Friday, 16 January 2015
Saturday, 10 January 2015
Satire is not meant to be a weapon against the powerless - Will Self on satire, free speech and racism
Was it really an attack on European values? - Myriam Francois-Cerrah punctures a few lazy myths
Why this was no attack on humour - Des Freedman examines the context surrounding the debate about free speech
The bitter fruit of imperialism - Lindsey German on lessons to be learned by the West's war-making governments
Western liberalism? Abdullah Al-Arian on the Enlightenment, empire and the contradictions of 'Western values'
What is the purpose of satire? - Cartoonist Joe Sacco on the politics of his art
There is a difference between being brave and being funny - Hugo Rifkind offers a thoughtful response
Moral clarity - Adam Shatz dismantles the 'clash of civilisations' thesis
The Iraq connection - Juan Cole draws attention to how the 'war on terror' influenced the latest terrorist atrocity
Algeria is the post-colonial wound that still bleeds in France - Robert Fisk on French imperialism and the legacy of the Algerian war for independence
The problem with drawings that fuel sectarian tensions - Alain Gresh sketches the recent evolution of Charlie Hebdo
How exactly would we like Muslims to condemn these attacks? Mark Steel lampoons the hypocrisy and absurdity of some responses to the killings
Thursday, 1 January 2015
On New Year's Day 2014 I made a set of predictions for politics (both global and domestic) in the year ahead. Read: My predictions for 2014
Here I am doing the same exercise again, but for 2015. I should point out that the purpose of the exercise is prediction, not an expression of what I want to happen. I've done this for the last two years and have aimed to be soberly realistic.
Glancing back at my 2014 predictions, I found that a few of them were well wide of the mark but many were entirely or largely correct. British politics is currently rather volatile and it's widely agreed that the outcomes of May's general election are highly unpredictable, so I may end up getting things badly wrong this time. We will have to wait and see.
There are 20 predictions. The first 6 are to do with the general election, then there are several others focused on British politics, and finally some predictions concerning global politics. Feel free to wildly disagree with any of them!
1. Labour will win most seats in May's general election, with 305 seats in total. It will form a minority government, relying heavily on a large degree of SNP and Lib Dem support.
13. Trident replacement will become a major issue in British politics, especially after May's election, and a source of large-scale campaigning, but the new government will nonetheless strongly (and, as of the end of 2015, successfully) resist pressures for its cancellation.
20. Widespread protests against police racism in the US will continue, periodically flaring up in response to specific police killings of black victims. Federal, state and civic authorities will remain resistant to any police reform and lose a great deal of legitimacy in the process.
Sunday, 30 November 2014
The book aims to persuade readers that Lenin ought to be taken seriously, his ideas applied creatively to new realities. This is an unfashionable task: Lenin has long been written off as at best irrelevant, at worst dangerous, by mainstream politicians and academics. Moreover, he is also regarded as outdated or irrelevant by many on the left and among those who are entering radical or anti-capitalist politics. Marxism in general is no longer automatically a major reference point for radical activists.
The notion of revolutionary organisation in the tradition of Lenin and the Bolsheviks has become particularly marginal for a number of reasons: the small size of the revolutionary left can make it seem insignificant, the sectarian degeneration and impotence of much of it has made it unattractive, and the body of ideas – Marxism – which underpins it is still little understood. Numerous alternative ways of organising have been offered, though all of them have encountered profound difficulties. The case for a renewal of revolutionary organisation may be unfashionable, but in a world of growing inequalities, seemingly intractable crisis and deep social injustice, it is one that deserves serious attention.
A reviled figure
Lenin is an important figure in history as the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, a central figure in the international Communist movement that developed in its aftermath, and the first leader of post-revolutionary Russia until his death in 1924. Lenin has been reviled by successive generations of conservative politicians, historians and political commentators precisely because he was a key protagonist in a revolutionary, mass working class challenge to capitalism - to the wealth and power of the ruling class - of huge historic significance, serving as inspiration to workers and oppressed people worldwide. But he has also been a source of contention and disagreement among many who have rejected the status quo of exploitation, inequality and oppression because the Soviet Union became, under Lenin’s successor Stalin, a grotesquely undemocratic, unequal and violent society.
