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Engels: The Male Chauvinist Feminist April 29, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in Books, Feminism, History, Marxism.
40 comments

Tristan Hunt in today’s Guardian has a piece promoting his new biography of Friedrich Engels. Surprisingly for something written on Engels by this champion of New Labour, it is actually not an entirely uninteresting article, discussing as it does the contradictions between Engels’ principles and his behaviour. Few of us could stand up to such scrutiny, especially by anachronistic standards, and in the article Hunt seeks to judge Engels by the standards of his own time. The article, like the book, seeks to restore the human element to Engels. Here is the man himself writing to Marx

It is absolutely essential that you get out of boring Brussels for once and come to Paris, and I for my part have a great desire to go carousing with you,” Friedrich Engels wrote to Karl Marx in 1846. “If I had an income of 5000 francs I would do nothing but work and amuse myself with women until I went to pieces. If there were no Frenchwomen, life wouldn’t be worth living. But so long as there are grisettes [prostitutes], well and good!”

Hunt’s article essentially discusses Engels’ responsibility for the creation of modern feminism through his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, describing how that work opened the way for a new understanding of the oppression of women. Hunt’s account ends with a sting in the tail about whether we should be too smug about some of Engels’ own attitudes

Few great thinkers are able to live out their ideals, and Engels was more contradictory than most. But the personal is not always political; philosophy exists beyond the person. And if much of Engels’ life no longer appears very enlightened, in an era when part-time male workers earn some 36% more than their female equivalents and one third of British women in work take home less than £100 per week, his insights into the economic foundations of sexual inequality seem as relevant as ever.

As for the book, it is in shops (though the official release date is tomorrow), and Waterstone’s had it at five pounds less than the £25 official price. Interested though I may be in the topic, and pleasantly surprised by this article as I am, I doubt I’ll be shelling out given that, unlike Robert Service in his Times review and Roy Hattersley in his Guardian review, I have my doubts about Hunt’s competence to discuss Engels’ political thought. However, with International Women’s Day May Day approaching, Hunt has still raised important issues that we especially ought not to neglect.

Marx? Not as we know him… or, why bother quoting from Das Kapital when you can make up any old rubbish? January 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Marxism, Society, Uncategorized.
30 comments

I was at a meeting last week when someone asked me had I received the email doing the rounds with the quote from Marx that prophesied the current financial crisis. No was my response, what was in it? The person was a bit vague, but apparently Marx had foreseen all the details including the collapse of banks, their nationalisation and ultimately how communism would be the only answer.

Now, I could have been cheered, but somehow I didn’t recall anything about ‘nationalisation of the banks’ as an aspect of Marx’s thesis, or at least not in that precise formulation. Or indeed the idea that banks would collapse. That level of detail, or rather that oddity, didn’t strike me as ringing entirely true.

So I asked them to forward me it…

Here it is in all its glory…

“Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.”

Karl Marx, 1867

Got to love the date… but curiously no reference to the original text is given. Which is hardly surprising since it’s a construct in every detail. It’s all over the internet if you google it, but this post at least recognises it for what it is…

I guess I could still be cheered that a broad non-Marxist, or non-Marxist influenced, swathe of the population is at least being exposed to his name, if not his actual thinking, but I’m not really. It just seems to me that whoever ‘composed’ the piece threw it in because it was the only oppositional handle they could think of.

And I haven’t found the energy to say anything about it to my colleague.

The Left Archive: Making Sense from the Workers’ Party, 1991 October 11, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, Marxism, The Left.
47 comments

1.jpg

Here wp-1-copy.pdf is a curiosity from the Workers’ Party. A magazine produced by that party which rather grandly termed itself “Ireland’s political and cultural review”. A4 in format. Two colours on the cover – black and red, wouldn’t you know? – and 30 odd pages long.

This issue is particularly interesting because it predates the split in the WP by months. You might think that there might be some hint of the split in the text. You might well be wrong. Which I think as a broad reflection of the tensions within the party is quite remarkable. Remarkable if only because the tilt is towards the group that would later form the Democratic Left. So we find Pat McCartan (then a TD) writing about divorce. A rather good book review by Pat Rabbitte and some interesting articles including one by Stephen Hopkins on the PCF which is clearly aligned with the modernising tendency within that grouping. We also find Gerry O’Quigley’s article on socialists and economics which is as applicable today as it was then (and for more see here). Most intriguing is an article by then (and I think now) Irish Times journalist and former WP member Paddy Woodworth which discusses various events inside the life of the party in the previous five years for one page then… stops. The next page is blank. So we get half an article. I have no knowledge as to whether this was part of some great conspiracy, I tend to doubt it… because a short story later in the issue (which I haven’t scanned) is also missing a page. I’m certain someone could enlighten us either way.

