Hubris in face of coronavirus

March 27, 2020

Jonas Salk made no money out of the polio vaccine, but regarded it as knowledge to help the whole of the human race, to be provided: gratis, free of charge, nada, zilch, diddly-squat, zero.Might not some of the same compassionate spirit be in order now?

Such public-minded sacrifice is in all too short supply, it might seem, with a desperately underfunded and privatised NHS, and money-grabbing vultures such as Jeff “unsafe conditions in Amazon warehouses” Bezos, Tim “refusing to pay staff and suppliers” Martin, Richard “eight weeks unpaid leave” Branson; not to mention incompetent politicians: Boris “herd-immunity” Johnson, Donald “coronavirus is a hoax” Trump, Jair “Brazilians never catch anything” Bolsanaro.

But then there is the magnificent solidarity of the general public in defence of the NHS, the small acts of kindness between neighbours, looking out for each other and being there (even if it is only over social media) that reminds me that ultimately there is a greater force than the rich and powerful – it is the cleaners, the supermarket workers, NHS staff – the working class, who are truly essential to society.

Socialism, not capitalism is the only way forward for humanity.

Join us – https://internationalsocialist.net/en/

What is fascism and how to fight it

February 16, 2020

(Talk given to Leicester Socialist Alternative, Feb 2020)

Fascism is one of those political words which is much abused and misused. We need to know its origins and what it represents in order to arm ourselves with the tactics necessary to tackle the threat it represents. We must not overstate and oversimplify events by labelling draconian measures taken by right-wing governments as “fascist”.

The term “fascism” was coined by Mussolini in the early twentieth century. Fasces is a Roman term for a “bundle of sticks”– one stick can be easily broken, but tied together, they are much stronger – like the communist symbol of the fist – one finger can be easily broken, together, they can pack a punch. Fascism deliberately employed socialist iconography in its early days in order to gain a foothold in a section of the working class. It drew support also from the upper-middle class and was funded by donations from big businesses such as IG Farben.

In a short time, it is only possible to give a sketchy outline of complicated and prolonged events – for more inspiration and information – read: Trotsky’s authoritative pamphlet What is Fascism and How to Fight It; Jan Valtin’s, Out of The Night; Jack London’s, The Iron Heel; Clara Zetkin, Fascism

Hitler came to power in 1933. This was only possible due to a smashing of the German labour movement, which made tragic mistakes. Firstly, the premature attempted revolution of 1919 ended in the execution of its leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht.

There was a period of hyperinflation and Germany suffered from the reparations demanded by the West after the First World War. The German Communist Party (KPD) and social democratic parties had a huge base, but the were fighting each other instead of the Nazis, treating them as if they were another democratic party. Fascism is based on violence rather than discourse.

The KPD labelled centre parties as “social fascists”, in accordance with the Stalinist dogma of the time, and attacked their meetings. Trotsky described it using an analogy of cattle being driven to the slaughter house. The fascists are represented by the butcher, the social democrats as the cattle dealer. Let us close ranks and jack this executioner up on our horns. “How is he worse than the cattle dealer who drove us here with his cudgel?” “We shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards”. “Nothing doing”, replied the bulls, “you are trying to shield our enemies from the left, you are a social-butcher yourself. They refused to close ranks. According to the Communists, the choice would be between fascism and communism, once social democracy had been smashed. Their vote in the last democratic elections held in Germany before the Second World War increased and they won 100 seats, but they did not reckon that the Nazis would destroy all open opposition to their regime, executing trade union leaders, attacking and imprisoning the Communists.

After WWII, there was an attempt by capitalism with the UN Declaration of Human Rights to ensure fascism would not happen again. Freedom of assembly (curtailed to specific places), freedom to protest (curtailed by police’s powers to stop public protests). Impossible to overcome the contradictions and limitations of this capitalist system, however. The roots of both right wing populism and ultimately fascism, and are still around today, and the threat of the far right will keep popping up in different forms. You cannot legislate away discrimination: it is illegal to discriminate against people in the UK on the grounds of disability, for example, yet the government do this all the time!

