29 November 2009

Sadism against prisoners is wrong

British Justice Minister, Jack Straw, wants to restrict prisoner's rights to participate in theatre.

It is a statement of the obvious that those who commit serious crimes against the person or private property should be off the streets and in prison. It also seems to me to be common sense that, as these people will eventually emerge again into society, anything that can “humanise” them is an advantage to them and everybody else too. On these grounds alone Jack Straw’s attempt at populist sadism should be rejected.

However for me there is an ethical point too: it is always wrong to hold that the suffering of a human being per se, however evil he may be, can constitute moral value to society.

16 November 2009

Home Office Minister appoints board of faith advisors

To think that the once great British Labour Party is now being advised, not by trade unionists or other representatives working people, but by faith groups (i.e. religious bigots) shows just how far New Labour has sunk.

Perhaps there is an electoral calculation in it. But I believe even more that New Labour (having built on Thatcher’s work) and having created a totally unequal and dysfunctional society, now sees religion as an illiberal social glue to hold it all together. The ever-increasing authoritarian British state is to be bolstered, as far as possible, by state sponsored religious bigots, who will whip their communities into line through the carrot of school places – and perhaps later charity/welfare. At the same time each community, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, will be divided from each other.

Disgusting politics.

Charities subsumed by state

Nick Cohen (Observer 15-Nov-2009) writing about charities made the excellent point:

The state does not wither or even shrink when it pays charities to do its work. It merely decentralises the provision of services while expanding the centre's command and control into new areas of public life.

Civil society (pressure groups, charities, etc.) is not increasing its role vis-a-vis the state; on the contrary the state is subsuming civil society. The only organised element in society not part of the state are corporate business organisations, the interests of which are accepted and imposed on the state.

The lights of liberal democracy are going out.

13 November 2009

The Glasgow North-East By-Election

Glasgow North-East is a heavily working-class seat, and the sad thing is that the working class have nothing better than New Labour. Today is not a time for protest voting but for participating in a dry run for the 2010 General Election.
What other options are there for working people?

The SNP is fundamentally a bourgeois party whose purpose is independence at any price for Scotland. Independence may be a good thing, but of itself it does not put bread on the table.

The left, who might be expected to do well, have self-marginalised themselves into three parties: Solidarity, The Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party. Indeed such is the factionalism and incompetence of the would-be left that they were outpolled by the fascist BNP.

Brown and New Labour deserve a good slap, but that can't be the first priority for working people.

Brown’s misspelt letters to grieving families

Whatever Brown’s motives for writing hand-written letter to the relatives of soldiers killed in the Afghan war is – e.g. guilt at having innocent blood on his hands – is unknowable. Yet, Brown seems to have broken the most fundamental rule of politics: sincerity is no substitute for sense.

In sending such a letter unchecked by his advisors he unnecessarily became a hostage to fortune. In doing so he was a political idiot.

Some suggest that the queen should have written the letters, but Britain’s elderly queen, though, would have just delegated the task to someone else; that is the story of her life.

10 November 2009

Nuclear Power

I think Britain should have a referendum on whether to have new nuclear power stations or not.

I hope the result would be a strong no. But if it is a yes, then they should be built in those localities with the highest yes vote.

6 November 2009

The Lisbon Treaty: a mountain out of a molehill

Let us put the Treaty of Lisbon into perspective because blaming it for the sins of capitalism as too many on the left do, misses the point.

New Labour has facilitated the highest level of social inequality in Britain since 1945 and Britain is the most socially unequal country in the EU. (Cameron’s policies will accelerate inequality)

New Labour has created a police surveillance state in Britain with diminished civil and personal liberties. Britain has the highest level of state surveillance in the EU. (Cameron will not reverse this.)

New Labour has, though lies, involved Britain in the imperial wars of United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most European states avoided wholly or in part these wars. (The Tories supported the war mongering.)

The key problems of Britain are not caused by the EU; they were made in Britain. The Treaty of Lisbon is a bureaucratic tidying-up exercise which has been made a whipping boy for the pain of capitalism by the perpetrators of those sins. Britain would gain, not lose, by becoming more like its immediate continental neighbours in the EU, nor does Britain need strings of opt-outs.

Those things which are wrong in the EU need to be corrected through joint struggle across Europe by the left. The solution is not to get into bed with market fundamentalist Tories, whose so-called patriotic nationalism (like New Labour’s) is nothing more than the surrender of Britain to the unbridled capitalist market and US imperial power.

The weakening or break-up of the EU would not only see the re-emergence of national antagonisms in Europe, but it would see European state becoming satellites of the US, as Cameron and UKIP would no doubt like. The EU is the last hope for retaining the social market economy.

Gordon Brown’s speech to Congress: a fraud

A US speech writing company was paid over GBP 40 000 to help compose Gordon Brown’s speech to Congress. One Guardian columnist defended this.

Put simply, political leaders can either run countries or they can write speeches – there isn't time for them to do both. We wouldn't expect Gordon Brown to redesign the No 10 website single-handedly and nor should we expect him to write his own speeches.

