Monday, October 31, 2005


A version of this article was first posted on the Red Party website at the end of 2004. In view of Bill Gates recent highly publicised donation for malaria research, I thought I'd give it another airing.

Poverty and inequality must be defeated wherever they are found.
In September 2000 the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals as a means and measure of fighting the inequalities in the world. Targets were set for poverty, primary education, gender equality, child survival, families and women, water and sanitation, and health.
The goal on health is to:
Combat HIV/AIDS,malaria and other diseases. Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
These targets are seriously off track. HIV prevalence is rising in many countries. While prevalence rates are highest in southern Africa, the rate of increase is sharpest in Europe and Central Asia, and absolute numbers are large in China and India.
Malaria is proving difficult to contain, and the global incidence of tuberculosis is also rising.
Each year we have a well publicised World AIDS Day. This is good, it reminds us all of the dangers and prevalence of HIV infection, and encourages research into vaccines, treatments and cures. However, the high profile that HIV/AIDS experiences is not the result of humanitarian concerns for the Third World, but is due to well known affluent westerners having been affected. It is an acute case of self interest. This does not in anyway help the poor though. The annual salary in Mozambique is $210, but the cost of generic antiretroviral therapy is $300.
It is a great shame that the same amount of attention is not also given to the woes of malaria. This disease warrants massive research initiatives to alleviate the suffering and deaths it causes. The problem is, though, that it is generally a disease of the poor. There would be little chance of a sound profitable return for pharmaceutical companies to 'justify' the vast finance required to pursue research into remedies.
Malaria is a parasitic infection characterised by cycles of chills, fever, sweating, anaemia, enlarged spleen and a chronic relapsing course. Four types of parasites affect man, through infection by the anopheles mosquito. Most malarious areas are in the tropics. Disasters, like floods and refugee encampments, are conducive to the propagation of the disease.
Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds and more than 1 million people annually in Africa. According to the 'Africa Malaria Report-2003', the disease continues to take its greatest toll on very young children, mostly under the age of five, and pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa. New analyses confirm that malaria is the principal cause of at least one fifth of all deaths of young children in the region.
In most countries chloroquine, the most commonly available anti-malarial drug, has lost its clinical effectiveness. In addition, resistance to sulfadoxine-purimethamine, the most common replacement drug, has emerged.
Insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) have proven to be highly effective in reducing mortality in young children. The use of these nets helps prevent the disease, which is particularly important due to the increase in drug-resistant falciparum malaria parasites. Recent charitable donors have insisted that these nets be sold at subsidised prices rather than given to the vulnerable population. The cost of purchase is prohibitive to the majority.
Western leaders say they have recognised the serious humanitarian problems in Africa, and have stated their intention to alleviate them. However, conditional aid will not be successful. Trade liberalisation and free market economies will not assist the poverty stricken and disease affected population. These ideologies will only aid the wealthy, who seek cheap sources of raw materials and labour, and new markets to exploit.
The peoples of the Sub-Saharan Region deserve our support. The following statistics illustrate their suffering.
43% of the population live on less than $1 a day.
31% of children under five years of age are underweight.
33% of the population have insufficient food to sustain life.
22% of 15-24 year olds are unemployed.
104 out every 1000 babies die.
174 out every 1000 under fives die.
920 out of every 100,000 mothers die in childbirth.
791 out every 100,000 children aged 0-4 years die from malaria. In Mali and Niger this figure rises to 2000.
The estimated annual cost of meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is $40-70 billion, World military spending for 2003 was $956 billion. We must all fight against the culture of 'profit before people', and ensure that social justice prevails wherever it is threatened.

However much Gates attempts to show the benevolence of his obscene wealth, he won't crack it. Any successful research will be expensive, and the results sold to the highest bidder - who of course will want a substantial return on their investment.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


the purpose of this blog is to provide a continuing sounding board for the political ideas for the group who were formally known as the red party. The red party as a functioning group came to an end in the early summer following the defection of one of our number to the leninist AWL and the general realisation that the remainder of us had developed an anti leninist politics.Much of the early writings of our group are available on and eventually we shall endeavour to republish them on here. However the main purpose of this blog is to produce new work explaining and arguing a form of communist politics that is free of the false gods and authoritarian myths of the leninist tradition.

