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Nazis in Ukraine

25 Feb

I have been watching the events of the last two weeks or so in absolute horror. The sight of open Nazis in Ukraine with Nazi insignias on their clothes, waving far right flags used in the war by Nazi collaborators and getting, until recently, uncritical coverage in the BBC and other media outlets, fills me with rage and despair, as an antifascist, as a Jew and as a human being 😦

There is however a real risk of any social anger against Yanukovich and his backers in the Kremlin being written off as being driven by the extreme right, a tactic that Russia has made use of before despite an increasingly intolerant and far-right political climate towards gay people, Muslims and other minorities with the Putin regime’s tacit approval. While they have come to be dominated by the extreme right, such as the extreme right wing, antisemitic Svoboda party, one of whose activists established a ‘Joseph Goebbels research centre’ and the the even further right Pravy Sector, initially at least the makeup of the protests was a lot more mixed and included left-wingers and even anarchists. The character of the protests changed when neo-Nazi activists were able to overpower other groups protesting, by for example smashing up a stall by Ukrainian trade unions in the square. The fact that they were physically more well prepared and well armed put the fascists at the forefront of most of the fighting against the police and government. They were able to set up barricades deciding who came in and out of the protest camps and most of these were dominated by far-right groups. However even now the protests are not fully dominated by Nazis – many homeless people came to the protest camps for example attracted by the free food.

It may seem unusual in the UK but protests with this sort of mixed character are not unusual in Eastern Europe. In 2009 for example, there were protests in Moldova against the Communist Party who at the time controlled the country. These protests eventually forced the removal of the governing party and resulted in a victory for a coalition of ‘pro-European’ parties, some of whom, but not all, included the extreme right. Russia was quick to allege fascist involvement in the protests, a charge that didn’t really stick given the wide range of people involved in them. But there was a grain of truth involved in these claims. The protests split the country with many Russian speakers, rural people and older people being against them and shocked by the disorder. On the other hand fascist groups were involved in the protests as well as ordinary people, leftists and ‘liberal‘ pro EU nationalists such as the ‘Hyde Park‘ group (portrayed in western media as a liberal, pro-European integration group, but when I took their leaflet on a demonstration I walked past while I was living there, I discovered it was racist).

Although I do have some time for some of the activists in this group and others of a similar political nature, the insipid pro-EU liberalism of these organisations as a whole, and uncritical attitude towards anything which opposes Russia, leaves much to be desired – their politics don’t tend to go further beyond the idea that “we should join the EU and all be nicer to each other”, and with the implied idea being that EU integration, likely to be opposed by Russians, is itself a good idea in itself, that it will automatically make the country more prosperous etc – and that the only “problem” is Russia. Thus in these social movements and organisations you get liberals, pro-EU “economic liberals” and free-market types alongside social democrats and leftists who think that joining the EU will lead to a more “european style” democracy and standard of living – and fascists, who will have very different motivations for wanting closer ties to the West from the above, but the vagueness and apolitical liberal nature of the above means it’s easy for them to support it or to be supportive. When there I came across a few people who supported government austerity plans and supported the EU because they imagined that they would largely impact old Russian people who were “communists” – these plans were popularised on this basis, too.

Groups like Hyde Park are often in favour of human rights and campaign for very reasonable things, but they also campaign against things like “the russification of the national curriculum”. Being pro-western and pro-EU usually implicitly means the increased use of the national language – and the marginalisation of the Russian language. It is doubtful whether many of these groups would organise protests against for example, Romanian and Ukrainian nationalists in the same way.

In addition, irredentist nationalist slogans such as ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc‘ (Bessarabia is Romanian land) were common during these protests, some people (not all of them far-right) thinking that closer integration to the EU would be a way to reunite with Romania, something which is by no means only supported by the extreme right but is promoted by them as the answer to the country’s problems – an answer that by implication excludes Russians. A closer look at the groups promoting this ideology reveals racism against Russians and Jews as well as extreme homophobia. I once looked out of the window on the way to work and saw protesters with Romanian flags, ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc’ and the Celtic cross on a black background leaving you in no doubt as to where they were politically.

Here’s a video of Moldovan fascists marching to be part of Romania.

When I was there the new Moldovan government introduced an austerity programme which included, for example, ending free bus travel for pensioners. Surprisingly this received a bit of public support from some people I met who initially at least saw these policies as targeted at old Russians and Communist Party supporters. One of these people also told me that “our language is very dirty, with a lot of Russian words”. On my way to work I used to walk past a headquarters of a religious group with an icon of Jesus and Mary facing the traffic – facing inward was a billboard alleging a conspiracy between Jews and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church complete with “photo evidence”, a surprising theory given that this church has been caught selling copies of the Protocols and other extreme-right literature in Russia.

That said most people I met there who had been involved in the protests or were at least supportive of them were definitely not fascist, but were very dissatisfied by the inequality presided over by the Communist Party and also, frequently, actual and perceived discrimination in favour of the Russian minority. They were in the majority of cases motivated by real and justified anger at the government, and in the moldovan case fash were in a definite minority. The protesters occupied government buildings and struck at the power of the state. You have to remember that the left in these places is practically non existent and where it does exist the organized left isn’t worthy of the name, being bag carriers for the Kremlin and presiding over neoliberal policies and corruption, promoting Russian nationalism and trading on Soviet nostalgia, but with something far nastier frequently lurking underneath – the former communist president of Moldova describing a black opposition activist as ‘a negro who came down from a tree’ . The lack of a left that is not nostalgic for the soviet union and with it, Russian rule over the ‘backward’ eastern european countries, itself a key idea in Russian imperialist nationalism has been one of the contributory factors that has opened the gateway for the extreme right.

The fact that Russian far-righters have been involved on the opposite side to the Maidan protesters, and, ludicrously, that the police have reputedly been told that the protesters are led by Jews despite clear evidence of fascist involvement, demonstrates that the idea that Yanukovich’s regime and the Kremlin are motivated by antifascism is hard to swallow, as is Putin’s claim that he is against corruption and imperialism when the regime is perfectly happy to tolerate their own oligarchs and use Russian military bases in former soviet countries as a way to control them.