The view that Lenin led inevitably to the horrors of Stalinism became the orthodoxy in the Cold War era. It requires considerable historical analysis to uncover why the fledgling revolutionary state which emerged from 1917 became the opposite of what Russian workers, soldiers and peasants had struggled for. This largely falls outside Le Blanc’s remit in this book, but he directs readers towards such analysis and seeks to rescue Lenin from the crimes committed in his name.
The rise of Stalinism was made possible by the isolation of the revolution: though there were revolutionary upheavals and popular rebellions in several European countries, none of them resulted in the defeat of the old order. Meanwhile, revolutionary Russia was attacked by imperialist armies and, for a time, engulfed in civil war.
Economic hardship and the demands of protecting the new revolutionary state from attack and civil war had a devastating impact on the working class and the scope for any sort of meaningful working-class democracy. The rising bureaucracy became, in this context, more powerful, centralised, and removed from the experiences of ordinary workers.
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been some renewed interest in what the author dubs ‘Lenin studies’, with some fresh thinking unencumbered by the rigid orthodoxies of the Cold War era, yet the dominant interpretation of the upheavals of 1989-91 was that they ‘finished’ Leninism for good. This confirms notions of triumphant free-market capitalism and the elimination of any radical, progressive alternatives. Public perceptions of Lenin in the West are still mainly shaped by anti-Communist propaganda of the Cold War era and the association of Lenin with the subsequent Stalinist era.
Lenin is also significant as one of the towering figures of Marxism. Le Blanc stresses Lenin’s continuity from Marx; his deep rootedness in the writings of Marx and Engels. At the same time he summarises Lenin’s special contributions to a rich political and intellectual tradition, one that depends always on being creatively applied to new situations and on interaction with the lives and struggles of working-class people.
Lenin was the author of such influential Marxist texts as What is to be done?, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, State and Revolution and Left Wing Communism, an infantile disorder. Le Blanc argues – persuasively in my view, though some will disagree – that it is justified to talk of ‘Leninism’: a body of ideas and analysis that updated and developed Marx’s own writings, involving the application of Marxism to Russian realities and more generally to an era of capitalist expansion, imperialist competition and war. More positively, Lenin’s era witnessed the growth of mass socialist parties and trade unions, and successive waves of popular struggle, opening up new opportunities for Marxists but also presenting fresh challenges which Marx and Engels had not faced.
Lenin’s contributions included analysis of Russian capitalism’s particular development, an account of the emergence of modern imperialist rivalry in the era of monopoly capitalism, and a nuanced understanding of nationalism and national liberation movements. Le Blanc sketches the contexts which shaped the development of these ideas, including the debates which took place among Marxists. There is a fascinating essay examining the connections and differences between Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. They are often counter-posed to each other, but Le Blanc demonstrates that any differences between their outlooks were fewer than often supposed, while teasing out the significance of the genuine differences – for example over the national question - that did exist.
Lenin also developed important ideas about socialist strategy: a thorough and innovative understanding of the relationship between movements for democracy and the struggle for socialism. He developed a strategic perspective that linked Russian workers with the rural peasantry, and some original analysis of revolutionary processes. This was informed partly by his own revolutionary experiences in 1905 and 1917 as well as the legacy of earlier breakthroughs like the Paris Commune of 1871, which was the first experience anywhere of working-class people taking control, albeit briefly, of the running of a city.
The period following the Russian Revolution opened up further strategic challenges, which required new thinking. The urgent need to spread the successful revolution and simultaneously learn from the Russian experience, while engaging with distinctive situations in other countries, prompted the launch of the Third International (or Comintern) in 1919 and the developing body of ideas and strategy that went with it. This included sharp critiques of both European reformist politics and the problems of ultra-leftism, and the emergence of the united-front strategy as a means of advancing working-class aims in non-revolutionary times.
I agree with Le Blanc when he writes that it is peculiar – when considering these contributions - for some contemporary critics to dismiss the idea that there is such a thing as Leninism, or that Lenin’s influence of the development of Marxism was either minor or largely limited to organisational questions. He also adeptly discredits the idea that ‘Leninism’ was an invention of those who followed Lenin and should be rejected on that basis. While it is true that Stalin and others created an ossified and obscenely distorted ‘Leninism’, there is nonetheless a real body of ideas associated with Lenin.
