23 December 2010

Asking for a kiss

There is something wrong in my mind with the response the author is advocating - at least where the situation does not threaten violence.

Man: "Hey, give me a kiss it’s Christmas." And the woman calls the police to report a crime.

I would like to see a society in which young women felt empowered rather than be treated as helpless victims of male predation who need state support to walk down the street.

Unless an interaction comes to direct physical assault, the inferior position of the woman is purely psycho-social. It can be overcome. She can choose what to do: a relatively mild but firm, “Leave me alone.” to a stronger “Fuck off!”

That works with most men. And for those who continue to hassle the woman, yes then involve the police.

After all, few want a society in which men can’t flirt with women because of fear of prosecution and because of gender equality considerations woman couldn’t flirt with men either. The good intentions of the article writer pave the road to Hell.

14 December 2010

The student protesters are not just yobs

It is true that among the demonstrators there are yobs who disfigure the movement and cause pointless pain and damage. But in facing the destruction of their education and accelerated levels of police violence, many young people are not inclined to receive pain without payback. And that payback, mostly in the form of petty and symbolic vandalism, is dwarfed by the level of state violence deployed against them.
What leaves me wondering is why a prominent Swedish lawyer and politician, Claes Borgstrom, and then a state persecutor, Marianne Ny, should go to so much trouble to re-open a case which, as far a sex crimes go, is a relatively minor one, even if true – and more than that is almost impossible to prove.

The facts of the case suggest little chance of a successful prosecution if only because the case can only revolve around his word against hers about events occurring during what started out as consensual sex in bed in a private place. Moreover, the subsequent behaviour of the two women point in the direction of malicious accusations.

Some might argue that Claes Borgstrom and his compliant prosecutor want to score points for gender politics by focussing on a prominent but vulnerable individual like Assange. But that hardly makes sense. Across the world the charges levelled against Assange make Sweden look ridiculous.

Added to that, it needs to be explained why Sweden issued a “most wanted” notice to Interpol for the arrest of Assange. Higher authority than Ny must have been involved.

In short, it seems as if the women are not honey-trap agents, but became somebody’s useful idiots after the event. What needs explanation is why the case is pursued by Sweden with such vigour, when Sweden’s best interest would seemly be served by being rid of the man

The nonsense in Sweden's case against Assange

The Swedes say they haven’t charged him, and they just want to question him. Assange says he is prepared to answer their questions; and Swedish prosecutors are in the court hearing today.

Why are Swedish prosecutors prepared to travel to Britain to attempt to get him extradited to Sweden but not to question him in Britain?

Why is it so important that these questions can only be answered in Sweden?

11 December 2010

Kettling: what it means

What we are a seeing is the normalisation of police brutality; and police brutality being used as an instrument of public policy.

Kettling is the process of mass arbitrary arrest by means of detention in street holding pens; incarceration lasts for several hours without food, water, shelter, toilet facilities or medical attention. Often those subject to detention suffer baton beatings and other assaults.

Precisely because this assault on personal and civic liberty has become normal, it is no longer newsworthy.

Kettling is a form of collective punishment in order to intimidate demonstrators and anybody else thinking of protesting in the future. Police now prefer collective punishment through kettling to attempting to apprehend wrong-doers.

9 December 2010

Can the state wither away?

The nation is an imagined community; the state is not illusory at all.

I agree that both Stalinism and social-democracy seek to enhance the role of the state: the former wishes to replace the market and build up state repression; the latter wishes to substitute the market to some degree and expand social welfare. In both cases the instrument is the state.

Marx’s notion of the “withering away of the state” is largely nonsensical. The state, an entity confined by history and geography, is an amalgam of law, administration and coercive violence in which each element is dependent on the other two. To imagine society in the absence of these institutions is fanciful.

The question is not whether the state, but what kind of state.

8 December 2010

For flat rate universal entitlements

Welfare benefits for those with no income should be based on flat rate universal entitlements.

The problem of once better-off workers falling on hard times when they lose their jobs should be dealt with differently. While in work, a proportion of salary should be held in compulsory savings, which becomes available to supplement other benefits in the event of unemployment, sickness or old age. (Sums left in the pot on death would be inheritable).

Some may argue, not without justification, that British salaries are not enough to sustain compulsory savings. That is an argument for higher salaries which would make it possible for people to sustain themselves throughout their working lives.

7 December 2010

Is the British state a threat to socialists?

To what extent could the British state become a threat to socialists? The simple answer is that I don’t know.

My rough guess would be this: the security apparatus monitors anybody who either in opinion or deed questions the existing power structure in Britain. Monitoring of the internet is ubiquitous; and no doubt all our names along with other details are logged.

Yet the number of people who roughly agree with what we say could be counted in the millions, but only very occasionally do they articulate their thoughts on the net or elsewhere. But that still leaves a few thousands of people who do comment or act regularly and who also urge others to do so. It is these people who are identified on security lists.

Britain, though, is not about to throw liberal democracy overboard wholesale and cull its left-wing critics, as per Indonesia 1965 or Chile 1973. Therefore, I see little personal danger. The only adverse consequence might occur in the unlikely event of anybody getting near a ‘sensitive’ position in the British state; they would be blacklisted immediately. I for one can live with that.

4 December 2010

The Meaning of the Wikileaks leaks

The US embassy cables put into the public domain by Wikileaks do not contain any top secret intelligence and hardly tell us anything that we did not already suspect. Nevertheless, they are important in two ways: first, they are highly embarrassing to the US, so those who oppose US imperial power around the world can enjoy the Schadenfreude; and second – and more importantly – they provide evidence for much of what the left has previously believed to be true.

For me the most interesting is the confirmation of the utter subservience of the British government (both New Labour and the Coalition) to US interests. The constant and repeated mendacity of Blair-Brown government is well illustrated; for instance in deceiving the electorate and parliament on matters such as the outlawing of cluster bombs for PR purposes while clandestinely allowing the US to continue to hold them on British soil.

That Liam Fox gave full details of planned military procurement to the US Embassy hardly raises as eyebrow. Yet it is interesting to note that when the cables revealed that a FDP official had given details of the coalition negotiations in Germany to US diplomats, he lost his job within hours.

Will the publication of these cables do long term harm to the US? I don’t think so. If three million Americans with security clearance had access to this data base, we can be sure the information therein was already common knowledge in Paris, Moscow and Peking. Certainly, publication will force those wanting to cooperate with the US to think twice before opening their mouths to US diplomats, but overall the cables prove something very favourable to the US: for the most part US embassies function properly and orderly in promoting US interests around the world.

26 November 2010

Be careful with nationalism and patriotism

In his post, Walter extols the virtues of patriotism. Walter’s loved one is the nation state as opposed to political identification with one’s town or region. The reason is hard-nosed: only the institutions of the nation state can achieve socialism and a majority for socialism can only be achieved through love of the nation state.

In an earlier post, I dealt with the role of the national state in the developed capitalist countries in the age of market fundamentalism. Here I want to look briefly at the meaning of Walter’s patriotism.

Walter’s use of patriotism in this context is indistinguishable from the notion of nationalism, i.e. the belief in the promotion of the “values of the nation” which Walter believes could and should contain socialist values. After all who does not become a little nationalistic when arguing with Americans about the virtues of the NHS?

The problem for me lies in the construct of nationalism. If one means, in the tradition of the French Revolution, the notion of “citizenship nationalism” – i.e. everybody with a British passport (plus long-term residents in the UK), then that is acceptable, so long as we don’t deny other levels of identification: municipal, regional, pan-European, and of course universalistic ones. In fact citizenship nationalism is not only desirable it is inevitable.

