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My most memorable day of 2013 was being part of a huge crowd of anti-fascists preventing the British National Party from having a march around London on June 1st. The slogan that still rings in my ears among many from that day is, “The BNP is a Nazi party – Smash the BNP.” It’s not in my nature to be violent or confrontational. But when faced with supporters of the BNP or the National Front, many of us who usually want a quiet life become a different person. There’s no doubt why this is. It’s because you know what they think of you and what they’d do to you with any power. You know what they think of you whether you’re queer, a trade unionist, non-white, a religious minority, or you simply care for the wellbeing of any of these people. When I shout, “Smash the BNP” it isn’t just a scary chant but it’s what I want to happen.

They still have a couple of councillors but hopefully, with bankruptcy, internal crisis and splits, and no more MEPs!, the nationalists really are smashed. Though they might like to pretend otherwise, UKIP has taken a great deal of their vote. It is wrong to call UKIP fascist and probably wrong to call them far right. But the people they are a threat to are the same people who have been intimidated by the BNP. (No, I’m not talking about the ‘political establishment’.) Being gay myself (more-or-less) I can’t help but focus on their homophobic element.

Everyone knows that Nick Griffin hates us. He has used homophobia to appeal to traditionalist Christianity; uses slurs like “poof”; has intimidated individual same-sex couples; and has out-right called gay couples and men who kiss each other ‘creepy’. A great deal of media attention has been directed to the more outrageous comments made by UKIP candidates and supporters. Some have been suspended but it has ultimately had little impact on the outcome of the European Parliament elections. Roger Helmer MEP has been re-elected in the East Midlands despite his comment that “Homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle worthy of equal respect”. Nigel Farage has predictably defended Helmer by pointing out how old he is, apparently letting him off the hook: “If we asked the 70s and over in this country how they felt about [homosexuality], most of them still feel uncomfortable.” Farage doesn’t harbour the same hatred as someone like Nick Griffin but you’re a fool if you think his party doesn’t benefit from his kind of thinking being mainstream.

But how can UKIP possibly be homophobic! They also just elected David Coburn, an openly gay MEP in Scotland! We all know this excuse. “I’m allowed to make those comments – some of my best friends are disabled.” A National Front member once told me: “Why are you calling me a racist? I’ve got black family,” to which I responded, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you bring them on a fucking NF demo!” An openly gay MEP is just as capable as anyone else of internalising homophobic and sexist junk and being an oppressor. The only openly gay MP, Rokas Zilinkas (Homeland Union Party), in Lithuania is one of the key politicians in that country in opposing equal rights of protest and assembly for LGBT organisations like Baltic Pride. He also supports Russian-style laws against ‘gay propaganda.’ Coburn’s attitude suggests that he will do nothing to further the cause of queer liberation; he feels the battle has been one with civil partnerships.

I’ve heard Black and Asian comrades describe the racism they face day to day by saying it often makes them want to cry and hide under the covers. This doesn’t mean they are lesser activists or that I don’t consider them heroes. It’s the same way I feel most of the time faced with homophobia. It doesn’t hurt to hear one increasingly irrelevant and desperate fascist idiot like Griffin say what he has to say about sexuality. It hurts that his party has shifted the debate and that so much of his hate speech has mainstream acceptance.

There’s a particularly nasty conversation I overheard in school that I still play over in my head. I failed to intervene, probably because it was so accepted in secondary school that being gay was in some way sick or wrong. One of my classmates was telling about how his brother’s best friend recently came out as gay. Another student advised, “You should tell your brother to sew his arse-cheeks together.” Most of the class laughed. The teacher must have heard the conversation but ignored it. What’s the implication of this joke? Firstly that all gay men are sex addicts and attracted to every other man they meet; secondly that gay men are more likely to be rapists. These two ideas are the substance of so many jibes and insults you hear every day made against gay people which so often go unnoticed. There’s a parallel here with what one rs21 speaker called, in a meeting on racism and resistance, ‘politically correct racism’. He gave the example: “I don’t hate Muslims but don’t they treat women appallingly?”

Anyone can see a problem with the racism of a neo-fascist party, but the ruling class—the political establishment that UKIP must now admit it is part of—will always find a new way to make oppressive language acceptable. The efforts of Hope Not Hate and others in ‘exposing’ UKIP are not enough. I’ll leave it up to someone cleverer to work out the details, but to truly remove homophobia from political acceptability, sexuality and gender studies must be taught and understood in a way that allows future generations to see through the evasive language of ‘politically correct bigotry’.

