Saturday, 16 August 2008

Third World War?

Last night on BBC's Newsnight - See:Newsnight, former Yeltsin Advisor, Alexander Nekrasov, commented that if a repetition of this week's conflcit in Georgia arose in Ukraine, after Ukraine had joined NATO, then this would mean World War III.

As Nekrasov pointed out the South Ossetians are just a small population. There are about 1 million Ossetians, with two-thirds living in the more developed North with the other third living in the South. The South Ossetians rely on the North for jobs. As a result of Georgias invasion of South Ossetia, and its destruction of Ossetian towns and cities half of the South Ossetian people have been turned into refugees. By, contrast the Ukraine has a large population of more than 46 million people. But, the country is divided in two with one half comprising ethnic Russians, and still looking towards Russia for its future. If Ukraine joins NATO as the US is pushing for then it is quite possible that the Russian population, and the other ethnic groups, such as the Rumanians, and Belorussians might seek to break away and demand the right of self-determination. If such demands resulted in the same kind of attacks that Georgia this last week unleashed on South Ossetia, Russia would be bound to respond, and the US would be bound by Article 5 of the NATO Constitution to come to the defence of its ally.

The Rose and Orange revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia had some common features. After years of Stalinist repression and economic stagnation the economic boom that began in the late 1990's made it attractive for these states to look West. Although, its not right to place too much emphasis on it given that incentive, its also true that the actual political developments owed a great deal to massive intervention by Western intelligence organisations that pumped billions of pounds into front organisations, nor indeed do these agencies deny they did so. Why should the US be so interested in such action?

In fact, the world has many of the hallmarks that the world had at the end of the 19th century. There is a scramble for resources, as booming economic activity has created shortages and high prices for raw materials and foodstuffs. Paul Mason on last night's Newsnight commented that the world again has been divided up into competing economic powers, in place of the division of the world into Imperialism and Stalinism of the Cold War era. The idea that some of the Left have advocated over recent years that Imperialism had morphed into something else, a super-imperialism, which could out of a common world interest manage these conflicting interests has been blown out of the water. What characterises Imperialism today is not that it has managed to create a single World Imperialism under US hegemony, but that it has replaced an imperialism of competing national states with an imperialism is competing huge economic blocs - essentially North America, Europe, and Asia.

Within this, the US occupies the position that Britain occupied at the end of the 19th century. The position of the former world economic superpower, which was in the process of being rapidly overtaken. Then it was Britain being overtaken by Germany which was takingaway British markets in Southern Europe, and Latin America in particular. Now it is China and other Asian countries that are taking away US markets all over the globe. But, then Britain retained huge military power just as the US does now. Both seek to utilise that military power to compensate for the lack of economic power and competitiveness. British naval superiority gave rise to the era of gunboat diplomacy just as US firepower today has seen it march unchallenged into Serbia, and the Balkans, into Iraq and elsewhere. Indeed, its the principal established that such large powers can act as policemen - which really means enforce their interests - around the globe, which has given Russia now the ability to say, we have the right to do what you have been doing. That is why socialists should have been opposing with all their might these actions of imperialism. They certainly should not have been promoting the idea that the imperialist leopard had changed its spots, that it was now somehow progressive, promoting "democracy", or in any other way carrying out actions that could be described as "good". In fact, under cover of humanitarianism, and "promoting democracy" the US has been implementing its strategy of the "New American Century". It has built up a huge number of US bases around the globe in countries it has intervened in, and those bases have a stategic purpose, or it should be said two strategic purposes.

Firtly, the US has positioned itself to be able to secure access to the most resource rich regions of the Gulf for oil, and of Central Asia for oil, metals and other materials. Secondly, it has developed strategic positions in the Balkans, on the Baltic and through central Asia in respect of any ptential military conlict with its two main military rivals - Russia and China. In doing so, it has not at all been concerned with humanitarianism or democracy. Throughout the Stansof central Asia it has allied itself with all kinds of tinpot dictators, including those that deal with their opponents by boiling them in oil! IN the Gulf it allies itself with the feudalists of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and other similarly grotesque regimes. In Iraq it has put in power a government of clerical-fascists, and is now looking to replace even that with some fascistic strongman similar to Saddam Hussein, who they also previously supported.

There has been some headlines at the statement yesterday by a Russian general in response to the signing of the Star Wars deal with Poland. He said, that it meant that in the event of conflict in order to deal with this missile shield Russia would now have to first Nuke Poland. The press have simply presented the headline "We'll Nuke Poland" as though the Russians were threatening to do that simply in response to the missile shield being sited there, but what do you expect from the bouregois press? In fact, my first response to the signing of the deal was precisely, "Do the Poles realise what they have done? They have made themselves the first line of US defence, and the first place to get taken out." Back in the 1980's when the US was siting Cruise Missiles in Britain we used to say that Britain was just a huge US Aircraft Carrier. Now the US has made the whle of Europe up to the Russian border an even bigger Aircraft Carrier! In 1962 the world was nearly destroyed because the US threatened to go to war over a few Russian missiles located on tiny Cuba. They can hardly be surprised at the Russian response to their actions now.

The deals done with Poland and other countries over the missile shield amount to this. Whether the technology of the shield works or not does not matter. It probably won't. Certainly it won't work for Poland and other such countries, and even if it did the fallout they would suffer from the destruction of the missiles heading their way would make it irrelevant. It s not the technology that constitutes hte missile shield it is the countries themselves. Because the idea is that interceptor missiles in these countries will take out Russian missiles - the US claim the idea is to stop nukes from Rogue states, but that's nonsense because none of them are anywhere near having the capability to launch intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles - the Russians as the previously mentioned general correctly stated would first have to concentrate their missiles on Poland etc. in order to overwhelm those defences before it could consider launching an attack on the US. That would give the US time - they hope - to launch an overwhelming attack on Russian nuclear sites before they could launch any sizeable attack on the US. IN other words Poland has made itself the bullet proof vest of the US.

Yet, the US has made clear it will not resort to military force agaibnst the Russians in Georgia. Why? Because at the moment it has no need. In the late 19th century the main scramble was for sources of raw materials, for colonies to get them from on the cheap. Only when the boom came to an end was it then necessary also to try to gain protected markets for the sale of products in order to realise profits. At the moment we are at the same phase of the Long Wave, a boom that should last for another 12-15 years. That boom means that amrkets are plentiful, profits can easily be realised, and are growing rapidly. Resources can be bought rather than fought over. At the moment. As Trostky pointed out imperialists do not go to war over principles such as freedom or democracy, they go to war over markets and profits. When the boom ends, when profits can no longer be made so easily, when the lack of profits means that resources cannot so easily be bought, when markets are less plentiful and have to be secured by hook or by crook then the drive to war will come just as it did in 1914. The last time that drive came in the mid 1970's it was muted by the existence of the USSR, by the common cause of the imperialists against "Communism". That factor no longer exists. Indeed the former "Communists" are now the main economic players depriving the US hegemon of its unrestricted dominion over the world economy.

The idea that the US or Europe can restrain Russia by threats of removing it from the G8, by denying it access to the WTO etc. are ludicrous. The bankrupt US economy relies on the benevolence of strangers. Russia has billions of dollars invested in US bonds and other debt. If Europe tries to boycott Russian oil and gas it will cripple itself whilst Russia will sell its oil, gas and otther primary products to more than enough other countries desperate for them. The Russian Stalinists have been drawing closer to the Chinese Stalinists over recent years. The current US response must give China more cause to draw closer still to Russia for a defensive alliane, because China holds no illusions in the US's real intentions towards it. China the new workshop of the world is desperate for the kind of raw materials that Russia can supply, just as Russia is a large market for Chinese consumer goods. As the Chinese working class and middle class grow rapidly the Chinese market itself will provide an alternative to the need for Western Markets. Moreover, if Russia holds a huge amount of US debt and equity, China owns a vast amount more. Long before any shooting war, they could threaten the US economy, and destroy it overnight should they choose to do so.

Only the working class can provide a solution to this problem. There is achocie of seeing the world as divided into two camps of a democratic imperialism, and a camp of fascism/Bonapartism in which the former is the lesser evil, and to which socialists advise workers giving their support. All the evidecne of history shows that this will lead to disaster as the workers are duped, and findthat the democratic imperialists are no different than the fascistic imperialists. Or else the working class can declare a plague on both their houses. Instead of viewing the world through the lens of "democracy" v "fascism/bonapartism", which amounts to nothing more than a good cop/bad cop routine by the capitalists socialists should teach the workers to see the world instead as divided into the camp of the workers and the camp of the besses, the camp of the oppressors, and the camp of the oppressed. Socialists stand on the side of the camp of the oppressed even if that camp has the mask of "fascism" as in the case of oppressed countries, and against the camp of the oppressors even when that camp has the mask of democracy. Only on that consistent basis can socialists win the majority of the workers and oppressed to its banner, only on that basis does it deserve to do so.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Crimes and Misdemeanours

According to the United Nations there are 150,000 refugees resulting from Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia. As part of the ceasefire agreement, and peace plan being worked out between Russia, the EU, and US Russia has begun the process of stabilising South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and has said that the enxt stage will be to assist an international investigation into the war crimes committed by Georgia in its invasion. Of course, that might mean looking at the Russian actions in Georgia too. Wars are never fought by the Marquis of Queensbury rules by any of the contending parties.

