. Lambeth’s (39E)
also stresses the issue of imperialism
and is supportable. Leicester’s motion
41 is effectively an amendment to the
policy commission document, urging
unilateral nuclear disarmament, and
should be supported.
Leicester’s motion 40 on setting up
an international exchange programme
for youth is in principle supportable,
but does not address practicalities at
all. It should be remitted to the national
council to address the issue more
concretely. If not, a vote in favour
would be justified.
Manchester ’s motion 42 on
the Syrian civil war should be
supported. Sheffield’s amendment
42A, reducing point 1 of the positive
policy recommendations to “Oppose
all foreign intervention in the Syrian
civil war” strengthens the resolution
by simplifying it, and should also be
The composite motion 43 on
Palestine and the boycott, divestment
and sanction campaign from Waltham
Forest, Glasgow and York is stronger
than either of the motions previously
circulated. It will presumably be
opposed by AWL members - who
are against BDS as too general,
inconsistent with the ‘two states’
policy, and apt to sever links with the
workers’ movement. It is also true
that advocates of BDS sometimes
draw an illusory parallel with the fall
of apartheid in South Africa, which
actually resulted from the unionisation
of black workers and the fall of the
USSR, removing the geopolitical need
of the USA to support the apartheid
regime. The point of boycott campaigns
is, however, solidarity in symbolism;
and this resolution commits LU to
no more than participating in this
solidarity in symbolic rejection of
the settler-colonial regime in Israel. It
should be supported.
Motion 44 on war and peace from
Milton Keynes is a modified version
of the Communist Platform model
and we would urge support for it.
Equally obviously, we would support
the amendment from Yassamine
Mather and Mike Macnair, which
would restore to the motion the point
in the original model, that “Peace
cannot come courtesy of bodies such
as the United Nations - an assembly
of exploiters and murderers. It is
the duty of socialists to connect the
popular desire for peace with the aims
of revolution. Only by disarming the
bourgeoisie and through the victory of
international socialism can the danger
of war be eliminated.” Illusions in the
UN are a very common mistake of the
left and should be combated.
Motion 45 from Mark Fischer
and David Isaacson on the standing
army and people’s militia is again a
Communist Platform model motion
and we obviously support it. It draws
out the concrete implications of a
really defensive policy. I am told it
has been characterised as ‘mad’: it
is a ‘madness’ we are proud to share
with ... the notorious revisionist,
Eduard Bernstein. The idea that it is
‘mad’ reflects just how far the British
left has moved right and adapted itself
to accepting the role of her majesty’s
mercenary armed forces.
The remaining policy motions, 4655, are very unlikely to be taken,
since time has not been allocated for
them. In the unlikely event that any of
them are put to the vote, here are our
Leicester’s No46 on art and culture is
inoffensive, but should be referred to the
national council, since it is about building
LU, not about policy. Nottinghamshire’s
motion 47 on sex workers proposes
merely to move police powers and the
‘unlawfulness’ of prostitution around.
The LGBT caucus’s amendment 47A
would draw the sting and should be
supported; if that is not passed, the
motion should be rejected.
Birmingham’s motion 48 on a
“listening campaign” is a Blairite proposal
for policy-making by focus group and
should be rejected. Norwich (49) on
the monarchy should be supported.
Nottinghamshire (50) identifies politics
in terms of intersectionalism and should
be rejected.
Ian Donovan’s and Simon Wells’
No51 on crime is a Communist
Platform model and should be
supported. Robert Eagleton’s and
Lucy Stoneleigh’s No52 on support
for Robert Eagleton’s campaign for
the NUS executive is individualistic
and anyhow obsolete; it should be
withdrawn and, if not, rejected. Nos5355 are Communist Platform model
motions on fundamental issues about
the state structure, and we obviously
favour them being passed l
[email protected]
1. The standing orders committee report is at
Standing-Orders-Report-Spring-2014-2.pdf, and
the motions and amendments at http://leftunity.
2. See my articles, ‘A bridge too far’ (Weekly
Worker December 18 2003), and ‘Copyright or
human need’ (December 14 2006).
3. There is a potential trap in it, which is that the
logic of the law of ‘conflicts of interest’ has been
used to support compulsory competitive tendering
and against public officials accepting internal
bids: ie, in favour of privatisation. But, as drafted,
the motion is limited to direct conflicts of financial
4. Though with due attention to what can be done
about the potential use of ‘housing cooperatives’
in the current law as an artificial device to deny
tenant security: eg, the problem created in
Berrisford v Mexfield Housing Cooperative [2011]
UKSC 52.
March 27 2014 1003 worker
The internet in the epoch of decline
Extravagant revolutionary claims are made for new digital media and the technological avant-garde. The
truth, argues Paul Demarty, is more complicated
t the end of 2011, The
Guardian published a short
interactive quiz - entitled ‘How
revolutionary were you in 2011?’1
It was, after all, a good year to be a
revolutionary, with the overthrow of Ben
Ali and Mubarak, the student protests and
the Occupy movement. Time magazine
named “the protestor” its person of the
year; the BBC’s in-house leftie and
sometime-Trot, Paul Mason, published,
to wide acclaim, Why it’s kicking off
Answering the quiz is odd, however,
because, according to The Guardian,
invariably the most ‘revolutionary’
response in 2011 was to … follow the
Twitter feeds of various protestors and
their chosen hashtags. We had inklings
of this political approach previously,
when mass protests erupted after the
Iranian presidential election, and were
promptly credited to the revolutionary
power of the same microblogging
platform; not three years later, the
Twitter Ideology was well rooted, and
animated in this country small protest
movements such as UK Uncut.
According to this view, Twitter
allowed a message - a ‘call to action’
- to spread like wildfire without the
apparent mediation of traditional
activist institutions, such as political
parties, trade unions or ideologically
defined small groups. Technoutopianism is hardly new, but older
versions had proposed technology as
a way to overcome resource scarcity
and eliminate human labour, leaving
us free to live in peace and luxury. The
claim of the Twitterites is different technology allows disruption. As
Finley Peter Dunne said of the press,
technology comforts the afflicted and
afflicts the comfortable. It erodes
oppressive hierarchies, allowing not
the stifling quiet of the techno-utopias
past, but a carnival of creative chaos.
Anarchism has finally come true.
This ideology persists to this day.
It persists perhaps most strongly
in inverted form, among enraged
authoritarians, great and small. Alex
Callinicos infamously called the
Facebook social network “the dark
side of the internet”,2 as the Socialist
Workers Party crisis spilled into the
public eye and was raked over, point
by point, by an audience largely on
social media. Martin Thomas of the
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty wrote
an article linking social media to
shortening attention spans among
comrades, shortly after the AWL had
its own Facebook-driven scandal.3
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently
blocked Twitter in Turkey, blaming its
users for “all kinds of immorality, all
kinds of espionage and spying”.4
On the face of it, however, the
notion that social media is that
transformative is absurd. The student
movement was utterly defeated, and
the remnants of its key organisations
are in tatters. The SWP has basically
lost its entire student cohort, many of
whom were players in 2010-11, and
the National Campaign Against Fees
and Cuts is quietly drowning in mutual
recrimination between the AWL and
identity politics fanatics.
