The uncomfortable questions of formerly existing something-or-other
Hammer and Sickle, 1976 – Andy Warhol
On the left, there can be no subject more divisive than the question of unity. There are approximately three times as many opinions on the question as there are socialists. I probably hold at least four of those opinions myself.
One of the fissures rent by the “unity question” is provided by the debate on “formerly-existing socialism” – which is in quotes, of course, because somebody wants to emphasise that they don’t think it was socialism. This major dividing line has allowed the various Trotskyists to define themselves in relation to each other, and in relation to their “Stalinist” enemies who are naive enough to think these states represent something historically positive, but also between these and the Social Democrats, who think it proves that socialism doesn’t work.
My 11 year old son asked me what I thought of Captain America: Civil War, upon leaving the cinema. What follows is approximately what I told him (and consequently, perhaps such questions are a mistake he will not make again). SPOILER ALERT
Near the opening of Captain America: Civil War we are transported to a TED talk given by Tony Stark, the genius playboy billionaire technologist that doubles as Iron Man. The talk could be fairly referred to as an expression of the “The Silicon Valley Ideology”. His audience is the alumni of MIT – the perfect representatives of our film’s notion of who represents the people of importance – tech savvy innovators. Tony’s personalised narratives of hardship emotionally manipulate the audience as he alludes to the promise of triumph over adversity through technology. It is just as it should be in any TED talk worth its salt.
In yesterday’s Irish Independent and on Facebook, Julien Mercille asks why The Workers’ Party, Socialist Workers Party, and the Socialist Party do not form one party.
The first answer a lot of people will reach for is simple inertia. Organisations have a momentum and direction that isn’t always easy to change, especially as the leading forces within the parties have got there because of that very approach.
But that isn’t the whole story.
“A spectre is haunting America – the spectre of Bernie Sanders. All the powers of the political establishment have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: David Brock and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Forbes magazine and the Wall Street Journal, White House staffers and Congressional party machines.” This could certainly be the beginning of a very compelling political manifesto. The next sentences would introduce the dramatic and cataclysmic forces of capital and labor, clashing to the death in a fiery pit of debates, call centers and polling places, all battlegrounds in the epic “political revolution” spearheaded by a sweater-wearing 74 year old.
By Karl Kautsky, translated by Noa Rodman
In former times we had a saying in Germany: “When the peasant has money, everyone has.” That was perfectly true wherever the great majority of the people were peasants or farmers. It is no longer true in the industrial countries. In such countries the majority is composed of wage workers. There we have to change the old saying. In such countries we can say: “When the workingman has money, everyone has.”
But the workingmen have money only when they are employed. Unemployment does not injure the working class alone, it injures the whole of society. The campaign against unemployment is a campaign for general social interests.
This has by now become a matter of common knowledge. Unfortunately, however, there is no general agreement as to the ways which lead to the elimination of unemployment. To be clear on this question, we must bear in mind one decisive fact which is not so generally recognised, namely: That unemployment springs from two distinct sources, each of which gives rise to a particular kind of unemployment, and each of which requires particular methods for eliminating it.
One of these two sources of unemployment is overproduction, and the other is technological progress.
The left has historically concerned itself with language and its use, given the need to engage in agitation and propaganda. Some of our efforts in trying to improve our communication strategies are, deservedly or not, classics of the genre, such as Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. This won’t be the last attempt to intervene, and in fact its existence is largely due to previous and entirely well-intentioned attempts to shift the way the left speaks to itself and others. It will inevitably contain its own errors and excesses, but it’s a necessary part of the conversation.
This article will focus on communication not only as a means to spread our ideas to those who don’t share them, but as a way to improve them through dialogue, to learn from other comrades, and to help in building organisations.
A few weeks ago the story broke that the Syriza-led Greek government continued military cooperation with Israel. Since the party has advocated ceasing all military cooperation with Israel, commentators on the left quickly classified this behaviour as degeneration and betrayal. The story was mostly reported on pro-Palestinian blogs such as Electronic Intifada and MondoWeiss, all being very critical of the behaviour of Syriza. Yet they all failed to dig deeper than simply noting the cooperation and that it ran counter to the programme of Syriza. Worse, Syriza was not contacted for any of these articles, a basic journalistic principle. So, impulsively, I decided to contact the international department of the party, not expecting much of a response. A few days later, however, I received a detailed reply, much to my surprise. The short story: Syriza claims it is due to ANEL control over the ministry of defence.
Jeremy Corbyn addressing University College Union strikers and supporters
With Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots campaign in full swing, we must decide how to best orientate towards the front runner for the Labour leadership position. There’s no doubting that his campaign has opened up the space for the left to break the hegemony of neoliberalism and counter the political shift to the right.