the Renegade Kautsky and his disciple lenin

The "Renegade" Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin.
Jean Barrot
Publication Details
This article originally formed an afterword to an article by Karl Kautsky "Les trois sources du Marxisme" (The three sources of Marxism) which was reprinted in French in April 1977 by editions Spartacus. (serie B No.78).
This was not the first Spartacus edition of this text by Kautsky -- it had originally been published by them in 1947 with an introduction by the french social-democrat Lucien Laurat. In the seventies they reprinted a number of their older pamphlets with new afterwords, and this particular text had two -- this one by Jean Barrot (the pen name in the 1970's of Gilles Dauvé), and a second, 'Idéologie et lutte de classes' by Pierre Guillaume, better known these days for other reasons.
Part of the interest in discussing Kautsky's article was the fact that Lenin's much better known article The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism was based on it, and it therefore illuminated the relationship between Kautsky's and Lenin's conceptions of marxism and socialism.
As far as we can discover Kautsky's article has never been translated into english.
This edited translation of Barrot's afterword was first published in the UK in 1987 as "Leninism or Communism" by the group Wildcat (Subversion). The sub-headings were added by the translator.
The original french language version can be found on the A.D.E.L website.
The "Renegade" Kautsky and his Disciple Lenin.
"The three sources of Marxism; the historic work of Marx" is clearly of historical interest. Kautsky was unquestionably the major thinker of the Second International and his party, the German Social Democratic Party, the most powerful. Kautsky, the guardian of orthodoxy, was almost universally regarded as the most knowledgeable expert on the work of Marx and Engels and their privileged interpreter. Kautsky's positions therefore bear witness to a whole era of the working class movement and are worth knowing if only for this. We are concerned here with a central question for the proletarian movement: the relationship between the working class and revolutionary theory. Kautsky's reply to this question formed the theoretical foundation of the practice and organisation of all the parties which made up the Second International. This included the Russian Social Democratic Party, and its Bolshevik fraction, which was an orthodox member until 1914, that is until the collapse of the International in the face of the First World War.
However, the theory expounded by Kautsky in that text did not collapse at the same time as the Second International. Quite the contrary, it survived and equally formed the basis of the Third International through the medium of "Leninism" and its Stalinist and Trotskyist avatars.
Leninism: By-Product of Kautskyism !
Leninism, by-product of Kautskyism! This will startle those who only know Kautsky from the abuse hurled at him by Bolshevism, and in particular Lenin's pamphlet, "The Bankruptcy of the Second International and the Renegade Kautsky", and those who only know about Lenin what is considered good to know about him in the various churches and chapels they frequent.
Yet the very title of Lenin's pamphlet very precisely defines his relationship with Kautsky. If Lenin calls Kautsky a renegade it's clear that he thinks Kautsky was previously a follower of the true faith, of which he now considers himself the only qualified defender. Far from criticising Kautskyism, which he shows himself unable to identify, Lenin is in fact content to reproach his former master-thinker for having betrayed his own teachings. From any point of view Lenin's break was at once late and superficial. Late because Lenin had entertained the deepest illusions about German Social Democracy, and had only understood after the "betrayal" was accomplished. Superficial because Lenin was content to break on the problems of imperialism and the war without going into the underlying causes of the social democratic betrayal of August 1914. These causes were linked to the very nature of those parties and their relations, with capitalist society as much as with the proletariat. These relations must themselves be brought back to the very movement of capital and of the working class. They must be understood as a phase of the development of the proletariat, and not as something open to being changed by the will of a minority, not even of a revolutionary leadership, however aware it might be.
From this stems the present importance of the theory which Kautsky develops in a particularly coherent form in his pamphlet and which constituted the very fabric of his thought throughout his life. Lenin took up this theory and developed it as early as 1900 in "The Immediate Objectives of our Organisation" and then in "What Is To Be Done?" in 1902, in which moreover he quotes Kautsky at length and with great praise. In 1913 Lenin again took up these ideas in " The Three Sources and the Three Component Parts of Marxism" in which he develops the same themes and sometimes uses Kautsky's text word for word.
These ideas rest on a scanty and superficial historical analysis of the relationships of Marx and Engels, to the intellectuals of their time as much as to the working class movement. They can be summarised in a few words, and a couple of quotations will be enough to reveal their substance: "A working class movement that is spontaneous and bereft of any theory rising in the labouring classes against ascendant capitalism, is incapable of accomplishing revolutionary work."
It is also necessary to bring about what Kautsky calls the union of the working class movement and socialism. Now: "Socialist consciousness today (?!) can only arise on the basis of deep scientific knowledge (...) But the bearer of science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intellectuals; (...) so then socialist consciousness is something brought into the class struggle of the proletariat from outside and not something that arises spontaneously within it." These words of Kautsky's are according to Lenin "profoundly true."
It is clear that this much desired union of the working class movement and socialism could not be brought about in the same way in Germany as in Russia as the conditions were different. But it is important to see that the deep divergence's of Bolshevism in the organisational field did not result from different basic conceptions, but rather solely from the application of the same principles in different social, economic and political situations.
In fact far from ending up in an ever greater union of the working class movement and socialism, social democracy would end up in an ever closer union with capital and the bourgeoisie. As for Bolshevism, after having been like a fish in water in the Russian Revolution ("revolutionaries are in the revolution like water in water") because of the revolution's defeat it would end in all but complete fusion with state capital, administered by a totalitarian bureaucracy.
However Leninism continues to haunt the minds of many revolutionaries of more or less good will who are searching for a recipe capable of success. Persuaded that they are "of the vanguard" because they possess "consciousness", whereas they only possess a false theory, they struggle militantly for a union of those two metaphysical monstrosities, "a spontaneous working class movement, bereft of any theory" and a disembodied "socialist consciousness."
This attitude is simply voluntarist. Now, if as Lenin said "irony and patience are the principal qualities of the revolutionary", "impatience is the principal source of opportunism" (Trotsky). The intellectual, the revolutionary theorist doesn't have to worry about linking up with the masses because if their theory is revolutionary they are already linked to the masses. They don't have to "chose the camp of the proletariat" (it is not Sartre using these terms, it is Lenin) because, properly speaking, they do not have the choice. The theoretical and practical criticism they bear is determined by the relationship they hold with society. They can only free themselves from this passion by surrendering to it (Marx). If they "have the choice" it's because they are no longer revolutionary, and their theoretical criticism is already rotten. The problem of the penetration of revolutionary ideas which they share in the working class milieu is entirely transformed through that milieu.... when the historical conditions, the balance of power between the warring classes, ( principally determined by the autonomised movement of capital) prevents any revolutionary eruption of the proletariat onto the scene of history the intellectual does the same as the worker: what they can. They study, write, make their works known as best as they can, usually quite badly. When he was studying at the British museum, Marx, a product of the historical movement of the proletariat, was linked, if not to the workers, at least to the historical movement of the proletariat. He was no more isolated from the workers than any worker is isolated from the rest. To an extent the conditions of the time limit such relationships to those which capitalism allows.
On the other hand when proletarians form themselves as a class and in one way or another declare war on capital they have no need whatsoever for anyone to bring them KNOWLEDGE before they can do this. Being themselves, in capitalist production relations, nothing but variable capital, it is enough that they want to change their situation in however small a way for them to be directly at the heart of the problem which the intellectual will have some difficulty in reaching. In the class struggle the revolutionary is neither more nor less linked to the proletariat than they were before. But theoretical critique then fuses with practical critique, not because it has been brought in from outside but because they are one and the same thing.
If in recent times the weakness of the intellectual has been to believe that proletarians remain passive because they lack "consciousness"; and if they have come to believe themselves to be "the vanguard" to the point of wanting to lead the proletariat, then they have some bitter disappointments in store.
Yet it is this idea which constitutes the essence of Leninism, as is shown by the ambiguous history of Bolshevism. These ideas were in the end only able to survive because the Russian revolution failed, that is to say because the balance of power, on the international scale, between capital and proletariat, did not allow the latter to carry through its practical and theoretical critique.
The True Role of Bolshevism
This is what we shall try to demonstrate by analysing, in summary, what happened in Russia and the true role of Bolshevism. In thinking that he saw in Russian revolutionary circles the fruit of "the union of the working class movement and socialism" Lenin was seriously mistaken. The revolutionaries organised in social-democratic groups did not bring any "consciousness" to the proletariat. Of course an exposition or a theoretical article on Marxism was very useful to the workers: its use however was not to give consciousness or the idea of class struggle, but simply to clarify things and provoke further thought. Lenin did not understand this reality. He not only wanted to bring to the working class consciousness of the necessity of socialism in general, he also wanted to give them imperative watchwords explaining what they must do at a specific time. And this was quite normal since Lenin's party alone (as the trustee of class consciousness) was fit to discern the general interest of the working class beyond all its divisions into various strata, to analyse the situation at all times and to formulate appropriate watchwords. Well, the 1905 revolution would have to show the practical inability of the Bolshevik party to direct the working class and reveal the "behindness" of the vanguard party. All historians, even those favourable to the Bolsheviks, recognised that in 1905 the Bolshevik party understood nothing about the Soviets. The appearance of new forms of organisation aroused the distrust of the Bolsheviks: Lenin stated that the Soviets were "neither a working class parliament nor an organ of self-government". The important thing is to see that the Russian workers did not know that they were going to form Soviets. Only a very small minority amongst them knew about the experience of the Paris commune and yet they created an embryonic worker's state, though no-one had educated them. The Kautskyist- Leninist thesis in fact denies the working class all power of original creation when not guided by the party, (as the fusion of the working class movement and socialism). Now you can see that in 1905, to take up a phrase from " Theses on Feuerbach", "the educator himself needs educating".
"The Educators Themselves Need Educating !"
Yet Lenin did accomplish revolutionary work (his position on the war amongst others) as opposed to Kautsky. But in reality Lenin was only revolutionary when he went against his theory of class consciousness. Let's take the case of his activity between February and October 1917. Lenin had worked for more than 15 years (since 1900) to create a vanguard organisation which would realise the union of "socialism" and the "working class movement". He sought to regroup "political leaders" (the "representatives of the vanguard capable of organising and leading the movement".) In 1917, as in 1905, this political leadership, represented by the central committee of the Bolshevik party, showed itself beneath the tasks of the day, and behind the revolutionary activity of the proletariat. All historians, including the Stalinist and Trotskyist ones, show that Lenin had to fight a long and difficult battle against the current in his own organisation to make his ideas triumph. And he was only able to succeed by leaning on the workers of the party, on the true vanguard organised in the factories inside or around social-democratic circles. It will be said that all this would have been impossible without the activity put in over many years by the Bolsheviks, as much on the level of workers' everyday struggles as on that of the defence and propagation of revolutionary ideas. The great majority of the Bolsheviks, with Lenin in the foreground, did indeed contribute through their unceasing propaganda and agitation to the insurrection of October 1917. As revolutionary militants, they played an effective role: but as the "leadership of the class" or the "conscious vanguard", they were behind the proletariat. The revolution took place against the ideas of "What is to be done?" and to the extent that these ideas were applied (created by an organ directing the working class but separated from it) they showed themselves to be a check and obstacle to the revolution. In 1905 Lenin was behind history because he clung to the ideas of "What is to be done?" In 1917 Lenin took part in the real movement of the Russian masses and in doing this rejected in his practice the concepts developed in "What is to be done?".
If we apply to Kautsky and Lenin the opposite treatment to that which they subjected Marx to, if we link their ideas to the class struggle instead of separating them from it, Kautskyism-Leninism emerges as characteristic of a whole period of the working class movement dominated from the start by the Second International. Having developed and organised as best they could, proletarians found themselves in a contradictory situation from the end of the 19th century. They possessed various organisations whose goal was to make the revolution and at the same time they were incapable of carrying it through because the conditions were not yet ripe. Kautskyism-Leninism was the expression of the solution of this contradiction. By postulating that the proletariat had to go through the detour of scientific consciousness in order to become revolutionary, it authorised the existence of organisations to enclose, direct and control the proletariat.
As we pointed out, Lenin's case is more complex than Kautsky's, to the extent that Lenin was in one part of his life, a revolutionary as opposed to Kautskyism-Leninism. Moreover, the situation of Russia was totally different to that of Germany, which virtually possessed a bourgeois-democratic regime and in which a working class movement existed which was strongly developed and integrated into the system. It was quite the opposite in Russia, where everything was still to be built and there was no question of taking part in bourgeois parliamentary and reformist union activities as these didn't exist. In these conditions Lenin was able to adopt a revolutionary position despite his Kautskyist ideas. We must nevertheless point out that he considered German social-democracy a model until the world war.
In their revised and corrected histories of Leninism, the Stalinists and Trotskyists show us a clear sighted Lenin who understood and denounced the "betrayal" by social democracy and the International before 1914. This is pure myth and one would really have to study the true history of the International to show that not only did Lenin not denounce it but that before the war he understood nothing of the phenomenon of social democratic degeneracy.
Before 1914 Lenin even praised the German Social-Democratic party (SPD) for having been able to unite the "working class movement" and "socialism"(cf. "What is to be done?"). Let us just quote these lines taken from the obituary article "August Bebel" (which also contains several errors of detail and of substance concerning this model "working class leader", and concerning the history of the Second International).
"The basis of the parliamentary tactics of German (and international) Social-democracy, which doesn't give an inch to the enemy, which doesn't miss the slightest opportunity to obtain some improvement, however small, for the workers, which at the same time shows itself uncompromising in its principles and always aims towards achieving its objectives, the basis of these tactics was established by Bebel..."
Lenin addressed these words of praise to "the parliamentary tactics of German (and international) Social Democracy", "uncompromising in its principles" (!) in August 1913! A year later he thought that the issue of Vorwarts ( paper of the German Social-Democratic Party) which announced the vote for war credits by the Social-Democratic deputies, was a fake manufactured by the German High Command. This reveals the depth of the illusions he had held for a long time, (in fact since 1900-1902), in the Second International in general and German social-democracy in particular. (We won't examine the attitude of other revolutionaries, Rosa Luxemburg for example, to these questions. That question would require a detailed study in its own right.)
We have seen how Lenin had in his practice abandoned the ideas of "What Is To Be Done?" in 1917. But the immaturity of the class struggle on a global level and in particular the absence of revolution in Europe, brought the defeat of the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks found themselves in power with the task of "governing Russia" (Lenin), of performing the task of the bourgeois revolution which hadn't occurred, that is to say, of actually securing the development of the Russian economy. This development could not be anything but capitalist. The bringing to heel of the working class -- and of opposition in the party -- became an essential objective. Lenin, who had not explicitly rejected "What Is To Be Done?" in 1917, immediately took up again the "Leninist" concepts which alone would allow the "necessary" enclosure of the working class. The Democratic Centralists, the Workers' Opposition, and the Workers' Group were crushed for having denied the "leading role of the party". The Leninist theory of the party was likewise imposed on the "International". After Lenin's death, Zinoviev, Stalin and so many others would have to develop it whilst insisting ever more strongly on "iron discipline" and "unity of thought and unity of action". The principle on which the Stalinist International rested was the same as that which formed the basis of the reformist socialist parties:(the party separate from the workers, bringing them consciousness of themselves). Whoever rejected the Lenin-Stalin theory fell into "the morass of opportunism, social-democracy and Menshevism".
"What Is To Be Done?"
For their part, the Trotskyists clung to Lenin's ideas and recited "What Is To Be Done?". Humanity's crisis, is nothing but the crisis of leadership, said Trotsky: so a leadership must be created at any cost. This is the ultimate idealism, the history of the world is explained as a crisis of consciousness.
In the end, Stalinism would only triumph in countries where the development of capitalism could not be assured by the bourgeoisie unless conditions were created for the working class to destroy it. In Eastern Europe, China and Cuba, a new leading group was formed, composed of the high ranks of a bureaucratised working class movement, along with former bourgeois specialists or technicians, sometimes army cadres or former students who rallied to the new social order as in China. In the final analysis, such a process was only possible because of the weakness of the working class movement. In China for example the revolution's driving social stratum was the peasantry: incapable of directing it themselves, they could only be directed by "the party". Before the seizure of power the group organised in "the party" directs the masses and the "liberated zones" if there are any. Afterwards it takes in hand the totality of the country's social life. Everywhere Lenin's ideas have been a powerful bureaucratic factor. For Lenin the function of directing the working class movement was a specific function taken care of by "leaders" organised separately from the movement and with that as their role. To the extent that it sanctioned the establishment of a corps separated from revolution, professionals leading the masses, Leninism served as an ideological justification for the formation of leaderships separated from the workers. At this stage Leninism, taken out of its original context, is no more than a technique for enclosing the masses and an ideology justifying bureaucracy and maintaining capitalism: its recuperation was a historical necessity for the development of those new social structures which themselves represent a historical necessity for the development of capital. As capitalism expands and dominates the entire planet, so the conditions which make revolution possible become ripe. Leninist ideology is beginning to have had its day.
Its impossible to examine the problem of the party without putting it in the context of the historical conditions in which the debate originated: in every case, though in different forms, the development of Leninist ideology was due to the impossibility of proletarian revolution. If history has sided with Kautskyism-Leninism, if its opponents have never been able either to organise themselves in a lasting way or even to put forward a coherent critique of it this is not by chance: the success of Kautskyism-Leninism is a product of our era and the first serious attacks -- practical attacks -- on it mark the end of an entire period of history. For this to happen it was necessary for the capitalist mode of production to fully develop over the whole world. The 1956 Hungarian revolution sounded the death knell of a whole period: of counter revolution, but also of revolutionary flowering. No-one knows when this period will be definitively obsolete but it is certain that the critique of the ideas of Kautsky and Lenin, products of that period, becomes possible and necessary from that time. That's why we recommend reading "The Three Sources of Marxism, the Historic Work of Marx" so that the dominant ideology of a whole era is more widely known and understood. Far from wanting to conceal the ideas which we condemn and oppose, we want to spread them widely so as to show both their necessity and their historical limits.
The conditions which allowed the development and success of organisations of a social democratic or Bolshevik kind are today obsolete. As for Leninist ideology, besides its use by bureaucrats in power, far from being of use to revolutionary groups who crave the union of socialism with the working class movement it can from now on only serve to temporarily cement the union of passably revolutionary workers with mediocre intellectuals.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