Occupy is, by all reasonable
measures, dead as a doornail; it
has dissolved into various liberal
campaigning groups. The ‘Arab
spring’ is very definitely over. The
Tunisians and Egyptians replaced
their military dictators not with
techno-literate liberals or leftwingers,
but with Islamists, and in the case of
Egypt, supported in large numbers
what amounts to a counterrevolution
by the old regime. UK Uncut got a
Tweeting to the future
brief wave of press attention for its
anti-tax avoidance protests; but in the
years since it has become easier for
corporations to avoid tax. All of the
supposed social media-enabled protest
movements have failed, abjectly.
And yet, the idea persists.
Understanding why requires placing
social media in its broader historical
context: firstly, of the ‘web apparatus’,
the technical-social structure of
production in information technology;
and, secondly, of the underlying
political and ideological dynamics of
our period.
Web and decline
To understand the web apparatus, we
must first reverse a commonplace
concerning the significance of the
It is commonly thought that
the ‘information age’ confirms the
continuing vitality of capitalism
as a system. The productive forces
have advanced, in this sphere, with
extraordinary rapidity in the 25
years since the first web pages were
created. Moore’s Law - a statistical
hypothesis that computing power
doubles every 18 months or so - has
held up remarkably well, despite
the manufacture of microprocessors
hitting certain limits of the laws of
physics along the way. Stock trading
is considerably automated; markets are
almost instantaneously responsive to
information; Marshall McLuhan’s
‘global village’ gets more real every
day. All that is solid melts - not so much
into air, but the light that traverses the
world’s fibre-optic pipelines.
The truth is the opposite. The advent
of this brave new world is a sharp
expression of capitalism’s decline as
a social formation. We say ‘decline’,
here, in the sense used by Hillel
Ticktin: the immanent laws of
capital, and the operations of the
market, decreasingly determine
productive activity. Socialisation
and concentration of production, the
hypertrophy of the state and other
factors begin to take over from the
laws of capital, though capitalist
exploitation persists.5
As a simple matter of history, the
internet is the product of what you
could call the military-academic
complex. It speaks, first of all, to the
needs of the US department of defence,
and also those of various departments
of computer science - and from thence
came the funds and resources needed
to get it off the ground. The same
is quite true of the web, which was
invented at Cern by Tim Berners Lee Cern being the European Organisation
for Nuclear Research. It is, in short, a
product of the state.
Indeed, the links are deeper. The first
functioning computers were created to
aid code-breaking during World War II;
throughout the subsequent half-decade,
the primary drivers of advances in
computing were state actors.
The private sector has, at particular
times and places, had a serious role in
breakthrough innovations in computer
infrastructure. Much pioneering work
was done at Bell Labs and Xerox
PARC, for example; but the most
important inventions have ended up,
one way or another, in the public
domain. The Unix operating system
and C programming language were
products of Bell Labs; but the former
was eventually superseded by free
clones such as GNU, FreeBSD and
Linux, and the latter published as an
open standard.
As a result of that tendency, the
second - more recent - major driver
of innovation arrived: free and
open-source software (FOSS). Free:
software is ‘free as in free beer’
(ie, it costs nothing), and ‘free as in
free speech’ (there are no juridical
obstacles to using or modifying the
software). Open source: the source
code (ie, the program written by the
programmer, as opposed to the series
of zeroes and ones actually executed by
the computer) is published, so anyone
can read and learn from the code, or
write modifications to improve it.
FOSS is a most peculiar
phenomenon - it amounts to an
enormous gift economy, sponsored
and sustained both by the capitalist
state and large capitalist enterprises.
Institutions from the government to
Google, to The Guardian maintain
open-source software. Development
is crowdsourced on an enormous scale:
a programmer in Japan can fix a bug
in a text editor written by people at a
British newspaper, and the resulting
code can be obtained by a government
agency in Brazil - where, perhaps, the
editor will be developed further as new
requirements emerge, and those new
features make it back ‘upstream’ to the
main code repository …
From a communist perspective,
clearly, there is much to like about FOSS
- but its greatest virtue is that it works,
and it works better than proprietary
products. It is not just a ‘nice idea’,
but the solution of first resort for entire
classes of technical problems.
The vast majority of web servers
- computers whose purpose is to
deliver web pages to computer users
- run variants of Linux, or other free
Unix derivatives, for example. It is
not altogether surprising. Servers
are critical infrastructure, exposed
to everyone who wants to make a
connection - and thus various malicious
hackers (‘black hats’); without access
to the code, you are left guessing as to
whether the developers have properly
secured their software. Should your
server come crashing to a halt due
to a software bug, a solution can be
rapidly crowdsourced - rather than
waiting, as one often has to, months
for some trivial fault to be corrected
by an overworked team at a private
company, guarding their code like a
stash of bullion.
Meet the new
Of course, it is hardly atypical for
the state to take on the function of
maintaining basic infrastructure,
which is then used by capitalist
enterprises to turn a profit. Indeed,
it is the norm: even when, as in this
country, such infrastructure has
nominally been privatised, it is usually
propped up by state largesse in a
basically corrupt arrangement. (FOSS
is more remarkable here.)
Yet what is striking about the
web apparatus is how resistant it is
to profitable productive activity. Let
us imagine an old-fashioned circuit
of capital. A Bolton factory produces
so many yards of cotton. These
are transferred via rail to London,
where the material is worked up into
garments. Here, the infrastructure (rail)
enables the realisation of surplus value
embodied in the cotton through its
purchase and incorporation into further
production (the sweatshop).
Now, let us take one of the most
profitable web companies on earth Google. What does Google produce?
Sure, there are subsidiaries (Motorola
and so on) knocking out commodities
in, as the tech argot calls the material
world, ‘meatspace’. But that is not the
point. Google ‘produces’ you.
Google makes money traditionally
through the entrapment of millions perhaps billions - of users with free
services (many of which, admittedly,
are better than any of the competition).
These users are valuable to advertisers:
Google sells this enormous base,
coupled with some highly ingenious
data-crunching code to target
advertisements at relevant users. It
then rents that code to others, who
can use the sophisticated algorithms to
gather advertising revenue from their
own sites. Google became a multibillion dollar company essentially
through a colossal, unending act of
product placement.
Of course, there is the matter of their
phone business; but it is an illusion
to suppose that Google, or Apple,
are making the real money out of the
admittedly nice hardware; or even the
software as such. The more time goes
on, the more Google’s Android phone
operating system traps consumers into
the Google brand. (On my Googlebranded phone, even text messages
are sent through Google’s own
Hangouts app.) You are increasingly
locked in to the Google app store. I
say ‘increasingly’, as Android was
initially pitched as an open-source
alternative to Apple’s iOS - which
has been based on this model from the
beginning. What is interesting here is
that all players, whatever their origins
(including, nowadays, Microsoft), are
being objectively pushed towards this
‘walled garden’ service model.
The app stores, naturally, are
nothing without apps. But it is clear
where the power lies. The relationship
between independent app developers
and Google, Apple and the rest
resembles not the relationship between
Lancashire cotton mills and London
sweatshops, but rather that between
landlord and peasant, or between Tesco
and the farms who produce its food.
It is an exploitative rent relationship
- the major consumer-tech and web
corporations are rentiers.
A similar situation obtains in other
matters. Take music. Whether or not
the rate of profit across capitalism is
declining, it is perfectly clear that the
rate of profit in the music industry
has completely collapsed in the past
decade - thanks to the internet, and
the ease with which recordings can be
copied. And so now money is made
not by record labels or stores (it never
really was made by musicians), but by
companies - Apple again with iTunes,
Spotify and similar streaming services
- who can act as gatekeepers and
artificially restrict supply. Such
companies play the same role in the
music industry today as Opec does in
oil production.