With that in mind however, it is clear that the far right have played a huge part in the Ukrainian protests, bigger than their part in Moldova or even for that matter in the Orange Revolution in 2007, where groups such as UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary organization which was one of the forerunners of Svoboda, played a role in the demonstrations, and several figures in Viktor Yushchenko’s party had links to them. By unbreaking the link above BTW you can see an odd article combining a call for Ukraine to join the EU with antisemitic statements about ‘Jewish lords’. It is estimated that around 30% of protesters are involved in far-right groups such as Svoboda and Pravy Sector and many more will sympathise with them, especially because these neo-Nazis have been doing the bulk of the fighting with the government. Even more concerning is the fact it looks likely that Svoboda may enter a coalition in the new government. This used to be their old logo by the way:

Svoboda's original logo. nice huh?

If Russia’s conduct has been grotesque as they try to portray themselves as a bulwark against fascism it has been equally sickening to see the UK government portray these events as entirely peaceful protesters while Nazi symbols have been on display and protesters have been photographed with weapons, wearing helmets and shields with far-right leaders screaming about how they want to kill their enemies. The images of lynch mobs and ‘government supporters’ forced to pray at shrines for dead protesters (when they say government supporters what does that mean, officials or just some poor random Russian?) And the reports that Nazi propaganda has now been legalized are extremely disturbing – whether or not we should have such a law it’s a strange priority for a new government. The images of these “friendly protesters” daubing Celtic crosses and SS symbols on areas they occupied should worry anyone.

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The more disturbing part of this is the entirely uncritical attitude of the EU and the American government, describing the protesters as being ‘peaceful’ even when they are photographed with fascist insignia and weapons. It is, to pit it mildly, very unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nazi dictatorship to say the least. One of the candidates for the new president, Klitschko, looks like an apolitical figurehead brought in on the basis of his popularity elsewhere, and he is far from being universally popular with the protesters at Maidan, especially not the organized far right. Like most of the high profile politicians there such as Yulia Timoshenko, the corrupt ‘gas princess’ feted by the west and seemingly transformed into some sort of Aung Sung Suu Kyi figure, Klitschko has had his own rumours of corruption such as a doping scandal.

It may even be that Yanukovich’s old party get back in at the next elections. We don’t know, all sorts of scenarios could play themselves out. However the deeply concerning thing for now is the possibility of further ethnic violence in both Ukrainian and Russian areas – already there are reports of Crimeans in Sevastopol holding ‘antifascist’ rallies to ‘defend Russia’. In the early 1990s the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist breakaway state of Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) used pro-Romanian and anti-Russian sentiments by Moldovan nationalist leaders such as the slogan “Suitcase – train station – Russia”, to justify breaking away from Moldova. The fears people had of the possible consequences of Moldovan independence were very real given that during the 1940s the Nazis had turned the area into a giant death camp.

And in addition the very real likelihood of attacks on, for example, Jews – in the last few months several antisemitic attacks have taken place and there are reports of Jews being threatened and told to get out of the country – as well as Crimean Tartars who often traditionally identify with Ukraine in an area that is majority Russian and who are discriminated against and tend to have a far higher poverty and unemployment rate than the rest of the population as it is, having been deported by Stalin and only allowed to start returning at the end of the 1970s.

The wider implications of the protests and what they mean for the far-right will be felt for a long time to come. While it is very unlikely that the far right will emerge completely victorious and the leaders of a new Ukrainian Reich, as some of the more hysterical commentary from pro Russian sources has seemed to imply, this is a huge victory for the far right and they are extremely strengthened by it, they have grown in confidence and gained a fair amount of experience and some public support, despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians have not participated in the protests and nowhere near the numbers of, for example, Egyptians who did. The repercussions of this will be felt for a long time to come. At the level below the top echelons of the state institutions like MAUP, the Ukrainian university which had ex KKK leader David Duke to speak and routinely gives ‘lectures’ attacking Jews, will feel more confident in propagating their views now they know they can do so with impunity.

Some further thoughts.

It is difficult for leftists to argue in these countries that there was anything good about for example Lenin and Trotsky when many Eastern Europeans experienced even Lenin’s rule as a brutal occupation and following his death the cult of Lenin became inextricably linked with the Soviet state and Russian rule. The whole concept and vocabulary surrounding ‘communism’ has for a lot of people become linked to ethnicity (although austerity measures, rising inequality and attacks on already shit pay and conditions affect everyone regardless of ethnicity) therefore especially here, taking all your views from these ‘dead Russians’ is unlikely to be helpful, one reason perhaps why Trotskyism never took off there).

There is a worrying tendency in many eastern European countries for some people within the state to take advantage of the bitterness that people feel about the Soviet occupation and communist rule and use this to argue that the Nazi occupation was as bad, or less bad than what happened under communism. Ironically these trends started to develop in some countries under communism itself with Ceausescu arguing before his death that Antonescu, the fascist leader during the war, had in fact been a national hero. Likewise in Ukraine, the Holodomor (the famine in the 1930s which killed millions of people) has become a cornerstone of the far-right, who have used popular anger about the suppression of information about this issue and the lack of recognition about it, especially in Russia, as a way to promote nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right ideology.

In Hungary, much of the Jewish community have boycotted the official commemorations of the holocaust because they whitewash Hungary’s involvement in the war and refuse to admit that the government did anything wrong. A similar trend has emerged in Lithuania, where the EU has actively assisted in propagating this agenda, and where leading politicians have described Nazi sympathizers during the war as heroes and partisans and anti-Nazi fighters as criminals. And the EU are somehow absolutely fine with this state of affairs just as they are with the ‘peaceful protesters’ in Ukraine.

'peaceful' protesters

Watching this from over here makes me feel so powerless. Not really much else I can say. And yeah I know I don’t have links to back up everything I’ve said here but it’s late, work in the morning and I’ll put them in tomorrow or over the next few days. Comments, criticisms etc always welcome.

