Women’s quotas in #LeftUnity: Nearly a catastrophe for this promising new party!?

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I set the cat among the pigeons with a last minute email (and Facebook post) – well, at about midnight the night before the policy-making conference of Left Unity (LU) in Manchester on 29 March – by suggesting that the women’s quota rule (of at least 50% women) within LU’s constitution had to be scrapped!

I do think that if a decision made at the final Transitional National Council (leadiership body between adopting the constitution on 30 November and electing a new National Council) before the conference had been adhered to – of implementing the quota within the national council as a whole, rather than for the directly elected section and each region independently, it could have led to the ludicrous and highly undemocratic situation where every candidate for the vacant seats in the regions (e.g. 4 in the North West) had to be a woman!

This could have been catastrophic for LU and possibly even led to a split. Rather than simply arguing that quotas are a bad thing, I actually see merits in them, as I point out in the second and third emails included in this post, and the actual outcome is actually good! Continue reading

Public inquiry to investigate undercover policing (in left-wing groups & to smear Stephen Lawrence’s family/friends)

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[EXCUSE THE BAD FORMATTING: THIS BLOG POSTING IS SO IMPORTANT THAT WordPress IS BEHAVING STRANGELY!]

I include below the contents of hopefully an article (but maybe just a letter) that I have submitted to the Weekly Worker newspaper:

Mark Fischer, at the end of his article (‘Review: How to guard against state agents‘, January 16), of “Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police“, by Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis (based on an investigation they conducted alongside Channel 4 Dispatches) says: 

After all, if groups as essentially harmless as the likes of London Greenpeace, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army or Earth First can wobble the world view of some undercover coppers, think of the damage that Marxism’s inspiring vision of the future can do – when we Marxists clean up our act.

I beg to differ in Mark calling these organisations “essentially harmless”.
London Greenpeace produced a leaflet against McDonald’s who sued two of their members (Helen Steel and Dave Morris, who volunteered due to them having virtually no assets) for libel, launching the infamous (from that massively unethical corporation’s point of view) “McLibel” trial, which (largely due to use of the internet by the defendants) was a massive own goal in terms of their reputation by McDonald’s. If you do a web search for McLibel, you even find a film (directed by Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach) of the trial.

The original case lasted ten years, making it the longest-running case in English history. McDonald’s announced that it did not plan to collect the £40,000 that it was awarded by the courts. Following the decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in Steel & Morris v United Kingdom that the pair had been denied a fair trial, in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) and that their conduct should have been protected by Article 10 of the Convention (right to freedom of expression). The court awarded a judgment of £57,000 against the UK government.

What is important about that case, from an infiltration point of view, is (as revealed in “Undercover”) the fact that a Special Demonstration Squad infiltrator helped write the leaflet!

Proportional Representation versus “a workers’ state”, and Left Unity

ImageThe current edition (20 February 2014) of the Weekly Worker (the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain) includes a letter of mine. I disagree with quite a lot of their politics instead of a broad socialist party like Left Unity, they advocate a Marxist party, and set up the Communist Platform of Left Unity to argue for such a party and “communist” views in LU), but their letters page is open to a wide range of left-wing arguments. This issue is broader than just the CPGB, since the SWP and Socialist Party are in favour of some sort of “workers’ state” rather than a society where everybody is in control.

Although I have had a few letters published on the subject of proportional representation (which had some success in them supporting PR, albeit with a party list system which gives a lot of power to party machines, whereas I generally favour single transferable vote but am not particularly prescriptive nowadays), they have always previously cut out sections of my letters in which I argued for PR under socialism – rather than just something to advocate under capitalism to be replaced by some sort of “workers’ state” after a revolution.

My (fairly) minor gripe is that the section of the Communist Platform on “republican democracy”, that I praised wholeheartedly, was cut from the letter. [It is at http://communistplatform.org.uk/?p=30 and I had previously added a comment there on much the same lines, which had been approved by a moderator.] That section reads as follows:

Left Unity does not counterpose democracy to socialism. Democracy is much more than voting every four or five years. Democracy is the rule of the people, for the people, by the people. To make that aspiration real necessarily means removing all judicial, structural and socio-economic restraints on, or distortions of, popular control from below.

