Monday, February 21, 2005

Paul Foot 'The Vote'

The Guardian (Feb 21st 2005) is carrying two excerpts from Paul Foot's posthumous book on The Vote. It is a great read, carrying many of the inspiring features of Paul's politics and writing.
Sadly he doesn't mention his campaign to be Mayor of Hackney in 2002, in which, although he didn't win, he caertainly wasn't 'comprehensibly rebuffed'. Perhaps discussion of that will, if not I'll be assuming it has gone down the memory hole that the SWP seem to have for the Socialist Alliance nowadays.

"I have been surprised by the number of times I have been urged to "go into politics". When I protested that I was already in politics, I was told that what was meant was "real politics", meaning parliament. Then and since, I took the view that the main job of socialists must be outside parliament, making the case for socialism and for socialist organisation where it matters most, in the rank and file. On the few occasions I have stood for elected office, I did so chiefly for propaganda reasons, and was suitably and comprehensively rebuffed.

All my adult life has been spent as an active member of a revolutionary socialist party, the International Socialists, later the Socialist Workers party. I have experienced as widely as anyone else in the past 40 years the many obstacles against which such a party has constantly to struggle. The menace of sectarianism - the biblical assertion that our sect is right and all the others wrong - haunts anyone who has ever taken part in such activity. With it goes dogmatism, doctrinaire assertiveness, stale and meaningless language, constant repetition of allegedly incontrovertible texts, all of which leads not to leadership of the masses but to isolation from them. I have had my fill of all these horrors, but none of them is half as destructive as abstinence or apathy. The socialist who joins nothing and links with nobody is the most useless of all.

Yet its opposite, fanaticism, is just as much a threat. Many young people, when they first join a revolutionary socialist organisation, are astonished at popular indifference to their enthusiasms. In their new excitement in the struggle it is hard to credit that many people, if not most of them, do not want to devote their lives to politics. Patience is not a quality normally associated with revolutionary socialists, whose impatience and frantic determination to do in hours and weeks what may take many years, is often their worst enemy.

Yet that (usually youthful) impatience is an absolutely essential ingredient of any socialist organisation. It is the theme of Shelley's Ode to the West Wind. He wrote it in 1820 in a mood of despair after reading a vicious review of his longest poem. He was worried that he was getting old, and that no one was listening to his revolutionary views. As he contemplates what seemed like his hopeless failure, he takes courage from the strength of the wind, the herald of the revolution. What mattered above all, he concluded, was to remain a threat to the rulers of society, to remain fierce and to remain impetuous. "Be thou, spirit fierce, my spirit. Be thou me, impetuous one!" Impatience and urgency are the watchwords of successful agitation, and to abandon either is to abandon the ideas that gave rise to them in the first place.

My own inspiration through four decades of campaigning, until he died aged 83 in 2000, was Ygael Gluckstein, who in Britain called himself Tony Cliff. Cliff was a Jew who was brought up in Palestine (ironically, he was imprisoned there by the British administration in which my father was a district officer). He gave up his entire life to building an anti-Stalinist, anti-Zionist socialist party founded in working-class militancy.

Cliff's intellect was immense, his knowledge of marxist literature breathtaking and his public speaking laced with tremendous anger, passion and above all humour. Every time we spoke together at meetings, I could not help observing how he subtly corrected me on what suddenly seemed an obvious error of judgment. "Paul, you are soft," was his constant jibe, followed usually by the entirely mistaken allegation that my father had put him in prison.

Ever since, I have been intrigued by the problem of socialists' parliamentary impotence. Why were elected politicians committed to socialist ideas so palpably incapable of putting them into practice? Their legitimacy came from the vote. They were important because they had been elected. The working class was in a majority, and from time to time the workers were likely to elect politicians committed to their interests. Why, when this happened, had elected socialists been so pathetic in office?

