Why workers must work harder

I’ve written before about my huge admiration for Leon Rosselson, but I’m not apologising for mentioning him again. This is one of his poems from the eighties, entitled ‘Why workers must work harder, produce more and ask for less’. Quite.

Female workers in an H. J. Heinz can factory s...

So that the wheels

So that the wheels may continue

So that the wheels may continue to turn

So that the wheels may turn

Hours into ashes, days into dust, seasons into stone.

So that the turners of the wheels may dies of boredom every day, every day,

Until one day they die of boredom.

So that old age pensioners may feats on cardboard sandwiches of cough medicine.

So that our pensioners may be protected against inflation by investments in Cancer Incorporated.

So that the dust may drift.

So that Bernard Levin may lay his moderately well formed turds on the graveyard pages of the Times.

So that children’s heads may be marooned on high-rise traffic islands.

So that we may all join the equal opportunity queues to be tranquillised, barbiturised, amphetamised, hypnotised, exorcised, Lymbolised, expurgated, tabulated, stamped and sedated.

So that the Archbishop of Canterbury may stir the teacup of the soul with the silver spoon of God.

So that the money-lenders may lend money to pay interest on money borrowed from money-lenders to pay interest on money borrowed from money-lenders to pay money-lenders.

So that the dust may rise.

So that we may be free to choose between Tuberculosis International and the British Bronchitis Corporation.

So that a regiment of Redcoats from Butlins may lick our dreams into shape for knock-out competitions.

So that the ears may be filled with the din that the hands produce for the eyes to consume that the heart may wither away.

So that oil slick executives may dine out at Annabel’s.

So that allotments may be transformed into concrete memorials for the dead.

So that our children may dig dust from the earth for the wealthy to bury in vaults.

So that the balance of terror may be maintained.

So that the dust may fall.

So that the meek may inherit the earth because they haven’t the strength to refuse.

So that the lungs may be lined with the dust that kills

So that the blood may be choked with the dust that kills

So that the mind may be fogged with the dust that kills.

So that the dust may kill.

So that we may count the ashes until tomorrow, when, with energy, or after tomorrow, with determination, or after after tomorrow with a great national effort, or some time in the dust to come, when the stone is ripe, or children, or their children, or their children’s children, or their children’s children’s children may – if the dust – know what it is – if the dust doesn’t – to be – if the dust doesn’t get them – Happy.

Posted in Capitalism, Culture, Environment, Poetry | Leave a comment

Political architecture, (or draw the blueprints before arguing about the furniture fabric)

Artist impression. Rob Thomas and Phil Cullen ...

My daughter is planning to build her own house in the next year or two – an exciting, if somewhat daunting prospect. However, when confronted by an empty piece of open ground and a blank sheet of paper, she’s found it much easier to start the process which will end up with a fully detailed blueprint by saying a) what she doesn’t want it to be like and b) saying, in the broadest terms, what elements it needs to contain. So she knows that she doesn’t want a tacky ‘executive home’, or a fake LA palace, or a Grand Designs type glossy ‘statement’ house. She knows she wants her house to have as little environmental impact as possible and so she doesn’t want to use materials that have high levels of embodied energy. But she does want to have four bedrooms so that she has room for her doddery old parents when they come to stay, she does want some open space for her kids to play in and does want her home to be light, warm and both cheap and easy to maintain.

So even though, at the moment, she doesn’t have any settled picture of what it will look like, she is well on the way to developing the basis on which a well thought out and fit for purpose home for the future can be designed and built – in particular one with a spare room for me, of course.

This is all a rather heavy handed and somewhat Thought for the Day like way of me introducing the idea that those of us who will be launching a new party of the left in a few weeks time are in a similar position to my daughter in the formative stages of designing her house – to start with, it’s much easier to say what the new party shouldn’t be like.