I have other WP material which I’ll post up, but the tone is rather different. This – to me at least – is not that dissimilar to Marxism Today, Gerry O’Quigley namechecks ‘post-fordism’, with perhaps a very very slightly harder political edge (although not quite in the league of some of the material so far seen in the Archive) but also incorporating a strongly cultural bent. Methinks Gramsci was getting quite a look in at this point in the development of the party.

But what is curious is that the older ‘traditional’ line is not really evident. The editorial is predictably strong on the first Gulf War (although quoting Chomsky and Fisk seems to hint at a very different future). Sure, there is the ritual obeisance in the Gary Kent review of ‘Hidden Agenda’ at the alter of anti-Provoism. Granted the US is given a lash by Noel McFarlane. But, to my eye, it’s all a bit half-hearted. In a way it seems to point to the reality of what one is left with if revolutionary jargon (or cant – delete as applicable) is stripped away.

Still, the Woodworth article is great. For a sense of what the party was like and the lines that weren’t crossed, let alone approached in terms of discussion, it is revelatory and tallies with my experience. Woodworth appears fairly disdainful of both old, new and Harris wings of the party. And the ghost of 1989-1991 and the collapse of the USSR permeates the piece.

I really wish the other page had been printed.

SWP’s new webpage September 17, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Design, Marxism, media, Media and Journalism, Socialist Workers' Party, Transport.
2 comments

The comrades at the SWP/PB4P/AFA/Globalise Resistance have relaunched their website with a new design format. It makes much more use of white space, a bit less cluttered than the old site and they’ve put ‘SOCIALIST’ in about as big letters as is feasible.

Some nice use of menus for ‘most popular articles’ and links to SWP press releases though their last one deals with the Danish newspaper publishing the cartoons about Muhammed, suggesting the SWP Press Office is a little behind the times.

People Before Profit is not given quite as big a plug as I would have thought, being one of a number of campaigns the SWP are involved in, or in the case of one or two like Shell to Sea, claim to be involved in despite carrying out little or no activity. The angry little red fist thing seems to have been taken out as well and it seems quite graphic lite though good use of photos.

Finally, don’t seem to be able to read the Socialist Worker in pdf anymore, which is a little annoying. Overall, a slight improvement I think. Shame about the party.

Unconditional but critical? Or the history of the Troubles according to the SWM. September 12, 2007

Posted by guestposter in Marxism, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Socialist Workers' Party, The North.
28 comments

From Ed Hayes – a guest post about the SWM/SWP

Like any left wing organisation operating in Ireland the SWM/SWP’s analysis of the northern conflict has undergone several changes and twists and turns, though they would probably deny this. A good overview of the original leadership’s views can be found on the archive of International Socialism documents featured on the BICO thread elsewhere on Cedar Lounge. Suffice to say the SWM emerged out of a milieu in the early 1970s when PD, the Young Socialists and several other tendencies were interacting with elements from the Official republican movement and the Provos. The early SWM was strongly ‘workerist’ in orientation and geared mainly towards rank and file trade union activity. However certainly by 1974 they seem to have taken the position that the Provos were in the vanguard of the struggle against British imperialism and therefore were entitled to ‘unconditional but critical’ support from socialists. What this meant in practice however, was often far from clear. Did it mean you thought you unconditionally supported the armed struggle but criticised the politics of the Provos or were critical of particular aspects of that armed struggle, or indeed the whole tactic itself? In my experience most members weren’t entirely sure themselves.

There was some involvement with the early IRSP in 1974-75, of which I really know little except for various myths and legends. Apparently the SWM had a vote on whether or not to join Costello’s new organisation and despite the eagerness of Kieran Allen and others it was stymied by the remaining workerists, led by a shop steward from Ballyfermot, who opposed involvement on the basis that the IRPs weren’t serious enough about trade unionism. In the 1980s as the INLA tore itself apart, again and again, many of us used to thank our lucky stars for that vote! But by the time I became involved, in 1984, the SWM had come out of long involvement in both the Socialist Labour party and the H-Block campaign. In that campaign their position had been to press for industrial action to save the hunger strikers lives, and to oppose calls for Fianna Fail and the Catholic Church to be the focus of lobbying for the H-Block men. In Dublin Corporation, Dublin Bus and Waterford Glass there were stoppages and walk outs organised in part by SWM members. But in real terms they and the rest of the far left were very minor players in a movement that will probably historically be seen as making modern Sinn Fein the force they are today. (Though of course PD and IRSP members were elected to Belfast city council in 1981, mainly because Sinn Fein didn’t stand).