Many of my marxist friends told me that the question is "basically" irrelevant. "Bourgeois democracy" was a creature of bourgeois society and therefore could not possibly be expected to buck the market or anything else that was central to that society. This view seemed to me entirely unsatisfactory. It overlooked the fundamental principle of democracy: the consent of the people in whose name their representatives carry out policies. It occurred to me that this rejection of electoral democracy came mainly from people who in varying degrees of certainty supported the tyrannies in Russia, China and eastern Europe.

Yet surely, it seemed to me, democracy, the control of society from below, was the very essence of socialism, and capitalism, the control of industry and finance from above, the very opposite of it. How to resolve the conflict between a democracy that enfranchises the masses and an economic system that enslaves and exploits them?

That was the central dilemma I wanted to try to answer when, in 1990, I embarked on a book on the subject. It took very much longer than expected. At the start of 1999, I was still struggling through the long story of votes for women. On a miserable night in April that year, I was carted off to hospital semi-conscious, with a leaking aorta that was hurriedly repaired. After three weeks in a coma and six months in hospital, I was back at home, disabled with spinal damage, so that I could not walk without a stick, but with my brain mercifully intact. I started the chapter on women all over again and attempted to weave it in with the struggles of the still largely disenfranchised working class, male and female. The long haul through the twentieth century took me another four years.

I was lucky to have an uncle and aunt who knew all about the subject. My aunt Jill Craigie first fired my interest in the suffragette movement, in which she became one of the country's leading authorities. She died soon after I came out of hospital in 1999, and I deeply regret I was not able to show her what I had written on her subject. (I know she would have disagreed with me about the differing roles of the Pankhursts. She revered Emmeline and Christobel; I preferred Sylvia.)
My uncle Michael has put up for more than 30 years with my longstanding rejection of the parliamentary road to socialism. No one in British public life (except possibly his hero, Aneurin Bevan) walked that road more honourably. I felt all that time that he has never (quite) given me up and has continued to argue with me and feed me books in an attempt to persuade me.
In the summer of 2003, I showed him a draft. The result was a long harangue on two matters. The first was my treatment of Emmeline and Christobel Pankhurst and their reaction to the first world war. "Jill would have been furious with you if she'd seen this!" he exploded. I have, out of deference to my aunt, expanded it and explained it a little. His second objection, not surprisingly, was to my account of the Labour government in which he played a major part, latterly as deputy prime minister. Well, since I lived through this period and was an active campaigner against the government, I could not in conscience change the thrust, but again I have modified it.

Again and again, as I grappled with this history, I was struck by the dramatic and sometimes very sudden changes in the political landscape. Sudden brightness can emerge from what seem like endless years of gloom. Encrusted reaction can turn almost overnight into great radical movements that can change the world. The changes are, I have argued, almost always associated with people's actions from below. That action, especially strikes, transforms not only popular moods but indi viduals as well. Standard biographies often assume that their subjects are consistent and can be analysed as though their characters were fixed and permanent. In reality, their only permanent feature is their susceptibility to change.

How to equate Ben Tillett, the fiery revolutionary strike-leader on the London docks in 1889, with the frightful TUC compromiser of 1927? Is Joseph Arch, the courageous strike-leader of 1874, really the same person as the drivelling Liberal MP a quarter of a century later? Nor is the drift always from left to right, from enthusiasm to despair. How can the deeply reactionary young Peter Porcupine turn into the angry old radical William Cobbett, so admired by Marx? And what exactly did happen to Tony Benn to change him from the keen young technocrat into the eloquent reformer of his old age?

Most of these changes reflect more general changes in the political landscape, almost all of which have been brought about by sudden and sporadic movements from below. All these movements, the revolutionary outburst of 1646 and 1647, the Paineite revolt of the 1790s, the massive wave of violence in 1831, the Chartists, the London dock strike of 1889, the Great Unrest from 1911 to 1914, the agitations of 1919 and early 1920, the General Strike, the "stupendous convulsion" during the second world war, the glorious summer of 1971, all these arose unpredictably, suddenly, out of the blue. This is the tug of war which will certainly, as Byron predicted, "come again", and is well worth organising for.