Your idol has feet of clay

26 Oct

It is always a nauseating but faintly amusing sight to see celebrities politicos and BBC presenters on newsnight pretending to argue with each other and pretending that they are in any way different each other and that they haven’t come from the bbc and/or oxbridge public school political milieu. Whenever I’ve been doing political stuff, talking to people about demos or anti cuts stuff, some people i know always voice the idea that they are not clever enough to know about stuff like that and that they leave it to people who do know what they are talking about, there’s an idea that you can’t be into politics unless you have a certain level of education or be massively clever instead of something that affects everyone and takes into account things that many people dont even think are political. A lot of people don’t have confidence in their own ideas or even in the idea that they’re even “allowed” to have any.

History is not made by great men. So why does so much of the left act like it is, even when they’re not that great, like the leaders of trot sects who have been in their position for decades unchallenged because they don’t even trust the “advanced layers” who have joined their group with the reins of internal political power, let alone the people they’re thinking of leading, or some celebrity that spouts semi-radical rhetoric (which they then assume is the way to the class, like working class people are only capable of thinking through soundbites and what someone said off the telly and can’t actually cope with complicated analysis) like they were more important than the class they purport to represent.

You can see it with the “critical” support of George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan or Julian Assange where a charismatic ability to attract attention and followers even if they are largely or purely out for personal gain or have less than savoury personal and political backgrounds is deemed more important than what they’re saying or doing or whether their “interventions” are worth anything – or whether people have heard of them or even know about them or the work they do has any practical effect. Searching for a figurehead that they can get behind “critically” and “without illusions”.

You can see it with the leninists and their frequent near deification of Lenin and Trotsky and of course the authority of the countless “vanguard parties of the working class” whose leader becomes the new Lenin, who was more important in this great man theory than the working class themselves.

A striking example of this happened this week with how many people on the left reacted to Russell Brand, whose video argument with Jeremy Paxman , while it undoubtedly got a lot of people talking about revolution, was not actually saying anything especially new but was perhaps what putting into words what some people were saying anyway – only, they’ll never get to be on telly. He was talking about revolution because people were talking about it already, people are thinking about it already, because people are angry, and don’t need to be told to do so from above. It’s not a case of the average person is asleep and needs to be woken up by a comedian who a few years ago was being derided for weeks in the media for his prank call with Jonathan Ross to Andrew Sachs about fucking his granddaughter.

I hate this idea that you shouldn’t criticise someone who is doing something vaguely left wing so even if what they’re doing is shit at least they’re doing it, even if they’re contributing to the continued professionalisation of politics and the alienation of just about everyone to what has become more than ever a rarified faux-controversial “safe” establishment bubble, because at least they’re out there and what have you ever done etc etc. There is an analogy to be made between this, and the idea that any job is better than no job at all, so doing literally ANYTHING is better than not working. Job as a bailiff? Take it because at least you’d be doing something, and it’s better than sitting on your arse not doing anything!
So for example if you point out, for example, that Russell Brand owns a $2.224 million mansion in Hollywood and has repeatedly  and publically endorsed and shared a platform with famous anti-semite David Icke, invited him onto his show and had Icke praise him, promoted initiatives like his “People’s Voice” television station, which “leftie” Mail journalist Sonia Poulton is also participating in – “Be part of the heard, not the herd”. If you’re lucky you can fight capitalism with a signed poster of “David” himself! be still my beating heart. Profit is a filthy word is it?

‘I am excited by David’s new venture. We all complain about media bias and now we will have an outlet beholden only to the people. I think it will be crazy and fun and I hope to be on it.’ – Russell Brand

Except that as Icke admits in his promotional video, it will be reliant on donations until advertising revenue kicks in. It won’t be beholden to the people if it has to account for what water-filtration system salesmen, “truth” dvd manufacturers and the owners of Natural News want to hear about will it Russell?
Russell Brand’s interview with Paxman isn’t even that revolutionary – his revolution when it comes down to it is just shit about taxing corporations and “massive responsibility for energy companies” – which even many Tories would probably say they agreed with. It’s hard to be storming the barricades with that level of wealth isn’t it? And while it is nice to see someone famous seem to endorse your views this still exists in a bubble the likes of which the majority of people i know will never break into. The reason he is able to get on TV and say that stuff is because he’s rich and famous already. Being a successful comedian gives him a huge amount of control over his work, means he is not in a position where he has to work in order to survive and puts him in a position which the majority of people cannot hope to imagine.

Like Paxman who despite his repulsive classist sneering, which must and should be attacked but is really part of the same thing when they just move in the same social and economic circles – “who are you to edit a political magazine” and useless equation of voting in elections with being political and not voting with the now tedious refrain of “apathy”. It may not be a controlled opposition but in some way these radical ideas are simply “recuperated back into capital“.

Although he talks about revolution and socialism he starts using similar language and imagery to David Icke like “waking up”, like “paradigm” and “consciousness” and of course ways of doing things “that have been passed through the generations”. A revolution of “consciousness” before things can actually change – he says that people are compliant with what’s happening to them amid some other self-aggrandising rambling bollocks that makes some good points but suffers from a lack of self awareness and also the fact that most of the time I dont know what he’s going on about. People already are conscious. To think that everyone is unaware of the conditions that affect them and their friends and families and have to have someone explain it to them is pretty fucking patronising. Thats not the issue.

We need an actual revolution, not a “revolution of consciousness”.

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But Brand has far more in common with Paxman in terms of lifestyle, expectations, etc , and with the editors of the New Statesman who he guest edited – even the majority of its readers earn far higher than average incomes, they produced a special supplement in association Barclays and with Vince Cable about getting Britain to work ffs – than the people he claims to speak for. When these are the people he sees and associates with and relates to every day whose side is he really on? And these are the spokespeople of revolution? Is this who are we supposed to look now, who are supposed to wake us up? These people with the same salary, same lifestyle as the people the say they oppose, whose idea of “change” is at best wishy washy sub reformism that wouldn’t be out of place from Ed Milliband, at worst out and out conspiraloonery, in a “revolutionary” garb are the people who you can’t criticise because “at least they’re doing something”?

