Tuesday, May 29, 2007

World Socialist Web-Site on Scotland

I genrally take the WSWS to provide interesting and detailed analysis combined with completely sectarian politics, continuing the old WRP orientation. Here they are on Solidarity and the Scottish Socialist Party: What will follow from the collapse of the Scottish left? by Julie Hyland (26 May 2007)

The result of the May 3 elections to the Scottish Parliament has been a political catastrophe for radical left groups across Britain.

For almost a decade, these organisations had portrayed the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), with its six MSPs in Holyrood, as a role model for the left. Alongside Rifondazione Comunista (RC—Communist Refoundation) in Italy, it was cited as proof that an alliance of former Stalinists, ex-Labourites and the radical groups themselves—brought together on a programme of limited reforms—could present themselves as viable parliamentary parties. Such organisations would then be in a position to win representation in government, through which they could force the ruling class to abandon the neo-conservative agenda of war and social inequality.

Today, RC leader Fausto Bertinotti is regularly booed and jeered by protesters for his organisation’s role in the big business government of Romano Prodi, which has included voting to support the deployment of Italian soldiers to Afghanistan.

In Scotland, the first major blow to this same opportunist perspective came in last year’s bitter and ignominious split in the SSP. The focus for this was former SSP convenor Tommy Sheridan’s decision to take legal action against the News of the World over its allegations of sexual impropriety on his part.

Following police raids on the SSP’s headquarters to recover documents thought to be pertinent to the NoW’s defence, the court action saw the party divided over the newspaper’s allegations, with each side publicly denouncing the other as liars. Having won the libel action, Sheridan set up his break-away Solidarity organisation, which is backed by the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

The second blow came on May 3, when the combined vote cast for Solidarity and the SSP fell by 100,000, erasing all their parliamentary representation in one go.

More than one month on, neither the SSP nor Solidarity has made any serious political appraisal of this event. For the most part, they attribute the collapse of their vote solely to the negative impact of the split, while continuing their campaign of mud-slinging along with gestures of defiance that barely conceal their abject demoralisation.

The SSP’s Alan McCombes states that the results are “a massacre for the left,” a “serious setback for socialism” and “the day that Scotland’s rainbow parliament was turned a drab prison grey.”

The so-called “red-green presence in Holyrood”—comprising the SSP, the Greens and Solidarity—was slashed from fifteen to just two. And though McCombes does not make this clear, it is now exclusively green!

“There is no single explanation for the debacle of May 3rd,” he continues, “The incineration of the left was the product of a combination of inflammable ingredients.” But he concentrates most of his fire on blaming Sheridan for the debacle, whose Solidarity organization “exposed itself as an embittered personality cult.”

He states that Sheridan had built up a “fairy tale” scenario in which he was the victim of a plot to remove him from the SSP leadership, based on “manufactured allegations” about his personal life and documents “forged” by the SSP leadership who then “conspired to pervert the course of justice and in order to destroy” him. This led many people to “lay the blame equally on both sides” and the SSP suffered accordingly.

Solidarity’s approach is the mirror image of the SSP’s. Many political commentators had expected Sheridan to be the only “left” that would retain his seat. Proclaimed throughout the media as Scotland’s most “charismatic” politician, he received positive press coverage during the election and had even been cast as a potential “king-maker” in the new parliament.

With Sheridan and fellow MSP Rosemary Byrne both subsequently losing their seats, Solidarity has barely updated its web site and has made no political appraisal of its result, other than bombastic rhetoric as to the election having confirmed the group’s place “as Scotland’s leading party of the left” and “the only credible and viable socialist party in Scotland.”
To the extent that its losses are referred to at all, Solidarity also attributes it to “the circumstance in which we were formed, on the back of an acrimonious split from the SSP.” This meant it was “forced to fight this election on two fronts—against New Labour and their neoliberal agenda both at home and abroad, and against former socialists who have and continue to actively collude and collaborate with the establishment against” Sheridan.

Solidarity’s reluctance to comment further can at least be partially accounted for by the fact that Sheridan’s libel victory is being contested by the News of the World, and police are investigating the allegations of perjury. Recent reports claim that the police inquiry has now widened into allegations of witness tampering.

It is a measure of the animosity between the two organizations that the SSP views the police investigation as the source of its own salvation.

McCombes reassured his readers that not all is lost because the “stark facts” are that “Like Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, two top Tory politicians who served lengthy jail sentences for their actions, Tommy Sheridan took out a libel action based on a fraud: at least some of the material published in the trashy tabloid News of the World was substantially true.”

With the “removal of Tommy Sheridan from Holyrood, the Solidarity bubble will burst,” he continued, “allowing Scottish socialism to be rebuilt under the clean banner of the SSP.”
Such venom is in inverse proportion to the actual political differences between the SSP and Solidarity. Aside from being either for or against Tommy Sheridan, both organisations stood on exactly the same platform of minor social reforms within an independent Scotland.

There is no question that the unprincipled character of their split played a role in the electoral collapse of the SSP and Solidarity. But this was a result of the SSP’s miseducation of workers and youth over the preceding decade, in which it systematically blurred the differences between a genuinely socialist policy and Scottish nationalism.

