Solidarity with the Bolivarian revolutions

This piece from Colin Burgon MP on LabourList is worth a read.

I’m not sure models such as Venezuela are applicable to the economies or body politics of Western Europe – but I do think Colin Burgon is basically right to stress the importance of international solidarity with democratic socialist revolutions in Latin America.

I do think solidarity should be critical, and not vulgar or unthinking. But I have lots of caveats about lots of things.

As an example, I’m quite happy to disagree with Chavez and say that Iran, a state with a special line in repression and bigotry, is no friend of working people.

But that does not mean that a Chavista government should not be supported, and even more importantly the movmement which put it there and partly holds it accountable, because what really matters is the enormous and largely positive social change taking place there.

It’s also important to note, as Burgon points out, that this continent-wide process includes ‘pink’ revolutions in countries such as Brazil as well as ‘red’ ones in Venezuela, Bolivia and the like. Red or pink, each of them is characterised by electoralist, openly mandated and openly debated politics – something which should make democratic socialists a lot more comfortable about them than, say, Cuba. Yes, Chavez isn’t nice to some parts of the private press – small ones, it has to be said – but perhaps they shouldn’t take part in military coups. I couldn’t see ITV getting its license renewed in the same circumstances, to be honest.

The stunning stats in terms of social improvements, their repeated continent-wide democratic backing, and comparative lack of repression, make supporting these revolutionary processes worthy of those who believe both in democracy and socialism.

It saddens me that many within the Labour Party are quite happy to drop bombs on people, but not willing to show a bit of solidarity with those who propose feeding them (and put their ballot box where their mouth is as they go about it).

This is no internationalism that I recognise. So Burgon is right, on his core point at least.

This isn’t just the sort of thing Labour should be thinking about. Our direct sister party in Venezuela was involved in a military and media coup against the elected President, and has been pushing for the country to direct itself rightwards. It is a party of an old and corrupt Trade Union establishment, carved into the culture of the country as part of a succession of stitch-up governments held in place by oil barons.

Many of the ‘pink tide’ parties are affiliated to the Socialist International, of which Labour is part, but PSUV and the PT are not.

Instead, we have a proxy relationship with them through the Sao Paulo forum, which has consultative status at the SI.

In many ways, the politics of this organisation are similar to the so called 2½/Vienna International, which included Labour’s ancestor and sibling the ILP.

While there would be obvious difficulties joining with an organisation that is happy to include ‘tankie’ Communist Parties, The Socialist International nevertheless needs to develop better ways of cooperating with some of these parties on a regular basis. It must stop backing despotic coup makers, as it also did in Africa before that got inconvenient. This is not just Labour’s issue, but one for the democratic left worldwide.

Solidarity with these processes can’t just be reduced down to cult of personality style worship of various Presidents. It needs to include closer institutional working, and is an opportunity to reform the as yet tainted politics of the Socialist International, which in places are as close to despots as to the democratic left.

It’s notable that left support for these contemptibles is seldom mentioned – but solidarity with a particular President who is broadly speaking left wing, and who wins loads of elections, and who accepts defeats in his referendums, is so often the target of ‘decent‘ liberal condescension.

Instead, how about solidarity with a generation who would previously have been denied the right to read?

Pennies and pointlessness – what does the anti-cuts movement want?

This is one of those posts that gets a prologue, unfortunately, because I wanted to put the positive stuff first, and declare my admiration for Laurie Penny.

Laurie, you are somebody with your heart in the right place, and an excellent writer, the most provocative comment writer of your generation, as far as I can see. You are also a principled and effective activist, a credit to what you do.

I agree that the SWP are crap and the other parties sell people short. Unfortunately though, with the greatest of respect, what you are writing is confused and perhaps symptomatic of a lot of the problem our generation of the left faces – a kind of laudably independent ‘left-populism’, but without aim or direction, which still manages, lord knows how, to be intolerant of other traditions which share at least some of its objectives.

Let me put it this way.

We are a fresh start. We have had years of defeat. Old tactics and organisations have manifestly failed to fight for our generation, its values, or its interests. I’m not sure why you think this is, and suspect like myself that you think there are a myriad of reasons. I would put the fact that we tend not to vote right up the top. If we are not prepared to support anyone or get off our arses even on polling day, there is no incentive for anyone to legislate in our interests, and there is also no incentive for ossified organisations, Labour to Lib Dems to SWP, to pay us any attention.

Your basic thrust is that you don’t want them anyway, which is fair enough. But then I am moved to ask why you ever expected anyone to listen to you in the first place?