Yet nationalism in many people’s minds is not citizenship nationalism at all, but ethic nationalism: a group of people defined by origins, race, religion, language, etc. This is pernicious because what it is about is “taking possession and excluding the other” When the English flag is raised it summons up notions of ethnic, not citizenship nationalism.

To back up my argument against ethnic nationalism I will give the wonderful quotation of Ludvik Zamenhof.

“I am totally convinced that every nationalism presents only the greatest unhappiness for humanity, and that the aim of every people should be the creation of a harmonious humanity. It’s true that the nationalism of oppressed people – a natural reaction of self-defence – is more excusable than the nationalism of oppressors; but, if the nationalism of the strong is ignoble, the nationalism of the weak is imprudent; yet each reinforces the other and presents a vicious circle of unhappiness from which humanity can never escape unless all of us give up our self-love of the group and try instead to establish ourselves on a wholly neutral basis.”

In conclusion I could say this. If the citizens of Britain value socialism and struggle for it in Britain, fine. If the fires of ethnic nationalism are fanned by talk of patriotism and nationalism, then that’s bad. I fear that in highlighting the notion of patriotism, one will cause the latter rather than the former.

15 November 2010

Owning your own home

The myth of the advantages of home ownership, like all good myths, has an element of truth in it. It is an advantage to own your place of dwelling.

The problem arises not so much because people in Britain are daft and plagued with a false consciousness on the issue, but because political power has rigged things so people have an interest in buying their home on mortgages, whether they can afford to do so or not.

A nation is debt is a servile one.

11 November 2010

Attacks on the unemployed

It is utterly perverse that the unemployed are most heavily persecuted for their unemployment at just that time when joblessness is expanding.

This is scapegoating at its worst: abetting a lynch-mob (who themselves are being battered by the cuts) to turn on those who are even worse-off, rather than on those responsible for the crisis. For the unemployed, it's like being imprisoned in a cage and then being beaten for being there.

9 November 2010

Phil Woolas and Harriet Harman

Woolas lied and conjured up inter-ethnic prejudice to win his seat.

In office he was one of the New Labour's bootboys who enjoyed his roles in the whip's office and as minister for deportations. He famously attacked lawyers who defended defenceless immigrants; yet now he calls on such services to try to save him from deportation from the Commons.

For once I salute Harriet Harman in her proclamation that Woolas has no future with Labour. What weakness on the part of Ed Miliband to have appointed him to the immigration portfolio in the shadow cabinet in the first place.

4 November 2010

Socialists, Economics & Inequality

“What makes capitalism intolerable is the rise of relative poverty and increased levels of insecurity and exploitation.” (22-Oct-2010)

This quotation from Geoff has worried me for some time, if only because it poses more questions than it answers. To echo John Rawls, would an economic system be more justifiable if everyone were worse off, but the society were more equal?

I would argue that it is the goal of socialists to increase the material well-being of ordinary working people both absolutely and vis-à-vis the wealthy beneficiaries of capitalism.

Geoff is right to stress that capitalism provides working people with little security. Indeed, well-being consists of two parts wealth/income AND the security of that income and wealth. In periods of upswing (e.g. early 2000s, despite credit financing) the well-being of all but the poorest sections of the working class do rise, but long-term financial security does not outlast the boom.

Geoff writes:

“Overall, the UK and western societies in general have become richer over the long term. This can be seen in part in National Income statistics. In addition to the figures there are the many technical changes that have made our lives easier.” (22-Oct-2010)

Here I would qualify Geoff. Yes, capitalism is not entirely useless; in cycles it expands wealth by technological development and reducing production costs. Today we can all in the West benefit from agro-engineering for our food and have mobile phones.

Yet how well-off one is and can expect to be is determined by what we can reasonably expect from an equitable distribution of the fruit of the productive forces given their level of development.

In these terms we can speak of real poverty in Britain: a day’s work at the minimum wage to purchase a 100km ticket into London before ten; several days work for simple dental treatment – or several lifetimes of work to purchase a terraced house. For the growing numbers who are sick or without work the situation is far worse.

2 November 2010

Why social cleansing will happen

Social cleansing will occur; only its extent is uncertain.

In the private sector, there will be cases where the diminishing ability of tenants to pay (unemployment, cuts in housing benefit) will cause the landowners to decrease rent; this will be particularly so in bedsit-land and in the junk estates. Alternative tenants with more money simply don’t exist.

In those areas, especially London, where there are potential tenants who can afford the existing rent levels, only philanthropic landlords will reject the route of attempting to dump their existing tenants and seek out higher paying ones.

Forcing people out of their homes is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a person. Expect incidents of family breakdown and suicide to increase.

25 October 2010

Political correctness

Yes, the ideology of political correctness, originally coined as a tool by the right to ridicule the left, has now been adopted and expanded as an all-embracing anti-liberal doctrine to stifle free expression. One not wholly unwelcome aspect of it is the constriction of the public space for racist expression; this, however, does not abolish racism but merely displaces it into dysfunctional white working-class anger (Roger’s primitive rebellion?)

19 October 2010

Our situation today

We are condemned to live out our lives in the market fundamentalist variant of capitalism or perhaps something worse. Let’s see ourselves as the fools who bother to describe the cage we live in and dare occasionally to look outside it at the world that might be. Formally, socialists sought to change the world, today we seek only to interpret it.

The meaning of community

I think we need to be careful and not expand the meaning of ‘community’ to include any form of human association or relationship. Community involves both social and geographical attachment.

Community entails a network of human contacts arising from daily life. These will typically include neighbourhood, school, work and leisure activity. To the extent that relationships with and within these institutions are regarded as belonging to the people as opposed to being merely commercial transactions, one has community. Community is further evidenced and reinforced by the voluntary formation of civic organisations and initiatives (e.g. parties, pressure groups, clubs, etc)

The geographic element is a sentimental attachment to place (Heimat). “This place is where I live; it’s mine although I share it with others and I care about it”

A community is universal/secular to the extent that anybody living in the area is considered as a potential member of it.

(The use of the word “community” in the sense of “the gay community” is something else entirely; i.e. to describe a collection of people who share a common characteristic.)

There was no golden age of community, if only because community was never 100 percent and the community of yesteryear also maintained repressive and conservative values. I believe, for example, that the rapid advancement of gay rights and acceptance in Britain after 1997 (which I support) owes something to the diminution of community.

13 October 2010

The end of social democracy

Following on the idea of the left becoming proficient at losing, I would just add this.

There is a double bind. First, not in half a century have the left been out of office simultaneously in Britain, France and Germany. Worse still today we see conservative governments in northern Europe from the Netherlands to Scandinavia. The failure of social democracy is in no way specific to Britain; it is a European phenomenon.

Second, we have witnessed the passing of social democracy within formally social democratic parties: New Labour in Britain, or the Harz package in Germany. Often the main party of the left today is little more than a cosmopolitan elite capturing the vote of public employees who depend on a ‘big state’ and poorer sections of the working class who have nowhere else to turn.

12 October 2010

Why is the left politically weak?

Left of centre parties are out of office in most European countries. Why? Here are two reasons.

First, globalised systems of production have left large numbers of people in the advanced capitalist countries superfluous to requirements. In the credit boom they could be absorbed on low wages in the service sector, but not today. Those working people who are reasonably secure at the moment under capitalism tend in large numbers to identify with the system against its victims.

Second, the end of communism has removed the political need in Western Europe of attempting to satisfy and integrate the working class by means of social democracy. No clearer example of this exists than in Germany; during the Cold War Western Germany's social market model was held up as an example to the capitalist world; today it is portrayed as an impediment.

