Saturday, 23 June 2007
Most of you will probably remember the rather amusing public meeting held by Solidarity just before the election, when Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway referred to each other as "brothers" during their oh-so-original thunderously booming speeches. To those of you who -by some hideously bizarre paradox of the universe- believe that Galloway is even vaguely associated with the concept of principle and honesty, I am extremely sorry to bring you the following revelation.
Yesterday's Herald reported that RESPECT is planning to start organizing north of the border. Our ultra-ninja-squirrel-informants had already informed us that this was being planned, with Galloway proposing at RESPECT's last National Council the setting up of a committee to investigate the possibility of establishing RESPECT presence in Scotland (or is it North Britain?). Back then, I did not want to comment on that filthy idea back then, as there were no other sources and the Squirrel Vanguard always protects its informants. Now however, it's all out in the open and thus, I can rip into it.
From what I know, Galloway is not at this moment planning to set up yet another party of the left (although whether RESPECT can be considered "left" is rather debatable at this point), but rather, as the Herald puts it, to forge a new alliance, no doubt under his shining leadership. It is quite telling however that, again according to the Herald piece, "a source close to the Respect leader said yesterday the Respect-Solidarity pact not to compete with each other 'expired with the election'".
The questions surrounding this potential move are manifold. First, assuming for the sake of argument that it was even theoretically possible for the strange mixture that is Squalidarity to somehow align with RESPECT, it would be rather interesting to see how the two "brothers" will resolve the matter of who gets to be the Great-Wise-Dear-Sunoftheparty-Leader. In Squalidarity, the Sheridan-Byrne co-convenorship was such only in name, with the Tangerine Man always in the spotlight and Byrne being a grey blur. Neither Galloway nor Sheridan however strike me as the kind of person who's willing to share, let alone forfeit, their Caesarian post. It seems to me that Galloway and the SWP have realised that Sheridan is going to get his arse handed to him by the Scots legal establishment and are preparing to abandon him. Some brotherhood right there!
What's more striking however is the sheer dumbness of the whole project. Firstly, there's the cadre problem. No one in Solidarity, apart from the SWP, would contemplate joining RESPECT Scotland. Everybody knows that CWI-Scotland hate the swips. In a discussion I had on the now no longer public Militant blog, one of the CWI Squalids was busting his arse to convince me that Solidarity is not RESPECT-Scotland. If Solidarity does become RESPECT-Scotland and CWI stay in it, they will face the contradiction of their Scottish group being part of an organization that's in opposition to their pet project in England. The non-platform Squalids on the other hand are almost exclusively pro-independence Sheridan worshipers. It is rather hard to imagine them joining a unionist coalition that is mostly known for being led by George Galloway. While this might not seem much of a setback, considering that the main activist base of Solidarity in the Central Belt are the swips, it should be kept in mind that the distinctive characteristic of Solidarity is that the bulk of its cadre is concentrated in rural areas like the Highlands and Islands and the South of Scotland, where there is little, if any SWP presence.
Secondly, it appears that the SWP all-wise Central Committee has failed to realise that the RESPECT model has next to zero chance of working in Scotland. The Muslim community in Scotland is not nearly as politically important as it is south of the border and more importantly, there is already a figure in Glasgow around which war-resenting Muslims can rally. Bashir Ahmad was elected to Holyrood from the SNP regional list, becoming the first ever Asian MSP. Similarly, the other half of RESPECT's politics, George Galloway, has little, if any, popularity in Scotland. On what basis a Scottish RESPECT could function remains a mistery to this humble Squirrel Lair.
Finally, there's also the possibility that the initiative will create trouble within RESPECT itself, as I suppose that the more principled, less colonially minded organizations that participate in this strange blend of anti-war politics, socialism and political Islam, will not be quite happy about the move.
Bizarrely, this might even end up benefiting the far left in Scotland, by replacing Solidarity with something even more idiotic and even less popular.
Monday, 18 June 2007
Students and socialists were (quite rightly) celebrating this week, with the news that the SNP executive is going to fulfil its election promise to scrap the £2,289 ‘graduate endowment’ fee levied by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the first term of the Scottish Parliament.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
I think that position Jim takes here is an interesting one, and worthy of further exploration, especially as it exposes a real weakness in the approach of the British left in general. The Gramsci quote I posted only suggested that establishing something is Bonapartist is not the end of the matter, as it does not stop the need for further enquiry. Denham seems to be insisting that ‘Bonapartist formations’ are a basic concept of Marxist thought, and they tell us that the regime can have ‘nothing to do with socialism’.