In 1972, I joined the staff of Socialist Worker and worked there full-time until 1978. It was, and is, sold as widely as possible by a small handful of agitators. The few full-time journalists on the paper were all my friends, all exceptionally able and engaging people.

The gentlest and most dedicated of them was a professional sub-editor called Geoff Ellen. He came from Chelmsford in Essex and was, among other things, an absurdly devoted West Ham supporter. He spent pretty well all his spare time organising for socialism. There was not a trade unionist in Essex he had not tried to push or pull into some form of revolt. On Tuesday nights we were kept late at work by the printing of the last few pages, and indulged ourselves in takeaway kebabs and long, heart-searching conversations.

As the great industrial climax of the early 1970s, to our astonishment, fell back, I began privately to worry that the entire revolutionary project, and the ideas that gave rise to it, were misconceived. One evening, as we waited for the proofs, I blurted out my apprehensions to Geoff. I had joined the staff in the autumn of 1972, at a time of huge convulsions and great hope for the future. If anyone had asked me, I would have said at once that I was hoping for, and confidently expecting, a revolution. By late 1975, however, I complained to Geoff, that change had not come. It was obviously not going to come from Harold Wilson or Dennis Healey, but we had always known that. In the decline of the movement, the issue seemed to have changed. Was the revolution going to come at all? And if not, what was to become of us if our grand aim in life was to be frustrated and even ridiculed?

To my enormous relief, Geoff cheered me up with his speciality: a huge all-enveloping grin. "If the revolution doesn't come," he said, "there is nothing much we can do about that. Whether it comes or not, there is nothing for us to do but what we are doing now: fight for it, fight for the workers and the poor."

Some years later, Geoff, still a young man, went to bed one night with a headache and died from a brain haemorrhage. All his adult life, he stuck firmly by his advice to me that dark winter evening in 1975. And so, I hope, have I. "
Great stuff. I always like it when someone from the SWP criticises 'sectarianism' without it being obvious that what they actually mean is anyone who isn't in the SWP or criticises the SWP. I was extremely annoyed by an article Foot did for Socialist Worker in the early days of the current anti-war movement in which he said that the people he most despised weren't those in the Labour Party but those NANAs - the National Association of the Non-Aligned. In the context of the Socialist Alliance I took it as a bad piece of sectarianism from Footie and Socialist Worker.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Jacques Gouverneur

Jacques Gouverneur has put introductory texts about Marxist economics on the web with free access. I'm told that his older book Contemporary Capitalism and Marxist Economics (English edition 1983) is pretty goods (thanks to Pete Green here).

Dear Reader, I take pleasure in letting you know that my latest textbook in Marxist economics (2005) is available, both as an electronic edition and in the form of a printed book. This textbook is the culmination – and also the end point – of long experience in university research and teaching (some 35 years), combined with equally long experience in extra-university training activities.

Access to the text
The book is available on the website <> in three languages (French, Spanish and English) and, for each language, in two sizes : on the one hand, an "A4" or "quarto" size (267 pages in English) under the simple title "UNDERSTANDING THE ECONOMY. The hidden face of economic phenomena" ; on the other hand, an "A5" size (389 pages) with the explicit title "THE FOUNDATIONS OF CAPITALIST ECONOMY. An introduction to the Marxist economic analysis of contemporary capitalism". Except for the foreword, some passages of the introduction and the bibliography (included in the "A5" size only), the two texts are practically identical. But I know that some people prefer an inconspicuous presentation (moreover with less pages), and others an explicit one ; in all three languages, every one can have what seems more suitable.

Each of the six versions of the textbook can be downloaded free of charge from the website in question. The useful URLs for the English versions are as follows :

- "UNDERSTANDING THE ECONOMY. The hidden face of economic phenomena" (A4 size, 267 p.) :

- "THE FOUNDATIONS OF CAPITALIST ECONOMY. An introduction to the Marxist economic analysis of contemporary capitalism" (A5 size, 389 p.) :

Each of the six versions can be reproduced and published freely, with no royalties to pay (author's royalties or others), but of course without right of exclusivity.