Lenin was shaped by the best of Second International (1889-1914) Marxism, but he also moved beyond some of its limits. Although one of an able generation of Marxists, also including Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg, and later Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács, he did make his own distinctive contributions as part of a collective enterprise. Lenin can be seen as ‘first among equals’ in the development of Marxism during this period, interacting with the ideas of others and the debates among socialists while making significant innovations.
In addition to Lenin’s significance as an influential historical figure and giant of Marxism, he is important because his life and work, more than that of anyone else in the history of socialism, is bound up with the whole question of how revolutionaries should organise and act in pursuit of their goals. He can reasonably be regarded as history’s greatest revolutionary leader. But what made that historical role possible? How did Lenin and his comrades actually organise themselves, and what lessons (if any) does this offer us today?
It is the questions of strategy and organisation that most often prompt debate about Lenin, and his legacy, in left-wing circles; this is as true today as it has ever been. Lenin was a pioneer of distinctively revolutionary organisation and the experiences of the Bolsheviks (the faction and later party that he led) from 1903 to 1917, are a particular focus for debate. Le Blanc challenges the oft-expressed idea that Stalinism originated in pre-1917 Bolshevik practices and the myth that Lenin undemocratically dominated the Bolsheviks, which was in fact a democratic, collective organisation in which debate flourished. He skilfully clarifies the genuine meaning of ‘democratic centralism’ for Lenin and his contemporaries.
He also critiques the idea, currently prevalent in some debates, that there was nothing especially distinctive about the Bolsheviks, treating the argument of Lars Lih (among others) that Lenin was essentially a standard Second International Marxist until 1914 with critical sympathy. He recognises the degree of truth in this. Lenin didn’t, prior to 1914, view the Bolsheviks as a new and special type of organisation or as substantially different from some European socialist parties, but he also explains how the Bolsheviks had in fact developed quite differently from the likes of the German Social Democrats, which had become increasingly geared towards parliamentary politics and compromise with capitalism. The outbreak of World War One, and corresponding collapse of most socialist parties into national chauvinism, was a turning point, after which the differences became sharper and the thinking of Lenin and other revolutionaries continued to evolve.
For those who seek to change the world, not merely understand it, wrestling with Lenin’s writings about strategy and organisation – and equally importantly his actions – is indispensable. The revolution he led was the only successful overthrow of capitalist state power in world history and, though it may have been beset by problems from the beginning, and unsuccessful in the longer term, the experiences involved remain a unique school in strategy and tactics for anyone wanting to end the miseries of capitalism and create a better world.
A central preoccupation for the author is the excavation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ deep commitment to democracy, the profoundly democratic possibilities inherent in the Russian Revolution and the democratic character of how Lenin and his comrades organised. He refutes several well-worn myths along the way, clearing away the misconceptions to present a view of Lenin as a radical democrat, and his revolutionary socialism as a political project with democracy at its core.
This is acutely relevant to our own times, in which democracy is visibly the loser in its struggle with capitalism, and when struggles for real democracy are integral to struggles against various aspects of the capitalist system. The recovery of Lenin’s radical democracy is especially necessary because of the widespread distortions of Leninism in the name of Leninism; most importantly those associated with the old Communist bloc, but also (as the author notes) the faulty versions of ‘Leninist’ practice that many well-meaning socialists have pursued in the West. These have seen dogmatic and somewhat sectarian groups competing with each other and largely cut off from influence over the broad working-class movement, therefore giving Leninist organisation a bad name.
The return of Lenin
The particular context framing this latest volume is twofold, with both social and more specifically literary dimensions. Firstly, there is the wave of insurgencies that have followed the emergence of a severe crisis for capitalism since 2008: Arab revolutions, Occupy, anti-austerity rebellions, the indignados and other manifestations of anti-capitalist revolt. This has, rather paradoxically, not led to a general revival of organised left-wing politics – though there are partial exceptions, such as in Greece, Spain and parts of Latin America –and it certainly has not proved the basis for a renewal of specifically Leninist (or revolutionary socialist) political practice.