The first point to note is that I am not a Trotskyist and I don’t really know that much about the Trotskyist position. This made it hard for me to even think of Bonapartism as a ‘basic concept’ of Marxist thought (I know it gets mentioned in the 18th Brumaire but still). But even if it is a basic element in Marxist thought, calling it a concept really doesn’t seem to help anyone, in fact Jim seems to have become an ideologist, for whom:
[R]elations become concepts; since they do not go beyond these relations, the concepts of the relations also become fixed concepts in their mind.
So, against Jim I raise Lenin, who refuses to acknowledge that Marxism is about ‘basic concepts’ that allow us to pre-judge a given situation. Against such positions Lenin insisted that the ‘very gist, the living soul, of Marxism [is] a concrete analysis of a concrete situation’. So in this respect I think that Gramsci is right and Jim is wrong, just establishing that a given social formation is Bonapartist tells us nothing about its relation to socialism or the emancipation of the working class – instead we have to ask the Marxist question – who benefits?
The Old man himself
The thing is, it seems to me that Trotsky himself realised this when he did his work on Bonapartism. I just randomly skimmed Trotsky’s article The Workers State, Thermidor and Bonapartism and came up with the following extracts:
The overturn of the Ninth Thermidor did not liquidate the basic conquests of the bourgeois revolution, but it did transfer the power into the hands of the more moderate and conservative Jacobins, the better-to-do elements of bourgeois society.
, the prolonged stabilization of the Thermidorean-Bonapartist regime was made possible only thanks to the development of the productive forces that had been freed from the fetters of feudalism. France
And perhaps the kicker is:
Without historical analogies we cannot learn from history. But the analogy must be concrete; behind the traits of resemblance, we must not overlook the traits of dissimilarity.
Essentially what these quotes tell us is that although Napoleon was not the most advanced representative of the bourgeois revolution, he nonetheless preserved and stabilised the growth of the bourgeois revolution in
So, even for the paradigm case of Bonapartism, Napoleon himself, it is possible to say that he served a progressive role, in consolidating the gains of the bourgeois revolution, spreading it, and generally not liking feudalism. Of course, Louis didn’t play such a role, but this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that it is entirely possible that Bonapartism can play a historically progressive role.
But of course this is all well and good when we’re talking about bourgeois revolutions (although I seem to remember hear some Trots talking about spreading the gains of October etc.) but the typical response to what I have said is – ‘the emancipation of the working must be the act of the working class itself’ or ‘socialism from below’(!!!). Now, although I think these slogans themselves have to properly put into context, I do agree that the proletarian revolution is always one that will be qualitatively different from every revolution that has preceded it.
So, agreeing with Jim here, I still don’t think it’s the end of the matter. At the very least we need to ask – has Chavez opened a space for the emancipation of the working class? So, rather than just shout ‘Bonapartist (!!!!)’ we need to ask ‘who benefits’ from the Bolivarian revolution, and we need to enquire if it has benefited the working class.
And surely on this level we can say (at the very least) ‘yes’. Chavez has firstly put socialism and the working class on the agenda in
He has opened up the political process to the working class, and indigenous people so that it does not lie solely with the oligarchs and its representatives. The ideas of co-management, no matter how limited their application, help smash the myth that the workers cannot do without he bourgeoisie. The barrio healthcare initiatives are helping the Venezuelan workers get back their confidence and dignity.
I think the confidence and dignity argument is and important one, which ought not to be overlooked. In
It is Jim's prerogative to disagree with my characterisation of Chavez (which was obviously provisional and sketchy), but I hope I have at least shown how a Bonapartist regime might be characterised as 'progressive'. Hopefully this will at least stop the pointless screams of "Bonapartist!!!!!!!!!" at the mention of Chavez' name.
Tuesday, 12 June 2007
We return to the national question in Scotland, as materialised in this instance by the Cheshire cat grin of Alex Salmond; victims of the Lockerbie disaster are put through more anguish; Tony Blair visits Muammar Gaddafi and agreements are reached, but not all of them disclosed; and light is cast on the murky world of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” flights and a variety of people find the whole thing disagreeable.
