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Walter argues that class politics is now outdated, and if we are to build a coalition for socialism it has based on something else.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.