Respect Party

To start with, it shouldn’t be a rerun of the last two doomed attempts to establish a new left party in Britain, the Socialist Alliance and Respect. The first had a federal structure which was stitched up by the two largest sects, the SWP and the Socialist Party, and the second was a stitch-up between the SWP and George Galloway. In both, individual members had little or no say in the direction of the organisation and were seen simply as potential recruits to whichever of the sects was running things at the time. So, the party needs to be rigorously democratic – in reality rather than merely on paper. Keeping members informed of all aspects of the organisations activities, encouraging the widest possible debate on everything and ensuring that all ordinary rank and file party members make up the majority of the members of every elected committee or working group (and that at least 50% of them should be women) are the essential foundations of the democracy that is the lifeblood of a socialist party.

It shouldn’t be, or at least shouldn’t primarily be, a regroupment of the existing far left grouplets. The one thing that the left sects have achieved over the last thirty odd years is to promote the idea that socialists are simultaneously swivel eyed fanatics and dishonest opportunists. Their great crime has not just been that they have given socialism a bad name – which they have, nor that they have, over the years, managed to burn out and disillusion tens of thousands of new recruits and turn them away from the socialist cause, but that they have made radical socialism synonymous with their fetishistic 1917 re-enactment society forms of organisation. They have become embarrassing. While we should actively welcome all socialists into the new party, from the left of the Labour Party to the wilder shores of syndicalism or council communism (including individual members of the various rival comic opera bolshevik parties) – or even those like activists from Occupy or the Green Party who hate injustice but aren’t quite sure what socialism is, we should have nothing to do with the sects as organisations. They belong to the past

English: A stall run by the Socialist Worker's...

Lastly, we shouldn’t get obsessed about programmatic purity. Rather than telling the toiling masses, or students, or women, or any other group of ordinary people what they should be thinking or doing about about the plight of indigenous Amazonion forest dwellers, the intricacies of the civil war in Syria or the threat to the Great Barrier Reef from global warming (not that these issues aren’t important and worthy of serious consideration by socialists) we should be developing our programme for action and our priorities from the daily experience of workers and communities facing the concrete realities of day to day class struggle. To paraphrase Lenin (something I try to keep to a minimum) the party should always be one step ahead of the class – but never more than one step. That means that the party must base itself and its activity in the heart of working class communities and take its lead in terms of priorities for action from the actual concerns of those communities in order to assist them, both materially and ideologically, to develop their potential for self activity in response to the real life issues that they actually have to contend with.

Just being right (always assuming we are) isn’t going to give us any particular credibility with real life working people – indeed because much of what we have to say so conflicts with ‘common sense’, which Gramsci described as ‘the folklore of bourgeois ideology’, that our politics, if delivered as a sermon, are likely to actually undermine whatever credibility we might have. The only way that we can earn the opportunity to be taken seriously and listened to is by being seen to be the most stalwart and reliable defenders of local communities against any and all attacks on any part of them. In the process, we will learn from those communities and the party and its program will be enriched. As my old comrade Harry Wicks, a founder member of the YCL, used to say, the party has to become the university of working people, but a university in which they come to teach as well as to learn.

Posted in Left regroupment, Politics, The Left | Tagged , | 2 Comments

An open letter to the members of Green Left

TUC Day of Action


An event in Manchester last month served to demonstrate to me the limitations of the politics of the Green Party. It was on the TUC demonstration in support of the NHS; a huge, cheerful and largely working class march, the biggest in Manchester in living memory, according to the local police. There were two or three Green Party banners in evidence and a scattering of people carrying Green Party placards, apparently produced specially for the march, with a variety of limp slogans along the lines of ‘Halt Austerity – we have the answer’. However, the only really significant Green Party presence that would have been noticed by most marchers was to be found on the pavement at the point were the march passed closest to the Tory conference venue. There assembled was a group of thirty or forty Greens, some in fancy dress, staging a demonstration against the culling of badgers.