Calm before a storm
The SNP/Green minority administration in Scotland has got off to a steady start, cutting tolls and halting cuts in the NHS – not that this makes it any less of a bosses’ government. For sure, the SNP is financially backed by, and serves the interests of, sections of the national bourgeoisie in Scotland. (And as for the Scottish Greens…)
On the international side of things, First Minister Alex Salmond made the headlines – and the London Newsnight programme – by exposing a deal planned by the British government to hand over the man jailed for the Lockerbie bombing to the Libyan authorities. This was all without consultation with the Scottish administration or disclosure to the Scottish Parliament.
Yet Kirsty Wark, who was presenting Newsnight on Thursday, gave Salmond a hard time. Wark’s hostility is perhaps indicative of her political views; she has holidayed with Jack McConnell in the past and she could easily present the Scottish edition, but instead flies down to London each week to present the English and Welsh version.
Salmond had made an emergency announcement in the Scottish parliament on Thursday, disclosing all he knew and making a great play of his party’s openness as against the secrecy of New Labour: details of possible agreements made by the British government have not been disclosed. So it’s true that he’s milking it for all it’s worth, but the focus should be on the issues raised by the matter.
The first of many?
All of the parties in the Scottish parliament were united behind Salmond in denouncing any deal to return the prisoner, Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, currently held in Greenock jail, to his country of origin. New Labour’s Jack McConnell, who was the previous First Minister, admitted that the issue had come up while he was in power and Tony Blair was apparently warned that he should notify Scotland by the Foreign Office of the content of his talks with Gaddafi during a recent visit to Libya.
The row over the Lockerbie bomber marks the first outbreak of discord between Edinburgh and London. Outgoing Prime Minister Blair has yet to congratulate Salmond on his party’s electoral victory and assumption of the role of First Minister for the devolved parliament – though we are told that Prime Minister in-waiting, Gordon Brown, has contacted Salmond.
Previous Labour/Liberal coalitions were more closely tied to Westminster, and there were no formal channels through which Scotland and the UK government conducted affairs. The SNP are pushing for a formalisation of relations between central government and the devolved parliament: now that there is truly a Scottish government, political independence seems a step closer.
The bomb, the bomber, Blair, and BP
PanAm flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing 270 people, half of them Americans. The US initially fingered a Palestinian group called the PFLP-GC, based in Syria but after the first Gulf War, in which the Syrians backed the invasion of Iraq, the focus switched to Libya.
Two men were tried at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands under Scots law in 2001, but only al-Megrahi was found guilty – the other defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was returned to Libya. The trial was farcical and the verdict doubtful: the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has been investigating al-Megrahi’s case for the last four years. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing, whilst denying it had commissioned it – in the hope that sanctions against the country would be lifted.
Blair visited the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” for a second time as part of his farewell tour and met with its leader Colonel Gaddafi, now one of the good guys. The meeting was not merely to remind us of Blair’s foreign policy “achievements” – Gadaffi shook hands on a £900 million deal to allow British Petroleum back into Libya. For BP, the deal could be worth tens of billions, and it is something of a coup for Blair as big oil has been barred from Libya since the seventies when foreign capital was expelled the economy was taken into public ownership.
The visit was a reminder that all will be forgiven of wayward Third World leaders if they follow the neo-liberal agenda. (Take note Robert Mugabe: you can get your honorary degree back, if you want it.) The deal made between the Libyan government and BP was also a reminder of that British foreign policy is completely enmeshed with British capitalism. Like we needed reminding…
It had to be Blair meeting Gaddafi, both in 2004 and 2007: a meeting of Bush and Gaddafi would be to confusing for both the American and Libyan masses. Libya had been presented as the archetypal “rogue state” and Gaddafi the original Muslim bad boy, supposedly sponsoring terrorist groups around the world – and in 1986, the US carried out a bombing raid on Libya which was timed to make the evening news back home.
21st century gulag archipelago
Human rights groups have been invited to meet with the SNP’s Justice Secretary to discuss the issue of CIA rendition flights through Scottish airports, something else for Salmond to use to argue for independence. It is good that the Scottish government is taking the matter seriously, though the reasons for doing so are probably opportunistic.
A European Commission inquiry concluded with the assertion that the US had operated secret prisons in Romania and Poland to which they had transported terror suspects to be interrogated and tortured. A report instigated by the Association of Chief Police Officers – and revealed on the same day as Marty’s findings were announced – has pooh-poohed suggestions that CIA flights might have passed through England, but did not look into the situation in Scotland.
