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The panel. Picture from Eric Segal’s facebook page.

Aylesham’s ‘Club Ratling’ hosted a commemoration event on May 5th to recognise the struggle nationally and locally in this former mining village. Had the strike ended in victory and the pits stayed open, there would be more of a choice of locations for this event. As things stand the Ratling was the only option. But here you find a community used to pulling together to make the best of a situation, and what a great spirit there was. Music was provided by the Snowden Colliery Brass Band and later their Male-Voice Choir. Socialists of different tendencies showed up to show respect and support. Two Socialist Workers’ Party members had a stall, letting people know about the annual Marxism Festival and selling a great 12-page special paper with some of their best articles from the 1984-5 period. I was helping out at the Red Stuff Shop stall and selling the latest Kent International Socialists’ bulletin. 47 sold altogether! The Socialist Party, TUC, and RMT also participated, but most of the people enjoying and creating the festivities were the locals themselves. The famous strike is remembered as a loss, but a loss that gave people a glimpse of what might be possible. “Although there was a great deal to celebrate,” said the first of six speakers, Terry Harrison, “this has to be a commemoration rather than a celebration”.

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ImageJoseph Choonara, author of Unravelling Capitalism, started off my first Marxism festival, with his talk “The rate of profit and capitalism today”. He follows the Financial Times and other financial press very closely, and finds that mainstream debates are usually between austerians and Keynesians. Those in favour of austerity believe that cutting public sector spending is necessary, while Keynesians believe that austerity has gone too far and that public sector spending is needed. This is sometimes called “making capitalism work for socialism”. Joseph argues that, while Keynesian policies are preferable for the working class, neither positions deal with a fundamental global problem: low level of investment. Using statistics on US and European economies, he shows how the long-term tendency is for the return of investment to fall, and how stimulus (like that of 2008) or any other state involvement fails to restore profitability.

These problems are then related to the increase of ‘dead labour’ in ratio to ‘living labour’. That is, technology replacing the need for so many workers. A familiar example is one checkout assistant supervising six self-service checkouts, rather than six workers, each with their own checkout. This is an inevitability, not something that bosses really have a choice in. Given these problems, along with overproduction, isn’t it a surprise that the capitalist mode of production didn’t meet its maker 150 years ago? Choonara explains that crises themselves find ways of restoring capitalism.

Though the terminology was hard to follow at times, the talk contained well-known examples to illustrate points, from the selling off of Woolworths for £10 to the high profitability after the destruction of World War Two. For a beginner in economics, this talk made it clear how concepts that often seem abstract and inconsequential in fact affect our lives and create struggle. An open discussion followed, in which many members of the packed lecture room asked questions on fictional capital, the Labour Party, and one speaker pointed out that 25 families in Greece own 75% of the country’s wealth. On the question of how optimistic socialists should be, Choonara ended the talk by borrowing a phrase from Antonio Gramsci: “Optimism of activity, pessimism of intellect”.

Michael Roberts’ blog was suggested for someone an economist who stands outside of mainstream debate.

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A leaflet distributed by the CPGB(M-L) (the M-L stands for More-Letters) first in June 2012 attempts to  briefly explain their position on Trotskyism: why it is anti-Leninist and counterrevolutionary, and why we ought to be Stalinists. [Read here] I don’t know what kind of leafleting session this must have been – in which communities can they go where people have a basic understanding of the concepts involved? More to the point, are there really enough people concerned about these questions to justify a leaflet? This confusion aside, there are some serious flaws with the old arguments presented, and with the assumption that Trotskyism and Leninism are directly opposed.

The writer begins by criticising Leon Trotsky’s most important theoretical contribution: the theory of Permanent Revolution – the theory that socialist revolution must occur in all capitalist countries, not just in one country alone. It is not a proper criticism, as the writer does not start by explaining the argument in favour of the theory. It is worth understanding that Marx and Engels had the same basic idea. One of the earliest expressions of it was in Friedrich Engels’s Principles of Communism, written in 1847. He answers the question of revolution in one country alone by saying:

“By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth… into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others. … It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range.”

Marx looked at the Paris Commune of 1871 and said that it could have only lasted if the same revolutionary activity was mirrored in Germany and Prussia. V.I. Lenin also seemed to adopt the theory, and in December 1917 wrote a short article, For Bread and Peace, that ended: “The socialist revolution that has begun in Russia is… only the beginning of the world socialist revolution.” The alternative proposed by Josef Stalin was a theory of Socialism in One Country. (In Isaac Deutscher’s essay on the emergence of the theory, he argues

An almost perfect leaflet from May 2012

An almost perfect leaflet from May 2012

that Stalin formulated it primarily to propose the opposite to Trotsky.) Even in a country that stretched as far as the Soviet Union, it still found itself isolated, surrounded by capitalist hostility. Weak working class leadership around the world and British and American interference combined made this dream impossible, but it is not enough to blame Churchill: the theory itself can’t deal with capitalist hostility. It isn’t a case of “having the temerity to go on and try to build socialism”. This doesn’t mean I cannot oppose imperialism in North Korea or Cuba, just because I don’t share the same optimism about socialism in those countries. In general I have found Trotskyists broadly agree with the aims of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, even if they apply Tony Cliff’s “state capitalist” model to the country. Stalinists today often set up a false dichotomy, that you must support a country absolutely or not at all. You are either with the Free Syrian Army, or you are with Assad, for example.