However, the idea of revolution is certainly in the air, partly due to the Arab uprisings of 2011 and partly because the erosion and fragmentation of traditional parliamentary politics has fed a volatile situation in which rhetoric about ‘revolution’ (e.g. the public debate prompted by Russell Brand’s new book) is rather more mainstream than a few years ago, however ill-defined it might be.
The traditional revolutionary left, though, has in shrunk, fragmented and in many instances become politically sterile. The reference to the ‘return of a revolutionary doctrine’ in this book’s subtitle may for now be mostly wishful thinking, but the conditions clearly exist for considering that as a live possibility. The political radicalisation and volatility of recent years, the stirrings of debate about what is meant by ‘revolution’, and the small breakthroughs in ‘Lenin studies’, can all, in quite different ways, be seen as providing some basis for hope.
Secondly, there is a somewhat more favourable context for the publication of a new book on Lenin and Leninism, which is a partial revival in worthwhile scholarship on Lenin. Although the leader of the Russian Revolution largely remains a marginal, caricatured and derided figure, in politics, media and academia, there has been a series of books in recent years, generally written from a sympathetic left-wing perspective, that have generated some debate and welcome re-evaluation.
Lars Lih, who wrote the path-breaking 2006 book Lenin Rediscovered, has been foremost in re-assessing Lenin’s ideas, practice and context. Lih’s work in particular keeps cropping up – not without some criticism and disagreement, but with tremendous appreciation – in Le Blanc’s new collection. Canadian historian John Riddell’s on-going labour of love in editing the proceedings of the Comintern, from 1919 until the mid-1920s, is another vital reference point. Le Blanc’s essays involve reviewing some newer biographies and studies, but there are also references to older but still very useful works by the likes of Tony Cliff, Marcel Liebman and Ernest Mandel.
Le Blanc has decades of both study and practical experience to draw on in writing about his subject. His experience is as a revolutionary socialist activist in the US and he is acutely aware that the context in which he has been active is a radically different one from Lenin’s own, so any lessons from Lenin must be thought through in relation to contemporary reality. Unlike many of his peers, Le Blanc has remained a dedicated Marxist, though conscious of the need for an independent, critical and open Marxism which runs counter to the dogmatic orthodoxies which have so often plagued the avowedly Leninist left. He writes of the need for ‘guidelines’ rather than dogma when appreciating Lenin’s legacy.
I had previously read a number of the essays (though they all paid re-reading) and I heard their author deliver the talk at the Dangerous Times 2013 festival which is included here (and previously published on Counterfire). Le Blanc has previously written studies of the Marxist tradition, with a special focus on questions of organisation and strategy, and edited or co-edited selections of writings by Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg, all of which I warmly recommend. His concern in all these writings has been to update our understanding of the intellectual contributions of the most influential figures in the tradition and to indicate how they can serve activists in renewing the tradition. Consequently his style is lucid and accessible, blessedly devoid of academic jargon, and there is a rich sense of the wider context of socialist debate in Lenin’s own time.
The format, a selection of essays, written at different times for different audiences, inevitably leads to some repetition, but the author just about gets away with it. The selection animates a series of debates among contemporary writers and activists about aspects of both the historical record and the legacy. There are critiques of a range of recent works on Lenin, including a number of biographies, relevant historical works and the 2007 Lenin Reloaded collection of essays by left-wing intellectuals.
Overall the book succeeds as both an introduction to the life, times, ideas and legacy of Lenin, and as an insightful discussion of important issues for today’s activists. It can be dipped into and read in any order that suits the reader. Several essays could reasonably serve as an introduction to the topic, while others are more pitched at those familiar with certain debates.
When disagreeing with other writers, Le Blanc is admirably fair and does justice to any arguments he is disputing, though he is not afraid to criticise or re-think orthodoxies. The title is inspired in part by a fraternal disagreement with Alex Callinicos, chief theoretician of the British Socialist Workers Party, after he penned an article asking ‘Is Leninism finished?’ Le Blanc agrees with the answer proffered by Callinicos – no it isn’t finished, but is instead still acutely relevant – but points out that ‘finished’ has a dual meaning. It suggests ‘irrelevant’, but it can also mean ‘complete’.