In order to sustain their privileged
and profitable positions, Google, Apple
and co call on the traditional agency the capitalist state. Recent years have
seen enormous, absurd, multi-billiondollar patent lawsuits dragged through
the courts. Every major player in the
mobile space has sued and been sued at
least once in such litigation. The point
is not, of course, to drive each other
out of business - success and failure
more or less balances out, and the only
worker 1003 March 27 2014
caste that reliably gains from these
things is the lawyers. The point is that,
given the staggering costs involved, no
other serious competitors can emerge
unless they already have billions in cash
reserves and an army of lawyers.
This obscurely exploitative
relationship permeates modern tech.
We have mentioned open source;
and repeat that, to those capitalist
ideologues who believe that only
the cold compulsion of hunger can
stir a feckless human into productive
activity, its success is a standing
rebuke. By the same token, however,
open-source development amounts
to unpaid labour. The profit on this
labour is realised by the established
players, who are in the best position to
benefit financially from improvement
in the robustness and usefulness of the
web as a platform - the rentiers.
The hacker
We need now to consider the effects
of this ambiguous relationship of
exploitation on developers themselves,
and the rise to supremacy of a
particular ideological structure among
those who build the web.
This is necessary for assessing the
political significance of the web for
numerous reasons. First of all, the
hacker ideology is now a matter of big
politics.6 Wikileaks, the Snowden files,
Anonymous and other ‘hacktivists’
- all are very public, very visible
expressions of this ideology at work.
Secondly, social networks are
built predominantly by tech startups based on what some talented
group of coders think would be a
popular idea; those roots are visible
in the final product. This is nowhere
more true than with Twitter, whose
use of ampersands, hash signs and
text commands resembles nothing
in natural language, but very much
resembles code. Early adopters were
universally geeks, who fell (as they
often do) for the elegant simplicity
of the idea; only later did it become
the horror show it is today. Thirdly,
and consequently, the hacker mindset
might tell us something about why
people’s behaviour on the social web
is so frequently irrational and bizarre.
Programming is, by its nature,
skilled labour. It may be more or less
skilled; there is a world of difference
between writing a few lines of code to
make a drop-down menu on a website,
say, and writing an operating system
kernel. All, however, require at least a
level of mathematical literacy, logical
thinking and (last, but not least) typing
accuracy. The most able hackers will
have a grasp of how code is translated
into instructions a computer can
understand, the workings of computer
hardware, computational algorithms,
and even highly abstract formal
mathematical logic (for example,
Alonzo Church’s lambda calculus
is the basis for a whole family of
programming languages).
Skilled labour is traditionally a
problematic category for Marxist
political economy. My comrade, Mike
Macnair, has argued - and I agree that skills possess value as means of
production, and thus represent the
interpenetration of classes: the more
skills one possesses (provided they can
be rented in the market), the more a
skilled worker becomes, in practical
terms, a petty proprietor. As Mike
points out, this is particularly clear in
tech, where a salaried programmer can
often transfer with ease to a start-up or
an independent consultancy.7
In hacker consciousness, this
appears as power. There is something
intoxicating about issuing instructions
- however rudimentary - to a machine,
and seeing that machine obey. It is
not necessary, even, to be in material
comfort to experience this power.
You can hack in a day job, as a selfemployed professional, or on the dole
queue: until your privations grow
sufficiently severe that you are forced
to pawn your laptop, there is always
the ability to program.
So far, so classically petty bourgeois.
For this ability to be exercised beyond
merely playing around, however, there
is the additional necessity that one must
be connected to the broader ecosystem
of code. Whereas the traditional petty
proprietor exists primarily in some
particular corner of ‘meatspace’ (it is
generally implausible for a plumber
in Croydon to be called out on a job
in Cheltenham; a small shop can
only ever be on one street; etc), the
hacker’s line of work is immanently
and necessarily global.
Hackerdom is thus a particular
caste of the enlightened petty
bourgeoisie; the ideology specific to
it reflects its conditions of existence.
The apparently flat hierarchies of
the hacker world engender a fierce,
small-L libertarianism. Hackers
resent the domination of corporate
employers, which will turn them into
mindless programming drones - ‘code
churners’ or ‘code monkeys’ (hence the
peculiar phenomenon of companies
like Google claiming to remain ‘startups’ for years after their graduation
into the financial elite).
Yet the supposedly flat hierarchies
are belied by the enormous influence
and prestige that accumulates both
to the rentier tech corporations and
to the individuals who lead the most
important open-source projects.
(Guido van Rossum, who created the
Python programming language, was
jokily declared “benevolent dictator
for life” - a term which has entered
into general use to describe such
individuals.) The cult of the nimble
start-up company - for whom profit is
an irritating distraction from ‘changing
the world’ and ‘disrupting’ established
markets - leads to the quasi-religious
veneration of Silicon Valley gurus
like Paul Graham, who founded
Y-Combinator, an influential ‘start-up
The common elements across
hacker libertarianism consist in
a distrust of formal authoritarian
hierarchy - both in the corporate world
and in government (it is no accident
that both Julian Assange and Edward
Snowden have hacker backgrounds).
Inevitably, however, this contradictory
ideology divides. On the right, there
is ultra-capitalist ideology - the subNietzschean free-market doctrines
half-digested from Ayn Rand and
Friedrich Hayek. Its clearest present
expression is bitcoin, a digital currency
based on the fantasy economics
of a strictly limited and privately
minted money supply (software hard
money, so to speak), by which Valley
libertarians hope to ‘disrupt’ fractional
reserve banking (so far, with extremely
limited success).
On the opposite end, there grows
- ever more rapidly - the form of
aggressive liberalism we on the left
imperfectly call ‘intersectionality’
(in the tech world, such people are
pejoratively called ‘social justice
warriors’). It is as likely that someone
will criticise bitcoin for being overly
male as for being based on fatuous
economic absurdities and conspiracy
theories about ‘big government’.
As it happens, this critique is more
on the mark in the tech world than on
the left. There is a macho undercurrent
to the overwhelmingly male hacker
culture, which is particularly obvious
among the Ayn Rand worshippers.
We may mention a recent scandal at
Github, the most important hosting
service for open-source code. Github
prides itself on a flat, managerless
company structure: everyone works
in teams of formal equals. It used to
have a rug at the door with a spoof
of the US seal, welcoming visitors to
the “meritocracy of Github”. But this
was removed after the social-justice
warriors complained it whitewashed
the informal hierarchies that
characterise society.8
Quite so. Julie Ann Horvath, a
developer at the company, resigned
recently amid allegations of sexual
harassment and bullying; on her
account, she was effectively hounded
out of the company by the wife of
one of the founders (who was not
an employee) and a spurned suitor,
with senior management and human
resources laughably unable to deal
with the disputes.9 Github claims to
be investigating; in the meantime,
contributors to discussion forums such
as Hacker News took a break from
arguing about which programming
language was ‘the best’, and spent a few
days quoting Jo Freeman’s The tyranny
of structurelessness at each other.
For any leftwinger involved in the
tech industry or open source, it is
difficult to stifle a bitter smile of
recognition when such flame wars
break out between the rival factions
of the Silicon Valley International.
Freeman’s pamphlet seems to
acquire ‘new’ relevance every year
or so, as leftwing movements decide
- again - to forget about all the
problems Freeman identified, none
too originally herself, in the 1970s
women’s movement.