In 1984 the official SWM position was still that socialists had to support those resisting imperialism in the north. This was the Provos, and much as we might not like it they were there because of the failures of the left in 1969-71. Our line was that had a serious revolutionary party existed then, the struggle could have been pushed forward in a different way (of course several revolutionary organisations that considered themselves serious had existed in 1969-71, but that’s another story). We took it for granted that it was Unionist bigotry and British repression that caused the war and that the Provos were an inevitable response to this oppression. Nobody ever really talked about the origins of civil rights and the politics of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Officials in any real way. Only Eamonn MCann had been centrally active in that period in the north and he ploughed his own furrow to a certain extent. For some ideas about his thinking you can see the different tone he adopted in the various editions of War and an Irish Town (1974, 1979 and 1993). In the 1974 edition he is highly critical of the Provos, in the 1979 edition he argues that any socialist worth their salt has to back them and that ‘unconditional but critical’ is a cop-out and in 1993 he is very critical of them again. But McCann, while easily the best known public figure in the SWM, was not the mover ans shaker you might expect. Kieran Allen, Kevin Wingfield and Marnie Holoborow were much more central.

So the SWM essentially argued that problem in the north was British imperialism and its creation and backing of a sectarian state. That state offered nothing but discrimination and bigotry and could not be reformed. The violence occurring there was ultimately the fault of the British and we did not morally judge the tactics the IRA used, especially as most of those in society who condemned them supported far greater violence in the Falklands, El Salvador, Vietnam, Palestine etc. After Enniskillen for example the headline in the British Socialist Worker was ‘the bitter fruits of British rule’ and this was our bottom line; if you wanted peace then you should call for a British withdrawal, the IRA were a symptom, not the cause of the problem. It was a get out clause of course and often extremely abstract given the steady drip of killings in the 1980s. The Provo’s formal politics did not in theory matter to us; whether the O Bradaigh/MacStoifain leadership or Adams/McGuinness, the point was that they were taking on imperialism. We reckoned this applied everywhere; South Africa, Nicaragua, Iran, it wasn’t what you called yourself, it was whether or not you objectively opposed imperialism.

However to confuse matters further we did not actually support the use of armed struggle as a tactic. We were big on Trotsky’s ‘Against Individual Terrorism’ and stressed that the IRA could never ultimately defeat imperialism. The IRA might be brave and heroic (‘the finest people in this country’ I remember Kieran Allen stating at one meeting) but guerrilla struggle could not win in modern Ireland; we were not in Angola or Vietnam. A mass workers movement that opposed both states in Ireland, openly fighting for a workers republic was the only force that could really take on imperialism. The Provos would never lead this, because at base they were nationalists and would always search for some form of compromise with imperialism. We judged the armed struggle to be mistaken, not on individual incidents, but because it could not mobilise the popular forces necessary, either north or south, to succeed. Therefore we didn’t regard the Brighton bomb as ‘good’ and Enniskillen as ‘bad’, both were different sides of the same tactic. We didn’t offer the Provos advice on how to fight their war but we defended their right to fight it against those who condemned them, who we usually dismissed as hypocrites. Perhaps surprisingly to those who thought us Provo fellow travellers, the SWM did not believe the north was the be all and end all, especially by 1984. There was not a revolutionary situation in the six counties (though there may have been in 1969-71) and even if all the Catholics there supported the IRA they still could not win. There needed to be a workers movement in the south, which would probably emerge around bread and butter, day to day industrial struggles that would eventually give rise to a struggle that would challenge imperialism. If that movement also challenged the reactionary Catholic aspects of the south then there was even a possibility it might win some northern Protestant support.

The Protestant working class were not a labour aristocracy, ‘colons’ or a settler class but they did have certain marginal privileges that tied them to Unionism, which at base was a reactionary ideology. Therefore while they would have to be won to socialism in the struggle for a workers republic we did not believe that you shied away from condemning Unionism or exposing anti-Catholic bigotry. The UDA and UVF were counter -revolutionary supremacist groups and you could not be a socialist and a unionist. The examples of Jim Larkin and 1907 and the 1932 ODR strike were held up as times when workers had united but it was always stressed that unless sectarianism was challenged then this unity was always likely to collapse. Sectarianism was used by Britain to maintain its rule and it was Protestant sectarianism that was the problem. Looking back there was an amazing willingness to accept the Provo’s assurances that they were not sectarian and Socialist Worker used terms like ‘Brits’ and ‘Free State’ until the late 80s at least. The above is largely from memory but much of it was outlined in a small book by the British SWP’s Irish expert, a very dislikeable Scottish gent called Chris Bambery in Ireland’s Permanent Revolution (1987).

So that was the theory, at least. The reality was of course a bit more confused. The SWM had about one member in Belfast in the mid 80s and a small group in Derry. Most of us were southerners with no real experience of the north. There were some members who took ‘unconditional but critical’ to mean we did support the armed struggle and who cheered when the Provos killed British soldiers or cops. I cheered when they nearly got Thatcher (surely a good bomb?) but usually kept quite when they killed some off duty UDR man or killed civilians by mistake. I wasn’t alone. Some people were distinctly wary of the whole issue while others were actually close to seeing it as the be all and end all. One person I remember argued that at least the armed struggle ‘kept the pot boiling’ and allowed for a certain instability in Irish politics. Also remember at this time Sinn Fein were doing a good job of talking like a national liberation movement. Every AP/RN had stuff on South Africa, Palestine, Nicaragua etc (much more so I think than the Irish People for instance). So a few young SWM members who joined during stuff like the Reagan visit eventually went off and joined Sinn Fein, because they offered them almost constant street politics as opposed to the SWM’s theorising. The ‘unconditional’ support for the Provos could lead to people being amazingly blasé about death and destruction ‘that’s what happens in wars’ etc and there was little empathy with the victims of republican violence in the north. We never understood what the IRA’s campaign was doing in terms of destroying inter-communal relations (such as they were). Yet we thought somewhere down the line workers would still unite. For most of us our first experience of the north was going up to sell papers at the August anti-internment march in Belfast or the Bloody Sunday commemoration demo in Derry. It was grim and a bad time, though we often sold a lot of papers to people at these events.

