WHERE ARE THE IDEAS?
30th May '01
Reproduced from Sunday Herald (Scotland) 27 May
It's all very well being decent chaps, but where are the ideas?
Muriel Gray despairs of the lack of vision displayed by men of honour such as Tommy Sheridan
We learn. No, really, we do. Well, a bit. I used to think we didn't at all; used to believe that old hand-in-the-fire thing, the theory that even if you told a child that putting their hand in the fire would burn them they'd still have to do it at some point to find out whether or not it was true. This was the theory that said all human recorded experience was useless, all history irrelevant, since every generation had to find out things for itself in order to function properly. Obviously, adhering to such a theory would be deeply depressing since it suggests that humans can never actually progress. But it is perhaps a tiny truth that, with the exception of technical information, we have always regarded any observations made by those who came before us as being of little relevance to our own age.
Although the written testimonies of brilliant and creative geniuses who lived hundreds of years before us still exist for our examination and education, society just flicks idly through their scrolls, parchments and books as if they were dentist waiting-room copies of Boating Monthly and then goes 'naaah' and gets on with proving that we know best. We are modern, we are free-thinking, we are in tune with the zeitgeist, we know how to prepare artichokes, we can map the human genome -- and we certainly won't be told by any old long-dead bores about how politics can or cannot work.
But here's the problem. How is it that in current politics, good men, decent men (I'd like to include women here but there aren't any involved in the specific question I'm wrestling with), men who genuinely care and have vision and passion, actually have no sensible solutions?
Good examples are the SNP's nice John Swinney and the Socialist Alliance group that ties together very decent, very honourable and very principled hard left activists such as Tommy Sheridan, Arthur Scargill and the brilliant film-maker Ken Loach. All these people have proved themselves to be dedicated and driven, to be devoid of hypocrisy and ulterior motive. They want poverty eliminated, they want equality and justice and social reform. In Swinney's case he simply wants what he has always believed in: an independent Scotland.
So how come when those of us who admire these men wait expectantly to hear how they plan to pull off such impossible tasks, they stand up and talk as though the last 50 years never happened?
Is it too much to want people as moral as this to examine the history of the fall of the hard left, or the scary history of economic and cultural separatism, and then want them to pick it apart, take the intelligence from it and come up with something new, something dazzling, something creative and irresistible that will replace tired rhetoric with inspiration?
Well ... yes, apparently. Far too much to expect.
I can forgive Arthur Scargill for being stuck in a Marxist cul-de-sac with nowhere to turn the Trabant since he is older, has been through hell and back and has that cliched working man's stubbornness that requires him never to admit that he is wrong. I spent time with him years ago at his home doing a documentary, and was delighted and horrified in equal measures to witness an intelligent and compassionate morality that had bonded itself uncomfortably to that ugly lack of analysis that political vision as religion always breeds. Scargill regarded any change of heart as defeat, as selling out, when in fact his decency and commitment could have been of enormous value if he had just accepted that the times were changing for a million and one reasons that didn't involve him or his struggle.
But from our younger men one expects more. Swinney and Sheridan might seem millions of light years apart in policy, but they share the same handicaps. For a start, both are bad liars. The fear that illuminates their eyes when they are asked to answer a question to which they do not have an answer -- because there is no answer -- is awful to watch. Only slimebags such as the Conservatives can answer such queries with a convincing smile, but one still aches for some kind of modern inspiration to possess Swinney and Sheridan, something that would stop the fork halfway to the mouth in us tea-eating viewers and make us re-examine our own beliefs.
But instead we get the old 'save Scotland with oil revenue'. Oh for heaven's sake, man. Or 'we will not only set a minimum wage but also a maximum wage'. Och, stop it.
And meanwhile, as these well-meaning chaps work themselves into an early grave trying to bring about their different utopias, armed only with tired language and ideas that have been discredited and abandoned for years, Tony Blair, a man who seems a fraction as genuine or decent, cleans up simply by being able to read the moment. Oh yes, and by having big, sensible, grown-up, clever, statesmanlike Gordon Brown to balance the books and make everybody feel safe.
I think it's a shame. When politics becomes a religion -- ie nobody must question the faith, nobody must deviate from the chanting, the liturgy and responses -- it becomes meaningless in a world that cannot help but change. That is why the hard left fell so heavily and has left a void that desperately needs replaced.
Tommy Sheridan couldn't be more right about pensioners, the poverty trap, drugs, homelessness and hopelessness, but he cannot begin to fix any of it while sticking to ancient dogma. John Swinney is a fine and decent man, but his cause creaks like an old trawler when he falls back on 1970s tosh.
How can we persuade these good guys to leave behind the shackles of anachronistic party politics, to stop despising New Labour spin and start copying it, and come up with something new and innovative -- and, most importantly, that works?
Despite the gloomy hand-in-the-fire theory, it is clear we do learn a little as a society. And, as a politician, it is not really such a shameful thing to try to keep up.
SOME UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT RIOTS IN OLDHAM
29th May '01
As in war truth is often the first casualty in politics. As is usually the case observers appear to pick a side, and then pick a target. And there has been no shortage of targets to carry the can for the Oldham riots. Every target that is but the real one.
Lib Dems rather ludicrously tried to pin all the blame on William Hague. Mainstream liberals (with a small l) tried fingering 'heavy handed policing'.
Overwhelming favourite among 'community leaders' is that, as in Bradford,'outside agigators' in the shape of 'supporters of the National Front' were the sole cause of the trouble.
Perhaps all shades of opinion believe that if they repeat it often enough, the ugly unpalatable facts need not be faced. Or that white public opinion, which is rarely quoted, will be similarily convinced. Fat chance.
