Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wallerstein on Bolivia

Commentary No. 178. Feb. 1, 2006 "Two Cheers for Evo?"

The election of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia has sparked an extensive debate about how far left Latin America is moving. Or rather, an extensive debate about what it means to be on the "left" in Latin America (or anywhere). There have been, it seems to me, four different ways of appreciating the electoral victory of Morales, which reflect four different political sociologies.

There is a large group of Latin American left intellectuals, and their sympathizers elsewhere in the world, who have hailed the election of Morales enthusiastically. They analyze the situation this way. Morales is an Aymara, the first indigenous person to be elected president of Bolivia, whose population is more than 60% indigenous. This is a social and political triumph, even a social revolution, and in any case social justice. Morales has himself emphasized this element, engaging in a traditional Inca ceremony immediately before his formal inauguration as president. Furthermore, the indigenous populations of Bolivia clearly greeted his election with joy.

But Morales also campaigned on economic themes. He campaigned against the U.S.-endorsed program to eradicate coca production. He was against the privatization of water, and called for nationalization of the gas deposits via renegotiation of the contracts with foreign firms for the exploitation of natural gas resources. These have all been hot issues in Bolivia for the last decade. In his new cabinet, he has placed in charge of these issues persons identified with the popular struggle.

Finally, there is the geopolitical commitment. He has attacked U.S. imperialism. His first international visits after his election were to Cuba and Venezuela, whose leaders warmly embraced him. He then flew to Spain, France, China, South Africa, and Brazil, where he was received again with great enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, there is another smaller group of Latin American intellectuals and activists who are distinctly cool about Morales. They see him as someone who did not himself lead any of the popular struggles of the last five years (except that of the coca farmers), but came on board cautiously after others had fought and won. They see him as someone who won't really nationalize Bolivia's resources but merely settle for increased rents. And they see him as another Lula, that is, as someone who will fail to meet popular expectations on social issues.

Then there is the U.S. right who essentially agree with the analysis of the first group. They see Morales as a dangerous lackey of Chavez who will stir up anti-U.S. sentiment throughout Latin America, and hinder foreign investment. The U.S. government in the previous election threatened to cut off all aid to Bolivia if Morales were elected. He wasn't elected then. But this time, when he got a stunning 54% of the vote on the first ballot, the U.S. officially has been quieter, but not at all happy.

And then there are some non-left Latin American intellectuals who essentially agree with the second group, but of course not from the same standpoint. It is striking that both Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru and Jorge Castañeda of Mexico wrote op-ed pieces after the election, agreeing with the second group that Morales could turn out to be more like Lula than like Chavez, and that therefore the U.S. government should tone down its hostility and court him. The Financial Times took the same line.

The election of Morales has to be put into the overall context of elections throughout Latin America in recent years: not only Lula in Brazil and Chavez in Venezuela, but Tabaré in Uruguay, Kirchner in Argentina, even Bachelet in Chile, as well as the probable election this year of Lopez Obrador in Mexico and maybe even Ortega in Nicaragua. These are all elections about whose results the U.S. government was not happy. In each case, Washington would have preferred a more conservative opponent. To be sure, not one of those elected is a Che Guevara. But the sum of all of them has definitely moved Latin America to the left, if not to the far left.

Is moving to the center-left but not to the far left really a conquest of the left? That depends on whether the tendency picks up momentum. And this depends in part on what happens far beyond Latin America - in the Middle East, in Europe, in the United States itself. Evo Morales got off to a splendid start with a very forthright and militant speech at his inauguration. For those on the left in Latin America and elsewhere, the victory of Morales is a moment for two cheers, waiting to see if he will be able to fulfill the program he has laid out, in which case it will turn out to be three.
(copyright Immanuel Wallerstein)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gilbert Achacar on Hamas election victory

First Reflections On The Electoral Victory Of Hamas by Gilbert Achcar; January 27, 2006 (Informed Comment Jan 28th) (International Viewpoint Jan 2006)

1. The sweeping electoral victory of Hamas is but one of the products of the intensive use made by the United States in the Muslim world, since the1950's, of Islamic fundamentalism as an ideological weapon against both progressive nationalism and communism. This was done in close collaboration with the Saudi kingdom -- a de facto U.S. protectorate almost from its foundation in 1932. The promotion of the most reactionary interpretation of the Islamic religion, exploiting deeply-rooted popular religious beliefs, led to this ideology filling the vacuum left by the exhaustion by the 1970's of the two ideological currents it served to fight. The road was thus paved in the entire Muslim world for the transformation of Islamic fundamentalism into the dominant expression of mass national and social resentment, to the great dismay of the U.S. and its Saudi protectorate. The story of Washington's relation with Islamic fundamentalism is the most strikingmodern illustration of the sorcerer's apprenticeship. (I have described thisat length in my Clash of Barbarisms.)