It would be nice, but it’s a bit unrealistic, isn’t it? Although it does give us an excuse not to put a cross on a bit of paper, which, once again, is fair enough. But I am always wary of solutions to problems which involve you making fewer decisions and/or doing less work.

I think, once again with respect, that what you are writing is reflexive, rather than well fought out. You are dismissive of Ed Miliband’s wish to be seen as a ‘voice’ for younger voters. For a start, I would say it is a mistake to be dismissive of anything. What stops you occupying Topshop and expecting the leaders of political parties to actually listen you you? Or indeed to open up access to themselves by removing barriers? Secondly,you dismiss Miliband as trying to provide a fluid and grassroots movement with ‘leaders’.

I didn’t read this into his piece at all, and can’t understand where it came from? As someone who has spent significant time (with some successes) trying to make Labour more of a bottom up, grassrootsy party of the left, it seems funny to me that this is your conception of political party activism. Do the people you know who are members of the LRC or (genuinely) dissident Lib Dems really seem to you to be bound by their party leaderships?

They are taking a responsibility with greater stigma than those you are prepared to shoulder yourself, but you dismiss them rather easily.

Thinking for a moment about the anti-cuts movement (for that is what it has become), I basically want to agree with you. In many ways, the cuts are a positive thing for this generation, if only in the sense that they are character building, and like a battering ram to the locked doors of apathy. A tremendous spree of innovation has taken place, in terms of demonstration techniques, occupations, strikes and local campaigns. Lobbying of the existing democratic structures via local councillors and MPs has also exploded far beyond the narrow activist circles we both experienced before this government came into office, often run by the Trotskyist parties, or local Trades Councils.

I suppose the question I wanted to ask is where you think this is all going.

We see that the current upsurge in activism directly results from the cuts the Government is making.

But why do we protest, occupy, write letters and go on the radio? Write for the Guardian? What are we doing it for?

I believe that there are two plausible objectives shared by everyone in the movement, From Trade Unionists and students of various stripes, Anarchists, through Trots, Social Democrats, and the as yet unpoliticised/non-aligned.

We want:

1) To minimise the cuts, and if we can, stop all of them.


From the point of view of those trying to practically achieve the above, by closed implication this demands either:

2) A massive and radical change in Government policy


3) The radical recomposition or outright fall of the Government, founded on the altar of massive cuts before any other policy

As far as I can see, demonstrating has proven successful insofar as it has altered public opinion and drawn attention to the hardship caused by the political choice to cut jobs and services. It is absolutely essential that an ongoing extra-parliamentary campaign is kept going.

There will be various points of view between yours (that this should be as organic and spontaneous as possible) and others.

Such views will include those of Leninists of various stripes, who will argue that the movement should be politically directed towards various communisms and strategigised as such over the long term, through Len McCluskey who wants some central coordination and support alongside spontaneous leadership (my position), and those on the Trade Union right, who will call for officialism and back room labourism. All of those approaches require some level of centralisation and planning, and towards various different intermediate ends. Even though they all work to the same long-term objectives. This is a potential split and needs watching.

I think the movement should be spontaneously led, and in that sense am partly with you.

But with no strategy whatsoever for making our desires and our protests into real life as it unfolds, that leaves you and I on an island – an island with lots of people who have nobody holding them accountable or in place, or making sure that they are at their  most effective, or making sure that they are coordinated, or making sure that they are not all damaging each other’s public arguments.

Rather than trying to redress the problems (you must admit there are some problems?) with indiscipline and inefficiency in our movement, I personally think it is best to maintain overall efficacy by taking a ‘one foot in, one foot out’ approach to Parliamentary strategy, which is crucial to points 2 and 3 above ever happening.

Only making sure that someone listens and legislates appropriately can we bring an approach acceptable to anyone from the meekest social democrat to the outright insurrectionist.

Even Lenin depended on the weakness and collapse of a Government in Parliament. So did Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. So will our generation. Dismissing the politics of parties outright leaves us marching about and achieving very little. If that goes on for long enough, the inevitable result is political depression and disillusion.

You have to ask yourself whether that is what you are fighting for.

Instead of taking lines on what sort of means you regard as acceptable in the movement, would it not make more sense to also think about what your ultimate ends are and whether you are really serious about achieving them?

I am, and as such, I am not willing to dismiss parliamentary politics, or, therefore, the party financially linked and constitutionally semi-dependent on the people who will suffer most from the cuts, the broad working class.

Parliament and political parties must be a weapon in the armoury of any movement that has an idea of what it wants and is serious about getting it; even if large chunks of said movement despise the institutions involved.