When Serbia invaded Kosovo in response to the attacks of the KLA against Kosovan Serbs, and in order to reassert Serb control over the area, there was quite rightly a huge hue and cry against such Serb aggression. The Serb leader, Milosevic was brought before the International Criminal Court to answer for Serb atrocities. The US was one of those that was keen to see such war criminals bought to book. Russia is now proposing that a similar process be undertaken in respect of the war crimes of Georgia in South Ossetia. If the Georgian President, Saakashvilli has any sense he will either try to get Georgia accepted as America’s 51st State, or else will take out US citizenship, because although the US is keen to see the citizens of other countries bought to book for war crimes, it is not itself a member of the International Criminal Court, and will not allow its citizens to be brought before it!

There remain conflicting reports coming out of Georgia. British media continues to report that Russian troops are occupying various parts of Georgia, and Georgia which is the source of many of these reports continues, not unexpectedly, to make claims of continuing Russian military action inside Georgia. However, yesterday US Defence Secretary Bob Gates, whilst continuing, again not unexpectedly, to make strong comments about Russian action, also not only made clear that the US was not going to go to war over this, but that most if not all the Georgian claims about Russian action had proved to be false. Indeed, it seems that behind the scenes both EU governments and the US Government have been more than a little bit pissed off with the adventurist action of Saakashvilli, which has put them in an awkward position. Having said, that if Russia took advantage of the Georgian adventure into South Ossetia to teach its neighbour something of a lesson, and send out a message about NATO encroachment on its borders, the US it is clear is using, in turn the Russian, action against Georgia, to bolster its presence in Georgia, which holds for the US an important geo-strategic position.

The fact, is, however, that none of this is good for workers. It has become clear that as always happens in such situations, South Ossetians are now taking revenge on Georgians, both inside Ossetia, and on its periphery. This can only weaken the unity of the working class, precisely at a time, when that unity is most important. The Russian response to Georgian aggression has also, understandably created a feeling of hostility between Georgians and Russians – though in an interview with one Georgian woman casualty on Newsnight last night, her hatred of the Russians was matched with a hatred of the Georgian Government for causing the situation by its adventure in the first place. It will take a lot of work to rebuild confidence and friendship between Russian, Georgian and Ossetian workers, a friendship, which as a result of first Tsarist, and then Stalinist oppression of Georgians, and Georgian oppression of Ossetians, was not tremendous to begin with. The absence of any strong Labour Movement as the result of years of Stalinism, and its replacement in Georgia at least with a right-wing, and less than democratic capitalism, and certainly the absence of any decent workers Party that could have offered workers across the various borders an alternative to the nationalism of the current leaders does not help either. But, the building of such unity of the working class, and indeed the building of a Workers Party that can provide such an alternative both to Georgian Capitalism, and Russian Stalinism is the only real long term solution.

The South Ossetians as with the Abkhazians have a right of self-determination. Socialist should have fought for that right against any attempts to violently suppress it by Georgia. Consequently, socialists had to condemn in the strongest terms the Georgian murderous attacks on Ossetia. But our, solution to such aggression is not to look to a response from our class enemies, or from the Stalinist bureaucracy which oppresses workers in much the same way. There could be no more reason for socialists to support the Russian response to Georgian aggression than there was to support, or even see as “good” the US response to Serb aggression in Kosovo, or a US or Israeli attack on Iran. To look to these alien forces is not only to dupe and mislead the working class, but is to demobilise it, and to sow illusions in the progressive nature of those alien and hostile forces.

But, there is another point here. The South Ossetians, however valid their claim for self-determination, are a small population. In comparison with the Russian, and Georgian working class they are tiny. The conflict their demand for that self-determination has caused has created not only tremendous antagonism between those two working classes, but has also led to considerable bloodshed from them on both sides. Had, and this is not yet an impossibility, the US had much greater forces in Georgia, for example had Georgia been a part of NATO, then not only could much greater carnage have ensued, but it could have resulted in a World war that would have spelled the end of human civilisation. However, harsh, cruel and reprehensible it may seem, socialists cannot support the rights of a tiny minority on that basis, when the consequences for the working class in general are at stake. Marxists are not moralists, we do not begin from an analysis of what to do based on an evaluation of moral rectitude, but on the basis of a class analysis, and from that an analysis of what best represents of the working class as a whole. That is why Marxists begin in such situations with a solution based on the building of working class unity across borders. It is why Marxists do not take the bourgeois democratic demand for self-determination on its own, but only as part of a socialist programme. Its why they cannot put the interests, for instance, of the tiny Iraqi working class above the interests of the world working class in fighting US imperialism in Iraq, and demanding its withdrawal. Its why they cannot side with Israel in launching a pre-emptive strike against Iran, or a similar attack by the US itself. Its why they cannot support the demand for self-determination for Kosovo – though of course they support the RIGHT of Kosovans to struggle for that demand by means of proletarian internationalism – when that demand could spark a conflagration throughout the Balkans worse than that which has flared up in Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia. Its why they cannot support the demand for self-determination for Tibet, though again they would support the RIGHT of Tibetan workers to struggle for that demand again by methods of proletarian internationalism, because of the huge division in the Tibetan and Chinese working classes that such a nationalist civil war would bring.
Marxists seek to resolve the National Question by means of building working class unity, by utilising that unity to fight for consistent democracy for all within the borders of the given state, and ultimately if such struggle cannot address the legitimate needs of a given aspiration that very class unity provides the basis for the separation of the two peoples with the minimum of opposition, and the maximum support by the workers of the dominant nation for the workers of the oppressed nation in exercising that right. Any other course of action has nothing to do with Marxism, it is simply bourgeois nationalism, and to be condemned in the harshest terms.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Gates Blows The Gaff

In a press conference at the Pentagon today US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was asked about reports that Russian troops were still engaged in activities in Georgia in breach of the ceasefire, that they had been blowing up airports in their retreat,had destroyed ports, blockaded roads and ports. The source of these reports that the Westernmedia has reproduced without question over the last 24 hours or so is, of course, the Georgian Government.

Gates echoed the strong attack against Russia that has come from George Bush in the last 24 hours, but in response to these reports said that the US survey teams having checked out these reports had found that they were not well how shall we say - accurate. They found no evidence of roads being blockaded by Russians, that the Russians had been forming themselves up for an orderly retreat as required by the casfire agreement, that they had not blockaded the ports, nor had they destroyed a port city as reported, nor had they blown up airports. In fact, the US were planning to use those airports to ship in humanitarian supplies. In short, the Georgian Government had been lying.

Nothing new there then. No doubt the Russians have been lying too, though the rush of some on the "Left" to blame the Russians in the main for the events of the last week also seem not to understand the strategic and diplomatic niceties of the region. For example, the AWL which thought in similar circumstances the far more serious and extensive bombing of Serbia by the US, in response to its incursion into Kosovo, was "good", was quick to decide that Russia was seeking to annex South Ossetia, and also ruled out any idea that Russia might agree to an independent Ossetia. But, in fact, earlier in the week the BBC's analyst commented that there was good reason why the Russians WOULD NOT want to annexe South Ossetia. For one thing, demanding the separation of South Ossetia from Georgia i.e. defending its right to self-determination would mean that Russia was in a weaker position to refuse that right to Chechnya. Secondly, one of th stumbling blocks to Georgia joining NATO - despite the profusion of EU flags which Georgia's Walter Mitty like President surrounds himself with Georgia has no chance of joining the EU - is its instability, and insecurity of its borders due to the disputes over South Ossetia and Abkahazia. As long as those disputes continue, and continue they will as long as they remain nominally part of Georgia, they not only act as a thorn in the side of Georgia, but they also mean there can be no chance of georgia joining NATO. Tat is why Russia's position is that they should be autonomous regions, but Russia does not argue for their separation from Georgia.

But what is also surprising is how any socialist could ever be taken in by the lies of the Georgian government in the first place. That bouregois Liberals such as those of the Guardian should take up a position of moral outrage against Russia is one thing, but why on Earth would socialists put themselves in the same Camp. Its amazing then that on Shiraz socialist ,in response to this piece by David Clark

"By any reasonable measure, the impact of Russian policy has been uniquely destructive in generating political divisions in the caucuses…Whatever his faults, Saakashvili is no Milosevic - and wild Russian allegations of genocide have no independent support.”

Jim Denham commented,

"somehow his comments seem to me a lot more convincing than the crazed anti-American conspiracy theories and pro-Putin triumphalism of people like Seymour and Nooman."

So at a time that all the world's press agrees that Georgia staged a massive attack on the people of South Ossetia, when the BBC, CNN and other news channels have shown masses of South Ossetians - according to News reports around 100,000 people - turned into refugees, when the South Ossetian Capital was destroyed by Georgia artillery on the first day, we are asked to go easy on Saakashvilli, because "he's no Milosevic". We are asked not to believe all those other pressreports, because they are not independently verified.

Just compare that reponse the very belated response that the AWL eventually gave, nearly a week after the invasion, - though it has to be said that the AWL's provisional statement is much more balanced than the position taken by Jim Denham - with their response to the much greater ferocity of attack that the US launched against Serbia, a response they beleived in stopping Milosovic was "good".