Left Unity stands for republican democracy. That means demanding:

  • Abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, and a single-chamber parliament with proportional representation, annual elections and MPs’ salaries set at the level of a skilled worker.
  • No to the presidential prime minister. End prime ministerial appointment of ministers and all other forms of prime ministerial patronage.
  • Disband MI5, MI6, special branch and the entire secret state apparatus.
  • For local democracy. Service provision, planning, tax raising, law enforcement and funding allocation to be radically devolved downwards as far as possible and appropriate: to ward, borough, city and county levels.

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The Big Questions: Is war ever just? Stop glorification of First World War by Michael Gove: Keep showing Blackadder Goes Forth in schools! #bbctbq

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I was in the audience for the BBC TV programme The Big Questions (produced by the private company Mentorn Scotland), that has debates from a moral/religious viewpoint, often but not always on political issues, last Sunday in Salford for a pre-recorded special on the subject of “Is war ever just?”

It will be shown tomorrow (Sunday 26 January at 10am) – probably on BBC1 (possibly switched to BBC2). Nicky Campbell didn’t select me from the audience to make a point (or ask a question to the panel on the front row who dominated the show) but I’m writing this blog post to make some points I could have raised (and I will tweet links to this blog entry when the programme is aired).

My newly founded party, Left Unity (which I admitted to being a member of when asked by a woman who rang me before inviting me onto the show, perhaps influencing me not being picked to speak), has a position of opposition to glorification of war (throughout 2014 which is the 100th anniversary, i.e. centenary, of the start of what was then called “The Great War” and “The war to end all wars”, and is now known as “The First World War” or “World War I”).

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Doesn’t Gove look a nasty piece of work?

The extremely annoying and incompetent Tory toff and ConDem Education Secretary Michael Gove has argued against teachers in school showing “Oh! What a Lovely War”, “The Monocled Mutineer” and “Blackadder Goes Forth” because they put across left-wing viewpoints, in an article in the Daily Mail. That “newspaper” (very right-wing rag) incidentally supported the fascist Blackshirts in Britain and the Nazis in Germany before the World War II – see my blog post Ed & Ralph Miliband v Daily Mail (who said “Hurrah for Blackshirts”) – David Cameron’s father Ian was a tax dodger!

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Police execution of Mark Duggan (2 minor convictions) “lawful” says jury & other police injustices #NoJusticeNoPeace

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The extrajudicial killing by a police officer of yet another black man Mark Duggan has caused massive outrage in Tottenham (London) where the shooting took place and across the UK. The jury came to the conclusion that Duggan had a gun (hidden in a sock without fingerprints or DNA evidence and with two witnesses testifying that it was planted by police) but threw it an unfeasibly long distance away before being shot by a police officer – even if true, that officer would have noticed he was unarmed at that point! Yet somehow the jury came to the conclusion that the killing was “lawful”.

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Compromise between the Left Party Platform and Socialist Platform: Justification for my amendments to LPP

[EDIT 1/12/13: The founding conference of Left Unity, on 30 November 2013, has just taken place. I will shortly write a report of it on this blog, including mentioning that one of the two amendments proposed by me (and included below) on considerably strengthening the paragraph on trade unions, by mentioning striking (including mass/general strikes), occupations and solidarity, was passed. My proposal on keeping Left Unity as the party name (proposed by another member of my branch) was also passed, which could prove important in encouraging people of autonomous/anarchist views (preferably non-violent as most of them are) due to such people disliking the word “party”. Most of the comments below the article were from a debate I had with Felicity Dowling of the Left Party Platform (and a former member of the Liverpool 47 surcharged councillors and one of the Militant Tendency “entrists” within Labour before Militant’s “open turns” in Scotland and then England and Wales). There is also a reply to my article by John Penney, to which I have posted a reply having just seen it after the conference. The conference is over but debates go on…]

[EDIT 8/12/13: I have now added a comment below containing details of a report by Pete McLaren from Rugby (of the Independent Socialist Network and Socialist Platform) plus two responses from me – being more upbeat about the fact that the conference decided to adopt a combination of revolutionary and reformist politics, which was basically my aim with the amendments below (one of which was passed), and that forthcoming economic crises will provide great opportunities for revolution.]