2. The Palestinian scene was no exception to this general regional pattern, albeit it followed suit with a time warp. Although the Palestinian guerilla movement came to the fore initially as a result of the exhaustion of Arab nationalism and as an expression of radicalization, the movement underwent a very rapid bureaucratization, fostered by an impressive influx of petrodollars and reaching levels of corruption that have no equivalent in the history of national liberation movements. Still, as long as it remained -- in the guise of the PLO -- what could be described as a "stateless state apparatus seeking a territory" (see my Eastern Cauldron), the Palestinian national movement could still embody the aspirations of the vast majority of the Palestinian masses, despite the numerous twists, turns, and betrayals of commitments with which its history is littered. However, when a new generation of Palestinians took up the struggle in the late 1980's, with the Intifada that started in December 1987, the irradicalization began in turn to take increasingly the path of Islamic fundamentalism. This was facilitated by the fact that the Palestinian left, the leading force within the Intifada in the first months, squandered this last historic opportunity by eventually aligning itself one more time behind the PLO leadership, thus completing its own bankruptcy. On a smaller scale, Israel had played its own version of the sorcerer's apprentice by favoring the Islamic fundamentalist movement as a rival to the PLO prior to the Intifada.

4. The 1993 Oslo agreement inaugurated the final phase of the PLO's degeneration, as its leadership -- or rather the leading nucleus of this leadership, bypassing the official leading bodies -- was granted guardianship over the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This came in exchange for what amounted to a capitulation: the PLO leadership abandoned the minimal conditions that were demanded by the Palestinian negotiators from the 1967 occupied territories, above all an Israeli pledge to freeze and reverse the construction of settlements whichwere colonizing their land. The very conditions of this capitulation --which doomed the Oslo agreements to tragic failure as critics very rightly predicted from the start -- made certain that the shift in the popular political mood would speed up. The Zionist state took advantage of the lull brought to the 1967 territories by the Palestinian Authority's fulfillmentof the role of police force by proxy ascribed to it, by drastically intensifying the colonization and building an infrastructure designed to facilitate its military control over these territories. Accordingly, the discredit of the PA increased inexorably. This loss in public support hampered more and more its ability to crack down on the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist movement -- as was required from it and as it began attempting as early as 1994 -- let alone its ability to marginalize the Islamic movement politically and ideologically. Moreover, the transfer of the PLO bureaucracy from exile into the 1967 territories, as a ruling apparatus entrusted with the task of surveillance over the population that waged the Intifada, quickly led to its corruption reaching abysmal levels --something that the population of the territories hadn't seen first-hand before. At the same time, Hamas, like most sections of the Islamic fundamentalist mass movement -- in contrast with "substitutionist" strictly terrorist organizations of which al-Qaeda has become the most spectacular example -- was keen on paying attention to popular basic needs, organizing social services, and cultivating a reputation of austerity and incorruptibility.

5. The irresistible rise of Ariel Sharon to the helm of the Israeli state resulted from his September 2000 provocation that ignited the "SecondIntifada" -- an uprising that because of its militarization lacked the most positive features of the popular dynamics of the first Intifada. A PA that, by its very nature, could definitely not rely on mass self-organization and chose the only way of struggle it was familiar with, fostered this militarization. Sharon's rise was also a product of the dead-end reached bythe Oslo process: the clash between the Zionist interpretation of the Oslo frame -- an updated version of the 1967 "Alon Plan" by which Israel would relinquish the populated areas of the 1967 occupied territories to an Arab administration, while keeping colonized and militarized strategic chunks --and the PA's minimal requirements of recovering all, or nearly all the territories occupied in 1967, without which it knew it would lose its remaining clout with the Palestinian population. The electoral victory of war criminal Ariel Sharon in February 2001 -- an event as much "shocking" ast he electoral victory of Hamas, at the very least -- inevitably reinforced the Islamic fundamentalist movement, his counterpart in terms ofradicalization of stance against the backdrop of a still-born historic compromise. All of this was greatly propelled, of course, by the ( , but unresisted) accession to power of George W. Bush, and the unleashing of his wildest imperial ambitions thanks to the attacks on September 11, 2001.

6. Ariel Sharon played skillfully on the dialectics between himself and his Palestinian true opposite number, Hamas. His calculation was simple: in order to be able to carry through unilaterally his own hard-line version of the Zionist interpretation of a "settlement" with the Palestinians, he needed two conditions: a) to minimize international pressure upon him -- or rather U.S. pressure, the only one that really matters to Israel; and b) to demonstrate that there is no Palestinian leadership with which Israel could "do business." For this, he needed to emphasize the weakness and unreliability of the PA by fanning the expansion of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, knowing that the latter was anathema to the Western states. Thus every time there was some kind of truce, negotiated by the PA with the Islamic organizations, Sharon's government would resort to an "extrajudicial execution" -- in plain language, an assassination -- in order to provoke these organizations into retaliation by the means they specialized in: suicide attacks, their "F-16s" as they say. This had the double advantage of stressing the PA inability to control the Palestinian population, and enhancing Sharon's own popularity in Israel. The truth of the matter is that the electoral victory of Hamas is the outcome that Sharon's strategy was very obviously seeking, as many astute observers did not fail to point out.

7. As long as Yasir Arafat was alive, he could still use the remnant of hisown historical prestige. Contrary to what many commentators have said, the seclusion of Arafat in his last months by Sharon did not "discredit" the Palestinian leader: as a matter of fact, Arafat's popularity was at an all-time low before his seclusion, and regained in strength after it started. Actually, Arafat's leadership has always been directly nurtured by his demonization by Israel and his popularity rose again when he became Sharon's prisoner. This is why the U.S. and Israel's nominee for Palestinian leadership, Mahmud Abbas, was not able to really take over as long as Arafat was alive. This is also why both the Bush administration and Sharon would not let the Palestinians organize the new elections that Arafat kept demanding as his representativeness was challenged very hypocritically inthe name of "democratic reform." The very nature of the "democrats" supported by Washington and Israel under this heading is best epitomized by Muhammad Dahlan, the most corrupt chief of one of the rival repressive "security" apparatuses that Arafat kept under his control on a pattern familiar to autocratic Arab regimes.