The SWM spent a lot of time arguing that the southern labour movement had to take on board the north and oppose repression there and that was the line that we carried into anti-extradition campaigns etc. Within these campaigns the SWM argued for orientation on the unions and opposing looking to Fianna Fail’s ‘grass roots.’ Kieran Allen had written an important article arguing that the south was not a neo-colony of Britain but an independent capitalist state and the southern bourgeoisie had no objective interest in opposing partition. Fianna Fail was not in any way republican or potentially progressive. This is what usually marked us out in republican led campaigns; they’d be over the moon that Councillor Richard Greene, Nora Comisky or Willie O’Dea (yes!) had spoken out against extradition, which was supposed to presage some mass conversion by Fianna Fail to ‘Brits out’ when one of us would stand up and say it was all a front and that Fianna Fail wanted to crush the Provos as much as Thatcher did. Instead we should lobby the trades council to get their banner on the next anti-extradition demo….the grand theory was of course that because we were too small to have a real influence, participation in these campaigns offered an opportunity to connect with the ‘ones and twos’ who were possibly looking for a socialist alternative to republicanism. Significantly we did not consider ourselves socialist republicans, or any kind of republican; we used that term as interchangeable with nationalism. Culturally rebel songs were frowned on and SWM socials would usually feature fairly standard American and British labour songs (‘which side are you on’ etc). Some people did sing rebel songs of course but it was discouraged. Similarly nobody spoke Irish and there was absolutely no interest in it. There were no practicing Catholics as far as I can remember, which of course was a reflection of how marginal we were! Anti-clericalism was a given.

There was really very little knowledge of Loyalism, the Protestant working class, the SDLP or day to day life in the north but we could of course explain most of the above with a few slogans. Like so much on the far left you were defined by your competitors or opponents. Compared to People’s Democracy and the League for a Workers Republic we actually sounded quite critical of the Provos. Both those groups orientated almost completely on the republican movement and still thought the north was where it was at (though I only saw Paddy Healy of the LWR once and they may have been almost gone by 1984). PD criticised the SWM as ‘economists’ and didn’t like us very much. After the hunger strikes a section of PD had actually joined Sinn Fein in order to push it further leftwards. Ann Speed, a fella called Meehan (who had a brother who stayed in PD) and some others were supposed to be entryists of some sort. I’ll leave others to judge whether they changed Sinn Fein or the Provos changed them. The funny thing was that even though the ex-PD had only been in the Provos a wet weekend, they acted like they were veterans of the Curragh in the 1940s and were really smug and arrogant towards the far left. In contrast the actual Provos were usually not hostile. Some of them were a bit bemused by the array of literature they would be offered outside an Ard Fheis, while others smiled cynically, but very rarely would someone tell you to ‘fuck off.’ Mostly they would stop and talk and generally act civilly. I later realised why so many of the ones whose faces I knew were friendly but reserved and rarely offered strong opinions on anything. Loads of them were in the IRA and several were later caught on robberies or on various missions in Britain. It seems to me that being a young SF member in the south in the 1980s was still only sort of an apprenticeship for the ‘army.’ So the SWM were a fairly harmless diversion to them and unless we were going to actually really annoy them there was nothing to be lost in saying hello to us. Actually Gerry Adams had a good tactic for dealing with far left critics at meetings. He cultivated this avuncular thing where he would say hello and sometimes buy a paper. Then he puffed his pipe while someone denounced the Provo pan-nationalist strategy before replying by thanking the ‘comrade from the League for a Revolutionary Socialist Republic (deliberately making up a mad lefty title, well an even madder one than whoever the speaker actually belonged to) for advising the people of the north how to fight the war, but they were getting on ok without them etc.’ Cue loads of laughing and big rounds of applause.