This is the ultimate consequence of the AWL's collapse into Stalinist Popular Front politics. They divide the world into Two Camps, on the one hand the Camp of "Democratic Imperialism", and on the other Fascism/Bonapartism. Against all the principles of Marxism they see the former as progressive and the latter as reactionary, and adopt a "lesser evil" stance accordingly. It led them to support Yeltsin's bouregois democratic counter-revolution in Russia, it led them to see the US bombing of Serbia as "good", it leads them to refuse to call for opposition to US Imperialism in Iraq, it leads them to announce that a US surgical bombing of Iran would also be "good", and leads them to argue that an attack by Israeli against Iran should not be condemned. They claim to be adherents of a Third Camp - the Camp of the Working Class, yet in each of these cases they demonstrated a complete disdain for the possibility of that working class having any kind of independent role other than as cheerleader in the First Camp, just as Stalin advocated during the later 1930's. That perspective led to disaster for the working class then, and were it the case that the AWL had any effect on the Labour Movement - fortunately its couple of dozen members have none - it would lead to disaster again.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Stalinist Nature of the AWL’s Politics

In the past I have described the AWL’s position in relation to a number of issues, particularly on the National Question, as nothing more than radical Liberalism. Wouldn’t it be more correct then to describe the AWL’s politics as Liberal rather than Stalinist, a position which stands in what appears to be direct opposition to Stalinism. No, that would not be correct. The characterisation of an organisations politics cannot be derived simply by looking at its position on certain questions in isolation. It requires an analysis of that organisations overall political posture, and its methodology. I have also described the AWL’s politics arising out of the Third Camp as petit-bourgeois socialism. Does that not contradict the definition of Stalinism? No, in fact Stalinism is precisely a form of petit-bourgeois socialism.

Radical Liberalism

The AWL’s politics on the National Question amount to nothing more than radical Liberalism. For the Bolsheviks bourgeois-democratic demands including the demand of nations to self-determination could not occupy a place higher than the socialist programme, and particularly the need to build the maximum workers unity. Such demands could not be progressive in and of themselves, but only when taken as part of a struggle by the working class. Such demands are classically Transitional in nature. Their progressive content is determined solely by the context in which they are fought for, a context in which the working class fights for these demands precisely by means of proletarian rather than bourgeois means. It is important to distinguish between the National Question and the Colonial question. In regards colonies what we have is an existing State. It is a separate state from that of the colonial power. Its laws, constitution, and dynamic are completely separate from the State of the colonial power even if as classically with French colonialism they are copied directly from it. This is different from the National Question where what we have is a single state covering several nationalities. It is important to recognise this difference because it affects the way Marxists deal with each type of situation. If we take the demand for self-determination of a colony then Marxists can quite easily argue for the political independence of this existing state. They do so by trying to win the support of workers in the colonial state, but the overriding point is a struggle of the oppressed masses against the colonial power. If we take the issue of self-determination for a nation which is one component of a single state comprising several nationalities this is a different matter. Under these conditions, we already have effectively a single working class in this state. Often they are to some extent intermingled. The primary duty of a Marxist under such conditions is then to attempt to maintain that actual unity of the working class within this state, and to strengthen it if at all possible. It is to pose the solution to the national problems of the workers of each nation, a joint struggle against their common oppressor. That can never be the case in relation to a colony. In one we have the struggle for the political independence of an existing state, in the other we have the creation of a new class state.

As Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued, we are opposed to the creation of new class states, other than in the most exceptional conditions. We the question posed as follows. Marxists in the dominant nation concentrate their focus on arguing the RIGHT of any oppressed nations within the State to separate. As Marxists they argue that such a move is not advisable because it divides the workers, yet the oppressed nationality must be given that right should they wish to take it, and the workers of the dominant nation should oppose any attempt by their ruling class to violently prevent such separation. The Marxists in the oppressed nation, however, focus their attention on arguing the case that although obviously they have the Right to separate they should not do so. The basis of that argument is that it divides the workers, that the real source of their oppression is class society, and that separation will only lead to them being oppressed and exploited by their own capitalists as opposed to the capitalist of the other nation. The solution lies in 1) building unity with workers of the other nation who are also oppressed by their capitalists, 2) using that unity to fight for a set of consistent democratic demands, and 3) integrating the struggle for those demands with the only real solution to their problems which is the overthrow of capitalism.

Any programme that fails to proceed on this basis, but which simply asserts A is oppressed by B so A should have the right of self-determination, and should secede is not a socialist perspective it stands four-square on the ground of radical Liberalism. It puts forward the bourgeois democratic demand of self-determination as good in its own right. It says to workers go this far and no farther – at least for now. It fails to have any kind of perspective of joint workers struggle, of building and maintaining workers unity, or the basic aspect even of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution that under Imperialism even these basic democratic demands cannot be realised other than by workers struggle, a struggle that must transcend a fight simply for bourgeois democracy. Some weeks ago I made precisely these points in relation to Kosovo with an AWL comrade, whose response I thought said it all. They responded the workers of Kosovo could not trust the Serb workers. That is precisely the kind of bourgeois nationalism you end up with going down that approach, and that is precisely the approach the AWL adopts whether it is in relation to Kosovo, or in relation to Tibet. For a Marxist the most important thing should always be not the demand that you raise, but the method of struggle you propose for its achievement. What is missing time and again from the AWL’s approach is any concept that the method of struggle that has to be adopted begins and ends with the building of workers unity, and a struggle based on the independent action of the working class. That is true in Kosovo and Tibet, and as even the AWL Minority comrades have demonstrated it is equally true in Iraq, where the majority have contracted out the task of fighting for these democratic demands to the imperialist Occupation.

But, this is precisely the methodology of the petit-bourgeois socialist. It proceeds not from the basis of a class analysis, and the development of a Programme of political demands that the workers must fight for, but from a wholly subjective analysis, and a pragmatic response to the situation geared to achieve some set of goals - which on this basis must be limited to bourgeois democratic goals – according to what “common sense” dictates. That was the methodology that Burnham and Shachtman developed as an alternative to dialectics, it is the method that Glotzer applied in deciding that the working class could not resolve the Jewish Question and so bugger workers unity, let’s throw in our lot with the Zionists instead. Its what leads to siding with the military action of one bourgeois state against another. Its what leads to the conclusion that workers of country A can’t trust the workers of country B.

It is a methodology which is based on subjectivity and superficiality. Absent any kind of grounding in class analysis or a class programme it inevitably becomes little more than a moral crusade deciding this case is good and deserving of support, and this isn’t. The last time I looked for instance the AWL had not almost a week after the event come out with a position in respect of the murderous attacks by Georgia against the South Ossetians. That is not surprising. The AWL no doubt find themselves in a bit of a fix over this. In Kosovo their bourgeois nationalism led them to simply advocate the bourgeois democratic demand of self-determination for Kosovo. It was linked to no suggestion of building workers unity, or the idea that such a struggle for basic democratic rights by Serb and Kosovan workers could also have been taken up across Serbia, and so on. How could they, they didn’t believe that Kosovan workers could trust Serb workers, any more than following Glotzer Jewish workers can trust Palestinian or Arab workers. So when the murderous Serbian tanks rolled in to smash the KLA which had been fighting a thoroughly reactionary campaign for that demand to be fulfilled by murdering and raping Serb Kosovans, burning Serb villages etc., the AWL could still only see the moral imperative of self-determination for those Albanian Kosovans, and were quite happy to see – though of course they would not follow their convictions and call for – US imperialism come in and bomb the hell, Cruise Missiles and all, out of Belgrade.

But, now as Saakashvilli takes the place of Milosevic launching a massive barrage on South Ossetia that killed thousands, and has driven something like 100,000 more to seek refuse in Russia in what appears to be a clear attempt at ethnic cleansing, which destroyed the Capital City of Ossetia, we hear nothing from them officially as to whether they support the actions of the Russians, who now stand in the place the US previously stood in regard of Serbia, in bringing that murderous attack to an end. What we have seen is Jim Denham on Shirz socialist defend the murderous actions of Saakashvilli with the rather disgusting argument – “I don’t think he’s the same as Milosevic”. Were some “idiot anti-imperialist” to come out with such an outrageous statement the AWL would have it plastered over their website, quite rightly condemning their reactionary politics. We will see where their offical position comes out, but my guess is that despite the fact that the Russians action against Georgia pales compares to the US attack on Serbia, the AWL will concentrate its firepower on the Russian response.

The fact is that Marxists could not support either the Serbian incursion in Kosova, nor the US response to it. Nor could they support the Georgian incursion into Ossetia, or the Russian response to that. For real Marxists the solution to both lay, and lies in a workers solution, fought for and brought about by the joint and collective action of the workers of the countries concerned. The AWL cannot advocate that because they have abandoned independent working class politics in such situations, because they have lost faith in the working class being able to achieve a solution. Consequently, they have to look to some other agency to achieve their moral goals, and that agency is imperialism. It is not surprising they ended in that position because it is the position that all the adherents of the Third Camp have ended up in, except for the SWP who went one further and found it in the camp of a rag tag of reactionary “Anti-imperialist” states and forces around the world. In both cases it amounts to and result from an abandonment of class politics.