8. The electoral victory of Hamas is a resounding slap in the face of the Bush administration. As the latest illustration of the sorcerer's apprenticeship that U.S. policy in the Middle East has so spectacularlydisplayed, it is the final nail in the coffin of its neocon-inspired, demagogic and deceitful rhetoric about bringing "democracy" to the "Greater Middle East." It is, of course, too early to make any safe prediction at this point regarding what will happen on the ground. It is possible,however, to make a few observations and prognoses: Hamas does not have a social incentive for collaboration with the Israeli occupation, at least not in any way resembling that of the PLO-originated PA apparatuses: it has actually been thrown into disarray by its own victory, as it would certainly have preferred the much more comfortable posture of being a major parliamentary opposition force to the PA. Therefore, it takes a lot of self-deception and wishful thinking to believe that Hamas will adapt to the conditions laid out by the U.S. and Israel. Collaboration is all the less likely given that the Israeli government, under the leadership of the new Kadima party founded by Sharon, will continue his policy, taking full advantage of the election result that suits its plans so well, and making impossible any accommodation with Hamas. Moreover, Hamas faces an outbidding rival represented by "Islamic Jihad," which boycotted the election. In order to try to rescue the very sensitive Palestinian component of overall U.S. Middle East policy that it managed to steer into dire straits,the Bush administration will very likely consider three possibilities. One would be a major shift in the policies of Hamas, bought by and mediated bythe Saudis; this is, however, unlikely for the reason stated above and would be long and uncertain. Another would be fomenting tension and political opposition to Hamas in order to provoke new elections in the near future, taking advantage of the vast presidential powers that Arafat had and that Mahmud Abbas inherited, or just by having the latter resign, thus forcing a presidential election. For such a move to besuccessful, or meaningful at all, there is a need for a credible figure that could regain a majority for the traditional Palestinian leadership; but the only figure having the minimum of prestige required for this role is presently Marwan Barghouti, who -- from his Israeli jail cell -- made an alliance with Dahlan prior to the election. It is therefore likely that Washington will exert pressure on Israel for his release. A third possibility would be the "Algerian scenario" -- referring to the interruption of the electoral process in Algeria by a military junta in January 1992 -- which is already envisaged, according to reports in the Arab press: the repressive apparatuses of the PA would crack down on Hamas, impose a state of siege and establish a military-police dictatorship. Of course, a combination of the last two scenarios is also possible, postponing the crackdown until political conditions are created, that are more suitable for it. Any attempt by the U.S. and the European Union to starve the Palestiniansi nto submission by interrupting the economic aid that they grant them wouldbe disastrous for both humanitarian and political reasons and should be opposed most vigorously. The catastrophic management of U.S. policy in the Middle East by the Bushadministration, on top of decades of clumsy and shortsighted U.S. imperial policies in this part of the world, has not yet born all its bitter fruit.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Weekly Worker 608 Jan 19th 2006

Weekly Worker is following up earlier critiques of environmentalism with a cover featuring a very-classical Greek-looking illustration of someone being pecked at by a bird and 'the case for revolutionary Prometrheanism and sustainability'. I'm usually bored by 'Jack Conrad's' theoretical pronouncements, too much of the group guru SPEAKS about them, but 'Prometheanism and nature' is of interest. Conrad traces a false dualism between nature and society and thus 'greenism' and 'technological Prometheanism', both are 'one-sided abstractions'. For Marxists nature ans society are dialectically bound together. Conrad also distinguishes the revolutionary identification with the Promethean spirit from Aeschylus, Shelley and Marx and the mechanical materialm of technological Prometheanism. Conrad admits that such a reading can be found in the Introduction to The Contribution to the critique of political economy and that on this basis there is a possible view that 1917 was premature. But human activity has to be taken in to account. Francis Bacon is defended from accusations that he fathered this strand of thinking, but a strand of 'left economistic narrow-mindedness' is detected and traced from Proudhon through Lassalle and Stalin to John Rees and the SWP (natch) for saying 'The workers create all the wealth under capitalism" in' Where We Stand' and quotes p81 of Collected Works Vol 24 for a direct quote saying 'Labour is not the source of all wealth'.

Conrad also quotes Stephen Jay Gould (Structure of Evolutionary Theory - doesn't sound as much fun as the Gould books I've read!) to attack any idea of an evolutionary 'ladder of progress' (or of art). The linking of biological evolution with progress is put down to Herbert Spencer, although Darwin was willing to compromise his theory with Spencerian notions.

The apogee of technological Prometheanism is placed in the '50s and '60s and a false and triumphalist ideology of capitalism as universal development with a utopia of affluence around the corner. But the contradictions of capitalism ensured this wasn't going to happen, and indeed the technological Prometheanism contributed to the 'metabolic rift' between human society and nature.

This is the springboard for a surprisingly detailed account of the modern British agrarian question, down to a sad reqieum for the disappearance of the house sparrow.