If PD and the LWR were one benchmark than the CPI and Militant were the others. The CPI offered critical support to Fianna Fail and saw Haughey as potentially progressive, especially in contrast to the Coalition government. They opposed extradition, Section 31 and plastic bullets and still actually had Protestant members in the north. But the softness for Fianna Fail and of course their support for the Eastern Bloc meant we never really had much dealings with them. Militant, in retrospect I think had a fairly sensible position, stressing workers unity and being active in the Labour and Trade Union Group, in both communities. (Actually I remember one of their comrades was murdered by the UVF about 1986). They also opposed repression however. Crucially they simply called on the Provos to stop, which we would never do. But we saw them as making all sorts of concessions to Unionism, especially the ‘federation of Ireland and Britain’ idea which even today galls me. Most of the Irish working class spent a fairly long time trying top get away from a federation with Britain! I also disliked Militant however because I remember at one meeting someone from the SWM was stoically making the point that workers unity would not last without clear anti-imperialist politics, because after all hadn’t the great days of the ODR riots been followed just three years later by the 1935 sectarian pogroms? Peter Hadden sneered back that the speaker was obviously not very well read because there were no sectarian killings in Belfast between 1922 and 1969. Well I went home and looked up my history books and lo and behold, there was a spot of unpleasant bother in 1935. Never liked Hadden since. As for the WP, well we just thought they were absolutely pro-imperialist and had very little contact with them anyway. I know that was very simplistic but we just went by their calls to support the RUC and their view of the Provos as the root of all evil. Reading recent discussions on this site I realised that I’d never actually heard of several of the feuds etc. There were also recurring rumours that the WP in the north were involved with the cops and Loyalists in some way. Funnily enough though we called for a vote for them in southern general elections!

Now the SWP in Britain were a slightly different story and loads of them thought the Provos were the bee’s knees in the 80s. Think of a more extreme version of Ken Livingstone. Sinn Fein speakers used to get great ovations for saying absolutely nothing at Marxism in London every year. When I went there I sounded like I was in Militant compared to many members. This also began to change in the late 1980s. Aside from Bambery their big Irish experts were Pat Stack, (from Cork I think) and basically anyone else with an Irish surname. There were quite a few Irish born and second generation Paddies in the SWP and I believe the joke in the 1970s was that it was largely an organisation composed of Catholics and Jews! Their line on the north did get them into trouble occasionally but many people in Britain did not really give a shite about Ireland and weren’t too troubled if you were selling a paper that said ‘troops out’ on the cover. The obvious exception was after IRA bombs.

As far as I know in the early 1990s the SWM’s line went under a big revision as Kieran Allen discovered after 20 years that the Provo’s armed struggle was actually counter productive (that was not the line in the 80s and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) and was not doing a great deal to advance the workers cause at all. I think this position was eventually adopted about five minutes before the Provos declared their ceasefire in 1994. For a while the SWM seemed to moving towards a Militant type position but have perhaps changed again. I don’t know. Personally these days I think the whole thing was a tragic mess, the war in the north that is, not the SWM. If we thought the armed struggle was the wrong tactic then we should have simply called on them to stop using it. They wouldn’t have listened of course but it would have at least been clear what we meant.

Ed Hayes

Galloway attempting to take on SWP in Respect? September 4, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Britain, Marxism, Trotskyism.
5 comments

Feast or famine? I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks and then three in one day. But I came across an interesting piece courtesy of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Weekly Worker site.

George Galloway has published an eight page attack on the organisational and political failures of the Respect project in Britain. The SWP in Britain have issued a response disagreeing with his points.

Readers can look through Galloway’s document in more details but it accuses the leadership of being undemocratic, secretive and amateurish about staffing appointments, presiding over a serious financial crisis, a serious recruitment crisis, and being completely unprepared for an election, either to the Greater London Assembly or to Westminster if Brown decides to go next month.

Though Galloway makes no reference to the SWP, that organisation’s dominance of the internal bureaucracy of RESPECT is well known and that their immediate reaction was a lengthy document, not available on the net I believe, disagreeing with every point, suggests they knew who Galloway was talking about.

Interesting reading, and perhaps interesting times ahead for the RESPECT comrades.

Being heavily debated on the Socialist Unity blog.

The Left Archive: Peoples Democracy, ideology and just what is Trotskyism? August 27, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Leninism, Marxism, People's Democracy, Trotskyism.
39 comments

northern_star_70r.jpg

This – no, not the image above which is a publication from 1970 – this here cover-2.pdf is fresh from the archives, an interesting document entitled “What is Trotskyism” issued by People’s Democracy in or about 1980. The pamphlet contains a speech by veteran Trotskyist Ernest Mandel (a fascinating person in his own right who seems to have been able to overcome much of the usual tendency on the left to cowerg behind the lines and instead been willing to discuss and argue with political opponents) during a debate with Monty Johnstone of the CPGB from 1969. And it’s a pretty good explication of what Mandel considered was currently existing Trotskyism during that period.

It’s sort of fun. Within the pages there are three images, one of Trotsky, one of Lenin and then a third of a Peoples Democracy March from the late 1960s, perhaps even the PD march at Burntollet. Simply produced by PD on a typewriter. We have ads for their bookshops in Andersonstown and Killester (that well known hotbed of revolutionary activity).