We face frequently, in organisations
such as Left Unity and the Labour
Representation Committee, the claim
that gender and other quotas are
necessary to make ourselves more
‘inclusive’ to oppressed groups. The
same arguments are raised in the tech
world - more women in positions of
influence means more tractions with a
female audience, and thus more money.
The obvious failure with the tech
version is somewhat different to that
on the left: put simply, Hollywood runs
at a considerable profit by putting the
biggest budget behind films targeted at
males between 16 and 30; if anything,
this skew is greater in video games …
to even greater profits. The paradoxical
end result is the same, however: year
after year, leftwing organisations get
older, whiter and more male, despite
strenuous efforts in the contrary
direction. The tech world is about as
skewed as it can possibly get in that
direction, to be sure, but there have
been no demographic improvements.
Over 90% of maintainers of opensource projects are male, as are all
notable ‘benevolent dictators for life’.
It would appear, then, that there
is an underlying affinity between the
‘social justice’ libertarianism in the
tech world and the contemporary left.
One aspect of this is coincidental. The
left seeks a liberated society, which is
surely incompatible with the informal
domination of traditional gender and
other hierarchies; so the persistence of
those hierarchies appears intolerable.
They are just as intolerable from the
perspective of tech libertarianism,
however; they reveal the myth of
‘meritocracy’ for what it is.
The deeper affinity has to do with
the fetishism of novelty. The left seeks
to escape the dead weight of historical
failures; the hacker is inevitably drawn
to the latest technology, the uncharted
frontiers of the web. In both cases, it is a
matter of plus ça change … This week’s
hot new programming language is
inevitably a variant on another language
with a history stretching back decades;
this week’s new mass movement hits
the same buffers as the last one.
The common root to both is the
ceaseless motion of capitalist society,
in which old hierarchies are overcome,
only to be supplanted by newer ones;
old unfreedoms are overturned by
the masses, only to turn to poison in
their hands. (We think of the fight for
equal rights for women at work, which
in spite of its importance, intensified
the ‘double burden’ of domestic and
employed labour.) The latest consumer
articles are already passé before the
warranty runs out (and generally break
soon after). On a grander scale, every
political promise is ditched as soon as it
is made; every crisis is forgotten at the
start of the next trivial upturn, because
this time, ‘things will be different’.
The tech world has no capability to
act as a counterweight to capitalism’s
inherent long-term memory loss indeed, it is an economic driver of it. The
political left traditionally identifies
as such a force (the ‘memory of the
class’ and all that), but its forces are
brutalised, demoralised and scattered.
Moreover, the fragments of the far left
are forever paralysed by the hope that
that things will change, and change
very rapidly - the next breakthrough
is always just over the horizon.
If you designed a medium of
social intercourse ideally suited
to this ideological structure, you
could not do better than Twitter. The
140-character limit simply defines as
a technical limit what is, for all intents
and purposes, a social limit obtaining
with considerable force anyway. The
broader structure of the social network
ensures that, in spite of global reach,
communication follows the ‘line of
least resistance’: perhaps more, even,
than medieval serfs in a remote village,
users of Twitter (and other social
media) tend to communicate only with
people with whom they fundamentally
already agree, creating a feedback loop
of mutual reinforcement resistant to
external correction.
If this reminds us of anything, it is
surely those who call social media “the
dark side of the internet”. The SWP has
operated through bureaucratic force
a regime in which only good news is
allowed; the comrades gee each other
up to believe that they are responsible,
for example, for every setback faced
by the British National Party (but
not, of course, for its near-decade of
constant growth up to 2009).
The current crop of digitally
enabled ‘new social movements’ fancy
themselves to have overcome the
deficiencies of the ‘old’ Trotskyist and
other groups, but in fact reproduce - via
horizontalism rather than bureaucracy
- their most debilitating features. We
may refer to a pretty dire book by
Symon Hill, Digital revolutions, which
purports to investigate the significance
of social media for contemporary
radical politics. In truth, his focus is
overwhelmingly on the narrow matter of
the ways in which social media help and
hinder activism (on the one hand, actions
are easier to organise; on the other, state
forces find it easier to trace activists).
This is, first of all, an odd vision of
the web, which - despite its perpetual
transformation - is fundamentally a
medium for transmitting documents.
The huge amount of theoretical,
historical, satirical and other material
which is now freely available to billions
of people do not get a look-in from Hill.
Put another way, the biographical
material identifies Hill as an observant
Quaker and co-founder of something
called ‘Christianity Uncut’. Yet in this
book, he barely finds time for a single
mention of our saviour, Jesus Christ.
We might naively expect that something
of Hill’s religious faith informs his
activism, that the life and teachings
of Christ might hold some significance
- as might their availability the world
over in innumerable translations on the
internet. Actually, no - there appears to
be no connection between Hill’s faith
and his activism; the former serves
as an excuse for things we suspect he
would be doing anyway.
And so, by identifying as somehow
historically novel - in short, by their
lack of long-term memory - the
doyens of Twitter politics are even
more reliant on banal denunciations
of a given malign state of affairs
than Socialist Worker journalists.
Ironically, they are even more
obsessed with the next ‘meatspace’
demonstration. Because, while the
SWP still has a developed theoretical
tradition to cling to, however
implausibly, the ‘new movements’
have only an echo chamber of their
own prejudices.
Strategy collapses into tactics; but,
in doing so, all sense of perspective is
lost. In the first place, the ‘news values’
of capitalist popular culture sneak
in unannounced; witness the fierce
arguments over allegedly misogynistic
music videos, which consume easily as
much energy on the Twitter left as the
coalition government’s latest assault on
civilisation. This tendency is reinforced
by the increasingly barren content of the
mainstream bourgeois media; liberal
outlets like The Guardian, as convinced
as the techno-utopians of their own
doom and irrelevance, increasingly
clog their comment pages with drivel
that merely recycles the latest Twitter
celebrity controversy.
As the stakes get lower, Twitter
groupthink becomes its opposite, the
‘narcissism of small differences’ trivial disagreements are cast as though
one’s opponent was a paid-up member
of the Klan (the absurd, mob-handed
hounding of Laurie Penny over her
supposed insensitivity to - wait for it
- “women of colour hair issues” is a
nice recent example).
The philistinism of contemporary
radical politics is not, of course,
something produced by Twitter,
Facebook and the like. Discussing the
politics of social media and the modern
web, however, means understanding
what has not changed - indeed, what
technology cannot change. The global,
near-instantaneous communication
enabled by the internet is one of the
most extraordinary transformations
in the means of communication perhaps the most significant of them
all since the Gutenberg press. While
Gutenberg undermined the material
basis for the Catholic church’s control
over written material, however, it
could hardly destroy it alone.
Likewise, though the web routinely
makes a mockery of a D-notice or a
super-injunction; while it undermines
a petty Bonaparte like Callinicos or
a greater one such as Erdoğan; we
cannot expect it to alter the relation
of forces in society as a whole, nor
the underlying political-economic
dynamics at work.
As capitalism declines as a system,
and US global power declines with it,
the world becomes a more dangerous
place. We have, at present, a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian
nationalism, with the great powers
tinkering in a confused way at the
edges of the conflict; the disintegration
of the Middle East; the rise of
irrationalist rightwing movements
from Iraq to Texas. These are problems
that demand social solutions: indeed,
revolutionary solutions.
The internet, however, is indifferent
as to whether it communicates
communist literature or anti-Semitic
ravings, Tolstoy or cat pictures,
terrorist plots or the efforts of spooks
to prevent them. The increasing scale
of irrationality in political discourse
on the web - from the birthers to the
intersectionalists - reminds us that the
techno-utopians are wrong, and the
historic failure of leftwing politics
hangs over us in the online world quite
as much as it does in meatspace l
[email protected]
2. Socialist Review January 2013.
3. ‘Socialism, CPA and Facebook’ Solidarity
November 6 2013.