McCombes is reluctantly forced to acknowledge the impact of the SSP’s glorification of nationalism on its performance. Aside from the role of Sheridan, the SSP’s loss of seats was an expression of the fact that “all of the smaller parties and independents were mangled in a classic political squeeze, in which two parties were running neck and neck. In this election, the drama was heightened by the fact that one of the two parties stands for dissolution of the United Kingdom, thus polarizing Scotland into two camps: pro and anti-union.”

This meant that “many left wing voters—including it appears most of those who voted SSP in 2003—swung behind the SNP in this election,” he continues.

This is a damning admission and one which points to the fundamental character of the crisis now facing the SSP and Solidarity.

The SSP was explicitly founded on the basis of advancing a Scottish road to socialism that would proceed directly through the devolved parliament at Holyrood. Casting Scottish nationalism as a progressive expression of nascent class hostility to capitalism, the SSP portrayed the SNP as a leftist party that it could work with to build popular momentum for independence from England and Wales and so pave the way for socialism.

In reality, the SNP’s protests over the Iraq war and support for minimal social reforms was window-dressing for its agenda of establishing an independent Scotland as a cheap-labour platform within Europe and a low-tax haven for international capital. The SSP’s political endorsement was therefore crucial in enabling this right-wing party to cultivate a base amongst sections of workers and youth, under conditions in which hostility to Labour across the UK had reached record proportions.

The SSP’s 300,000 votes in 2003 were a manifestation of this same hostility to Labour. But in the intervening period, the party and its offshoot Solidarity made abundantly clear that their role was essentially to act as a ginger group for the SNP and that it would be the main player in securing the primary goal of an independent Scotland.

Solidarity and the SSP both indicated their readiness to back the SNP in the new parliament. Both placed Scottish independence at the centre of their manifestos, competing with the SNP as to which of them would move most quickly to introduce a motion to this effect in Holyrood.
Both parties only stood on the regional lists, urging a vote for the “pro-independence” parties in the constituency elections. Solidarity’s press officer, Hugh Kerr, did his best to remove any trace of ambiguity by stating publicly that he would vote SNP. But in any event, the message was received loud and clear by those who previously voted for the SSP. The results suggest that much of the vote won by the party in the constituencies in 2003 went over entirely to the SNP because this was seen as the best means of achieving the “main goal” of Scottish independence. And many of its supporters drew the same conclusion about how to vote in the regional lists. Consequently, the majority of seats gained by the SNP came at the expense of the left parties and the Greens, rather than Labour. (The Scottish Greens had also placed independence at the centre of their own campaign, and saw their tally of MSPs fall from five to two.)

The catastrophic result of this policy will only encourage Solidarity and the SSP to shift even further to the right.

Both organizations categorically reject the possibility of developing the political independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie and its apologists that is central to the socialist transformation of society.

For Solidarity, “Meaningful change in society for working class and oppressed people only ever comes as a result of mass movements and local campaigns in which the working class come together and act to resist and put pressure on those in power. In so doing they gain, for however long, a sense of their own strength, which when harnessed is an unstoppable force”.

To the extent that working people are to be politically mobilized at all, it is solely to place pressure on what Solidarity considers to be the real actors in society—“those in power.” The one force that is automatically excluded from power is the working class.

Commenting on the SNP result, Solidarity pledges, “Now we will see if their bellicose rhetoric [of being an ‘anti-establishment alternative to New Labour’] is translated into action. If it is then we will support them on these issues. If not, then they will be exposed.”

Given that the break-up of the UK is the raison d’être of both Solidarity and the SSP, all this means is that both organizations will seek to position themselves as even more nationalist than the SNP, sniping at its heels in order to pressurize it to act more decisively in furtherance of its reactionary aim of separation.

For his part, McCombes states with obvious regret that “the emergence of the SNP as the biggest party in Scotland by the narrowest possible margin will not lead to instant independence.” But it is nevertheless a welcome development that he insists “is likely to open up a new, turbulent phase in Scottish politics, a time of strife, which could accelerate the ultimate break-up of the United Kingdom and pave the way for a resurgence of socialism.”
The view that the SSP/Solidarity were just ginger groups for the SNP stirkes me as ludicrous, as is the general WSWS methodology of blaming the rather weak forces of the left for wider political shifts. It didn't comvince in their analysis of France and it's even less appropriate in this case. And the Socialist Equality Party got how many votes in these elections?


MRzine on Harman's People's History

MRZine carries a rather odd review of Chris Harman's People's History of the World. Odd that the book is quite old now - and available on the web, but also odd in describing Harman as the 'leader' of the dear departed Socialist Alliance. The web-link the author provided is to the tiny rump SA Mark 3 site, which makes it odder still. The criticisms, starting with the too quick to blame Stalinism make it difficult to work out where the author is coming from. How strange the world must be from San Francisco.

The Big Picture by Dean Ferguson

Universal or synoptic histories are not favored by professional scholars. As specialists, they prefer the detailed monograph to sweeping world histories. They look askance at those naive enough to believe that global history can be encompassed in one volume. They know better, they say.

It is our good fortune that Chris Harman doesn't share their caution. Harman, a London journalist and leader of England's Socialist Alliance, has written a lucid, compelling narrative of world events. His People's History of the World is explicitly Marxist. It is also extremely impressive. Its 728 pages are worthy of standing on the same shelf with such classics as Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution and C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins.

