A New Initiative

January 14, 2010

It might only be an electoral coalition, but the long wait for ‘Son of No2EU’ seems to be over – the Socialist Party has announced the creation of a ‘Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition’.  Even though it doesn’t have any national union backing, it does have the personal support of Bob Crow (which is significant) and Brian Caton of the POA (less significant as he’s in the Socialist Party).  It’s not clear at the moment who else is involved, but it would be good if the Communist Party and smaller groups threw their hats into the ring, to ensure that it genuinely is a uniting of left forces rather than just the Socialist Party and a few leading trade unionists (however impressive these are).

I’ve argued on this blog before that a new broad left workers party is essential, a drum the Socialist Party have also been banging for a while now.  It’s clear that any differences that exist in the Labour Party are purely of presentation, whether to be honest about making cuts t0 public services or whether to pretend that you won’t, while secretly planning on it.  The eccentricities of the electoral system mean that when Labour lose in May or June, they lose a lot more narrowly than their popular vote warrants.  The right-wing union leaders and some in the blogging world will no doubt harbour illusions that the party can somehow be won back, but the only decent thing a socialist can do would be to contribute towards killing off the party.

Talking of bloggers, I was sad to see that Nation of Duncan, and Leftwing Criminologist (who also blogged at the newer site ‘And Now for Something Completely Sectarian‘) have called it a day.  Time is a precious commodity for active socialists, and I can understand why they have decided to do this, but it is unfortunate all the same.  Both have supported this blog, and I am grateful to them for that, as well as the many excellent posts they have contributed over the years.

On ice, but not dead

November 15, 2009

A recent comment from Nation of Duncan reminds me that I have been neglecting the blog recently, this is unavoidable owing to the many committments I have at the moment, but I will be back with regular posts as soon as I have sufficient time to post something worthwhile.  I will definately be reporting with the Carnival of Socialism in December.  Normal service will resume.

I’d Rather Be A Picket Than A Scab

October 21, 2009


Vengeance and Fashion would like to offer all posties his solidarity in the strike action they are taking – safeguarding their futures and the future of our postal service.  Visit Red Postie for the unvarnished truth, and boycott the lying mainstream media.

Any Decision You Like, As Long As It’s Yes

October 1, 2009

The undemocratic charade that has been the ratification of the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty will probably take a step nearer to completion tomorrow with the referendum in Ireland.  You may remember there was an identical referendum last year, when Irish voters thumbed their noses at the neoliberal charter 53-46%.

As that was clearly the incorrect decision, so far as the trans-European elite and the Dublin liberal cognoscenti are concerned, the Irish people have been generously afforded another opportunity to make the correct decision.  This time they have been helpfully guided to the right answer by not-at-all veiled threats about the Irish economy going from a shipwreck to nuclear scorched Earth in the event of a ‘No’ vote.

Sadly, opinion polls show that it seems to have worked, but there is still a (slim) chance of a late rally.  The main left No campaign seems to have been a model of unity, and even if they don’t succeed in a remarkable second No vote, they have laid bare the undemocratic nature of capitalism, and the pro-big business agenda of the European Union.

Below are three videos produced by elements of the No campaign, featuring People Before Profit Alliance Councillor Richard Boyd-Barrett, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins and Sinn Fein speakers:

Another New Low For New Labour

September 30, 2009

A brief preview of Labour’s bold new policy:

Now, obviously they haven’t gone so far as to strongarm adoptions from unmarried mothers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they suggested something like that as a desperate, ‘populist’ throw of the dice with massive electoral defeat coming in the weeks before the General Election.

Just when you think that bunch of slimy, cynical scumbags can’t get any worse, they pull it off.  Well done Gordon, well done Mandy.  Mission accomplished.

Left Foot Forward in Germany

September 28, 2009

In what apparently was the most boring election in German history, owing in part to the lack of charisma displayed by the leaders of the two main parties, there has been some fascinating results.

First, and most certainly least, the conservative CDU/CSU has stagnated.  In fact, their combined vote is down 1.5 percentage points on 2005.  This belies the almost adulatory coverage of Angela Merkel in the British media, which implied that she had mass support amonsgt the German people.  It would appear not.