But, that is precisely the position also that Stalinism adopted in respect of the National Question. In China, the Stalinists said the task is the bourgeois democratic revolution, support the bourgeoisie in that quest. They subordinated their politics to those of the Kuomintang, just as Glotzer subordinated his to the Zionists, and as Sean proposes subordinating the AWL’s to Israel’s ruling class, and just as they have subordinated their politics to imperialism’s “fight” against clerical-fascism in Iraq. The Stalinists did the same thing in Spain. In both China and Spain the consequence of this Popular Front politics was that the bourgeoisie murdered the workers movements. In Spain they threw off their democratic façade and threw in their lot with the very fascists they were supposed to be fighting alongside the workers. The same is true of course in Iraq. The imperialists who the AWL claim are providing the workers with a breathing space in fact attack the Trade Unions and their offices, whilst they train and arm the very clerical-fascist militias they are supposed to be fighting! In reality the fighting is nothing more than the extension of politics by other means as imperialism manoeuvres to try to gain tactical advantage putting in place where possible forces it thinks it can better manipulate. The classic example is the open class war that the US and the Government forces have waged against Sadr’s Jacobins, a force which in the absence of a powerful Labour movement poses the greatest risk to bourgeois and imperialist interests in Iraq.

Democratic Imperialism v Fascism

The clear indication of that was given both in the article by Sean Matgamna and in the discussion that surrounded it. However, the AWL might try to squirm – and the articles by Dave Broder, Dan Randall, and Janine Booth criticising Sean’s article are to be applauded – the fact is that the article was arguing against condemning Israel for any attack on Iran. That was particularly clear from some of the follow up comments by AWL comrades who phrased it more bluntly. But, more specifically in relation to comments made by Mark Osborn about the real difference being between a “democratic” Israel, and a “fascist” Iran. He went on to state that Trotsky had made this distinction quite clearly in relation to the democratic imperialists and the Nazi imperialists. But, this is a complete travesty of what Trotsky argued, which was the diametric opposite.

His post was quite rightly opposed by Llin Davies who quoted Trotsky’s retort to the Palestinian Trotskyists who argued such a position. But, then Sean replied quoting Trotsky from the same article as justification. In fact, his methodology here was indeed very reminiscent of the methodology of the Stalinists. In quoting Trotsky, he conveniently left out the last sentence of the quote, a sentence which when added in completely reverses the meaning that Sean was wanting to attribute to it!!!!! As I have pointed out before this is not an exception. Sean often quotes a statement from Trotsky in “In Defence of Marxism” where Trotsky responds to criticism that he had even raised for consideration the question of whether the USSR could be Bureaucratic Collectivist. Sean uses this to convey the message, “See even Trotsky was moving in that direction.” But, of course as I’ve demonstrated before this is the grossest of distortions. Trotsky raised the question to demolish it. He goes on in the quote, again of course missed out by Sean to see that if it was true, it would mean that the socialist project had ended for humanity as being just a utopian dream.

Llin Davies responds to Sean’s quote chopping with a barrage of quotes from Trotsky to demonstrate exactly where he stood. As she points out, it certainly is not where the AWL claim he stood. On the contrary as one of the quotes she gives says, those that promote such ideas within the Labour Movement are its greatest enemies, who the workers must be taught to hate, they must be driven from its midst. I wouldn’t disagree with much of what she writes other than where she writes that imperialism handed over millions of East Europeans to Stalinism. In fact, of course, Stalinism had already overrun those countries.

But, her argument here is absolutely correct. Just like Sean’s position on Israel the Stalinists prior to the Stalin-Hitler pact called on workers to subordinate their struggles against their own “democratic” imperialism in order the better to build a “democratic” alliance against fascism. That is precisely Sean’s position in respect of Israel. It is also the position the AWL adopt in respect of Iraq, don’t fight imperialism because its fighting the clerical-fascists. It is nothing less than an undeclared Popular Front. And it is only undeclared for the simple reason that the AWL are and organisation of a couple of dozen, whereas the Stalinists were a party of tens of thousands.

Trotsky says that what characterised Stalinism was that whilst it was based on the working class, it feared the mobilisation and independent action of that class. Like the Trade Union bureaucracy, or indeed any other bureaucracy, it not only comes to believe that it knows best, but also in order to justify its position, and maintain its position with all the attendant benefits, it has to act to control the base from which its position is derived. It is not that Stalinism is opposed to the idea of “socialism” in other countries, but that such socialism should be brought about under its jurisdiction, its control, and therefore by its typically bureaucratic means. Moreover, any such development can only take place where it does not threaten its own immediate interests, and if that means interests that require it to make an alliance with imperialism or with fascism so be it. And within that context the other Communist Parties around he world become mere instruments in implementing this foreign policy. The goal of world revolution has to be subordinated to the partial goal of defending socialism in the USSR.

But, again that is precisely the position the AWL adopts in relation to Iraq. It says to the huge working classes of the US and UK, do not oppose imperialism do not wage what every Marxist of the twentieth century has agreed is the most important fight for the working class to wage, because if you do so the tiny Iraqi working class might perish. In place of don’t fight imperialism because it threatens the massive gains of the Russian Revolution, we have don’t fight imperialism because it threatens a tiny working class in Iraq. Oddly, when that same imperialism threatens the much bigger and more important working class of Iran with the potential of invasion, the AWL are rather more sanguine, rather less keen to ensure its well-being. Why is that? Because in reality they have given up class politics in favour of a moralising petty-bourgeois politics, and more concerned as were the Stalinists to view events as being merely the movements of pieces on a chess board, and seeking to determine not what is in the best interests of the class, but what would be the most effective gambit for the players in white to adopt. It is an abandonment of class politics for a view of the world divided into two camps, the democratic and the fascistic or Bonapartist – hence their attitude to Chavez also for instance (though again unlike Trotsky they fail to distinguish between progressive and reactionary Bonapartist regimes).

The AWL says, we don't call for imperialism to invade Iraq, we don't call for Israel to attack Iran and so on. Nor do we support such actions. We just don't necessarily condemn them if they have a "good" effect. But, some of the quotes Llin Davis gives from TRotsky show precisely why such an approach has nothing to do with Marxism. They miseducate the class, they lead it to if not rely on then at least develop false hopes in bouregois demcoracy and "democatic" imperialism. Let's take another example. In a tide of rising fascist violence the State proposes to impose a ban on fascist gatherings. If you like this is the State launching a pre-emptive strike in the same way that israel might against Iran, or indeed that Iran or some other country might launch against a nuclear armed Israel. The AWL's approach is well we wouldn't call for it, but we can see the State has good reason for this action, and it will have a good effect if it keeps the fascists off the streets - inded in one reply to me on the question of Iraq a long time ago, Martin Thomas did in fact give the example of the police protecting socialists against fascists (and how often have you seen that happen!) so we shouldn't condemn it. But, of course socialists SHOULD condemn any such state bans by the bouregois state. We condemn them not just because we do not want to miseducate the workingc lass into beleiving that the State is neutra, that it can or will fight their battles for them, and so on, but also because we know that in fact such bans will always in fact be turned around to be used against the working class, and against socialists.

Petty-bourgeois Socialism and Stalinism

Stalinism is precisely a form of petty-bourgeois socialism. The bureaucracy is an archetypal petty-bourgeois formation with a corresponding world-view. Like the Trade Union bureaucracy it comes out of and is based on the working class, but its new lifestyle, and its social role – managing and mediating – rapidly gives it the nature of the petty-bourgeois. In that role it necessarily ends up adopting a pragmatic approach to resolving problems, and the more its position is entrenched the more its focus turns to protecting its own position, the more it necessarily becomes afraid of uncontrolled actions from below, from the base it is supposed to represent. But, surely the AWL cannot be described as being afraid of the working class, it has nothing to be afraid of it has no social position to lose. That is absolutely true. But, that fear has been replaced by another factor. Not fear of the independent action of the class, but a loss of faith that the working class is capable of such action.

The Stalinists said to themselves, “This is the goal we wish to achieve, and this is how we will achieve it under our control.” An alliance with “democratic” imperialism here, a pact with fascism there, all the time the independent action of the workers constrained. And that is the method of the AWL. It says, “This is the goal we wish to achieve. We have no faith the workers can do it, so who can bring it about?” So an alliance with Zionism here, with “democratic imperialism” there.

And this explains the trajectory of the AWL, it is why increasingly as its political positions are exposed it can only respond to them in the same way that the Stalinists did via, bureaucratic manoeuvre, by rudeness and vilification, and by quotation chopping to try to prove that their arguments have some lineage, just as Stalin tried to prove the lineage of “Socialism in One Country” back to Lenin, by such means so the AWL try to prove the lineage of its ideas by quotes taken out of context, mangled and distorted from Trotsky.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Still Not Souled Out

In the next week or so shooting begins on a new film entitled “Souled Out”, here in Stoke. For the last few weeks, my youngest son, who is a freelance film cameraman, has been working on the film in preparation for shooting. The subject of the film is close to my heart – Northern Soul. I would have quite liked a part dancing in the film, but its set in 1974, and at that time there were not many Northern Soul dancers in their mid 50’s. Both then and now, Northern Soul was, and is, a phenomena, and what is significant for me, a largely working class phenomena.