Of course some readers read Weekly Worker for news (or is gossip, as members of the SWP, including a cross and abusive letter-writer to this edition) of the rest of the left. So there's a page, illustrated by George Galloway dressed as Dracula) devoted to Galloway and Celebrity Big Brother, but, as usual, focussed on the SWP. The strange and demeaning anctics of the inmates are discussed, but Peter Manson gives voice to the political vision behind Galloway's choice: connecting with the millions of people turned off by official politics.
The usually disageeable Ron McKay is given a good showing:
“This was not meant to enhance a media profile; it was meant to show his anti-war profile.”
He told the Sunday Herald: “Respect was totally isolated, blacked-out and neutered by
the mainstream media … We realised we needed alternative ways to reach the public.
Since 9/11, George has done almost 2,000 public meetings and travelled tens of thousands
of miles. He gets big audiences but they usually agree with him. When he started doing
those ‘An audience with’ evenings he got to reach people he didn’t usually meet at public
meetings. That was the lead-up to the thinking behind going into Big brother (‘What on earth
were you thinking, George?’ Sunday Herald January 15).
McKay reports that, although people in his personal team expressed doubts about this
“high-risk strategy”, they were also “naive”, in that they “didn’t reckon on Channel 4 saying,
‘You can’t use this as a soapbox’, and censoring his every political utterance … It seems you
can talk about animal rights and killing animals, but not the killing of human beings.”
He added: “Two million people marched against the war in Britain and it was ignored. Any
avenue to get their message across is now justifiable. This is not about personalities: it’s about
the message. His idea is to be applauded. If he has to do some stupid jape, then so what?”

Well, McKay is giving a good corrective to the moralistic cries of 'disgrace', as does Anas Altikriti (Muslim Association of Britain), who is quoted as saying:
“I think George proved he is a man that connects with the common people and that’s important.
Being a cat wasn’t something he just brought upon himself. It was a task he had to do and he acted
diligently, otherwise he would have been seen as a hypocrite. You can’t have it both ways”
(The Guardian January 14).

The CPGB line is that Galloway is doing this to counterbalance the SWP, while questioning his long-term commitment to Respect. He is building his own personal political profile. The SWP are clearly unhappy, even if they are putting brave face on it. Respect itself seems defensive. Members are quoted being very critical (ooh, they won't like that). But for the CPGB its the SWP's own fault. They've built up the individual personalities, they've rejected calls for accountability. Manson dismisses the 'claptrap' criticisms of Galloway, but has his own, including the old 'workers wage' bug-bear, but also accountability and that Galloway's donation of money to Interpal is to an 'obsurantist organisation' (but I think he means obscure).

The RMT conference on working-class representation is the focus for a number of pieces. 'Dave Craig' of the RDG has a page entitled 'Festival of Labourism?'. He provides a short history of 'Labourism' as background to his usual argument that we need a republican socialist party on the model of the SSP. Various others attempts to build a left-wing party from the SLP, Socialist Alliance (Mark 2), Respect, Labour Representation Committee have failed or will fail because they are Labourist - it's in their 'political DNA'. The RMT conference provides some hope, but the bright spot is the relaunch of the Socialist Alliance!

The CPGB's own interventionist position is on their back-page: it's going to be tame, the RMT executive have got to do it, but aren't that keen and it doesn't have much clarity and nothing is planned to come out of it. The CPGB wants us to have something with the programme of Marxism. More interestingly there's an interview with Greg Tucker, who hopes that Respect and the RMT can work together and that maybe there could be something bigger than Respect - better than the view that Respect is 'it'.

Elsewhere Weekly Worker has a page defending free speech for Abu Hamza, not out sympathy for his political positions, but to avoid giving more power to the state. The standfirst compares Nick Griffin to Abu Hamza, but doesn't call ffor the trial to be called off. And it also recounts some of the debate in SW about the Religious Hatred Bill as evidence that cracks are opening in the SWP.

Eddie Ford draws out the irrationalities of the current state of law and debate about sex offenders and teaching in 'Victims and victimised'.

And finally an interview with Michael Lebowitz (the CPGB are studying Beyond Capital), taking us through his lengthy and interesting political history - involved with Studies on the Left, helping draft the Port Huron Statement and involvement in the SDS, rejecting the CP (in Canada by then) and working in the New Democratic Party and involvement in community organising in Vancouver. Lebowitz talks about having a compartmentlised conception of politics separated off from theory. Lebowitz agrees with his interlocutors quoting of E.P.Thompson about the development of a sense of class through struggle and that leads on to the view that Capital is one-sided and a book on wage-labour is necessary. Marxists are criticised for seeing the working-class only as the 'other' to capital, instead the working-class has to be understood in its 'many-sidedness'. So the left is 'economistic' and many Marxists engage in 'democratic struggles' for instrumental reasons. So Lebowitz criticises the way Mark Fischer spoke about democratic struggle, instead it has to e seen as practice, struggle and self-transformation. Democracy is practice, and that is why he's excited about events in Venezuela: people are starting to assert themselves from below in a context of a constitution that stresses the 'development of human potential' and with the encouragement of Chavez. Well I think this interview is a good reason for checking out the book.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

New Statesman Jan 16th 2006

New Statesman Jan 16th 2006

Cover story is Jonathan Freedland saying "We Were Wrong About Sharon". He compares his feelings in 2001, his horrified shock at Sharon's landslide election victory with his heart plummeting at the news o Sharon's stroke. It's not illusion in Sharon's motives. Freedland is clear that withdrawal from Gaza was a military step, partly driven by worries about the demographic future, but that it was still the right thing to do. Sharon delivered some progress. Demanding perfection, demanding complete justice for the Palestinians, would be to line up with Netanyahu in getting nothing.