The free-market Free Democrats (FDP) are almost certainly going to be Merkel’s coalition partners.  This is a Thatcherite party of small business and Yuppies that Daniel Hannan would feel at home in.  Their vote is significantly up, possibly benefiting from an anti-status quo vote, and an increasingly influential faction in the ruling class that demands more aggressive neoliberal policies.  Their voice will  be strengthened by these elections, and may push at an unlocked door when they press their coalition partners for these measures.

The big losers, in more ways than one, have been the SPD.  On the first-past-the-post seats they declined 10.5 percentage points on the 38.4% they achieved on that side of the ballot paper in 2005.  They slumped to 23% from 34.2% on the second, proportional vote.  They are suffering for a number of reasons.  They have participated as a mute partner in a CDU/CSU led government since 2005.  They backed the economic and foreign policies of that Government, including the deeply unpopular occupation of Afghanistan.  Many of their moderate voters either have opted for the real deal (CDU/CSU) or gone for a slightly less tainted alternative (the Greens).  Left-wingers will have preferred the social agenda of the Left Party.

Like New Labour, they have triangulated themselves into trouble.  They abandoned their base to attract more right wing voters, and now they have lost those voters, have found that their lack of loyalty to their traditional working class voters has been reciprocated.  Good.

German left-wingers are lucky, as they have somewhere to go – the Left Party.  The Left Party went from 8.7 % to 11.9%, which resulted in an increase of 22 seats to 76 in the Bundestag.  The Left Party has benefited from a proportional election system, the prominent pre-existence of the PDS in East Germany, and having the former SPD Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine as a figurehead.

What happens to the Left Party depends on how it uses its increased presence in the Bundestag and in State Parliaments.  There is a tendency, particularly in the East, to want to participate in coalitions with the SPD.  There is some tension between those in the West and in the East.  Bear in mind that while the electoral support for the Left Party is increasing in the West, it hits consistent heights in the East.

Something that makes me uncomfortable is the thought that, had it not been for the collapse of Stalinism, many of the leading figures in the Left Party in the East would be leaders of an oppressive, totalitarian state.

Coalitionism and the reformist/Stalinist element in the Left Party could seriously damage its prospects of being a mass force to be reckoned with, though given the nature of German politics, coalitions are far less damaging than they would be in the British political context.  The Left Party’s participation in the coalition Government of Berlin does not make them the 21st century German descendants of Ramsay McDonald and his ilk.  But it does undermine an anti-capitalist party to preside over cuts and privatisations.

The Left Party is a coalition of dramatically different political perspectives and cultures, and what happens in those internal struggles is of critical importance for socialism in Germany and Europe as a whole.  The political make up of the party will certainly improve one funeral at a time, but the critical battles ahead mean that this pace needs to be quickened in the direction of principled, genuine democratic socialism.

LD MTH Lily Allen Makes A Fool Of Herself

September 24, 2009

Well-known struggling artist Lily Allen, who spent years living hand-to-mouth in rat-infested digs on her no doubt long and arduous route to the top, has spoken out against copyright-infringement by file-sharing.  Rich enough from someone who has probably never had problems finding the readies to buy CDs and DVDs, this outburst has the delicious added touch of Allen herself committing these cardinal sins by reproducing copyrighted content on her own website.

So hypocrite she may be, but is she right?  A group of leading musicians called the ‘Featured Artists’ Coalition‘ thinks not.  They realise that file-sharing has changed everything, and seek to ensure that artists get a fair income, while opposing any efforts to victimise music fans for downloading music.

I made the case in an early post for radical changes to the way music is disseminated, and while this new group doesn’t share all my views, it does seem to be a genuine attempt at a new way of doing things.  They contend that “[f]or those of us who don’t get played on the radio or mentioned in the music media – artists established and emerging – peer-to-peer recommendation is an important form of promotion.”  Anyone familiar with the sterile and homogenous output of most music-oriented media will sympathise with this argument.

The FAC are opposed to those who “reap commercial benefit” from their music by operating file-sharing sites, demanding that “the industry and Government to come down on those thieving rascals with all the weight of the law.”  Now, these “thieving rascals” are clearly as bad as the recording industry themselves, who have turned living off the talent of others into an art form.  But I think this is largely a red-herring.  Most file-sharing sites only raise enough money to cover their costs, and those who run them seem to do it out of a sense of service or even moral obligation.  Cheeky members of Fagin’s gang rather than Bill Sykes, who is either the recording industry or Lily Allen.  M’Lord Mandelson is the drunken judge or the Beadle in this example.  I don’t know who Nancy Sykes is in all this, but Oliver Twist gave some sperm to Michael Jackson apparently.