Members of the British government had previously denied knowledge of such an unlawful programme and suggested that it was a little far fetched; now Harriet Harman, minister for Constitutional Affairs, and contender for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, is making noises about the scandal.
On a related matter, former US Defense Secretary Colin Powell has said that the illegal detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be shut down and the “detainees” moved into to the federal legal system in an effort to regain international faith in American justice. (This is somewhat far-fetched, especially when you consider that when the American legal system was established, black people were regarded as being three-fifths human, and now people of colour make up a majority of the States’ vast prison population. By the way, Powell is not arguing that the US armed forces exit Cuba, only that the military prison is closed.)
Turning to the British tabloid press, the matter of rendition flights has been viewed negatively by right-wing Daily Mail, which has condemned the CIA’s programme and the UK government’s collusion. Everyone will use it to their own ends, I suppose. But if the boot was on the other foot and a Tory government had been complicit in US breaches of the law, it would be a different story for the Mail.
Tuesday, 5 June 2007
A few days ago there was yet another demonstration in Prague against the proposed installation of a US radar station within the framework of the American missile defense system being set up in Central Europe, allegedly in order to protect US (and Europe) against a hypothetical nuclear missile launch from Iran. As the BBC article comments, the Czech people are overwhelmingly against the building of the station, for both health and security reasons. The current ruling party does not have an absolute majority in parliament, and it seems that the opposition forces are against the move (whether on principle or to capitalize on its unpopularity) meaning that Mr Topolanek might not be able to fulfill his promise to Dubya. Without meaning to sound like a new leftie movementist, I believe it is good to see some sort of political activism - even if it doesn't have an explicitly working class character - in a country of the former Eastern Bloc. It indicates that the people are gradually overcoming the atomization caused by Stalinism, as well as challenging the hegemony of liberal ideology and building an oppositional political culture. Should the radar proposal fall, it is likely that the Czech people will be heartened enough to start mobilizing over other issues as well. Demonstrations have already been organized for Bush's visit tomorrow; hopefully, they will be sizable. [I started writing this post a couple of days ago. Bush's visit has since been completed; if you have any idea as to how successful the planned protests where, please let me know]
As the title implies however, this post is not about the level of class struggle and political consciousness in the Czech republic but rather, the international context and implications of the US drive to establish missile installations in that very troubled part of the world.
The implications are, I believe, rather evident. Russia is getting pissed off at having American missile systems in her backyard. It is rather obvious to anyone with basic knowledge of geography that said complexes are more useful against Russia than Iran. There is absolutely no reason for an Iranian missile headed to the US to fly over anywhere near Poland or the Czech Republic, unless of course the hypothetical missile decided to do zigzag maneuvers on the way. If the US were really worried about an Iranian attack, they would be better off building their radars and whatnot on the north coast of Africa. Indeed, the only way that a projectile from Iran would go over Poland or the Czech Republic was if it was headed to... Greenland. Unless my memory is failing, I believe that Iran does not have any grudges against the Inuit people.
Vladimir Putin has been quite vocal in expressing his dissatisfaction with what he referred to in Munich as the US overstepping its national borders. A well schooled security bureaucrat, Putin is understandably worried at what he sees as a preemptive measure against the imperialist aspirations of Russian capitalism.
Putin's response to America's increasingly antagonistic foreign policy is almost Bismarckian in the extent to which it dovetails with Russia's general strategic interests. The Judo practitioner, in his speech to parliament on April the 26th, declared a moratorium on Russia's commitment to the Treaty on Conventional Weapons. The treaty, first signed in 1990, aimed to reduce the number of conventional military forces scattered around Europe within the context of the Cold War. It was amended in 1999 to take note of geopolitical changes affected by the dissolution of the USSR, however, the US and other NATO members have refused to ratify it before Russia withdraws her troops from Georgia and Moldova. Russia of course is not going to have any of this crap, hence Putin arguing that Russian presence in the former SSRs is a matter without relevance to the treaty and declaring it void until the NATO members ratify it. This is hardly surprising. The Treaty was originally signed when the Soviet Union was on its death bed and amended when Russia was in the middle of the devastating crisis that followed the dissolution. Now, the Russian state has to an extent pulled itself together, balancing itself on the wave of rising energy prices and is gradually stabilizing the almost shattered Russian society.