By way of contrast Lindsey Hilsum presents Sharon as a cynical manipulator, whose monument is the wall and the legacy of bitterness. And Samir El-Youssef presents a view from Palestine that presents Amir Peretz as the source of hope.

Martin Bright in 'The Adrian Mole Generation' makes the argument that Kennedy's ousting from the leadership of the LibDems wasn't to do with his alcoholism, but was 'everything to do with the revival of the Conservative Party under David Cameron'. Bright quotes the Sheffield LibDem Nick Clegg: "The crisis about Charles Kennedy's leadership was a response to the changing geography of British politics..... The centre ground was becoming crowded and we were not punching above our weight. If the leadership election comes out in the right way we will be better-equipped to stop Cameron stealing the liberal mantle from us."
And Bright continues: 'In one month David Cameron has become the driving force in British politics..'
Bright presents this as a major generational shift (leaving Campbell and Brown a bit high-and-dry?) to politicians born into the 'Adrian Mole generation', all around 40 and with an 'essentially moderate and unthreatneing politics'. New Labour was created by people formed by the landslide of 1983, these people formed by 1992 and the Major government.

David Marquand contributes the first of what they claim will be a major series on British politics. His focus is on the meaning of the SDP split after 25 years. Marquand always tells a sophisticated story and here he denies both a role in setting Kinnock off on the trjectory that led to New Labour and that the SDP split the anti-Tory vote and allowed the 1983 and 1987 landslide victories. Marquand says that in both those years Labour would have suffered catastrophic defeat. It might be a sophisticated story, but its from the point of view of a radical intelligentsia defined as people like Marquand himself. He thinks that the SDP won the battle of ideas in the '80s and that the 'radical intelligentsia' went back to Labour only in the '90s. But now New Labour's 'authoritarian populism' has started to appal the radical intellectuals, but they don't have an SDP to go to, only the Liberal Democrats, 'honourable people, with good liberal insitncts, but without an idea to rub between them.' Marquand emphasises the defence of an open democratic society with civil liberties. The enemy: 'statist determinism'.

There's also a profile of Zygmunt Bauman, 'greatest living sociologist' at 80 and the impact of his ideas since 1989s Modernity and the Holocaust, through to the engagement with 'postmodernity', or rather 'liquid modernity' (Liquid Love). Good, but that reference to Hobbes's Panopticon can't be right.

THES: John Gray and Leszek Kolakowski

The Times Higher (Jan 13th 2006) has a piece by John Gray (subscription required for web-version) on Leszek Kolakowski and Marxism, marking the republication of Kolakowski's Main Currents in Marxism in one volume.

Gray returns to an old theme of his: '... Marxism has ceased to matter.... Marxian socialism is a spent force.' Marxism is insignificant, but 'the utopian impulse it expressed has not disappeared.' It lives on in the grandiose schemes of the neocon right.

Gray recommends Kolakowski as the best guide to the history and philosophy of Marxism, which is also part of the history of religion. For Kolakowski Marxism is rooted in theology and mysticism (via Hegel) and is a secular eschatology, 'a doctrine of human salvation presented in pseudo-scientific terms', 'like a revealed religion'.

Quotes from Kolakowski: "the greatest fantasy of our century... an idea that began in Promothean humanism and culminated in the monstrous tyranny of Stalinism."
".. entailed some practicalconsequences that wwould bring indescribable misery and suffering to mankind."
Tyranny is the result of the attempt to put utopia into practice.

There are good things in Marxism - the analysis of capitalism, the prescient account of globalization, but those ideas can be found elsewhere: Schumpeter gets a mention.

Kolakowski goes for a quick knock-out-blow: Marx's predictions were wrong; the 'materialist conception of history' either absurd or platitudinous; labour theory of value has no use; useless on ecological questions; Eurocentric and incapable of explaining the totalitarian socialism of the 20thC - especially as it had been predicted by 19thC anarchists.

Marx is still worth reading as part of intellectual history, but utopias are both necessary and dangerous. Finally life in the capitalist world might be dominated by greed and envy, but it's better than life in a 'complusory fraternity'.

Sorry, not convinced by either of our luminaries critiques.

Eric at Drink-soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for WAR has a very good piece about 'The Dark Pessimism of John Gray'. He challenges Gray over the Iraq War, presenting a more favourable view of the war and occupation than Gray does; and also takes him to task for his deeply pessimistic view of the human condition and conservative view of the possibilities of international diplomacy that would limit international intervention. There's a link to this New Statesman article where Gray sets out his views on Iraq more fully, and to this review of Gray's Straw Dogs by Danny Postel in The Nation. There's even some serious discussion about Gray in the comments box!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Socialist Resistance on Galloway and Big Brother

George Galloway and Big Brother
It is said that, in politics, there is no such thing as bad publicity. That is not true. A good example is George Galloway’s decision to subject himself to Celebrity Big Brother.

