Saturday, April 30, 2005

Red Pepper 130 May 2005

Red Pepper arrives slightly early this month. The cover features a photo of Tom Keys and falling rose blossoms as a way into the mag's Election 2005 features. This starts with Hilary Wainwright giving her strategic perspectives: translating Feb 2003 into a challenge at the ballot box and aiming at denting Labour's majority so that the faction bound to the US can't get it way. Strategic voting needs to produce a New Labour government dependent on Labour rebel votes - and Lib Dems, radical nationalists and others, including Respect and Reg Keys. Such a government would have to make key concessions. The success of Italian anti-war parties is taken as an indication - but the vibrancy and maturity of the Italian is acknowledged. Detailed guidance is offered at the Red Pepper/Socialist Unity co-operative election map.

The election feature also includes material by Reg Keys and Brian Eno about Sedgefield. This blogs' 'Wisdom of the Psephologists' (also available at Socialist Unity) is also there under the title 'All over bar the counting?', but of greater interest is John Harris's 'Revenge of the beards' taking up his So Now Who Do We Vote For? arguments and web-site. John raises the possibility that, even if the Tories can't win, there is a sufficient Tory gain to contribute to a Tory revival. John does refer to 'totemic seats' where a victory will bring delight, including George Galloway beating Oona King.

Not in the magazine, but on the web-site is a review of the Respect manifesto by Jame O'Nions, 'Do voters need Respect?'
To quote: "The twelve election priorities are inevitably headed by a call for an end to the occupation of Iraq, whilst the introduction is titled ‘against war and privatisation’. The other priorities are exactly those which left activists have been campaigning on for the last few years. This is not, then, as Nick Cohen and the Alliance for Workers Liberty would have us believe, the manifesto of an unholy alliance between a part of the far left and some vaguely defined current of ‘Islamo-fascists’. From the evidence of this manifesto, it is rather that a significant proportion of Muslim opinion has for the first time decided to identify itself with what can only be described as a far left project. We should welcome that step.

The devil, of course, is in the detail."

James goes on to discuss the relatinoship between this document and the People Not Profit manifesto of the Socialist Alliance of 2001, finding a great deal of similarity, but some omissions. And he concludes:
"East Ham candidate Abdul Khaliq has said that he sees Respect not as a radical party, but as a democratic one. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of what was to be included in the Manifesto, as Respect certainly is a radical party in the context of Britain to day. When Khaliq says it’s democratic, though, he inadvertently raises that other issue which has left a substantial section of left activists cold when it comes to Respect – its internal democracy. Cautious after the experience of the Socialist Alliance, and certainly not reassured by reports of Respect’s first proper conference, such activists would certainly see some irony in the Respect manifesto’s call for society to be organised ‘in the most open, democratic, participative and accountable way’.

"In certain areas Respect have managed to achieve the kind of reach that represents the best progress for the radical left in a long while. On the evidence of this manifesto, they seem to have done so without dropping too much of the radicalism. But unless they can start to command the electoral loyalty of a bigger section of leftwing opinion, in the way that Rifondazione Comunista does in Italy, it may not look so rosy after the election. And in order to do that, they have to make a real (and humble) effort to show they can be ‘open, democratic, participative and accountable’. On that challenge, this manifesto has no answers."

There is more on the election, but the other article I want to highlight is Jeremy Gilbert's very useful account of Hardt and Negri's Multitude, a book he thinks will become central to future radical debates. He situates the argument in a context of interdependent international capitalism. Hardt and Negri focus on the possibility of a democracy ('the rule of everyone by everyone') that involves fully shared sovereignty and complete autonomy. Gilbert contrasts this to Laclau and Mouffe and the logic of representation in an age of 'post-modern difference'. But although the writing is inspirational and poetic for Gilbert it is weak about strategies and coalitions, going little further than the call for 'planetary humanism' by Paul Gilroy. Gilbert sees a 'new field of enquiry - one concerned with rethinking collectivity in the post-modern context', but criticises Hardt and Negri for ignoring the existing debate and in the end sees them as both simplistic and a genuine 'resource of hope'.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Socialist Worker(US) #541 April 29th 2005

The ISO's Socialist Worker carries an interesting article on 'What’s at stake in the British elections?' which carries some interesting quotes.

"BRITAIN WILL vote in a general election May 5, but there is little chance that the result will reflect the opposition of millions of people to the policies of war and economic austerity upheld by the country’s rulers."
I'd want a bit more depth to that 'economic austerity' judgement.

"Despite the opposition of the vast majority of people in Britain, the Blair government was a junior partner to the Bush administration in the U.S.-run invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the war is only one element, says Clive Searle, a socialist in Manchester and national council member of the recently formed Respect, a left-wing coalition that is running candidates in the election.

“Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project was to present a repackaged Thatcherism, dressed up in the guise of equality and modernization,” he says. “Eight years later, despite claims to have created an economic miracle in Britain, the disillusionment with Blair is immense. There are many reasons for this-- from Blair’s constant love affair with big business and the private sector, to recent attempts to make public-sector workers work an extra five years before claiming their pensions. However, the factor that has come to dominate Blair’s leadership, and that encapsulates so many of the other disappointments, is the war in Iraq.

Left-wing author and socialist Mike Marqusee says that Labour can no longer be viewed as a political representative of workers in any way. “The party has gradually severed its roots in and links with the working class, demolished its democratic structures, and become something akin to the Democratic Party in the U.S.,” Marqusee says. “It is now the principal instrument of neoliberalism in the country, and its role in taking Britain into Iraq side by side with the U.S. confirmed the extent of the decay.”

Nevertheless, polls show that Blair and New Labour are likely to keep their majority in parliament, and therefore the right to form a third government under Blair.
Labour’s main opposition is the Conservative Party, known as the Tories--the traditional party of big business in Britain. The Tories were an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war, so their campaign for the general election is built around racist scapegoating of asylum seekers and Gypsies. Party leader Michael Howard defined the Tory campaign with a rallying cry against Blair of “Taxes, up! Crime, up! Immigration, up!”
Blair and Labour are counting on this right face from the Tories to hold onto their disgruntled voting base--by posing as the “lesser evil” to the hated Tories. As antiwar activist Omar Waraich, writing on the CounterPunch Web site, put it, the argument--a familiar one to U.S. activists--is “that no matter how awful life under New Labour gets, we must seek comfort in the fact that they are not the Conservatives.”
Like the U.S., the British political system favors the two biggest parties, but large numbers of people are looking to at least cast a protest vote against Blair and New Labour.
Some on the left support a vote for the Liberal Democrats--the third largest party in parliament, with 55 seats, about 8 percent of the total. But the Liberal Democrats’ record is anything but consistent. Though its members in parliament joined Labour dissidents in opposing the Iraq invasion, they “were only against the war until it started,” Warwaich summarized.
Marqusee says that a vote for the Liberal Democrats could “make sense” in some places, but an overall position of support “ignores some salient facts. First, many of their candidates are pro-war. Second, as a party, they vacillated hopelessly, on every major issue, including the war--and they support the occupation. Third, in many inner-city areas, they have emerged as a right-wing alternative to Labour, basing their appeal on hostility to Black people and immigrants, and opposition to public-sector unions.”
A number of smaller left parties are vying for the support of people disillusioned with Blair. In Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Party hopes to make a strong showing. The Green Party has been “inconsistently antiwar,” according to Marqusee, but does represent a left alternative. It will have candidates in about one-quarter of the constituencies.
Antiwar politician George Galloway--a former Labour member of parliament who was expelled from the party for his opposition to Blairism--is heading a list of 26 candidates sponsored by the Respect Coalition, which is backed by several socialist organizations, including the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
Searle says that Respect has “brought together existing socialist organizations and former Labour Party members, as well as those new to political activity altogether, in a party that we hope can help to rebuild confidence and act as a school in which the traditions of self-organization and resistance can be relearned by a new generation of activists.”
A key success, says Searle, has been “building roots among Britain’s Muslim community, who have been at the sharp edge of Blair’s backing for the ‘war on terror.’” “Respect is just 15 months old,” he concludes, “but we are making a real impact.”
But Marqusee is sharply critical of Respect for “forming top-down alliances with some very dubious authoritarian forces,” and shifting to more moderate positions on some issues, compared to the Socialist Alliance, in which the SWP and other socialist groups joined forces in previous elections. “In its utter disdain for internal democracy and for pluralism within the antiwar movement and the left, the Respect leadership offers not a step in the right direction, but an obstacle to the much broader forces that could be brought together to launch a meaningful platform--one that could be sustained beyond a single election.”
Searle disagrees. “I was an enthusiastic member of the Socialist Alliance,” he says, “but the sad reality was that it never grew beyond an alliance of the existing hard-left groups--some of which are very tiny--and few independent socialists.”
Respect’s founding convention, he says, “did not adopt a fully, explicitly socialist program, but a looser set of agreed principles. We didn’t want to set up barriers to people at the very start of the process. Nonetheless, these principles are far to the left of any other electoral party in Britain. Our election manifesto further develops our policies and principles in what can be seen as an implicitly socialist direction.”

"But whatever happens in the vote, says Marqusee, “the most important thing is what happens after the election”--with the development of a left-wing alternative to the policies of war and neoliberalism supported by Labour and Tories alike. "

Well done for the ISO to present a dialogue between different legitimate left perspectives on Respect.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


If you haven't been subscribing to Tom Englehardt's daily Tomgram you've been doing your knowledge and analysis base capabilities terrible harm. Sign up, sign up....

As a starter the above link takes you to a recent posting of material by an important conservative analyst Andrew Bacevitch. As Tom says, he's 'written a book on militarism, American-style, of surpassing interest. Just published, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War would be critical reading no matter who wrote it. But coming from Bacevich, a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, former contributor to such magazines as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and former Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, it has special resonance.' And Tom makes the obvious comparison with another important and now critical authority on American foreign policy, self-confessed (ex-) 'spearcarrier for empire' Chalmers Johnson.

There are two excerpts from The New American Militarism.
The Normalization of War
'At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might.

The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature. '

A second excerpt can be found here: New Boys in TownThe Neocon Revolution and American Militarism.
In our own time -- and especially since the ascendancy of George W. Bush to the presidency -- "neoconservative" has become a term of opprobrium, frequently accompanied by ad hominem attacks and charges of arrogance and hubris. But the heat generated by the term also stands as a backhanded tribute, an acknowledgment that the neoconservative impact has been substantial. It is today too soon to offer a comprehensive assessment of that impact. The discussion of neoconservatism offered here has a more modest objective, namely, to suggest that one aspect of the neoconservative legacy has been to foster the intellectual climate necessary for the emergence of the new American militarism.

As a practical matter, the task of reinventing neoconservatism for a post-Communist world -- and of spelling out an "imperial self-definition" of American purpose -- fell to a new generation. To promote that effort, leading members of that new generation created their own institutions.

The passing of the baton occurred in 1995. That year, Norman Podhoretz stepped down as editor of Commentary. That same year, William Kristol founded a new journal, the Weekly Standard, which in short order established itself as the flagship publication of second-generation neoconservatives. Although keeping faith with neoconservative principles that Commentary had staked out over the previous two decades -- and for a time even employing Norman's son John Podhoretz in a senior editorial position -- the Standard was from the outset an altogether different publication. From its founding, Commentary had been published by the American Jewish Committee, an august and distinctly nonpartisan entity. The Weekly Standard relied for its existence on the largesse of Rupert Murdoch, the notorious media mogul. Unlike Commentary, which had self-consciously catered to an intellectual elite, the Standard -- printed on glossy paper, replete with cartoons, caricatures, and political gossip -- had a palpably less lofty look and feel. It was by design smart rather than stuffy. Whereas Commentary had evolved into a self-consciously right-wing version of the self-consciously progressive Dissent, the Standard came into existence as a neoconservative counterpart to the neoliberal New Republic. Throughout Norman Podhoretz's long editorial reign, Commentary had remained an urbane and sophisticated journal of ideas, aspiring to shape the terms of political debate even as it remained above the muck and mire of politics as such. Beginning with volume 1, number 1, the editors of the Standard did not disguise the fact that they sought to have a direct and immediate impact on policy; not ideas as such but political agitation defined the purpose of this new enterprise.

Vote for the 'internal opposition'

A two-part piece (dating from April 12th) from The Voice of the Turtle (always worth visiting, but hasn't been uploading interesting articles quite regularly enough) by a Joe Bord on 'The Labour Government, the Election and the Internal Opposition' catches my attention. The argument is surprising, but the author bio says he's a Young Fabian (maybe an in-joke?). Joe wants us to vote (when possible) for Labour's 'internal opposition', basically the anti-war voters of 2003. Otherwise vote for the Liberal Democrats as second-best and Greens in third place.

Joe gives surprisingly serious attention to the possibility of voting Conservative (giving a NLR article as precedent), pointing to the areas in which it is to the left of New Labour, before rejecting the idea as mad. Phew!

The Liberal Democrats are treated seriously - with Kennedy 'floating' the idea of British withdrawal at the end of the UN mandate for occupation in December 2005 - but Joe also refers to the 'inroads' of 'deregulationist ideology' into the party via the Orange Book.

Respect is considered more quickly - acknowledging its small-size and newness, but 'the crudity of its positions beyond the middle east arena points to its character as a makeshift pole attempting to attract former Labour supporters aggrieved by the war.' Greens are given more credibility in the wider policy arena, but Joe goes back to the central contest over the war. The Green position is presented as 'a recipe for an allied evacuation that will leave the transitional government and the insurgents to fight it out', which Joe thinks is 'despairing'. Respect supports the insurgency as a 'national liberation movement' against any transitional government. Joe says this is 'truly ruthless' with a 'desperate logic', with defeat of the US 'global offensive' as the overriding objective and with no room for 'constitution building' and a rejection of the January elections. In comparison the Green policy is considered to be 'tenable'. Joe's own proposal is for phased withdrawal tied to a constitutional timetable as a way of the 'wrongheaded invasion' turning into catastrophe.

Part Two begins with critical commentary on the likely outcome in Iraq if there's a large Blairite majority. Joe goes on to list the 139 Labour MPS who voted against the war on March 18th 2003. Some are retiring (or have been kicked out - Galloway), leaving 124, a diverse group that overlaps with the smaller numbers who have revolted on other issues, leaving an 'internal opposition' close to the Socialist Campaign Group, roughly equal to the number of Liberal Democrats. Joe's conclusion: 'the balance within the Labour party... will be every bit as important as the balance between parties.... The real brake to a Blairised Britain lies within the PLP and the informal networks of activists and trade unionists supporting socialist parliamentarism.'

Remember Fallujah

A mainstream press account of the continuing horrors of Fallujah, making the connections with Guernica.

'This is our Guernica Ruined, cordoned Falluja is emerging as the decade's monument to brutality' by Jonathan Steele and Dahr Jamail (The Guardian, Wednesday April 27, 2005)

"Robert Zoellick is the archetypal US government insider, a man with a brilliant technical mind but zero experience of any coalface or war front. Sliding effortlessly between ivy league academia, the US treasury and corporate boardrooms (including an advisory post with the scandalous Enron), his latest position is the number-two slot at the state department.
Yet this ultimate "man of the suites" did something earlier this month that put the prime minister and the foreign secretary to shame. On their numerous visits to Iraq, neither has ever dared to go outside the heavily fortified green zones of Baghdad and Basra to see life as Iraqis have to live it. They come home after photo opportunities, briefings and pep talks with British troops and claim to know what is going on in the country they invaded, when in fact they have seen almost nothing.

Zoellick, by contrast, on his first trip to Iraq, asked to see Falluja. Remember Falluja? ....

The government keeps hoping Iraq will go away as an election issue. It stubbornly refuses to do so. Voters are not only angry that the war was illegal, illegitimate and unnecessary. The treatment inflicted on Iraqis since the invasion by the US and Britain is equally important.
In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade's unforgettable monument to brutality and overkill is Falluja, a text-book case of how not to handle an insurgency, and a reminder that unpopular occupations will always degenerate into desperation and atrocity."

Brilliant stuff. Dahr Jamail has a web-site, Iraq Dispatches, which is well-worth checking out.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Wisdom of the Psephologists

The Wisdom of the Psephologists
I have been to the psephologists, at least their major meeting at the Political Studies Association annual conference in Leeds, April 2005. This is based on my notes fron that gathering. A version is on the Socialist Unity Network website.

The basic situation for mainstream party politics in the campaign for theGeneral election in May 2005 is that it is going to be very hard for Labourto lose. They might, we might face a hung parliament with all sorts of interesting complications, or even a Tory victory, but both of these arelongshots. The reason for this is in the terrain of electoral politics.

There is now a built-in bias towards Labour in the electoral system whichhas been apparent and growing in all elections since 1992. This isn't the result of deliberate gerrymandering or anything like that, it's the resultof the basic geography of the vote; but assuming a uniform swing (always a bad assumption, but a necessary starting point) Labour would come out with amajority of over a hundred if they and the Tories got an equal share of thevote (some people even say 130!). A uniform swing of 4.65% to the Torieswould see them get that equal share of the vote, but they would need a swingof over 10% before they could form a majority government. That's a swing on the scale of 1945 or 1997 and is really beyond the wildest dreams of theTories at the moment.

The key factor for Labour is turnout. The last general election saw a major victory for the non-voters and there have been predictions that abstentioncould be on an even higher level this time round. However, there are a number of problems and paradoxes about this. Firstly, we must be clear thatthe reason for a low turnout isn't to do with the electorate - the percentages of those committed to voting and those who are less likely to vote has hardly changed over the last dozen general elections. Low turnouts are to do with estrangement from mainstream politics and the nature of electoral competition. Secondly, the bad news for Labour, is that if you look closely at polling figures it's clear that the opinion poll majorities includes a lot ofpeople who aren't that certain they are going to vote. For a while beforethe campaign started polls indicated something like Labour around 38%,Conservatives 33-34%, Liberal Democrats 22-23%; but if you looked at the slightly over 50% who would say they were 100% likely to vote the figures would come out at Conservative 39%, Labour 36% and Lib Dems on 17%. We to bear in mind that all polls contain elements of statistical error and might over-estimate Labour support and no-one should get carried away bya single poll result. But remember - the electoral system is at the moment biased towards returning a Labour government.

And the key factor in a low turnout is a feeling that voting doesn't matterbecause the parties aren't that different. In 2001 there was anunprecedentedly low degree of any perception of difference between themajor parties (the 1983 and 1987 elections exhibited the highest degree ofdifferentiation, to Labour's great disadvantage!) - it's not quite as bad (according to the NOP) in 2005, but still not good for Labour. Added to that is the Iraq factor - popular disillusionment with the government over a'successful' war (whatever we think about the occupation) is again unprecedentedly high. Labour might have lost out over issues of economic confidence, especially in the wake of the growing pensions crisis and theRover debacle, but luckily for them the Tories are generally seen as farless worthy of economic confidence. And backing off from conflict with the unions over pensions this side of the election means that pensions seems tohave disappeared as an issue. But there is a paradox, which is that the closer the electoral race looks the more likely it is that turnout will go up, because then it looks like voting will make a difference. The worst situation for Labour to mobiliseits supporters is what looks like a boringly unassailable lead in the polls, the closer it gets, the easier it becomes for them to appeal to theirsupporters to get out and keep the Tories out. Good polls for the Tories already produce better polls for Labour shortly afterwards! All of which means that the turnout might well be higher than many of the predictions have indicated, thus helping Labour.

With this as the background situation what does it mean for the approaches of the mainstream parties. Firstly Labour.

Labour has to convince its long-term base supporters that there is a Tory threat and that it is still worth voting Labour despite everything that hashappened, including the lies and unpopularity of the Iraq War and the background stance of New Labour, which has been that its working classsupporters have no-where else to go, so they can get on with the 'project', triangulating and stealing Tory policies and holding on to power. Objections about Iraq are already being met with replies about the other goodinternational policies that can be expected from Labour, and with the suggestion that it's only the middle classes who really object to what they've done in Iraq.The Conservatives aren't really looking to win this time round, but they desperately need to make some electoral gains to be in with a chance next time. All the talk about Lynton Crosby and 'dog-whistle' politics is true and the likelihood of an increasingly strident, unpleasant and racist focuson immigrants, asylum seekers, gypsies, criminals, etc. while the Tories focus on tax cuts and cutting out wasteful bureaucracy falls on deaf ears, can be expected. And here it is: "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration."

There has been some poll evidence that strident racism has helped Labour, okay the effect is going to go both ways. Crucial however is that the Tories are facing less of a far right challenge for the 'UKIP-Tony Martin' vote. UKIP has shown all the electoral volatility of a right-wing populist formation depending on flaky celebrities and look like doing badly (1-2%) in comparison to their rather good Euro showing. Veritas just makes UKIP! And the BNP seem to have lost momentum following their performance in the Euros (objectively and superficially good, but subjectively bad) and with Griffin facing a court appearance (May 19th) they are very unlikely to make any breakthroughs. Good news, but before complacency sets in, remember that immigration and asylum seekers, i.e. basic racism, are live issues, continually stoked up by politicians and the media and the BNP could well be working on a longer-term strategy that is already looking to a better set ofcouncil results in 2006. For the Tories however the likeliest outcome is little progress in this election followed by another internal crisis.

The Liberal Democrats still look being the main beneficiaries of anti-warfeeling, no matter how unjustified that is. They also seem to have got a lot of student support - but students aren't good reliable voters. There's a bit of evidence of support for the Lib Dems proposal to raise the top rate oftaxation (for those earning over £100,000 a year) and remember - no matter how much you hate the Lib Dems they are looking relatively progressive to a good number of people. But the real problem for the Lib Dems is that to make much more electoral progress they really have to take on the Tories - that's where they are mostly lying second. And that means they have to appeal to the right on a sufficiently wide set of fronts. So, expect the Lib Dems to face all directions in this election. And for Labour? Well they have to keep reminding their voters that theTories are a real threat, even when they are not. They have to keep showing there are real and big differences between them and the Tories. They have to show that Tony Blair isn't the only face or future for Labour - thus the prominence given to Gordon Brown. They have to try and escape from any reminders of the Iraq War and hope nothing happens there to bring it back to the centre of the news. And it looks like they are getting away with it

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Washington Post on World Bank/IMF Protests

Protest of Meetings Of Finance Leaders Is Colorful, Subdued
D.C. Police Report No Arrests at Gathering
By Petula Dvorak Washington Post Sunday, April 17, 2005

In the warm spring sunshine, a couple of hundred protesters outnumbered police and took over parts of downtown Washington yesterday, using puppets and percussion to send their message to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund during the groups' spring meetings. The peaceful demonstration, which called for the cancellation of debt for poorer nations, came on the five-year anniversary of one of the anti-globalization movement's seminal rallies. Then, about 20,000 protesters took to the streets of Washington in a driving rain, interrupting the financial meetings and triggering a large police response that ended in hundreds of arrests. There were no arrests yesterday, and the meetings were not affected. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said there were no reported acts of vandalism or violence. Fewer than 200 demonstrators showed up, Ramsey said. There was so little activity that commanders sent officers assigned to protest duty back to their districts for crime patrols. "It was quiet," Ramsey said. "There was no comparison" to past protests.