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Steve Wallis of Manchester Central Left Unity proposed changes to the Left Party Platform submission for the aims section at the founding conference, which, after discussion, were submitted as two separate amendments to those aims for debate at the conference. The justification for those amendments above the amendments are Steve’s personal views.

One of the problems of the debate between platforms is that it has, at times, become polarised between those who favour an electoral road to achieving socialism (with some such people accused, rightly or wrongly, of being content with positive reforms to capitalism) and those who favour a socialist revolution. The Left Party Platform (LPP) is in favour of a broad socialist party encompassing both (but some members particularly favour elections and others hide some of their politics to accommodate them), whereas the Socialist Platform (SP) is much more openly revolutionary.

Most revolutionary socialists, including myself, also agree with standing in elections, but think it impossible or highly unlikely for socialism to be achieved solely by electoral means. We should also welcome participation from those with autonomous/anarchist views, such as many in the AntiCapitalist Initiative, although I have used the phrase “(preferably peaceful) socialist revolution” in the second amendment below. We should not encourage the participation of people who encourage violence for the sake of it, as counterposed to defending themselves if attacked by the forces of the state – which the LPP’s Kate Hudson (general secretary of CND) informed us at the foreign affairs commission at the policy conference in Manchester is consistent with CND’s position on violence.

Discussions around the formation of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-capitalist Party) in France included people of an autonomous/anarchist persuasion, and although they didn’t participate eventually, we should welcome members of the AntiCapitalist Initiative into LU (especially because they are involved in merger talks with two organisations that are more keen – the International Socialist Network and Socialist Resistance). I have therefore included a paragraph in the second amendment below saying that those just interested in extra-parliamentary activity rather than helping with election campaigns (or vice versa) would be welcome.

The extremely undemocratic (misnamed) first-past-the-post electoral system, which would have only been slightly improved if the Alternative Vote proposal (that only the Liberal Democrats campaigned for and which was an awful compromise from the much more proportional single transferable vote system that they advocate) had been passed, makes it extremely unlikely that socialists can make as much headway as socialist parties/coalitions on the continent, particularly Syriza in Greece. The ConDems have also passed legislation for fixed term parliaments of five years – without LU playing a key role in massive extra-parliamentary action forcing a capitalist government to resign, or otherwise forcing them from office by a general strike leading to “dual power”, we would be betraying the masses who look to us to provide a lead.

If there is suddenly another massive economic crisis, on the scale of the 2007-8 credit crunch or worse, which some financial experts predict, such as Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert in The Keiser Report, viewable on RT (Russia Today) or YouTube, or the MoneyWeek magazine’s video/letter entitled “The End of Britain” (nothing to do with Scottish independence!), it would be vital for socialists to respond by leading a revolutionary movement – if not, the far right will have a field day. Waiting for another general election is not an option!

It should also be emphasised that the massive gains in support Syriza achieved, which led to it almost becoming the largest party in the Greek parliament in 2012, could not have been achieved without the mass movements of ordinary working and lower middle class people, including strike waves, demonstrations and particularly general strikes – in which members of Syriza played important roles.

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Russell Brand v Jeremy Paxman on “revolution” plus bureaucratic centralism of the SWP (but not the Socialist Party)

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The following is a letter I am sending to the Weekly Worker, the newspaper of the CPGB (PCC). Although they have edited my letters, generally quite considerably, sometimes to fit their own agenda rather than for reasons of space or clarity, they have never distorted the meaning of them. This one is much longer than my usual letters, however, partly because there are important tangential points to make and because it’s also intended for this blog, so I certainly don’t mind them editing it quite severely!