The main reason he gave for going on was that it would give him a chance to get politics over to a wider audience This is another mistake. Not only is the conversation in the Big Brother house completely banal, and the other ‘house mates’ unresponsive but Channel Four intends to ensure that it does not happen. Galloway has been bleeped out or edited out whenever he has managed to squeeze a political point in. As Channel Four said in the Guardian: We do not intend to allow George Galloway to use the programme as a political platform. It seems that the only thing banned on Big Brother is politics.

The upshot is a situation which is discrediting to George Galloway and discrediting to Respect. The media have had a field day, with reams about why he is not in parliament or working in his constituency. It is hypocrisy of course. Many MPs do things whilst Parliament is sitting and take time away from their constituency. As Zoe Williams said in the Guardian: if it had been Boris Johnson on the programme and not a serious politician none of these questions would have been asked. But it is an ABC of politics that the media will attack the left whenever it gets the chance.

All this is a problem for Respect, and one which reflects some of the problems which emerged at the Respect conference last November. There Galloway and other leaders of Respect argued – against those who wanted to strengthen the structures of Respect – that it is more important to get votes than recruit members. Whether he, or Respect, gains any votes out of this (political votes in future elections) remains to be seen. But Respect is unlikely to gain any members out of it – rather there a danger of losing established members as a result – if the anger being expressed across the Respect membership is anything to go by. And no left party can exist without a critical mass of committed activists to build it and carry out its work.

None of this will help Respect to become the kind of mass organisation it needs to be in order to become a real alternative pole of attraction. It will not help Respect to bring other sections of the left into its ranks, most importantly the trade union left. And no new left party can ultimately be successful unless it has within it a substantial part of the existing left.

The biggest problem for Respect, however, is that George Galloway took the decision to enter the Big Brother house without any reference to the elected leadership of Respect. This reflects another strand of the debate at the Respect conference – the authority of its elected committees and the accountability of its elected representatives. It is unacceptable that an elected representative of Respect takes major decisions which have a direct impact on Respect without the authority of its elected leadership. Its elementary democracy, and such a situation is not sustainable in the long term.At the Respect conference George Galloway tackled the issue of accountability by insisting that Respect remains a coalition and not a party; the implication being that the level of accountability is lower in a coalition than a party. That may be the case, and this is a debate within Respect. By the idea that an organisation, whatever you call it, which presents itself as a political alternative to new Labour, has MPs and councillors, and stands as an alternative in elections on a full range of political issues, should not have its elected representatives accountable to itmakes absolutely no sense. Whether Respect is a coalition or a party it cannot have a situation where it campaigns to get people elected who then operate as individual.

Respect can, no doubt, weather this self-inflicted storm, it has a string of important achievements behind it over the past year from which to draw strength. But to do so for the long term it will have to make changes. It will have to strengthen the way it functions at all levels. It will have to ensure that its elected leadership bodies have authority within the organisation. And crucially it will have to ensure that those elected to office on its ticket are accountable to the organisation as a whole on all major decisions.
Socialist Resistance Steering Committee, 10.1.06

Solidarity 3/86 Jan 12th 2006

Well I thought Solidarity (not on the web yet, go to the AWL web-site) would go to town on George Galloway's now humiliating escapades on Big Brother (can I listen to his fine rhetoric again withuot the image of him dressed in a lab-coat pretending to be a pussycat licking milk from Rula Lenska's hands?). Instead the front page is a big 'Why we need a workers' government' with an extremely lengthy and tedious story to back it up. There is a relatively attack on Galloway as 'sad farce' by David Broder, with Respect characterised as standing for the 'politics of celebrity and showbiz'.

The Debate page has two pieces. A Pauline Bradley, convenor of Iraq Union Solidarity (and who refers to her time in the SWP 20 years ago) has the full version of a letter she sent to Morning Star about their coverage of the 'peace' conference on Dec 10th: which she says was one of 'the most boring, stage-managed events' she's been to. She doesn't think much of the politics of the event or of the STWC (although she's glad it exists) and reminds us of the killing of Hadi Saleh. Ms Bradley tells us that the SWP supported Khomeini against the Shah, which I don't quite remember. And she talks about the dangers of 'cutting and running' as in Vietnam, which resulted in carpet bombing Vietnam with Agent Orange. Hmmmmm. So it was a mistake for the anti-war movement in the 60s to calll for the US to get out of Vietnam?

The 'Looking Left' section has Sacha Ismail being acidic on the Molyneux controversy. He thinks there is widespread unease in the SWP about Respect. Martin Thomas writes about the DSP and Australian Socialist Alliance.

Stan Crooke reviews at length a Fabian pamphlet by David Coats, 'Raising Lazarus from the Dead: The Future of Organised Labour'. This seems to have the backing of a range of right-wing trade union leaders. The story is of the fall in membership since the 70s and the very low level of membership among the young (10%). Coats cites changes in the composition of the workforce and their own backward-looking approaches, especially in regards to the Labour government. The 'awkward squad' are the villains and the solution is clearly to accept the triumph of New Labour and develop co-operative relationships with employers.