Demonstrators were not entirely disappointed with the turnout."I was here during the last April 16, and for a lot of us, it seemed like the earth was moving under our feet and anything was possible," said Mark Andersen, a longtime D.C. activist, recalling the event in 2000." But today, a turnout like this is misleading," Andersen said. "A lot of people who work in the system have taken this energy, this pressure from the outside and have leverage to make changes from within."So there is some success even if the numbers aren't out here," he said. Others believe past clashes with police have scared away some people who otherwise might have joined in the demonstrations." Seeing all the arrests and the pepper spray in the past probably kept a lot of people away," said Jess, a 23-year-old from Richmond who would not provide her full name because she did not want her employer to know that she has clashed with police in past demonstrations."It's really sad that I don't even have to write the lawyer's number on my arm anymore because I've memorized it," said Jess, who had red-and-black pompoms and danced to anti-globalization cheers as part of the Radical Cheerleaders.

Alice Wallerstein came with no expectation that she would be arrested.The 75-year-old former English professor from Chevy Chase held a tiny anti-IMF flag between two fingers and stood looking at the World Bank building."This is my first time at one of these, but I just couldn't stand hearing about how the World Bank is not helping the people it should," Wallerstein said.

Damian Sean Milverton, acting media manager for the World Bank, said the demonstrators' numbers might be dwindling because of the outreach done by the organization and the IMF to activist groups from around the world, Milverton said. Although protesters often characterize the World Bank as "a bunch of suit-wearers here for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails," the bank tries to reach out to world groups and "respect the opinion of people on the street," Milverton said. At times, past demonstrations of the anti-globalization movement seemed like free-form expression festivals. Activists representing anti-fur, feminist, anti-capitalist and vegan factions danced, marched and sometimes drowned out the messages to the World Bank and IMF.Yesterday, there were puppets, stilt-walkers and drummers, but the group seemed to have a much more unified message: Cancel the debt of impoverished countries." We are very clear about our message, it's crystallized, and it's important this demand is met," said Lacy MacAuley, one of the organizers for Mobilization for Global Justice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Red Pepper 129 April 2005

The April edition of Red Pepper is pretty good. Great cover with a variety of our favourite politicians in PD style mugshots with the title 'defeat the war criminals' sets the tone. Just time to focus on the pre-election coverage, which includes Tariq Ali's already well-publicized and increasingly threadbare call to 'Punish the warmongers: vote Lib Dem', and a piece by the excellent Craig Murray about his stand against Jack Straw in Blackburn: 'A vote for Labour is a vote for torture'. But of most interest is an assessment of Respect by Natasha Grzincic: 'Respect where it's due'. This is the best and most balanced piece on Respect that I've seen, capturing both good points and areas of doubt. The focus is on Newham and well displays the enthusiasm and effort that has gone into building Respect out of local anti-war networks. As Newham has a high percentage of ethnic minorities it's only natural that a high proportion of Respect's support is going to come from those minorities. There is a claim that Respect has 250 - or even 500 - 'dedicated workers' in the borough. The conclusion is that Respect's strategy in Newham is working.

The article also raises other points: what are the effects of it playing down its 'socialist roots'? Could the dependence of Respect on the Muslim community backfire? The situation in the many parts of the country where 'Respect is still an Aretha Franklin song, not a realistic left challenge to Labour' is mentioned. Grzincic also has an interesting discussion of the campaign for Janet Alder in Tottenham, pointing out the real problems they have in attempting to get anywhere near the level of support in East London, but also the efforts they are making to reach out and build links. Doubts about Respect by other activists are raised. A Green says "There's a perception that the Socialist Alliance fell apart because of the SWP, so it doesn't give us confidence that Respect would be successful and democratic." And Grzincic raises issues for the future. Is Respect "becoming a single-issue, almost single-constituency party?" What will it do beyond the general election? Can it survive if it doesn't raise its profile elsewhere and on other issues? Can it build wider trust and unity across the left?

Grzincic's final words: "To avoid Newham/Tower Hamlets being a more radical version of the Kidderminster effect, it has to address the problem of building trust among a wide range of independent campaigns and movements, and finding, along with the rest of us, a way of building a united democratic alternative to New Labour" speak to all of us. At last someone has gone beyond the usual dichotomy between Respect as the greatest thing since sliced bread versus the grumpy sectarian write-off. I don't think this is available on the web-site, so you'll have to buy the magazine.