Roots of the campaign
To understand the tradition Corbyn comes from, we have to go back to the founding of the party itself. The Labour Party was originally founded by the growing trade union movement in the United Kingdom as the political wing of emerging working class politics. From its conception, the Labour Party and the trade union movement have been inextricably linked, with affiliated unions being an integral part of party democracy.
With the events of January 25th, a shot rang out across Europe, which would reverberate across the world. The election of the first radical left government in decades, which threatened to challenge the rule of austerity in the European Union.
Maybe it was the sound of Bella Ciao, the song of Italian partisans, playing at the victory rallies. Or perhaps it was the sheer elation of the mass of people who believed that they had delivered the first blow against neoliberalism in the fight for Europe. In any case, the international left could not but help getting caught up in the mood of victory, the mood of triumph.
Once again, the forces of the Marxist left in Greece had begun to wage war, and we were to have the honour of aiding them in their battle through whichever means possible. Holding out under international pressure from austerity hawks in the Troika for the first few weeks, it appeared SYRIZA’s leadership was ready to take the fight to the enemy.
Thatcher and Pinochet
Liberalism produced some of the greatest political advances of our age. As socialists we often obscure this, but civil and political rights combined with representative democracy make for one of the most potent and liberating achievements of the period following the French revolution. Yet what cripples liberalism as an emancipatory force is its own contradictions, the four main of which I wish to outline in this essay. Continue reading
Our political and economic system is in crisis. There is a crisis of affordable housing, of decent jobs, of cuts to public services and cuts to social welfare provisions. There is a crisis of democracy which shows itself at every level from the impotence of local democracy through the county councils right up to the technocratic structure of the EU and the impenetrability of the ECB to any form of democratic input. There is a debt crisis of the states of Europe, precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008 which has seen enormous amounts of public funds diverted to paying private investors; investors who had gambled spectacularly found their losses covered by the public.
The water charges campaign in Ireland saw the first major evidence of a backlash to this state of affairs. People began resisting the imposition of a new charge, which was indicative of the spate of increases in taxation to the general public while public services were simultaneously being cut. However, despite the mass mobilisations and many climb-downs by politicians in direct response to this militancy, we still face momentous challenges in finding a way out of our crisis.
Manolis Glezos, Greek anti-fascist folk hero and MEP for Syriza, one of the most vocal critics of “austerity”.
The imminent victory of Syriza over the concerted efforts of European politicians and Greek media moguls — the former cutting off the country’s financial sources as punishment for it voting incorrectly, in the language of Wolfgang Schäuble, the latter spreading fear and confusion throughout the land to perpetuate their own private interests — reveals that the idea of Europe is not dead, principally a Europe of the people, not of the wealthy and privileged. Moreover, it offers a glimmering of hope that the left does not die with those who heard Marcuse’s lectures live and in person!
‘Let’s think of it as a game… If ever one of us finds himself in danger of death, let him think of the other so intensely that he warns him wherever he may be … Right?’ says the narrator’s friend in Nicos Kazantzakis’s Zorba The Greek. And, indeed, perhaps Italy, Spain and Portugal will think of Greece, now that its population has revolted against the dictates of the bankers, the intelligentsia and the bureaucrats. Indeed, the next step lies with the European institutions. The IMF has already changed its tune accordingly, and Martin Schultz, president of the European Parliament, today also displayed an astounding about face.
“Secret diplomacy shall not be tolerated for a single moment during the negotiations. Our flyers and our radio service will keep all the nations informed of every proposition we make, and of the answers they elicit from Germany. We shall be sitting in a glass house, as it were, and the German soldiers, through thousands of newspapers in German, which we shall distribute to them, will be informed of every step we take and of every German answer.” (Leon Trotsky – November 1917)
“However, there should be no intention to publish any US documents or common negotiating documents without the explicit agreement of the US. The EU market opening offers on tariffs, services, investment and procurement should not, in principle, be made public either, as they are the essence of the confidential part of the negotiations.” (Communication to European Commission concerning transparency in TTIP negotiations, 25 November 2014)
In 1917 the Bolsheviks shook the world, as John Reed would say. The new “people’s commissar of foreign affairs” Leon Trotsky, in turn shook the foreign ministries of the world by releasing a batch of secret treaties, which showed how the leading powers had agreed to partition Europe after the war. Something long suspected by the Bolsheviks, but which remained secret up until that time. Continue reading
I was present at the Brixton Recreation Center earlier tonight, where vote counting was going — and continues to go — on. Workers there are paid a standard rate that is independent of how long they spend counting votes, and this sets up obvious moral hazard dilemmas: the quicker and sloppier, the sooner they can cut the check and catch some Zzz’s. Not that this is the only problem with Britain’s monstrous electoral endeavors. As it has not switched to any form of electronic voting — belonging to a shrinking segment of the first world not to adopt some measure of technological progress in governing — the process is long-winded, tedious and drone-like: in short, it’s manual, as you can see from the short video below that was cut off by my cell phone battery dying: