And yes, crimes were committed by the victors of the Vietnam War. Terrible though they were for those affected - such as Thanh Vu - they were not even on the same scale as the nihilism of the 'American War'.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
And yes, crimes were committed by the victors of the Vietnam War. Terrible though they were for those affected - such as Thanh Vu - they were not even on the same scale as the nihilism of the 'American War'.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Today, the Scottish Campaign for Socialism (CfS) - the organised Labour left in Scotland - meets in emergency session to discuss fielding a candidate against well-connected Brownite ultra Wendy Alexander in the impending Scottish Labour leadership election.
In true Brownite fashion, the Scottish party hierarchy is determined to avoid an old-fashioned democratic contest in which party members and trade unionists actually have a say in the future of their party - despite the fact that Alexander has the support of around 7% of Scottish voters. Fortunately, the left thinks differently. A statement issued by the CfS yesterday cited Alexander's "refusal to rule out privatisation of the Scottish water industry and her commitment to continuing with the economic madness of PFI/PPP in the public services" as a reason why "it is important that a candidate should come forward to challenge the failed policies of the past..."
Elaine Smith MSP (the convenor of the CfS) was in no doubt about what sort of issues a democratic contest should focus on: "We want to talk about issues like PFI, like bus re-regulation and transport in Scotland, like sustainable economic jobs. We want to talk about affordable housing. We want to talk about Trident in Scotland." These are, of course, issues that are close to the hearts of Scottish Labour party members and trade unionists - and the Brownite clique are only too aware of this.
What are the chances of the left actually winning if MSPs don't follow the example of the PLP back in May and veto a contest (6 MSPs are required to nominate a candidate)? Better than you may think. A poll of Scottish party members even before the Iraq war showed massive disillusionment with New Labour. In March 2003, only 33% of party members - in the supposed heartland of the Brownite machine - supported Gordon Brown as Blair's successor. Furthermore, party members expressed their belief that New Labour cared more about the middle classes and big business than the working class and unemployed. Such was their alienation from New Labour that 45% of members never attended local meetings. The situation today can only be worse from the perspective of the New Labour clique.
Opposition to Trident in the Scottish Labour party is so great that no Labour MSP could bring themselves to vote for renewal in a vote in June 2007: the majority abstained while 5 MSPs voted against.
Equally, a left leadership candidate would win thousands of votes in the affiliated unions. Take UNISON Scotland, which represents 150,000 workers in public services. In direct contrast to the rightwing Prentis mafia that rules the roost nationally, UNISON Scotland's LabourLink voted to support John McDonnell if he made the ballot paper. Other affiliated trade unionists could use an election to stand up against unpopular Brownite policies such as PFI or the war in Iraq.
Furthermore, a Scottish Labour party led by the left could sweep to power. This is a country in which, in the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Tories only managed to win 13.4% of the seats. The SNP managed to win not least because they postured to the left of Labour on a whole range of issues. Excluding the Lib Dems, parties claiming to be left-of-centre won three quarters of the Parliament's seats.
Policies supported by the left enjoy huge support in Scotland. Two thirds of the population support immediate withdrawal from Iraq; there is overwhelming opposition to privatisation; and a large majority oppose Trident.
To put it simply: a left-led party represents Scottish Labour's best chance of kicking out the Nats and reclaiming power. A democratic contest would involve currently demoralised party and trade union activists and boost Labour's standing in the polls.
The political conditions for the Scottish Labour left are better than they have been for years. The Scottish Socialist Party - which sucked out so many socialists from the Labour party into what (unsurprisingly) turned out to be a political deadend - is in total collapse. A leadership campaign would revitalise the Scottish Labour left.
Not only that, but it would prove an inspiration and morale boost to a British Labour left still suffering from confusion and disillusionment after the Brown coronation shock. A Scottish Labour leadership election could help renew the Labour left on a national scale.
So, who's the candidate going to be? My own preference is Elaine Smith - a deeply principled , high-profile socialist who openly backed John McDonnell's leadership campaign from the beginning and did everything she could to help. However, I defer to the choice of Scottish comrades. Bill Butler may be the only left candidate who can get the nomination of 6 MSPs
- and if so, we must wholeheartedly support him.