Now, despite what the idiot who has taken upon himself the hand crocheted mantle of the Green Party’s Senator McCarthy may say, we ecosocialists have nothing against badgers, indeed, some of my best friends are badgers. We would all agree that the current badger cull is a bad thing, that it flies in the face of scientific evidence, that it’s likely to actually make matters worse etc, etc. However, on that day, in that place, to stage a ‘save the badger’ demo was an act of naive sectarianism.

It was sectarian in that rather than try to demonstrate the integration of the Green Party within the wider movement, so clearly represented by the huge crowd that day, the Greens in their badger masks actually sought to differentiate themselves from that movement. The demonstration was for them, at least in part, an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the broad movement against cuts to the Health Service and preach to it about badgers, and no doubt about ‘speciesism’.

As the great American socialist Hal Draper put it; ‘What characterises the classic sect was best defined by Marx himself: it counterposes its sect criterion of programmatic points against the real movement of the workers in the class struggle, which may not measure up to its high demands. The touchstone of support (the “point d’honneur,” in Marx’s words) is conformity with the sect’s current shibboleths – whatever they may be, including programmatic points good in themselves.’

It was naive because, clearly, the Greens demonstrating on behalf of the badgers as the largest labour movement march in the living memory of Manchester went by just didn’t understand the significance of what was happening. They were watching a tiny flicker of resistance by the one force capable of really challenging the Tories and their bag carriers, the only force with the potential for implementing the fundamental changes to society that all of us – including the badgers no doubt – believe are vital. They were watching the giant of organised labour starting – perhaps – to stir from its long sleep.

But they didn’t get it – and the Green Party corporately doesn’t get it. For most Greens, the political landscape is timeless and largely unchanging. It is inhabited by two and a half ‘major’ political parties who compete to gain or keep political office through marketing campaigns aimed at what they see as key sections of a passive and largely apathetic electorate. The dominating urge of most Greens is to join in that competition, but with a different set of paper policies to sell. The idea that the political consciousness of ordinary people is not fixed and that they can become active participants in changing society in fundamental ways just doesn’t seem to occur to most Green would-be politicians, nor the idea that real political change will only come about through the self activity of working people organised in a mass movement.

Eighteen months or so ago, in a paper on the future of Green Left, I argued that we had to make the membership of the Green Party realise that its future had to be as ‘merely one part of a much larger, though inchoate, movement of working people who share our fundamental goal of a just and equal society.’ I suggested that Greens could play a crucial role in helping to mobilise and focus that movement and bring to it valuable insights into the ecological aspects of the crisis humanity faces, but that ‘we cannot substitute ourselves for it.’ While many members of Green Left have attempted to play such a role, their influence on the direction of the Green Party as a whole has proved to be minimal.

This Spring, in a paper for the Green Left AGM, I argued that the vacillation and programmatic zig zagging displayed by the Green Party was entirely predictable, given the sharpening political situation, the Party’s narrow social composition and the skewed and shallow nature of its radicalism. Since then, the ground has shifted even more. The Party has, in my view, begun to move to the right, with a series of significant defeats for the left at the recent party conference, the election or co-option of a number of right wingers to the Executive and the appointment of a number of wanna-be careerists as party spokespeople. At the same time, the need for a conscious and systematic attempt to work within working class communities to assist them in the concrete daily struggles that they face, with the aim of building a popular base that can begin to challenge Labour’s slowly crumbling  hegemony, has never been more urgent.

If there was no alternative to fighting what I suspect many members of Green Left know in their heart of hearts is an unwinnable battle to lever the Green party out of its comfortable niche of liberal radicalism, then a case could, I suppose, be made for continuing with it – although there are many useful single issue campaigns, along with trade union activity, that would probably be more useful. However, the world has moved on since the Spring and there is now an alternative, or at least there may be one in the next few weeks.