Dickension diversions aside, although the FAC’s prescriptions are far from perfect, and are based on some straw-man assertions, their hearts appear to be in the right place, particularly in their opposition to the record industry and harsh penalties for music fans who download illegally.  They have some interesting ideas and a strange coalition of members (from Billy Bragg to Robbie Williams and Annie Lennox), and are worth keeping an eye on in the debates ahead.

Finding It Hard To Care

September 22, 2009

If, like me, you head for the sport section of the newspaper first, avoiding the puddle-deep ‘he-said, she-said’ gossip that passes for serious political journalism, you may have come across the howls of outrage from the likes of Mark Hughes over Manchester United’s very late winner against Manchester City on Sunday.

For those unfamiliar with the events that unfolded, after a thrilling 90 minutes with the local rivals locked at 3-3, the fourth official indicated that at least four minutes should be added on.  United’s Michael Owen scored the winner in the sixth minute of injury time.

Now, it is hardly an unusual event for Manchester United to be given a little more time than other teams to turn one point into three, and for their media apologists to come up with all sorts of contorted calculations to suggest why so long was added on.  What is unusual is the general sympathy towards Manchester City.

This wasn’t a plucky lower or non-league side that Manchester United scraped past, but a team owned by a billionaire who have spent, by my calculations, around £190 million on new players in 2009 alone.  I find it hard to care that a minor has been done to them, when the structural injustices and inequalities in football mean that clubs lower down the pyramid find it hard to survive, fans of the top clubs are priced out of games, and players outside the rarified echelons face a short career without riches to sustain them when it ends in their mid-thirties.

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated phenomenon.  In the mainstream media there are regular articles outlining the plight of women working in executive positions in corporations or the City, about how they don’t earn as much as their male counterparts or passed over for promotion to boardroom.  I find it hard to care.

You will rarely see an article about the fact that many women can only get part-time, very low paid, insecure work, and that they are subject to the bullying of management on a daily basis.  I even saw a female worker, who was only offered part-time hours, being berated by her manager for asking to swap shifts so she could go to the second job she was compelled to take to make ends meet.  Trade unionists, particularly in the retail sector, will be able to recall countless versions of the pattern of bullying that affects female workers in particular, not restricted to the sacking of pregnant women and victimisation for taking time off for health and family matters.

Of course, this is not restricted to women, and as a man I have experienced and seen oppressive, exploitative and unpleasant managers and employers.  It’s a class issue, us v them, and those women in the City who bleat about only getting £200 grand a year instead of £300 grand are the enemy, not an ally of working class feminists.

The mainstream media play a useful propaganda role without realising it.  They furnish us constantly with tales that invite us to sympathise with the difficult lot of the rich and powerful.  This is not down to any sinister conspiracy or overt cynicism on the part of journalists, but a reflection of their class background and current social status.

A revealing study conducted by the Sutton Trust, which aims to help working class children get into the leading universities:

“found that leading news and current affairs journalists – those figures who are so central in shaping public opinion and national debate – are more likely than not to have been to independent schools which educate just 7% of the population. Of the top 100 journalists in 2006, 54% were independently educated an increase from 49% in 1986…1986, and in 2006 just 14% of the leading figures in journalism had been to comprehensive schools, which now educate almost 90% of children.”

Is it any wonder that national newspapers, radio and television pump out so much class-biased nonsense?

But that isn’t entirely the picture.  The fact that the ’embedding’ of reporters in military units leads to overwhelmingly skewed coverage is generally realised (if not stated that often by the organisations that do it, or benefit from it).  The ’embedding’ of reporters in the Westminster Village and the City is less obvious, though the constant lunching with senior politicians, civil servants and financial sector detritus is clearly going to engender a sympathy and solidarity for the world views of those people.

We are constantly invited to swallow our objections to various measures because to not do them would make these masters of the universe unhappy.  Steve Richards of the Independent, a shameless New Labour propagandist, once advised us to accept the loss of civil liberties, lest the lack of authoritarian measures give the likes of Jack Straw sleepless nights, fearing they would be blamed for any terrorist attacks!