If a contest isn't vetoed by Labour MSPs, then I hope that a left leadership campaign will look to the best aspects of the John4Leader campaign: a forward-looking campaign promoting 21st socialism that avoids the 'Old Labour' trap; a thoroughly grassroots campaign; and a sophisticated internet campaign.
First Scotland, then...
Thursday, August 2, 2007
On the right, Blairites and the Tories conspired together in an attempt to force David Miliband to stand. The Tories had not-very-subtle but surprisingly little noted motives for doing so: as Michael Portillo recently admitted, "The Tories pretended to be afraid that David Miliband might win (and noisily set up a stop-Miliband unit, like some second world war decoy), hoping to lure him into the fray." Portillo himself was part of the conspiracy; the Torygraph was one noisy media supporter of the campaign; and prominent Tory blogger Iain Dale wrote a piece arguing that Miliband is "the Labour cabinet member most Tories fear." In actual fact, the Tories knew that Miliband didn't have even the remotest chance of winning - but they believed that, given the lack of real political differences between Brown and Miliband, such a contest would have focused on Brown's alleged personality flaws. Brown would have emerged victorious but damaged - and all the mud thrown at Brown would have been regurgitated word-for-word by Cameron. Very clever.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
To be brutally honest (and this isn't simply a condemnation - why, given their position on the Labour party, would they behave any differently?) the ultra-left sects circled like vultures throughout the campaign, desperately hoping that it would fail so that they could pick off a few disillusioned Labour party members. Where they had positions of power (such as within PCS), they actually acted to block support for the campaign. As the Weekly Worker (the gossip paper of the ultra-left sects) reported, many of the sects secretly rejoiced at the outcome. Leading figures of the Socialist Party (who stood a candidate against John in the 2001 general election) didn't waste any time and called for the "dwindling Labour left" to leave the Labour party - and join them in the swamp.
So, why don't the Labour left throw in the towel, up sticks and found a new left party? After all, the New Labour clique has extended privatisation to areas of the public sector that the Tories didn't dare touch; it has failed to restore the workers' rights stolen by the Tories; and it has waged war against Iraq in alliance with Bush's neocons. To top it all off, the PLP vetoed an attempt by a left candidate to even have the right to challenge Brown, depriving party members and trade unionists of a vote. So, why not sack it all off?
In actual fact, the case against the Labour left even contemplating the utter lunacy of abandoning the party is overwhelming. The argument for leaving the party is based on an understandable but fundamentally irrational emotional revulsion at the excesses of the New Labour project.
These are the main reasons against the suicidal urge to throw our lot in with the dozens of miniscule sects out there:
THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
There have been three left splits from the Labour party worth mentioning (though the latter two might be pushing it): the Independent Labour Party in 1932, the Militant Tendency in 1992, and the Socialist Labour Party in 1994. The story with all of them is pretty much the same: starved off a base in the labour movement, all suffered a huge decline in support, membership and influence.
The ILP, for example, suffered a catastrophic decline in membership following disaffiliation. By 1948, all ILP MPs had defected back to the Labour party. Never again did the ILP come close to winning a Parliamentary seat and the party collapsed into total obscurity, before rejoining Labour in 1975.
During its entryist period, Militant had around 8,000 members, thousands more supporters, control of Liverpool City Council and numerous other councillors across the country, 3 MPs, and a significant base within the unions through the party-union link. Since it left, its membership is roughly an eighth of what it once was, it has effectively lost nearly all of its old sympathisers, it has 5 remaining councillors across the country and is not even close to winning a Parliamentary seat.
Finally, Scargill's SLP attracted a few prominent trade unionists (such as Bob Crow) to begin with, before collapsing into an obscure Stalinist sect with no base anywhere to speak of.
THE UNION LINK
Since its inception, the financial and organisational base of the Labour party has been the trade union movement. Millions of organised workers are directly linked to the party as a result. That's why the Labour party remains a workers' party.