Within the brief compass of this review, it is impossible to do more than suggest the scope of Harman's achievement. This is a massive work, its careful scholarship leavened by the author's passionate commitment. Though a thorough and conscientious historian, Harman disdains any pretense of "objectivity." He favors the oppressed, and makes no secret of his partisanship. From the outset, quoting Brecht's tribute to labor -- "Who Built Thebes of the Seven Gates?"-- he declares his solidarity with the builders.

Harman attacks the received wisdom of the conventional historians. His first chapter explodes the diligently cultivated myth that mankind is selfish and mercenary by nature. His description of "primitive communism" -- the economy of Old Stone Age hunters and gatherers, which prevailed for tens of thousands of years -- puts the lie to the theory that men and women are naturally driven by greed or "enlightened self-interest." In a world where scarcity compelled foragers to move constantly in search of food, property in land was an alien concept. (So was personal property, as the "savage" custom of potlatch shows.) Harman's account of the poor but collectivist society that dominated the "long childhood" of the Old Stone Age makes the ideal of a collectivist future seem less bizarre than problematical.

The succeeding chapters of his People's History are marked by similar insights. A recurring theme is the courage shown by ordinary men and women in resistance to oppression -- from the revolt of Spartacus and his slave army to the Zapatista rising in Chiapas. Harman pays tribute to the rebels of the Paris Commune and the Petrograd Soviet. But his homage to these fighters leaves a troubling question unanswered. If the natural allegiance of the workers -- the "ordinary" men and women whom Harman admires – is to the socialist Left, why has that Left so often failed, sometimes miserably, to win their loyalty?

As a Trotskyist, Harman is too quick to blame the Left's failures on the legacy of Stalinism, with its train of purges and massacres. He is loth to challenge the accuracy of Marxist theory, despite Marx's own insistence on "ruthless criticism of all that exists." For Harman, Marxism is still the theory of "scientific socialism" -- still a science whose hypotheses have been proven by history. Armed with such confidence, he sometimes neglects the role of chance in human events -- what the English historian H.A.L. Fisher called "the play of the contingent and the unforeseen."
Harman's work should not be underestimated, however. To write a global history is an immense undertaking, and it is one in which he has acquitted himself brilliantly. Marxism may lack the exactitude of a true science, but Harman has marshaled its findings to skillfully illumine the past. In doing so, he has helped to restore the history of those whom Brecht addressed in his poem. "Who built Thebes of the seven gates?" Brecht asked. Thanks to Harman, we begin to know who the builders were, and what we owe to them.

Dean Ferguson is an editor of Transformation, a newly launched literary journal. He lives and works in San Francisco.
URL: mrzine.monthlyreview.org/ferguson240507.html


Monday, May 21, 2007

MRZine has an autopsy on the French Election's Deeper Meaning by Rick Wolff.

France's presidential election results are deeply contradictory. The victory for the "patronat" -- the nation's dominant big business community -- may prove extremely dangerous in terms of an enemy reawakened by that victory. The losses for the French left -- which still retains the support of half the nation's electorate -- may provoke its return to the debate between reform and revolution under conditions strongly favoring the latter as its new policy.

Despite the issues of immigration, crime, and foreign policy that also figured in the election, the French election was remarkable -- as has happened often since the French revolution of 1789 -- in clearly demarcating the basic economic issues. Once again, the key political divisions concerned capitalism and government policy toward capitalist enterprises. In May 2007, the welfare state tradition in France -- dating back at least to the popular front policies of Leon Blum in the 1930s -- confronted perhaps its strongest political counterattack. Given the Left's inability to promote its message with anything like the resources provided to the Right by its business financiers, the resulting impact on French voters was hardly surprising.

Nicholas Sarkozy, the victor, mocked the accumulated socialist reforms imposed on capitalists in France -- its showcase European welfare state -- as hopelessly misguided. Those reforms, he insisted, had caused the nation's economic problems. Perpetuating those reforms would mean continued failure to liberate capitalist growth and technical dynamism. Only that liberation -- often packaged as "modernizing" -- could revive French economic progress; it would ensure, Sarkozy promised, sustainable prosperity.

Vote shifts by French workers who had formerly supported the Left made the difference. They were, to say the least, dissatisfied with the economic conditions in France's welfare state. So they listened to the French Right's heavily promoted argument that those conditions resulted from socialist reforms.

Relentlessly, France's 35-hour work week and generous state welfare programs (5-week paid vacations, national medical care, secure pensions, subsidized childcare) were characterized as wasteful impediments to the economic revival that would flow from "freeing" capitalist entrepreneurship. Removal of counterproductive reforms comprised the "modernization" that a global economy and the European Union required if France was to resume its prosperity, national power, and international prestige . The patronat successfully turned many French voters against the welfare state as no longer protecting them. Those voters no longer supported the left parties who continued to endorse the welfare state.

The socialists split in their reaction to the Right's attacks on the welfare state. Division weakened them politically. Some socialists accepted the Right's arguments. They too would "modernize" France but more gradually and with more care to protect French workers along the way. This position effectively endorsed the Right's view of the welfare state. The other wing of the socialists stuck obstinately to the old reform programs and slogans and simply ignored widespread disaffection among constituents. Many socialists -- including the losing Presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal -- combined (or vacillated between) both wings. Such socialist ambivalence added to voter disaffection.