As ever, I try to look for answers.  An independent, pro-worker media is clearly essential, as is the constant harrying of the mainstream media.  Most left parties have their own newspapers and web presence, and some of their members have blogs.  The value of this is incalculable, but the idea of a general non-sectarian left media that has been proposed by many others on countless occasions would be an important addition.  While it would be obviously quite difficult to gain a hearing alongside the more established corporate and State media outlets, it would be worth trying.

This would mean pooling the resources not just of political parties, but unions and other campaign groups, to found a web portal, newspaper, radio station and TV channel.  Founding a radio station and TV channel may sound grand, but in the days of digital radio and multi-channel TV, is not nearly as expensive as it once was.  It would require a commitment to non-sectarian, democratic, open and collaborative ways of working, which is not something parts of the Left have been renowned for, but might have to learn to try.

Public Sector Waste

September 18, 2009

It’s pretty obvious that, as Seumas Milne has pointed out, the focus put on public spending cuts by the Tories has succeeded in diverting the political debate away from the inherent instability of capitalism (and neo-liberal capitalism in particular) and the crimes of the banks towards the need to clear the debt by slashing public spending.

Labour, of course, after putting out mixed messages over the summer, has acquiesced to this agenda.  This is only natural given that they now share the same fundamental world view as the Tories.

The Left does need to continue to point out that cuts would not be painless as is suggested, and that they would mean workers paying for the folly and greed of the bankers and the capitalist system as a whole.

But as always, we don’t set the agenda, the capitalist parties and the capitalist media (the BBC included, being a semi-autonomous arm of the capitalist State) do.  This means that we have to respond to the questions and situations posed by that agenda.  The ‘common sense’ position being spouted by all three main parties, and in general the media as a whole, is that the national debt is too large, and needs to be reduced to make it more manageable.  Spending cuts and, to a lesser extent, tax rises are posed as the only way to do this.

The Tories are positively salivating at the mouth at the prospect of cuts.  The dirty little secret is that despite occasional hints that they will agonise over every cut, Labour are relishing it somewhat as well.  New Labourites get a special little glint in their eye when they are doing something that is Right Wing and that will be perceived to be ‘tough’, and proving that they can be ruthless slash and burners will give the likes of Mandelson a warm fuzzy feeling inside, to last them until they take up their lucrative directorships next Summer.

So how do we respond to the talk of cuts?  We make our arguments as always, and also point out that countries such as France and Germany, which threw even more money at bailing out their economies, and have no immediate plans to clear the debts, are already out of recession, and have not experienced the levels of job losses that the US and Britain have.

We can also point out that there are plenty of measures to reduce spending that the main parties don’t consider, but would be popular and effective.  Scrapping Trident and ID cards are the two most obvious measures, as is a complete ban on public bodies paying outside consultants, who usually only recommend job cuts and are largely ignorant bullshit-merchants.

In the NHS, the sheer cost associated with the operating and regulation of a market can be swept away by abolishing that market.  The PFI hospitals and companies could be nationalised without compensation, as should the pharmaceutical companies, who overcharge massively for drugs, and whose efforts at introducing and aggressively implementing intellectual property restrictions on medicines condemn millions to an early grave.

In education, again PFI can be despatched, and also the exam boards nationalised.  Exam costs take up an unjustifiably high proportion of school budgets, and this money could be freed up to provide more teachers, technology, equipment and books.

The expensive plans to monitor every single citizen either by CCTV cameras (which don’t reduce crime) or by paranoid vetting procedures could also go, and the legalisation of drugs would not only reduce the costs associated with prohibition, of crime, enforcement of drug laws and imprisonment, and damage to health, but also provide a stream of income from the taxation of the narcotics, sold on licensed premises as alcohol is.

Defence is a budget we could gladly take not a scalpel, but a meat cleaver to, with cuts here accompanied by a complete withdrawal from foreign lands, including Germany and Cyprus as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.  The subsidising of the murderous arms industry can end as well.

The transport budget can certainly go further than it does at the moment, and a good way of doing that would be the nationalisation of the railways and buses.  Not only do they cost more for the passenger in private hands, they cost more to subsidise, as millions are inevitably shovelled into shareholders pockets.