Texts in the A5 size are also available in the form of printed books. These are published by Contradictions for the French version, by Diffusion Universitaire Ciaco for the Spanish and English versions. In all three languages, therefore, those interested have the choice : either order the book (through the same website referred to) or reproduce it on their own.

Contents and interest of the book
As a product of long experience in both university teaching and extra-university training activities, the book provides a step by step, clear and rigorous exposition of Marxist economic theory. It shows its relevance for analysing the deep tendencies of contemporary capitalism in a coherent way : extension of market production, globalization of the economy, concentration of economic power, race for competitiveness, the invasion of advertising, growth of subcontracting, increasing inequalities, attacks on the environment, prolongation of the structural crisis and unemployment, etc.

Each chapter is complemented with a summary, as well as a selection of "theoretical" and "practical" exercises : the former are aimed at checking the assimilation of the material, while the latter enable readers to establish links between theory and present-day realities, whatever the moment and country.

Thanks to its outstanding pedagogical qualities, the book constitutes a first-class textbook for students and teachers, as well as for any interested reader, even without previous knowledge.

At the same time, the book should draw the consideration of specialists. On the one hand, it adopts and develops a definitely classical Marxist perspective on most topics. For instance, it emphasizes the contradictory aspects of reality, which are mentioned or underlined on numerous occasions : this is the case, in particular, of the contradictory aspects of wages and public expenditure and the contradictory effects of neo-liberal policies. Similarly, it underlines the basic influence of both productivity ("development of productive forces") and power relations ("class struggle" or conflicts between "class fractions") : both are simultaneously taken into consideration, especially to account for the relative prices of commodities and the stages in growth and crisis after the Second World War .

Yet, within the Marxist paradigm, the book adopts (and justifies in appendices) a number of non-conventional points of view. These particularly concern the concepts of value, commodity and productive labour, as well as the relations between wage and value of labour-power. The non-conventional viewpoints adopted on these topics combine the advantages of precision and simplicity : on the one hand, they make the theoretical approach more rigorous and coherent ; yet, while justified on purely theoretical grounds, they present the additional advantages of making the theory simpler and allowing a much easier quantification of various key-concepts.
While focusing on the sector of capitalist enterprises, the book also examines all the other forms of production (enterprises relying on self-employment, public enterprises, non-market public services, voluntary organizations, households) : it shows their specific characteristics and examines their contradictory relationships with the capitalist sector. In so doing, it does not restrict itself to analysing an abstract system but contemplates the actual diversity of a concrete society.

You will find more details on the contents of the book at either of the two URLs mentioned above. The item "download a free extract" gives access to an eight-page document called "presentation of J.Gouverneur's latest textbook". Pages 2 and 3 of the document in question mention a series of interesting features, both pedagogical and theoretical.

Requesting your co-operation
To conclude, I would like to ask you to personally contribute to circulating my original and multiform offer :
- for one thing, I invite you to forward this trilingual letter to all persons who you think might be interested ;
- furthermore, if you have a personal website, or have access to an institutional website, I suggest you create a link with the URLs mentioned above (and possibly with those mentioned in the letters in French and Spanish).

Many thanks for your co-operation!
Yours very sincerely,
Jacques Gouverneur

Martin Jacques 'When the party is over' The Guardian Feb 16th

It is, of course, against every hallowed left tradition to allow Martin Jacques to say anything without reminding him and any new innocent readers of his role in the end of the old Communist Party and for doing the ideological footwork for Blairism. Okay, consider that done, but this is a really interesting piece. Martin Jacques as Cassandra, warning how it's all going to end in tears, in an optic that doesn't see the onward and upward march of a new (anti-war) left providing the grounds for a comfortable optimism.