What if what they’re doing is actually detrimental like the hypothetical job seeker who gets lambasted for not choosing a job they have moral issues with or which would jeopardise their health because of a belief in the moral good of work and the idea that doing something no matter what it is no matter how stupid irrelevant or harmful always puts you above of criticism. “Oh at least they’re doing something! What are YOU doing?”

Of course the “great men” theory also has another side to it whether we are discussing Russell Brand or anyone else, and it is something that should give anyone who is involved in this stuff pause for serious thought, especially considering the meltdown and collapse of the SWP. The great man (and sometimes a great woman) who can get away with whatever the fuck he or she wants in personal morality terms, because we love him or he’s charismatic or he’s got a great personality and he’s a great speaker, so intelligent, so devoted to the Party etc etc. I like X and I don’t like Y so X can’t be doing Y because I don’t like people who do Y. It’s all right for Russell Brand to sexually harass someone because hey it’s Russell and we love him and he’s said something vaguely left wing.

You don’t have to have any great knowledge of politics to see right through this and to know that having “heroes” and using them as a way into (yes people agreed with him but what impact does his video and articles have on people’s real life? Do people really base their views on what people like Brand are saying rather than their lived experience, which we’re not hearing about, is not the fact he says it simply a reflection of the fact people think about it and think it’s important) and substitute for the class (im sorry, cant really think of another way to put it) never ever ends well

And are the working class really that stupid that they need a celebrity writing in the New Statesman, a magazine aimed at self-described “opinion formers”, to tell them to wake up, that the great men speak and they will follow?

Brand says that the occupy movement “introduced” the idea of the 99% and the 1% to the public lexicon. Did it really or did the occupy movement grow out of conditions that were already there, out of things that were already being said or done. Is it always the case of revolutionary ideas coming down from above, like nobody would have ever have thought of the idea of a class struggle or a class system without Occupy or even without Marx?

Transitional demands

28 Jul

I just read a great quote which expresses very well one of the reasons I stopped being a trotskyist:

“[The transitional approach is] akin to trying to persuade someone who believes the Earth to be flat that it is in fact a sphere by first convincing them that it is a cube. The terrible irony here is that such ‘credible’ demands are utterly impossible to achieve under capitalism and do not even articulate the need for socialism. They are truly transitional to nothing; save sowing illusions.”

The rest of the article is worth reading as well.

The oppression olympics

16 May

Attacks on the working class are coming from all sides and the policies of neo-liberal governments wished for by capitalist institutions and businesses have had the effect of eroding common solidarity so that we can now appear to have less in common than what divides us.

Against this backdrop the growing irrelevance and degeneracy of much of the left is scarcely surprising. Many of the old institutions such as unions have become increasingly irrelevant or are seen to represent narrow sectional interests (such as public sector workers etc) without anything being done to promote links between them. The growth in precarious zero-hour contracts and self-employment, and to some extent in traditionally middle class professions whose workers are better off (and may there feel more able to defend their pay and conditions) the growth in home working and “flexible hours” help to stop a sense of solidarity between work mates. You can see it every day – the public sector against the private sector, permanent staff against temporary staff, people in work against people on the dole, people on the dole against people in work for being able to be in work, people on the different kinds of benefits resenting each other etc.

The group which has talked about this stuff quite a bit and come up with some quite interesting conclusions has been the IWCA or “independent working class association” , which grew out of Red Action. I definitely don’t agree with all their conclusions but when they talk about how the brutality of neo-liberal capitalism leads workers to be viewed as simple economic units who should “follow the work” regardless of family or community commitments and decades of these neo-liberalist policies have led to an increasingly individualised consciousness of “every man for himself”.

I do not think that this attempt at “divide and rule” has succeeded as much as is the aim or the extent that some disillusioned lefties fear. I have a lot of faith in human nature and I think that most people are sensible enough to see these attempts for what they are and I don’t generally believe the idea of “sheeple” brainwashed by government propaganda. However the decades of neo-liberal atomisation have had an affect on the political landscape of society, as the idea of collective struggle is forced into the background, especially in the world of student politics (although fortunately not that much outside it) where the phenomena I’m going to describe are prominent

So in this void what do we get? We get … nothing. Increasingly identity politics have come to the fore and you get the phenomenon of people trying to tie each other and themselves into knots over how “oppressed” they are. This phenomenon is currently largely in student politics but obviously the careerist slime of the NUS (that’s the national students’ union, who in many universities are in bed with the management, or pretty much part of it) who promote this stuff, aim to make a career for themselves in the real world. It is tied in with a individualist apolitical view of the world without an “end-game” on how they want to see things change and promoted by wannabe student politicians who have the time to sit around navel gazing about their identity rather than do anything about any of the issues they purportedly care about. Instead of the idea of defending terms and conditions and of linking struggles between students and university staff and the wider community you get the whole idea of a “platform of intersectionality” where people basically try and get elected in meaningless student elections which hardly anyone votes in anyway (or at least they didn’t when I was a student) based on their identity – based on how oppressed they are (or say they are – many of the people promoting this stuff, especially in activist circles are white and upper-middle class anyway).

My forays into this weird world have been less than pleasant despite the fact that the people promoting this form of identity politics are supposedly all about tackling oppression. To tackle oppression you have to tackle the CAUSES of it and the causes are economic. These people who tie themselves in knots over a theory with no application to the real world have no interests in fighting the real cause of racism and sexism which is economic, they would prefer to “call out” people and get them to “step up and step back” and similar interminable jargon. Perhaps because their theory allows them to “check their privilege” on some superficial level by wondering what terminology they’re using, or more likely lecture people about checking theirs.

The architects of these theories have never really checked their privilege – the privilege which allows them to escape thinking about the most fundamental “oppression” of all but one which can be and is continually being fought back against and shaping society, instead they reduce the class system to one “oppression” among many and turn the relations between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie into “classism”. Class conflict is about much more than oppression, about hurt feelings, it governs the entire structure of society. People are treated as victims who are just oppressed – which is exactly what the practical results of such a theory will be, where people are encouraged to think of themselves as individuals and encouraged to think about what divides them against other people who are actually frequently in similar positions, rather than any notion of a common struggle taking place.