What is even more indicative of Russia's willingness to pursue a confrontational foreign policy is Putin's hint - during his speech at the Munich Conference - that Russia was not happy with the restrictions imposed on her by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty within the current global political framework. This was followed by further, more intense
Only one thing is sure. The interests of Russian and American imperialism are on a collision trajectory, for various reasons. Not only is Russia threatening to break global US hegemony if she does indeed manage to harness her internal chaos, but she is also obviously interested in (and capable of) regaining dominance in hertraditional spheres of influence which have been usurped by the US. The War on Terror is not helping Kremlin-White House relations much either, as it fuels Islamic radicalism which in turns fuels Chechnyan separatism.
The extent and magnitude of the conflict between American and Russian interests depends on how much the two states are prepared to and can sustain their politics of confrontation.
It seems to me that the US is in a far more difficult position as far as political sustainability is concerned. The foreign and internal politics of the US (on which I'll admit I am no expert) are marked by irreconcilable contradictions. The soon to end Bush administration is based on an alliance of the intensely ideological Christian Right groups, corporate interests and whathaveyou. The War in Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan is a huge drain on state funds which are already being depleted by far going tax cuts. As the Cedar Lounge Revolution puts it:
And of course the point is that the Bush administration is intensely ideological. But in a weirdly splintered way, with competing interests, commercial, sociopolitical/religious and foreign policy having spent the last seven years vying for pole position and the Presidents ear. These interests are by no means mutually compatible.
I could argue that Bush represents the triumph of the oligarchies, or perhaps the triumph of oligarchies who have cynically utilised the right religious vote. But perhaps that would be to attribute to Bush more guile, or even project management, than he deserves. Perhaps the project was simply about being in power. And perhaps that tells us why the project has failed. If one has no instinctive interest in affairs of state, indeed an antipathy to the very concept of the state or perhaps more particularly the public welfare (in it’s broadest sense), it tends to lead to - at the very least - a sense of dislocation. And that’s all fine, except the state functions in a very real way only due to the collective affirmation by citizens and the input of taxation from citizens. In other words other peoples money.
Said War is to the interests of only some sections of American capital, hence the opposition to the War by certain interest groups. Then there are also disagreements on methods to tackle climate change, with the energy lobby vehemently fighting any marginally progressive proposals while bourgeois leaders like Al Gore have painted themselves green, realising that there are green votes to be won, as well as understanding the bourgeoisie is not immune to environmental destruction. And of course, there's the repoliticisation of the American public itself as a result of both the war and the influx of immigrants from Latin America who are gradually starting to become class conscious.
Bush himself seems to be unsure as to what approach to Russia is best. First, he tries to reassure the Bear by vowing that the installations are of no danger to her, even going as far as to invite Russian officials over. Then, he goes on to criticise the Putin administrationon rolling back "freedoms". With such a degree of policy instability, it is impossible to predict how the US will behave in dealings with Russia after the election next year.
As regards Russia, matters are far simpler. Even though Putin cannot run for reelection again in 2008, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the potential future Russian presidents will follow a different political trajectory. The only challenge faced by Russia is, as I said earlier, her internal socio-economic chaos byusing high energy prices to expand the economic base of the country and invest in programmes of social development. None of the opposition parties can hope to defeat Edinaya Rossya and even if they did, there would be no change with respect to the structure and functioning of the state which is entirely dominated by (both state and private) corporate interests in a manner rather different than in other capitalist states. As Tony Wood argues, business and state have become almost fused, with businesses recruiting from state ministries and vice versa:
It is obvious thus that the political trajectory of Russia will be far more stable in the long run than that of the US, as long as she avoids another economic crisis like that of the 90s.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev is also chairman of Gazprom; Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, is also chairman of Rosneft. Taking the Presidential Administration as a whole, ‘11 members chaired 6 state companies and had 12 further state directorships; 15 senior government officials held 6 chairmanships and 24 other board seats.’ Many members of the government are also rumoured to have significant, undisclosed business interests—such as the Communications Minister, Leonid Reiman, who allegedly still holds a stake in the phone company he co-founded, Telekominvest
With Iran and China also rising to global prominence, it is certain that we live in interesting -and dangerous- times. I am only hoping that the dormant (for different reasons) working classes of Russia and the US will soon reestablish themselves as powerful enough political actors to put a break to their national bourgeoisies' mortal pissing contest.