The problem with Callinicos is that he appears to lapse into presenting Leninism as already complete, a doctrine to be passed down the generations rather than as a space for creative renewal. For Le Blanc, Leninism is unfinished in both senses: it is still relevant and it still requires constant updating and applying in light of new experiences. Rather than defensively repeating a doctrine, the advocacy of Leninism ought to be critical and creative.
The future of Leninism
The concluding essay is, appropriately, where Le Blanc is most explicit and forthright about renewing Leninism today and for the future. He rejects the notion that anything resembling a revolutionary party already exists anywhere in the world. We are instead at an earlier stage of development in renewing revolutionary organisation and it is necessary to avoid false or inflated ideas about the organisations we are building.
He convincingly argues that it is (self-) destructive for relatively small organisations to imagine themselves as the definitive Leninist party, when in fact they can at best be something far more modest: a contribution to the re-composition of an authentic revolutionary left. This does not mean treating the building of such organisations lightly; rather, it suggests seriousness of purpose combined with a healthy sense of perspective and openness to different possible realignments.
He reasserts the centrality of participation in actual working-class struggles and the need to relate Marxist ideas to people’s struggles and experiences. The fusion of socialism with the working-class movement is the historic core of the Marxist tradition, as a practical endeavour not merely a scholarly exercise, and it remains essential. But he also notes the difficulties we face when there is not the same kind of mass class-conscious working-class vanguard, with powerful traditions of struggle, ideas and organisation, which existed in roughly the first third of the twentieth century. The process of renewing revolutionary organisation thus goes together with processes of re-building the broader working-class movement and a recognisably left-wing culture.
He calls for a focus on democracy, not only as a topic of practical political struggle, but as something indispensable to how revolutionaries operate. Democracy is necessary in the broader movements we are part of, and inside our own organisations. This dedication to democratic practice is inextricably linked with the development of self-confident cadres who can think independently and engage in political debate. It is connected with the pursuit of a critically engaged open Marxism, willing to question orthodox interpretations and engage thoughtfully with changing realities.
The closing essay also emphasises the need for strategy. The ultimate goal for revolutionaries is the successful overthrow of capitalism and moving towards a democratic socialist future. This vision, the recognition of the potential inherent in current contradictions, and an awareness that current revolts can be the seeds of future social transformation, shapes revolutionaries’ perspectives. Elsewhere in the volume, Le Blanc cites Lukács, who wrote about the ‘actuality of revolution’ in his own short book on Lenin: the potential for revolution serves as a horizon for Marxist activists, and specific tactical decisions are made in the context of that broader worldview.
The ‘three whales of Bolshevism’ – a strategic perspective encompassing an 8-hour working day, land redistribution and a democratic assembly – guided the Bolsheviks between 1912 and 1917, providing a link between day-to-day struggles and the larger vision of socialism. A fresh strategic vision is needed to guide our own efforts today, suggests Le Blanc, and to provide that same bridge to a socialist alternative.
‘Unfinished Leninism’ is a source of ideas about how to build a stronger anti-capitalist left – more coherently organised, wider in its influence, and capable of applying the lessons of history to new challenges – as well as an historical introduction. Hopefully it will reach many of the activists who are searching for effective ways to organise for a future characterised by democracy, equality and human liberation.
This review was originally published on Counterfire.
Thursday, 27 November 2014
|16 February 2013: over 1000 march in Newcastle|
The article also correctly located this in a national context, with cuts driven by the policies of Tory-led central government. It highlights the injustice of cuts to local government falling especially heavily on Labour-run northern cities like Newcastle. This is extremely welcome.
However, the article was much weaker on the local political situation. We need to think seriously about how councils can constructively oppose the cuts imposed by central government.
One option is for councils to become centres of active opposition and resistance. The other option is for council leaders to moan while implementing the cuts. Those of us active in Newcastle's anti-cuts campaigns have repeatedly advocated the former approach. Newcastle Council's Labour Leader Nick Forbes, by contrast, has done the latter.
Nick Forbes and Newcastle's anti-cuts movement
It is wrongly claimed that local anti-cuts campaigners have personally targeted Nick Forbes. In the major campaigns and protests in Newcastle - such as the Save Newcastle Libraries campaign, which I co-founded - it was agreed that focusing on Forbes personally would distract from the fact that central government was the source of the cuts. A few isolated cases of people having placards that criticised Forbes doesn't make a pattern - and they are, in any case, hardly surprising when he became the public figurehead for the council's cuts programme.