It is important to recognise that not everyone is in the same position – this is one of the problems with “the left” – that they frequently ignore the differences between the people they try to represent. That doesn’t however mean that a theory that aims to emphasise those differences to such an extent that it completely ignores the structure of society and the structures which make those differences matter can be a good thing.

Rather than being just a feeling or just another spoke on the “wheel of oppression” class conflicts are the fundamental thing that governs economic relations and affects every single aspect of every single person’s life on the planet, how long you will live, what your health will be like, whether you can own property, whether you have any individual control over your work and so on and so on. It’s just another identity – and plainly different “identities” are just as important.

Probably one of the main reasons I am a marxist, although I haven’t always been, is because I was brought up with the idea of being opposed to racism and fascism. Before I knew anything about politics I knew that half my family were Jews and that I hated fascists, I didnt know what they were really but I hated them. Later on I experienced anti-semitism and also I had a shit load of homophobic abuse at my school when I decided to come out.

Another idea I want to address is the idea that for example, white people, men etc necessarily benefit from racism, sexism, etc. Some of them undoubtedly do but personally I think that this stuff actually hurts everyone. When I was younger i was severely bullied for being gay, now that I am in a straight relationship does that mean that I benefit from anyone being homophobic? Of course not, it’s taken me years to get over this stuff, and a lot of my mental health problems I think originate in that period. Ultimately the brutalising effect that the acceptance of prejudice has in society will only mean that the real privileges of those at the top are entrenched. And at the end of the day we are all responsible for each other. An injury to one is an injury to all, rather than benefiting from prejudice everyone is harmed from it either immediately through the stress and worry it causes to friends and family members or in the long term effects on the ability of people to defend their own rights and living standards and those of others.

Here is another example – I lived in Moldova for a bit, it’s a country where there is quite a lot of sexism, a high level of domestic violence and street harassment which is hardly reported to the police. There is also a high level of racism and anti-semitism and don’t even think about trying to say you are gay. But yet the average white christian straight man is not waking up every day and having a great time. You only have to look at the queues I saw there a few years ago by embassies of people desperate to leave the country from economic reasons or the fact that there are workers there on building sites working without any protective clothing or nothing, where many people work very long hours and can hardly make ends meet and the high levels of unemployment and alcohol abuse, frequent periods without electricity and frequently crumbling infrastructure. Nobody could say the Moldovan working class are privileged. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and these poor conditions have undoubtedly helped to create this type of atmosphere. while there I saw people begging in the street with bleeding limbs and legs swollen to several times their original size. The failure of Stalinism and then neo liberal “shock therapy” capitalism has created a climate where life is cheap and some people inevitably develop a lack of empathy, and there are no shortage of politicians willing to exploit that.

I honestly can’t see the average person there benefiting from this, even if they do hold some prejudiced attitudes. And the majority of people there are not prejudiced really and do not benefit from the economic situation. They are good people and there is still a huge amount of collective solidarity and friends and neighbours helping each other out etc just as there is here.

I am now in a straight relationship with a man but I have also experienced various sexist bullshit (although its pretty low down on the scheme of things, including the assumption that I can’t be a woman and must be a man because I dont agree with this stuff). Well guess what Ellen Meiskins Wood wrote a fantastic book about the retreat from class and the critique of identity politics and she is a woman.

If I always go on about her, I’m sorry, but in a world of left wing politics that’s notoriously known for being a “sausage fest” it was such an amazing thing to read such a strong and engaging writer write a book with such an unflinching and readable analysis which was so thorough and it does make you feel better about being a woman and agreeing with Marxist criticisms of these theories. That does not mean that a class analysis can be used to excuse thinly veiled prejudice and rape apologism as it did with the SWP, it can’t by anyone with an ounce of integrity, but the whole point of this stuff is to transform society for everyone.

The world is not some sort of “oppression olympics” we have collective power through a common struggle to change society, rather than splitting into more and more identity groups all competing with each other to be the most victimised. I have seen it for myself and I honestly believe that if people are able to work together to win some sort of victory for themselves and each other whether it’s through a strike, a struggle against an abusive landlord or something else, it will help to break down prejudices, and it does.

Why i am disillusioned

17 Mar

I thought long and hard over writing this blog post because of a number of things – am I being disloyal by writing it? I have thought long and hard about it because I don’t know whether I will change my mind later or not or whether my current state of disaffection has come about due to factors like not being able to see comrades as much as I’d like, having no money, not being able to get to things, etc.

The recent scandals in the SWP have provoked an inevitable bout of navel gazing on the part of the far-left in this country, as if its members don’t do enough of it already. It has reached beyond the SWP and has led to many members of far-left organisations asking serious questions about the leaderships of those organisations, the democracy and accountability within the organisation and ability to respond effectively to a similar situation, how they would themselves respond to a case of this nature – or made people who were already dissatisfied feel more confident in speaking up. I have a lot more to say about all of these things but I am writing this post as a contribution to what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about organisation on the far left in the wake of the SWP scandal.

This blog post is in no way intended to be a criticism of the many good people i know in the SP, or even in the leadership of that organisation. I think there are a lot of things the party does right and I have seen how effective it can be – for example intervening in strikes and helping to organise them in my local area to such an extent that the SP members were branded as troublemakers by their own union.

I do however think there needs to be a serious reevaluation of what’s going on in the far left. At a time when “capitalist crisis” seems at its most extreme for a long time why do we keep failing? Are we actually failing for that matter?

According to some critiques of the left it might not actually be failing at all. Groups like the ICC and the CWO (who publish the “Revolutionary Perspectives” magazine which I can strongly suggest buying) critique the various trotskyist and leninist groups as being part of the “left of capital” and, like the trade unions, acting as a brake on the struggle, wanting to direct it down certain lines (ie being happy with some of the actions at Millbank or other forms of direct action, cooperating with the police, keeping strikes within trade union confines rather than trying to encourage people to seriously extend it) and as well as this promote an unrealistic state capitalist ideology (equating “nationalising X amount of companies” with “socialism” for example) and leaving people who join with some sort of critique of capitalism and class consciousness burnt out and demoralised.