This doesn’t mean Ed Miliband will tell you how to protest.

Nor does it mean that you get a 100% win, and that he, Cameron and Clegg will all say ‘no cuts’ and send you a nice card and a bottle of fizz.

It means that at least some part of the movement has to be serious about winning battles and forming policy inside those parties that show the remotest interest.

Bearing this in mind, we should probably stop giving them such a bloody hard time about it, and instead welcome any indication that we might add at least some of their policies to our extra-parliamentary activities. Do we really have to choose between that and a broad movement outside of Parliament?

Bearing in mind that we are bottom up and plural, however much Young Labour charges people to join, as an anti-cuts activist, you don’t have to join the Labour Party if you’re worried it would mean making to many personal compromises. Whatever Ed says.

Over the years Labour membership has put me through several crises of conscience, and I took my choices, because I still thought it essential to a successful democratic left. Even for one penny, you don’t have to join, thrilled as I would be to have you fighting with me.

But please at least welcome a statement of intent on the part of Labour to compromise with you (let’s face it, who else will?). Maintain at  some respect for those comrades among us who are left to do the unfashionable dirty work? It doesn’t mean we’re against samba bands or flashmobs.

My own view as a socialist and anti-cutter is that it is important to remember we are going somewhere, we have objectives to achieve beyond anger, and that political parties, especially Labour, are important to this. I march in solidarity with those whose objectives are the same but do not share my view on this. We are all important, and all real people worthy of respect.

Apart from the bloke who threw a petrol bomb at some of his own co-marchers (oops) over my head a few weeks back, who I would have laid out myself if I was convinced he had run out. Instead I ran away. Side point.

The two basic things I am trying to say are that we need to have some sense of direction towards something, and that we need to accept that our various perspectives can all be applied and work alongside each other. E Pluribus, Unum, as they say.

If this movement is really serious about remaining bottom up, and welcoming diverse traditions alongside spontaneous randoms with chaotic political aspirations, we are going to have to march in mutual solidarity for a lot longer.

Unity is strength.

UPDATE: More here from HarpyMarx, The Great Unrest, Though Cowards Flinch, Lenin, and Latte Labour, all left of me with the exception of the latte. Sorry, latter. Which is where I am. On the posts themselves, I think I agree with the points raised by pretty much all of them, especially at TCF generally, and latterly at HarpyMarx, with special regard to the uselessness of the Lib Dems.

I would like to invite Laurie to knock on some doors with me in some sampled areas to see what we mean when we criticise them. Just because you voted for them as your last hope, it doesn’t mean they are of the left.

Ed Miliband is New Labour – but I’ll vote for him

I wasn’t born into Labour. I chose it. Because I am committed to its ideals and ultimate ends.

For my time in the party I have self-defined as being on the left. I grew up under a Blair government, the furthest right any Labour government has ever been. War. Privatisation. Having a pop at the single mums. Fighting the unions. All that stuff.

Things that characterised Labour’s right-wing in the 1980s seem to be issues of common sense to me. Apart from a chunk of stuff related to party democracy, I would have pretty much agreed with Blair when he was running for leader. Even now, I find that I primarily identify with the mainstream values of many of our international sister parties, hence the design of this blog.

The point I’m making is that I’m increasingly convinced that Labour’s established form is to the right of me and in a phase of particular intolerance, and that as a result I have been shaped into being more bolshy than I otherwise necessarily would have been at my age. That can annoy people I know, but on a certain level… well, discontent gets stuff changed, doesn’t it?

A Blairite friend of mine assures me that in any other age I would have been on the party right. Perhaps, a bit. I tend to agree with Kinnock and Hattersley.

So I suppose I ended up on the left party for the usual reasons, but mostly because the party is to the right of mainstream international social democratic politics. A sort of attempt at a kind of ‘third way’ thing, if you get what I mean. None of that wet nonsense here.

So here is what I don’t get: according to certain folks, Ed Miliband is a dangerous Trotskyist. Now, immediately, that gets me thinking that David Miliband’s campaign is probably too narrow. I certainly don’t see where he has reached out to us on the left, although admittedly he hasn’t really committed to anything right wing either. He’s mostly just uncommitted. Vague. This seems to be the new was forward for Blair protegés, because Oona King is at it too.

The bit that really concerns me is this:

I support Ed Miliband as my first preference, and that has taken me weeks and weeks to decide. Even now I feel fraudulent as my super-hero alter-ego, Captain Enthusiasm.

Basically, despite the possibility that in other ages I would be on the right or at least the centre of the party, he still feels a fair way to the right of me, while Abbott feels a good bit to the left.

