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.1 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.
It is today hard to agree with Orwell’s obsession with plainness, and with his optimism on its effects. For example, he says: If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. If only! Today, many standing orthodoxies rest on that clarity fetish itself, while sometimes difficult or unusual thoughts require evocative, difficult, or allegorical language that is not plain. Much of the continental-analytic divide in philosophy can be traced to attitudes to ambiguity and precision in language. ↩
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. Continue reading →
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.
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
“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)
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 →
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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:
John Ross, leader of the National Party of Cherokees, who felt that ceding another foot of land to the United States would spell the end of the Cherokee Nation.
Israel is often and repeatedly compared with South Africa, and a quick search on the Internet and in newspapers of the debate on the Occupied Territories, on UN Security Council resolutions condemning and calling and end to the occupation, and on the effectiveness and limitations of BDS tactics will turn up copious references to and comparisons of Israel/Palestine with South Africa. The comparisons are worth making, and it is easy to see the image of Bantustans superimposed on the ever-shrinking West Bank and on ever-brutalized Gaza. While the comparisons are worth making, a less contemporary precedent exists with much more foreboding and potentially damaging implications for the future of Israel/Palestine: namely, the experience of the pre-bellum settler colonialists of the United States with respect to the American Indian and the present settler colonialists of Israel.
It will be our argument going forward that the prospects of Palestine turning into a weak and impotent set of reservations within an economically dominant Israel, much as the ”Indian Nations” have become over the last 200 years, is not irrelevant, and that while it’s been discussed and commented on in the past, the comparison begs further discussion and analysis, both analytically and tactically, if it is to be avoided. Indeed, if we are to assess effective strategies to end the occupation and achieve a lasting peace in the region, the lessons of the American Indian can serve as a very lively and rich context in which to place the discussion and debate of Israeli occupation and Apartheid, perhaps moreso than the example of South Africa.
After the electoral victory of SYRIZA in Greece, the attention of the European left has justly focused on its enormous difficulties in tackling a very unfavourable international conjuncture, as well as the very promising opportunities it opens up. It’s undeniable the room to manoeuvre for the European left has expanded, although setbacks in Greece may become setbacks across the whole Union. It is because of this that the most repeated slogans from the ruling right wing party (PP) as well as the social democrats in opposition (PSOE) is that Spain is not Greece.
Imagery from the Greek military junta (1967-1974), whose “Golden Dawn” offspring and its ties to the police and military apparatus remains a threat to Greek democracy today. Will Syriza deal with this threat, or will “forgetting” continue?
Lyndon Johnson observed that Greece was “the Vietnam of the 1940s.”
He was referring, of course, to the “civil war” – i.e: the suppression of the Left- that followed the German occupation- the time when the Aegean became an archipelago of torture camps. A
recent study places at c. 100,000 the number who survived or died in
those Anglo-American supported prisons.
After the bitter struggle ended in 1952, the only permissible account of and only account of the Resistance was provided by the winners. Anthropologist Nena Panougia recalls that in 1964 or 1965, when she was a little girl, a man in oldfashioned clothes, “whose seriousness fell on me like a weight,” came to the door and said to her mother “I am selling books, madam.” He looked at me and said again, “’Buy one, please, for your daughter.’” Her mother bought a
four volume set of a history of the Resistance. Continue reading →
A new era was inaugurated with the financial collapse of 2008. The former optimism of near permanent economic growth which would yield benefits to the vast majority in society was dealt a serious blow. While the vast bulk of benefits have gone to the few at the top, the financial catastrophe and the ensuing austerity regimes have made it clear that things are going to be worse for the majority. Essentially, the class basis of our society has been made very apparent.
Despite this clarifying event, there has been very little organised response. Awareness of the problem does not necessarily lead to a solution being adopted.
The reason for this is not that there are no alternatives, but that there is no movement to win them. The problem, then, is an organisational problem. Alternatives require an organised movement with a clear vision of what it wants in order to obtain them. Continue reading →
I recently had a discussion with Q, a member and founder of Marxist Center and the Communist Platform, a political lobbying organization in the Netherlands that seeks to inject a more traditional class-oriented slant into the national political discourse, with particular emphasis on agitation within the Dutch Socialist Party, the third largest constellation inside the Dutch Parliament. We discussed his work trying to change the terms of discourse within the SP and the Dutch left in general. A transcript is available below.
From Alpha 2 Omega
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