While I would personally perhaps not be as harsh as this, I am sorry to say that I think their criticism has a lot of truth in it. During the last few months since first hearing about Comrade Delta’s sordid exploits and how “democratic centralism” was used to cover them up and silence any opposition, I have been critically looking at trotskyism in general and the SP in particular. In all honesty theoretically I think I am fairly far from trotskyism and probably have more sympathy with council communists like Paul Mattick and his “anti-Bolshevik communism”, part of the central thesis of this is that Lenin’s regime within the party and the country led directly to Stalin and Stalinism and Lenin in fact laid the groundwork for Stalin to consolidate. In reality Lenin and the Bolsheviks hijacked the revolution and where workers had taken control of factories they frequently reinstated the old bosses under a policy of “one-man management” and sidelined the workers’ councils.

However, I don’t think they are entirely right and they are obviously doing some things wrong (or else why would they find it almost impossible to get their memberships out of double figures?) I also think the ICC’s dogmatism on things like anti-fascism and the unions and the way there is very little in the way of an “accessible” (to people who don’t already know about this stuff) introduction that you don’t have to read several times in order to understand it, is probably just as damaging as that of the “left of capital” they’re criticising. The CWO’s position is a lot better and less dogmatic than simply insisting that the members don’t join unions – although while I see relatively little in Revolutionary Perspectives I disagree with, the obvious question is why are they not able to grow and what are they doing to put roots down in w/c communities? Could their criticisms not also apply to these organisations themselves? And is it not the case that even in the party leaderships many people are not motivated by a desire to channel the struggle down meaningless paths on behalf of the bourgeoisie but because they sincerely believe their strategies are right (even if they are wrong?)

I have come to some conclusions which may be controversial but which I think are essential if things are ever going to progress further. I think we actually get a lot of things right as well as wrong. However so much of what we get wrong is based on a flawed understanding of the class struggle which in my view is gonna have to change if things are ever going to get better.

I don’t think that these left wing organisations are completely worthless or that the work that I and many other comrades have done is worthless and I don’t think that they are doomed to be part of the “left of capital” for ever, I do think things could change and an organisation like the SP or even the SWP could keep the good parts and still play a useful part in the class struggle and the struggle against capitalism itself.

There are a load of criticisms that I have but I think ultimately they all stem from one thing. What is that thing? 

I think we need to get away from the Bolsheviks and their conception of what a revolutionary party should be like. What the Russian revolution led to in a few years, what was already happening in Russia at the time of Stalin’s “coup” within the Bolshevik party, the fact that somebody like Stalin was able to gain such a position in the first place – should start you thinking critically about how democratic Lenin’s regime really was and just how it was that Stalin was able to take over so easily if “the working class” had really come to power in Russia. I strongly suggest, that if you are interested in the first few years of Bolshevik rule, that you read the book “The Guillotine at Work” by Russian anarchist Grigori Maximov, it shows the true nature of Lenin’s regime. We should stop looking at the Bolshevik party as a model for how revolutions should be for all times and look at current conditions today.

So what does this mean for today then?

I think a lot of the problems are from a certain aspect of Leninism which says that the working class can never attain a “revolutionary consciousness” on its own. Left to their own devices, the working class as a whole can only get “trade union consciousness” and only those within the Leninist party will actually have a revolutionary consciousness. In other words if you just think about all of this stuff on your own without being exposed to Leninism you’ll only think within the limits of supporting your trade union and the most basic forms of solidarity. Lenin advocated a party of “professional revolutionaries” separate from the working class, but whose task would be to convince the masses of the need for revolution – and, of course, the need for leadership by a “revolutionary party”.

While I think that the SP and other trotskyist groups have actually in practice abandoned a lot of this thinking, which in my view is a good thing unless you want an organisation like the Sparts who if given any sort of power would create a new North Korea, you can still see signs of it. When for example they talk about how “consciousness is lagging” because of the low levels of industrial action and the like. In actual fact this is confusing the idea that people don’t really know what’s going on with the idea of accepting the solutions proposed for it by the SP and other Marxist groups. In my experience people are perfectly well aware of what’s going on.

The language itself tends to alienate people – another comrade said to me that this talk of “layers” and “advanced consciousness” and so on was alienating to people and indicated a subculture that had retreated into only talking to each other rather than talking and listening to the people they are supposed to represent. Outside of a left wing bubble people don’t know what the hell we’re on about. In addition the procedures of trade unionism, “motions” and so on at meetings aren’t something which many people these days, especially young people, often know a great deal about. It serves to alienate a lot of people and in so doing exclude them from things and put them off. Not an appealing thought if you want to overthrow capitalism and replace it with something better – what makes them think that what would replace it would be better?

In addition I think this whole idea of “consciousness” affects other aspects of their politics as well. For example, the opposition to direct action and the initially less than supportive reaction to the Fortnum and Mason occupiers and the Millbank protesters on the grounds that it is alienating, on the grounds that it’s “not organised” and that it will put people off – especially right-leaning trade unionists. In my experience the opposite is often true – people who may not agree with the need for “revolution” right here and now or may not even disagree with, for example, some of the cuts may still be inspired by direct action as we saw at Fortnum and Mason’s on March 26th, they might think “good for them” and be horrified by the disproportionate police response to it. I think some of this opposition stems not necessarily as some anarchists would say, because they weren’t in control of it, but because of this “level of consciousness” idea and the idea of “not jumping ahead of the class” and that people must be introduced to revolutionary ideas slowly. In reality some people who aren’t in the least interested in socialist politics are still impressed by direct action and have been surprised by my (albeit somewhat lukewarm) opposition to it!

I think part of this also stems from a desire to lump for example, “anarchists” in together and assume that all anarchists and all direct action is like those twats who blew up the signalling boxes in Bristol. To caricature their positions and say that they’re all opposed to “organisation” and so on whereas there have been some very successful organisations organised on anarchist lines like Solfed and the IWW.