The biggest threat to the working class today is right populism, not fascism in the classic sense. However, fascism still exists in the form of the far-right BNP, National Front, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Austria’s Freedom Party, Jobbik in Hungary, Vox in Spain, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France (who is trying to get rid of her father’s fascist ideology, and trying to portray her party as right-wing populist). It is still a threat. It is characterised by a militaristic presence, intolerance of democratic opposition, and the use of violence. Fascism is a last resort for capitalism, when normal methods of governing – elections, the media, tame socialist and trade union leaders, in the mould of Dave Prentis or Tony Blair – have failed and there is a risk of losing control. It is very unlikely that fascism will consciously be used as a tactic by capitalism and big business again. However, the same processes, due to the acute failure of capitalism to provide for the vast majority of people – are still in play. And the threat of right-wing populism only makes fascist ideology more acceptable.

So what is populism and how is it different? Bolsanaro, Nigel Farage, Trump, Boris Johnson, Modi. How can a political programme which only benefits a small minority sustain itself in a democracy? Capitalism has always divided people by religion, racism, culture, etc. It is in the interests of a small establishment to seek to blame a country’s problems on outsiders and set the working class against itself.

A local example is the Operation Dharmic Vote campaign, set up by a Tory supporter from Rugby, angry at Labour’s proposal to outlaw the caste system, which claims that Hindus, Sikhs and Jains should vote against the pro-Muslim Labour Party. It has campaigned in London and in Leicester East, where Keith Vaz was friendly with Mahendra Modi’s BJP. This is playing a very old and very dangerous game: splitting communities along ethnic / religious lines. Fortunately, the left-wing MP Claudia Webbe was still elected in Leicester East – but across the country Farage’s Brexit Party dealt a blow to Labour’s chances – because of Labour’s muddled position on Brexit, and because the Brexit Party did not stand against the Tories. It shows, for all Farage’s pretence at being in touch with ordinary people, that Brexit’s class interests stands with the bosses.

By contrast socialists and trade unions emphasise the unity of workers, that we share common concerns and the need for tolerance of different religious and cultural traditions. We oppose racism. We confront fascists and seek to no platform them when they try to speak, by organising mass demonstrations of people, such as when we played a part in opposing the English Defence League when they came to Leicester and we stood with the community of Highfields.

Members of our party have gone over to Ireland in the past weeks to aid in the campaign to re-elect non-sectarian socialists to the Irish Parliament. A small fascist party, the National Party in Ireland reported one of our candidates, Mary Vallely, in Limerick to the police, misquoting “a Trotsky novel” – you can only assume she got Trotsky mixed up with Tolstoy! – as saying, “we need to acquaint fascist’s heads with the pavement”- what the quote refers to is that where persuasion fails, we need to defend ourselves against violent attacks and be wary of the threat that fascism poses to the ideas of socialism and to any civilised society. This has also been summarised more succinctly as “socialism or barbarism”.

The best way to defeat the poisonous ideas of fascism is to build strong trade unions and to develop socialist ideas, to build an international workers’ movement which will be capable of transforming people’s lives across the globe.