He has served for a long time in a New Labour government, and has always been an adherent of that creed, albeit a ‘left-Brownite’ one. I simply don’t accept that he is some kind of ‘appeaser of the left’. But he is the only one who has made a pitch to a part of the party that isn’t actually where he has most closely identified with. I still don’t believe that backing Ed will get a lot of things done that I would like to see. But I think he could begin to rehabilitate our brand and our culture, all of which is too statist and authoritarian.

For me, that all basically makes him of Labour’s soft right, whilst accepting, and pluralist. It also makes him a revisionist – there is everything right with being able to acknowledge your mistakes, change your tack, and move on. This was true of Kinnock, early Blair, early Brown (to an extent), and can equally be true of Ed.

The real thing that David’s lot are concerned about is not whether they have a candidate with an open mind. I can’t speak for the candidate, but his very narrowly drawn backers are mostly interested in selecting someone with  closed one.

Ed Miliband has tremendous ability to unite the party across the whole spectrum, Blairite to some parts of the hard left. He has the ability to do it with policies and approaches that are new. this in turn has the potential to create a really dynamic campaigning and media force, as well as one that broadly does the right thing.

This doesn’t make him a rabid Communist liability, unless you’re viewing the whole thing from the position of John Hutton. It makes him someone with a rational head and a bit of presentability who can take us from New Labour as it was to the next stage, Labour as it can be. The squeal goes up that he has union backing – a lot of those unions are solid, right-wing unions, the anchor of the Labour Party throughout its history. The other candidates have failed to adequately pitch to democratically elected union leaderships, and that really isn’t Ed Miliband’s problem to deal with.

You all read the manifesto. It was hardly Chomsky, was it? If anything, I agree with Ed Balls in that I thought it was a bit far to the right on public spending. But I would say that, eh?

All in all, despite their bizarre levels of factionalism, this makes me wish we were more like the Australian Labor Party. I have often departed from this, given the conditions, but we could really all do more to get on, and as a result, even more to ‘get on with it’.

Sign of the times

In a rather confused, agitated (agitating?) puff piece, the Times has broken cover to stand alongside its sister publication, the Sun, as an out-and-proud anti-Labour rag. The former newspaper of record was already virtually indistinguishable in any event.

Any pretence to balance, authority, nay, basic understanding of the political world… it is a thing long since departed. A close friend comments via gmail:

“I thought the Times was supposed to be a decent paper?
That article reads like the Mail, almost”

I must confess that in this fittingly critical first post, I am simply attempting to articulate in a more structured form a fractured mess of facebook bemusement. Sourced from a range of virtual acquaintances. Nevertheless, many of those assertions scattering the intertubes are nowt if not bang on.

Firstly, Mr Murdoch, it is difficult to understand why the Times seems so averse to Union backed candidates winning selection for, shock horror, a Labour Party.

A party linked to labour is what a Labour Party is. So it is fitting, then, that the Times has chosen to attack representation of union views in parliament at the same time that the Tories are busily trying to chip away at the union link, while preserving their link to the organised forces of capital. I wouldn’t even call them ‘business’; trade unionists depend on surplus producing ‘business’ just as much as senior personnel. For them, one form of economic organisation is acceptable (one that is massively undemocratic, dependent on hierarchical power relationships, and primarily advantages a minority interest within that grouping). Others are somehow a moving of the political goalpost.

Conservatives are in the habit of looking to America. In certain ways, this is healthy. Like all societies, the US has advantages and disadvantages. During the American Revolution, Tory predecessors, with the notable and heavily influential exception of Edmund Burke, stood against the American Revolution, its ideals, and its participants. Whiggish Radicals such as Charles James Fox backed the revolution wholeheartedly, and, despite this act of apparent treachery, maintained a large rump of parliamentary support.

In any event, as time passed into the full swing of Pax Victoriana, Britain was blessed with two parties who strongly emphasised the apparent differences between them. Some were significant, particularly the issues of free trade vs protectionism, political and religious freedom, and home rule for Ireland.

But despite these differences, way over half the country looked on with a total lack of understanding, mostly unable to vote, and if one should be so fortunate, faced with the choice between a shit and a shite. A large chunk of the population saw two parties with roundly similar policies and integral interests. These were parties of business owners who routinely and murderously ignored the greatest issue facing the country at the time; the plight of the massively expanded industrial working class, toiling in their millions for little reward in atrocious conditions, dying in their thousands as they built the railways, roads and bridges that business still profits from today, consumed as children in the mangles of weaving machines or the gas chambers of deep pits.