Do the French election results, then, represent a clear victory for the Right over the Left? Yes and no. Polling results and also my interviews with a cross-section of the French electorate suggest that Sarkozy's triumph may induce major changes on the Left inside and perhaps outside France as well. Undermining the welfare state may prove to be a short-term gain for capitalism achieved at the cost of a new Left that challenges capitalism far more profoundly than the welfare state and its leftist supporters ever did.

Sarkozy's defeat of the socialists returns the French Left to the old issue of reform versus revolution. Basically, since the Great Depression and through May 1968, the French Left has opted for reform rather than revolution in response to capitalism's crises. It reasoned that revolution would invite an overwhelming and effective crushing of the Left by the forces of "order." It doubted that workers would support a revolutionary program. So the goals were kept within the framework of reforms. Reforms would constrain capitalists in the surpluses they could appropriate from their workers and in what they could do with their surpluses to enhance their profits and competitive positions. Reforms would return to the workers -- in the form of government programs financed by corporate taxes -- a portion of the surpluses they had produced for their employers.

But the capitalists would be left in the position of appropriators and distributors of the surpluses produced by their productive workers. Occasionally, the private capitalists -- those elected by and responsible above all to the shareholders -- gave way to government officials appointed to replace them (as in Mitterrand's socialist policies). But those state officials ran the corporations much as the private capitalists had (hence their designation as "state capitalists") and exactly reproduced the private capitalists' appropriation of their workers' produced surpluses. In any case, no revolutionary change occurred; the workers did NOT eject these boards of directors (private or state) to become instead collectively their own boards of directors. The workers remained only workers; the boards of directors remained "others."

The reforms of capitalism won by successive Lefts were accompanied by promises that those reforms would be secure. Reforms were the payoff gained by foregoing the revolution. Now it is clear that welfare state reforms neither were nor are secure. So long as the capitalists retain their positions as corporate boards of directors, they will have both the incentives and the means to undo reforms won by the socialists and social democrats in Europe, by the New Deal and later Democrats in the US, and by the comparable political formations across the world.
The Left proponents of a revolutionary policy against capitalism may now be able to defeat the reformists on the Left by arguing precisely that reforms won cannot be secure so long as capitalists endure. If so, it will have been capitalism's successful rollback of the welfare state that swings the balance within the Left from reform to revolution. The demise of the reformist Left within the socialist, communist, Trotskyist, and other left parties and the emergence of a deeply and widely grounded revolutionary left alternative will then confront capitalism with perhaps the greatest challenge in its history.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Murray Smith on Scottish Elections

The always interesting Murray Smith as a piece in the Fourth International Online magazine International Viewpoint (IV389 - May 2007) on 'The Scottish elections and the SSP'.

"From the point of view of the radical Left in Western Europe, and beyond, the most striking thing about the 2007 Scottish parliamentary elections was the wiping out of the parliamentary representation of the anti-capitalist, socialist Left, and in particular the Scottish Socialist Party. This is a very serious defeat, not only for the left in Scotland, but for all those internationally who have seen the SSP as an example and as one of the pioneering organisations of the European Anti-capitalist Left. We will come back to that, but first of all it is necessary to look at the broader context of these elections, which also explain in part the defeat of the left."

Smith points out that the Labour Party vote actually held, the SNP vote grew with the collapse of Green and Socialist votes. His predictions: the SSP will survive, Solidarity will collapse.


Left party success in Bremen

As reported on Socialist Unity Blog and in Lenin's Tomb the German Linkspartie has gained state level representation in Bremen. Here's an account from MRZine.

Losses for Government Parties, Big Win for Left by Victor Grossman

In the only provincial election of the year in Germany, voters in the city-state of Bremen in northwestern Germany punished the ruling coalition parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, for their policies and, for the first time, sent deputies from the newly forming party, The Left, into a legislature in West Germany.

The Social Democrats remained the strongest party, as they have been in Bremen since the Federal Republic was formed, but they lost over 5 percentage points. The Christian Democrats, the party of Angela Merkel on the national level, also lost nearly 5 points. The Greens, part of the opposition on both the national and local level, made big gains in what was clearly a protest vote, and have a chance to replace the Christian Democrats as junior partners in the new provincial government of Bremen, if the Social Democrats wish to alter their course.

But the really big news was the victory of The Left. The Party of Democratic Socialism is relatively strong in the East German provinces, where it usually averages 15 to 25 percent of the vote, and it is part of a ruling coalition with the Social Democrats in Berlin. The WASG, the Electoral Alternative for Security and Social Justice, is relatively new, much smaller in number, and concentrated in western Germany. Now the two are in a process of amalgamation, which will be completed on June 16th when they merge completely to become The Left. Thus far neither of the two components has ever been represented in any West German province -- where a five percent result is required to get into parliament. Now, in Bremen, the new party, with candidates from both the PDS and the WASG, which had hoped to get about 7 percent, has surprised everyone, including itself, with nearly 9 percent, thus giving it 7 or 8 seats in the new legislature.

While the mayor, the head of Bremen's Social Democrats (SPD), proclaimed from the start that he would never even consider including The Left in a coalition government (in keeping with red-baiting traditions in West Germany), the head of The Left, its Number One candidate Peter Erlanson, proudly stated that the Left did not even want to be in a new government, but would conduct a very lively opposition in fighting against privatization of health facilities, promoting jobs in a city plagued by the worst unemployment figures in western Germany, and in better social services for everyone.