There is a key difference. Brown never holds himself out to compose the Number 10 website; the uniformed observer, though, would think that he had written what for Brown was the speech of his lifetime to the US Congress. If Brown had got up and started,

Good evening, everybody. Here is a speech that a speech writing company in your country, West Wing Writers, has written for me. I will now read it.

At least that would have been honest.

Getting out of Afghanistan

Some have argued that it is difficult for Gordon Brown to extricate the British military from Afghanistan, but it is easy; here is a statement Gordon Brown could make:

The involvement of Britain in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was a mistake. While many British military personnel have perished, nothing has been achieved: Afghanistan has not become a Western-style democracy, nor has our involvement contributed in any way to enhancing Britain’s security. For that reason I announce that the British military will be withdrawn as soon and as quickly as possible.

It’s as simple as that.

4 November 2009

Face the issue of the EU head-on

I think Britain should confront the EU issue head on.

There should be a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, rather than claiming opposition in principle to everything the Union proposes and then demanding an opt-out when something has been decided.

My belief and hope is that the people would, as in 1975, back continued membership, if only because the psychological, practical and economic effect of withdrawal would be disastrous for Britain.

With the issue of membership out of the way (and UKIP and the Tory right marginalised), Britain could work with and within the EU to achieve its interests.

For Cameron to carry on winging about Lisbon is an own goal

The Lisbon treaty is now EU law and unless Cameron envisages a campaign to withdraw Britain from the EU he would be well advised from his point of view to move on.

Yet who am I as a socialist to advise Cameron? I wish only for the Tories, now waiting in the wings to inflict terrible cuts on ordinary working people, to weaken themselves through pointless bickering about the EU.

So perhaps I should change my advice. Yes, hold a pointless referendum, argue about the EU and the Lisbon Treaty, while unemployment and poverty grows in Britain.

2 November 2009

Government sacks its drugs advisor, Professorr Nutt

New Labour seems to have lost the plot.

Through their control of the executive and legislature, New Labour can make normative laws of all types which tell the police and the courts what to do, e.g. to restrict civil liberties and personal freedom of citizens. And of course they have done this again and again as law-addicted legislators.

What they can’t do is change laws of fact by dismissing the messengers. The truth remains the truth irrespective of the wishes of Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson. That they should try to shoot the messenger illustrates the level to which New Labour has sunk.

The German Left Party - a model for elsewhere?

This short article was prompted by two facts: first, the near disappearance of the socialist left in Britain; and second, the emergence and electoral growth of the socialist left in Germany.

The credit crisis which hit the advanced capitalist economies in the autumn of 2008 destroyed at a stroke the key tenet of the market fundamentalism which had held sway over ruling economic thought in the last three decades. Suddenly gone was the notion that markets were self-regulating. In both the US and Britain, the leading proponents of unbridled capitalism, government opened the public purse and poured public money into private banks to prevent financial collapse.

The financial crisis could have provided opportunities for the left, but decades of ideological assault on socialism and social democracy across Europe had utterly disabled the left as a political force. Social democracy (e.g. New Labour in Britain, SPD in Germany and the PS in France) had aligned itself to neo-economic liberalism to such a degree that these parties were identified in their policies and in the public mind with market fundamentalism, rather than the reform or abolition of it. And across most of Europe forces to the left of these once social democratic parties were weak or non-existent.

In Britain for instance the extreme weakness of the left was revealed in the June 2009 Euro-Elections. New Labour (scarcely in any meaningful sense left-wing) slumped to a historic low with under 16% of the vote. The two left-of-Labour parties (Socialist Labour Party, and the ad hoc No2EU) scraped up around 1% each. The Greens achieved a healthier 9%, but the parties to the right of the Tories did well: UKIP 17% and the fascist BNP 6%. The British political landscape is bleak: there is next no left-wing political force in Britain while right-wing parties are advancing.

The major European country in which a party to the left of social democracy not only exists but is advancing is Germany. In the September 2009 national elections a coalition of the centre-right Christian parties and the free market FDP managed to scrape into office by a narrow 49/46 margin over the left. (In Europe in the late 2000s a 46 percent combined vote for social democrats, socialists and Greens is a good result.) Yet it is the constitution of the Germany’s left vote which is interesting: the rounded up percentages are: SPD 23 (down from 34 in 2005), Die Linke 12 (up from 9), Greens 11 (up from 8). Compared with the previous 2005 elections, the SPD was down massively (Cf. New Labour in Britain), the Greens were up, but the biggest advance was made by Die Linke, a party firmly to the left of the SPD. Though now firmly an all-German party, the roots of Die Linke lie in the East.

The collapse of the German Democratic Republic in 1989 allowed a strong hitherto suppressed democratic left to come to fore and take control of East Germany’s former ruling communist party (SED), They got rid of the former leadership, changed its policies to progressive socialist ones, and rebranded the party as the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism).