4. The Guardian March 21.
5. See, for instance, ‘Declining forms, failing
system’ Weekly Worker August 8 2013.
6. ‘Hacker’, here, is used in the sense of programmers in general, particularly those leaning towards
open-source and newer technology, rather than the
common usage which refers to criminals.
7. ‘Driven by ideas’ Weekly Worker February 14
March 27 2014 1003 worker
How Thatcher plotted our defeat
Granville Williams (ed) Settling scores: the media, the police and the miners’ strike Campaign for
Press and Broadcasting Freedom, pp139, £6.99
his is the second of my reviews
of books published to mark the
30th anniversary of the miners’
Great Strike of 1984-85. It was, in the
words of the publishers, put together at
“breakneck speed” between November
2013 and February 2014, and consists
of 12 distinct subject headings - four of
them by Granville Williams, a leading
light in the Campaign for Press and
Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF).
The others are written by press,
TV or radio journalists, a print worker
involved in the CPBF and a miner.
The journalists pose something of a
contrast, ranging from Peter Lazenby,
northern reporter with the Morning
Star, to Paul Routledge, Daily
Mirror columnist, former political
correspondent for The Independent on
Sunday, ex-labour editor of The Times,
and columnist and review writer for
Tribune. Paul seems to be desperately
trying to rehabilitate himself with
the mining communities after having
foreworded his own book on the
strike with an apology to the queen
for having disagreed with her opinion
that the strike was “all the work of one
man”. I do not know if he has ever
apologised to the 187,000 strikers and
their families for that apology ...
The main stimulus for the
appearance of Settling scores was
the release of cabinet and other
government papers under the 30-year
rule. These led to the BBC’s Inside out
programme of October 22 2012 and the
discovery of doctored police evidence
used in the Orgreave trial. There seems
to be a direct link between the Orgreave
fabricated evidence and the culture of
impunity and deception which quickly
re-emerged at Hillsborough within the
same police force and under the same
command and direction.
These revelations prompted
activists among the National Union
of Mineworkers and women’s support
groups to launch the Orgreave Truth
and Justice Campaign - aimed at
winning a public inquiry into the events
at Orgreave and by implication into
policing during the 12-month strike.
The working class backlash to the
eulogising of Margaret Thatcher, prime
minister during the strike, following
her death in April 2013, not to mention
the craven press coverage and outrage,
added a further stimulus. Finally, and
most interestingly in terms of this book
and new material, was the publication
of the first set of 1984 cabinet papers.
Nick Jones, BBC industrial and
political correspondent between 1972
and 2002, a radio reporter during the
strike and author of a number of books,
does a good job of analysing what the
released papers reveal.
The first of these concerns the
deliberate government misinformation
(and plain lies): despite public denials
of any ‘hit list’ of mines to be closed
and despite assurances concerning
the impact on jobs and communities
by the ‘minimal closure programme’,
National Coal Board chairman Ian
MacGregor had in fact revealed such
a list to Peter Walker, secretary of state
for energy, six months before the start
of the strike. There were actually 75
pits on the hit list that was said to be
an invention of NUM president Arthur
Scargill. The document is in fact quite
specific in its details: “... two thirds of
Welsh miners would become redundant,
35% of miners in Scotland, 48% in the
north-east, 50% in South Yorkshire and
46% in South Midlands”.
The papers also show that
Thatcher was acutely aware of the
need to maintain the deception and
misinformation, in that she instructed
Margaret Thatcher: miners in her sites
Walker not to copy the document or
circulate it and Peter Gregson of the
cabinet office advised that it should
not be referred to as such, and only
non-recorded, oral briefings should
be given.
State mobilisation
It is now established that Thatcher
and her government deployed every
arm of the state to combat the miners
and undermine the strike. Two of her
‘policy unit’ plans were unfolded
in July 1984. Policy unit chief John
Redwood recommended use of the law
against secondary action and picketing
and a conjoined attack on NUM funds.
So-called “working miners” - ie,
blacklegs - were primed to go to court
and challenge the NUM’s description
of the strike as official.
Thatcher herself had clearly been
heading the attempt to avoid having to
fight on two fronts at once - militants
in other strategic unions were trying
to coordinate their own action with
that of the miners. Firstly Thatcher
prevailed upon British Rail to make
an increased offer to the rail unions
in May 1984. Secondly she informed
the cabinet that the national dock
strike must be settled at all costs the National Dock Labour Scheme
was guaranteed (only until after the
miners had been defeated, of course).
It should be noted as an aside here that,
had the Immingham dockers refused
to unload coke and iron ore onto scab
lorries brought in to break a solidarity
rail blockade after the signing of this
agreement, we would have been on
the road to a sensational victory. But
the Immingham men defied their own
union policy and broke the blockade
- something which the government
staked everything on.1
The papers reveal the degree to
which Thatcher’s advisers - possibly
even more rightwing and belligerent
than herself - direct the war. Here are
four statements by Redwood:
 “You cannot follow a strategy of
encouraging a war of attrition … and
of trying to find a fudged formula ... go
back to the original strategy of a war
of attrition, where the perceived way
of the strike ending is for miners to go
back to work” (July 13).
 “Speedier use of stipendiary
magistrates and of legal processes,
so that pickets can see their comrades
being prosecuted and punished
quickly for criminal offences …
Examining the possibility of mounting
a conspiracy charge against union
leaders inciting pickets to violence”
(August 29).
 “Encourage NCB to extend its
threat of dismissal to all those not
only convicted of criminal damage
against Coal Board property, but also
those convicted of serious offences
against persons on picket lines or NCB
property” (September 21).
 “It is vitally important the NCB
should sack any miner convicted
of violence against fellow NCB
employers or property” October 3).
One could add in regard to this
last instruction that conviction was
not necessary: only the charge was
enough. Which led after the August
village police occupations and police
command HQs being established at
pit heads, to managers pointing out
militants and leaders on picket lines for
snatch squads to target in the inevitable
conflict at the gates and on the streets.
Routledge in his section of the book
highlights the cabinet instruction to the
Association of Chief Police Officers which had launched a de facto coup
against police committee control and
regulation, and established a national
police force to conduct its war against
the NUM - that it should adopt “more
vigorous interpretations of their
duties”. He suggests, for instance,
“stopping the movement of pickets and
fitting up miners at Orgreave”.
Nicholas Jones’s chapter on the
cabinet papers, ‘Thatcher and the
police’, is perhaps one of the most
revealing. The strike was only one
week old (and pushing all before it)
when Thatcher personally intervened
to “stiffen the resolve” of chief
constables, who she believed were
failing to provide police protection
for blacklegs. MacGregor had gone
whinging to Thatcher, complaining
about the ease with which pickets had
descended on working coalfields and
closed them down. Similar complaints
from Peter Walker had forced her to
confess that she feared Scargill was
about to repeat the miners’ success
of 1972, when flying pickets plugged
the gap in the blacking of scab fuel
at Saltley Gate and defeated the
government, in turn breaking its
central ‘income policy’ strategy.
Clearly chief constables had
weighed up the priorities for each
force in order to decide which areas
demanded the greatest deployment.
Ensuring one scab gets to work in
a strike-bound village might not be
anywhere near the top of the pile
from their point of view, when they
are faced with a high crime rate or
an important criminal investigation.