Martin Jacques 'When the party is over'
By failing to hold any ideological ground, New Labour has sown the seeds for a resurgent right
Wednesday February 16, 2005
The Guardian
New Labour will probably win the next election, perhaps comfortably, although Blair's speech at the weekend betrayed a new sense of anxiety. New Labour, however, will not rule for ever. Maybe it will win a third term, even a fourth, but sooner or later, it will again be consigned to opposition, most likely by the Conservatives. The idea that the latter would be banished to the electoral sidelines was always fanciful: notwithstanding the impressive performance of the Liberal Democrats, the two-party system is enormously resilient, as it showed in the 1980s and surely will again. But what will be the legacy of New Labour: or, to put it another way, what kind of political era will succeed it?

Clearly it will lie to the right of New Labour. That might sound like a trite statement, bordering on the banal, but it is worth pondering what it might mean. New Labour has overwhelmingly acquiesced in the neo-liberal agenda. Far from challenging the Thatcherite inheritance, it has enthusiastically endorsed its basic parameters. The most obvious area where it has broken rank has been in its willingness to engage in public spending, though this has been seriously constrained by its timidity on taxation. At the same time, it has enthusiastically pursued a Thatcherite agenda of quasi-markets and choice within the public services, an objective desired but politically beyond the reach of previous Conservative governments.

New Labour has renounced the notion of left and right as irrelevant to modern political discourse. Alas, neither the Tories nor Bush seems to share that view. On the contrary, both at home and abroad, the Bush regime has signalled a major shift to the right, and it is difficult to imagine that not influencing the Conservatives here. New Labour's rejection of the old polarity was enshrined in the idea of the third way. Of course, it did not presage what it claimed at the time, namely a new way of looking at, and acting upon, the world: it was far more prosaic than that. In effect, it was a grand term for ducking any kind of ideological engagement with the right: split the difference or, alternatively, look the other way.

The result has been a government that has failed to define or hold any serious ideological ground. Indeed, in some areas such as crime, civil liberties and now immigration, it has deliberately behaved in the manner of a populist Conservative government. Nor is this true only in the domestic arena. Blair's support of Bush has been far more extreme than any previous Labour government might have displayed. Its support for the invasion of Iraq and the idea of military intervention in developing countries - in a nutshell, liberal imperialism - coupled with its increasingly open approval of Britain's imperial past, mark an abject retreat from an anti-colonial tradition. It is difficult to think of any sense in which, internationally, the prime minister even belongs to the centre left.

Exactly how and when the electoral tide will eventually go out for this government is a matter of speculation: economic downturn, a collapse in house prices, divisions in the government, exhaustion, a popular desire for change, together with other factors that cannot be predicted. Nor is it difficult to guess the ways in which New Labour will be vulnerable when the Conservatives finally again become a force to be reckoned with. This is an administration that has put immense store on spin, presentation, public relations, hyperbole and rhetoric. It has always lacked substance, always been flaky. Furthermore, it has displayed an extraordinary lack of political courage, a profoundly timorous government in the face of powerful vested interests.

The rise of Thatcher as a new kind of conviction politician in the 1970s was in part a reaction to what was seen as the emptiness and posturing of Wilson - although he was a pale shadow of Blair in this respect. Thatcher stressed how different she was from Wilson and all he represented. In opposition to his pragmatism - "a week is a long time in politics" - she affirmed the importance of ideology and strategy, a novelty at the time. As the euphoria of the 60s gave way to the growing uncertainties and difficulties of the 70s, the Thatcherite message enjoyed growing appeal. It is not difficult to imagine, as the froth and vacuity of the last decade, both political and cultural, give way to harder times, that the reaction against New Labour could be at least as profound, probably far more so. Suddenly, the term "new" will look desperately old and passe.
But here the contrast ends. Under Wilson and Callaghan, the social-democratic tradition remained intact and operational; Blair has virtually dispensed with it. He is a fully paid-up member of the Thatcherite settlement. The frontiers she established have not been pushed back - they have been maintained. That is why Blair is Britain's most rightwing postwar prime minister bar Thatcher (and possibly Major). The political centre of gravity has shifted hugely to the right; and Blair has made no attempt to reverse that. On the contrary, he has warmly embraced the Thatcherite legacy, while suggesting that this is really of no political significance because the old polarities no longer have any meaning.