In reality the whole “jumping ahead of the class” idea is a bit suspect too, as well as being very patronising. The experience of history, as well as my own experience on stalls and talking to people when trying to sell the paper etc, suggests that it may in fact be the other way round – when revolutions do happen, the “revolutionaries” desperately try and catch up with events and with the class they’re supposed to be “leading”. The fact that workers are not flocking to join trade unions, too, is not a sign of “lagging consciousness” in my opinion but out of cynicism with these organisations and what they represent, as well as the fact that they have become increasingly irrelevant to many people’s lives. People do not necessarily think that a largely symbolic strike which lasts 1 or 2 days is the best way to struggle when none of the strikes such as November 30th etc have been successful and led within a few days to the capitulation of the trade unions, even if they’re “given a lead”! Can you blame people for not being wildly enthusiastic about these types of actions if they have worse than no effect?

In my experience it is easier sometimes to say outright that capitalism has failed than to try and convince people of “transitional demands” which people know full well are unachievable – even the most basic reforms are largely unachievable under capitalism and so much of the class struggle has become a desperate losing battle to prevent even the most basic living standards from being lost. People know this and I think to some people the idea of capitalism having failed and a new system being needed probably sounds more realistic than saying that the minimum wage needs to be raised to £10 an hour or whatever when there is no guarantee that there will even be a minimum wage within a couple of years at all. Again this comes down to this idea about consciousness. And people within “revolutionary” parties can be more “backward” if you want to look at it that way than the average person in the street!

I know I have a few backward ideas and probably a few more that I haven’t even thought about or know are “backward”, being a Marxist doesn’t exactly prevent it! Why not just say you disagree with somebody, why do they have to be part of a backward layer? Doesn’t it just promote even more of a separation between you and them and prevent you considering their arguments and why – if they’re wrong – why they would think so? Why do they see themselves and their interests the way they do? What is it about the backward explanation that’s more convincing than yours? It may even be that you have to look again at who’s really backward?

I am also unconvinced that top-down electoral lashups are the way forward. They are unlikely to be successful unless you get a George Galloway type situation where one person is elected on the grounds of their personality. I am not convinced that trying to create another reformist party along the lines of an “improved” version of the Labour Party is the answer. But let’s for arguement’s sake say that it is. In that case why not try to put down roots in the local community outside elections, make a name known for it outside elections and transform that party into something other than an electoral vehicle for existing groups? Why not try to build a few local successes on the back of successful local campaigns and then build them in to something of a federation from the bottom up, rather than letting union bureaucrats and other left groups dictate the agenda? The most successful campaigns the SP have had are ones where we already had a local support base in the area and did just that on the back of existing campaigns we were involved in – we should be continuing to do this. One real strength the SP’s electoral strategy, despite its problems, has had is the fact that by and large they haven’t capitulated to nationalism or communalism or played the sectarian politics game like RESPECT and George Galloway have. Worse than “socialism in one country” is the idea of reformism for a few identity politics groups!

I have a lot more to say about the issue of the trade unions and electoral strategy and so on, and I’ve already gone on enough about the theoretical side of things, so this is a topic for another blog post. I’m going to end this post by putting a few proposals forward.

  • The slate system needs to be abolished. Despite the arguments in favour of the slate system, that it discourages competition, that encourages a group of people to work together in favour of the good of the party,  I think that what it does is reproduce a bureaucratic leadership and since nobody ever puts forward an alternative slate, makes removing them extremely difficult. We are told that if we want we could put forward an alternative slate but in practice nobody ever does and it would cause huge controversy in the party if somebody did.
    In addition it encourages an unthinking and uncritical mindset because people tend to see some of the names on there and if they recognise them they will think that the others on there who they don’t know must be all right and not question it.
  • In fact the whole system of voting within ours and other trotskyist groups needs to be completely reformed. The idea that the outgoing CC in particular can appoint a new one and all that needs doing after that is just for it to get approved by the membership is in general deeply problematic . It’s not really democratic at all. How can we say that socialism would be more democratic if the revolutionary party is a mini replica of what we want the country to be like under socialism, yet there are few ways of getting rid of the leaders?Resolutions should be voted on under a secret ballot rather than a show of hands and each time people should be aware of exactly what it is that we are voting on. Ballot papers should be sent to every member of the party rather than people who have the time to physically be at the conference when voting is taking place. A show of hands could work in “one man and his dog” groups but anything larger than that, it’s not really democratic is it?
  • Related to the question of electoral reform within the party is the tendency within many, perhaps most left wing groups, for an elite to form at the top who are insulated, comparatively speaking, from the conditions of life of the party membership, and from the class as a whole. Living in a bourgeois society tends to recreate the same hierarchies you see in other organisations under capitalism. While I do not think this could be eliminated completely this tendency could perhaps be minimised by imposing rules on how many times people are allowed to serve on the EC, perhaps for a maximum of two years, with a set period until they are allowed to stand again for election.Full-timers and EC members should be subject to recall by the membership as well.
  • Encourage people to be critical. By that I mean by encouraging people to read widely outside party literature, not only the old “classics” by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky but also from other traditions – and other left groups – as well. I think the Marxist discussion groups set up by the SP around the country are a very important initiative. There should be more real debates within the paper and where the party has got it badly wrong people should be encouraged to say so not just within the branch but at every level.
  • If you’re going to have a paper, it shouldn’t have only politics in it. It should contain things which appeal to people who don’t have that much of an interest in politics – for example, culture, cartoons, humour, stories, sport, TV and so on. The Labour Party and even the old Communist Party was able to put down roots in local communities through Labour Clubs and cultural events not solely related to politics, anarchist groups have done this in Greece and Italy through squatted social centres and so on. Worryingly the people trying to  do this type of community grassroots organising seem to be the extreme right and they seem to be having a lot of success at it.
  • Last but not least it must be a safe space and party members MUST feel able to report troublesome incidents or raise criticisms without being subject to direct or indirect pressures. I think that the idea of causing damage to the party must have been a factor in stopping the Comrade Delta incidents coming out for such a long time in the SWP, even when it was not stated outright there would be a feeling that speaking up would have been disloyal. I think the whole idea of democratic centralism and “Leninist discipline” has something to do with this, but perhaps even more than this is the fact that as a Leninist party is viewed as the vehicle for revolution whatever “helps” the party is often deemed to be good and something like openly exposing a rape scandal is deemed to be bad. People need to feel that if they report something something will get done about it, and they will be BELIEVED – and if they leave the party for whatever reason it won’t be blamed on “feminism” or some other bogeyman (or woman).The personal is political and any attempt to view sexual violence as something that’s “outside of their remit” can only have a toxic effect and call into question the entire credentials of the organisation – people will rightly ask why they should support a version of “justice” that is, as we can see from what’s happened in the SWP, no better than bourgeois justice, and actually could be worse.As it happens the SP are far better on this point than other organisations but a lot more could still be done. In addition there is the question of what to do about members expelled over sexual or other misconduct, does the party have a duty to alert other revolutionary organisations or the local community? There needs to be an open discussion about this.