The cabinet papers for 1984 reveal
that Thatcher berated police chiefs
- she was “deeply disturbed” by the
mass pickets sweeping the country.
Within four days of her intervention
police nationwide were mounting road
blocks and stopping the movement of
miners’ cars hundreds of miles from
their destination on the basis that a
“breach of the peace” was “likely to
occur” (we should note that the mass
movement of English Defence League
supporters to attend demonstrations,
where such a breach of the peace is
almost inevitable, has not been met
by road blocks and the turning back
of cars or buses).
At another ministerial meeting
home secretary Leon Brittan reported
that 7,245 police officers were on
duty in Nottingham purely to keep the
county’s mines working. The option
of deploying police officers from
various parts of the country by army
helicopters was also discussed.
Two months into the strike, the lord
chancellor, Quintin Hogg, reported that
there were concerns about the cases
being presented to the courts by police
in Nottinghamshire. By May 1984,
over 900 arrests had been made in the
Nottingham coalfield and Hogg advised
Thatcher that the chief constable had
“expressed reservations about the
quality of some of the evidence upon
which the arrests have been made, and
for this reason is anxious for dates [for
court proceedings] not to be fixed too
soon”. Later the same day, however,
Hogg’s letter was ‘amended’, to the
effect that the chief constable was
“anxious lest delay causes the quality
of evidence available to deteriorate”.
In fact it was the first version that
was accurate - the chief constable
himself stated that the quality of
evidence to be presented to the courts
could be highly significant in view of
continued demands for inquiries into
police activities during the strike. This
was to prove highly prophetic, given
the collapse of the Coal House and
Orgreave trials, where police evidence
was shown to be fabricated.
I noted earlier how the Association
of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) had
simply ignored elected council police
committees, to which they were
supposed to be accountable. When
critical police committees in the strike
areas tried to pull the police into line
through their budgets, the government
simply switched to directly funded
police operations. For example,
Orgreave was part of the thoroughly
left-Labour South Yorkshire County
Council, with its mining councillors.
They passed a resolution that the
Orgreave plant should cease operation
for the duration of the strike and
withdrew the authority of the chief
constable to use his discretion to fund
policing there. So Leon Brittan and
attorney general Sir Michael Havers
took covert steps to ensure the treasury
would make good any funds required.
Secret preparations
Thatcher was on the brink of bringing
in the army to move strike-locked
stocks of coal at pit heads and power
stations. It was a high-stake strategy
- there were warnings of the possible
consequences in terms of solidarity
action and public disorder if strikers
and their families confronted the
armed forces on British streets.
All documents relating to MI5,
MI6, GCHQ, etc have been withheld.
Despite this a few references to the
security services have survived,
indicating that their involvement was
discussed. For example, it is clear
that covert action was taken to try
and stop the transfer of funds to the
NUM from abroad and then, when that
failed, to monitor them, along with
the movement of all NUM officials
leaving the country with the intention
of gaining international support.
In discussing the social implications
of Orgreave Ray Riley refers to the
1981 Acpo conference. When the chief
constables met in a private session to
discuss “public order”, among the
guests of honour were the Royal Ulster
Constabulary and the Hong Kong
police’s infamous riot control unit. From
this session emerged the Community
Disorder Tactical Operations InterForce Working Group, specialising in
the use of riot control and public order
techniques. This developed the tactic
of provoking fear and apprehension in
a crowd, and produced the 1983 public
order manual deployed during the
Orgreave siege. All this was revealed by
NUM defence lawyers in the riot cases
brought against 96 victims of the police
terror at Orgreave on June 18 1984.
Settling scores may be short, but
it is an explosive exposition, drawing
out the hidden truths revealed by the
cabinet papers. It makes you wonder
why all those civil libertarians and
establishment politicians who beat their
chests over the liberty and democracy
and fair play are not demanding action
over such wanton abuse of state power
or complaining about the obviously
partisan intervention by institutions
which are supposed to be separate from
government. But the cabinet papers
have produced hardly a whimper,
despite their revelation of bare-faced
lies and the manipulation of state
bodies which profess impartiality and
the upholding of ‘checks and balances’.
I have only one criticism, and it
is the same as the one I made in last
week’s review 2: it is asserted that
the Orgreave debacle was caused
by steelworkers stabbing us in the
back by using scab coke. The claim
is almost word for word the one
made by Mark Metcalf in Images of
the miners’ strike. To be honest, this
had been my assumption also until
I actually researched the process
of events which led to Orgreave.
Nothing excuses the police ambush
and horrific actions nor the fact that
steelworkers accepted coke that had
been smashed through picket lines
past the bloodied heads and beaten
bodies of miners’ pickets. However, it
was Arthur who tore up the otherwise
sound agreement to keep their
furnaces intact using coke delivered
by union train drivers, in return for
not producing steel. This led us into a
double trap: (1) the Orgreave ambush;
and (2) allowing the solidarity nonsteel policy to be torn up, thus opening
the scab floodgates.
But this common mistake does
not in any way detract from the value
of the book, which I wholeheartedly
recommend l
David Douglass
1. The NUM had perhaps overestimated the degree
of solidarity and union culture among Immingham
dockers. A full discussion of this is contained in my
book, Ghost dancers (Hastings 2010). The dock
strike was one of three occasions when the miners’
strike came within a whisker of winning.
2. ‘Inspirational collection’, March 20.
worker 1003 March 27 2014
Preparing for conference
he Communist Platform of Left
Unity met on March 23 to try and
arrive at a common attitude to the
LU national conference a week later.
In introducing the debate, Mike
Macnair pointed out that the exact
agenda had not yet been finalised, so
there were bound to be unexpected
items, including amendments, for which
we were not prepared. Nevertheless,
most of the motions were available,
although it was clear that several topics
would not be discussed through lack of
time. That almost certainly applied to the
policy commission resolutions, which
had been placed at the bottom of the
agenda. If, however, they were reached,
comrade Macnair recommended a
reference-back for all except the health
commission resolution, which, although
“imperfect”, was broadly acceptable.
That could not be said of all the others,
which betrayed their origins as the
product of a committee - the ‘economy’
and ‘foreign policy’ resolutions in
particular were truly dire.
Comrade Macnair gave a
comprehensive review of all the
motions so far available - for his
recommendations, which were largely
accepted by the meeting, see his
article on pp6-7.
The only motion that provoked any
real debate among CP supporters was
the one emanating from Glasgow LU
on the campaign for boycott, divestment
and sanction (BDS) against Israel in
solidarity with the Palestinian people.
No-one was against supporting this
motion, but there were differences over
the interpretation of such a campaign.
Moshé Machover pointed out that it
was perfectly acceptable to interpret
it in a principled way that does not
require “agreement with liberals” - Ian
Donovan had previously suggested that
BDS might imply a popular front, which
banked on sections of the bourgeoisie
taking action against Israel. Comrade
Machover cited a couple of examples
of such principled action: the boycott
of the G4S company, which provides
security and prison equipment to Israel’s
oppressive apparatus; and of Veolia,
which provides transport links to Israeli
settlements in the occupied territories.
