Sunday, September 24, 2006

Frontline Latin America Vol 2, 4

Frontline Latin America Vol 2, No 4 (Sept-Dec 2006) was on sale in Albert Square for the anti-war march. Last time I saw it was on the March anti-war demo and I bought it off the same guy, who I suspect to be its editor. Seems like a worthy effort to me, especially with its short Spanish section at the back. It's the publication of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign. The lead calls for US out of Colombia and Middle East, but is really about the failure of 'Plan Colombia'. Basically it's failed in its stated objectives, as much coca is produced as before, mostly controlled by the right-wing paramilataries of the AUC. If you want in-depth news of Colombia here's the place to go, but there's a wider context as well. Diana Raby in 'The big split' diagnoses a developing division into two camps in Latin American politics with a progressive bloc around Mercosur and a conservative bloc including Mexico, the central American republics, Colombia, Peru (with Chile vacillating between). Both blocs contain divisions: in the left bloc between Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia and the other more mreformist regimes. This geopolitical division is the result of 'intense political and social confrontations ... caused by twenty years of neoliberal policies and the popular response to them.' The author argues to defend the reformist regimes and the Mercosur project.

D.L.Raby is the author of a new Pluto Press book, Democracy and Revolution (which I couldn't find on Amazon), reviewed elsewhere in the paper by Andy Higginbottom, which seems to seek to make Venezuela and Cuba the paradigms of revolution for the 21st century rather than the old Russian example. Higginbottom sums it up as revolutionary-democratic populism, which he doesn't agree with, but does praise as a contribution to the debate.

Finally, out of much else, there's a lengthy analysis of Uribe's landslide re-election in Colombia back in May (63% vote, although turnout was around 40%) Arturo Garcia puts it down to in-depth political corruption and the role of the media. However the democratic left in the shape of the Polo Democratico Alternativo (PDA) headed by academic Carlos Gaviria. He received 2,609,412 votes, the best election result for the left. The author also detects a political crisis in the Colombian right, in the uribista coalition, which is held together by the distribution of loot rather than a political vision.

There's a site for a cheap (£6) annual subscription, but it doesn't seem to lead to online articles or an archive. The Colombia Solidarity Campaign website seemed empty. Shame.

The Socialist

It's no good I just can't read the socialist. I don't think the homage to e.e.cummings helps. I just find it so so boring. I've always found it boring. I always thought Militant was boring. Is it me? Is it the lay-out? Do they put something in the ink? How can anyone read it, I just don't understand it. They could say anything I just wouldn't care. I'm sorry. I'll try to focus.

Okay they are clearly, if austerely, trying to link various issues appropriate for the anti-war demo and posing the task of building the socialist alternative to it all.

International news: a very positive account of the WASG result in Berlin (3.8% constituency votes, 2.9% list votes), praising the role of the CWI section (SAV) and criticising both the WASG nationally and the L.PDS. For Iraq they are demanding an end to occupation and propose a solution in terms of a socialist Iraq in a socialist confederation in the Middle East. For the Lebanon they have a line with criticisms of Hezbollah for being pro-capitalist and not employing working class methods (instead showing .solidarity with the poor'). The answer: the working clas and socialist internationalism. On Iran they weigh up the evidence that a Western attack is planned, criticise the hypocrisy, but also condemn all nuclear weapons and the Iranian regime.

On the Labour Party they see Brown as the same as Blair, they call for support for John McDonnell and urge the neeed for a different kind of party. They want you to go to Socialism 2006 (November 25-26, speakers include Mark Serwotka, Tommy Sheridan, SAV leader from Berlin) to discuss how to change the world and join.

New Statesman Sept 25th Labour Conference

It's the New Statesman's Labour Conference Special Issue. They've got a speech they're sorry a new incumbent leader and PM isn't making, but it doesn't announce awithdrawal from Iraq. Neal Lawson from Compass offers advice on debating progressive policies in a globalised economy. Martin Bright interviews Tessa Jowell, 'I didn't come into politics to sort out gambling', but I didn't come here to read Tessa Jowell. Richard Reeves writes about David Cameron, 'Could he just be Labour's future'. Martin Bright has a story about 'Cash for peerages: the new evidence' (which is going to be a Dispatches documentary on Sept 25th). Kira Cochrane on 'How to turn women off'.