the limitations of marxism

This article is in this weeks scottish socialist voice, the paper of the scottish socialist party, a fuller explanaition of the quetions raised in the article is addressed in the 1970 article The Irrational in Politics By Maurice Brinton which can be found here
Rebel Ink - Kevin Williamson
“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.”With these words, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began The Communist Manifesto, a book whose impact still resonates down the years. It was quite a statement to open any book with.Yet, a century and a half later, Marx’s explanation of society being divided into economic classes still holds it’s own.For example, in the richest country on the planet - the United States of America - there are 374 billionaires at one end of the scale, yet at the bottom of the heap there are 37 million Americans living below the poverty line (according to the latest Census Bureau). Every other country in the advanced industrialised world has similar glaring disparities between rich and poor.Marx’s analysis of history is useful as far as understanding the division of society into economic classes is concerned. But as a methodology this has crucial limitations.When we look back through history we find so much more than class struggle. Human creativity is the most obvious omission from Marx’s proclamation.Throughout history human beings have tried to express themselves through art, music, literature and many other creative endeavours. When we go into any museum, for instance, the progress of history is charted much more through creativity than through class struggle.It is true that some of this creativity depicts class struggle, or the struggle for survival, but much of it goes beyond that, into a realm which is more personal, contemplative and aesthetic.Such creativity seems less concerned with materialism and economics and more with the workings of the human mind.This aspect of the history of society was beyond Karl Marx’s comprehension. But it is no slight on Karl Marx to recognise that his theories on society could go no deeper than economistic determination would allow. During Marx’s lifetime a serious study of human psychology had not even begun.We’re in a much better position today. Since Freud kick-started a revolution in the way human beings understand our own inner workings, we have added a powerful weapon to our understanding of human society.It was Wilhelm Reich, in the 1930s, who first understood the necessity to fuse Marxian economics with Freudian psychology in order to better understand why human beings act the way they do.Reich is little read among the modern left maybe because much of his later work is infused with an esotericism that makes little sense.Yet his visionary idea of merging economics with psychology in order to understand the workings of society was a revolutionary leap forward which should form the foundation of all liberationist thinking.Reich was able to ask, and answer, the fundamentally important question which Marx could never pose, and which many of Marx’s latter day disciples shy away from.Reich didn’t start from a position of explaining why human beings rebelled against injustices, oppression and exploitation. Instead he asked the most important question of his time, a question which still haunts the left today.Reich asked why the majority of human beings, including the majority of working class people, do not rebel against injustice, oppression and exploitation. In other words, he tried to analyse where the psychological roots of the conservatism and passivity of the oppressed came from.Reich had hit the nail on the head. Economics alone cannot explain why millions of working class people took part in two world wars, slaughtering each other in the interests of competing ruling classes. For it was not in the workers’ economic interests to do so.Nor can economics alone explain why working class people keep voting for political parties like the Labour Party and even the Tory Party, when it is clearly not in their economic interests to do so.When political questions are posed in this way it is clear that economic determinism - the central tenet of Marxism - has crucial limitations that the left will have to move on from if it is ever going to be a serious threat to the ruling class.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Statement of the red party group

Our concept of the workers party when we formed the red party was a mass workers party able to contain a multiplicity of currents, trends, and factions, both marxist and other; a party united in aims and goals, but able to use the party's structure for testing and debating the relative merits and failings of each without the short tempered sectarian bitchiness thatcharacterises the traditional left: the inability to hold even the most arcane differences withoutsplintering and engaging in - the last surviving bloodsport - marxist diatribe. We now see that as, in retrospect, our first break with Leninism, although at the the time we did not realise it: we tried originally to square that vision with a form of democratic centralism, which wasfoolish. Our experience of democratic centralism, aspracticed by all existing left organisations, is notconducive to real internal democracy. It provides formembers of leninist organisations the illusion ofdemocracy whilst in reality maintaining the control ofthe central leadership - minority rights only existwhilst the minority remain so; as soon as the centrefeels threatened, the minority are disciplined orexpelled.Our view now of the party is similar to the way Marxused the term in the 19th century. For Marx theworkers party was the whole class in movement aware ofitself and of its interests. As revolutionaries, ascommunists, we are not a vanguard, not an elite, weare no different than our brothers and sisters intheir billions the world over. We see our role as twofold: firstly to provide a revolutionary socialistargument to the myriad of opposition movements thatexist (anti war, anti globalisation, anti poverty,anti privatisation, anti id cards etc. etc.) and willcontinue to be created in opposition to the demands ofa world capitalist system in crisis. To do this wemust develop a meaningful socialist argument free ofthe detritus of authoritarian socialism, a newhumanist socialism which the tens of thousandsmobilised by these movements can relate to.Secondly, our history and position mean that we areknown and to a certain extent can have a hearing inthe traditional left. We therefore wish to act as abridge between the old leninists (amongst whom we feelthere are many committed and genuine revolutionaries)and the new libertarian humanist communism which wefeel is the future.We remain committed to our original aim of uniting theleft (which we now see as far wider than just theleninist groups) and providing a forum for genuinelyopen, non-sectarian debate about the way forward forour movement

Thursday, October 27, 2005

public sector pensions

The whole public sector pensions issue is a very sore point for me.
Just to clarify, I am a retired member of Unison. I am very fortunate to be in receipt of a pension under the existing local government scheme. This has allowed me to live without anxiety, though certainly not in opulence.
However my sore point is that the people I formerly worked with, and others yet to begin public sector employment, are to be disadvantaged due to governmental interference and the connivance of union bureaucracy.
In addition I particularly hate the campaign to divide the country's workers into public and private sector, where the private sector is perceived to be worse off as result of the public sector pension scheme. During a television interview Digby-Jones, the pompous fat greedy capitalist bastard who represents other pompous fat greedy capitalist bastards, stated that it was unfair for private sector workers to be asked to work for longer than public sector workers prior to reaching pensionable age. Strangely I agree, but the solution does not have to be for public sector workers to work longer. The retirement age for private sector workers should be reduced. With an equitable shareout of the obscene profits made by him and his kind, there is more than enough wealth to fund this outcome and give workers their dues.
The current deal recently announced on public sector pensions does not apply to local government workers, only health workers, civil servants and education are affected. Unison and the fire-fighters are negotiating separately. I don't hold out much hope for a decent outcome if union leadership is left to its own devices during these negotiations. Prentis, the Unison leader, is a stereotypical middle class man in a suit union bureaucrat. He probably thinks more about the honours list than his members who pay his fat salary.
I took part in the February protests when the government originally announced their attack on pensions. In March my partner and I spent a few frantic days stuffing envelopes in the union office to finally beat a deadline to get information out to members for forthcoming action. Unfortunately Prentis fell for the government's pre-election prevent industrial action at any costs scam and it was all a waste of time.
All I can say is watch this space. The fight goes on, not from the upper echelons, but from the grassroots. Prentis will be creaming himself in glory if he gets the same deal as is on offer to the others, but it does not protect his members rights. Nor does it create a platform for private sector workers to enjoy the same pension rights as public sector employees have enjoyed in the past.
The pension age thing is also just the first foray.
The next line of attack has already been announced. It's the assessment of pension - final salary schemes will be targeted to be replaced by average earnings. This is crap, my initial pay in 1970 was £10 per week, and it took rampant inflation to bring my earnings up to £30 a week some years later. This would have a catastrophic effect on my pension if taken into account.
Next on the list is contribution percentage. Employee contributions will increase, whilst the employer's levy will reduce.
They will also attack enhanced pension rights for those whom they have incapacitated through their shite employment practices and conditions - those who retire through ill health.
The message from the government and their masters is clear, look after yourselves and don't affect profits. And yes profitability will be an issue as they continue to privatise public services. Or should I say subsidise private enterprise with public money. Remember, public money is derived from taxpayers, and that means the workers - the rich bastards have all the lawyers and accountants to make tax avoidance an artform.
(Please note these comments are made from a mainstream union perspective, not a revolutionary view on the future of society.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


written by dave e and originally published in rs5
Afghanistan, Democracy and Iraq (and others)

The New American Century is clearly underway. Afghanistan approved its new constitution in January 2004, and elected Hamid Karzai as president in the country’s first direct vote for the presidency. And now, Iraq, the next country on the USA's freedom and democracy list, has conducted its elections. And there's more to come, George promised it at his recent second crowning ceremony.
We all know that the situation is really far from rosy in Iraq. TV and newspaper headlines remind us daily of the death and mayhem, but mainstream press coverage has been very sparse on Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch's World Report 2005 paints a gloomy picture. It is a poor advert for Americanisation.
Afghanistan continues to suffer from serious instability. Armed groups, including remaining Taliban forces, control most of the country and routinely abuse human rights, particularly those of women and girls. Basic human rights conditions are poor throughout the country particularly outside of Kabul. There is widespread poverty, each Afghan spends only $165 per year on food and essential non-food items. Literacy rates are extremely low, especially for women, and there are extremely high levels of preventable morbidity and health problems.
Afghans, including women, participated in the election process, but its legitimacy suffered due to the absence of sufficient security and monitoring.
The drug economy is blossoming. Poppy production has reached record highs and Afghanistan was the largest producer of opium and heroin in 2004. Drug revenues amount to $2.5 billion, half of the Afghanistan Gross Domestic Product. The inflated profits provide warlords with an independent source of income which makes it extremely difficult to establish rule of law and increase reconstruction and development efforts.
U.S. forces continue to generate numerous human rights abuses against the civilian population, including arbitrary arrests, use of excessive force, and mistreatment of detainees, many of whom are held outside the protection of the Geneva Conventions. Ordinary civilians caught up in military operations and arrested are unable to challenge the legal basis for their detention or obtain hearings before an adjudicative body. They have no access to legal counsel. Release of detainees is wholly dependent on the whims of the U.S. military command. Generally, the United States does not comply with legal standards applicable to their operations in Afghanistan, including the Geneva Conventions and other applicable standards of international human rights law.
Political repression, human rights abuses, and criminal activity by warlords are amongst the chief concerns of most Afghans. Local military and police forces have been involved in arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, extortion, torture, and extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects. Outside Kabul, commanders and their troops have been implicated in widespread rape of women, girls, and boys, murder, illegal detention, forced displacement, human trafficking and forced marriage. In some remote areas, there are no real governmental structures or activity, only abuse and criminal enterprises by factions.
Many districts remain insecure because of violence. Ongoing factional rivalries impede aid delivery and development throughout the country. Nearly fifty aid workers and election officials were killed in 2004. Some districts are essentially war zones, where U.S. and Afghan government forces engage in military operations against Taliban and other insurgent groups. Hundreds of Afghan civilians were killed in 2004 during these operations, in some cases because of violations of the laws of war by insurgents or by coalition or Afghan forces.
Women and girls continue to suffer the worst effects of Afghanistan's insecurity. They suffer severe governmental and social discrimination, and are struggling to take part in the political life of their country. Those who organise politically or criticise local rulers face threats and violence. Soldiers and police routinely harass women and girls, even in Kabul city. Many women and girls continue to be afraid to leave their homes without the burqa. The majority of school-age girls in Afghanistan are still not enrolled in school.
The current elections in Iraq have been blighted by violence. But who should the Iraqis fear? The latest figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health reveal that during the period 1 July 2004 to 1 January 2005, 3,274 Iraqi civilians were killed and 12,657 wounded in conflict-related violence. Of those deaths, 60%, 2,041 civilians, were killed by the coalition and Iraqi security forces. A further 8,542 were wounded by them. Insurgent attacks claimed 1,233 lives, and wounded 4,115 people, during the same period.
And so to the future. It is a daunting prospect for all the other 'outposts of tyranny' on George and Condi's list. Iran, Cuba, North Korea, to be saved from themselves and impaled on the blessings of American Imperial freedom.

anarchist workers have final sex romp

Anarchist workers have final sex romp
Alex Wilde
ABC Science Online
Thursday, 6 October 2005