There's also a long piece by Jean van Heijenoort on the ILP, 'A case study in centrism', from Fourth International in 1942. This is introduced bya claim that the SWP is the modern equivalent of the ILP's centrism, briefly tracing left sectarian and right tacks, in which Marxist principles and politics are secondary to 'building the organisation. The 'Revolutionary Party' is conceived of as a gang, an entity above politics..' A connection is also made between the right-wing Lovestoneites in the US (outright political gangsters') and Cliff's own background is also down as centrist.

Darcy Leigh is critical of Morales in Bolivia, and finally Yasmine Mather of Workers' Left Unity-Iran writes about Iran ('The Islamic Republic against the Iranian working class') makes the point that it's the US policy and war in Iraq that has kept the Shia rulers in power.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Socialist Resistance No 31 January 2006

Socialist Resistance's crowded front-page calls for a 'Break from Bankrupt Labour' and calls for both Respect (still the best hope for the Left despite SR's criticisms of the Respect conference (this is clearly put together before Galloway's sojurn into Big Brother House) and the RMT to show a lead. They want a Respect speaker at the RMT conference on January 21st. They have an editorial page on the Respect conference which delegitimised political discussion and suggested that the SR movers of a resolution around LGBT rights were Islamophobes. The leaderships debating style of misrepresentation is that it could kill the organisation. SR will contniue to build Respect. The Respect conference also gets coverage with a report from Sean Thompson of Camden, which highlighted some positives before going into the negatives. Sean thinks a majority oif delegates were from the SWP and it was clumsily stage-managed, that the leadership was hypersensitive to criticism, etc. Sean's conclusion: "I believe that until we become clearly the most oen and democratic organisation on the left we are likely to continue to lose influence within the labour movement and become increasingly politically marginalised." There are additional reprts from Preston, Essex and Southwark.

Other pieces of note include a couple of pages devoted to the attack on the NHS. An interview with the secretary of Imaam, an organisation of LGBT Muslims has the distressing standfirst of 'We only used to face the challenge of non-LGBT Muslims attacking us: now we have LGBT people attacking us for choosing to be Muslims." Mark Findlay has a page devotedto a history of LBGT rights in the labour movement as background to saying that Respect needs to pay 'real attention' to this issue.

There's a piece about the way Sinn Fein has been rocked by the 'outing' of Denis Donaldson as a British agent. Donaldson had been arrested in 'Stormontgate' in 2002, but then not charged. The 'dissident republican' theory that it shows that the whole process has been a British plot is rejected as Donaldson worked for Adams and it reflects the failure of republicanism and its accmodoation to nationalism.

On Palestine there's an odd little column speculating the possibility of Sharon's stroke and political demise triggering an army coup. Pretty unlikely I'd have thought! Roland Rance has a longer and pre-stroke articel about the run-up to Israeli elections .

There are pretty straightforward accounts of the International Peace Conference and Iran Occupation Focus teach-in, legitimating the IOF event as well the STWC conference. There's a postive but measured acount of Morales in Bolivia. There's a postiive account of the Hands off Venezuela conference. Background is provided by a Stuart Piper writing about a new phase in the Bolivarian revolution.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

New Statesman Jan 9th 2006

John Pilger's cover-article 'The Death of Freedom' starts with a Christmas Eve encounter with Brian Haw before mentioning the cases of Maya Evans and John Catt and going on to the wider picture of the 895 people arrested under the Terrorism Act since Sept 11th 2001 producing 23 convictions.

Pilger goes on to the US and the case of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, imprisoned for 22 years for founding a charity Help the Needy to aid children in Iraq in the sanction years. For Pilger the Bush regime has abandoned habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights.

For Pilger this is based on the Messianic conspiracy that is the Project for a New American Century with a scary list of pre-emptive aggressive possibilities. Pilger quotes a former CIA anlyst Ray McGovern: "We should now be very worried about fascism."

Pilger also quotes Harold Pinter as a step to condeming the BBC lack of coverage of these issues. A 'black farce' to Pilger, especially those who call themself liberal, left-of-centre or 'anti-fascist'.

"Looking in the mirror means understanding that a violent and undemocratic order is being imposed by those whose actions are little different from the actions of fascists. The difference used to be distance. Now they are bringing it home."

There's also a review 'Thinking outside the text' by a Dolan Cummings (of the 'Institute of Ideas') of How to Read Derrida by Penelope Deutscher and How to Read Marx by Peter Osborne (both Granta Books).

I liked the conclusion on Derrida: "To suggest that people should read Derrida, then, is to warn against simplistic or one-sided ideologies, and insist that "things are more complicated than that". On Marx, Peter Osborne makes the point that Marxism has to be connected to practical politics: revolution, movement, but in the absence of that movement and with the remoteness of revolution theory loses it urgency and becomes arbitrary. Is that Osborne or Cummings?

In a documentary made a couple of years before his death, the celebrated philosopher Jacques Derrida was asked whether he had read all the books in his library. He replied that he had read only four, but that he had read them very, very carefully. Derrida, of course, was into close reading. So it is ironic that his fame and notoriety are based on a vague, usually second-hand impression of his work.While Derrida was a celebrity of sorts, he was not a "public intellectual", or at least his "public" was limited to academia, especially graduate students in cultural studies. Derrida

Socialist Worker 1982 Jan 7th 2006

Socialist Worker starts the year with the story about MI6 being present at the interrogation via physical and psychological torture of Pakistanis in Greece and names Nicholas Langman as the agent concerned. This is a story well-covered by left-wing blogs and the author of one of the most prominent (and excellent) Richard Seymour (www.leninology.blogspot.com) contributes a story on this angle and Anindya Bhattacharyya takes up the documents from Craig Murray.