The debate itself is quite interesting. It was clearly at a point when Trotskyism was resurgent, buoyed by the rise of the New Left and student movements. Indeed the spirit of ’68 permeates the pages, particularly when Mandel raises some quite frankly excellent questions regarding the role of the pro-Moscow PCF during May 1968 (although one might suggest that it’s always easier to be complaining about the exercise or non-exercise of power when one has effectively none). And in a fascinating foreshadowing of later and more contemporary debates Mandel argues that the invasion of Czechoslovakia ‘…not only violated the sovereignty and independence of a small nation…but was equally criminal in other respects’. This concentration on sovereignty is quite telling (although to me a bit contradictory for internationalists)… anyhow. Read the rest yourselves!

The ideological basis for this tilt to Trotskyism by PD (which also flirted with Maoism) developed during the 1970s, although it is in a sense hardly surprising that such a political child of 1968 would find other more traditional left formations difficult to align with (indeed there has to be a thesis subject there on the way in which the appropriation by SFWP effectively closed down the option for our homegrown radicals to follow the Moscow – or even really the Havana route). By 1976 they were recognised as the Irish section of the Fourth International.

In a way the longevity of PD is remarkable. From the early days as part of the campaign for civil rights the movement transcended its roots as what appeared to be a fundamentally student based organisation. In the early 1980s they held two seats on Belfast City Council. But as PSF moved towards a more overtly political stance it provided both competitor and new home for some PD activists. Eventually, as late as 1996, it was dissolved and replaced by Socialist Democracy.

Any of you who know the story from the inside I’d be most interested to hear more. It sounds like a remarkable organisation.

Incidentally I can’t resist decoding the cover of the Northern Star from 1970 above. Its got it all, doesn’t it, from Larkin, to a youthful rioter and then a stencilled Starry Plough. Oh yes, and two initials which at that time wouldn’t quite resonate with quite the same chilling effect as more recently!

[Image above from CAIN]

New book on ‘Council Communism’ August 20, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Left Libertarianism, Libertarianism, Marxism.
7 comments

Thought this might be of interest to some of our regulars considering the comments on the BICO and SP threads dealing with Marxism, Leninism and the role of democracy and the party in such.

According to an IRSP email bulletin an organisation called Red and Black Publishers in the US has published a book entitled ‘Non-Leninist Marxism’ (Available on Amazon), including the works of Dutch Marxists Hermann Gorter and Anton Pannekoek, the English Left Communist Sylvia Pankhurst, and the German Council Communist Otto Ruehl. I’ll be honest. It’s not my cup of tea and I’d only vaguely heard of ‘Council Communism’ prior to this but I thought some of our Marxist scholars might be curious. Lengthy excerpt from the review follows:

“The book begins  with Gorter’s excellent, systematic refutation of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, which was penned against the Council Communist tendency and includes Gorter’s essay on why a Communist Workers’ International was needed.

non-leninist-marxism.jpg
“The one weakness of the book is its selections by Anton Pannekoek, perhaps the greatest astronomer ever produced by the Netherlands and one of the most intelligent exponents of Council Communist. It offers his 1908 article on The Labour Movement and Socialism, which while a worthwhile critique of the reformist tendencies of the trade unions pales besides his master work, The Workers’ Councils, which is not offerred here. Likewise, Pannekoek’s 1918 article, The German Revolution: First Stage, is well worth reading, but his book Lenin As Philosopher would have been a more welcome (if much longer)
offering.

“Sylvia Pankhurst is represented by her seven-part article Communism and Its Tactics, which provides a wonderful breath of fresh air amidst the meager politics of reform that passes for Marxism today.

“The book concludes with two pieces by the all too rarely seen German Council Communist leader, Otto Ruhle. The first of these is his The Revolution is Not a Party Affair, which provides an excellent critique of the party as the means for working class revolutionary organizing and then finishes with his powerful Report From Moscow, which is precisely that–a report to the German Communist Workers’ Party regarding his trip to Moscow to attend the third Congress of the Third International, which marked the KAPD’s break from the Comintern in defense of a revolutionary vs. a opportunist line to be pursued in Western Europe. ”

It is believed that 20th Century Fox are bidding for the movie rights.

With a little help from St Martin and Karl Marx August 15, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Education, Marxism.
8 comments

It seems to sneak up on me every year. Fumbling with take-out coffee and the morning’s paper while waiting for the bus I turned to the headlines and there it was: ‘Leaving Cert results’. The story, on all the frontpages, dealt with declining results in some maths and science subjects but for me, and probably anyone reading it who had sat through the exams, it was a reminder of what we were repeatedly told was the most important event in our lives.

To this day my short walk along the corridor to the School Secretary’s office to collect my results remains one of my most terrifying and nauseating experiences. Since then I’ve been in a couple of unpleasant situations where serious physical harm was a possibility, but generally there was no time to be scared and I have always been blessed with the instinctive coward’s ability to know where the proverbial fire exists are located in any room. This was different, the culmination of months, years, of work and steadily building tension.