Bee colonies can turn to anarchy when the queen dies and worker bees swap their normal habits for hedonism, researchers say.The absence of the queen's pheromones makes worker bees abandon their normal role of policing the colony's reproductive behaviour, making the colony more vulnerable to parasitic bees from other colonies.But at least the worker bees die happy in this lawless state, research in today's issue of the journal Nature suggests.Before their colony collapses, worker bees have lots of sex, in a last ditch attempt to raise a final generation of males, as well as the offspring of intruder bees.Associate Professor Benjamin Oldroyd, an Australian bee geneticist from the University of Sydney and Thai colleagues looked at what happened when a colony of Asian dwarf red honeybees (Apis florea) loses its queen.They found the proportion of non-native (or parasitic) workers in the colony more than doubled. Almost half of the parasitic bees had active ovaries, compared with around one in five of the native workers. "Worker policing is essential for maintaining reproductive harmony and, we now think, defending the colony against parasitic bees from other colonies. But to have some chance at immortality when the queen dies they are compelled to switch off their worker policing in order to lay their own eggs," says Oldroyd.Policing behaviour in bees, discovered in 1989, means if workers start to lay eggs their eggs are eaten.But workers without a queen face an evolutionary dead end unless they can raise a new queen from one of their sisters, or a last batch of males who leave to mate with other queens. "The results of this study revolutionises our ideas about social insect colonies. They can no longer be thought of as a Shakespearean paradigm of a queen and her workers toiling away in harmony," Oldroyd says."The colony is a very delicately balanced society that only works because of the worker policing behaviour. Once the policing behaviour is switched off it all goes awry." Researchers have not seen parasitism in colonies of western honeybees (A. mellifera), which live in closed-off nests.But they believe as A. florae nests are in trees, this makes them more exposed to parasite bees.

the miners strike: twenty years on

This was written by dave e originally for Red Star 6 which was never eventually published

Mr Scargill told a news conference: "We have decided to go back for a whole range of reasons. One of the reasons is that the trade union movement of Britain with a few notable exceptions has left this union isolated."
"Another reason is that we face not an employer but a government aided and abetted by the judiciary, the police and you people in the media and at the end of this time our people are suffering tremendous hardship."
The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said she was very relieved the strike was over, "I want a prosperous coal industry."
In their report entitled 'TWENTY YEARS ON: HAS THE ECONOMY OF THE COALFIELDS RECOVERED?' Beatty, Fothergill and Powell (Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, March 2005) state;
'Since the end of the miners’ strike in March 1985, Britain’s coal industry has experienced an unprecedented loss of jobs. Total employment in the industry has fallen from over 220,000 to around 7,000. The number of miners has fallen from 170,000 to 4,000. Only 8 of the 170 pits at the time of the strike remain in operation.
About 60 per cent of the jobs lost from the coal industry since the early 1980s have now been replaced by new jobs for men in the same areas. That still leaves some 90,000 coal jobs still to be replaced. Taking a wider view of the employment problems of the coalfields – for instance to include unemployment inherited from before the pit closures – only around half of the overall job shortfall for men in the coalfields has so far been eliminated.
Claimant unemployment figures, which are currently relatively low in most former coalfields, give a wholly misleading view of the strength of the local labour market. Since the early 1980s, the rise in the number of ‘economically inactive’ men of working age in the coalfields has been twice as large as the fall in recorded unemployment. In the English and Welsh coalfields in mid-2004, no fewer than 336,000 adults of working age (201,000 men, 135,000 women) were out of work and claiming incapacity benefits, compared to just 67,000 (50,000 men and 17,000 women) claiming unemployment benefits. The evidence supports the view that in the coalfields, as in some other parts of older industrial Britain, there has been a huge diversion of people with health problems from unemployment to incapacity benefits. Estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 men in the coalfields are currently ‘hidden unemployed’ in this way.'
The Old Club, Stainforth, Report.
On 5th March, I went to a 'do' to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of the miners' strike. Locally this coincided with the closure of the Hatfield branch of the NUM after 87 years of struggle.
When the strike kicked off in 1984 I didn't fully realise the extent of what was happening. I thought it was a noble union defence of the mining industry and employment against governmental economic policies, but it was much more.
Betty Cook, of the Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures, summed it up when she said, 'They killed our pits, they killed our communities and attacked our way of life.'
It was an attempt at social genocide by an embittered vengeful right wing bitch.
Chris Skidmore, President of Yorkshire Area NUM, described the miners' response to this attack as - 'all for one, one for all, an attack on one is an attack on all.'
Dave Douglass
When Dave Douglass, Hatfield Main NUM Branch Secretary and author, stood up to speak, I thought he might give us a 'burial' speech, but I was wrong. It was a speech that embodied the pride of the mining communities, the lessons learnt, and some optimism for the future.
He pointed out that there are now more people working in the mining heritage industry than the pits in South Wales. If there is to be a future for the industry in the UK, government funding is essential, and it needs to be quick. Experienced miners are an ageing population. Once the mining village traditions are broken, who will want to work in the pits?
Thatcher had been determined to break the miners', and the NUM's, resolve because they posed a threat to the system. They were able to effectively intervene in society. The end of the strike, however, wasn't the end for UK coal mining. Even in 1988, coal still provided 90% of the UK's energy needs. It was the second tranche of closures, under Major, that broke the mining communities. (John Major had promised to turn Britain into a classless society. What he really meant was the destruction of the working class as a unified entity.) It left a legacy of unemployment, poverty, deprivation, drug addiction, and anti-social living conditions. The communities now suffer from lost vision and lost heart, but the soul remains alive.
There is still much to commemorate. Next year sees the 80th anniversary of the 1926 strike, cavalry charges, burning barricades, brick throwing and hand to hand fighting.
Hatfield NUM branch learned many things from the strike, amongst them are -
1.Don't believe anything in the press, who are quick to condemn anyone who threatens the system.
2.Always make sure that the members, not the leaders run the union. (I think this applies more widely)
3.Working people must find their own solutions, they're not going to get help from anyone else.
A Brief Chat etc.
Prior to the whole event starting, I had a word with Dave Douglass to ask his opinion of left unity.
He said, 'The trouble is that everyone wants to be boss. You (i.e. the Red Party) have recently started a new party - you must think you've got something that no-one else has.' He then went on to say, 'I liked the idea of the Socialist Alliance, sorry it was stillborn.'
After hearing me mouth an unconvincing defence of the Red Party and the SA, Dave went off to carry on with his preparations, leaving me to further ponder his responses.
This pondering has continued for some days after. I checked out Class War (of which Dave Douglass is a member) on their website , their declaration seems to succinctly catch the spirit of the working class unity required to change the order of society.
Shouting at the Moon no longer seems enough. It also reminded me of correspondence I had last year on this issue.
I'd written to the AWL expressing my frustration at the pedantic posturing of the 'voices' of socialism. My bone of contention being that their insistence on universal ideological purity was self defeating to any chance of left unity.
To illustrate my point I wrote, 'NUM members in the 1984/5 strike were not ideologically pure, but clearly showed the power of working class unity. A little more unity from others, and who knows...?'
I got a response from Daniel Randall. He wrote, 'On the miners' strike, I think you're confusing unity of the labour movement with unity of left organisations. We're Marxists - we have a certain way of analysing the world and a certain set of political ideas based on our Marxism. We must also win workers to this perspective - arguing against the politics of the bourgeoisie but also against the mistaken politics of some left groups where necessary.'
At the time I declined to reply. I thought it to be an answer based merely on theory with little reference to practice.
However, I've now framed this reply.
Marxist theory is just that, a 'theoretical' attempt to resolve working class subservience and subjugation. You can have as many united socialist groups as you like, but if you haven't got the working class it's pointless. Marxism is purposeless without the working class. The whole point is that this is a class issue, a class struggle, a class war - the class is the working class, and that class is the labour movement.
To quote from Class War Federation;
'We must unite on the common basis of what we have in common - our Working Class background and needs.
Above all the CWF believes that politics cannot be separated from life - and life from politics. We reject the missionary/righteous so-called "revolutionary" Left. Our politics must be fulfilling and relevant to our everyday lives.
Working Class people must take responsibility for their progressive revolutionary politics - fly by night middle class radicals have been the bane of our movement for as long as the Working Class has existed.'
I think these points demand due consideration if we are to further the socialist cause.