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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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The campaign group Republic, with its mission of “Campaigning for a democraticImage alternative to the monarchy”, is fighting to be heard over the pomp and nationalism greeting the Royal baby (#RoyalBaby) into a life of more pomp and nationalism. They had two minor victories on the BBC News Channel today, with Republic’s Graham Smith and Independent journalist Owen Jones both getting a three minutes head-to-head with a monarchist opponent. In Spain, activists opposing Royal rule are mostly socialists, but Republic seems much more balanced. Eleven Labour MPs, the one Green MP and two Liberal Democrat MPs support the group, while ‘Conservatives for a Republic’ started off in September 2012. The single-issue cause across the political spectrum of replacing the monarchy is difficult to get excited about, though. France and the USA have successfully freed themselves from this feudal leftover, and are they something we want to imitate? Our head of state may be decided by blood, but the American presidency, relying so much on corporations to fund campaigns, is decided by capital. It’s hard to decide which is preferable to live in because political corruption and contradictions between classes function the same. This makes Republic’s “Born Equal” campaign seem very poorly thought through: do republics around the world not have an unequal distribution of wealth and therefore political power as well? In addition to being envious of the States, I’ve also found some republicans trying to relate to the Cromwellian Republic, which is not a good model and provides no useful lessons today.

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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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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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This figure is a decent illustration of the extent of inequality in the US, and reminds us that capitalism has become something beyond what Marx could have imagined. I found this image on the Facebook page ‘The Other 98%’ which is the kind of baffling liberal group that will happily expose capitalism but still show support for Obama. As we know, liberalism is characterised by a “reform, not revolution” mentality, as well as thinking that cooperation with the ruling class is possible so I worry that that people seeing this image are not thinking, wow, we need to reorganise society from top to bottom. Instead, they just want to rely on the wealthiest to be more generous.

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The main problem with this is that altruism can only be a short-term solution. It isn’t a system change that offers security for future generations. Once a rich person throws money at some problem, like homelessness, what are we left with? Some people now have a better quality of life but in the same situation that caused their poverty in the first place. Nothing has changed.

Or maybe something has changed, for the worse. At the heart of trade unionism is the idea that workers need to organise and demand or force their government/bosses to give them their comfortable working conditions and other basic human rights. Achievements such as the 8-hour day are achievements of the exploited and overworked. Now more than ever, with the ‘business ethics’ of Starbucks, books like Philanthro-Capitalism, and billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates and George Soros, the extremely wealthy want to take even pride away from the poorest. It’s a cruel trick: the minority who have most of the money, possessions, fame, and luxury, also want the reputation as the ones struggling against oppression. Charity will always only lift some out of poverty and disease, though. Socialism is needed for a system that makes these problems impossible in the first place. But altruism will cure just enough illnesses and lift just enough people above the poverty line that it will slow down discontent and anti-capitalist reaction. So really, by taking the advice from this statistic too literally, one would be supporting and dragging out inequality.

Music students, I think, have something unique to offer if they wish to oppose capitalism and classist prejudice. The different fields of performance, composition, and music history or musicology are all useful platforms, if you find singing union songs to yourself isn’t enough.

Learning music history, particularly of Western art music, often feels like studying the history of the stuffy aristocracy, who have so little in common with the rest of us. If you are in a position to teach an overview of music history, it is perfectly possible to have a theme of class division and struggle in your lectures. Teach about what the ignored majority was doing with music and how it functioned socially. Place emphasis on the exceptions to what was expected of a musician. This could be the women composers all the way back to Kassia need to be mentioned, how the guitar broke some class boundaries in Spain, or how the first ‘superstar’ performer, Paganini, had a working class background. In terms of original research, ethnomusicology is very exciting for talking seriously about folk music, and music in class struggle and protest is the topic of many articles and books, such as Dorian Lynskey’s ’33 Revolutions per Minute.’

If you love performing in a classical style, and want to orientate your studies in that direction, then perform to as many different people as you can, in any setting. If you are asked to play a piece of music, or if someone wants to hear what you’re listening to you, and you dismiss this by saying “oh, you won’t like it,” it might just be embarrassment for your personal taste, but often I think it is a childish kind of elitism. Many more people will get into classical music if they are given they chance and if it isn’t presented in a way that makes it seem totally separate from all other music. I perform weekly in my university’s Performance Society, usually doing something by Fernando Sor, and accompanying a singer later on. Most people do a pop song or part of a musical so I feel like, by including classical music in this setting, I’m reducing any class implications of the music, in a small way. If you do any instrumental teaching like teaching folk guitar or jazz piano, you could suggest some easy classical stuff to show that it isn’t so boring. One of my earliest influences in guitar-playing was my granddad’s skiffle band and some ‘Guitar Legends’ compilation album, but my first teacher broadened my listening and playing by suggesting some simple flamenco-influenced pieces.

Composers, when writing stage music or anything character-driven, could present a typically unheroic character in a dignified way. Think Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ but without killing them off. Another option is to compose in a classical form but use an obvious folk influence, like Smetana, Glinka, Bartók and others have done before. Usually this is used for some kind of patriotism or nationalism, but it has the effect of legitimising the creations of poorer people as real art.

Like students of every discipline, music students need to protest tuition fees and put more pressure on the NUS or their own institution’s union to fight it. Many musicians are not having their talents fully realised when they miss out on a music degree. It goes without saying that we need to protest capitalism and austerity at every level, too. Poverty stifles creativity.