8 October 2010

New Labour's Repressive Legacy

Labour can never be a progressive party again unless it confronts its flirtation with authoritarianism while in office.

Since his election to the Labour leadership,Ed Miliband has attempted to shut the door on the excesses of New Labour. Muffled criticism has been heard on Iraq, social inequality and the demise of civic and personal liberties. Nevertheless the overall tone of the Labour leadership is that we should move on. But can the sins of New Labour be so readily forgotten even if not forgiven?

If the left can easily explain, but not forgive, the Iraq fiasco and the boosting of social inequality, there is one aspect of the Blair-Brown years (1997-2010) which needs careful examination, namely New Labour’s assault on civic and personal freedoms. This was no small matter: people incarcerated without trial or public evidence; wide scale intimidatory use of stop and search powers against people on the street, especially photographers; people threatened with prosecution for criticising religion; mass registration of people on the pretext of combating paedophilia… and so on. By 2009 it was possible to talk about the lights going out on liberal democracy in Britain.

The reflex response of some on the left, namely that all this was prompted by the future necessity of repressing the working class, who would rise up in response to the capitalist crisis is surely nonsense. The organised working-class had never been weaker. The key to understanding this phenomenon lies elsewhere.

Many of the repressive measures were due to a cynical populism (detention of supposed would-be terrorists) or a desire to outflank the Tories and the Daily Mail. The security industry is a strong lobby (technology for ID cards and E-Borders); yet there is something else, something more fundamentally rotten.

When the Tories ran Britain (1979-97) they had obvious political and economic objectives, but no clear social one; didn’t Mrs Thatcher say that there was no such thing as society? Politically, the Tories destroyed the institutions of working-class resistance: the trade unions and local councils, many of which, and especially so in urban areas, were in Labour hands. Economically they imposed market fundamentalism on Britain, but socially they cared little about what happened to the swelling ranks of the unemployed. The jobless had scraps of welfare thrown at them and lived in junk estates.

New Labour made minimal attempts to empower and/or ameliorate the conditions of ordinary working people, other than the ephemeral palliative of permitting the intoxicating and ultimately disastrous credit boom. Instead, using the language of ‘responsibility,’ and for Blair ‘communitarianism,’ they deployed state repression to weld everyone into their ‘place’ in Britain's class-divided capitalist society. This, I believe is the true origin of New Labour’s authoritarian statism, and it is something that needs to be fully explored and rejected.

29 September 2010

Some notes on a housing policy

On Walter’s post on housing: my suggestions

Mortgages of over 50 percent of purchase price prohibited. Result: collapse in demand and of land prices.

Building of public housing for rent. Rent level to recoup building cost over 25 years.

Public housing made available to pre-defined groups (e.g. workers earning under 15K, workers with children, etc.)

How to ration within the group? Through money: the one who buys the most expensive saving bond, gets the tenancy. Housing bond cannot be redeemed during tenancy. Housing bond used to provide credit for new house building.

New Land tax. 1% of property value per year. Every person gets a land tax credit of 1000 pounds.

E.g. couple in 180 000 house. Tax: 1800; credit 2000: land tax nothing.

Person in 450 000 house. Tax: 4500, credit 1000 – Land tax 3500 per year.

28 September 2010

The social democratic test for Ed Miliband

There is a lot of piffle being written in the press about Ed Miliband.

One central question confronts socialists: would a Miliband Labour government elected in 2015 bring about a meaningful shift in wealth and income in favour of ordinary working people AND (not or) expand democracy, along with greater civic and personal freedoms.

If you believe the answer is yes, then we should join him in the Labour Party and help strengthen that agenda. If you think, on the contrary, that the main role of Labour in government would be to further entrench the power of capital in Britain, then we need to build an alternative movement for socialism, however hard that task may be.

24 September 2010

New Mexico abandons the death penalty

The death penalty is wrong because the universal right to life (even for the most evil) is the building block upon which all other rights are constructed or derived. The right to life is conserved not primarily for the benefit of the criminal, but for the benefit of the moral structure of society.

That New Mexico has abandoned the death penalty is to be welcomed, even if the state is acting for financial reasons rather than ones of principle.

This point should be made: every case of the death penalty is wrong, not fundamentally because it is expensive or that it fails to act as a deterrent, but because the right to life, even of the most evil, is a moral absolute, just as the right not to be tortured is – or at least in theory.

More precisely, the right to life is the building brick upon which other rights (e.g. the right to be treated with dignity) are built. Abolishing the death penalty does not of itself guarantee a civilised society, but it is not possible to have a civilised society in which people are sentenced to die.

20 September 2010

Labels and terms

Labels and terms become much clearer when a simple piece of logic is applied to them.

“Labels are vital. Without them we would have no idea of what will come out of any tin or jar. But in our field we should apply with care.”

It is correct to stress this point and he goes on to give several examples in which misguided labelling can lead us astray.

At the point of being pedantic let me introduce a distinction. For every term, for example chair, we can talk about the terms intention and extension.

The intension of a term refers to all those elements that a phenomenon must contain to make the application of the term valid. Let us take a very simple case: a bachelor must be male and unmarried. Unless we can apply both attributes we may not use the term bachelor.

The extension of a term is the listing of all those phenomena to which a term can apply: in the case of ‘bachelor’ all the bachelors in the world.

It is fair to point out that this simplicity becomes much less so when we consider phenomena in nature (e.g. gold, oak tree). Nonetheless clarity is never lost by considering the intention and extension of a term.


14 September 2010

Marxism as science

I adopt a broad definition of science: a paradigm of concepts and a system of propositions related thereto which have claim to truth value on the basis of reason and evidence. (I avoid the Popperian definition of science, if only because I can see no inherent dependency between the truth of a proposition and our ability to disprove it).

Within the definition of science that I have just outlined, I do see a historical materialism as scientific. There is a Marxian paradigm of concepts; there are related propositions which stand on the basis of evidence and reason.

6 September 2010

Anti-Semitism in Easter Europe 1948-53

The issue of whether the Stalinist purges in Communist controlled Europe 1948 to 1953 were linked to Stalin's antisemitism is indeed much debated.

Antisemitism would seem to be an element in the purge of the General Secretary of Czechoslovak Communist Party, Rudolf Slansky, as he and several of his co-defendants were Jewish. Yet in the parallel trial in Hungary the non-Jewish Rajk was purged and executed by a party leadership that was itself mainly Jewish.

Far more important for Stalin was the elimination of communists who were not wholly obedient to him, who had independent support or who had links outside the bloc; e.g. those obtained through fighting in the international brigades in Spain.

For Stalin antisemitism was not an article of faith, but merely a tool to be used whenever it suited his purposes.


Moving Blair's Autobiography

Surreptitiously moving copies Blair's memoir to the crime section of bookshops is a wholly appropriate thing to do. It is simple, nobody gets hurt and it makes a point.

To the commentator above who worries about customers not being able to locate the book, don't worry. Customers now know where to find it.

And don't worry about inconvenience to shop assistants either. They simply need to direct customers to the crime section.

War against Belgrade 1999

I believe that the war against Belgrade in 1999 should not have been supported by the left for two reasons.

First, the war provided the time, space and setting for the intensified slaughter of the Albanians of Kosovo.

Second, it was only on account of good fortune that after two months of aerial bombardment Milosovic capitulated and agreed to withdraw from Kosovo on condition that his Belgrade regime was left alone. In the absence of a ground invasion it was always possible for the regime to have remained defiant.

Had Milosovic been threatened at the outset with a clear ultimatum: hand Kosovo over to the EU (not NATO) or face a ground invasion, then the war would have been worthy of support: except of course it would never have happened.