Jack Conrad said that, while we
should have no illusions that BDS will
liberate Palestine, “symbols matter”
- and we should “pick our cause” in
the sense of highlighting particular
campaigns. Farzad Kamangar was
in general agreement, although she
pointed out that blanket action - she
mentioned a general academic boycott
- could possibly “penalise the wrong
people”. In this regard I said that some
aspects of the general campaign to
boycott apartheid South Africa were
indeed misplaced: for example, the
idea that telephone lines should be
cut would have prevented working
class and oppressed South Africans
from communicating with each other
internationally, while the regime and
big business would have been able
to get round such a ban. I suggested
that individual campaigns should be
carefully targeted - G4S and Veolia
being good examples.
Comrade Machover stated that,
while BDS is mostly symbolic, it
might actually force a change in
policy - he could imagine ordinary
Israelis saying to their rulers, “Your
policies are isolating us”. Comrade
Macnair pointed out that, while we
might have reservations about BDS,
they were insufficient for us to oppose
Glasgow’s motion. “In the context of
this conference”, we should support
it. This was accepted by all present.
There was a more general
discussion about whether it is tactically
correct to vote for an amendment to
a motion that is itself insupportable,
but the consensus appeared to be that
it is perfectly reasonable to vote for
such amendments and, even if they
are successful, still vote against the
substantive motion.
It was reported to the meeting
that there were big problems with
the leadership elections that had
been taking place. Firstly, LU’s
labyrinthine constitution had not been
adhered to in respect of nominations individual candidates should have been
nominated by 20 members, but the
transitional leadership had accepted
just a proposer and seconder. As Mark
Fischer commented, the constitution
had effectively been “suspended”.
Secondly, at least two candidates who
had submitted their nominations had
not appeared on the ballot paper.
Comrade Macnair pointed out that
this situation had not resulted from any
democratic abuse, but from the chaos
produced by a “dog’s dinner” of a
constitution, itself arising from a “false
conception of democratic practice”.
We had warned that the constitution
may be unworkable and it seems that
we may already have been proved
correct. Comrade Conrad added that
we should not support moves to annul
the whole process, even though one
of our own comrades was among
those whose nomination had been
overlooked. The point of standing
Communist Platform candidates
was politics, not to demonstrate our
legalistic versatility.
Racism and the state
Earlier the meeting had debated a
motion from comrade Donovan that
had been held over from the February
8 meeting of the CP, together with
a counter-motion moved by James
Turley. It was generally agreed that,
while the debate on M’bala M’bala
Dieudonné was now a little dated, it
was important to air the issues and
take a position.
Comrade Donovan argued that the
French comedian was being persecuted
as a member of an oppressed minority.
There had been attempts to outlaw
his performances and he had been
sent on the French equivalent of a
‘race awareness course’. And, of
course, the UK state had banned him
from entering the country. Comrade
Donovan said that, while we should
criticise Dieudonné’s evident antiSemitism, we should defend him
against these attacks by the state.
As a black man, Dieudonné was
part of an oppressed minority, he
continued. The bourgeoisie still
needs racism to divide the working
class and even its official anti-racism
is itself racist. He contended that the
“only operative version” of official
anti-racism was opposition to antiSemitism. Unlike blacks, Jews do
not get disproportionately stopped
and searched.
Comrade Turley’s motion was
much shorter than the one proposed
by comrade Donovan. After noting
the UK ban on Dieudonné and the fact
that he had been the “victim of state
oppression in France”, it concluded:
“While we oppose the anti-Semitic
views promoted by Dieudonné, a
figure on the fringes of the Front
National, communists nevertheless
strenuously resist state incursions on
freedom of speech, which have been
shown throughout modern history to
serve not the interests of the working
class, but its enemies.”
In his contribution, comrade Turley
stated that Ian was concentrating
too much on the British context
and missing the specific French
situation. This produces people like
Dieudonné, who are “beginning to
flirt with fascism”.
Comrade Machover thought
that the whole affair raised two
“interconnected, but separate issues”.
The first was, “Can an oppressed
minority be racist?” - to which he
replied in the affirmative. There can
arise a certain “triangulation” within
an oppressed community: to gain
approval from the majority certain
elements may point the finger at a
different oppressed community.
He went on to say that, while
‘Paki-bashing’ - which may be
carried out by a combination of black
and white youths - was “politically
undeveloped”, you could not say that
about Dieudonné’s anti-Semitism,
which was “politically calculated”:
aimed at gaining support among the
majority white population. That was
why he thought the idea of the CP
defending someone so reactionary,
just because his father came from
Cameroon, was “preposterous”.
The second issue comrade
Machover wanted to raise was the
connection between Zionism and
anti-Semitism (Dieudonné does not
attack Zionism, he said: he attacks
Jews). Comrade Machover stated
that Ian Donovan seems to believe
that “the Jews” have become an
oppressor people. There is a truth
here in relation to Palestine, but there
they are oppressors as Zionists, not as
Jews per se. He concluded that Israelapologists have long contended that to
attack Zionism is to attack Jews - and
now Ian is “saying the same thing in
a different way”.
In my intervention I wondered in
what precise way Dieudonné could be
said to be “oppressed”. He is a rich
man, enjoying a privileged lifestyle,
who has been targeted by the French
state because of his politics. I strongly
disputed comrade Donovan’s claim
that the ruling class in Britain “still
needs racism to divide the working
class”. It is just plain wrong to say
that blacks disproportionately die in
custody or are targeted for stops and
searches as a result of an officially
sanctioned (and presumably secretly
approved) racist policy. The real reason
is a combination of the actions of
individual racist police officers and the
fact that blacks are disproportionally
working class.
Other comrades disagreed to one
extent or another, including Ian,
who said my point was “massively
exaggerated”. Comrade Macnair
disagreed less strongly, but thought
that comrade Donovan’s position on
Dieudonné could be compared to
the insistence of some on the left on
“prettifying the oppressed”, just as they
prettify reactionary anti-imperialists.
Dieudonné was once on the left, he
said - but so was Benito Mussolini,
while the name ‘National Socialists’
speaks for itself.
In his reply, comrade Turley thought
that the inferior position of blacks
was not specifically about racism, but
about their class position in society.
He added that our criticism of official
anti-racism should not be that it is in
reality racist, but that it does not work.
Comrade Donovan himself stated
that “virtually nothing has changed
on the ground” in relation to racism.
The ruling class has “the power to
change things if they really wanted
to” - the implication being that they
do not want to put a stop to racism
either in the police or elsewhere in
society. In response to the point made
by comrade Machover about viewing
Jews as an oppressor people, he said
that there was indeed an element of
national consciousness about many
Jews’ attachment to Israel.
In the end, however, comrade
Donovan was the only one to vote for
his motion, while comrade Turley’s
was passed overwhelmingly.
Peter Manson
[email protected]
Fighting fund
oting that it is only a couple
of weeks since the our paper
celebrated its 1,000th issue,
comrade MG writes in the letter
accompanying his donation:
“Towards the 10,000th edition of
the Weekly Worker!” The £5 note
MG enclosed may be modest, but
the ambition he expressed is quite
the opposite.
Someone whose expressions
of admiration are more restrained,
but whose largesse is more
pronounced, is a reader in Italy,
comrade AG, who sent us a €200
cheque to pay for his annual
subscription and for three CPGB
books, with the remainder to
go towards the Weekly Worker
fighting fund. Converting euros
into pounds and doing the
subtraction, I reckon that leaves a
handsome £48 for our March fund.
And AG wasn’t the only one
to add a little something to his
resubscription. Comrade JH
bumped up his cheque by £20.
Then there was the £25 donated
via PayPal by DB (who was one
of 12,040 online readers last
week) and - last, but not least £277 in standing orders. A special
mention must go to comrade SK,
whose generous monthly donation
accounts for most of that.