Watching some of the programmes, today, of past decades, TV gives a very distorted picture of reality. In the 1960’s youth culture was divided effectively between Mods and Rockers. The Mods were listening to The Small Faces, Amen Corner, and the Who, whilst the Rockers were listening to Elvis and Heavy Metal. Even at that stage, by the mid 60’s, although the Beatles sold lots of records, and managed to get followed around by lots of screaming young teenagers, they did not really fit into either category. They were largely listened to by what would become known as teenyboppers, their parents, for whom the Beatles were safe, and by all those who participated in youth culture vicariously through the TV and listening to Top of the Pops. I remember seeing an interview some time ago with Sandie Shaw and Cynthia Lennon, and the latter was somewhat put off by a comment by the former that nobody who was really “in” listened to the Beatles.  In fact, I can remember, one day, when I was about 13, going home and telling my sister that there was a great new Beatles song out, to which she replied she’d heard it, and it was rubbish. She was 8 years older than me, and had been going dancing for several years, and was, by this time, well into listening to R&B to Rufus Thomas, Long John Baldry and the Soul Sisters who were regulars at local clubs.

By around 1967 the Mods and Rockers division had broken down, and, now, the division was between those, like me, who were into Motown and Black Music, and the headbangers into Heavy Metal. At school, that again was the division with just a few of the kids, who didn’t really fit in, still listening to Top of the Pops. At school from around the third year – it was a very small village school – we had use of a common room, with an old record player. For a while, you might here Mick Jagger thumping out Honky Tonk Women, but, mostly, the school corridors resounded to the sound of the Four Tops, Supremes, Temptations, Edwin Starr, and Martha and the Vandellas.

Half the people had long hair and went off to pop concerts like that at Madeley where Mungo Jerry came to short lived prominence, whilst the other half of us, were practising our dance steps, tricks, and going up to Rosina Ward’s junk shop in Hanley to look for soul records from years gone by that people had thrown out. By the time I was 14 I was going to the Golden Torch in Tunstall, which, a few years later, was to become an icon on the Northern Soul scene, and venue for people from all over Europe. In the week the Torch used to open its doors often for free, or else there would be a 6d (2.5p) entrance charge, and free beer for the first half hour. 

The Torch, which had been a cinema, had, in the early sixties, been a Mod venue, featuring many of the top Mod acts of the time. In fact, when I first started going there was still a strong Mod influence, and the dominant personality was a guy called Tombo, also known as King of the Mods, and his three friends. In fact, still, at the time, there were Mod v Rocker bust ups with scooters left outside the Torch getting trashed, resulting in a subsequent visit to Gracy’s Café, in Burslem, by Tombo and his friends, who proceeded to throw a couple of motorbikes through the café window. 

In fact, in those early years, fights inside the club were a nightly occurrence, and the police and police dogs were equally frequent not just to stop fights that got out of control with people being thrown off balconies and so on, but also because it gave them a good reason to come in to look for drugs. In fact, although the Torch was no worse than any other venue at the time, for drugs, it had that reputation, and the council were continually trying to close it down. They eventually succeeded in 1973, but on Environmental Health grounds. In fact, a few years ago, I was working with the EHO who was responsible, and I didn’t hold it against him honest.

But, by the late 60’s, Motown and what was becoming known as Northern Soul was, as far as dance clubs were concerned, all pervasive. Not only were clubs opening up all over the place, but existing clubs were looking for DJ’s who had Northern Soul collections, because that was all anyone wanted to be played. When I left school in 1970 I was dancing every night of the week – its no wonder that we were all so thin then, because I can’t remember ever thinking of going to a pub let alone out to eat, rather than go out dancing.

In addition to the Torch every youth club ran discos playing Motown and Northern, every Labour Club and Workingmen’s Club had Soul nights. Like many other kids, at the time, who had grown up with the Torch I had, by then, a sizeable collection of records of my own, and, again, like many others, used them to DJ at various youth clubs – not, of course, for money, but just because we loved the music. It wasn’t surprising that, when I started work, as a Stoke Council trainee, I came across another trainee. Trevor Harley, who was a Torch regular. In fact he worked at the Torch.

When I got the sack by the council, within the year, for causing trouble, by going to the union with a complaint, I was out of work for a while, and started to work myself at the Torch, with Trev's help.   Again, of course, not for money, but to get in free, and, in return for doing a bit of glass collecting, free drinks. And I was also able to do a bit of DJ’ing too. During the day, I spent a lot of time with Keith Minshull.  I remember walking around Hanley, and Burslem, both eating large, family sized, Wright's meat and potato pies, as well as sitting listening to records in Bew's in Burslem.

In fact, it was around this time that it was decided to rearrange the inside of the club. There had been a central round stage in the middle of the dance floor going back to the Mod days, and it was decided to get rid of that, because it hindered dancing. The DJ’s booth, which was always getting bounced, when a fight broke out, we moved from one end of the dance floor up on to a raised area which would originally have been where the cinema screen was. I was still only about 17, and, for me, this was absolutely great.

Around that time, we also started to get a lot of US acts coming to the club. They were great too. On many occasions, I’ve sat, before we opened, talking in Chris Burton, the Manager’s, office, with Edwin Starr, Junior Walker, Arthur Conley and many others. When the Elgins came, they all chipped in helping to unload their gear from the entry behind the club. What I think gelled was that this was music listened to and danced to by young working class people, and sung by American working class people. Most of the Motown artists were from black working class families in Detroit, and the same was true of the other main centres in Chicago, and, of course, down in the South with all the Stax artists like Sam and Dave.

In fact, with many of the artists that came to prominence when Northern Soul really took off they had often gone back to work, or never gave it up, singing as a side line. Many of them were amazed to be asked to come to Britain or to Europe where they were famous. The renovations we did in the club heralded, also, the beginning, in addition to bringing over these big acts, to also becoming a more hard line Northern venue, and the beginning of All Nighters. Dancers began to come from all over the North West, and later even from Europe. People who came just for the music, and to dance weren’t interested in fighting, and that disappeared overnight.

And dancing became for most young blokes THE thing. By this time, I’d been dancing for several years, and for every night for several hours solid. In fact, when I went back to college for a few months, between jobs, I used to dance every dinner time in the Northern Soul disco we ran at the College. Back in the day, I was no mean dancer, able to do all the spins, back drops, splits and other tricks demonstrated in the videos opposite, and more besides.

Like many more Northern Soul fans, I have continued to go, on and off, to various All Nighters and events held at Keele University, and Stoke Town Hall (where the dance scenes for the film are being done), which now, again, regularly attracts large numbers of people from Europe, particularly from Sweden. In fact, a year ago it was a friend of mine’s 50th Birthday. He had been, some years ago, a T&G convenor at a local Lucas plant. He had also been a member of my LP Branch and local councillor. After being made redundant he became a Trade Union Studies lecturer alongside a miner friend of mine from back in the '84 Strike. His birthday party was held at the Port Vale Social Club and was filled with lots of Labour Movement friends. But he is also a Northern Soul aficionado, and the music for the night reflected the fact. I hate to see an empty dance floor so that was my first port of call, which resulted in an ovation for my solo effort.

Later in the evening, after a great deal of sweat, I took a brief rest. A woman came along and bent down to speak in my ear. “I don’t know who you are, but you are the best Soul dancer I’ve seen,” she said. I have to say that I was a bit flustered by this, as it didn’t look good sitting next to my wife to have some woman come along and start whispering in my ear, and I’m afraid to say that, in my embarrassment, I was probably a bit rude to the woman, in not thanking her for her compliments!

I don’t know much about the film. My son has read the script but I wouldn’t compromise him by asking too much about it. What I do know is that its set in 1974, year of the great, second Miners' victory that kicked Heath’s Tories out of Government. The Miners had also won in 1972, and I remember, at that time, I had just started going out with my wife. In Burslem, where I worked, there was a record shop called Bews. Not only was it the outlet for all the latest Northern records – many of them bootlegged – but it was staffed by DJ’s. I remember a big argument one day, obviously when the strike must have just started between one of the DJ’s who was supporting the Miners, and the owner of the shop, who for fairly obvious reasons, wasn’t. I think shortly after he opened his own shop.

Although, the film is not, specifically, set in Stoke, the actors have been having coaching lessons to try to grasp the Potteries accent, something which my son has also been able to help the language coach with, in addition to providing location information. The only other thing I know is that the main character decides that they want to know more about Northern Soul, and decides, in order to find out, to go to Wigan Casino, the club which took over the mantle of the Torch after it closed in 1973. A bit shaky on the plot, there, because, as I said, at the time, everyone knew what Northern Soul was, and you didn’t need to go to Wigan to find out, just go to your youth club, school disco, Workingmen’s club and so on. Still I’m not complaining about a film about Northern Soul, and with Duffy going to Number 1, with a Northern Soul revival, it all seems good to me. Perhaps I might get a job as an extra playing some old duffer collecting money in the cloakroom.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Imperialist Hypocrisy

George Bush has sided with the Georgian butchers of South Ossetia, and called for the removal of Russian troops. He has complained that Russia has attacked targets in Georgia outside the immediate conflict zone. This is rich coming from someone whose vast armies are occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and poised to attack Iran!!!! It is also rich coming from a regime which attacked Serbia supposedly in the name of defending Kosovan Albanians, in the same way that Russia says it is defending Ossetian Russians. Of course, socialists should place no faith in the assertions and justifications of the Russian Stalinists, anymore than the US imperialists, but the outpourings of Bush are particularly sickening given the history of the last 20 years of US imperialist aggression and expansionism.