When the sects call for the unions to disaffiliate, they are not only effectively calling for a further emasculation of working class political representation - they are also missing the point. If we failed to win the support of the unions for John McDonnell's leadership bid, what hope of getting them to support an entirely new party? The issue about the link is the failure of the unions to exploit it - for example, by placing demands on the party hierarchy, by supporting leftwing leadership/deputy leadership candidates, by ensuring that there are progressive representatives on the NEC, by parachuting candidates into parliamentary seats who back union policies, by sending delegates to all CLPs to fight for the trade union agenda, etc.
Recently, veteran leftwing Labour MP Bob Wareing lost his trigger ballot. One of the main reasons for this was because nine branches of the Blairite-led USDAW union affiliated to his CLP at the same. Why aren't unions such as the T&G doing the same to Blairite MPs? That's the sort of question we should be asking.
Two unions have either been expelled or disaffiliated from the Labour party - the FBU and the RMT. The result has been a strong decline in their political power. The only political influence they continue to wield comes from - yes, you've guessed it - parliamentary groups of Labour MPs.
THE PARLIAMENTARY LEFT
Elements of the extra-Labour Left have echoed Blairites in ridiculing John4Leader supporters because "only" 29 MPs nominated him for the leadership. This is despite the fact that the biggest number of MPs the far left has ever elected at any one time was 2 Communist MPs - in the extraordinary post-war conditions of 1945. Ironically, more Communist representatives were elected as Labour candidates in the 1920s.
If the Labour Left were to suddenly abandon the party - we'd lose these 29 socialist MPs, as well as prominent champions of the labour movement such as John McDonnell.
THE BASE WITHIN THE LABOUR PARTY
The Labour party continues to have tens of thousands of socialist members. In last year's party elections to the NEC, left candidates won 4 out of 6 places. At party Conference over the past few years, the leadership has been defeated on PFI, privatisation of the NHS, trade union rights, pensions, council housing, trade union rights, corporate manslaughter legislation and rights for agency workers. A recent YouGov poll revealed that party activists supported higher taxation, renationalisation of the railways, an end to privatisation, no rearmament of Trident, an end to the war in Iraq - and an assortment of other progressive policies.
If the Labour Left were to leave the party, only the most ideological members would follow us. We would lose contact with broader sections of progressive activists. Furthermore, we would lose dozens of socialist Labour councillors.
When all is said and done, the Labour party membership remains (by far) the biggest left political movement in the country.
There are dozens of tiny competing sects out there - the mad, the bad and the plain bizarre. Between them, they have a few thousand members. None of them have anything even approaching a base within the working class. Despite arrogantly lecturing the Labour Left about our supposed failure to face reality, the sects have never (unlike the Labour Left) come close to any form of meaningful political power in their own right.
Two hundred thousand members of the Labour party have ripped up their membership cards over the past decade. Barely any of them have embraced the sects (who, themselves, have declined or, at best, stagnated over the same period).
The great recent recent hope of the sects was the Scottish Socialist Party. Though initially helped by an electoral system based on proportional representation and relatively good political conditions, the SSP predictably imploded and lost all its seats at the last election. Fortunately three socialist MSPs remain - that is, members of the Scottish Labour Party Campaign for Socialism: most notably, John McDonnell supporter Elaine Smith.
Fortunately, the chances of the Labour Left even considering abandoning the party are about as great as Gordon Brown announcing the expropriation of the top 200 monopolies. The bickering sects - when they take a break from splitting over which side to offer critical military support in Micronesia - will occasionally attract the odd disillusioned Labour party activist, grind them down and then spit them out again. Maybe occasionally they'll win twice as many votes in a council seat as the usual 1% they can muster. But they will continue to represent nothing but themselves.
In the aftermath of John McDonnell's leadership campaign, the Labour Left undoubtedly faces tough times and touch choices ahead. But there are no shortcuts to power. With our base in the party and unions, we have at least a chance to advance the demands of the labour movement. If we fail to do that - well, nobody else is going to succeed.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
The last few months have seen the most sustained period of high US casualties since the first bombs landed on Baghdad in March 2003. Over a hundred soldiers have died each month for the past three months. The supposed aim of stemming sectarian violence has failed. Not only do huge bomb attacks - such as that on Saturday - continue, but violence has been exported to other areas, often previously relatively untouched by the carnage.