Poem for Art’s Birthday 17/1

January 19, 2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSjCgQuvhh0

On the 17th January 2020, Art is 1,000,057 years old!
Fold a paper hat. Make an inane grin.
Put the hat on your head like Napoleon.
Let Filliou be your guide.
Celebrate. Rejoice in the making, the process.
Find wonder where and while we can.
Explore, invent, contrive. See things anew.
Revisit the ordinary. Your breakfast – for example:
Where did it come from? What was involved?
Measure, observe – the change as it flows from your mouth
To be expelled in a smelly heap, which we do not mention at dinner parties.
Look at the world with the eyes of a child.
Australia is on fire. The Amazon – razed and bulldozed for profit.
Jeff Bezos – he’s richer than you think!
A billion seconds is 31 years. Each second, you get a crisp, green dollar:
How long would you have had to live to match his wealth?
The screen you are watching would turn black and white
And then morph into a loom of punched cards.
It would swell until it burst through the roof; a riot of wiring and hot valves.
Air raid sirens would wail above the whistle of deadly doodlebugs.
The great depression would bring capitalists to their knees.
Lines of shabby figures queue against the cold, waiting:
Work never materialises.
Mud, trenches, Maxims rattle. Pointless, bloody conflict, over long-forgotten empires. Lives Wasted.
Let’s not speak of that – it is Art’s Birthday, after all!
Why aren’t you smiling? Put your hat back on!
Where were we? Film would be lost to the spinning thaumatrope,
Babbage would be labouring vainly over his engines.
Ironbridge gorge, no longer spanned with iron, would just be . . . a gorge.
Factories, looms would give way to spinning jennies.
Fire would engulf London’s narrow alleyways.
Shakespeare would be drawing on his pipe, candlelit at a writing desk.
Plague would remind us that we are all made of dust.
Chaucer’s pilgrims would be in the Tabard, downing small beer as they
Embarked on their footsore slog to Canterbury.
Viking longships with bright spears, intricate brooches sparkle in sunlight.
Hadrian’s Wall would spring up from the rubble of centuries.
But that is all gone, dead, unimportant.
Why dwell on the past – it is Art’s birthday!
Where were we? Pythagoras, Archimedes, or some long-forgotten thinker
Crafted wheels of clockwork, set in motion to mimic the planet’s orbits
Only to be lost below the Mediterranean. The first computer.
But you are still nowhere near his fortune. Nowhere near early enough.
We need to go back to Ur, Sumer and clay tablets. Millenia before
Modern silicon enabled Amazon to feast on their rivals.
To swallow whole companies in a single, ravenous gulp.
Democracy does not have a price – regardless what Bezos may think.
Something within always resists the stench of value and profit and greed.
Amazon’s blank, grey panopticons are encircled by shanty towns of tents
As their workers, on the pittance doled out, cannot afford to rent.
But Art lives on. Rebellion lives on. Protest lives on.

Carols for Corbyn

December 12, 2019

God rest ye merry workers

God rest ye merry workers, let nothing you dismay.
Get to a polling station, cast your vote on Thursday.
Let’s get rid of Boris Johnson, as we got rid of Theresa May
The Tory party’s had it’s day, its had it’s day.
The Tories have had their day.

God rest ye merry workers, let nothing you dismay.
Remember that next Thursday, it is time to vote away
This cruel and callous governmment, divided and corrupt.
Good tidings of Corbyn and joy,
Corbyn and joy.
Good tidings of Corbyn and joy.

O come all ye workers

O come all ye workers, ye poor and downtrodden
O come ye, O come ye to a polling booth.
You don’t need any ID, you just need a conscience,
Its time for us to speak out, its time for us to shout out
Its time for ordinary people to have their say.

Stand up for common decency, stand up for fair society
Stand up for public services, and our NHS.
Fight against greed, fight against hatred
Fight to end austerity, fight to end austerity,
Fight to end austerity and fair pay for all.
Fight to abolish the anti-trade union laws
Fight to reclaim profits the bosses stole.

O come all ye workers, ye poor and downtrodden
O come ye, O come ye to a polling booth.
O come let’s vote for Corbyn,
O come let’s vote for Corbyn,
O come let’s vote for Corbyn:
Tories Out!

Once in [insert adjective] [insert name of place] city

Once in diverse Leicester City
Stood a lowly polling booth.
It’s not special, it’s not even pretty,
A precious chance to make our mark.
Vote for change, an end to austerity
Vote against greed and inequality
Vote for Corbyn, vote for Labour
Vote for socialist policies to begin to change the world.