we don't need al'quaida

'We don't need al-Qaida' Abu Theeb is the leader of a band of Sunni insurgents that preys on US targets north of Baghdad. Last week he openly defied al-Qaida in Iraq by actively supporting the referendum. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad spent five days with him - and uncovered evidence of a growing split in the insurgency Thursday October 27, 2005The Guardian
Abu Theeb is a tall, handsome, well-built man with a thin beard and thick eyebrows. His name is a nom de guerre: it means Father of the Wolf. He is a farmer during daylight and a commander of a mujahideen cell, a group of holy warriors, at night. He and his men roam the farmland north of Baghdad in search of prey - a US armoured Humvee, perhaps, or an Iraqi army unit. On the eve of last week's constitutional referendum, Abu Theeb, the leader of a group of Sunni insurgents, was to be found in the middle of a schoolyard in a village north of Baghdad. The school was to be a polling centre the next day. He stood flanked by 10 bearded fighters in white robes and chequered headscarves.
There were a few posters on the walls, and plastic ribbons marking out lanes where voters would queue, but other than Abu Theeb and his men, the building was deserted. The security guards hired by the referendum committee in Baghdad had failed to show up - not all that surprising an event in one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq. The local tribe, ie Abu Theeb and co, are notorious for kidnappings and executions.
Abu Theeb looked around him, a commander inspecting the field before battle. He moved with his men around the school, inspecting the adjacent streets and the back gate, looking for weak points, looking for easy access for a car bomb or an armed onslaught. The school guard sheepishly followed the entourage around, a Kalashnikov on one shoulder.
At one point, Abu Theeb grabbed a piece of paper and drew a sketch of the school, marking out where his men should be posted the next day. He turned to a short, chubby ginger-haired guy in his 30s with a big jihadi beard. "You will be the commander tomorrow," he said. "Distribute some of our weapons to the men."
The stakes were high for Abu Theeb and his men. Al-Qaida forces in Iraq - forces that are, at least on paper, allies of the Sunni insurgents - had vowed to kill anyone who took part in the referendum. But in the Sunni areas of Iraq, the people and the local Iraqi insurgents among them had a different view: they were eager to vote. There was a widespread sense of regret about the boycotting of the last elections, which left the parliament in Baghdad dominated by Shia and Kurdish parties - and left the Sunnis, who held the power in Saddam's Iraq, out in the cold. The Sunnis wanted to take part in last week's referendum; they wanted a "no" vote on the draft constitution.
This left Abu Theeb, a man who has devoted himself and his resources to fighting the Americans, in a curious position. His battle on polling day would be to secure a safe and smooth voting for his people - in a referendum organised by the enemy. In doing so he would be going up against the al-Qaida forces, and risking a split in the insurgency in Iraq.
I spent five days with Abu Theeb and his people last week, and I witnessed a very curious thing: a bunch of mujahideens talking politics and urging restraint. "Politics for us is like filthy dead meat," Abu Theeb told me. "We are not allowed to eat it, but if you are passing through the desert and your life depends on it, God says it's OK." This is a profound shift in thinking for these insurgents, a shift that might just change the way things develop in Iraq.
While we were at the school, Abu Theeb pulled one of his young men aside and rebuked him for an IED - improvised explosive device - bombing the night before: "I thought we agreed that nothing will happen for the next few days." The short young man mumbled that it wasn't his group - someone else must have done it.
Abu Theeb's village, where the polling station was based, is a small hamlet that lies on the banks of the Tigris river north of Baghdad. A serpent-like road passes through the village. The palm groves on either side of the road are pockmarked by bomb craters.
A couple of thousand Sunni Arabs from one tribe live here. Everyone is related; they say they can trace their history back to the prophet Muhammad. Women are rarely seen in public and almost everyone is a fundamentalist Salafi Muslim. The men sport big bushy beards and wear ankle-length dishdashas [robes]. Mosques are scattered everywhere and at prayer time the place grinds to a halt.
There are two ways into the village. The official way in takes you through a 100m-long checkpoint of blast walls, concrete barriers and barbed wire. It is manned by masked Shia Iraqi soldiers from the south of the country and commanded by US soldiers. Cars and cards are checked regularly and the roads are closed down, forcing people to drive for hours through the farmlands around the village before hitting the main road again. Driving in and out through this checkpoint reminds one of a second world war movie of an eastern European town under German occupation. The locals call the checkpoint the Rafah crossing, in reference to the notorious checkpoint in Gaza.
Then there is the unofficial way in. A narrow, bumpy farm road provides the mujahideens with safe access into the village away from the weary eyes of the Iraqi soldiers. This is the road Abu Theeb took in last week. I went with him on condition that I did nothing to reveal his identity or the location of the village. For the purposes of the assignment, I was advised to pray, fast and dress like the men of the village, although I am not religious.
The road to jihad
Abu Theeb was born in this village four decades ago. He was one of five brothers and several sisters and his father was an illiterate farmer who went everywhere with his short-wave radio and loved to talk politics. In the 80s, Abu Theeb's eldest brother was killed fighting in the Iran-Iraq war.
Abu Theeb studied law at university in Baghdad before joining the Institute of National Security, an elite academy reserved mostly for Sunni Arabs. It was the graduates of this academy who were used to staff Saddam's secret services; Abu Theeb was a loyal citizen, and he went on to a job in the security services. But his nationalism evaporated after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. "I hated the government," he says. "I realised that all that they were telling us about the nation and the leader was false. They had no pride, no honour. I wanted to leave, to take a long break, so I left the service to do religious studies."
He joined an Islamic Sharia school to train as a cleric. There he fell in love with two subjects: the teachings of Ibn Taimia, the father of the fundamentalist Salafi school of thinking, and religious politics. Later, however, he was obliged to return to his old job at the Amn al-Aam, the General Security, one of Saddam's feared security apparatuses, and there he stayed until the American occupation toppled the regime.
"When the fall happened, I went to a cleric I knew who was preaching jihad and asked him for weapons," he says. "I was weeping. He said, 'Go away, things are too dangerous.' I roamed the streets with a dagger in my pocket. I was too ashamed to come back home and see my family while Baghdad was under the occupation, dead bodies and bullet shells everywhere."
He finally met up with a group of Syrian volunteers in Baghdad. They, like him, were looking for a fight with the Americans. He brought them back to his home, he says, and formed one of the first jihadi cells. They got to work.
"When the infidel conquers your home, it's like seeing your women raped in front of your eyes and like your religion being insulted every day," says Abu Theeb.
He joined others and started first with direct rocket-propelled grenade hits and small arms attacks on US convoys around his area, until a fellow Salafi fighter taught him how to set an IED using primitive techniques, a TV remote control and some artillery shells.
A visiting Iraqi army general laid the ground rules for the group: IEDs were the most successful weapon, but should always be laid at least two kilometres outside the village to spare the people the wrath of the Americans.
"Everyone was fighting, men who under Saddam spent years as military deserters became zealous fighters," says Abu Theeb. "Something like fire was inside us. We would go out to fight for days, leaving our families and wives behind."
He and other Salafi fighters became known as the Anger Brigade, an insurgent group that has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on US and Iraqi targets and is involved in kidnapping those who are perceived as collaborating with the much-hated occupation.
This is truly a holy war for Abu Theeb. He tells me how once he was driving to Baghdad carrying a sack filled with anti-tank rocket heads for an operation in Baghdad. He was stopped at a checkpoint and American soldiers ordered him to step out and begun a car search. "I prayed to God," he says. "I told him, 'God, if I am doing what I am doing for your sake then spare me this. If it's not, let them get me.' The American soldier opened the boot where I had the sack filled with rocket heads. He moved it aside and started to search. When he finished and asked me to leave, I knew then I was blessed by God."
God has not been so merciful with the rest of his family. One of his brothers and a nephew have died fighting the Americans; another brother was killed a month ago as he was setting an IED on the side of the road. But Abu Theeb's faith remains strong.
For more than two years, Abu Theeb had been taking part in insurgent attacks on US and Iraqi targets, laying IEDs, carrying out ambushes and kidnappings. Then, about eight months ago, a group of Syrian men visited him. They identified themselves as part of the al-Qaida group in Iraq, and they asked for his cooperation in establishing a foothold for their organisation in his area. "They told me that they had support and money and wanted to open a new front here," says Abu Theeb. "I said to them, 'What about the village - do you want this to become a new Fallujah?'" Abu Theeb didn't want al-Qaida, even if their aims were ostensibly the same. "When al-Qaida came here I was the first to fight it," he says. "They went to the clerics and said, 'Denounce this man. If not, your blood will be spilled.' They can kill and slaughter easily."
Abu Theeb and other Salafi clerics and leaders of the insurgency north and south of Baghdad are now talking about a rift - a split between Iraqi Islamist and nationalistic insurgent groups, and the mainly foreign led and supported al-Qaida forces. They say that al-Qaida initially gained support among the Sunnis because of its ferocity and meticulous planning, and because it had money pouring in from jihadis all over the Arab world. Made up mostly of foreign Arabs, it quickly became the most feared insurgent group in Iraq, claiming responsibility for the bloodiest attacks against not only US and Iraqi forces but also civilians.
"If it wasn't al-Qaida fighting with the Sunnis in Iraq the whole battle would have had a different outcome," says Abu Hafsa, another mujahideen commander based north of Baghdad. Abu Qutada, a mujahideen leader based in south Baghdad, agrees. "Lots of the mujahideen groups are in need of money and weapons so they join the umbrella of al-Qaida for support," he says. But he adds: "They differ with them in ideology."
The arrival of al-Qaida
The tipping point came when al-Qaida, known then as the Tawhid al-Jihad, decided to target the Iraqi police and army and other Iraqi ministries and institutions. Its goal was to prevent the Americans establishing an Iraqi state that could lead the fight against the insurgency - and allow the Americans to take a back seat. "They have experience in fighting and they did very clever stuff," says Abu Theeb. "They attacked all the centres of the Iraqi state and prevented the Americans from creating a puppet state that they could hand everything to. The Iraqi resistance was occupied by fighting the Americans and couldn't see that strategic goal."
Perhaps inevitably, though, the insurgents turned out not to have the same stomach for Iraqi blood. "Al-Qaida believes that anyone who doesn't follow the Qur'an literally is a Kaffir - apostate - and should be killed," says Abu Theeb. "This is wrong."
Al-Qaida marked down not only those who cooperated with the American occupation, but everyone who worked with the Iraqi government, police or army, as Kaffirs. Then they said that the entire Shia community were Kaffirs. For Sunnis like Abu Theeb, this was a step too far.
The second serious stumbling block has been al-Qaida's call for the establishment of an Islamic state (caliphate) based on the Taliban model in Afghanistan. This has already started taking place in towns and villages where al-Qaida is dominant. "The resistance now is made up of nationalist and religious elements," says Abu Theeb. "By calling for a caliphate you will alienate not only the resistance but the support we get from Syria and the gulf countries." The last thing these countries want is a Taliban state as a neighbour.
Al-Qaida's policies have drawn a furious response from the Iraqi security forces and the Shia militias, and it is Sunnis who have suffered. Scores have been executed after being kidnapped by paramilitary units. In Abu Theeb's area alone, more than 300 Sunni families have taken refuge after fleeing Shia areas in Baghdad. "Every time al-Qaida attacks a Shia mosque we are making all the Shias our enemies," he says. "We are cementing them against us." Later he says: "We have lost more men to the Shias than we have lost to the Americans."
This rift in the insurgency has already gone far beyond angry words. Clashes erupted between al-Qaida fighters and Iraqi mujahideen cells after al-Qaida killed a group of Iraqi insurgents who they claimed were spying for the Americans.
Back in the village, politics has become a hot issue. Everywhere - in the mosques after prayers, at weddings, in the main market and in private mujahideen circles - the talk is of politics. Abu Theeb says his move into politics has come at a price: he has had to shave off his beard so that he can visit Baghdad. For weeks he has been travelling, visiting houses, urging people to register to vote. "It's a new jihad," he says. "There is time for fighting and a time for politics."
I went back to the school with Abu Theeb on polling day. There was a festival atmosphere. Two of his guards were already at their positions, but the rest were more relaxed - their weapons lay against the wall and on tables.
"No one will attack," said Abu Theeb. Inside the classroom that had become the polling station, an old sheik sat on a wooden bench. "The judge and the monitors didn't come from Baghdad - they said this is a hot area - so the sheik of the village is going be the monitor," said Abu Theeb. People began to trickle in. The officials present soon decided that it was not realistic to expect the women to come in, so each man who came in with an ID card was given a whole stack of ballot papers. "Nine papers to Haji Abu Hussein," shouted a registration official. Another official sitting on another table handed Haji Abu Hussein the nine ballots. The man took his ballots, but instead of voting in private in the ballot box, he publicly ticked the "no" boxes, folded the papers, and then chucked them in the box.
By midday people had stopped coming and the officials started ticking the boxes on ballot papers themselves. The next day, America and the authorities were crowing about how well the referendum had gone; yesterday - after a "yes" vote had been returned - leading Sunni politicians accused the Shia in the south of stuffing ballot boxes. Well, some of the Sunnis in the north are certainly guilty of it.
Two days after the balloting, Abu Theeb and two other clerics sat on the floor of a mosque debating the political future of their group and the Sunnis in general. "We should keep all the options open," Abu Theeb told them. Even a coalition with the enemy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