Ken Loach

Ken Loach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The remarkable phenomenon of the Left Unity initiative is potentially a game changer that ecosocialists would be ill advised to ignore or dismiss. The response to Ken Loach’s appearance on Question Time on 28 February, in which he said that we need a broad movement of the left to fight against the sell-off of the NHS and privatisation – ‘a UKIP of the Left’ – was extraordinary. His appeal for people ‘to discuss the formation of a new political party of the Left to bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity’ was put up on Andrew Burgin’s Left Unity website a few days later and within hours hundreds of people were signing up to it. As of now, over 10,000 have signed up to Ken’s appeal and around 1,000 of those have already committed to being ‘founder members’ of the new party that will be launched at the end of November. There are 83 local groups are at various stages of formation, with perhaps half of them already active.

The key point about this initiative is that it is explicitly NOT yet another pre-doomed attempt to regroup the existing grouplets of the far left – rearranging the deck-chairs on the Potemkin, as it were. It is, rather, an attempt to build a base among the hundreds of thousands of former Labour Party members or supporters who now feel – rightly – that they have been disenfranchised. In other words, the Left Unity initiative wants to see the development of exactly the sort of broad based party of the left that Green Left has, sort of, argued the Green Party should aspire to become and it is gaining its support from exactly the constituency that we have argued that the Green Party should focus on.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this initiative will get off the ground. There is already some division between those who want the new party to follow the route described above and those who want it to be a rather more sharply drawn party which is, in effect more a regroupment of the existing organised far left (a sort of Socialist Alliance Mark II), which may or may not be resolved at the founding conference.

In my view, it’s a long shot. The odds are probably against this attempt to build a ‘party of a new sort’ succeeding. Nonetheless, it is a genuine attempt to build a mass, democratic, socialists party that is green, feminist and anti-capitalist but which is rooted in the day to day realities of the lives of ordinary people rather than concerned with telling them what they jolly well should be concerned with. That, it seems to me, has to be the highest priority of any socialist in Britain today and it is, I believe, the key priority for most members of Green Left. The decision we have to make is how best we can build such a party.

We shouldn’t continue to deceive ourselves that there is any chance that the Green Party, despite its environmental concerns and programmatic radicalism, can be transformed into such a party – indeed, the vast majority of Greens absolutely don’t want their party even to aim to be an organic part of a wider labour movement. It is a middle class radical/liberal party which, if it is not marginalised by a revival of Labour and the Lib Dems and succeeds in growing its niche audience, will be forced inexorably to the right, as all other green parties in similar circumstances have been. The Left Unity initiative may be a long shot, but unlike the Green Party it does want to build the sort of movement that most of us believe to be vital. To me, a choice between a slim chance and no chance at all is a no brainer. I will be joining the new party when it is established on 30 November and I urge all my friends and comrades in Green Left to do the same.

Posted in Green Party, Left regroupment, The Left | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Reunited at last


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Margaret Thatcher dies

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher


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This is a battle that we can win

English: Hilary Benn MP, cropped

Last week, Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Local Government Secretary, made an attack on the imposition of the Bedroom Tax in which he said ‘It’s hard to imagine that Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors would want to stand silently by as hundreds of thousands of their own constituents, two thirds of them disabled, are hit by the bedroom tax imposed by their leaders in Westminster.  It’s time for them to speak out and join Labour’s opposition to this tax on the most vulnerable – at a time when millionaires are getting a whopping tax cut. They can stand up for the people they represent by standing up to David Cameron. The public will judge politicians who choose to remain silent in the face of this injustice.’

One could carp and point out that it is, in fact, very easy to imagine Tory councillors and their Lib Dem bag carriers standing by while thousands of their constituents are hit by the tax and face the choice between homelessness and starvation. However, Benn’s statement is welcome, as is Labour’s decision to get Labour Groups on councils across Britain to table motions opposing the tax.