As for welfare, we should always defend the benefits that exist, and seek to improve them, as they are at insultingly low levels.  But we can make the argument that if work were shared out on the basis of full employment, the budget for this department would shrink.  It’s worth bearing in mind that the social security budget rocketed under the Tories in the 1980s, and is a sign of a damaged society, with millions permanently on the scrapheap.

There is scope to raise money also, and this can be done by properly nationalising the banks that were given State aid, and not paying out any bonuses.  A State monopoly of foreign trade combined with sharply progressive taxation of individuals and businesses would also contribute.

We should agree that there is a tremendous amount of money wasted in the public sector.  But it is wasted on profiteering spivs, not the wages and pensions of hard working public servants.

The problem with all these measures is that no Government under capitalism will be allowed to carry out such a programme, it would be cut short before you can say ‘military coup’.  The greatest thing the Left can do is to take our very reasonable suggestions to workers, responding pro-actively to an agenda not of our own making, and point out that none of the main parties would do it, and even if they tried to, the system would never let them.

The Death of Blogs

September 17, 2009

Many blogs seem to have fallen on their swords over the Summer.  Vengeance and Fashion is not one of them, and will be returning to normal service now.  But although it is well known that most blogs that are started never get past the first couple of posts, the death of more established ones seems less common.

The main blog to have ceased trading over the Summer is the excellent Left Luggage.  In a statement on the site announcing that there will be no more posts, the authors outline the three main reasons why they are not continuing, which I reproduce below:

1) The amount of time and energy needed for a small number of people to maintain a regular supply of high-quality content (many of our pieces have been lengthy compared to other blogs). Clearly we have limited time outside of work and we therefore felt that in the long term this could compromise the local political initiatives the group is involved with individually, simply because of the time we were tending to devote to Left Luggage. Obviously this would contradict the key strategic direction we have been advocating. In addition, one of the two editors of the site is planning to launch a new project with young people in London this autumn, which will even further squeeze the time available to update Left Lugagge.

2) While we had established a regular readership of about 100 unique users per day, we seemed to have plateaued despite some peaks when we had content posted on other website or articles of especial interest to a wider readership. Most of the people posting on the website seemed to be (largely) receptive to what we have been argued; they were generally broadly in accord with our analysis of the Left, its limitations and key elements of a future strategy. Therefore, if we were mainly reaching the same people using similar same arguments, with which they generally agreed, it raised the question as to how much use Left Luggage could be in promoting this perspective.

3) Additionally, we felt at the risk of repeating ourselves. In the 75 articles we have published since March, we have covered a lot of ground and an enormous variety of issues. But fundamentally we are addressing ourselves to the same cluster of problems and proposing a modest set of strategic solutions. From the beginning we set ourselves the task of covering a specific central issue: why is the Left so weak and out of touch with the vast majority of working class people. We never sought to cover every international or even national issue, and do not propose to offer a detailed political theory, just some simple strategic points.

I have a great deal of sympathy with each of these points.  As regular readers of the blog will be aware, I have been far too busy to post properly for a few weeks, life and work being what it is.  Even when I can spare the time, I can usually only muster enough for one proper post a week.  I also get the impression from the comments that those who read the blog are largely sympathetic already to what I am saying.  I’m also aware of the need to say something new, which is quite difficult when the fundamental arguments I put forward are that the Left – as Left Luggage put it more eloquently than I can – needs to continually be:

Speaking to the concerns of working class people; proving itself to be the best fighters for the immediate interests of that class; engaging in long-term political work to rebuild working class self-organisation and political culture.

Left Luggage was different in that it presented itself as an arena for debate amongst the Left over strategy.  I, like most bloggers, wear my prejudices and biases openly.  I am sympathetic to the politics and strategy of groups such as the Commune, the IWCA and the Socialist Party, and generally hostile to the pernicious influence of the Stalinist left (the CPB), the middle-class radical left (the SWP) and the ultra-left (the CPGB).

This website is no replacement for Left Luggage, but I would hope that a similar site establishes itself in the near future.  Vengeance and Fashion is no place for it, though I would hope that more people who disagree with me would comment here and spark up a productive debate.  I wish the contributors to Left Luggage all the best in their current and future activism, and thank them for the wealth of material and insight that will continue to exist on that site.