written by Jez during g8 july '05

Bob Geldof has pissed me off. In fairness, it’s not just Saint Bob who has drawn my ire of late: it is the whole spectacle of Live 8 and the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign. We have had to endure the sight of multi-millionaire pop stars lecturing people about poverty; promoting the idea that the leaders of the G8 countries are willing and able to solve the problems of world poverty; and that all we need to do to make the world a better place is to carry on being mindless consumers, only this time not only are we supposed to digest banal pop songs, but also buy wrist bands, and more importantly swallow the lie that the world will be a better place if can just encourage politicians to do the right thing™ by promising more capitalist intervention in a continent that has been ravaged by capitalist intervention.
The message is clear, the likes of Saint Bob, Bono and Richard Curtis and their cabal of cretinous cronies can save the world by working hand-in-hand with their good mates Tony and Gordon.
It was bad enough having to watch the bourgeois media fawn over Saint Bob. His message was exactly the one which they want to promote, with the occasional swear word thrown in to create the illusion of radicalism. Plus, of course, Bob’s little love-in provided a handy distraction from the unruly elements in Gleneagles trying to break up the party. What else would you expect from the media? What has really got my goat though is the fact that some of the people who I know and love, my family and friends, have bought into Bob’s rosy vision.
In reality of course, we know that the G8 will change nothing. The MPH campaign want third-world debt cancelled, more aid given and ‘fair’ trade (as if any trade under capitalism could be ‘fair’). Their spokespeople may claim that the leaders of the G8 can and will meet at least some of their demands. Whatever aid packages are agreed on, however much debt is cancelled, represents a pittance when compared with the poverty of the countries on the receiving end, and the wealth of the G8 countries. Even the paltry sum on offer will not go to the people who need it most: it will be used by the ruling class in the G8 and African countries to do with as they see fit. And in return? We will see more privatisation and more resources being stolen from the people of Africa by Western corporations and African despots. Potentially more damaging than that, working class people in the G8 and African countries will continue to have illusions that the capitalist system can somehow be a force for good. The G8 leaders are portrayed as the most powerful men in the world, but in reality they are incapable of using capitalism to benevolent ends. No matter what their intentions may be, they do not control capitalism: it controls them.
The millions of working class people who support Live 8 and MPH are sincere and compassionate: but they have been misled.
Of course, it would be both deeply patronising and profoundly wrong to see these millions as passive sheep, following whichever demagogue comes along. It’s more complex than that. I am sure that there are many people involved who have a healthy amount of scepticism for the likes of Geldof, Curtis et al, let alone Blair and Brown. Equally, I am sure many are reasonably realistic about the prospects of any real change coming out of the G8 meeting. Yet, they still go along with it in the hopes that something positive may come out of it, or indeed that they see it as the only way that positive change can happen.
In my opinion though, the high-profile celebrity leaders of progressive movements have a counter-productive effect. The names might draw the punters in, and attract media attention, but such leaders then end up having a disproportionate role in determining the course of the movement, and all too often end up playing, at best a conservative role, at worst a deeply reactionary one.
Geldof is a case in point. In the shadow of the G8 there is an understandable interest amongst people in the problems of world poverty. Previous G8 meetings have seen the birth of the present day anti-capitalist movement. Geldof and his celebrity mates have raised the profile of the issue in question, but have also sought to hollow out the radical impulse inherent in the movement: instead of challenging the leaders of the G8 (no matter how futilely), Geldof has tried to divert people into a campaign aimed at supporting (no matter how critically) the leaders of the G8.
Geldof is just the latest in a long and inglorious line of high profile leaders that have hijacked progressive movements and used them for their own ends. Previous to this, we have seen Charles bloody Kennedy and George Galloway compete to portray themselves as the real voice of the anti-war movement, and thereby reap the benefits at the ballot box. Kennedy has the advantage that the bourgeois media are happy to paint him as anti-war, while Galloway has the advantage that he actually is anti-war. Even so, I object to the idea that either of them have politics that are compatible with mine or can speak on my behalf.
Yet, Galloway, Geldof and their like are able to portray themselves as the leaders of progressive campaigns. Undoubtedly the mainstream plays a role in this. It suits politicians and lazy journalists alike to paint mass movements as being made up of leaders and followers, so that they can then lionise or demonise said leaders, and the movements by extension. The movements themselves though bear most of the responsibility. With both MPH/Live 8 and the anti-war movement, many of the activists involved have allowed, and in some cases, encouraged these ‘celebrities’ to present themselves as leaders. The success of the Stop the War Coalition was a result of the hard work of activists organising themselves, and yet at each successive national demonstration we saw those same hard-working activists overshadowed by ‘celebrities,’ including Charles Kennedy, speaking from the platform, having been invited by the StWC committee, a body, which let’s be honest, largely elected itself.
If these mass movements are to play a progressive role in restructuring society, it needs to be through ordinary working class activists realising their potential: to not only organise protest movements but through that, to realise that our class has the ability to organise the whole of society. That takes confidence, and it is a confidence that our class lacks at present. Yet people who should know better, many of whom are socialists, lack that confidence in other people. They promote high-profile leaders because they think that our class will respond to them, be inspired by them and follow them: they think that we need leaders.
Live 8 is a perfect example of where this attitude gets us. No-one needs to hear the likes of Elton John and Madonna moralising about poverty in order to understand that it is unjust, certainly not people who exist on a fraction of the money that any of these celebrities spend in a single shopping trip.
So what can we do about it? What can we do to prevent mass movements being neutered by such leaders?
Many socialists look to the Bolsheviks for inspiration. A frequently used example is that of Father Gapon. Gapon was a priest in St Petersburg in 1905, who led a radical mass movement that tried to persuade the Tsar to be nice. Gapon was also a state asset. Despite this, the Bolsheviks worked with this mass movement, and worked with Gapon, in order to use him to further their aims. Some socialists in the Bolshevik tradition have drawn parallels between Gapon and Geldof and Galloway. They think that they can use these latter day Gapons in the same way as the Bolsheviks did. The only problem is though that it does not seem to work. Perhaps it is because today’s left is small, weak and easy to ignore. Perhaps it is because Galloway, Geldof et al are far shrewder than a ragged-trousered Russian priest from the 19th century. Whatever reason, the end result is that we see self-proclaimed revolutionary socialists subordinating themselves to people whose politics, on paper at least, are to their right. Plus, it seems to me that if you encourage people to follow such leaders, no matter how critically, it seems likely that they will end up putting their faith in those leaders, and thereby undermining self-organisation. Of course, this is somewhat in keeping with the Bolshevik tradition: they fully support the idea of leaders, just so long as they are the ones who are in charge.
Conversely though, the attitude taken towards high-profile leaders by those socialists and anarchists who take a more ‘purist’ approach to revolutionary politics is broadly that of ‘ignore them and hope they’ll go away.’ This does not work either. Instead all that happens is that the celebrity leaders find it easier to dominate movements, because some of their most consistent critics have effectively surrendered without a fight.
Personally, given that my instinctive response is to grumble about things rather than to actually do anything, my impulse is to have a grumble about these bastards and cast aspersions on the intelligence of the people who support them. I think this is a mistake as well. For one thing, there is the argument that has been put forward by those who defend George Galloway’s reactionary position on issues like abortion, faith schools and immigration, and his romanticised view of the Iraqi resistance: if a public figure is associated with a movement, any mud that sticks to them rubs off on the movement as well. I am not entirely convinced by this argument. Like many people, I was opposed to the war and subsequent occupation of Iraq, but that clearly does not mean I have no political differences with anyone who was also against the war. It is important to be willing and able to openly disagree with others, and even criticise them, even if you agree with them on other issues. That said, it is true that political attacks on Galloway have the (often intentional) effect of undermining the anti-war movement. For me though this highlights the danger of such profile leaders, they can all too easily become liabilities. Personally I view it as a cause for regret that Galloway has so effectively managed to make the anti-war movement his own personal property.
The chief danger of me mocking the people who play follow the leader though, is that I am all too likely to cut myself off from them and be ignored. They are often motivated by good intentions, but have been misled. If I ignore them, or worse, deride them for their naivety, then I am abandoning them to the misleadership of their self-appointed leaders. And yet, I never learn...
The task is to work alongside these people and through our words and actions encourage them to have the confidence in themselves necessary for self-organisation, within whatever campaign it might be and in the future society we want to build. The task is also to have the confidence in others that they can see through the leaders who would lead them down blind alleys. Easier said than done of course. We not only need to be able to inspire others to believe in themselves: we also need to find that courage in ourselves.

a question of faith

origionally publihed in red star 4 jan '05:

A Question of Faith.

As I write this article BBC radio news are reporting that a Birmingham theatre has cancelled a play, written by an Asian woman playwright, which includes scenes of sexual abuse and violence based in a Gurdwara (a Sikh temple), after a riot outside the opening night by Sikh protesters who claim that the play is blasphemous and should be banned.

Some people, who consider themselves socialists, may agree with the Sikh protesters arguing that a minority religious group should be protected from attacks on them.
I think that this position is absolutely wrong. What would these people say if a catholic crowd stormed a theatre that was showing a play about sexual abuse by a catholic priest?

Hopefully they would argue that Religious mobs should not have the right to prevent freedom of speech.

For socialists, in this country, much of the last century the question of religion has been largely an abstract issue. Necessary to understand in order to comprehend the strange antics of exotic foreigners, such as Iranians, or Americans or Irish people, but really not applicable to us modern civilised north Europeans. Even the Church of England seemed to agree with us, happily distilling out of its creed anything that might offend liberal sensibilities.

Now all that has changed. The God Botherers have risen up and bitten us on our somewhat complacent arses.

The role of the evangelical right in the re election of George Shrub; the demonisation of Islam and its identification as ‘The Enemy’ in The War Against Terror; the banning of the Hijab from French schools; the campaign against the war in Iraq; the central position of Fundamentalists in the resistance to the occupying forces; the attempt of the British government to introduce a law forbidding religious discrimination, and outlawing hatred on religious grounds even in the reliable old Cof E there has been a potential schism over attempts to stop a gay man becoming a bishop: All these have thrust the question of the relationship between socialists and religious believers a real and immediate problem. And, as usual, when the abstract becomes concrete, the left implodes, either scrambling for ‘Influence’, that is junking their principles in need to cobble up increasingly unstable ‘coalitions’, or retreating into a shrill anti clericalism that has learnt nothing from the last 200 years and imitates the rantings of the bourgeois newspaper columnists in their daily tirades against the ‘Dark Islamic Hordes’ (Trade Mark The Daily Mail, and all other newspapers).

The collapse of the left over the question of religion, although pretty much par for the course, is actually quite surprising when the amount of socialist thought which has been applied to this subject is taken into account.

Early socialists followed the example of the enlightenment thinkers in seeing the ideas of religion as the real problem All that would be necessary then, would be to disprove the bibles lies and distortions and the scales would fall from the eyes of the millions held in thrall by the priesthood.

Unfortunately this did not happen.

Marx started with, and agreed with, the critique of religion by thinkers like d’Holbach and Thomas Paine but asked the question, what causes people to turn to religion for answers? In ancient times when people were unable to account for the cause of various natural phenomena it was understandable to ascribe them to the actions of some supernatural deity. But now with all that human technology and science has shown us of the way in which our universe is ordered why is it that millions still cling to the skirts of the priests? Marx argued that the answer lay not in the hypnotic power of the catholic mass but rather in the social conditions created by class society. His most famous aphorism on the subject ‘Religion is the opium of the people’ when read in full makes this clear:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the _expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo…”

