The recent publicity over the disturbing events in Brixton, among a group of people originating in a Maoist collective headed by Aravindan Balakrishnan, inspired me to take out my copy of the We Only Want the Earth CD, a collection of Maoist propaganda songs from the 1970s by Cornelius Cardew. (I would stress that Cardew can’t be held responsible for Balakrishnan’s group. His lot expelled “comrade Bala” in 1974.)
Cardew was a member of a Maoist organisation called the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who stood in the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election under the name of the South London People’s Front. In support of their candidate, the RCPB(ML) put up posters around Brixton reading “Down with the revisionist Three Worlds theory. Victory to the revolutionary people of Albania”. They got 38 votes. (Which to be fair is 13 more than TUSC got in a recent by-election in Stoke.)
Perhaps this comes under the heading of guilty pleasures, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Cardew’s Maoist songs, not least because of their unabashed absurdity. A particular favourite is “Smash the Social Contract”, which sought to rally the working class against the agreement the TUC reached in 1974 with the then Labour government to implement a policy of voluntary wage restraint. Click to continue reading →
It has been several decades since a socialist candidate has won a citywide office race in the United States but that could all change soon as polls are showing Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant with a 402 vote lead on Wednesday evening and no signs of the margin shrinking.
Sawant’s victory over 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin would also make her the first openly socialist candidate to be elected to a city office in Seattle’s history.
“This is new territory. There really isn’t any precedent,” said Stuart Elway, a longtime political pollster. “You think Seattle has a pretty liberal electorate, but you haven’t seen someone who calls themselves a socialist win.”
With roughly 20,000 votes left to count in the state’s mail-in voting system, the Associated Press is reporting that it could be days or even weeks before the Nov. 4 election results can be officially declared.
However, things were looking good for Sawant Wednesday, a candidate who ran on a “Occupy Wall Street” inspired platform including proposals to tax the rich and raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15.
This year, the party’s leadership has done something highly unusual: They’ve been censoring these contributions. They’re removed paragraphs and, earlier in the year, refused to carry certain articles altogether. This is all related to accusations of rape and sexual harrassment against a former leading member. A large number of party members have left or are likely to leave, because the party leadership (plus an undeclared ‘secret’ faction) seems bent on destroying it rather than accept that they really have let these women down. With another SWP member alleging that she was raped and the same bad method being used to deal with it (as well as the person making the complaint being told not to talk about her experiences) this issue is far from resolved, no matter how many times the SWP’s leaders claim to have drawn a line under it.
The document below appears in full, as it was sent to us. It is a complete narrative of the story, and it shows that the leadership has done everything it can to avoid dealing with the issue – allowing bullying to run unchecked, driving hundreds of people out, and worse than all of that, doing nothing at all to help the women at the centre of these events. When you realise that party members have spent £thousands to help send Comrade Delta to university after he stepped down from his SWP job, you realise just how rotten these people’s politics and morals are. The SWP always appeals to people not to make these documents public, to “protect” people. But what we’ve seen this year is that ‘confidentiality’ and ‘privacy’ have been used not to protect political discussions and people’s jobs, but to make sure that party members don’t have access to information, and that those who want people to know what’s happened to them are forced to keep quiet.
Moving forward means acknowledging mistakes and holding our leadership to account
by Simon F (Birmingham), Viv S & Rita M (Hackney)
This document is a narrative of the events leading up to and following a Disputes Committee (DC) hearing in October 2012 in which Comrade W accused a then CC member (M) of rape. We do not go into the detail of the case here but focus on the mishandling of the situation by the CC and their deliberate campaign of misinformation and intimidation, supported by a layer of leading comrades, once the case became known in the wider party. In producing this narrative we hope to elucidate the issues needing redress before the party can move forward.
Before the hearing
At Marxism 2010 two woman comrades (Sadia J and Donna G) approached former CC member Viv S to discuss a serious allegation regarding sexual harassment involving the then national secretary (M) and a young woman comrade (W). This allegation surrounded incidents that had occurred a year earlier. Click to continue reading →
Mark Perryman reviews Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea’s unpicking of how opinions are made and unmade
As the Party Conference season draws to a close the disconnect between the politics of the Westminster bubble and the rest of us couldn’t be more obvious. Persons in suits, mostly men, addressing other persons in suits, mostly men, given huge chunks of airtime while their party membership figures plummet and the great unsayable for the political class, that fewer and fewer can be bothered to vote for one, other or any of this lot scarcely gets a mention.
Stuart Hall was one of the founders of the 1950s British New Left. Decades later he looked back in an autobiographical essay to explain why the New Left took popular culture seriously.
“First, because it was in the cultural and ideological domain that social change appeared to be making itself most dramatically visible. Second, because the cultural dimension seemed to us not a secondary, but a constitutive dimension of society. Third, because the discourse of culture seemed to us fundamentally necessary to any language in which socialism could be redescribed.”
This position represented a fundamental challenge to how politics was traditionally defined, by Left and Right alike:
“In these different ways the New Left launched an assault on the narrow definition of ‘politics’ and tried to project in its place an ‘expanded definition of the political.” The logic implied by our position was that these ‘hidden dimensions’ had to be represented within the discourses of ‘the political’ and that ordinary people could and should organise where they were, around issues of immediate experience; and build an agitation from that point.”
Thirty years ago in the mid 1980s, following Labour’s 1983 General Election defeat, Stuart Hall came to prominence as one of the Left’s most influential political analysts. There was at the time some kind of sense that the understanding of, and immersion in, popular culture, by the political Left was an important part of any kind of progressive renewal. We could read about it in the pages of Marxism Today and the Labour Party’s New Socialist. Experience it in practice as Ken Livingstone’s GLC launched a programme of free festivals and all manner of other cultural initiatives . Or dance to it with the launch of the Red Wedge pop and politics coalition. None of this amounted to establish anything resembling the beginning of a progressive common sense but there was at least some sort of a loosely defined left culture that connected to, or at least related to, the popular.