How (not) to buy an election

November 9, 2019

In Seattle, Amazon spent $1million, in the 2019 local elections, in an effort to secure a more right-wing council. The company had, in 2018, scored a victory against an attempt to tax big business, after 7 of the 9 council members caved in and repealed a “Head Tax” on big business to help fund affordable housing. Starbucks and Amazon stood to pay $millions as the largest employers in the city into the fund. They put huge pressure to bear on the council to repeal the tax. The only two council members who refused to bow to corporate pressure were Kshama Sawant (Socialist Alternative) and Teresa Mosqueda (Democrat).

Amazon’s most trenchant critic, who helped win a $15 minimum wage in the city has been Kshama Sawant, also said that she would fight to reinstate the tax if re-elected. Has Amazon’s attempt to buy local democracy in Seattle paid off?

Despite promising early tallies for Egan Orion, the Amazon-backed candidate, Kshama Sawant is heading for victory when all votes are counted, as later ballots tend to lean to the left – people who have to work all hours to make ends meet are more likely to vote later in the election. The likelihood is that there will be an astounding third term for the first socialist candidate to be elected in 100 years in the US.

The influx of electoral money prompted a tweet by Bernie Sanders:
“Jeff Bezos and Amazon think they can buy elections. They spent $1 million to stop City Council candidates @d1forLisa, @TammyMoralesSEA, @VoteSawant and @ElectScott2019. Show Amazon that they can’t buy our democracy and that their corporate greed won’t stand. Get out and vote!”

It seems that the people of Seattle are supporting his call and refusing to listen to corporate attempts to buy democracy.

Read more from Socialist Alternative US (the sister party to Socialist Alternative in the UK):
https://www.socialistalternative.org/2019/11/06/amazons-bid-to-unseat-seattles-socialist-too-close-to-call/

Where did it all go wrong?

July 20, 2019

O Jeremy Corbyn, where did it all go wrong?

The Blairites remain, with their tired refrain

And their never-ending song.

Of antisemitic slurs and smears,

Auntie Beeb is there, with friendly ears

To amplify their wrongs.

Momentum was founded, supposed to be sounded

A socialist message of hope.

To all the workers across the land, we who can barely cope.

Our wages frozen, services slashed,

Why fall for Tory soft soap?

O Jeremy Corbyn, where did it all go wrong?

Deselect the right wingers, with their greedy fingers

In far too many pies.

They don’t represent us, they won’t influence us:

Replace, rebuild, revivify!

O Jeremy Corbyn, where did it all go wrong?

Extrapolation

July 19, 2019

A graph is set up; an agenda constructed.
A line is continued, with no visible means of support.
Further on it flies. Reaches the stratosphere,
Where governments spray controlling contrails.

Your feet must be planted firmly at all times.
Let your senses be the guide.
Question those in charge.
Interrogate.

How was the evidence gathered?
What does this trajectory mean?
Where are the data points?
Why has no uncertainty been expressed?

We cannot rely on formulae:
There are varying shades,
Different consciousnesses,
Separate conditions.

Preconceptions must be examined,
Assumptions rigorously explained.
Definitions need testing against
Grounded reality.

Be wary of those with the loudest voices,
Those who are absolute, self-certain.
Keep your eyes and ears open.
Be willing to be proved wrong.

Vote for a socialist alternative in Leicester

April 19, 2019
The Socialist Party is standing in the local and mayoral elections in Leicester.

Read about our manifesto launch today:

https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/socialists-set-out-alternative-proposals-2778702

For a workers’ mayor on a worker’s wage.
For the council to set a legal, no-cuts budget.
The council should take over Leicester’s bus services.
For investment in public transport and schools.
To campaign to end cuts to the NHS and increase the capacity of our hospitals to meet rising demand.
To end privatisation and bring services back “in house”.
To build 1000 council houses a year, as a step towards ending the problem of homelessness in Leicester.
Build a mass movement, linking up with other councils, to force the government to give us money to properly fund public services.
For a referendum on whether Leicester should have an elected mayor with executive powers – we have never had a say in this!