In a section called 'The Search for Ideas' Anthony Giddens writes 'Europe: teaching us a lesson' (he's got a book out on Europe in the Global Age next month, and is co-editor of Global Europe, Social Europe). Giddens wants to move from 'Made in America' to Europe for political and policy ideas. From the US Andrew Stephen writes about 'America: where normal is extreme', starting with Senator Jay Rockefeller saying that the US 'would be safer today if Saddam Hussein were still inpower'. This is considered an ourageous breach of wartime consensus. Amongst the Democrats Hilary is still in the lead as presidential nominee, but slipping; and she is pro-war, just arguing that the Republicans are mismanaging it. Meanwhile the Democrats have a policy vacuum on domestic issues. Stephens cites Paul Waldman's Being right is not enough: what progressives must learn from conservative success, arguing that American politics is about "identity... symbolism and narrative." The questions aren't about policy, but 1) who do you identify with? 2) Who can you trust? 3) Who is strong and who is weak? Image. The range of potential candidates that Stephens runs through isn't inspiring. Stephens also suggests that not doing well in the mid-terms won't be a worry: the Republicans didn't gain from their 1994 congressional landslide and the candidate in 2008 would like unbroken Republican government as the thing to campaign against.

Robert Taylor writes about Sweden, the narrow defeat of the social democrats is here called 'A vote for no change'. The Moderate Party is promising to improve the Swedish model, not replace it with neo-liberalism. Are there lessons for the future of British politics?

And at last the New Statesman gets around to the SSP with a BBC journalist's account 'Splitting in Scotland', but Stephen Low doesn't have much to say here. There is a BBC Radio Scotland story somewhere.

Mark Lynas bemoans Hereford as a clone town. Tell us about Mark. An old theme, which he extends by calling for friendly bombs to fall on Hereford and Exeter.

Tony Barber writes about Italy and Berlusconi: it's all down to deep infrastructural weakenesses that Prodi will never solve.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter

The London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter (No 28 Autumn 2006) is available on the web. It remains an exellent little e-publication. If there's a fault it's that it is too dominated by people associated with the SWP, with the obvious sharing of perspectives that implies; but is that because the SWP has the intellectual capital to contribute to a variety of these things. I certainlym don't think there is a consciopus policy of exclusion, more a process of intellectual agglomeration. And the danger of that is that people with different persepctives stay away.

Anyway the lead feature is the announcement of a historical project by Neil Faulkner and Pete Glatter entitled 'Revisionism and the New Imperialism' and proposing acomprehensive international history of 1914 to 1921 with a clearly revolutionary perspective. The starting point is a BBC documentary on the Battle of the Somme, which they link to a revisionist history of the First World War in which the evil bastards who led the British army are rehabilitated and Niall Ferguson's revisionist history of empire and how that relates to the current 'New Imperialism'.

Toby Abse reviews repubished books on the immgrant anarchist history of pre-1914 London by Bill Fishman and Rudolf Rocker. Of course, having Toby writing here does undermine my 'too much SWP' case and Toby is certainly critical (extremely and hysterically over-critical in my view) of the SWP; but he's the only one, so I'm gpoing to make the 'exception that proves the case' defence.

Geoff Brown reviews Dave Renton's histroy of the ANL, When We Touched the Sky, praising it for much of its material (which I think Brown contributed to as organiser of the ANL in Manchester), but criticising some of its politcal analysis. There is more Brown could have said, so I'm glad Brown advocates writing more in pursuit of the full picture of the ANL's success.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ted Grant Commemoration Appeal

Ted Grant Commemoration Appeal
By In Defence of Marxism

We are appealing to all our readers and supporters to help raise the necessary resources for the
publication of the collected works of Ted Grant, the only Marxist theoreticianwho genuinely developed and built on the ideas of Leon Trotsky after the Second World War.

The death of Ted Grant marked the end of an era, but not the end of the struggle for the ideas he lways defended. He has left behind a great legacy and a wealth of material in the form of articles, speeches and notes spread over the last 70 years. These constitute an "unbroken thread" in the defence of Marxism and deal with a host of theoretical, political and organisational questions thrown up by the workers' movement in Britain and internationally.

Theory is not a secondary question. It is of fundamental importance and constitutes an
accumulation of generalised historical experience over generations. Theory is the distilled essence of experience which serves to guide us in the ebbs and flows of the class struggle. Ted's ability to develop Marxist theory was extremely valuable in this epoch of sharp and sudden changes. His unique contribution needs to be preserved and made available to the new generation.