Our approach was a political decision that reflected our recognition that to stop cuts to local services we naturally needed to focus pressure and lobbying on the local council, but that we also had to connect local cuts to the bigger picture of national austerity. The article's focus on allegedly personal attacks on Forbes also feeds what one local campaigner has described to me as the myth of Forbes as a 'lone embattled figure'. This is the image of him as someone simultaneously attacked by the government and local campaigners, the only person who is genuinely sticking up for Newcastle (the title - 'Is saving Newcastle a mission impossible?' - feeds this delusion). This is a gross disservice to all those in Newcastle who have actively opposed austerity.
Forbes is presented as a 'progressive', left-leaning figure who earns high praise from political 'heavyweights' like Jon Cruddas. There are glowing claims that he is such a talented individual he could be a big name in national politics, but has such deep civic commitment that he remains a humble council leader.
Yet Forbes' reputation locally is different. He is universally regarded as being firmly on the right wing of the Labour Party and anti-cuts campaigners have always found him unsympathetic. He is even believed to be a member of the controversial Blairite ginger group Progress. Newcastle's Labour Party has different political tendencies including many councillors and activists who are principled opponents of austerity. Forbes emphatically isn't one of them.
The article fails to acknowledge the simple fact that Forbes has had nothing to do with our city's opposition to cuts. The city has had a vibrant and diverse anti-cuts movement for the last few years, but its council leader has not been part of it.
Forbes could have co-operated with local campaign groups in developing opposition to the impact of austerity on Newcastle - as many local Labour Party members have done - but instead he dismisses anti-cuts protests in Newcastle as 'the far left' and implies they are an equivalent problem to the far right whipping up racist hatred. That says a lot about what is wrong with Forbes' political stance.
Missing the real arguments
The failure to interview local anti-cuts campaigners leads to serious imbalances in the article. Newcastle-born writer Lee Hall, who was a prominent supporter of Save Newcastle Libraries, is quoted only in order to caricature and dismiss what he said. It's also interesting that opponents of cuts are characterised as indulging in personal attacks on Forbes, without mentioning that Forbes resorted to personalised criticism of Lee Hall instead of engaging with local people's concerns about the threatened closures.
Similarly, it is very unfortunate that the cuts to Sure Start are discussed with no input from the very impressive local campaign to save it. The lack of space given to genuine anti-cuts campaigners misrepresents the real situation and gives undue weight to Forbes' own perspectives.
A further weakness is that Harris fails to offer any criticism of Forbes' divisive strategy of claiming that campaigners were only interested in saving 'middle class' funding - libraries, culture - and not interested in those services that most affected people living in poverty. This was always a grossly offensive stance and was designed to both justify many of the cuts while attempting (unsuccessfully) to divide campaigners against each other.
We instead took the position that central government's cuts programme should be opposed in its totality, and that we shouldn't be played off against each other. This was a major political difference between the grassroots campaigns (aiming for united and serious opposition to cuts) and, on the other hand, Forbes and his allies (who trotted out conservative arguments to justify the cuts).
We also challenged the caricature that certain things - arts, reading - are middle class pursuits. We pointed out that public funding enables better access to such vital aspects of what it means to live in a decent, humane and civilised society.
The myth of the heroic civic leader
The political arguments are evaded in the article, replaced by a highly personal focus on the allegedly embattled council leader. For example, Forbes refers to an incident in which he encountered an individual who had taken part in an anti-cuts demonstration and says that he didn't even know a protest was taking place. This is extraordinary because the incident he refers to was on the day of the biggest demonstration opposing Newcastle Council's cuts that we ever had (it attracted over 1000 people).
If Forbes really didn't know the protest was even happening it doesn't suggest a civic leader paying attention to the concerns of local people about the cuts to their services. It is also of concern that Harris, in his article, gives more attention to an isolated incident involving one person who had attended the protest than the demonstration itself.
To summarise. Many of the article's problems originate from John Harris relying heavily on the perspective of Nick Forbes and not seeking corroboration from others. Harris uncritically accepts a whole set of political assumptions about cuts in local government - and how to oppose them - so that Forbes emerges as a heroic figure, while anti-cuts campaigners appear to be either irrelevant, wrong or dangerous.