Vote Steve Score as first choice for Mayor.

Vote for socialist candidates where we are standing:

Beaumont Leys – Alex Morgan
Braunstone Park and Rowley Fields – Tessa Warrington
Evington – Satinder Toor
                 Caroline Vincent
Knighton – Anna-Sofia Wiking
Saffron – Pete Bisson
Spinney Hills – Drew Walton
Stoneygate – Franklin O’Riordan
Thurncourt – Darren Baxter
Aylestone – Steve Score

How can we get rid of the Tories?

February 2, 2019

The Socialist Party campaigned in the EU referendum to leave the EU. Our slogan was to “vote OUT the Tories”. Correctly, we predicted that a leave vote would cause a crisis for the ruling party of capitalism, and would undercut support for the far-right.

We also said that Jeremy Corbyn should use his position and authority to lead the Leave campaign, and, as part of TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) applied to the Electoral Commission to be the official Leave campaign; for no taxpayers’ money to be given to the Tories or UKIP as the officially sanctioned campaign. We attempted, with our limited resources, to counter the racist rhetoric on both sides of the referendum campaign. We pointed out that international workers’ solidarity was needed against EU attacks on the people of Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland. We explained that Corbyn would not be able to carry through socialist policies without coming into collision with the Lisbon Treaty.

The Leave vote caused Theresa May to lose a parliamentary vote by the greatest margin ever. She is clearly incapable of running the country. By any normal measure, she would have resigned by now, and there would be huge pressure to have a general election. So why is she still clinging to power?

The opposition is no longer (as it was under Blair) a “safe pair of hands” for the capitalists. They are terrified that a left-wing Labour government would raise expectations of working-class people (not that Corbyn’s manifesto is more than mild reformism, with only piecemeal renationalisation of the railways for example, not as we would demand, expropriation of the railway franchises under workers’ control, with no compensation for fat cats). The bosses are afraid of the latent power of the trade unions, if Corbyn were to repeal the Tory anti-trade union legislation. They are afraid for their profits. The last thing they want is for a Corbyn-led Labour Party to be pushed further to the left by mass pressure from below.

Yet, Labour too is split. There is a rump of Blairites, predominantly councillors and MPs who seek to sabotage Corbyn and his supporters. We are calling for them to be deselected. Instead, socialists have been expelled for the nebulous charge of “bringing the Labour Party into disrepute” and have attempted to smear Corbyn with false claims of antisemitism. The majority of Labour councils are still carrying through the Tories’ dirty work, cutting services and jobs without protest. However, there is a beacon of hope – Islwyn and Enfield North councils have voted to set no-cuts budgets and fight back (it remains to be seen how this works out in practice). The Socialist Party (as Socialist Alternative) will be standing against Blairite cutters in a number of seats across the country, to put forward an alternative to austerity.

What are the chances of democratising Labour into a fighting mass party of the working class? We would argue that Corbyn has been too timid in capitulating to and seeking reconciliation with the Blairites. We have asked to join Labour, but our requests have been rebuffed with the retort that we should not have stood against Labour in elections – we asked for a debate, to discuss co-operation and affiliation on a federal basis, but so far we have not been successful in re-joining Labour (our leading members were expelled in the early 1990s). There are some hopeful signs of change, however, with a new layer of activists coming through and a trickle of deselections.

One factor that has been absent in getting rid of the Tories is the organised working class. If Corbyn had campaigned energetically and the TUC had mobilised its members for the recent march against austerity, using it as a springboard for co-ordinated strike action; if there was mass, spontaneous civil disobedience (as is the case in France) – May’s government would face oblivion.