This does not mean to say that Ted was infallible. He made mistakes, as did all the great Marxist
teachers. But they were fewer than most and the main thing was that he learned from them. It is the method that is important, the dialectical method that permeates all his writings.

Under the influence of Ralph Lee, an expelled member of the Communist Party, Ted joined the Trotskyist movement in the late 1920s after reading the American Militant, which
contained Trotsky's articles on Stalinism, beginning with the Critique of the Draft Programme of the Communist International.

Both Ralph (22 years old) and Ted (only 16) were engaged in pioneering work helping to set up a small Trotskyist group in Johannesburg. Through this means they attempted to establish contact with the black South African workers. They had a certain success under the circumstances but suffered from the general harsh climate of the South African regime. We are not aware if they produced a paper, but they did establish links with the Cape Town Trotskyists and the International, with Lee's articles about South Africa appearing in The New International.

The earliest piece (in our possession) written by Ted Grant is from April 1935 - a letter to Leon
Sedov, the secretary of the International Communist League. At this time, Ted was a member of the Marxist Group inside the ILP but had come into conflict with the opportunist stance of the group's leadership. Through this letter, it was Ted and a few other comrades who alerted Leon Sedov, and through himTrotsky, about the more favourable opportunities for Marxism inside the Labour League of Youth. Within a matter of months, Trotsky had drawn similar conclusions and called for a new orientation towards the Labour Party. "The British section will recruit its first cadres from the thirty thousand young
workers in the Labour League of Youth" wrote Trotsky.

From the Second World War onwards, Ted Grant became the main theoretician of the Trotskyist movement and wrote important works on the evolution and character of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and China. He defended the real methods and traditions of Trotskyism and applied them to the new situation that emerged after the war. As a result, these theoretical
works served to reorientate the movement in Britain, a task the leaders of the International after Trotsky's death were incapable of performing. Ted went on to explain the post-war upswing and the importance of the mass organisations in the evolution of the working class, which laid the theoretical basis for the launching of the Militant Tendency, the most successful Trotskyist movement in British history.

While a number of Ted's writings have been published, many remain unpublished or out of print, and therefore inaccessible to many. A volume of his selected works entitled The Unbroken Thread; was issued in 1989, three years before his bureaucratic expulsion from Militant and the loss of his archives, but this book has been out of print for some years. A valuable website - - serves to publish much of the old documents, but it is not complete and is no substitute for the printed copy. Over the last month we have added several valuable
documents written by Ted during the Second World War on the Ted Grant Internet
(see or for a mirror on the Marxists Internet Archive), which we intend to reprint in a book.

We - those who knew and worked with him - have a responsibility to preserve Ted Grant's priceless legacy: his ideas.

We therefore call upon all comrades and friends to give generously to this appeal. This project will be a fitting memorial to Ted's life and work for the cause of the working class.

How to make donations
You can support this
project by sending cheques, payable to Socialist Appeal; and marked for Memorial Appeal.

Socialist Appeal,
PO Box 50525,
London, E14 6WG
Or online at:

Monday, September 04, 2006

Wallerstein: Tiger at Bay
Commentary No. 192, Sept. 1, 2006

"The Tiger at Bay: Scary Times Ahead"

When many years ago, some of us said that the decline of United States hegemony in the world-system was inevitable, unstoppable, and already occurring, we were told by most people that we ignored the obvious overwhelming military and economic strength of the United States. And
there were some critics who said that our analyses were harmful because they served as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then the neo-cons came to power in the Bush presidency, and they implemented their policy of unilateral macho militarism, designed (they said) to restore unquestioned United States hegemony by frightening U.S. enemies and intimidating U.S. friends into unquestioned obedience to U.S. policies in the world arena. The neo-cons had their chance and their wars and have spectacularly failed either to frighten those regarded as enemies or to intimidate erstwhile allies into unquestioned obedience. The U.S. position in the world-system is far weaker today
than it was in 2000, the result precisely of the very misguided neo-con policies adopted during the Bush presidency. Today, quite a few people are ready to talk openly about U.S. decline.

So what happens now? There are two places to look: inside the United States, and in the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, governments of all stripes are paying less and less attention to anything the United States says and wants. Madeleine Albright, when she was Secretary of State, said that the United States was "the indispensable nation." This may have been true once, but it is certainly not true now. Now, it's a tiger at bay.

It's not yet fully the "paper tiger" of which Mao Zedong spoke, but it's certainly on its way to being exposed as a tiger crouching in self-defense.