For Marx, humans turn to religion to give them that which society cannot, a Hope for a future without pain or want or suffering a reason for that suffering and the promise of a reward in an afterlife and to thus endure it without protest. It is only in the destruction of the conditions of class rule and the creation of a communist society that the attraction of religion will end. Marx and Engels also noted the way in which Religion not only soothed the masses into acceptance of the status quo but also could on occasion cause them to arise in religious fervour to shake the ruling order to its foundations; Engels studied Thomas Munster and the uprising of the Anabaptists in Germany in the 15th century. If religion was a drug it was one that could cause great euphoria as well as torpid quiescence.
The social conservative role of religion was not some major discovery of Marx, Napoleon Bonaparte on why he had invited the Catholic Church back into France after the revolution:
“What is it that makes poor man take it for granted that… on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have”
Revolutionaries therefore are uncompromising opponents of organised religion, powerful monolithic institutions committed to the maintenance of the existing order, in this we do not differ from the views of the philosophers who influenced the French revolution but recognise that the belief of individuals is a result of the alienating, soul destroying effects of class society and they can only be won away from those ideas when they gain belief in their own power to control their own futures.
What does this mean practically for socialists today? Firstly Lenin’s dictum that ‘Revolutionaries must be the tribunes of the oppressed’ is a good starting point. We recognise that the ruling class maintains its rule by creating false divisions between workers and scapegoating minority religious believers has been historically effective in dividing and thus disarming working class resistance. We also recognise that criticism of religious beliefs and practices have been used as a cover for racist attacks on Asian people (slurs against Moslems have replaced ‘paki’ as the insult of choice for today’s fascist thug). It is vital then that socialists should defend members of minority religious groups from these attacks. When the French newspapers attacked Dany Cohn Bendit, leader of the students in Paris, in 1968 as a ‘German Jew’ the students marched under the slogan ‘We are all German Jews!’
But whilst standing shoulder to shoulder with minority religious groups when they are under attack we must never forget that there is no homogenous community of the oppressed. The system rules by dividing us. This means there is no natural way by which one oppressed group identifies with another. The most racist extremists in the Southern States of America are the poor whites - not the rich whites.
In the same way blacks do not automatically support women and women do not automatically support blacks. Within oppressed communities themselves there are vast extremes of wealth and power and socialists must beware of regarding all Moslems, Catholics, or whatever as being some indivisible mass, instead we should seek to split religious workers away from the influence of their religious leaders. This can only be achieved by appealing to them by what unites us as fellow workers. Pandering to religious prejudices, calling on Moslems to vote ‘as Moslems’ only confirms the primacy of Religion and the role of priests and religious elders.
There are of course many socialists whose personal spiritual views have brought them into the struggle for socialism and see no separation between these and their conception of socialism. There is, in my opinion, no problem with this, socialists recognise the right of everyone to hold whatever personal spiritual beliefs they want. For socialists the problem comes when personal spirituality/faith is Institutionalised and transformed into a Religion, where an internal belief system and moral code becomes an external power structure and law.
Socialists fight to build a new world free of the horror and poverty that drives people into the hands of the priests. Our struggle does not exclude the religious but says that in the words of the old song:
No saviour from on high delivers
No trust have we in prince or peer
Our own right hands the chains must shiver
Chains of hatred, greed and fear
E'er the thieves will out with their booty
And to all give a happier lot
Each at the forge must do their duty
And strike the iron while it's hot


written by rae 6/05

Back in the day children were considered much hardier and they were treated to, amongst other things, trips up chimneys and gruesome fairy tales. Before the tale was sanitised, Red Riding Hood finished the wolf off by butchering him into itty bitty pieces. If this version was still in wide circulation today Red’s behaviour would no doubt be labelled anti-social and her hoody would be banned from Grandma’s cottage and Bluewater shopping centre.
The link between hooded tops and anti-social behaviour is both spurious and totally missing the point. The hooded top a criminal does not make. If it were that simple, society would be besieged by rampaging Benedictine monks and happy-slapping Brownies. Forgive my assumptions but I don’t think that happens round your way anymore that it does round mine. Now, I did my fair share of (shameful) anti-social behaviour when I was younger, all without the benefit of a hoody. Instead hoodies were for keeping your head warm when drunk and lost on a winter’s night (see how I was both practical and incredibly stupid) and for wearing big and baggy so as to cover up my awkward teenage body as much as possible. Even now in my adult life I still fully embrace the hoody, although they are more likely to be ethically sourced, union produced, fairly traded organic cotton numbers.
Adolescence is, I think for everybody, a time of greater alienation. Stuck between childhood dependency and adult self-sufficiency, nobody really understands you except your mates. On top of this is the massive weight of the system slowly yet forcibly moulding you into diligent, mindless workers. Out of town shopping centres have set themselves up to replace the local high streets but without the desire to address the social needs of the community they have drawn in. What do young people have to do on a weekend, except hang around a faux-town square full of the symbols of lifestyles they can never hope to afford?
The Powers that Be argue that targeting the wearing of hooded tops an ingenious way of preventing crime. This however rests on the assumption that if you cannot hide your face with a hood you won’t break the law. Maybe, but mostly the desperation and alienation over-rules the fear of getting caught. Besides, lack of hood never stopped Dick Turpin or the Great Train Robbers, what’s wrong with a good old pair of tights?
Capitalism will never allow anything more than the surface of crime to be address (and then only in extreme cases). Any deeper analysis risks uncovering the inherent inequalities within capitalism that are at the true root of crime and disorder. A campaign against clothing only serves to better exclude chosen undesirables from involvement in wider society. And as both common sense and self-fulfilling prophecy theory dictate, the excluded will feel excluded and so rail against a system that has punished them so arbitrarily. Far from reducing crime, imposing labels risks escalating crime and disorder. A uniform is created out of clothing that crosses social boundaries; it also pushes assumptions about the intent of the wearer. Trainers are banned in most clubs but are those who wear shoes really better behaved than those who don’t? Capitalist society likes labels and definitely likes to see faces. Why? Because that’s how it judges. Faces show piercings, tattoos, hair colour, ethnicity and gender. The hoody hides not just faces but the means to judge and categorise people.
All in all, crime has got nothing to with clothing, except maybe the metaphorical hoody that society wears that gives it such blinkered vision. Crime and the fear of crime has everything to do with the kind of world our parents have created for us, and our control over it comes only through the world we will create for the next generation.

capitalism and socialism by Maurice Brinton


from Red Star
The following article reprinted with kind permission from the
comrades at AKPress can
be found in the wonderful collection ‘For Workers Power, selected writings of
Maurice Brinton’ Edited by David Goodway ISBN1-904859-07-0.
Maurice Brinton
was the pen name for Chris Pallis who died earlier this year. A revolutionary
socialist, veteran of first the wartime cpgb, then the trotskyist revolutionary
communist party (RCP), his pursuit of a medical career put paid to political
activity for a number of years. Pallis was appointed to a consultants post in a
London hospital in 1957 and this brought him back into contact with the
revolutionary left, such as it was in late 50s Britain. Pallis joined the newly
launched SLL (socialist labour league), the SLL was the largest of Britain’s
trotskyist groups and had benefited from the exodus from the communist party
following the suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and gained a
number of talented militants and intellectuals, such as Brian Behan, brother of
the playwright Brendan Behan and a militant in the building workers union, and
Peter Fryer, The Daily Worker correspondent in Hungary who had quit when his
articles telling the truth about the revolution were suppressed. The SLL also
maintained Trotsky’s final predictions as gospel truth; Russia was ‘degenerated’
but still ‘a workers state’ and therefore should be defended against ‘western
imperialism (in the context of the first mass movement against nuclear weapons
this meant that UK and US bombs were bad but the ‘Workers Bomb’ was to be
defended!?!); western capitalism was in terminal crisis, mass unemployment, that
would make the wall street crash and the great depression look like Sunday
school picnics were just around the corner, capitalism had no remedy and any
moment the ‘desperate masses’ would turn in their millions to the banner of the
4th international (You have to admire, in a way, the sheer tenacity of holding
to this world view-especially as this was the middle of the greatest and most
sustained world capitalist boom in history ). The SLL was led by its founder,
Gerry Healy who maintained a hot house regime of paranoia and suspicion (if the
system was about to collapse then the forces of the state were at all times
desperate to disrupt the activity of the ‘True Marxists’). This would all get
far worse in the late seventies and eighties when the economic crisis finally
arrived, to be greeted by the faithful in a manner akin to the second coming of
Christ, but the Masses firmly refused to rally to the banner of Gerry Healy, the
Crazy Frog of Trotskyism.

Pallis was expelled from the SLL in 1960, and together with
other former SLLers formed the Socialism Reaffirmed group, this group which soon
became Solidarity, had close links to the French journal Socialisme ou Barbarie,
and especially the ideas of its main theorist Cornelius Castoriadis, many of
whose works Pallis translated into English (under the pseudonym Paul Cardan).
The Solidarity group became known for a strong critique of the ‘trad’ left,
both reformist and Leninist, as holding parallel elitist views of the role of
the working class and that of the ‘Party’.
‘We do not accept the view that
by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness. On the
contrary we believe that its conditions of life and its experiences in
production constantly drive the working class to adopt priorities and values and
to find methods of organisation which challenge the established social order and
established pattern of thought. These responses are implicitly socialist. On the
other hand, the working class is fragmented, dispossessed of the means of
communication, and its various sections are at different levels of awareness and
consciousness. The task of the revolutionary organisation is to help give
proletarian consciousness an explicitly socialist content, to give practical
assistance to workers in struggle, and to help those in different areas to
exchange experiences and link up with one another.We do not see ourselves as yet
another leadership, but merely as an instrument of working class action. The
function of SOLIDARITY is to help all those who are in conflict with the present
authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to
generalise their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of
its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if
society is to be totally transformed.’
From ‘As We See It’ first published
in solidarity IV April 1967 reprinted in For Workers Power. Page 154 AKPress
(Also available online see below)
Solidarity stressed the need for ‘workers
self management’ in industry; this was contrasted with the Leninist slogan of
workers control;
‘To manage is to initiate the decisions oneself. As a
sovereign person or collectively, in full knowledge of all the relevant facts.
To control is to supervise, inspect or check decisions initiated by others.
'Control' implies a limitation of sovereignty or, at best, a state of duality of
power, wherein some people determine the objectives while others see that the
appropriate means are used to achieve them. Historically, controversies about
workers control have tended to break out precisely in such conditions of
economic dual power.
Like all forms of dual power, economic dual power is
essentially unstable. It will evolve into a consolidation of bureaucratic power
(with the working class exerting less and less of the control). Or it will
evolve into workers' management. With the working class taking over all
managerial functions.’
From The Bolsheviks and Workers Control 1917 - 1921
The State and Counter-revolution by M.Brinton first published as a book in 1970
reprinted in full in ‘For Workers Power, selected writings of Maurice Brinton’.
Page 294. (Also available online, see below for details.)
Pallis explored a
Marxism that was light years from the Puritanical killjoy attitude of much of
the left in the 60s and 70s (and which still continues today) the Solidarity
group introduced (and subjected to fierce criticism) the ideas of the Marxist
psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich to a British audience (The Irrational In Politics).
Faced with the longest boom in history Castoriadis formulated a theory that
capitalism had begun to overcome some of its tendencies toward crises, at the
price of increased bureaucratization and reduction of civil and political
freedom, this meant a convergence between western ‘Free Market’ capitalism and
its Stalinist counterpart across the Iron Curtain. In the workplace;

….(T)thousands of jobs and professions formerly requiring skill and training and
offering their occupants status and satisfaction have today been stripped of
their specialized nature. Not only have they been reduced to the tedium and
monotonous grind of any factory job, but their operatives have been degraded to
simple executors of orders, as alienated in their work as any bench hand.
Marxists would be better employed analyzing the implications of this important
change in the social structure rather than waving their antiquated economic
slide rules…’
Introduction to Paul Cardan, The Meaning Of Socialism Maurice
Brinton, For Workers Power page 61
This meant that it was unlikely , as was
insisted by Traditional Leninists, that the working class was going to be thrust
into mass poverty by a cataclysmic crash and that this would be the impetus for
a upsurge in support for the revolutionary leadership. It was however in the
struggle within the workplace over the right to manage over capitalism attempt
to dictate and control every facet of the worker life that would be the spark
point for further class struggles. This immediately smashes Lenin’s dictum that
the workers left to themselves are only able to develop trades union
consciousness, an idea that Pallis felt particular contempt.
The return of
economic crises to the West in the 1970s and the later collapse of Bureaucratic
state capitalism in the old Stalinist empire cut a large chunk out of
Castoriadis’ basic theory, but the fact remains that despite the reappearance of
periods of mass unemployment and the destruction of much of Britain industrial
and manufacturing base the overall standard of living of the mass of workers HAS
continued to grow, just as at the same time Proletarianization has proceeded
This introduction does not do justice to full range of Maurice
Brinton/ Chris Pallis’ work, - as well as a Marxist he was also a highly
respected neurologist, fuller obituaries from comrades who knew him can be found
I will finish this Brief introduction in traditional form with Chris Pallis’
own words once again from For Workers Power;
“….(We) will be labelled
“Anarcho-Marxist” by those who like ready made tabs for their ideological wares.
The cap fits insofar as we stand in a double line of fire, denounced as
anarchists(by the Marxists) and as Marxists (by the anarchists). It is true
insofar as we appeal to the libertarian ideals of some Marxists and to the need-
clearly felt by some anarchists- for a self constant and modern ideology going
further than the slogan “Politics: Out!”. basically however we are ourselves and
nothing more. We live here and now, not in Petrograd in 1917, nor in Barcelona
in 1936. We have no gods not even revolutionary ones. Paraphrasing Marx
(“philosophers have only interpreted the world. What is necessary is to change
it” ), we might say that “ revolutionaries have only interpreted Marx (or
Bakunin), what is necessary is to change them”.
We are the product of the
degeneration of traditional politics and of the revolt of youth against
established society in an advanced industrial country in the second half of the
twentieth century. The aim of this book is to give both purpose and meaning to
this revolt and to merge it with the constant working class struggle for its own
April 1965