One Tory backbencher commenting on May’s leadership said “stamina is not a strategy”, recognising the desperate situation she is in. On the one hand remainers are demanding a soft Brexit, or to remain, on the other, Eurosceptics want to break with the EU, and the DUP are threatening to withdraw support over the border in Northern Ireland. The situation has reached a critical impasse, and evidently there is no Plan B. The EU has said its deal is non-negotiable, so May is scuttling round Labour Leave MPs offering cash bribes for their support (just as she did with the DUP).

This shows, as we have argued consistently, that the money is there in society to fund public services. The Tories are carrying out an ideological attack, affecting the most vulnerable disproportionately. Yet, this is also an extremely weak and wobbly government – all that is lacking is the political will to bring it crashing down.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the coming weeks and months. One possibility is that the Blairite left and Tory right will split, to form an SDP Mark II-style party, but holding them back is the likelihood of electoral oblivion.

A no-deal Brexit is still possible, despite the vote in Parliament to the contrary, if a deal cannot be brokered. This would be a blow to ordinary people, with uncertainty around jobs, increased inflation and chaos around our ports.

The right wing of Labour and the Lib Dems are calling for a second referendum, a “People’s Vote” – we say that a real people’s vote is a general election. The Lib Dems would certainly use this as a bargaining chip in return for support for a coalition government, should we have a hung Parliament in the event of an election. To go down the road of calling another referendum would alienate the majority of the working class, drive up support for UKIP and result in a backlash against immigrants. It would be a disastrous climbdown for Corbyn, who has rightly said that he would honour the referendum result.

Any companies under threat of going under should be nationalised under workers’ control, to protect jobs. We would use Brexit to launch an appeal to workers across Europe, to rise up against the rotten capitalist system which enslaves us. We point out the racist nature of EU legislation – the withdrawal of rescue vessels in the Mediterranean, the razor-wire border fence erected in Hungary. We do not blame immigrants, we blame the bosses. We would close tax loopholes and use the revenue generated to invest in our public services which have long been starved of resources. If there was a flight of capital, we would take control over the money supply.

Although this may sound like a socialist flight of fancy, meanwhile in Tory Britain homeless people are freezing to death, the disabled are suffering under Universal Credit, people are in insecure jobs and on zero hour contracts. It doesn’t have to be this way! We cannot afford to wait until 2022 for another general election.

During the election campaign in 2017, with the leaking of the Labour Party manifesto, this resulted in a huge groundswell of support. May’s gamble (on a snap election to pave the way for a majority for her version of Brexit) failed disastrously for the Tories. Despite a huge lead in the opinion polls at the beginning of the campaign, she has barely clung to power since. If we forced another general election now, the Tories could easily be defeated, if Labour were to pose a bold, socialist programme.

The Socialist Party, at this stage, is a small party, but we have a track record of winning gains for the working class. Locally, we played a central role in the campaign to save the Glenfield Children’s Heart Centre. We won millions of pounds of concessions from Thatcher for Liverpool, building council houses, leisure centres and schools. We led the mass non-payment campaign that led to the downfall of Thatcher and defeated the poll tax. Central to our strategy is the belief that workers are the most powerful force in society. We are the ones who create wealth for the capitalists. By withholding our labour, this can be stopped at its source, and they would have no choice but to capitulate. We are the ones with the knowledge and expertise to run society. We can build a new socialist society, based on equality and solidarity rather than profit and greed. We are part of an international movement seeking to overthrow capitalism, worldwide. If you agree with our ideas then – join us!

(Speech to Leicester Socialist Party meeting – 2/2/19)

Tories out. General Election now.

November 17, 2018

Theresa, Theresa. Fly away home.
Your party is dead and your majority’s gone.
All except one,
And his name is Gove,
And he hid under the kitchen stove.

Here, if I had the skills, I would have drawn a witty, topical cartoon of a ladybird taking flight, with Theresa May’s head and six faux leopard-print shoes on its feet, but I am afraid you will have to use your imagination!