How do other nations treat a tiger at bay? With a great deal of prudence, it must be said. If the United States is no longer capable of getting its way almost anywhere, it is still capable of doing a great deal of damage if it decides to lash out. Iran may defy the United States with aplomb, but it tries to be careful not to humiliate it. China may be feeling its oats and sure that it will get still stronger in the decades to come, but it handles the United States with kid gloves. Hugo Chavez may openly tweak the tiger's nose, but older and wiser Fidel Castro speaks less provocatively. And Italy's new Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, holds Condoleezza Rice's hands while pursuing a
foreign policy clearly aimed at strengthening a world role for Europe independent of the United States.

So why are they all so prudent? To answer that, we must look at what is going on in the United States. The de facto chief executive, Dick Cheney, knows what needs to be done from the point of view of the macho militarists, whose leader he is. The United States must "stay the course" and indeed escalate the violence. The alternative is to admit defeat, and Cheney is not someone to do that.

Cheney does however have an acute political problem at home. He and his policies are clearly losing support, massively, within the United States. The scare speeches about terrorists and the accusations of treason launched at his critics no longer seem to be as effective as they once were. The recent victory of war critic Ned Lamont over war defender Joe Lieberman in the Democratic senatorial primary in Connecticut has rattled the U.S. political establishment of both
parties. Within days, a very large number of politicians seemed to move some distance in the direction of closing down the Iraq operation.

If, as seems quite possible now, the Democrats win control of both houses of Congress in the November 2006 elections, there risks being a stampede to withdraw, despite the hesitancy of the Democratic congressional leadership. This will be all the more sure if, in various local elections, prominent antiwar candidates win.

What will the Cheney camp do then? One can't expect that they will gracefully acknowledge the coming of a Democratic president in the 2008 elections. They will know that they have probably only two years left to create situations from which it would be almost impossible for the United States to retreat. And since they would not, with a Democratic congress, be able to get any important legislation passed, they will concentrate (even more than now) on trying to use the executive powers of the presidency, under the docile front man, George W. Bush, to stir up military havoc around the world and to reduce radically the sphere of civil liberties within the United States.

The Cheney cabal will however be resisted, on many fronts. The most important locus of resistance will no doubt be the leadership of the U.S. armed forces (with the exception of the Air Force), who clearly think that the current military adventures have greatly overextended U.S. military capacity and are very worried that they will be the ones held for blame later by U.S. public opinion when Rumsfeld and Cheney have disappeared from the newspaper headlines. The Cheney cabal will be resisted as well by big business who see the current policies as having
very negative consequences for the U.S. economy.

And of course they will be resisted by the left and center-left within the United States who are feeling reinvigorated, angry, and anxious about the course of U.S. policy. There is a slow but clear radicalization of the left and even the center-left.

When that happens, the militarist right will retaliate very aggressively. When Lamont won the primary, a reader of the Wall Street Journal wrote a letter saying that "we have reached a tipping point in this country - if we allow the left to govern as the majority our country is finished." He calls Republican leaders "inept." He, and many others, will be looking for fiercer leaders.

Everyone worries about civil war in Iraq. How about in the United States? Scary times ahead!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Radical Philosophy 139

The latest Radical Philosophy has a striking but ambiguous cover: is the Statue of Liberty transformed with a pig's face as I first thought, or is it a bear? It's a bear from Berlin, of course!

I'm defeated by most of the content. Vladimir Safatle on 'Mirrors without images', all Lacan and Adorno and finding things in common between approaches that the author starts out by denying any 'shared dialogical field'. More entries from the Vocabulary of European Philosophies (see RP138).

Reviews: Wendy Brown's Edgework looks interesting and other books on political philosophy are marginally interesting.

The issue is saved by the Commentary by Chris Wilbert on avian flu: 'Profit, plague and poultry, ' which situates the whole hoo-hah (yes, I could well be laughing outside the other side of my putrefying face when it takes hold in my neighbourhood!) as a renewed bio-politics and risk politics that intersects with the political economic of globalization. Bird flu is being used to facilitate a shift from small-scale peasant production to agro-industrial production by corporate exporters, with examples drawn from Egypt and Thailand. This is worth following up, not just in Mike Davies's Monster at the Door, but in the work of GRAIN and the theorization of Nikolas Rose ('The Politics of Life Itself', Theory, Culture and Society 18,6)