12 August 2010

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories often engender two pathologies. One is that of the deferential who accepts the official version of everything from 9/11 to the deaths of Dinah and Dr Kelly; the other is perennial paranoiac who never fails to sees the hand of omnipotent shadowy agents pulling the strings behind courts, the media and so on. (In fact the paranoia narrative is most common in the most deferential of countries the US where a regular film scenario is of trusting patriotic Joe stumbling on a web of government mis-doings and then being called on to put matters to right).

There are times when the conspiracy theorists are absolutely right (e.g. the Zinoviev Letter, 1924) but more often the unexplained and unexplainable would, if explained, show hitherto unknown details which at best would add a new dimension to the accepted master explanation. And I believe that is probably the case with the 9/11 events.

Every political event has unknown aspects and these unknown aspects throw up ‘clues’ which cannot be readily explained. It is job of historians and political scientists to probe, seek the facts and provide the best possible explanations.

2 August 2010

Fran Jenkin (died 23 July 2010)

I was extremely saddened to learn of Fran Jenkin's death.

I got to know Fran in the mid-1980s first through political activities and then personally. At the time I was one of the leading promoters of Devon Labour Briefing, a left-leaning but independent group of people, who were attempting to shift Exeter Labour Party to the left. Most of us were just out of university and winning support outside the Pennsylvania and St. Davids branch was proving difficult. Fran, then an Exeter College Teacher of English, joined us readily, became an active supporter of Devon Labour Briefing and felt at home in our company. Her house in Portland Street, which she shared with several cats, became an unofficial meeting place for us all.

Though her reputation established some years before in CND spared her from expulsion threats from the Labour Party, I still remember the battering she took at the General Management Committee meetings of Exeter Labour Party for her association with us. Animosity reached its height in 1987-88 when the Labour-led Exeter City Council sought to promote celebrations for the Tercentenary of the arrival in Brixton of king-to-be William of Orange. Fran, a passionate supporter of Irish nationalism, threw herself into the campaign to oppose the William of Orange celebrations.

Opposition is never painless. Though the police generally left us alone, Fran awoke one morning to have a team of police officers search her house. Why or what they were looking for we never discovered; and she alone suffered this indignity, but she emerged from it as cheerful as ever.

I felt particularly honoured when Fran turned to me to ask me to tutor her son, Larry, for his politics A-level. That led to a strange incident; one evening on returning home I found my metre-high poster of Karl Marx missing from the wall. My partner could offer no explanation and it remained a mystery until one day it was re-presented to me in a glass frame by Fran and her son. The framed photograph of Marx still hangs over my writing desk.

Sadly from the end of the 1980s Fran and I had no contact and I know nothing of the last two decades of her life.

24 July 2010

Tomlinson case shows up British state

A passer-by, with his hands in his pockets and walking away from a line of police officers, is suddenly struck on the back of the legs with a baton and then hurled to the ground. He suffers severe internal bleeding as a consequence of the fall and dies some minutes later.

The facts are not in doubt because the whole incident was filmed, but it takes the Crown Prosecution Service fifteen months to come to decision not to charge the offending police officer with any criminal offence.

Perhaps one is not surprised that this psychopathic police officers exists, but that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service do everything they can to prevent his prosecution is more surprising. Also of note is the silence from government and politicians; the message they send out is that the unprovoked police assault on Ian Tomlinson on 1 April 2009 is of little importance.

The meaning of all this is not, as some have suggested, that the police have been given a carte blanche to assault and kill at random, but that when they do, even when there is rock-solid evidence of state misconduct, citizens have no right to remedy. People are subject to the state; the state is not accountable to the people who live within it.

21 July 2010

social class: a reality

Walter argues that class politics is now outdated, and if we are to build a coalition for socialism it has based on something else. As evidence he points to the decline, especially outside the state sector, of trade union affiliation.

I don’t think this argument is wholly correct. It is certainly true that levels of political class consciousness have declined, but does that mean class itself is less of a social reality so socialists should ignore it? I think not.

Social class is a concomitant of the relations of production under capitalism. Economic and political structures affect classes in such a way as to bring about a variety of class divisions based primarily on income and wealth, but also on ethnic group, status, education, etc.

In the last three decades Thatcherism and then New Labour have overseen an increase in social inequalities of income and wealth so that Britain is now more unequal than at any time since the Second World War. In parallel social mobility (inter and intra-generational) has declined. It is thus wide of the mark to talk about the disappearance of social class; and if social classes are a reality they cannot be ignored in politics.

As of old, it remains the job of socialists to convince working people, as working people, of the injustices of the capitalist order so that they can become instruments of progressive social change

20 July 2010

Cameron & Clegg's electoral reform

The whole of this debate is nonsense.

Constituencies are to be made larger and less geographically meaningful in an attempt to get the votes to seats ratio more equal between the Tories and Labour. The fact that the Liberal Democrats and others face a huge votes to seats ratio does not seem to matter.

Why is PR which would mean one person, one vote, one value rejected? Is it because PR would make constituencies larger - or because first-past-the-post leads to stable one party governments?

All of these manoeuvres (retaining the present boundaries, limiting electoral reform to AV, changing the number, size and geography of constituencies) are forms of gerrymandering.

19 July 2010


Violence is basically bad; it causes pain, death and violates human dignity. The conception of violence as a liberating good (along with its associated symbols of virility, fire, steel, etc) is a fascist narrative. Recourse to violence can only be justified if no other means is available, the violence can succeed in its aims and we can be sure that by not engaging in violence we would create or sustain a greater wrong.

For socialists, particularly in advanced capitalist society, violence is never the chosen terrain of struggle. Class power relations are asymmetrical. The state has bodies of armed men at its disposal; the left’s power lies elsewhere. It has political organisation, in the economic domain strikes plus other forms of industrial influence and the means of ideological struggle.

16 July 2010

Socialism and violence

Socialist politics may on occasion involve violence, but ours is certainly not a creed which is either fundamentally about or seeks violence. There are two reasons why violence is very much something secondary for us.

First, precisely because we are people who seek reforms within capitalist society at least as a first step, we acknowledge the state’s legal order and its monopoly of force. In exchange for that, we receive the state’s protection of our bourgeois rights within society such as the right to form civic organisations and to protest. If fascists intimidate us and our families, our first response, beyond immediate necessary self-defence, is to call the police. It is precisely for this reason that defence and advancement of civil and personal liberties are so vital.

Second, in the class struggle power relations are asymmetrical. It is the state that has armed men at its disposal not us; our power rests on political organisation plus the force of argument. Our success usually depends on the avoidance of violence.

And finally it is worth adding that violence can never be justified solely to punish (corporal and capital punishment). Socialism is the strengthening and realisation of the values found in liberalism, not their negation.

14 July 2010

Blair, Brown and bad politicians

It is very depressing indeed that Britain was managed 1997-2010 by men of low calibre and principle such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Peter Mandelson is cut from similar cloth.

There is an old saying in politics: shit floats to the top. The only means of part remedying the problem is to have greater openness in government and more accountability by parliament. It is absurd to have the reform of government departments, for instance, brought about or stymied to avoid the tantrums of ministers.

The limits of social democracy

Geoff makes a perfectly valid point about the limits of social democracy. He argues that as the social product is redistributed to working people, profits are squeezed thus endangering the capitalist system. In fact I would strengthen his argument by pointing out that in addition as personal and civic liberties are expanded, political threats to the capitalist order also become more likely.

I also agree that something like that started to happen in the 1970s and was a trigger for the launch of market fundamentalism. However I will make two points: first in 2010 we are miles away from that situation with massive inequalities having again been built up for potential redistribution. Indeed in the thirty years between the 1930s and 1970s social inequalities were vastly reduced and this could be done again within capitalism if political conditions changed. Second, when (or if) we reach the point where there is a choice between ‘going beyond social democracy’ or accepting capitalist restablisation, then I will be on the side of going beyond social democracy. Until then, I’ll stick with social democracy.