When the US attacked Serbia it had no concern for the Kosovan Albanians. The nasty Stalinist Serbian State had removed further rights from the Kosovan Albanians, thereby increasing support for Kosovan bourgeois nationalism. The Kosovan Liberation Army stepped up its pogroms against the Serb minority in Kosova, burning villages, and kidnapping Kosovan Serbs, as well as perpetrating many other atrocities. Kosovan Serbs responded in like manner, but as a small minority they were not well placed in such a communal civil war. Serbia intervened on their behalf with murderous attacks by its armed forces on the Kosovan Albanians similar to that now launched by Georgia against Ossetia. Long before things got to this state a genuine Labour Movement and Workers Party would have been building the links which did exist between Serb and Albanian Kosovans around a programme of basic democratic rights for the Kosovan Albanians, and a programme of socialist demands to unite workers in Albania, Kosova and Serbia against the machinations and oppression of their respective bourgeoisies and the Serb Stalinist bureaucracy. That should have been the programme the international Labour Movement should have adopted. But that didn’t happen.

That in part is due to the tremendous weakness of the Labour movement and world working class. US imperialism saw its opportunity to undermine the Serb Stalinists and their strategic link to Russia, and used the situation as a pretext to launch another imperialist adventure into the Balkans under cover of a humanitarian mission. It was in fact just another aspect of its global strategic plan to secure positions in the Balkans and in Central Asia, and the Gulf which are vital to the huge natural resources of those areas, and for any future conflict with Russia and China. In launching those attacks the US did not confine itself to simply bombing Serb troops in Kosova. The Chinese Embassy in Belgrade certainly was no such target!!!! The US has been at the forefront in proposing the idea of the pre-emptive strike, for example in Iraq, and potentially against Iran, even if it uses its Israeli proxy to begin that exercise. In all of these cases it has shown not one jot of concern for territorial integrity or national sovereignty. It can hardly complain when Russia follows the example it has given. Only real Marxists can claim that right.

But the Left as on so many occasions in respect of the National Question was hopeless. On the one hand those who usually have a knee-jerk reaction of siding with whoever is on the opposing side to the US gave almost uncritical support to Milosevic’s Stalinist regime in Belgrade. On the other side those who have rapidly slid from a Third Camp position into being straightforward apologists for democratic imperialism openly welcomed the attack of US imperialism, whilst in the middle the AWL put forward a typical centrist position of Opportunist passive adaptation to imperialism covered over for the benefit of its couple of dozen supporters and any workers who might by chance read its publications, with radical pseudo Marxist rhetoric, which explained why again imperialist attacks on weak states were “good”, that imperialism had “good reason” for them, but why they would not of course call for such attacks whose benefits they had just outlined, and still less would they accept responsibility for any bad side effects that might result from them. Pontius Pilate come on down!

Socialists have no more reason to support Russia’s response to Georgia’s murderous aggression in South Ossetia than they did to support US imperialism’s response to murderous Serb aggression in Kosova. Marxists do not support the involvement of imperialism or the resort to war by bourgeois states to resolve such problems on the contrary real Marxists vehemently oppose it. Instead we call for workers unity, and do all in our power to bring it about around a program of democratic and socialist demands. It will be interesting to see if the AWL believes that the Russian intervention to stop the murderous attacks of Georgia is also “good”, or whether their passive adaptation only extends as far as democratic imperialism. After all the AWL claims to refuse to call for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq on the basis it does not want the Civil War that would inevitably follow. Yet, in Afghanistan where the USSR had actually been introducing real reforms that benefiited women - as opposed to the US's clerical-fascist allies in Iraq who kill women and gays on the streets - and which was actually fighting against the Afghan clerical-fascists - as opposed to the US which is arming and training them the better to ferment conflict between them - and where it was absolutely clear that a Soviet withdrawal would lead to a prolonged and bloody Civil War, whose only result could be the installation of some medieval clerical-fascist regime, the AWL's predecessor Socialist organiser had no problem demanding an immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops, a position it still supports. Go figure!

Of course, the AWL are right to fear the consequences of a Civil War on workers, but in Iraq US imperialism which fuels the potential for such a Civil War is not the solution to that problem. And if the AWL fears such Civil Wars, why does it support boregois nationalist demands in Tibet, in Kosova etc. rather than calling for a programme of democratic rights and workers unity across national borders as the means to achieve it, when the consequences of its posuition must logically entail the potential for a prolonged bloody Civil War between Tibetan, and Chinese workers, between Alabanians and Serbs, and potentially Serbs and Croats and so on, as the demands for national independence spread throughout the region. As Lenin pointed out bourgeois democratic rights including self-determination are not progressive in their own right. They only become so in so far as the working class can make them its demands, that it can mobilise and unify workers across national and other divisions to fight for them, and therefore, that they become integral to the struggle against class oppression. But, as in so many things the AWL has removed all of this class content from its slogans and programme, leaving it with nothing more than a programme of at best radical - and often not even so radical - Liberalism. And so we find one of its leading comrades in a recent article arguing that given the weakness of the working class the involvement of the State is a good thing to resolve matters. Not a Workers State you udnerstand once again even the State like democracy is denuded of any class characteristics, and therefore can only be the bouregois state. That is the same State that marx and Engels told us was the bodies of armed men whose sole purpose was to keep in power the bosses against the workers! This is the same state against whom Marx railed in the Critique of the Gotha programme for much less cringeing adaptationism than that shown by the AWL. Mark claims that the AWL are not Anarchists in relation to this State. True, but that shows how far they are from marxism because as lenin points out in "State and Revolution" Marx was an Anarchist in relation to the bouregois state, he stood as far as it was concerned on the same ground as proudhon and Bakunin. That indeed is the only attitude a real marxist CAN take towards the bourgeois State.

Whoop Ass and Class Politics

It would be very easy to look at the current events in South Ossetia like an episode of the “A” Team. A couple of years ago I was walking home from the gym when three youths in their early twenties decided to throw a conker case at me after I’d gone past. I confronted them offering to give them the item back personally. After first thinking that because their was three of them they were on to a winner they soon backed down when they began to realise that numbers are not necessarily everything when you are up against an experienced martial artist. What amused me, and I see it frequently is that there seems to be an impression that has gained ground that people can engage in various forms of anti-social behaviour without any kind of consequences, and that when those consequences materialise those that provoked them invariably portray themselves as the injured party. As the three youths above slunk off to their mommies they complained that I should not have forced them to look like wimps, because a normal person would have let them get away with their aggression!

It would be tempting to view the situation in South Ossetia and Georgia like that now. Georgia launched a murderous attack on the inhabitants of South Ossetia, and having as a result opened up a whole can of whoop-ass now complains that the Russians have responded, and calls on its Mommy in the US to come to its assistance – which in fact was probably Georgia’s aim in the first place. At least when Serbia attacked Kosovo provoking a similar response from the US and its allies as Russia has now unleashed, it was in response to a sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing and terrorist attacks by the KLA against the Serb Minority in Kosovo, the South Ossetians were responsible for no such campaign against Georgians.

But wars are not at all the same as personal conflicts or episodes of the ‘A’ Team. As Lenin pointed out the first question a Marxist asks in a war situation is – “What class is waging this war, and for what purpose”. Marxists are not concerned by what type of Government is in power in such war, but by which CLASS is in power. As Lenin and Trotsky pointed out fascism and bourgeois democracy are merely masks, which hide the nature of the bourgeois class dictatorship. In the imperialist epoch they are both reactionary, and the bourgeoisie will sweep away the mask of democracy in favour of fascism when it suits it. Consequently, Marxists do not support wars fought by one bourgeois state against another whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute between them. In such conflicts Marxists are not concerned with which set of bandits had “good reason” to launch such a war, but are concerned only with the fate of the working classes of both states, whose fight this is not. Similarly, in a fight between an imperialist state seeking to dominate a colonial or semi-colonial country Marxists will support the latter even if it has a fascist government whereas the former wears the mask of bourgeois democracy.

The position in South Ossetia ow should be clear. No support for either Georgia or Russia. Both should remove their troops from South Ossetia. The Ossetians have the right of self-determination, to join with Russia if they choose – actually Russia supports autonomy for Ossetia, but does not support secession, though probably for its own wider reasons – but Marxists should advise against such an option in favour rather of developing a joint working class struggle with the Russian and Georgian workers for basic democratic rights, including national rights for all minorities, as part of a socialist programme for the establishment of a Workers Ossetia as part of a Workers Federation of Russia and the Caucuses. In the West the labour movement should insist that US imperialism and its allies, whose encouragement of bourgeois nationalism has helped provoke such situations, keep their noses out.