A resurgent right will make no such mistake. It is not difficult to paint a picture of what might happen. Indeed, some of the potential stormclouds of the future are already visible on the horizon. Our hoary old friend immigration is back on the agenda, near the very top in fact. The opinion polls suggest that people are worried. New Labour is now desperately seeking to outflank the Tories while, predictably, utterly failing to make any stand against the new populism and its racist subtext. Of course, the charge of racism is denied on all sides: nobody ever owns up to racism. So why, pray, are the unskilled from the European Union welcome while those from the developing world are not? Just as in the case of Thatcherism, race will form an integral component of a populist right.

Nor will a resurgent right face anything like the very difficult political task of undermining the social-democratic consensus that confronted Thatcher: this time, the right will find no such obstacles, because Blair has been more than happy to sing from a similar hymn sheet. So what will happen to the Labour party when New Labour eventually finds itself out in the electoral cold? It is worth recalling the plight of the Tories since 1997. Thatcher deliberately set out to attack and undermine the traditional basis of the Conservatives as a one-nation party: when Thatcherism finally became irreversibly unpopular, culminating in the 1997 election defeat, the party had nowhere to go. It could neither stay with Thatcherism nor return to its one-nation roots: that is why it has been in such an abject and divided state ever since.

The crisis that will confront the Labour party after electoral defeat could be at least as great as that which has engulfed the Tories. New Labour will be derided, devoid of appeal, and terminally unpopular, while the pre-existing Labour tradition will simply be too weak and undermined to provide any serious form of alternative political sustenance. The fact that the party is already little more than a hollow New Labour shell, with a dwindling band of members, will only serve to accentuate this crisis. It sounds like a recipe for years in the wilderness: a depressing political prospect in the face of a Tory administration based on a populist combination of not-so-covert racism, xenophobia, hostility to civil liberties and support for Bush's new imperial-style politics.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Socialist Worker #1938 Feb 12th 2005

Socialist Worker (February 12th 2005 #1938) leads on the profits of the oil companies in contrast to attacks on immigrants and what Shell has done for the Ogoni people of Nigeria.

CJ Park of the Korean sister organisation All Together provides a column on the 5th WSF, the account glows with enthusiasm about the role of the IST and the need to counter a rightward shift among the leaders of the movement.

An interesting academic withj considrable specialist knowledge, David Seddon, provides a piece on the royal coup in Nepal.

Lindsey German (writing in a 'personal capacity') on 'Getting the troops out is still the key demand after the Iraqi election' sets the scene for the STW conference. Lindsey uses the Vietnam War analogy to argue the danger of attacks or invasions on Iran and Syria are real and that's we need to conrinue to campaign. Yep, I agree with it all.

Simon Basketeer tells (part of) the story of the United Irishmen and the 1798 Rebellion in a new series on revolts against imperialism.

The SWP's focus on Make Poverty History is reflected in a piece by Louise Richards of War on Want outlining the demands of the coalition, urging the importance of campaigns in April as well as Edinburgh in July. The redoubtable Alex Callinicos joins in with an argument for being at the G8 protests. Alex mentions the Birmingham G8 summit in 1998 and the thousands who were there and acknowledges that it was 'one of the first signs of the emerging movement against capitalist globalisation', and says it was a mistake for the socialist left and trade union movement not to be there. Damn right and good on yer, Professor - the willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them is vital! The Financial Times analysis of the recent G7 meeting gets quoted.

Dave King talks about his long work uncovering the photographic falsification of Soviet history, currently there's an exhibition of some of his materials at the Tate Modern, which I would love to see, but won't.