There are other worthwhile things in this latest edition of Red Pepper, including a thoughtful, sympathetic but critical review of Paul Foot's The Vote by left liberal academic David Beetham, a useful introductory guide to the Bolkestein directive on services and a good set of articles on civil liberties issues; but Natasha Grzincic's piece makes this a must-read magazine. The link to the Red Pepper election blog is worth following as well.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Weekly Worker 570 March 31st 2005

This Weekly Worker has a front cover picture of the Make Poverty History rally in Trafalgar Square from earlier in the year: the crowd is big, diverse and look like they are in a pretty good mood. The headline is 'They say Make poverty history. We say make charity history.' There's no contest: I'm with that crowd.

Let's see what's inside: 'Peace activist' Sarah Young has an article entitled 'Networks of resistance' in a replyto something by Mike McNair. This indicts the whole strategy of STWC for more-or-less complete failure due to a reliance on the existing political structure and limits of 'legitimate protest'. Instead we needed effective industrial action and direct action, which the SWP and STW were determined to stop. Behind these failings is the culture of the entire establishment left, which is part of the state, led by the 'pale, male and stale'. STW hasn't made the next war more difficult for the British government. Continuity of STW is a step forward, but not much. We need a linked peace, environmentalist and anti-globalization movement, eventually linked to workplaces. Hmm, there is room for critique of STW, but not starting with the achievements of the mvement makes this all just 'revolutionary' noise to me. There is a pamphlet ('Thinking allowed') available from AKPress.

Mike McNair has a couple of pages on 'Communists and the popular front', basically designed to show that the CPGB's line towards Respect is correct. The most interesting point is the emphasis on the USSR's diplomatic policy towards Germany between 1921 and 1933 consisting of secret military relations with German nationalists, with the Red Army helping secret rearmament and Germany giving substantial assistance to industrial development in the Soviet Union. The 'Third period' partly came out of this with the USSR using the Comintern to distance itself and oppose the German social denmocrats. With Hitler's rise to power they expected this Rapallo policy to continue and it was only by 1934 was it clear that the old relationship was at an end, leaving the Kremlin with the need for a new foreign policy. This they hoped would be an alliance with Entente powers against Germany, but those powers weren't too unhappy about Hitler's Germany. The 'people's fronts' were to play a role in pushing for a bloc of democracies against fascism. This is very useful and challenging: I've had too much of a Comintern centred focus on these issues, seeing it as a matter of different political strategies, with the Third Period emerging from the internal political battles in the USSR (i.e. doing down Bukharin and the right) rather than being rooted in foreign policies of the Soviet state. Food for thought.

Mark Fischer has another coule of pages on 'Solidarity, not charity!', taking up the theme of the cover. There is an intersting history of charity - and working class rejections of charity, including the entertainingly subversive Skeleton Army and its efforts against the Salvation Army. However the whole thing is both sectarian and fallacious. The CPGB seems to think that it's ideological campaign against Tsunami relief at the start of the year is a winner and they're sticking with it, even when it gets totally inappropriate. The Make Poverty History campaign isn't charity, for all its faults (including dependence on celebrity advertising) it's staple NGO pressure-group activity to change government policy, i.e. get genuine debt write-offs. This doesn't go far enough and its clear that MPH is being offered as an altenrative to Stop the War by the Labour left. Weekly Worker says 'Genuine Marxists want to make charity history, not constitute its left wing', but no; genuine Marxists want to be an active part of the movement, working with people who have illusions in Gordon Brown, or even Oxfam, so that their criticisms of the limitations of the movement have credibility. The CPGB have no credibility on this.

And there is also one of those special coloured-paper supplements that used to mske The Leninist so entertainingly tedious. This is on 'The spectre of communism and the relevance of the Communist manifesto', with lengthy contributions from the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), Jack Conrad and Hillel Ticktin. One for the files.