For me, perhaps more than most, the results that morning were serious for it was the second time I had taken the exams. I had done a negligible amount of work the previous year, spending my time reading books that had nothing to do with the school curriculum and had missed out my first choice by some distance. I was offered instead a degree in public administration somewhere outside the pale. The road less travelled I suppose. Had I taken it, I’d never have met Mrs Little, never have ended up working where I am and I suspect wouldn’t have got so involved in politics being too busy administering people.

But instead, I chose to give it one more try and transferred to a new school. After the first day of classes I walked out to discover my father had, unusually, taken time off work to give me a lift home. On the way, he pulled into a lay-by and we had what was probably our first serious conversation as men. There was no lecturing or pleading or commanding, as marks the relationship of father and son for the first two decades, more a quiet conversation about the year ahead and how important it was for my future.

And so, after a summer of sleepless nights and ever-increasing anxiety after the exams were over I looked forward to the day when the results would be there to be collected. This was long before the post Leaving Cert celebrations consisted of a week in Ibiza, or wherever it is the young people go these days.

It was about half ten when we pulled into the carpark. There were a couple of other cars around, a few students going in or coming out. I ran into a girl I knew who was struggling to restrain her excitement as she came out. We exchanged a few words but it was clear her mind was on what she had achieved and the need to tell her family. She wished me luck and in I went.

The corridor from the main entrance to the secretary’s office was relatively short. Industrial, dark green carpets and cream walls dotted with religious imagery. Cushioned backless benches along the right hand side and a short queue of nervous men and women, boys and girls, waiting for their results. Curiously, I can’t remember faces. Those of the people I queued with and must have spoken to, or the school official who handed me my results, yet everything else that morning prior to the results is extraordinarily vivid even today.

I remember sitting on one of the benches with the calculator to hand adding up my scores. Astute readers will note the fact that it took me three attempts, despite my fine electronic adding device, to get my final results and accurately conclude that neither Maths nor Physics were where I was hoping to get my points.

It was enough. Not enough to be comfortable. A sudden spring in popularity for my first choice course and I might still lose it, but I thought it was enough, and so it proved. I don’t remember walking out of the school or telling my parents or friends. I don’t remember what we did later that day though I suspect it was a quiet family dinner someplace.

I do remember the two people credited with getting me through it. Ma Little was, and still is, a great believer in St Martin de Porres. Despite my atheist leanings at the time I had carried a St Martin’s medal into every exam, feigning reluctance as a good atheist should, but drawing comfort from rubbing the smooth surface of it with my thumb throughout the examinations nonetheless. I kept the medal up until my third year in college, a lucky talisman of sorts. This, and a couple of rosaries from my Mother, is the case for St Martin’s support.

It was my fanatically Marxist friend, whose committed Stalinism had a formative influence on my political development at the time, who argued that my success had been an example of an ‘historical inevitability’, assuring me that he had had as much confidence in me getting my results as he had in the inevitable collapse of capitalism. He attempted to make what I can only assume through a hazy recollection were spurious efforts to put my examination results in a Marxist context. In his defence, and mine for taking him seriously, we were both very drunk at the time.

This morning, around 50,000 young people will collect their results. Some will go straight to work, others to university and many to something in between.  For some, blighted by poor opportunities, today’s results will make little or no difference to their lives. The collection of the results is in itself an academic exercise. For others, it has the potential to be a defining moment shaping the rest of their lives for like most of us the career we take or the friends we make are to a large extent shaped by the university opportunity we had.

And for me, every year, it is a reminder of how a young person can be so utterly convinced that one’s entire future is contained in a series of letters and numbers spelling out the rest of my life.

Defeat for SP in ’07, but where is the internal debate? August 12, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Marxism, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party, The Left.
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It has been a bad year for Trotsky’s representatives in Ireland, the Socialist Party.

In the North hopes that water charges were going to be introduced, allowing the SP through it’s dominance of the We Won’t Pay Campaign to take a lead on the issue, were dashed when the new Assembly suspended the Charges. The issue is not dead by any means, and the introduction of water charges is still a strong possibility, but the opportunity that was there for the SP to take on a position of being a serious player in Northern politics through the non-payment campaign has disappeared, at least temporarily.

The Assembly elections were equally disappointing. The party’s two candidates each polled less than 250 votes with Thomas Black coming 13th out of 15 candidates in East Belfast and James Barbour 13th out of 18 in South Belfast. The SP’s explanation for this is that they were too busy working to build the mass non-payment campaign to take seriously such minor matters as Assembly elections. It is an explanation that lacks any real credibility.

The SP had undoubtedly done more to build the campaign of opposition to water charges than any other party yet in an election where the charges were one of the biggest issues, their two long-standing candidates failed to register anything more than a ‘friends and family’ vote. The use of non-payment campaigns like this to raise the profile of election candidates was standard SP practice for Higgins and Daly in their respective Dáil constituencies and for Mick Barry and Mick Murphy in the Locals. With the election of Brian Wilson as the first Green MLA, Anna Lo as the first from an ethnic minority background and Kieran Deeny retaining his seat in West Tyrone on a hospital services ticket there are tiny green shoots of an alternative politics to the unionist and nationalist blocs. It is one that seems to have no room for Peter Hadden.