Further Reading;
The best
collection of Chris Pallis’ work is ‘For Workers Power, selected writings of
Maurice Brinton’ Edited by David Goodway ISBN1-904859-07-0. Published by akpress
Chris Pallis also
appears (as martin Grainger, another of his pseudonyms) in David Widgery’s book
The Left In Britain, Penguin books 1976 isbn 0 14 055.99 2 ; There are two
pieces, an (edited) version of the solidarity pamphlet Paris: May 1968
also an article from The Newsletter, the paper of Healy’s SLL from 1958 ‘We
Marched against Britain’s Death Factory’
Online, some texts are available
And here:

What is basically wrong with
capitalism? Ask a number of socialists and you will get a number of different
answers. These will depend on their vision of what socialism might be like and
to what their ideas as to what political action is all about. Revolutionary
libertarian socialists see these things very differently from the trad ‘left’.
This article is not an attempt to counterpoise two conceptions of socialism and
political action. It is an attempt to stress a facet of socialist thought that
is in danger of being forgotten.
When one scratches beneath the surface,
‘progressive’ capitalists, liberals, Labour reformists, ‘communist’
macro-bureaucrats and Trotskyist mini-bureaucrats see all the evils of
capitalism in much the same way. They all see them as primarily economic ills,
flowing from a particular pattern of ownership of the means of production. When
Khrushchev equated socialism with ‘more goulash for everyone’ he was voicing a
widespread view. Innumerable quotations could be found to substantiate this
If you don’t believe that traditional socialists think in this
way, try suggesting to one of them that capitalism is beginning to solve some
economic problems. He will immediately denounce you as having ’given up the
struggle for socialism’. He cannot grasp that slumps were a feature of societies
that state capitalism had not sufficiently permeated and that they are not
intrinsic to features of capitalist society. “No economic crisis” is, for the
traditional socialist, tantamount to “no crisis”. It is synonymous to
“capitalism has solved its problems”. The traditional socialist feels insecure,
as a socialist, if told that capitalism can solve this kind of problem, because
for him this is the problem, par excellence, affecting capitalist society.
The tradition ‘left today has a crude vision of man, of his aspirations and
his needs, a vision moulded by the rotten society in which we live. It has a
narrow concept of class consciousness. For them class consciousness is primarily
an awareness of “non ownership”. They see the “social problem” being solved as
the majority of the population gain access to material wealth. All would be
well, they say or imply, if as a result of their capture of state power (and of
their particular brand of planning) the masses could only be assured a higher
level of consumption. “Socialism” is equated with full bellies. The filling of
these bellies is seen as the fundamental task of the socialist revolution.
Intimately related to this concept of man as essentially a producing and
consuming machine is the whole traditional left critique of laissez-faire
capitalism. Many on the left continue to believe that we live under this kind of
capitalism and continue to criticize it because it is inefficient (in the domain
of production) the whole of John Strachey’s writings prior to ww2 were dominated
by these conceptions. His ‘Why You Should Be a Socialist’ sold nearly a million
copies- and yet the ideas of freedom or self management do not appear in it, as
part of the socialist objective. Many of the leaders of today’s left graduated
at this school, including the so called revolutionaries. Even the usual vision
of communism “from each according to his ability to each according to his
needs”, usually relates, in the minds of “Marxists”, to the division of the cake
and not at all to the relations to man with man and between man and his
For the traditional socialist “raising the standard of living”
is the main purpose of social change. Capitalism cannot any longer develop
production. (Anyone ever caught in a traffic jam, or in a working class shopping
area on a Saturday afternoon, will find this a strange proposition.) It seems to
be of secondary importance to this kind of socialist that under modern
capitalism are brutalised at work, manipulated in consumption and in leisure,
their intellectual capacity stunted or their taste corrupted by a commercial
culture. One must be “soft”, it is implied, if one considers the systematic
destruction to be worth a big song and dance. Those who talk of socialist
objectives as being freedom in production (as well as out of it) are dismissed
as Utopians.
Were it not that misrepresentation is now an established way of
life on the “left”, it would seem unnecessary to stress that as long as millions
of the world’s population have insufficient food and clothing, the satisfaction
of basic material needs must be an essential part of the socialist programme
(and in fact of any social programme whatsoever, which does not extol the
virtues of poverty.) The point is that by concentrating on this aspect of the
critique of capitalism the propaganda of the traditional left deprives itself of
one of the most telling weapons of socialist criticism, namely an exposure of
what capitalism does to people, particularly in countries where basic needs have
been met. And whether Guevarist or Maoist friends like it or not, it is in these
countries, where there is a proletariat, that the socialist future of mankind
will be decided.
This particular emphasis in the propaganda of the
traditional organisations is not accidental. When they talk of increasing
production in order to increase consumption, reformists and bureaucrats of one
kind or another feel on fairly safe ground. Despite the nonsense talked by many
“Marxists” about “stagnation of the productive forces” bureaucratic capitalism
(of both eastern and western types) can develop the means of production, has
done so and is still doing so on a gigantic scale. It can provide (and
historically has provided) a gradual increase in the standard of living- at the
cost of intensified exploitation during the working day. It can provide a fairly
steady level of employment. So can a well run gaol. But on the ground of the
subjection of man to institutions that are not of his choice, the socialist
critiques of capitalism and bureaucratic society retain all their validity. In
fact, their validity increases as modern society simultaneously solves the
problem of mass poverty and becomes increasingly bureaucratic and totalitarian.
It will probably be objected that some offbeat trends in the “Marxist”
movement do indulge in this wider kind of critique and in a sense this is true.
Yet whatever the institutions criticized, their critique usually hinges,
ultimately, on the notion of the unequal distribution of wealth. It consists on
variations on the theme of the corrupting influence of money. When they talk for
instance of the sexual problem or of the family, they talk of the economic
barriers to sexual emancipation, of hunger pushing women to prostitution, of the
poor young girl sold to the wealthy man, from the domestic tragedies resulting
from poverty. When they denounce what capitalism does to culture they will do so
in terms of the obstacles that economic needs puts in the way of talent, or they
will talk of the venality of artists. All this is undoubtedly of great
importance. But it is only the surface of the problem. Those socialists who can
only speak in these terms see man in much less than his full stature. They see
him as the bourgeoisie does, as a consumer (of food, of wealth, of culture,
etc.) The essential, however, for man is fulfilling himself. Socialism must give
man an opportunity to create, not simply in the economic field, but in all
fields of human endeavour. Let the cynics smile and pretend that all this is
petty bourgeois utopianism.” The problem,” Marx said, “is to organise the world
in such a manner that man experiences in it the truly human, becomes accustomed
to experience himself as a man to assert his true individuality”.
in class society do not simply result from inequalities of distribution, or flow
from a given division of the surplus value, itself a result of a given pattern
of ownership of the means of production. Exploitation does not only result in a
limitation of consumption for the many and financial enrichment for the few.
Equally important are the attempts by both private and bureaucratic capitalism
to limit- and finally suppress altogether- the human role of man in the
productive process. Man is increasingly expropriated from the very management of
his own acts. He is increasingly alienated during all his activities, whether
individual or collective. By subjecting man to the machine- and through the
machine to an abstract and hostile will- class society deprives man of the real
purpose of human endeavour, which is the constant, conscious transformation of
the world around him. That men resist this process (and that their resistance
implicitly raises the question of self management0 is as much a driving force in
the class struggle as the conflict over the distribution of the surplus. Marx
doubtless had these ideas in mind when he wrote that the proletariat “regards
its independence and sense of personal dignity as more important than its daily
Class society naturally inhibits the natural tendency of man to
fulfil himself in the objects of his activity. In every country of the world
this state of affairs is experienced day after day by the working class as an
absolute misfortune, as a permanent mutilation. It results in a constant
struggle at the most fundamental level of production: that of conscious, willing
participation. The producers utterly reject (and quite rightly so) a system of
production which is imposed upon them from above and in which they are mere
cogs. Their inventiveness, their creative ability, their ingenuity, their
initiative may be shown in their own lives, but are certainly not shown in
production. In the factory these aptitudes may be used, but to quite different
and “non productive” ends! They manifest themselves in a resistance to
production. This result in a constant and fantastic waste compared with which
the wastage resulting from capitalist crises or capitalist wars is really quite
Alienation in capitalist society is not simply economic. It
manifests itself in many other ways. The conflict in production does not
“create” or “determine” secondary conflicts in other fields. Class domination
manifests itself in all fields, at one at the same time. Its effects could not
otherwise be understood. Exploitation, for instance, can only occur if the
producers are expropriated from the management of production. But this
presupposes that they are partly expropriated from the capacities of
management-in other words from culture. And this cultural expropriation in turn
reinforces those in command of the productive machine. Similarly a society in
which relations between people are based on domination will maintain
authoritarian attitudes in relation to sex and to education, attitudes creating
deep inhibitions, frustrations and much unhappiness. The conflicts engendered by
class society take place in every one of us. A social structure containing deep
antagonisms reproduces these antagonisms in variable degrees in each of the
individuals comprising it.
There is a profound dialectical interrelationship
between the social structure of a society and the attitudes and behaviour of its
members. “The dominant ideas of each epoch are the ideas of the ruling class”,
whatever modern sociologists may think. Class society can only exist to the
extent that it succeeds in imposing a widespread acceptance of its norms. From
his earliest days man is subjected to constant pressures designed to mould his
views in relation to work, to culture, to leisure, to thought itself. These
pressures tend to deprive him of the natural enjoyment of his activity and even
to make him accept this deprivation as something intrinsically good. In the past
this job was assisted by religion. Today the same role is played by “socialist”
and “communist” ideologies. But man is not infinitely malleable. This is why the
bureaucratic project will become unstuck. Its objectives are in conflict with
fundamental human aspirations.
We mention all this only to underline the
essential identity of relations of domination- whether they manifest themselves
in the capitalist factory, in the patriarchal family, in the authoritarian
upbringing of children or in “aristocratic” cultural traditions. We also mention
these facts to show the socialist revolution will have to take all these fields
within its compass, and immediately, not in some far distant future. The
revolution must of course start with the overthrow of the exploiting class and
with the institution of workers management of production. But it will
immediately have to tackle the reconstruction of social life in all its aspects.
If it does not, it will surely die.