Alex Callinicos's column takes up the growing media challenge to Bush in the US over both the international and domestic aspects of the 'war on terror' and the growing atmosphere of sleaze around Jack Abramoff. Callinicos's conclusion: Bush has been weakened, but question is, who will benefit?

Simon Assaf gives a useful account of the atrocious Egyptian police attacks on and killing of 27 Sudanese refugees.

There's news of a delegation, including Respect members, from Sheffield to eathquake devastated Kashmir. They met the chair of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front which wants to see Kashmir as an independent and secular state.

Fergus Alexander reports from Hong Kong about the protests against the WTO before Christmas, while Charlie Kimber provides an overview of the outcomes, which is really mostly a piece by Martin Khor (www.twnside.org.sg).

The Letters page continues a debate about Respect and the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill started by China Mieville saying he didn't think Respect did support this Bill. Ger Francis writes in to correct him and support the legislation.

Ian Birchall does an excellent brief account of the political develpments and impact of 1956, linking to the London Socialist Historians conference on 1956 in early February.

Kerri Parke and Kevin Ovenden consider the continued existence of racism. They give the standard account of racism as developing alongside the transatlantic slave system, but say it more typically justifies itself on cultural grounds. Anti-Muslim racism, which they take to be equivalent to 'Islamophobia' is both obviously a justification for the 'war on terror' and a racial category. Beneath it all is the need for immigrant labour to do low paid, dirty jobs. Marx is quoted on the division and artificial antagonism between Irish and English workers and this is taken as showing the heart of modern continuing racism: the attempt to divide workers along racial lines. They deny any material advantage from racism for whites, so it is presented as a feeling of competition and mild differences. The government wants migrant workers, but doesn't want them as part of a collective working class movement, so migrant workers are kept under restrictions and that is justified by 'some form of racial ideology'. This is all part of the policy of neo-liberal governments: 'a race to the bottom for all workers in the globalised economy'. The Irish Ferries strike was an inspiring example of a fightback against that divisive racism, but so are political campaigns like the antiwar movement.

And finally the backpage gives an enthusiastic account of the election victory for Evo Morales in Bolivia, and a more distanced analytical piece warning od dangers and the continuing role of the movement from below.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Harry Magdoff

Harry Magdoff has died - aged 92. A long and fascinating obituary is provided by another ex-editor of Monthly Review editor Robert McChesney under the title 'The Optimism of the Heart' .

Here's a capsule biography by Christopher Phelps:
Harry Magdoff, 1913-2006
Harry Magdoff, co-editor of Monthly Review since 1969 and one of the world's leading political economists, died on New Year's Day, 2006 at his home in Vermont. He kept the journal to the socialist principles and theoretical and pedagogical standards of its late founders, Paul M. Sweezy, who died in February 2004, and Leo Huberman.
A capsule biography from MR, May 1999, by Christopher Phelps:
The twentieth anniversary issue of Monthly Review in May 1969 carried the announcement that Harry Magdoff - the independent economist - had officially joined Paul Sweezy as co-editor, replacing Leo Huberman, who had died in 1968.
Born in 1913 in the Bronx, son of a house painter, Magdoff attended the City College of New York where he became a member of the Social Problems Club and editor of Frontiers, the club's monthly periodical. In 1932, he traveled to Chicago to attend the founding conventions of the National Students League and the Youth League Against War and Fascism.
On that trip, he married fellow New York student Beatrice Greizer (familiarly known as Beadie, to whom he has been married ever since). He was editor of the NSL's national publication Student Review in 1932-1933. After being expelled from City College for his activism, he attended New York University, receiving a B.S. in economics in 1936.
He accepted a position in Philadelphia with the Works Progress Administration's national research project, for which he conducted studies of the labor force, unemployment, industrial capacity, and productivity. In 1940, he moved to Washington, D.C., to take charge of the civilian requirements division of the National Defense Advisory Commission.
After U.S. entry into the Second World War in 1941, he served with the War Production Board. Near the end of the war, he was the chief economist in charge of the Current Business Analysis Division at the Department of Commerce, where he oversaw the Survey of Current Business. He spent his final years in government as special assistant to Secretary of Commerce Henry
In 1948, he was summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Unemployed, he returned to New York, where he took various jobs, sometimes anonymously, in financial analysis and insurance before joining the staff of Russell & Russell, a publisher of
scholarly out-of- print books, between 1959 and 1965.
Magdoff returned to the fore as a public Marxist intellectual with "Problems of United States
Capitalism," an essay in The Socialist Register 1965, edited by Ralph Miliband and John Saville (London: Merlin Press). Widely recognized for his economic analysis of imperialism, Magdoff is author of The Age of Imperialism (1969) and Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present (1977), and co-author with Paul Sweezy of The Dynamics of U.S. Capitalism (1970), The End of Prosperity (1977), The Deepening Crisis of U.S. Capitalism (1980), Stagnation and the Financial Explosion (1987), and The Irreversible Crisis (1988), all from Monthly Review Press.