Erlanson, a union leader in a local hospital, who has been nicknamed "the Karl Marx of Bremen" because of his big beard and long hair, jubilantly announced the fighting position his party would be taking in the years ahead. He promised "disquiet and transparency" as the two main goals. His rejection of any idea of joining a government coalition, even if it were to become possible, was welcomed especially by those members of the emerging new party who are highly critical of the role played by the PDS in the Berlin city government, where a long series of compromises resulted last year in a disastrous defeat in local elections.

The neo-Nazi group DVU (German People's Party) got 2.9 percent, less than the required amount, but since the neighbor city of Bremerhaven is included in the results, and the neo-Nazis have long been stronger there, they will probably have one seat in the joint parliament, and a local extreme rightwing party will probably also get one seat. This will make Bremen the fourth German province where the neo-Nazis have parliamentary seats; the other three are in East Germany.

The next provincial elections will be held in 2008 in four more West German provinces, and the Left is hoping it can repeat its Bremen success by getting the needed five percent in at least some of them. The next national elections are scheduled for 2009.
There's also a detailed account on The World Socialist Web Site, which adds that Erlanson was not the preferred candidate of the national leaderships and in a useful analysis of growing social polarisation in the state argues that the Left Party did well due to middle-class support.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Socialist Worker May 11th 2007

The American SW continus to focus on immgrant struggles with a lead on The new sanctuary movement by Lee Sustar: 'A NEW faith-based movement to “awaken the moral imagination of the country” hopes to provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants whose deportation would break up families.'

Mike Marqusee comments on the departure of Tony Blair.

There is an interesting piece on The left turn in U.S. politics by Sharon Smith, explaining 'that a leftward shift in consciousness is having an impact on mainstream politics.' This starts with Hillary Clinton leading 'a congressional charge to repeal the authority of Congress bestowed in 2002 upon George W. Bush to wage war on Iraq', contrasting this to her role as a key member of the “National Security Democrats”: embracing 'the Bush Doctrine’s strategy of pre-emptive warfare and the conservative legacy of Republican Ronald Reagan'.

But now better established opponents of the war are gaining on Clinton in the popularity stakes: 'An NBC News/Wall Street Journal opinion poll released on April 25 showed both Obama and Edwards closing in on Clinton’s lead. While she remained 12 points ahead of Obama in March, her lead shrank to just 5 percent in April, with only a 36-31 percent margin. Support for Edwards, just 15 percent in March, rose to 20 percent in April."

The Article continues:
'MOST PRESIDENTIAL candidates may not yet recognize the emerging--and seismic--shift in U.S. mainstream politics, precipitated from below. But opinion polls clearly show that mass consciousness is far left of center, as economist Paul Krugman noted on March 26 in the New York Times:
According to the American National Election Studies, in 1994, the year the Republicans began their 12-year control of Congress, those who favored smaller government had the edge, by 36 to 27. By 2004, however, those in favor of bigger government had a 43-to-20 lead.
And public opinion seems to have taken a particularly strong turn in favor of universal health care. Gallup reports that 69 percent of the public believes that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” up from 59 percent in 2000.
The main force driving this shift to the left is probably rising income inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement that “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.”

In a CBS News Poll conducted on April 9-12, fully 66 percent of respondents said they “disapprove” of the way Bush is handling the situation with Iraq.

The current “race to the left” among both Democrats and Republicans can only be understood in its historic significance. The political pendulum is swinging left at a rate not seen since the 1960s, when Sen. Robert Kennedy, who built had his political career as a rabid anti-communist during the 1950s McCarthy era, resurfaced as an antiwar presidential candidate in the late 1960s.
The Republicans and Democrats have historically coexisted as the twin parties of capital. Big business prefers the Republicans’ “Plan A” to aggressively assert its self-interest. But it can always rely on the Democrats’ “Plan B” to salvage its interests when popular dissent threatens to revolt.

The Democrats’ historic mission is to absorb social anger into its electoral folds. Today, the Democratic Party is fulfilling this mission--but this also opens up the possibility for further reform. Yesterday’s “do-nothing” Democrats have evolved into a team of reformers, dragged kicking and screaming by an angry electorate, but responsive to further pressure from below.
The Democrats’ current shift leftward should therefore be viewed cynically. But there is also a discernable difference between “Plan A” and “Plan B,” which merits acknowledgement.

Those who seek social change should not rely on politicians of either party, but at the same time, should recognize that mainstream politics is shifting leftward due to pressure from below. That pressure must continue for real reforms to be achieved.

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Wallerstein on France

Commentary No. 209, May 15, 2009
"France: The End of Gaullism?"

Nicolas Sarkozy, just elected President of France, asserted in his initial post-election statement that France has chosen change. To claim that one stands for change is not unusual among those who come to power. Did Sarkozy mean it, and if so, what did he mean by it? His election is being interpreted in the United States as that of the most friendly French president in the history of the Fifth Republic. No doubt he is, but does this mean that French foreign policy will change?