Israel good or bad?

It is perfectly true that compared with the Arab dictatorships, whether they are American puppets or not, Israel is a beacon of Enlightenment values in the region.

That said, Israel is an ethnic nationalist state which, grants citizenship rights to people around the world based solely on their ethnic background and denies (or limits) it to its Palestinian inhabitants because they are not Jewish. Thanks to almost unqualified US support, Israel illegally occupies land and continues to engage in ethnic cleansing.

Socialists must stand firmly behind Palestinians in the their struggle for equal rights (whether in Israel or in a future Palestinian state), support those in Israel who demand a non-ethnic nationalist state and back those demanding democracy and secular human rights against the Arab dictatorships.

13 July 2010

Socialism in one country and reformism

The issue of ‘socialism in one country’ is an old question and became a somewhat inevitable one after the foundation of the Soviet Union. Unless the USSR was to be engaged in constant war with all the suffering that would involve, some sort of socialism in one country was necessary. To me the idea that any meaningful progress is dependent on a world revolution in which all existing social conditions are abolished before the Promised Land can be ushered in is a religious-like fiction.

My thinking, as a reformist, starts somewhere else. Socio-political conditions at any point in time are what they are and any given situation hold the possibility of improvement. However to move things forward progressives need three things.

First, they need to analyse and understand the society they live in. Nobody can steer a car if they can’t see the road.

Second, they need a measure of what constitutes progress. For me that means the expansion of personal and civil liberties plus an increase in the social product flowing to ordinary working people.

Third, political change does not come out of thin air, but can only come about through political organisation. Thus agents of change are required.

The three tenets of progress are like a stool. Take one away or have one shorter than the others and the stool topples over.

7 July 2010

Will AV help the Liberal Democrats

With the LIb Dems sinking in the polls, in the great majority of seats at the next general election the Lib Dem candidate will come third. All AV will do is to allow Lib Dem voters the choice of transferring their vote to the Tories or to Labour.

In fact, AV might actually contribute to a decline in the Lib Dem vote. Previously many Tories and Labour voters voted tactically for the LIb Dems. Under AV they will have less reason to do so.

6 July 2010

The source of opposition

Sustained political rebellion against the status quo does not start in a starving proletariat, but in middle-class (or upwardly mobile working-class) intellectual discontent. It was from these sources that the core of people who formed the backbone of the Bennite movement in the Labour Party in the 1970s and early 1980s and who in the Western part of Germany came together in the late 2000s to set up branches of Die Linke.

2 July 2010

Labour in 1979 & 2010: the difference

I suppose I should answer my own question concerning whether the left should now put their hopes in the Labour Party of the future.

Superficially one can find similarities with the ending of the Blair-Brown governments in 2010 and the close of the Wilson-Callaghan years in 1979. Most significant among them is that Labour in opposition tends to start off moving leftwards. But on closer examination there are two crucial differences between now and then.

First, unlike New Labour, the Labour Governments 1964-79 never abandoned social democracy. Wilson’s self-declared remit was left-leaning: to advance the well-being of working people within the post-war consensus and to be progressive in social, civic and personal affairs. In the latter, if not so much in the former, Labour chalked up significant success: abolition of the death penalty, legalisation of male homosexuality and abortion, lowering the age of majority to eighteen, etc. So in 1979 one could argue: “Labour is basically sound, but what we want is a more left-wing and progressive version of it. Let’s join and see what we can do”

The second crucial difference between now and then is that when Labour lost office in 1979, the left was never so strong in the constituency parties and in the trade unions. There was real hope that by mucking in the left could win through. In 2010 Diane Abbott, the token left-winger, is on the leadership ballot paper thanks only to self-interested charity of New Labour MPs. The moment behind her is tiny and marginal.

My conclusion is that the situation in 2010 is fundamentally different from the one in 1979. The stain of New Labour cannot be washed away in a few months. Socialists cannot be, and cannot be seen to be, the junior partners of the people who managed New Labour 1994-2010. The Labour Party will not change its spots soon. If the left has a future it is not with Balls, Burnham and the Miliband brothers.

29 June 2010

Is Labour worthwhile for the future?

The Tory-LibDem government’s attempt to reduce the state deficit is disadvantaging most heavily the poorest sections of working people. The unemployed, ever growing in number, who now subsist on state benefits of less than ten pounds per day (out of which they should feed and dress themselves and pay utility bills) will have their income cut. New Labour allowed Britain to become its most socially unequal since 1945; and the bourgeois coalition is now set to drive millions into penury, with Britain’s social profile increasing resembling that of a South American country.

On the left there are two responses, both of which deserve serious consideration.

First, there is the view that however awful New Labour was between 1997 and 2010, nonetheless it is the only political organisation that working people have to advance their interests. We should, therefore, work for a Labour government to be elected in 2015 or earlier because even the worst Labour government is better than this. Of course in the meantime we can campaign and try to move Labour leftwards.

Second, there is the view that the Blair-Brown governments crossed the Rubicon. New Labour in office abandoned social democracy, built up capitalist power and inequality, sought to diminish personal and civic liberties and actively promoted a sycophantic pro-Americanism around the globe. The people actively engaged in this project lead the Labour Party today and will after the September leadership election. Asking working people to put their faith and aspirations in Labour is therefore dishonest and futile.

Something like this is bound to be the core argument on the left in the 2010s

21 June 2010

Is working in the Labour Party worthwhile?

Even though I was active on the left of the Labour Party in the early 1980s, I doubt today whether socialist involvement in the Party can be effective.

In the 1980s our complaint against the Wilson/Callaghan governments (1964-79) was that they had been staffed by men with over modest objectives. Nevertheless Roy Jenkins had secured a raft of liberal reforms in the 1960s and the left had strengthened inside the Party and the trade unions. It seemed possible in the early days of Thatcher that a more left-wing Labour government was both possible and meaningful.

New Labour’s (1997-2010) main feature was not the modesty of its reform, but its desire to consolidate Thatcherism under new management. That required a different sort of Labour Party as Blair realised from the outset. Party internal democracy was undermined till it no longer existed, top-down management was imposed leading to choreographed conferences and left-wing activists either resigned or became marginalised eccentricities.

Socialism and social democracy are now too long dead in the Labour Party to be revived. I think I’m right, though I wish I were wrong.

That said, activity in the Labour Party is better than doing nothing or engaging in self-marginalisation through climate camps.

My hope would be that Britain could build a left-wing reformist party to the left of Labour which would win support for itself and prevent Labour from moving to the right. It would have to watch its left flank.

The absence of PR and the fractious left make that difficult in Britain; but nevertheless I believe it should be attempted.

Perhaps we should look to the experience of the German Left Party.

17 June 2010

Liberalism & Work

A few remarks in defence of liberalism

Bourgeois liberalism does indeed stop at the factory gate or office door, but that is no reason to reject liberalism. On the contrary that is a reason to take the language of individual choice into corporations; i.e. for the rights of individual workers to trump obligations imposed by de facto imposed employment contracts.

Let me give one small example: give individual workers the right not to wear a tie, or to appeal against uniforms which are unnecessary or demeaning.

Socialism is more likely to be popular by taking the freedoms outside work into the workplace than by extending the discipline of work (even after the revolution!) into other areas of life. I don’t oppose collective action; but I support the collective action of free individuals.