This has taken me a long time to write and think about and I would appreciate anyone’s comments or thoughts about it. I hope this can serve as a useful contribution to  a debate which many of us are thinking about and having at the moment.

SWP crisis

10 Mar

I keep meaning to write a long post on this and I will at some stage – like many people on the far left I have been watching with horror at some of the developments in the SWP and other trot groups lately. I don’t want to say too much now but I am very very angry about a lot of things and this, among other things, is making me reevaluate a lot of the stuff I’ve thought over the last few years.

“trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” What is wrong with them??

5 Jan

I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. I have probably done so for most of my life. I don’t wish to talk about it here (not for now anyway) but it has had an extremely destructive effect on my life, on my personal relationships, and many other things. It has made me a very difficult person to be around at times and as a result I have behaved in ways that I am really not proud of. I have suspected people of things and been completely unable to shake the doubt that there may be some truth in my bizarre convictions even though I knew what bullshit they were.

If you have OCD there are two parts to the disease, there are obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the anxiety provoking thoughts that you can’t stop thinking about. They can be about anything, from thinking that you have left the stove on and that the house is going to burn down, to thinking you are a paedophile and have to avoid walking through parks and avoid all children. While most people experience unpleasant and intrusive thoughts of this kind, no meaning is ascribed to them. Most people simply think “ugh” and forget that they thought about it. And if they have left the stove on or whatever, then they realise it, and turn it off, and then forget about it, they don’t beat themselves up for the rest of the day about how they are a cunt and an idiot who could have killed everyone in the house and should just kill themselves.

Compulsions are the things that you do to stop the anxiety caused by the obsession. They can be mental or physical, like washing your hands, or trying to “reason” with yourself to convince yourself that you are not a paedophile or that you don’t have aids. They can also be behaviours such as seeking reassurance from other people – “i did lock the door/feed the cat/whatever, didn’t i? I did, didn’t I? Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure, can we go back and check” or by simply avoiding the thing that you are worried about. So if you have obsessive thoughts about possibly being a paedophile you will avoid going into places where you might have contact with children or might see a child, you will avoid looking at pictures of other people’s children, and you will go out of your way not to have any contact with them (it will not occur to you that this paranoid behaviour is the exact opposite of a paedo’s behaviour). It can get so bad that you can avoid going outside for fear of harming somebody, or for fear of “contamination”.

As part of the treatment for anxiety, it is recommended that avoidance is tackled first, and part of the way that this is done is something called exposure and response prevention. So if somebody is scared of catching a disease they will have to go for longer and longer periods without washing their hands, and they will have to put their hands on something that they consider dirty for example. Exposure and response prevention is considered the most effective method of treating OCD, and it is also used for other anxiety disorders such as phobias. The aim is to make you comfortable with the thoughts you are worried about or with the objects you are worried about, so that you won’t panic every time you encounter them.

With all this in mind there is a development in the world of left wing politics which I find quite troubling. The idea of a trigger in the context of anxiety disorders, especially PTSD, was, I think, originally a specifically medical warning which aimed to warn when people were going to read something very traumatic which could re-traumatise them, such as something about rape or sexual abuse. I think that this can be useful, because you do not want to tackle something that causes you the most anxiety and distress first, or before you are ready.

However, it is now being used by some of the people in the “privilege politics” circles to refer to anything from long posts about gender identity to anything to do with sex in general. It is being used as a fashion accessory. I find this very objectionable. You don’t want to have a disorder which could destroy your life. You want to recover from it, and not let it rule your life. It is not something to parade around. You don’t want to be in a position where you even have to think about things like trigger warnings, let alone to do it to show how right on you are.

Secondly, attaching a “warning” to anything that people could be worried or distressed by, as well as being offensive does not actually help people suffering from these conditions. If somebody has a phobia of spiders you do not help them by putting say a trigger warning on a post about spiders on the internet, because that will help them to avoid it and avoid eventually becoming comfortable with the object of their fear, and stop it ruling their life to such an extent. If you accommodate a person’s OCD it will simply get worse and take more and more and more and more. I do not want to have people trying to “help” me by actually making the OCD worse and in so doing impeding my ability to have a normal life, I want to get rid of it completely.

I do not think anything can be solved with avoidance, which does not help in a medical setting or a political setting. I wish I could do better but if you want to help me please don’t do it by helping me to avoid stuff, because when I’m eventually confronted with it it will be even worse.

Which brings me to my next point, that of “safe spaces”. There should not need to be a “space” where people are “safe” from sexual assault, bigotry or whatever, it is running away from the problem, and does not address why the rest of it is unsafe. You do not deal with racism, anti-semitism, sexism etc by setting up a “safe space” where these things are supposed not to happen. You deal with it by challenging it. The very fact that this became such an issue in the occupy movement shows that there is a problem in the wider political culture which cannot be solved by setting aside a small area.

I saw a great quote today on urban75, “In a society which is unsafe there can be no safe spaces”. This sums up my feelings on the matter entirely.