We should start by analyzing what accounts for his election. In Western electoral systems, there usually are two principal parties, one more to the left and one more to the right. This is true of France as well, where the mainstream right is represented by the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), Sarkozy's party, and the mainstream left by the Socialist party, whose candidate was Ségolène Royal. Normally, in most elections, the base of each party votes for its candidates. In France, with a two-round system, this is surely the case. To win an election, there are three places to locate changeable votes in the second round - the further left, the further right, and the center. The center refers to those voters who are ready to switch between the two parties, and often do. The further left and further right normally choose between the mainstream party and abstention.

When François Mitterand won as the Socialist candidate in 1981 and again in 1988, he clearly drew his extra votes from the center. When Jacques Chirac won as the right-wing candidate in 1995, he ran on a "social" platform and thereby also drew his extra votes from the center. This is not what happened this time. The further left voted for Royal. The center seems to have split the way they usually do - two-thirds for the right and one-third for the left. Where Sarkozy got his extra votes was from the further right. Despite the explicit request of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the major candidate of the further right, that his voters massively abstain in the second round, they didn't listen to him. They voted for Sarkozy.

The question is why they voted for Sarkozy. Most of these voters are unconcerned with France's relations with the United States. And they are largely unconcerned with the kind of conservative economic measures Sarkozy has promised. They voted for him primarily because he represents in their eyes the kind of anti-Muslim position important to them. He did this in three specific ways. He promised to be tough on crime in the banlieues (the French ghettos). He promised to tighten controls on immigration. And he promised to stand strong against Turkish membership in the European Union. He will almost surely fulfill all three promises, and hence the further right voters will get what they wanted.

What, however, does this imply about the rest of his program? Not necessarily very much. The UMP is a party whose historic roots are primarily in Gaullism. What is, or was, Gaullism? Charles De Gaulle, in his first period of power, right after the Second World War, stood for three things: an assertion of France's right to a major, independent role in world politics; dirigisme, a kind of Keynesian economic policy with a major role for the French state; and internal anti-Communism.

When he returned to power in 1958, he still stood for the same three things. When he spoke about French nuclear weapons, he said they were designed to defend France tous azimuts, meaning in all directions. He withdrew France from the NATO command structure. He nonetheless always insisted that France was on the same global side as the United States, that is, anti-Communist. He remained committed to a French welfare state. France has had four other presidents since De Gaulle. None of them has really deviated fundamentally from this Gaullist trinity of positions - French independent power, pro-welfare state, anti-Communism - even though only two of the four claimed to be Gaullists.

Will Sarkozy's call for change really be a repudiation of this trinity of positions? I doubt it. On the United States, he has said that France was "arrogant" in the way it handled the U.S. demand for intervention in Iraq, but that he agreed with the basic position. This is rather akin to Angela Merkel's line - speak more politely to the United States, but nonetheless pursue a somewhat independent policy. Merkel has shown this most recently by using suave language with Washington but simultaneously expressing her strong opposition to the U.S. intention to locate nuclear interceptor devices in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary in the middle of the nineteenth century, famously said: "Britain has no permanent allies; she has permanent interests." What are France's interests? In fact, France needs little from the United States. It is rather the United States that needs French support. France's primary interests are in the shape of Europe, and its relations with its former colonies in Africa. In Europe, France's interests are best pursued by a continuing close relationship with Germany. Merkel may well serve as a model for him, far more than Mrs. Thatcher. As for the former African colonies, they have openly shown their discomfort with Sarkozy's election, precisely because of his stands on the issues of concern to France's further right. Sarkozy's prime foreign policy priorities will be to work out his relations with Germany and to repair his image in the former French colonies.

Abandoning the Gaullist heritage will not help him do either. To be sure, he can be expected to put through some economic measures, such as eliminating the 35-hour work week, and enacting various tax reforms. But this is far from destroying the welfare state. He has also used as a theme in his election the repudiation of the heritage of 1968, which seems to be a 2007 way of being anti-Communist. What this means in practical terms is hard to see as yet.

In terms of internal politics, Sarkozy is moving to dismantle as much as possible of the organized group in the French center that wishes to take distance from the mainstream right by creating a "true" center party. He will probably succeed in this. And the disarray in the Socialist party will no doubt help him confirm his electoral base for future elections. All this, however, is far from a fundamental break with the political consensus on which France has operated since 1945.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Robert McChesney The Monthly Review Story: 1949-1984

MRZine has published an old piece by Robert McChensey on the history of Monthly Review from 1949-1984. MR is very proud of its achievements, even of its very survival; and although I know a lot of people who think it's a weird semi-Stalinist publication I'm glad it's still going. Maybe just a bit too much celebration of the grand figures of its past - Sweezy, Baran, Magdoff, but why the heck not! Check it out here. MRZine is worth checking out as well.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Daniel Bensaid on French Elections

This is Daniel Bensaid writing after the first round of the Presidential elections in International Viewpoint from April: Assessment of the outcome of the French presidential election.

Bensaid makes the point that the second round isn't a classic left versus right battle: Sarkozy did well with a 'Le Penized' political disocurse, While Segolene Royal ran a 'catch-all campaign' and represents a Blairized left. Bayrou's 18% makes him an arbiter, so the overall perspective is that this is the end of the cycle of the Union of the Left and the Plural Left (1972-2002): Royal is now after a French-style Prodism.