16 June 2010

The aim of socialism

The downside of capitalism, it seems to me, is that it denies to many sufficient resources and/or financial security as well as providing a horrible time at work. This is true even though the resources of the economy are sufficient to abolish these evils.

A socialised economy is not an end in itself, but merely the economic base on which liberal freedoms can become available and meaningful for all. It is not the job of socialists to tell people how and for what purposes they should live, or to try and mould human personality, but to provide the means by which they can be free.

Confronting New Labour's authoritarianism

In the Labour Party, now in opposition, there is talk about moving on but one aspect of their term in office needs careful examination. It is easy to explain how New Labour presided over the highest levels of social inequality in Britain since 1945: Labour sought political power, but in reality existing capitalist power found Labour. Blair et al were the ideal instruments.

Harder to explain, though, was New Labour’s assault on civic and personal freedoms. People incarcerated without trial or public evidence. Wide scale intimidatory use of stop and search powers against people on the street, especially photographers. People threatened with prosecution for criticising religion. Mass registration of people on the pretext of combating paedophilia… and so on. By 2009 it was possible to talk about the lights going out on liberal democracy in Britain.

Many of these measures were due to a cynical populism (detention of supposed would-be terrorists) or a desire to outflank the Tories and the Daily Mail. The security industry is a strong lobby (ID cards and E-Borders); yet there is something else, something more fundamentally rotten.

When the Tories managed Thatcherism 1979-97, they defeated the trade unions and local councils and imposed market fundamentalism. What happened to the victims did not worry them too much; they had scraps of welfare thrown at them and lived in junk estates. New Labour, using the language of ‘responsibility’ and for Blair ‘communitarianism’ attempted to weld everyone into their place in Britain's class-divided capitalist society. This, I believe is the true origin of New Labour’s would-be totalitarianism, and is a foul ideology which needs to be exposed and trashed.

My point is this: the left has the task not just of confronting capitalist power in the economic domain to secure a greater share of the social product for ordinary working people, but it needs to assert universalism (as opposed to cultural relativism) and political liberalism, both of which have been so stained by New Labour.

15 June 2010

Nick Cohen: worth reading even if you don't agree

Information can be valuable even if it originates from a person who has diametrically opposed views to ones own. Indeed had Marx not used the works of non-Marxists, Marxism would never have been born.

In recent years one of my favourite political commentators has been Nick Cohen, and in fact I am in the middle of his latest offering “Waiting For the Etonians” – who have now actually arrived. I don’t agree with Cohen on several points (his justification of the Iraq and Afghan wars, of course, or his carte blanch rejection of Historical Communism 1917-89). Nevertheless mentally arguing against him on these points is more intellectually stimulating than having what one already believes recited back in a text. On other matters – such as Cohen’s criticism of the cultural relativism that permeates the left today – I do agree with him.

Jon Cruddas: friendly critic of New Labour

Jon Cruddas is a man who has always liked to straddle the official New Labour line and flirt with the left as his voting record in Parliament shows.

It is no surprise that he did not wish to run for Labour leader. His personality seems to dispose him to be friendly critic of the Labour establishment only.

• Voted very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals.votes
• Voted moderately against laws to stop climate change.votes
• Voted moderately against introducing student top-up fees.votes
• Voted very strongly for a stricter asylum system.votes
• Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament.votes
• Voted strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws.votes
• Voted very strongly for more EU integration.votes
• Voted very strongly for removing hereditary peers from the Lords
• Voted strongly for a wholly elected House of Lords.votes
• Voted very strongly for the hunting ban.votes
• Voted a mixture of for and against introducing a smoking ban.votes
• Voted very strongly against replacing Trident.votes
• Voted very strongly for allowing ministers to intervene in inquests.votes
• Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.votes
• Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.votes
• Voted strongly for equal gay rights.votes
• Voted moderately for introducing ID cards.votes
• Voted strongly against greater autonomy for schools.

14 June 2010

Public Debt and Expenditure Cuts

Much of the debate is constructed around false alternatives: unsustainable public indebtedness OR cut the services and incomes of the least well-off.

Yes, public debt levels do need to be reduced, but that can be done in ways that do not leave the worst-off relatively worse off. There should be tax increases on wealth and income and cuts in those areas which do not injure the worst-off or impede future economic growth; e.g. tax rebate on private pension contributions, or the defence budget.

Real differences of class interest are being hidden behind a false alternative, an alternative which is repeated again and again by the media.

11 June 2010

Diane Abbott

The trouble is that Diane Abbot is not going to win. If she stood a chance and had a powerful movement behind her, then David Miliband, Jack Straw and Harriet Harman wouldn’t have nominated her. Her role seems to me to legitimise the election.

Yes, if were still in the Labour Party I would vote for her, even though I wasn’t satisfied with her lining up behind those in the Party insisting that Cameron should be Prime Minister rather than try to build a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The fact that she’s female and black doesn’t concern me much. I’m interested in her politics and I would like to be convinced that she adhered to a liberal universalism and not the currently fashionable pseudo-left cultural relativism. We’ll see.

26 May 2010

The dream and nightmare of revolution

There are circumstances where a mass of people want change of some kind and those in power prevent reform, so the only step forward is the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order. Revolutions are rare, painful and destructive, always throw up unintended consequences, but are sometimes necessary.

Interestingly, though, in human history to date, the most humane societies that we have ever seen were those in northern Europe in the latter part of the twentieth century. None resulted from revolution; each was the product of sustained social-democratic struggle for reform. Yes, their successes resulted from favourable conditions, but as Marx taught social conditions are everything.

I know that this next point will make Geoff angry, but I will say it anyway: reliance on revolution as the only real means of advancing human-kind has all the features of a religion. In this view whatever happens in the here-and-now is somehow artificial, ephemeral and inadequate; and only through maximum upheaval, preceded by maximum strife and suffering, can the golden age be ushered in.

Marx was wrong about two things: he underestimated longevity and power of capitalism, and he underestimated the ability of capitalism to reform when under pressure. The problem today in Britain and elsewhere is that popular pressure is disorganised and disoriented.

24 May 2010

The hoplessness of the left

My point was first and foremost an observation of how political society is, rather than a prescription of how to change it. The following three points seem to me indisputable, at least in the short to medium term:

1. Thanks to Blair and New Labour, transforming the Labour party so that it becomes a left-leaning social democratic party is today nearly impossible.

2. The historical communist movement has disappeared and is now irrelevant.

3. The Trotskyite groups are smaller and more marginalised than ever before.

Therefore every possible agent of socialist advance has diminished almost to the point of irrelevance in Britain and in most other European countries.

Green parties, though progressive in some respects, are hardly socialist; no new parties of the left have appeared in the major European countries to counteract the major shift to the right and the hegemony of market fundamentalism. The one major exception is the German Left Party and I have devoted some time to looking at the circumstances in which this party has arisen and enjoyed minor success. (See the link in my initial contribution)

Now, because I said that the new social movements couldn’t be an agent for socialism, this does not mean that I oppose them. As sites of social and political activity they undoubtedly have an educational effect and are therefore beneficial as progressive pressure groups. Maybe I was wrong to call them rabble, but many do include some very silly people who are experts at self-marginalisation.

I do not subscribe to the end of history hypothesis, but I do not accept the argument that capitalism is doomed in the coming decades. Capitalism is structurally condemned to periodic crisis, but these crises have not so far destroyed capitalism, and there is no reason to believe that capitalism can’t surmount these crises in the next century as it did in the last. In fact, capitalism today looks in a far stronger position than it did at several points in the twentieth century.

20 May 2010

Organisational set backs for the left since the 1980s

The diminution of working class and social democratic pressure is indeed in part due to legal restrictions on trade unions, their de-politicisation and marginalisation in most of the economy and in politics.