Friday, 8 August 2008

More Left Confusion Over War

Reading some of the comments of various members of left groups raised in response to Sean Matgamna's article suggesting Israel should not be condemned for attacking Iran - how could they they previously told us an Israeli surgical attack on iRan would be "good" - I have been appalled at some of the mistakes comrades have made on the issue. On rhe one hand we have some AWL old carde claiming that TRotsky distinguished between the German fascist version of imperialism and the bouregois democratic version! - in fact TRotsky declared them both to be two masks for the same thing which should not cause them to confuse the class nature of these regimes for the political form - see his critique of the Palestinian Trotskyists on that in particular - whilst one comrade from another organisation claimed that revoluitonary defeatism meant supporting another state as against your own! No it doesn't.

As a brief rejoinder to some of these comments the following is an article I produced some time ago on Lenin and Revolutionary Defeatism.

Anti-Imperialism and Independent Working Class Politics

Take two situations, and two statements.

First Kosova. “we do not support NATO, but if it succeeds in stopping Milosevic we will be glad.” (because we want genocide stopped.)

Second Iraq. “We oppose the Islamic fundamentalists, but if they succeed in throwing out the occupation we will be glad.” (which must follow if removal of the occupation is a goal.)

Or take this statement. “The only support we owe Saddam Hussein and his regime is support if they fight for Iraqi self-determination against an American imperialist invasion or blitzkrieg.” (WL 2/3 p184.)

(NB. Actually, the AWL refuse to take this position in respect of Iran arguing for defeatism on both sides.)

I think all of these statements are wrong. The first statement in respect of Kosova has all the hallmarks of saying one thing and doing another, or worse in this case hoping for another. It flows from our weakness. Its like the person who claims to believe that superstition is bunk, but checks their horoscope everyday in the hope of good news. In Kosova an independent working class position would have been to oppose both NATO and Milosevic, to give no credibility to any positive result coming from the victory of either side even if the victory of one (NATO) appeared to have produced a positive result, but to have argued for an independent working class response, the building of workers militias and international workers defence of Kosova, workers blacking of all trade with Milosevic etc. The fact that we are not strong enough to effect these things is not the point, the longer we rely on other forces to resolve these issues the less chance there is we will ever become strong enough. If a picket line is attacked by fascists we do not rely on the police, instead we build workers defence squads pure and simple. A baby will never walk if, being afraid of falling down it refuses to try to stand up.

In Iraq socialists have to be unequivocally for the immediate withdrawal of the occupation else how can they gain the ear of those that have not yet reached socialist consciousness and for whom the occupation is the main issue. But they should build that opposition on the principle not just of no support but outright political opposition to the bourgeois and clerical forces opposing the occupation, as well as those Iraqi forces supporting the occupation and acting as a comprador regime. They could agree to joint military action with those fighting the occupation on the basis of a shared immediate goal, but only as a tactical consideration, and only on the basis of the clearest organisational and political separation. To accept the occupation as a necessary measure to prevent the victory of the fundamentalists is not to take an independent working class position but to put yourself on the side of imperialism as a lesser evil vis a vis those forces. It is ultimately pessimistic and demoralising of independent working class politics because it effectively says the working class is too weak, it has to rely on imperialism to fight its battles.

In respect of support for Saddam socialists owed no such support even in the face of imperialist invasion. They owed a duty to oppose imperialism, but that is not the same as supporting Saddam. Socialists should have opposed the invasion, continue to oppose the occupation, demand the ending of the occupation and right to self determination, but built that opposition on the basis of their own forces not on the basis of support for their class enemies inside Iraq.

This question is inextricably linked to the question of revolutionary defeatism and defencism. Countries that were colonies can become imperialist, but the reverse is also true. What should have been the position of revolutionaries in occupied France? Having been defeatist at the outbreak of the war to be glad that their enemy at home had been defeated by their enemy abroad, and simply carried on propaganda for socialism? I don’t think so. The issue of national liberation of their own country is immediately placed on the agenda. They would try to build resistance on the basis of workers struggles, and socialist propaganda, as opposed to national chauvinism, but in doing so the primary task is the defeat of the occupying force, and they would need to enter military alliances with their class enemies on occasion to do so - just as Trotsky advocated such alliances with the KMT in China against Japanese imperialism. Any other course would lead to their marginalisation, and leave the majority of workers for whom everyday the occupation was a reality, at the mercy of bourgeois and reactionary forces. Under such circumstances socialists would have to consider the Vichy government as effectively no different from the occupation force.

The question then arises at what point do socialists stop being defeatists and start becoming defencists. The Russian workers resolved this question for themselves.

‘“The soldiers are definitely expressing the opinion,” reports the chief of the Grenadier Division on the 23rd March , “that we can only defend ourselves and not attack.” Military reports and political speeches repeat this thought in various forms. Ensign Krylenko, an old revolutionist and a future commander in chief under the Bolsheviks, testified that for the soldiers the war question was settled in those days with this formula “Support the front, but don’t join the offensive.” In a most solemn but wholly sincere language, that meant defend freedom.’

(Trotsky. “History of the Russian Revolution” p278).

In other words the working class resolved this question for themselves in practice by saying we have no interest in the imperialist ambitions of our own bourgeoisie, we do not seek your land and property, we hope you take the same attitude as our brothers and sisters, but if you do not be aware we have no intention of becoming slaves of your rulers, we will defend our freedom. But in reality how was that so different from the position adopted by Kautsky? TRotsky in a number of his writings states clearly that revolutionary defeatism DOES NOT mean supporting the principle of victory to an enemy state, nor even does it mean engaging ina cts of sabotage etc. less still does it mean engaging in pacifist acts such as desertion or refusal of conscription. On the contrary it means using positions in the armed forces and elsewhere to propagandise against your own GOVERNMENT against the rule of your domestic RULING CLASS and an attempt thereby to turn the War into a class Civil War.

In reality despite all the insistence on building an ideologically pure, disciplined party of professional revolutionaries, the Bolshevik Deputies adopted the same position as those parties Lenin was decrying as traitors to the working class.

”The Bolshevik faction in the Duma, weak in its personnel (!sic), had not risen at the outbreak of the war to the height of its task. Along with the Menshevik deputies, it introduced a declaration in which it promised to ‘defend the cultural weal of the people against all attacks wheresoever originating’. The Duma underlined with applause this yielding of a position. Not one of the Russian organisations or groups of the party took the openly defeatist position which Lenin came out for abroad.” (Trotsky – “History of the Russian Revolution” p 59)

The slogan revolutionary defeatism is confused and confusing. How can workers decide only to defend their freedom after it has been taken away? It is like workers faced with a factory closure waiting until the machines have been removed and the gates shut before deciding to occupy the factor. During WWII the inadequacy became apparent. Imagine going to the East End of London during the Blitz and trying to explain to workers who night after night have been under attack, seen their homes, communities and families destroyed and telling them that “The main enemy is at home.” It is no better than trying to argue that Blair is responsible for the Tube bombings. By the time you tried to explain to the workers what you meant by “revolutionary defeatism” they’ve already stopped listening to you.

Under those conditions rather Marxists should have been raising propaganda about why if the War was about defence, British troops were spread all round the world oppressing other nations like India. Why were they not at home defending the country? Why was the Government not providing better protection against air attacks and so on? All of that could have been linked to the real basis of the War as an Imperialist War.

Georgia and Russia Out of Ossetia

When I wrote my blog this morning the TV screens were full of pictures of Georgian armour and artillery engaged in murderous attacks on Ossetian towns, villages and citizens. It was obvious that under those conditions Russia would come to the rescue of the Russians of South Ossetia. They have now done so, and given that Georgian armour has now occupied the Ossetian Capital a military conflict between Georgia and Russia looks inevitable as Russian tanks make their way to the same destination.

When the USSR broke up a procedure was put in place for dealing with such situations. Every region was to have a referendum to decide whether it wanted to remain with Russia or to separate. That should have happened with South Ossetia and with Abkhazia. But Georgia having gained its own independence failed to allow the Ossetians and Abkhazians their referendum, then claiming that the desire of the Ossetians and Abkhazians for separation constituted just a separatist movement!

The difference in the attitude of western imperialism to Ossetia and Abkhazia compared to their attitude to Kosovo is stark. Both Ossetia and Abkhazia have at least as good a claim to the right of self-determination, and thereby to attach themselves to Russia rather than Georgia as did Kosovo to separate from Serbia. Yet whilst the imperialists have gone over board to separate Kosovo from Serbia, and have stationed imperialist troops there, they refuse to recognise the right of self-determination for the Ossetians and Abkhazians.

Given the horrendous shelling and attacks that the Georgian forces unleashed overnight against Ossetia the claims now of the Georgians that they are facing nothing less than an invasion from Russia similar to Nazi Germany’s attack on Czechoslovakia is ridiculous. The Georgian attack was timed deliberately. Not only did it coincide with the opening of the Olympics, but it also more importantly coincided with joint military manoeuvres taking place inside the country with US forces. Georgia has been applying to join NATO, and insisting that the US give it greater diplomatic and military support. In effect Georgia is saying to the US put your money where your mouth is come to the aid of your ally.