But of course, it’s obvious Labour controlled councils need to do more than pass resolutions opposing the bedroom tax, the benefits cap and the imposition of council tax on hundreds of thousands of poor people. They have to decide – or be persuaded to decide – that they will not act as local agents of the Government by launching these attacks on it’s behalf. The first tentative signs of some practical opposition to the tax have already started to show. All nine SNP controlled local councils in Scotland have already pledged not to evict people driven into arrears by the change, as has Green led Brighton and Hove. However, the Labour/SNP coalition that runs Edinburgh Council has just made the same commitment. Bristol’s mayor has said council tenants will not be evicted for building up bedroom tax based arrears  until “a sustainable way forward” is found and the Deputy Leader of Islington Council, speaking at a public meeting organised by the local anti cuts group and Unite Community a few days ago, indicated that the council would not be evicting tenants as it would cost more than the relevant arrears. Nottingham Council has announced that it is reclassifying all its high rise flats as one bedroom, including those with two bedrooms, and it is reclassifying all bedrooms under 50 sq ft as studies.

Protesting about the bedroom tax in Hastings, ...

Protesting about the bedroom tax in Hastings, East Sussex (Photo credit: Aspex Design: Photos by Dean Thorpe)

Everyone should now be putting pressure on their councillors, particularly if they are part of local Labour administrations, to take a public stand against bedroom tax evictions. The weakest link in the Tories’ chain of command are the relatively small numbers of councillors that make up Labour administrations, in the case of my borough just thirty people. We must attack this weakest link by constant lobbying at the regular local surgeries all councillors hold, not just one person turning up to one surgery, but several people attending every surgery every time one is held. Labour councillors must be made to realise that they will be constantly held to account for the role they play, personally and as part of their group, in deciding whether or not people will lose their homes and, in the case of Londoners, face deportation to towns and cities in the Midlands and the North, through no fault of their own.

Labour councillors must be made aware that this is a government edict that they can legally ignore and that there are good financial reasons for them to do so. Many will already be very uncomfortable with the idea of doing the Tories’ dirty work for them on this issue and we must make it clear that choosing to find their backbones on this issue will be a much easier option than being seen to be bailiffs for the Tories.

The Tories may have over-reached themselves with this spiteful and pointless attack on the poor – this is a battle that we can win.

Posted in Austerity, Bedroom Tax, Cuts, Resistance | Tagged , | Leave a comment

‘The foothills of reform’

Logo of The Daily Telegraph, a British newspap...

A quick look in the Telegraph today shows the direction of travel that the Tories want to go in. In an editorial entitled ‘We have only reached the foothills of reform’ the Telegraph says that Although today is a good day for the Government’s reform agenda, it should have been better. The changes to the NHS and welfare cuts that come into effect are a significant but very cautious step towards revamping Britain’s public services. As has often been the case, the achievements of the Coalition fall short of Conservative ambitions’ and ends by saying that the Government’s attacks on benefits and the NHS ‘though admirable, are tame. The NHS and welfare remain hugely expensive monoliths, prone to excesses that are unaffordable in an age of austerity. Today’s reforms are a step in the right direction, but only the beginning of what must be a very long journey.’

The Telegraph also includes a report that the Government has told the Low Pay Commission, which sets the minimum wage, that it must formally consider its impact on ‘employment and the economy’, before agreeing future increases. The change, which will be written into the Commission’s new terms of reference, raises the prospect of the first ever across-the-board freeze or cut in the minimum wage for everyone if the economic uncertainty continues.

English: Conservative Party poster from 1909, ...

English: Conservative Party poster from 1909, in which socialism represented by the beast, is choking Britannia.How the Tories saw the socialist menace in 1909. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the Tories feel that they have gotten away with the latest round of attacks on us, they will be back – and their ambitions are becoming ever more nakedly expressed. So the need for organised opposition, here and now, is absolutely vital. That means putting pressure on Labour councils and councillors to stand up to the Government, getting our unions to work hard to let their members know what is really happening and building real alliances in our local communities to physically defend the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable who are the current targets for the Tories.

Because if the Tories get away with these attacks on our neighbours, they’ll be coming back before to long – for us.

Posted in Austerity, Resistance, The Left | Leave a comment