To that one must also add two further domains in which social democracy was squeezed out.

First the Labour Party itself. The rise of New Labour was both cause and effect of de-democratisation of the party structures, choreographed conferences, top-down control and consultation replacing elections. The fact that there has not been a contested election for leader since 1994 speaks for itself.

Second, in the 1980s much was made of municipal socialism. The centralisation of power started by Thatcher was continued by New Labour.

18 May 2010

2010 British General Election (after)

I thought I would just make a couple of remarks about the 2010 election.

On the eve of the election I outlined three possible outcomes: Conservative majority rule, Tory minority government (leading to a second election later in the year) and a Lib/Lab pact. I was right about one thing and wrong about another.

I was right in thinking that the authoritarians in New Labour (Straw, Blunket, Reid, Burnham, etc) would reject any alliance with liberalism preferring instead a Tory government. Labour would not offer the one thing that would ensure Liberal Democrat support and something that progressive should support anyway, namely proportional representation.

Much is made after the event of the fact that a Lib/Lab coalition would have been a minority government requiring 7 votes for a majority from the 13 nationalists, Green and SDLP to pass legislation. While that is true, accepting the challenge would have been better than the only other option, letting the Conservatives into office.

I was wrong in thinking that the Conservatives would prefer minority government to a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Yet Cameron had clearly read the writing on the wall: the start of every period of Tory or Tory-dominated government since 1931 has enjoyed a lower share of the vote than the previous period. Cameron was not sure that a second election would give him the majority he needed.

Britain now has a fully bourgeois government. New Labour certainly abandoned social democracy and threw in its lot with capitalist power; yet always it was impeded by the fact that its core vote (and now its only vote) came from less well-off ordinary working people. No such impediment restrains the current government. Britain’s economic problems can be solved at the expense of its ordinary working people.

And something else. Since the 1980s the Liberal Democrats positioned themselves as part of the progressive majority in Britain and as an anti-Tory party. All those Liberal Democrat voters and activists who see themselves in that light have no future in the Tory-led coalition and will tend to drift away. The Liberal Democrats will become what they in fact are: the Tories junior partner.

It seems that the revolution against the forward march of labour that began in 1979 will have at least three parts: High Thatcherism (1979-97), New Labour (1997-2010) and now the Tory-Liberal coalition. Not optimistic stuff, I’m afraid.

Can David Miliband succeed?

Can David Miliband succeed?

Just look where he is coming from as a loyal Blairite. New Labour junked everything that Labour hitherto stood for, social equality, civil liberties and international law, in order to profit from and ingratiate itself with big business and win ephemeral support from Middle England. Electoral success became the only raison d'etre for this compromised and unprincipled party.

Today the Labour Party has the backing only of its core voters who have nowhere else to turn. David Miliband has nothing in common with those people and their problems.

The great shame is that David didn't learn anything from his famous and much respected father. But there again if he had he wouldn't have risen to the top of New Labour.

4 May 2010

British General Election 2010 (before the vote)

Writing in Guardian on 2 May 2010, the liberal commentator, Will Hutton, outlined the nightmare scenario of untrammelled Conservative Party power in Britain:

[Cameron will] refine the first-past-the-post voting system, reduce the number of constituencies by 10% but in so doing redraw their boundaries to be fairer to the Tories and disqualify Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting on English issues.

The state will become a Conservative fiefdom, with even local police forces directly run by Tory politicians in the name of "democratic accountability". The City of London will not be reformed. Wealth will become ever more concentrated in fewer hands. Scotland, Wales and many English regions will be devastated by swingeing public spending cuts – almost their sole economic prop for the last decade – and by ongoing de-industrialisation.

The management of an economy burdened by excessive private debt, fragile banks and a faltering economic recovery will be ideological. The prison population will grow even faster than under Labour as populist social repression intensifies.

[…] Britain will become a meaner, less generous and more unequal society despite David Cameron's declared intentions. This will be Murdoch's Britain, with the BBC to be cut back and Sky's influence extended.

I view Hutton’s scenario as realistic.

Resulting from the 6 May 2010 British General Election three outcomes are possible on the seemingly certain assumption that the Conservatives will win the most seats.

First, Cameron will achieve an overall majority, however small, and will start to implement the programme which Hutton describes above.

Second, Cameron falls short of his overall majority, but manages to form a minority administration (or less likely woos the Liberal Democrats into a coalition). In government he soft peddles and then dissolves parliament and calls a second election which would probably give him his overall majority – and the nightmare scenario starts.

Third, a non-Tory government, which by necessity would involve a coalition of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, can be formed; the key task of such a government would be to bring about proportional representation and fixed-term parliaments. This government would hardly do anything to challenge the vast levels of social inequality in Britain, but it would at least stop the Tories, as the single largest party in terms of the popular vote and seats in parliament, from being able to link up with capitalist power and complete Thatcher’s unfinished business.

My wish, of course, is for this third option; but I fear that Labour's hope of retaining its eternal role of one of the 'big two' at least for now in terms of seats if not in votes and Clegg's fear of splitting his own party by cuddling up to Labour would stymie such a government.

I am not optimistic.

Hate Speech

I do not like hate speech which by definition insults individuals or groups of persons. Yet I do not think it should be punishable unless it actually puts a specific person in reasonable fear of suffering an attack to their person or property.

People have a right to security of their person and property, and to enjoy equal rights with everyone else. They do not, however, have a right not to be insulted; that is a matter of manners not law.

19 April 2010

Green Party turns left

That the Greens are linking environmentalism and progressive thinking on social issues is something to be welcomed. We need a party in Britain which stands to the left of the neo-liberal consensus.

I don't worry too much about Green conferences and manifestos including "elements of silliness" because it is exactly these excesses which will disappear in any any coalition administration containing Greens in the future.

I welcome the shift in Green thinking.

18 April 2010

The Liberal Democrat Straitjacket

If the Tories and New Labour are today cheeks of the same arse, then the Lib Dems are the thing in the middle.

Clegg’s party is straitjacketed by its own support base. Across much of rural England and in the small towns of the south, the Lib Dems are a catch-all anti-Tory Party. In the cities they often function as substitute Tories against Labour. If Clegg were to make a clear policy announcement or signal a choice of coalition partner he would lose half his party.

The goal of progressive voters is to prevent a Tory overall majority. Therefore, in those seats currently not held by the Tories but winnable by them, people should vote for the candidate best placed to defeat the Tory. In all other seats they should vote for the most progressive serious candidate, usually Labour or Green.

Slate Elections

Slate elections are anti-democratic nonsense. The leadership puts together a slate in which it has a majority and perhaps includes a couple of independent patsies. If that slate wins, the leadership retains total control of the organisation. If the it loses then a whole new leadership comes into office and the old leaders cry foul and split off to form a new group. A total waste of time.

9 April 2010

No to labour service for young people

In the early 2000s working class youth were supposed to be mopped up by flexible employment in the debt-driven service sector of the British economy. Today the economy has crashed and reactionaries are suggesting that young people be press ganged into unpaid labour.

So-called broken Britain has nothing to do with the young who are nothing but victims of circumstance. If anybody needed to be forced into unpaid labour to reimburse the community, it is the bankers and their ilk who caused this crisis, but this layer of profiteers and parasites are the backbone of the Tory Party.

Military conscription in the rest of Europe is a left-over of a Napoleonic order, and country by country is being abolished.

22 March 2010


The trouble with the term multiculturalism is that it obscures rather than clarifies. Here are three very different meanings.

Multiculturalism, as a sociological description of society.

Multiculturalism, as something that is permitted; i.e. different cultural norms are permitted to co-exist within the framework of a universalistic liberal society.