Bensaid also discusses the reasons why Besancenot did so much better than the rest of the radical left, even though he lost a third of his electors from 2002, many of whom regretted it when they saw how well Le Pen did. The trauma of 2002 played the major role in the loss of votes for the radical left generally, people were scared of the possibility of a Sarkozy-Le Pen second round.

The second reason is about the political change since the No vote in the May referendum of 2005. It was an illusion, especially held by people around bove, that the presidential election would just be a continuation of this campaign. The leading Socialist No-ists had quickly assimilated to Royal and the Yes majority of the party. Europe just didn't figure in the election campaign.

Bensaid adds the multiplication of left candidates as a reason for the overall poor performance, but takes issue with Bove as to whether this is the main reason and doesn't think a unitary candidate woulod have done better than the cumulative 8.5%.

The dynamism of Besancenot's campaign explains why he did better. His vote was strikingly homogenous. He did well with young and new voters.

And next: an anti-capital ist alliance of the left of the left.

There's also an older interview with Frank Gaudichard: "We are faced with the challenge of a process of social reconstruction" - the battle in France now and the long term fight for socialism"
This somewhat more oblique (maybe a matter of translation, but he's quite a complex thinker), but includes points about the strategic relevance of the nation-state, but in a 'sliding scale of spaces', in which it remains a 'node of relationship of force'. There's a defence of 'Communism' as the 'real movement which abolishes the existing order' and a brief concordance between Marx's analysis of different forms of communism with various tendencies today. A defence of the relevance of Marx and a defence of the party, despite all its dangers. A defence of the LCR's strategic orientation around the Presidential campaigns. And the view that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a major defeat, not because of any regret of the Soviet bureaucratic regime, but because of the 'brutal reintroduction into the world market of a third of the labour force of the planet.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

(US) Socialist Worker #630 May 4th 2007

The ISO's Socialist Worker (May 4, 2007) doesn't seem to cover the May Day protests focussed on migrant rights - well, it was only yesterday. They keep on the topic though with reports on brutal state crackdowns on migrants.

Lee Sustar reports on 'the new face of immigration law enforcement: military-style mass arrests' in the Little Village area of Chicago; . But if the ICE crackdown was intended to intimidate immigrant rights activists, it’s having the opposite effect. Sharon Smith takes up the wider issues.


WSWS on May Day

The World Socialist Web Site has coverage of the May Day protests in the United States.

Hundreds of thousands march across US for immigrant rights
By a WSWS reporting team

2 May 2007
Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers and their supporters took part in marches and protests in Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and other major cities across the United States on May 1 to protest the growing number of raids and deportations and to press for basic democratic rights. The actions included demonstrations, consumer boycotts and school walkouts.

This year’s protests were smaller than a similar immigrant “boycott” that took place last May Day in which millions of workers participated. This was due in part to stepped-up harassment and intimidation of immigrant workers by federal authorities. Also, in 2006, masses of people were spurred to action by a piece of legislation in Congress that would have turned undocumented immigrants—as well as anyone who rendered them assistance—into criminals.
In the past year, the US government deported 221,664 undocumented workers, 37,000 more than the previous year, an increase of 20 percent.

In a crackdown called Operation Return to Sender, US immigration officials have arrested more than 23,000 people nationwide. While supposedly targeting felons, most of those caught up in the sweeps have no criminal records. Immigration officers have not only targeted workplaces, but they have raided private homes without warrants and even rounded up people off the streets. In Chicago, immigration police with assault rifles reportedly closed off a mall parking lot in a Latino neighborhood and began asking everyone for papers, hauling off those without proper documents.

In many cases, the deportations have resulted in the splitting of families, with US-born children separated from their parents. The raids have been so provocative that local officials in a number of cities have issued protests.

The escalating repression is aimed at terrorizing immigrants, who are being scapegoated for the falling living standards and job insecurity facing millions of working people. At the same time, while seeking to channel anger over the failures of the profit system into anti-immigrant sentiments, the dominant sections of big business want to ensure continued access to the cheap supply of labor provided by undocumented workers.

A conflict between those right-wing Republicans in Congress who favor the mass roundup and deportation of undocumented immigrants and the Bush administration, which favors a slightly less draconian approach, has prevented the enactment of new legislation for the past year.
The legislation supported by Bush is harshly punitive. It calls for increasing the number of immigration police and requiring undocumented workers seeking permanent residency to endure long waiting periods and pay hefty fines. The guest workers program contained in the bill endorsed by Bush recalls the infamous Bracero program. It is designed to put workers completely at the mercy of corporate employers while stripping them of the few rights they currently enjoy.

As part of its crackdown on immigration, the government is contracting for the building of privately run detention centers along the US-Mexican border.

The liberal and church groups sponsoring the May 1 protests have sought to orient their protests to pressuring the Democratic Party, depicting the dispute in Congress over immigration as that between reform and anti-reform factions. In fact, the Democrats and Republicans are united in their hostility to granting basic democratic rights to immigrant workers.

Typical is the position of Senator Hillary Clinton. When asked her opinion on granting amnesty to undocumented workers at the recent debate between contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, she replied, “Well, I’m in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, which includes tightening our border security, sanctioning employers of undocumented immigrants, helping our communities deal with the costs that come from illegal immigration.... After 9/11 we’ve got to know who’s in this country. And then give them a chance to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English and stand in line to be eligible for a legal status in this country.”
Among the tens of thousands who joined the march through downtown Los Angeles were many young people, including students from Roosevelt High and Wilson High Schools in East Los Angeles as well a large number of workers.