But all of this was secondary to the disaster that was the party’s performance in the 2007 Elections. Like most observers I expected to see Higgins retain his seat with relative ease though I did suspect he might drop a few votes to a growing Sinn Féin organisation in the constituency. Though he dropped votes, it was certainly not to the pretty poor Sinn Féin performance. Again, like most, I expected to see Daly take a seat in Dublin North and so did she by all accounts. Yet even if the constituency had been a five seater, it simply wasn’t on the cards.

What is interesting to me is the reaction of the SP to this compared to Labour and Sinn Féin, both of whom had poor enough elections. Senior members of the Labour party have gone public with their criticism of the party’s strategy. There seems at events like the Tom Johnson Summer School to be an effort to try and identify what went wrong. The deal with Sinn Féin, which covers more than Seanad nominations but also a deal in the Dáil the details of which have not been made public, suggest a re-orientation of Labour, however embryonic it is in form.

Sinn Féin threw the pages of the party paper open to criticism, sometimes quite aggressive in nature, of the party’s leadership and announced a complete review of the party’s election strategy consisting of meetings around the country. According to reports that appeared in Phoenix and that I have heard myself, these meetings have been extremely critical of the party leadership and at times quite heated and the review process is not yet complete.

The Socialist Party on the other hand, seems to have decided that the reason for the party’s poor election in 2007 is simple. It was everybody else’s fault. Presumably there is no reason for an internal debate when Kevin O’Loughlin has explained the party line on what went wrong as he did in an article published on their site on the 29th of May. The failures of the ‘official opposition’ and the trade union movement are blamed for people choosing Fianna Fáil. The lack of a ‘better mood and general combativity by the working class’ prevented seats in Dublin West and Dublin North.

Equally interesting, was O’Loughlin’s forthright statement that ‘the Socialist Party stood by its principles and politically and organisationally did everything in its power to withstand the shifts in opinion’. In other words, if something went wrong, it certainly was not our fault and therefore criticism of the party leadership or strategy, should it even exist, a red herring.

There is, in fairness, justification for one of their complaints. Had Dublin West been properly represented as a four seater, Joe Higgins would have retained his seat. But concentrating on this and claiming, as O’Loughlin does, that the strength of the party in Dublin North insulated them from the damage done by the ‘Alliance for Change’ ignores a steep decline in Higgins’ vote from 21.48% to 14.91%. Daly’s vote went from 12.52% to 8.92%. Some insulation. Only in Cork North Central and Dublin South West were they votes up, albeit marginally, on 2002. Either way, the best the SP can hope for in 2009 is to tread water at a local election level.

Losing Higgins’ seat is a disaster for the organisation on a number of levels and there is more than a little truth in the pompous claim from O’Loughlin that it is a disaster for the working class. Higgins was probably the most effective and articulate left TD in the Dáil and his media profile, far in excess of what one would expect for a single TD party, was a valuable resource. He was one of the few TDs who genuinely unnerved Ahern during Leader’s Questions and seemed to have a better grasp of the use of the Dáil as a platform from which to articulate one’s views than Labour and Sinn Féin who found themselves sucked into the institution. But more even than the political or propaganda loss, which is quickly appreciated, is the financial damage done to the party.

With the loss of the seat goes the full-time salary for Higgins, the two staff he had working out of his office, the use of the office and Leinster House facilities, the money Higgins donated to the party from his wages and expense and the Leader’s Allowance, which was worth almost 70,000 Euros per annum alone. All told, the financial cost to the SP of losing the seat, including wages, must add up to over 200,000 Euros per annum. For any political party to lose a sum of that size would be damaging. For the Socialist Party, who must have become used to being able to rely on such state funding and who are a small organisation with little fundraising capacity, it has the potential to be crippling.

Members of the Socialist Party, including its incredibly aggressive ad hoc group of bloggers and internet monitors, have been putting the best face on this. Arguing, rightly, that elections are merely one aspect of their work. That they continue to campaign in the unions and communities. That Joe Higgins will return. And so on. But one of the things the SP has done well is use the resources and profile that came with Higgins’ elevation to the Dáil to support those campaigns. With other Independents and the Greens defeated or neutralised through coalition, it opens up a space for Sinn Féin to assert dominance of the radical left in Ireland, with Labour taking the more moderate space. What kind of campaign, for example, will the SP be able to mount against the EU Constitution? What kind of local or European election campaign can they run in 2009?

These are important considerations for any political party. A debate around them could be taking place within the SP but there is absolutely no sign of it and the indications from the party’s paper is that the O’Loughlin analysis of the election, putting responsibility on everyone else and failing to address the way forward for the party in the short to medium term, is the accepted truth.

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