Consequently the whole picture of Newcastle's politics is grossly distorted. It is essential that readers have access to alternative perspectives on Newcastle, the politics of local government and the opposition to cuts.
Saturday, 22 November 2014
The great success of the conference was made possible by the political ferment which developed in the run up to September's independence referendum and which, unexpectedly, has continued without faltering since polling day. Prior to referendum day, RIC organisers assumed that in the event of a 'No' victory the conference would be at best the same size as the previous two conferences. Yet all 3000 tickets sold in a few weeks.
But the success also rested upon serious coalition-building stretching back to the preparations for RIC's first conference two years ago. The 2012 and 2013 conferences each drew up to 1000 people. Together with the growth of local groups nationwide and on-going campaigning, those conferences laid the basis for such an unprecedented success. Organisation matters: these things don't happen by accident.
This enlarged political space for left-wing ideas - and political demands that dissent from a narrow and sterile 'orthodoxy' - was part of the context for today's conference. There was a powerful sense that the terms of political debate have shifted recently, and this offers openings to RIC and the left. The conference was explicitly left-wing, yet also tangibly part of a larger mainstream political discussion in Scottish society: as RIC's national co-ordinator Jonathon Shafi noted, it is a crucial step in creating a mass left that is taken seriously and capable of influencing the national debate.
Saturday, 15 November 2014
No, Jackie Slesenger, it is not anti-Semitic to protest against the killing of over 2000 Palestinians
|Assembling for a 1000-strong march in Newcastle, July 2014|
Her target is not any racist organisation or policy, but rather our city's vibrant and diverse movement for peace and justice in Palestine.
It indicates the remarkable impact of our city's protests and campaigning against Israeli violence in Gaza that an uncritical supporter of Israel like Jackie Slesenger has written this. It is a sign of acute weakness on the part of Slesenger and other defenders of Israel's sustained onslaught on Gaza's civilian population. Let's remember that Israeli forces killed over 2000 people including 500 children, destroyed basic infrastructure and made many more Palestinians homeless.
All this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, contrary to her utterly unfounded claims. Sadly she appears to be cynically using that baseless smear to cover for - and justify - her support for Israel's obscene violence against Gaza. This regrettably obscures the real issues in Palestine and makes it harder for all of us to confront genuine cases of anti-Semitism.
There is absolutely no need for anyone to resign from the Newcastle Holocaust Memorial Day committee, as she has done. It is meant to be a commemoration independent of any other political disagreements.
Slesenger is the one who has dragged the issue of commemorating the Holocaust into debates about Palestine. This does a massive disservice to both the Holocaust's victims and the contemporary politics of Palestine.
I am proud to have helped organise Newcastle's protests, marches and vigils for Gaza during the summer, and to be working with people of all backgrounds to build an on-going movement for peace and justice in the Middle East. This is a movement with opposition to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, at its core.
Tuesday, 4 November 2014
|Image by Ady Cousins|
'A number of us have concluded that it is a fatal mistake for a small group to see itself as the nucleus or the embryo of a mass revolutionary party. Such a party will, in fact, be made up though the coming together of elements from a number of groups, as well as a number of people not presently in any group, and even more who do not presently think of themselves as socialists at all. It will crystallise through innumerable experiences and struggles, blending together with a broad labour-radical subculture of ideas, discussions, and creative activities.'
'A new generation of capable and energetic workers exists but they are no longer part of a cohesive movement and they no longer work in a milieu where basic Marxist ideas are widespread. We are back at our starting point. Not only has the vanguard, in the real sense of a considerable layer of organised revolutionary workers and intellectuals, been destroyed. So too has the environment, the tradition, that gave it influence. In Britain that tradition was never so extensive and influential as in Germany or France but it was real enough in the early years of the Communist Party.'
Revolutionary organisation can be built in a new context, with some continuities but also some changes in relation to our heritage. It has to be rooted in the debates, movements and struggles of our time. And it is a project that requires a healthy does of humility and perspective, as well as seriousness and commitment.
Duncan Hallas: Towards a revolutionary socialist party
Paul Le Blanc: Organising for 21st century socialism
Lenin: An essential condition of the Bolsheviks' success