In the first all-German Bundestag elections in 1990, the PDS won only 2.4% of the nationwide vote, but because the 5% electoral threshold for this election was not applied across the whole united country, but separately in the East and West, the PDS entered the Bundestag with 17 deputies. In the 1994 election, in spite of an aggressive campaign organised against the party by the then-ruling Christian Democrats, the PDS managed to increase its share to 4.4 percent, winning four single member constituencies (winning three such seats is an alternative to surpassing the 5%), and re-entered the Bundestag with an enlarged caucus of 30 deputies. In 1998, the party secured 37 deputies with 5.1% of the national vote, thus surpassing the 5% threshold required for guaranteed representation and full parliamentary status in the Bundestag.

However in 2000, the resignation of Gregor Gysi, the intellectual and charismatic leader of the PDS, after losing a policy debate with leftist factions brought disaster. In the 2002 national elections, the party's share of the vote declined to 4.0%. For the next four years, the PDS was represented in the Bundestag by only two deputies elected directly from their single member constituencies in Eastern Berlin, Petra Pau and Gesine Lötzsch.

After the 2002 debacle, the PDS adopted a new programme and re-elected long-time Gysi ally, Lothar Bisky, as chairman. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, the PDS won 6.1% of the vote nationwide, its highest share to date in a federal election. Its electoral base in the eastern German states continued to grow, making it, with the CDU and SPD, one of the big three in the eastern states. However, low membership and voter support in Germany's western states continued to plague the party until 2005.

Gerhard Schroeder’s Red/Green government (1998-2005), particularly after the 2002 election, decided to deal with Germany’s economic difficulties by adopting market fundamentalist policies which heavily disadvantaged working people and alienated socialist support. In early 2005 the WASG (Arbeit und soziale Gerechtigkeit – Die Wahlalternative,) was formed by left-wing trade unionists and disillusioned social democratic politicians, most prominent among them was left-wing former SPD Chairman and finance minister, Oskar Lafontaine. The immediate focus of the group was to contest from the left the election in Germany’s biggest state, North Rhine Westphalia. In the early national election of 2005, an electoral alliance was formed between WASG and the PDS, which won 8.7% of the national vote. In 2007 the two parties formally merged.

The new Left Party, Die Linke, thus achieved a base in the western federal states; it surpassed the 5% threshold and entered several state parliaments: Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Saarland, Schleswig Holstein. The party is also represented in European Parliament and in many municipalities.

The programme of the Left Party emphasises social solidarity though extensive public investment across the economy, greater self-determination for workers, redistribution of wealth through different means including tax increases for corporations, big businesses and wealthy individuals, the rejection of privatisation and the introduction of a minimum wage. The party also promotes feminist policies.

Concerning foreign policy, Die Linke welcomes the European process of integration, while opposing all forms of militarism; it opposes the market-oriented policies of the European Union. The party strives for the democratisation of the EU institutions and a stronger role of the United Nations in international politics. It opposes the war in Afghanistan.

In its internal politics the party is far from monolithic having a number of internal caucuses, most often referred to as platforms or forums. These include:

Antikapitalistische Linke, (The Anti-capitalist Left) which represents those critical of participation in coalition governments. They believe that government participation should be dependent on a set of minimum criteria (including no privatisations, no war involvement, and no cuts in social welfare spending).

Sozialistische Linke, (The Socialist Left) includes Keynesian economics-leftists and reform communists. The group seeks to orient the party toward the labour movement. Many leaders of the Socialist Left were former members of the WASG.

Emanzipatorische Linke, (The Emancipatory Left) is a current that endorses libertarian socialist principles. It backs a decentralised society and supports progressive social movements.

Netzwerk Reformlinke, (The Reform Left Network) promotes social democratic positions and supports cooperation with the SPD and the Greens. A prominent member of the network is the long serving Bundestag deputy, Petra Pau.

Kommunistische Plattform, (Communist Platform) was originally formed as a tendency of the PDS. It is less critical of German Democratic Republic than other groupings, and it upholds orthodox Marxist positions. A "strategic goal" of the KPF is "building a new socialist society, using the positive experiences of real socialism and to learn from mistakes" The Platform had around 850 members in 2007, around 1% of the party's national membership.


The success of the Left Party in Germany is the result of a combination of five factors which are not present in Britain – or indeed in other European states. First, the inheritance of a Stalinist party structure from the German Democratic Republic; second a movement within East German communism, which wanted to move towards progressive and democratic socialism and which did so after 1989. Third, in the West the willingness of the trade unionist and left wing social democrats to break with the SPD. Fourth a willingness of socialists from different backgrounds to work together in a single party, and finally the Left Party possessing two talented politicians: Grygor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine.

Historically the aspirations of the left in Britain were channelled into the reform of the Labour Party. The party, however, was taken over by New Labour in the mid-90s and no longer functions as an instrument of progressive, let alone social democratic or socialist, politics. New Labour is devoid of both activists and internal democracy; at the top its MPs and leadership have long accommodated themselves to market fundamentalism and state authoritarianism. Socialists must either capitulate or else try to build a new socialist party. British socialists cannot, nor should they try to, build a carbon copy of Die Linke, but just as British socialists had much to learn from Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century, so, I believe, they have again at the beginning of the twenty-first. The stakes are high: in 2009 in most of Europe the centre right and far right did well. If the Left cannot offer the working class an alternative to the failed market fundamentalism, the right moves in.