And as a sign of how successful the widening horizon of SW is there is an interview with Richard Gott on Hugo Chavez and Venezuela’s ‘slow revolution', which is both informative and I would have thought a tad more enthusiastic about the Bolivarian revolution than SW would be. Good stuff.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Robert Fisk 'No Middle East Peace without Justice'

There will be no Middle East peace without justice ; At no point yesterday did anyone mention occupation. Like sex, it had to be censored out;
ROBERT FISK. The Independent. London (UK): Feb 9, 2005.

So, the Palestinians will end their occupation of Israel. No more will Palestinian tanks smash their way into Haifa and Tel Aviv. No more will Palestinian F-18s bomb Israeli population centres. No more will Palestinian Apache helicopters carry out "targeted killings" - ie: murders - of Israeli military leaders.

The Palestinians have promised to end all "acts of violence" against Israelis while Israel has promised to end all "military activity" against Palestinians. So that's it, then. Peace in our time.

A Martian - even a well-educated Martian - would have gathered that this was the message, supposing he dropped in on the fantasy world of Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday. The Palestinians had been committing "violence", the Israelis carrying out "innocent" operations. Palestinian "violence" or "terror and violence" - the latter a more popular phrase since it carried the stigma of 11 September 2001 - was now at an end. Mahmoud Abbas - who told a close Lebanese friend this year that he wore a suit and tie so that he would look "different" to Yasser Arafat - went along with all this. Just which people were occupying the homes of which other people remained a mystery.

Silver-haired and wisdom-burdened, Mahmoud Abbas looked the part. We had to forget that it was this same Abbas who wrote the Oslo Accords, who in 1,000 pages failed to use - even once - the word "occupation", and who talked not of Israeli "withdrawal" from Palestinian territory, but of "redeployment".

At no point yesterday did anyone mention occupation. Like sex, "occupation" had to be censored out of the historical narrative. As usual - as in Oslo - the real issues were put back to a later date. Refugees, the "right of return", East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital: let's deal with them later.

Never before have we been in such need of the caustic voice of the late Edward Said. Settlements - Jewish colonies for Jews, and Jews only, on Arab land - were not, of course, discussed yesterday. Nor was East Jerusalem. Nor was the "right of return" of 1948 refugees. These are the "unrealistic dreams" that were referred to by the Israelis yesterday.

All this will be discussed "later" - as they were supposed to be in Abbas's hopeless Oslo agreement. As long as you can postpone the real causes of war, that's OK. "An end to violence," that has cost 4,000 deaths - it was all said yesterday, minus the all-important equation that two-thirds of these were Palestinian lives. Peace, peace, peace. It was like terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. It was the sort of stuff you could buy off a supermarket shelf. If only.

At the end of the day the issues were these. Will the Israelis close down their massive settlements in the West Bank, including those which surround Jerusalem? No mention of this yesterday. Will they end the expansion of Jewish settlements - for Jews, and Jews only, across the Palestinian West Bank? No mention of this yesterday. Will they allow the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem? No mention of this yesterday. Will the Palestinians truly end their "intifada" - including their murderous suicide bombings - as a result of these non-existent promises?

Like the Iraqi elections - which were also held under foreign occupation - the Israeli-Palestinian talks were historic because they were "historic". US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, "warned" Palestinians that they must "control violence" but there was, as usual, no request to "control" the violence of the Israeli army.

Because the sine qua non of the equation was that the Palestinians were guilty. That the Palestinians were the "violent" party - hence the admonition that the Palestinians must end "violence" while the Israelis would merely end "operations". The Palestinians, it seems, are generically violent. The Israelis generically law-abiding; the latter carry out "operations". Mahmoud Abbas went along with this nonsense.

It was all too clear in the reporting of yesterday's events. What was on offer, said CNN, was "an end to all violence" - as if occupation and illegal colonisation was not a form of violence. The American Associated Press news agency talked gutlessly about "towns that, for now, continue to be under Israeli security control" - in other words, under Israeli occupation, although they would not tell their readers this.