The left should oppose the war in Iraq on the basis that it is a barbaric imperialist occupation based on securing the country's huge natural resources and gaining a foothold in the most strategically important region in the world. But we're also going to have to win the argument with a wider audience about why this occupation must end - and end now.
These are the arguments I think we must use when fighting this barbaric war:
- The war was fought on false pretences. The British and US Government always planned to go to war and used a variety of deceptions and half-truths to achieve their aim. Despite all the hysterical claims, there were no weapons of mass destruction in late Ba'athist Iraq.
- The invasion happened in defiance of overwhelming public opinion. Two million marched against the war in Britain and opinion polls prior to the invasion revealed huge opposition.
- The war has been a disaster for the Labour party. 139 Labour MPs voted against the war - and there was massive hostility to the invasion right across the labour movement. Little else has done more to cause half the party's membership and four million voters to abandon the Labour party.
- The invasion was illegal. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, repeatedly described the war as such.
- The war has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. In the first year alone, the number of violent deaths increased by 58 times - that is, 58 times more than the rate under an undeniably violent dictatorship. According to a peer-reviewed study for prestigious medical journal The Lancet last year, over 650,000 Iraqis have perished. And no, before the predictable comments, the evidence shows that most have not been killed by the sectarian thugs - 31% of deaths are attributable to Western forces, 24% to "others" and 46% "unknown". As many have died from airstrikes as from carbombs.
- The war has produced the world's second greatest refugee crisis. 1.5 million Iraqis are refugees abroad, and a staggering 2.3 million Iraqis are displaced within their own country - that is, 14% of a population of 26.8 million.
- Human rights abuses are rampant. Even CIA stooge and ex-US puppet leader Ayad Allawi claimed that abuse was worse than under Saddam Hussein. We're not just talking about the infamous abuses of Abu Ghraib or the barbaric destruction of Fallujah; it's also the widespread use of torture, arbitrary detention, night-time raids, the gunning down entire families at checkpoints and random massacres such as Haditha. Meanwhile US-trained militia such as the Badr Brigade engage in sectarian massacres, mass torture and random detentions. Because nearly all of Iraq outside the Green Zone is a no-go area for the Western media, we're only aware of the very tip of the iceberg.
- Life for ordinary Iraqis is grimmer than ever. 69% of Iraqis are unemployed, 54% live on less than a dollar a day and basic social infrastructure has collapsed, depriving millions of basic public services.
- Oil is the overriding factor for this occupation. Indeed, only last week the Australian Defence Minister had the honesty to admit that security oil supplies and maintaining "resource security" was one of the key factors behind the occupation. The occupying powers are pressuring the Iraqi government to effectively hand over its oil supplies to Western multinationals.
- It is the presence of Western occupation forces that provides a target and a raison d'etre for the Islamic fundamentalist terror squads. That's why Richard Dannatt - the head of the British Army - suggested that the continued presence of British troops in the South (never mind the US troops further North) "exacerbates the security problems in Iraq". The insurgency will continue for as long as Western troops remain on Iraqi soil.
- The vast majority of the Iraqi population oppose the occupation. For example, a poll conducted by the MoD in 2005 revealed that 45% of Iraqis support attacks on occupying forces and fewer than 1% believed that the occupation was helping to improve security in the country. 82% were "strongly" opposed to the occupation. Similar polls have all reached the same conclusions.
- The occupation is radicalising millions of Muslims across the world and has provided a huge boost to international terrorism. Attacks such as the Madrid bombings and the July 7th London attacks were the direct result of the continuing war. The solution to terrorism isn't to crack down on civil liberties and even further alienate the Muslim community; it's to end an occupation which serves as a recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda.
- The vast majority of the British public support a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
The invasion of Iraq represents the greatest crime of our age. It has drowned a country in unimaginable blood and chaos. Only in the years to come will we begin to have a real understanding of what this occupation has meant in terms of deaths and broken lives. The idea that a withdrawal of occupying troops will cause chaos is a dark joke: it is the very presence of the occupation that fuels the violence - which is exactly why the vast majority of Iraqis oppose it.
History will judge the left on what we did to fight this occupation. Let's make sure history doesn't damn us along with those responsible for the murder of Iraq.