Men looked on from the benches, replete with their top hats, isolated, indifferent, and indistinguishable against the context. Many think that the main parties are too alike today. I would argue that this is because to a smaller or larger extent, they all represent capital as the a priori concern, no force pulls them the other way. There is an absence of opposition, and even an absence of compromise. This is more true in America, so admired by the Tories. Parties debate what kind of not-universal healthcare to have, what kind of regressive low rates of taxation they can implement, what variety of population, domestic or international, is worthy of oppression or abandonment, what kinds of guns they can let people carry around school.

This cosy irrelevance was even more true of the age here 1900. For all the lavish praise that constitutionalists and politicians heap on America, in a sense, and with great historical irony, it has preserved each of the trappings of political wrongness it tried to escape with independence.

For every action of political economy, there is a political response. The response in 1900 was great. The bulk of the population which existed in near slavery was forced to politically and industrially organise to defend its working men and their dependent families. Yet this, the need for jobs, sustenance and political representation as the final guarantee… it never come us when Tories discuss their ‘family values’. Unless they want to attack it.


A Labour Party was born. It broke consensus. And it needed to be there. It was demanded.


A Labour Party exists. It is sometimes allowed by the press into government, if it agrees not to represent its core values and core voters. Sometimes, like in 1945, it gets in anyway.

Some within it struggle ceaselessly for it to accept these external boundaries, for it to accept its own weakness as a movement and a body of opinion in the country. If it its subservience to the politics of papers like the Times and the Tories, who appear to hate the concept of trade unionists being represented alongside the top-hats, or funding, like business, a political party to represent them and the families who depend on them.

The times will attack the candidates, the Tories will attack their funding and the right of individual trade unionists to donate through their unions (you would never see that kind of thing with business donations). A Tory friend claims that I am being alarmist by saying this, but what they are attacking is the general concept of a Labour Party.

They want us to be Liberals circa 1900, and seeing as that’s not what most of Labour believes in, a few ultra-Blairites and the man himself aside, the Tories want to use their democratic mandate to make our party’s decision for us, through the law.

Next, they will be using the commons and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency to pass our conference resolutions for us.

Between Times and Tories, their merry tag team is attacking a reform to the political system which happened 110 years ago, the Lib/Lab split.

Their political ambition and paternal, undemocratic unscrupulousness knows no bounds.

As it happens, Labour currently demands in the rule book that members join a trade union if eligible to do so. Not so surprising then, that candidates usually turn out to be members.

As for the ‘left wingers’ (by which the times means anyone left Murdoch, presumably), I noticed that the Times piece didn’t include any criticism of the bonkers right-wingers, the Donal Blaney lickspittles who line the benches opposite. But someone suggesting we shouldn’t allow predatory advertisers to target kids for pester power (for that was the real proposed policy)… that’s just wrong, surely?

The Trade Unionists who founded the Labour Party were preceded by Chartists, who won working-class people the vote. They did not just do so as a result of industrial activity; indeed, for much of their period of agitation, unions were actually banned outright (perhaps David Cameron will leave this one for the next manifesto).

They were primarily political, not industrial.

As such, progressive who have diverted from the Liberal/Tory stitch up ever since 1900 have been characterised by patterns of alliances between political socialists and social democrats, and those whose interests they believe they represent, primarily represented by Trade Unions.

I shan’t claim that Compass have any comparison of value to Chartists, because I’m not an idiot in totality. But why is the Times so concerned that voters might now be able to choose to elect people who believe in and work for left-of-centre values? Why are they so concerned that the leadership of the Labour Party is no longer quite as committed to control freakery and nepotism as a matter of routine practise?

I have an alternative proposal, you see. Let people select candidates, fund them domestically and openly (not that Labour has a perfect record on this), then let people vote for who they want to vote for.

We can have democracy without this kind of utter nonsense, and it would be a lot easier to achieve if people ignored the hysterical alarmism that now seems so routine for Britain’s abused post-broadsheet.

Oh yes, just to round off, once again sourced from facebook

“The Times appalled 14 new of Labour’s new candidates have worked for a union. GMB says 63 Tory candidates come from banking and finance.”

I won’t go in for the divisive Thatcherite rhetoric of ‘enemies within’, but as it happens, as much as I think financial expertise should be valued, I think that trade unionists have played a defter hand over the last couple of years than the Tory banking establishment, hmm?

Trade unionists, right or wrong for the country, want to protect their jobs, their colleagues, and the well-being of their children. What do the bankers on the opposite bench want?

See. There’s a reason for unions in politics.