In 2013 much of this has disappeared. 14 years of neoliberal Labour did its best to dismantle much of the hope and belief that the alternative to Thatcherism would be something fundamentally different. In the closing remarks to his brilliant book on Martin Luther King, The Speech author Gary Younge makes an essential point :
“While it is true that we cannot live on dreams alone, the absence of utopian ideas leaves us without a clear ideological and moral centre and therefore facing a void in which politics is deprived of any liberatory potential and reduced to only what is feasible in any given moment.”
Gary Younge is describing precisely the predicament that neoliberal Labour has lumbered us with. The Blairist and Brownite versions combining to achieve the ultimate on privatisation, of idealism. This is what Stuart Hall , and his co-writer Alan O’Shea , set out to unpick in their chapter Common-Sense Neoliberalism, the latest addition to the After Neoliberalism Manifesto. The authors place an understanding of the meaning of the ‘commonsensical’ at the centre of the remaking of a progressive politics. Describing common-sense as:
“It is a form of ‘everyday-thinking which offers us frameworks of meaning with which to make sense of the world. It is a form of popular, easily-available knowledge which contains no complicated ideas, requires no sophisticated argument and does not depend on deep thought or wide reading. It works intuitively, without forethought or reflection. It is pragmatic and empirical, giving the illusion of arising directly from experience, reflecting only the realities of daily life and answering the needs of the ‘common people’ for practical guidance and advice.”
This suggests a very different kind of politics to one the Left is used to. We might imagine Nigel Farage and UKiP as the past and present masters of the ‘commonsensical’ in politics and not what anything to do with any such project. But this is incredibly defeatist, not to say dangerous. Take a fondly remembered victory, the Poll Tax, or the beginnings perhaps of a new win, the Bedroom Tax. A common-sense argument against the unworkable injustice of these taxes linked to their hugely effective renaming for what they are by their opponents. Or tax avoidance. ‘Pay your taxes, just like the rest of us, we don’t have the choice of offshore accounts or cosy deals with HMRC so why should you?’ Again the beginnings of a progressive common-sense.
Hall and O’Shea, drawing on the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, call this ‘good sense’. And they make the case that “Good sense provides a basis on which the Left could develop a popular strategy for radical change – if it takes on board that common sense is a site of political struggle.”
Mike Marqusee in a typically excellent article A Party To Dream Of describes the prospects for an Outside Left as a ‘long haul’. In or out of Labour, part of one part of the Left, or another, or none, there is perhaps no better place to begin that journey of hope with the ambition of a new common sense.
Common-Sense Neoliberalism is available as a free download fromhere
Here is the SWP’s pre-conference bulletin 1 (IB1). I haven’t read it fully yet, but a few things jump out: There are good, solid people inside the organisation fighting for it, and our best bet is to give those people solidarity and support rather than just demanding that they do the same thing we all did (leave!) – they’re not stupid, they are conscious of the poor likelihood of winning this fight. In order to win against a CC that has proved it will tell any lie, carry out any level of bullying and intimidation, and lose any politics in order to win, they would have to wage a relentless fight against their own comrades. It’s something they’ve not been able to do, but it doesn’t make them any less worthy of our support.
The other thing that jumps out is: the leadership is not fit to lead. Not in any way.
There’s been so much wrong with the way the SWP works for so long – the lack of democracy, the bullying of dissidents, the use of full-timers as enforcers, the way oppositionists are tossed out and pushed out of the movement. The way the party leadership reacted to allegations of rape against a leading member have brought all this to a head: it’s one thing for the party to bully and cheat when there are political differences. But when it comes to allegations of rape denial and rape apologism, that’s quite another.
You will recall that Socialist Unity previously published a near verbatim transcript of the session at the SWP conference in January which discussed the now notorious attempted cover up of allegations of rape by a leading male SWP leader, to whom we attributed the moniker “Comrade Delta”.
The failings of the SWP’s Kangaroo court which exonerated Comrade Delta received widespread press coverage, in the Guardian, Daily Mail, and the Independent. It subsequently emerged that the young woman, W, making the allegations against Comrade Delta was only 17 when their “relationship” began. Comrade Delta himself was around 50 years old, and in a position of authority over her; representing a clear imbalance of power.
The transcript showed that W was not the only woman who had made allegations against Delta.
A member of staff of the SWP, referred to as X, had also made a complaint, but the SWP made procedural excuses to minimise this embarrassing fact. This was X’s contribution at the SWP conference debate: Click to continue reading →
Of course how fast an individual can run, how far they can chuck an object, how high they can jump hardly matters at all in the greater scheme of global justice and human rights. But that isn’t what is being claimed on behalf of sport here. Rather it is the grand emotional narrative sport can help construct, arguably in the early twenty-first century more effectively and more internationally, than any single other cultural pursuit. Apart from the most miserabalist, or socially isolated, section of the Left that is surely something we can all agree upon, whether we like it or not. With the possible exception of web 2.0. no other cultural form comes close to sport in terms of its global appeal. But then who apart from the geekiest of the Geeks is going to cheer on Apple vs Microsoft in the way millions cheered on London 2012’s Super Saturday of Grandstanding athletics.
There is a certain version of one-dimensional Marxism that can on occasion decry anything meaningful to be derived from the masses’ enjoyment of sport. It’s as if those of us who do the cheering have handed in any consciousness we might have at the turnstiles, or those of us who do the training leave the same at the bottom of the changing room locker along with the smelly socks and half-eaten energy bars. Before the Games were even over the Socialist Workers Party in their Party Notes for members declared : Click to continue reading →