So Mahmoud Abbas is going to be the Hamid Karzai of Palestine, his tie the equivalent of Karzai's green gown, "our" new man in Palestine, the "tsunami" that has washed away the contamination of Yasser Arafat, whose grave Condoleezza Rice managed to avoid. But the tank-traps remain: East Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and the "right of return" of 1948 Palestinians to the homes they lost.

If we are going to clap our hands like the Sharm El-Sheikh "peacemakers" yesterday, we'd better realise that unless we are going to resolve these great issues of injustice now, this new act of "peacemaking" will prove to be as bloody as Oslo. Ask Mahmoud Abbas. He was the author of that first fatal agreement.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Socialist Resistance # 22 Feb 2005

The new Socialist Resistance (#22, Feb 2005) continues the tradition of messy design.

Still out of the jumble of items there is much of interest. I'm going to focus on its coverage of Respect here. Alan Thornett provides a useful account of what's going on in Respect with a report from its Election Dayschool and National Council in January (and where else can we find out?). A new approach - canvassing - is emphasized (oddly the SWP were the opponents of canvassing in the 2001 General Election, but this does fit in with having a restricted number of candidates), as is gender balance and having a Respect newspaper - raised by Salma Yaqoob.

There's also an interview with John Rees about Respect's first year and oddly enough Respect comes out of it pretty well. Rees meets the argument that Respect is over-dependent on Muslim communities by talking about the Labour Party and Communist Party's roots in particular areas, in those cases with strong Jewish connections, but in case in an uneven way. Rees also says it was a bit slow off the mark in building links with unions, but gives very encouraging examples around the FBU in East London and East Anglia. And a quote: "Anyone who is a member will know that Respect is a very unsectarian organisation."

This might be contrasted to the story on the opposite page. Bob Whitehead reports from Birmingham. He's in favour of Respect and trying to build it, but:
The meeting that adopted the two candidates ended in extreme acrimony. The controversial issues concerned members not being informed of meetings; the decision of the interim committee about when to hold the selection meeting had been overruled and changed by per-sons unspecified; and a request for minutes of the committee to be available. These issues, raised mainly by Socialist Resistance(SR) supporters, were met with intolerance and abuse, we were caricatured as doing it for sectarian reasons. The bad atmosphere carried on to the first meeting of the new committee, where the one SR supporter had to sit through two lectures about our naughty behaviour. One SWP member said that if this carried on we will do to Respect what we did to the Birmingham Stop the War campaign.. (This was shut down for 10 months in the period leading up to the war and led to a split in the local anti-war movement). The December committee meeting was poorly attended and the January meeting was cancelled only 24 hours in advance and the re-scheduled meeting was announced with less than 24 hours notice, with the effect that the one SR member could not attend. For anyone coming to Respect from the Labour Party, after suffering at the hands of the right wing, this will not go down at all well. Neither would it be a good political education for inexperienced people. Women with children would effectively be excluded. It has to be challenged. Respect is not only diverse in terms of its social composition(which is very good) it is also diverse politically. That should also be a good thing, but it seems to be a big problem.There will always be minorities, and these have rights to be properly represented on leading bodies of Respect. In the case of Birmingham, the minority is essentially composed of SR supporters, who worked hard for Respect during the election campaigns. The political differences that we have expressed have been on self-organisation within Respect and on abortion, for example. When voting, we have usually made up about one fifth of the votes. Yet at the meeting where the committee was elected we were grudgingly given one place out of fifteen. Respect has a lot of potential, but it has to have a democratic, vibrant, internal life if it is to attract people and retain them. There is some way to go on this in Birmingham."

Also to be recommended is the article on the Iraqi election by Phil Hearst, but thanks to the curse of a monthly production schedule, is already out of date by the time it appeared and includes the odd plainly wrong prediction, such as the high turnout by middle-class exiles.