Multiculturalism, as an objective of government policy; i.e. encouraging and/or compelling individuals to be governed by their ethnic group (e.g. religious schools).

The first of the above is a fact. The second is desirable. The third is a form of Apartheid.

18 March 2010

Police infiltration of civic organisations

A large part of police undercover surveillance is utterly ludicrous.

I remember in the 1980s running an open seminar on the theme capitalism and crisis. A well dressed young man turned up, a complete blockhead, who showed an interest in obtaining copies of every handout I had. He seemed most keen to know when we were moving on from talk to action.

A few days later I received a fat envelope containing all my handouts neatly stapled together, with a note from the fellow saying he was no longer interested.

9 March 2010

The Liberal Democrats are no answer

Yes, from a progressive perspective New Labour has been a disaster: Iraq, Britain at is most unequal since 1945 and the lights going out on personal and civil liberties. Yet I fail to see how the Liberal Democrats are a solution.

Clegg et al are locked into negativity. In much of Britain they are a surrogate anti-Tory party, while in some cities they are a catch-all anti-Labour Party. They can achieve nothing by themselves and any understanding with Cameron or Brown would split the party.

However hard it may be, if progressives want a party in Britain, they will have to build one themselves.

5 March 2010

Yiddish, Zionism, Esperanto

Zionism, involving the re-birth of Hebrew, has always has been a chauvinistic and nationalist creed, and only gained ephemeral credibility among progressive people on account of the horrors of the holocaust.

Yiddish, the language of the Ashkenazi proletariat of central and eastern Europe, became the language of internationalism. Ludvik Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, in fact constructed his first planned language on a modified Yiddish before using Latin languages as the main basis for Esperanto.

The revival of Yiddish and its culture is to be welcomed both inside and outside Jewish communities.

4 March 2010

Michael Foot: the establishment dissident

I think the political and economic crisis of the 1970s did throw up an ideological divide. Thatcher won.

Callaghan resigned early to ensure his successor would be elected by Labour MPs alone and not by an electoral college. The right-wing majority in the PLP elected Foot. He had one function: to contain the left until the right could reconsolidate their power in the party. He fulfilled his role perfectly.

Foot was from the British establishment and was a dissident within it. He never gave up his support for either – the establishment, nor being a dissident.

5 February 2010

Academic fear of studying terrorism

New Labour have created such a tangled knot of laws around terrorism and empowered a bully-boy police service to such an extent that virtually anyone can be dragged from their beds and held in custody.

The academic study of terrorism is a completely legitimate and desirable activity. When people become afraid of studying the world around them for fear of state repression, you know that the lights are going out on personal and civil liberty

22 January 2010

The case for Scottish independence

In my view the case for Scottish independence is a strong one. The borders of Scotland are clear and undisputed; the question of who will be Scottish presents no problem: i.e. anyone who lives in Scotland and who wants to be. Unlike Ireland, there are no politically significant ethnic differences in Scotland complicating independence Unlike Wales, Scotland possesses a geographical heart, its Lowlands, which is geographically distinct from England. Scotland already has semi-autonomous status in the UK and its separate cultural nationhood to draw upon.

Other structural factors push Scotland towards independence. Britain isn’t a federation (Cf. Quebec in Canada) and an English/Scottish federation (with Wales and Northern Ireland fitted in somehow) is a non-starter given the difference in size and power of its would-be constituents. In any event federations of two don’t make successful marriages (Cf. the former Czecho-Slovakia).

Future developments in London might favour independence. This year Cameron’s Tories will probably triumph in England, but not in Scotland. The decomposing glue of Britain’s unified Labour Party sticking together Westminster and Holyrood will further come unstuck. Scotland will want to make its own choices in the world, and so it should.

20 January 2010

The Beatles

I think the Beatles symbolised a breakdown in the rigid puritanical meaning systems of 1950s Britain. Compare any play, song, film or photograph of 1960 with one from 1970 and the life-style change is obvious.

Post-war art form before the Beatles era was built on what ought to be said, thought or done by the whole society or a group within it. Two changes came about in the Beatles years: the artistic description of life as it actually was or might be, and the endorsement of individualistic and non-conventional approaches to life, summed up in the much maligned phrase, “doing your own thing.”

14 January 2010

The banning of Islam4UK

Islam4UK are bigots and idiots. Yet in a free society people have a right to be just that. The only possible legitimate basis for banning an organisation is because its leadership is involved in acts of violence; but that is not the case here.

The banning of Islam4UK results from a cheap New Labour's attempt to buy favourable publicity, but the cost is to diminish democracy itself. The banning means that civic organisations exist because the government permits them and not as of right.
In Britain there are also Christian, Jewish and other fundamentalist groups which will not be banned, so it is hard to deny that this case is anti-Muslim.

The lights on Britain as a liberal democracy are slowly going out.

13 January 2010

Section 44 Terrorism Act

When police officers, as permitted by section 44 of the Terrorism Act, can stop, search and humiliate citizens without even any reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, personal freedom has been seriously compromised.

While no terrorist has been caught by section 44, hundred of thousands of people have been humiliated by police officers who stop and search them simply because they have the power to do so.

The truth is that all police forces everywhere expand their remit and abuse their powers unless they are kept under strict legal control; and a law like section 44 gives a green light to police officers to misuse of their powers.

8 January 2010

The Swiss referendum on minarets

I think the motive behind the Swiss People’s Party was Muslim bashing. And obviously singling out an ethnic group for a symbolic kick in the balls is wrong.

Yet, if you look at the actual content of the decision itself: no minarets. What’s the problem? Should secular people for some odd purpose be permitted to put up towers in towns or in the countryside; towers by their nature are an attempt to architecturally dominate an area.

One could argue back and say, ‘Ah yes, but what about existing and possible new Christian steeples?” Well certainly I would oppose building new ones, as for existing ones they are part of the heritage of the area; and nobody is trying to ‘wipe the slate clean’.

If I were Swiss I would have voted against the ban on account of the motives behind it, but as for the decision itself, I wouldn’t worry about it. In fact I would try to get a ban on all new towers put up for ‘ideological’ purposes, whether religious or secular.

Some political concepts defined non-academically

What is capitalism?

System where the means of production, distribution and exchange are largely in private hands and are used for profit. Such a system has huge impact on people and society (e.g. wealth and power distribution)

What is the working class?

All those people in the poorest two thirds of society who live largely or exclusively from their wages and who are engaged in production, distribution, exchange, R&D, education, and in state bureaucracy. Add on to that people who would be doing that (the unemployed and sick) and those who did (the retired).

What is the Left?

Advocates of a fundamental transfer of economic resources to the working class, (except perhaps lazy bastards and criminals)

Supports extension of civil liberties, personal freedoms and democratic political rights

Left right attitude table of attitudes in polarities

Internationalist: Nationalistic
Golden age in future: Golden age in past
Equality: Hierarchy
Reason: Intuition
Secular: Religious
Rights: Duties

5 January 2010

The Afghan war: an anavoidable lie

There is one lie that cannot be avoided.

Most people acquainted with the situation realise that British involvement in the war to back up the corrupt Afghan government has nothing to do with protecting Britain or promoting human rights abroad. The war is being fought to protect US face; America can’t be seen to fail.

Yet, when British soldiers die in this war, their grieving families and communities force themselves to believe that their sons (and occasionally daughters) gave their lives for Britain in a noble cause. It’s nonsense, of course, but pain rarely produces rationality.

Wootton Basset has become a symbol of that loss. The best course for progressive people is let what is in this small town be and get on with the campaign to get troops out of Afghanistan. What the idiot Choudary does, providing it’s within the law, should be just ignored.