The CPGB’s Mark Fischer and I went to the session on “What is the role and relevance of a revolutionary party today?” at Socialism 2013, an educational event organised by the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SP), on Saturday. I thought the title quite remarkable for an organisation that has generally shied away from the word “revolution”, but times have changed – if even the middle class comedian Russell Brand can talk about it in the pages of the New Statesman and on Newsnight where he brilliantly and wittily outwitted Jeremy Paxman, then obviously the Socialist Party has to too. Indeed, the current issue of their newspaper The Socialist at the event had a review of the Brand-Paxman debate (which now has nearly 9 million views on YouTube). It was particularly positive that the person speaking on the subject was the editor of The Socialist, Sarah Sachs-Eldridge.

Mark said some positive things about the SP, but accused it of operating on the basis of “bureaucratic centralism” rather than “democratic centralism” (which is how the SP claims it operates – a lot of democracy making decisions with a central leadership providing direction and the party intervening “as one” in campaigns/other organisations). I agree with many of the points made in various articles made in the pages of the Weekly Worker over the years about a large democratic deficit in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), entailing much more centralism than democracy, the bureaucracy on their central committee having too much power, and restricted rights for individual members and factions – and consequently “bureaucratic centralism” is a fair term for that organisation. This is a major reason, on top of the terrible handling of the allegations of rape by their former national secretary Martin Smith (Comrade Delta), for a split earlier in the year (to form the International Socialist Network) and the probable expulsion of another faction (Rebuilding the Party) after the SWP’s next conference in December. The first split is already involved in Left Unity (LU) and it seems to me, as a rank-and-file LU member, to be almost inevitable that the new faction will join LU too after its expulsion from the SWP.

I must disagree with Mark’s assertion that the SP operates in much the same way, based on my experience in that party (and its forerunners, the Militant Tendency and Militant Labour) from 1990-98.

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My role (perhaps) in alleged rapist Martin Smith’s resignation from the SWP

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I’ve posted the following comment to the three blogs at the end of this posting about the resignation of former national secretary (and alleged rapist) Martin Smith from the (British) Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The moderators of all three blogs have accepted my comment.

Perhaps my intervention in the meeting on Stephen Lawrence’s racist murder 20 years on at Marxism 2013 set the cat among the pigeons.

I referred to the Channel 4 Dispatches/Guardian investigation into a Special Demonstration Squad (police) infiltrator into “the Militant Party united front Youth Against Racism in Europe” as the speaker put it (it was actually Militant Labour, previously the Militant Tendency and now the Socialist Party, but that’s nitpicking) who was trying to find dirt to smear Stephen Lawrence’s family. The YRE and another “Militant united front” Panther (of black and Asian people) organised the first demonstration to close down the British National Party HQ. I was in Militant Labour at the time and went on that demo.

I had a copy of the new book “Undercover” by Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis in my bag and read out front page headlines “They steal identities, they break the law, they sleep with the enemy, the true story of Britain’s secret police”

I also read part of a paragraph (at the start of page 16): “‘It was a shadowy section where people disappeared into a black hole for several years,’ recalls one officer who infiltrated the revolutionary Socialist Workers Party in the 1980s.”

I also talked about a leader of the CWI (which links the Socialist Party to similar organisations around the world) who quoted half a sentence from an internal document during the debate around the setting up of the Scottish Socialist Party at the 1998 European School of the CWI (without naming him). I resigned shortly afterwards due to the position of the British and international organisations’ position on the SSP and since I felt, rightly or wrongly, that infiltrators had become dominant as we shrank in size (and preferred to inform others from the outside rather than get expelled).

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Survey of what SWP, Socialist Party and Counterfire are saying about Left Unity initiative

The Left Unity initiative for a new political party, established by film director Ken Loach amongst others, has already attracted 7,000 supporters – more than the rest of the far left in Britain combined.

The above link is a useful summary, provided by a member of the Fourth International (Socialist Resistance) of the views of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party and Counterfire (a recent split from the SWP which includes most of the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition) towards this new development.

Read the comments as well as the article.