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Often when I’m doing a Socialist Worker paper sale or a stall for some cause, we will have a petition as well as all our material. Some of these are great and will probably prove to be effective: the petitions against NHS privatisation or the bedroom tax and evictions, for example. The reason these are useful is it because they are unambiguous what their aims and where the petition is going.

But the anti-racist petitions we use, usually provided by Unite Against Fascism, seem to have no purpose. We have collected signatures opposing UKIP, the EDL, and today, “Don’t let the racists divide us.” They are typically very wordy – not ideal for someone who is interested but in a hurry, and do not have an end goal. They are better than nothing as the number of signatures can be used as a statistic, so they are perhaps on the same level as names at the end of a letter of solidarity. But the petitions do not go anywhere and merely bounce around inside the UAF, without a plan or end result. This isn’t much more than a rant, but please try to make your petition as clear and goal-driven as possible.

Based on a talk that I gave to the Kent Socialist Workers Party group. To many people these ideas will be obvious, but sometimes it helps to be reminded of the obvious. References are at the bottom.

There are three main tasks that face a revolutionary socialist party. The first is the SWP’s role, or any socialist party’s role, as an antifascist opposition; second is the importance of education on socialism: this topic is the majority of this article; third is the importance of internationalism and of relating individual struggles, as explained by Duncan Hallas.

At the recent Party Council of the SWP (June 2nd), Weyman Bennett (UAF) made a point about the role of socialists in fighting the far right. Recent experience has shown that social-democracy  (that is, introducing socialist politics through reformist methods) in Europe, for example in Sweden, Denmark, and arguably the area controlled by our own Green Party, has shown no opposition to austerity. Many problems and kinds of unrest caused by capitalism make the rise of fascism all the easier. Trotsky in his last article (August 1940), Bonapartism, Fascism, and War gives many examples of these problems but there are three that are most relatable to our current situation: “the gravest crisis of capitalist society; growing confusion and indifference; the growth of hostility to the proletariat”.

I could give specific examples, but they are fairly self-explanatory. The polling strength of the racist Swedish Democrats is the result of scapegoating inequality and other social ills on immigrants. It is quite clear that if the periodical and inevitable crises of capitalism can lead to the popularity of fascist and right-wing populist ideas, a dedicated anti-capitalist party will also be the most effective antifascist party. Left-reformists themselves have a lot to answer for in the rise of the far right. The Labour party has taken a typically conservative stance on immigration, while Ed Milliband expresses his respect for UKIP. All this serves to normalise anti-immigrant hatred.

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Last Saturday (June 1st) a small group of British National Party supporters, apparently 150 of them (it looked about 40), had a pen to protest in outside parliament. Across the country on this day there were a total of 55 protests held by the BNP, English Defence League, National Front, and other racists hoping to pass off the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by an extremist Muslim as representative of Islam, and as the fault of immigration. All but two of these protests were outnumbered by counter-demos, mostly organised by Unite Against Fascism. It was great to see many SWP and ex-SWP members around, as well as our old sign The BNP is a Nazi Party – Smash the BNP. Many members of the Socialist Party were present, as well as Unison and PCS activists.

We managed, by refusing to be moved, to prevent the BNP from marching for five hours (midday to 5pm). When the police managed to get them marching, only 15 of them remained. Some activists against the badger cull managed to finally break them up! Human rights activist Peter Tatchell later recommended on twitter later that UAF use a “sitting protest” rather than the usual “macho methods”. Some of the ‘Anonymous’ protesters tried this, for about five minutes. It is a liberal tactic that achieves nothing more than a chalk drawing of a peace symbol. By allowing the fash to march freely, we would be guilty of giving them a platform. Most of the 58 antifascists who were arrested and dealt with so violently were protesting peacefully and defending democracy. [Relevant reading from ’77: In Defence of Violence]

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ImageEugene Platt, who ran with the Green Party US for South Carolina’s 1st congressional district special election, has many of the traits of a comforting conservative: a man of faith and family emblazoned with the colours of his party, with not as much political experience as his opponents but enough to sound reliable. In terms of a typical conservative image, an extramarital affair is the only thing that the victor, Mark Sandford, has over him. Platt even, in a TV interview, claimed that he and many other greens are fiscal conservatives, explaining, “I don’t believe we should spend more money than we have.” This is more of a rhetorical statement: his long-held support for free healthcare for all, state-funded education, clamping down on tax evasion, and a green economy suggests he can’t really be a conservative.

Sandford (R) was always more likely to win, and the safe percentage of 54.04% is unsurprising. Business expert and sister to the noisy, predictable satirist Stephen Colbert, Elizabeth Colbert Busch (D), gained 45.21% of the vote. This left Platt with a tiny 690 votes, just 0.48% of the very poor 31.55% voter turnout.

A result of under 1% is very disappointing, especially when considering polling at 3% and 4% in April and May respectively, and considering his media attention from ABC, Charleston City Paper, and elsewhere. The fact that there are local chapters in Aiken County, York County, Charleston, Midlands, and Greenville suggests there are many members of the party who voted otherwise. There are a couple of pretty simple explanations, though.

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