It is also undoubtedly the case that a resurgent Russia sees the opportunity in the Georgian attack to further its own aims by responding strongly to that attack. It is almost inevitable that the same nationalist sentiment will now arise in Abkhazia and other regions of the former USSR, and that Serb minorities in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo etc. will also demand independence turning the entire region into a powder keg. Those that have fostered bourgeois nationalist sentiment including those on the Left bear ultimate responsibility for the current situation.

Referring to such a situation Lenin made the position of Marxists clear. He gave the example of a small state seeking to overthrow a Monarchy and install a democratic Republic. However, he said if such a struggle risked bringing into conflict two large neighbouring states, Marxists could not support the legitimate democratic demands of the small state at the cost of the consequences of the working class in the two larger states who would be forced into a war. The position for Marxists flows clearly from this. We are in favour of the greatest possible unity of the working class. All bourgeois democratic demands including the right of self-determination are subordinate to that. We only advocate that right where its advance can be fought for by a unified working class movement across national divides. In almost every instance then Marxists advocate not self-determination and the division of the working class, but a unified workers struggle for consistent democracy within the given state. That should have been Marxists attitude to Kosovo, it should be the position in Tibet, it should be the position in Palestine, and it should be the position now in Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But, such a solution cannot be achieved under conditions now threatening Ossetia. The Labour movement should demand the withdrawal of both Russian and Georgian troops from South Ossetia. We should encourage the workers of Georgia, Ossetia and Russia to organise a struggle for basic democratic rights not just in Ossetia, but in Georgia and Russia too, including the right for considerable regional autonomy and self-government. The democratic rights of Ossetians cannot, however, override the concern for the interests of the working class internationally, in a situation that could escalate out of control up to and including the possibility of global war if the US does come to the assistance of Georgia as part of its overall strategic plan for the region, which has been unfolding gradually in the Balkans, in Iraq, and in Central Asia. Those like the AWL that believed that imperialism actions in Iraq, and now in Iran could be taken each on their own and analysed not in Marxist class terms, but in their new found love of bourgeois democratic theory, and bourgeois strategic science – as Dave Broder has said before now, much of the AWL’s analysis looks like nothing more than big power politics that treats the players as nothing more than pieces on a chess board – have been shown for what they are.

The Labour movement has to mobilise now against the overall imperialist ambitions of the US and its allies by demanding a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, no to an attack on Iran by the US or its proxy Israel, remove the US warships from the Gulf. The world has all the hallmarks of the situation that developed in the run up to World War I, but the politics of the left are if anything worse than those of the Second International at the time.

South Ossetia Victim of the Rise of Bourgeois Nationalism

The immediate problem facing the Russian people in South Ossetia is the murderous attacks being launched against them by the armed forces of Georgia. The real problem they face is due to the rise once again of bourgeois nationalism, which in turn has occurred due to the failure of Marxists to provide a socialist solution to the problems of people’s around the world suffering from various forms of oppression. Indeed, the Left itself has largely abandoned class politics when it comes to the National Question collapsing completely into bourgeois nationalism. On the one hand we have a large section of the Left which uncritically gives its support to bourgeois forces of varying degrees of reactionary politics, in the name of “anti-imperialism”, and on the other hand we have other sections of the “Left” like the AWL, which advocate bourgeois nationalism for Kosova, Tibet and Palestine etc. without any thought of framing this within the context of a struggle by workers, and the need to maintain and further working class unity.

The fundamental requirement for any Marxist should be to build the maximum unity of the working class. Without that unity the bourgeoisie has won. That is why the bourgeoisie attempt to foster division within the working class – the oldest form of bosses tactic is divide and rule as my old man used to tell me. They use sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism or any other means of dividing worker from worker, and if possible tying workers to the bosses themselves. The other fundamental requirement for a Marxist is that the solutions to the problems humanity faces can only, and should only be resolved by the agency of a working class, which organises itself to resolve those problems, because if it does not the bourgeoisie will only provide solutions to those problems at the expense of workers, and in the case of the national Question or national conflicts that cost is often millions of workers lives. But, much of the Left have lost faith in the working class. That is certainly the case with all those tendencies that adopted the perspective of the “Third Camp”. As I demonstrated in my posts on Glotzer and Israel the basic line of argument can be identified. “Here is our moral imperative. The workers are too weak to achieve it, so what other force can do so.” For one section of the Third Campists such as the British SWP that means jumping into bed with clerical-fascists and other unsavoury characters, for the AWL and others it means an undisclosed Popular Front with bourgeois democracy or democratic imperialism, even to the extent of justifying wars launched by such powers, for example saying that an attack by Israel on Iran would be “good” as the AWL have done. Of course, the AWL as the consummate heirs of Pontius Pilate draw back from taking responsibility for the negative results of the actions which they hope imperialism will undertake like the hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq. They are like Proudhon whose version of the dialectic was criticised by Marx because he simply proposed actions from which he wanted to cut out the “bad” aspects leaving only the good, without realising that the whole essence of the dialectic is that the “good” and the “bad” are an inseparable part of the whole.

When the Right of Self-Determination is raised in relation to say Kosovo or Tibet or Palestine what is meant is the creation of some new class state on the bones of workers. Often such demands are fostered by one bourgeois power in order to weaken some other bourgeois power in the region. It is a good way of imperialism keeping states divided in a region over which it has some interest. It is, for imperialism part of what was once known as “The Big Game”. As Lenin pointed out Marxists have no interest in creating new class states, new opportunities for the working class to be yet further divided, and so facilitate their own exploitation by the bosses. They should he said be advocated only in the most exceptional of cases. Yet, we see the Left, not just those like the AWL that have collapsed into bourgeois Liberalism” taking the opposite position. They take the correct policy developed by the Comintern of support for the “Right” of nations to self determination, and turn this into an automatic OBLIGATION for Marxists to propose it as a solution to national oppression. But again, as Lenin pointed out, the Right of self-determination as a bourgeois right does not and cannot for a Marxist stand above our duty to maintain and develop the greatest possible workers unity. It is subordinate to our socialist program and objectives. That is why he argued that Marxists should only advocate it in the most exceptional cases. Marxists defend a nation’s right to separate, we do not recommend they do so. On the contrary Marxists seek to address the problems of national and other forms of oppression by building workers unity within the existing state to deal with that oppression, which at root is just a symptom of a class society. They seek to build joint workers struggle for consistent democracy as a solution to those problems, including the development of the maximum regional autonomy of such groups within the given state. They oppose the idea of a single language etc. IN short they seek to accommodate all of those national and cultural peculiarities of groups within the varying regions of the State as a means of maintaining the integrity of a given State as the best way of maintaining working class unity. They fight for that through means of joint working class struggle. And because the workers organisations themselves should forge the greatest possible unity and attempt to subsume those various differences within a single working class culture and identity the workers own organisations should make no concessions to such divisions, but must forge a single unified force. That is it should not as the Austro-Marxists advocated make concessions to national-cultural autonomy. That is why the Bolsheviks opposed the demands of the Bund to form a separate grouping within the Party.

And on the basis of such working class unity, on the basis of such struggle for consistent democracy by the workers organisations the basis is laid should ultimately the need for one region of the State to secede for such to be undertaken on the best terms possible for maintaining workers unity. It means the workers throughout the State saying, “We have attempted to address your needs within the current State, but we have failed. We recognise your needs can only be met for now in a separate state. We will support your separation, and mobilise to stop our State using force to prevent you.”

The Left has completely gone way off-beam in relation to the National Question which they also confuse with the Colonial Question as though they were the same thing. Instead of having at the forefront of their minds that need to build working class unity, that need to always frame solutions in terms of action to be undertaken by the working class instead they are unable to see beyond the bourgeois democratic demand. Compare the demands today for “Free Tibet”, which makes no statement whatsoever about the class content of this Free Tibet, and which in truth means a return to a medievalist Tibet – remember that Lenin said that the truth is always concrete – with Trotsky’s demand for a Free and Independent WORKERS Ukraine. See: “The Problem of the Ukraine” – Writings 1939, and Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads where Trotsky argues precisely in terms of framing the solution not in terms of some abstract freedom or independence, but in terms of a workers struggle for a workers Ukraine.

Some months ago I wrote that the decision to separate Kosovo from Serbia would stir up a whole can of worms that would not presage well for the working class. In Kosovo itself the Serb Minority is demanding its own right of secession. Throughout the Balkans Serb and other Minority groups are arguing quite consistently that if Kosovo can break away then so can they. In the Caucuses that resumption of bourgeois nationalism has now set alight nationalist feeling and demands in South Osssetia soon to be followed on Abkhazia with the possibility of that spilling over into a much more serious war between Russia and Georgia, and given the numerous national divisions in that region, and down through Central Asia – a region now at the centre of imperialist, and Chinese and Russian strategic interest – the possibility of a widespread serious conflagration is higher than it has been for many years. At the same time a flare up in the Balkans now would be likely to spill over into further adventures by Turkey into Iraq, and conflict between Turkey and Greece. But instead, of presenting a workers solutions to these problems the left has stood purely on the grounds of bourgeois nationalism PROMOTING further separation and division amongst the working class. It is no wonder that when workers and other oppressed sections of the population look for leadership they then go straight to the real bourgeois nationalists rather than their pale kitsch imitations.