All in all, £375 came in last
week, which takes our total to
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March 31. Follow DB’s example
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What we
fight for
n Without organisation the
working class is nothing; with the
highest form of organisation it is
n There exists no real Communist
Party today. There are many
so-called ‘parties’ on the left. In
reality they are confessional sects.
Members who disagree with the
prescribed ‘line’ are expected to
gag themselves in public. Either
that or face expulsion.
n Communists operate according
to the principles of democratic
centralism. Through ongoing
debate we seek to achieve unity
in action and a common world
outlook. As long as they support
agreed actions, members should
have the right to speak openly and
form temporary or permanent
n Communists oppose all
imperialist wars and occupations
but constantly strive to bring to
the fore the fundamental question
- ending war is bound up with
ending capitalism.
Communists are
internationalists. Everywhere we
strive for the closest unity and
agreement of working class and
progressive parties of all countries.
We oppose every manifestation
of national sectionalism. It is an
internationalist duty to uphold the
principle, ‘One state, one party’.
n The working class must be
organised globally. Without
a global Communist Party,
a Communist International,
the struggle against capital is
weakened and lacks coordination.
n Communists have no interest
apart from the working class
as a whole. They differ only in
recognising the importance of
Marxism as a guide to practice.
That theory is no dogma, but
must be constantly added to and
n Capitalism in its ceaseless
search for profit puts the future
of humanity at risk. Capitalism is
synonymous with war, pollution,
exploitation and crisis. As a global
system capitalism can only be
superseded globally.
n The capitalist class will never
willingly allow their wealth and
power to be taken away by a
parliamentary vote.
n We will use the most militant
methods objective circumstances
allow to achieve a federal republic
of England, Scotland and Wales,
a united, federal Ireland and a
United States of Europe.
n Communists favour industrial
unions. Bureaucracy and class
compromise must be fought and
the trade unions transformed into
schools for communism.
n Communists are champions
of the oppressed. Women’s
oppression, combating racism and
chauvinism, and the struggle for
peace and ecological sustainability
are just as much working class
questions as pay, trade union rights
and demands for high-quality
health, housing and education.
n Socialism represents victory in
the battle for democracy. It is the
rule of the working class. Socialism
is either democratic or, as with
Stalin’s Soviet Union, it turns
into its opposite.
n Socialism is the first stage
of the worldwide transition
to communism - a system
which knows neither wars,
exploitation, money, classes,
states nor nations. Communism
is general freedom and the real
beginning of human history.
Printed and published by
November Publications Ltd (07950 416922).
Registered as a newspaper by Royal Mail. ISSN
1351-0150. © March 2014
No 1003  March 27 2014
Left Unity’s
wreaks havoc
Less haste, more politics
or a comprehensive and reliable
account of the March 16 meeting
of the transitional national council
- Left Unity’s interim leadership readers are again directed to Peter
McLaren’s report on the Independent
Socialist Network website.1 However,
there are some important political
points that need to be added to the
comrade’s record, as they address
issues that will have a direct bearing on
LU’s policy conference in Manchester
on Saturday March 29.
First, this TNC was smaller than the
one that preceded it. This is a general
tendency, apparently. Just 33 comrades,
representing 22 LU branches, turned
out. The absence of leading LUers such
as Andrew Burgin, Kate Hudson and
Guy Harper - no doubt for perfectly
valid reasons - was also noteworthy.
On the same theme, there was
clearly some disquiet in the room at
the apparent loss of the organisation’s
forward momentum when Socialist
Resistance comrade Terry Conway
reported that, as of the evening
before the TNC, just 162 people had
registered for the policy conference
(the Manchester hall holds around
300). As I have written before, the Chaos
whole LU project is characterised
by ill-advised haste.2 This, of course, entire election process to the new NC currently in the painstaking process its growth - not terribly radical in itself Republican Socialist Platform) that a
is an understandable product of the had been run on the basis of the wrong of becoming registered as a party with and readily endorsed by the meeting. ‘yes’ victory would be progressive, as
frustration felt by some sections of the constitution - the version agreed at the the electoral commission, a slip like However, according to the comrade, it would lead to the break-up of the
extra-Labour left when it surveys the LU founding conference3 stipulated running an entire internal election “if we stop growing, we will stagnate”. UK state and be a blow to the Torymiserable failures of the unity projects that 20 signatories were needed for for an important component part of He even put a figure on the required Lib Dem government. Others declared
initiated since the mid-1990s.
the nomination, not just two, as stated your national leadership on the basis numbers: LU must “aim for 5,000 themselves to be neutral on the whole
But some sober reflection and in the online document. Somewhere of the wrong constitution could have members by the end of the year” and question.
patience would be rather more along the line in the constitution’s damaging ramifications.
if we don’t hit it, the organisation will
Exactly the sort of opportunist
productive. LU is creating real journey onto the LU website, a zero
The urgent need in LU is to create be “in trouble”.
concessions to petty nationalism that are
problems for itself. It has lumbered apparently went walkabout. Again, far more space for thorough-going
Well, it is a certainty that LU will typical of our contemporary left, in other
itself with a complicated constitution Pete is accurate when he reports political discussion and clarification. not have 5,000 members by the end words. Rather than fret about inflated
that assumes a much larger organisation that “it was ... recommended that we The time for debate at the TNC itself of this year - if you are talking about targets for membership growth and dark
with intricately combined sections, continue the election process because was very squeezed and - predictably - real, dues-paying, politically activated warnings of the dire consequences of
able to meet binding constitutional the error was made in good faith”, but the three-minute rule will again apply and organised members, a couple of failure, LU comrades should pay far
obligations on gender quotas, regional this potentially does not end the matter. for movers of motions at the March 29 hundred is more likely. But then the more serious attention to the core politics
representations and so on. For instance,
The TNC agreed unanimously conference (two minutes for movers of size of the membership is only one of their new formation l
the TNC had to agree that, following with Terry Conway’s proposal that all amendments, one minute for speakers way to judge the political health of
Mark Fischer
conference, LU must re-open LUers are informed of the error and from the floor - if we are lucky). In this an organisation. The “trouble” we
nominations for those posts where the March 29 conference itself takes context, perhaps the TNC contribution currently have in LU is political, as [email protected]
there were insufficient candidates in the the final decision on the legitimacy that best illustrated the mess resulting perfectly illustrated by the truncated
recent internal elections - the appeals or otherwise of the whole electoral from LU’s topsy-turvy set of priorities debate at the TNC on the Scottish
committee, the east region, London, the process. The potential for disruption came from comrade Mike Scott.
independence referendum. In that, a 1.
See my report of the last TNC in the February 13
north-east, the north-west, Scotland, the and challenges from understandably
He made a suggestion for a clear majority of the comrades in the 2.
issue of this paper - particularly my comment that
south-east and the south-west. Quite disgruntled members should not “forward planning working party” to room agreed with Mark France of LU “is an organisation in far too much of a hurry”.
a few of the original places up for be underestimated and, as LU is increase the profile of LU and promote Worcester LU (and Steve Freeman’s 3. See Weekly Worker December 5 2013.
election, in other words.
Similarly, this small organisation
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places on its leadership - a process that
was always fraught with the potential
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for cock-up ... and so it has transpired,
unfortunately. Terry Conway’s report
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members of the national council.
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and the general feeling of the meeting
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the situation as it now stands - with the
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election, which will be rerun on the
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with the addition of a comrade whose
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Even more seriously, Pete McLaren
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pointed out to the meeting that the
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