Quiroz, an immigrant construction worker who has won legal status in the US, told the World Socialist Web Site, “When I compare my own experience with recent immigrants, it is like night and day. Immigrants today live in fear; they can be taken at any time. When they try to find work, they have to produce documents. Everyone hopes for an amnesty. There is a rumor that if there is a guest worker program like Bush wants, there will be a $10,000 fee for immigrants to become legal. That will be beyond the reach of most immigrants. “It does not make sense for workers to be divided on this issue. Immigrant and US workers work in the same jobs, shoulder to shoulder.”

Jessica, a 20-year-old garment worker, told the WSWS, “I am angry because I think that the government must stop threatening people and carrying out raids in factories or against immigrants, like the one in that Chicago shopping center a few days ago. People live in fear, and are often afraid to leave their homes to go shopping and to go to school.”

Leyla and Claudio, who came to the United States 20 years ago, fleeing the civil war in El Salvador, also marched. “We saw terrible things and fled our country with little more than our lives,” said Claudio. “I reject the demand for guest workers; there must be a generalized legalization.”

Leyla added, “Conditions for immigrants are scandalous. Like us, many immigrants are part of the so-called informal economy because getting a job is difficult. We peddle things in the street. Undocumented immigrants suffer a lot of unemployment.”

Francisco, a young construction worker who has been in the US for 11 years, told the WSWS “, There has been an increase in raids, in Ontario, in Orange County and in the fields. That has to stop. People are afraid that they will be separated from their families. My deepest hope is that all immigrants will be legalized. However, I don’t think that this will happen; we have a long struggle ahead.

“I came from Guatemala. There are few jobs, and many people are forced to come to the United States. It is an arduous trip that can take weeks, months sometimes. More and more, the Mexican police tries to interfere with the immigrants from Central America.”

Concepción, 55, is a garment worker and a Mexican Indian from Veracruz Province. She told the WSWS that her cousin is being deported in three weeks. “She has a 14-year-old son who was born here,” she said. “She pleaded with the immigration people to let her stay. It was no use. Her son had broken his leg, and ICE allowed her to stay until the cast came off. Now they told her she has to leave because her child can get therapy in Mexico.

“If people get deported, there will be more families split up. The children will suffer most. I came from Mexico 20 years ago and became a garment worker. It is hard in the factories because the boss is constantly trying to cut costs by firing the workers with seniority and hiring new sewing machine operators at a lower wage, below minimum wage. Workers do not get more for working overtime. A lot of us become independent. We pick up cloth and sew it at home. I make tablecloths. “

Thousands also joined a march in Detroit that began in Patton Park. Among them was Carlos, who told the WSWS, “If you look at it, every person in this country is from another country, except the Native Americans. If it is not you, it is your parents or your grandparents. I don’t understand why some people are not for the immigrants in this country. It is bad. Families are being separated from each other. There is a family in San Diego with three children, all under 18 years old, and their mother and father were deported and sent to Mexico. I think the children were 16, 13 and 10. It reminds me of the time they took the Cuban boy and would not return him to his father. These people, say they are for families and rights, but there they did not care for the family at all.”

Patricia Palmino, also on the Detroit march, condemned the growing deportations of immigrants. “These are workers who are here to work, not to take someone’s job. They are here just to make a better life. You know that many of the Mexican workers work very hard and they do jobs other people do not want to do. Yet they receive much less money. Now, there is a new policy that if you are an undocumented, you can’t go to university. I believe you should have the right to go.

“I have a sister-in-law who has a son that did not have a Social Security number. He was only nine years old and needed to go to school, but they would not let him in the school. Hs dad went to the Mexican consul and did all kinds of things, and finally they got him a PIN number. A nine-year-old kid should be in school, whether they have a PIN number or not. The children are our future.”

Mindy Melete Lares, who is Puerto Rican, said she came to the march in Detroit to support immigrant rights. “I am opposed to what this government is doing. Bush, I think he is a direct descendent of the Nazis. He doesn’t care. I came here 50 years ago. When I came, they were looking for more workers and brought immigrants into the country. Now, look at how they treat immigrants.”

Ramon Antonio, who came to the march with his young daughter, told the WSWS, “I work two jobs to make ends meet. I am doing this for my kids. There is nothing in Mexico for decent jobs. That’s why we are here.”

George and Carlos are middle-school students who attended the march and rally. Both of them said most of their friends did not go to school today in order to attend the rally.
George said, “I think it is not right to send all the immigrants back. I believe they should have rights just like everyone here. They work and pay taxes like everyone. I think they should be treated the same.

Carlos agreed: “I think we should have the right to stay. I have been here since I was nine years old.”

One of the largest demonstrations in the country took place in Chicago, where hundreds of thousands marched through downtown to Grant Park.

Abundio Ramirez, a practicing immigration lawyer in Chicago for the last four years, said that he had joined the march to support his clients.

“They’re not here for amnesty,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger about IRAIRA [Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996], which brought reinstatement and a 10-year permanent bar. This destroys families. There’s a build-up of anger and frustration, and they are here to change policy. It’s like Prohibition in the 1920s. The moment they allowed alcohol to be sold and bought, it stopped the breaking of that law. The same can go for immigration.”