Lack of candour and the tip-toeing around the issue in 'a liberal cringe' can do nothing but boost support for far-right solutions generally, and the BNP who are standing in the election there specifically.
Which is why Independent columnist Alibahai Ba Brown is surely right when she comments: "I am not one of those hypocrites who cry foul when white racism is in the news but crawl under rocks when they are called upon to criticize their own."
This refreshing honesty is in marked contrast to the Socialist Alliance (SA) which described apparently indiscriminate, random, and therefore by any objective definition, racist attacks by Pakistani youth on a series of pubs in the area as "completely understandable". Does this 'understanding' also stretch to the Muslim attacks on Hindus I wonder?
As well as calling for the resignation of the chief constable, the media are also lambasted as "shameful" for their highlighting of what the SA refers to as an "isolated attack" on a white pensioner. It is true that the Walter Chamberlain case made headlines, but that is mainly because it seemed to bear out rumours of 'no- go areas' for whites in the town.
Moreover, while the Socialist Alliance seek to deny that the attack was racially motivated, they do not even attempt to suggest what else might have provoked it. Even more risible is the SA pretence that unprovoked Asian on white attacks were practically unheard of prior to the Walter Chamberlain incident, when in reality the talk in Oldham has often revolved around just that topic, for months if not years.
Records show that police statistics which first showed Asians as the principle perpetrators in *reported* acts of racial violence, stretches back to 1993. The disbelief with which the liberal left greet such figures tends to suggest they actualy believe working class Asians to be incapable of such behaviour. The SA respond by denouncing the Oldham police as uniquely racist and calling for the top coppers head. However, similar 'Asian on white' statistics have been compiled on the Isle of Dogs by Tower Hamlets council. Is Tower Hamlets also uniquely racist?
Equally, while the initial attack on the ironically named 'Live and Let Live' pub is being broadly justified across the media on the grounds that it was where some 'National Front were rumoured to have taken refuge', no explanation whatsoever is forthcoming for the further attacks on the Westwood pub in nearby Chadderton, the Dog Inn, the Welcome, the Honeywell Arms, and the Junction on the edge of the Glodwick neighbourhood.
Do the Socialist Alliance warmly approve of these attacks as well? The answer presumably is yes.
Tellingly, the Socialist Alliance despite boasting over 100 candidates, is not standing in Oldham. By seeming to duck the challenge of the BNP, as it infamously did in Beckton, and more recently Bermondsey, in addition to hypocrisy, the Socialist Alliance leaves it itself open to the charge of cowardice as well.
It is also noticeable, that on the UK Left discussion site which is generally seen as a Socialist Alliance site, despite the Oldham riots making national headlines everywhere else, up to 9pm on Monday night, apart from the posting of a news item and the Socialist Alliance press release, there had been only one posting on the subject.
And that from a Red Action supporter.
One of the possible reasons for the bizarre 'hear no evil, see no evil' stance is that, hypocrisy apart, liberal anti-racism has no answers and so instinctively refuses to be drawn on the questions.
On Radio Five live on Sunday night the BBC assembled a panel of experts to discuss the matter. All were agreed on the fundamentals. Asian youth were beyond criticism. Of course. It was all the fault of 'the police, media, NF/BNP white racism, and mainstream politicians'. An Asian caller who disagreed with their analysis, was shouted down.
One representative of the race industry, Maxi Hales a spokesman for the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit went as far as to venture some solutions. Denying, outright a suggestion from another caller that 'working class whites shared similar problems to blacks', Maxi pointed out that "poor whites have 600 MP's the army and the navy to look after their interests. We have only ten, when we need forty!" he shouted.
When another caller spoke of the need for assimilation another member of the BBC panel muttered that "the notion of integration was dangerous".
Repeated challenges from the presenter to the panel that anti-racism had clearly "failed" were side stepped.
After over an hour of hand-wringing and self congratulation, Maxi summed up proceedings by suggesting that education might indeed be the solution, "but - only - if it was race consciousness education."
Perhaps he even believes it. Who knows?
But as we all know there is a party standing in Oldham who would heartily champion such racially based 'solutions'. It is party equally reluctant to 'criticise their own'. So for them too, truth is a stranger. The difference is that they have picked the winning side. And what's more, the Socialist Alliance know it.
SINN FEIN WILL MAKE ELECTORAL HISTORY
28th May '01
Reproduced from the Irish News
Gerry Adams is predicting Sinn Fein will make electoral history.
The Sinn Fein President was focusing on the fierce battle for the West Tyrone and the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seats.
He also stressed Sinn Fein's ballot box performance is vital because of plans for new negotiations on the peace process after the election
He predicted Sinn Fein could win Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
He said: "We have a view which is about greening of the West. We want to see the West won.
"There's a sense that people can make history in terms of the whole Sinn Fein project.
"The election we are going to fight after this one is more likely to be a southern election. I spent most of yesterday in Dublin and it's exactly the same story there, Sinn Fein is on the rise right across this island."
IRISH REBEL BACKERS GATHER AT PUB
25th May '01
By Abdon M. Pallasch
"England, get out of Ireland!" John O'Malley thundered.
The men along the bar at Murphy's Pub in Forest Park raised their glasses and cheered.
This was a partisan crowd, with most of the 50 to 100 people there for a Saturday night fund-raiser for the Irish Freedom Committee. Some regulars went on playing video games, oblivious. A few worked the crowd selling raffle tickets.
"Ahh, go on--only $10 a ticket, and you can win a trip to Ireland. Here, I'll sell ya the winning ticket."
The money supports families of Irishmen jailed for fighting British rule in Northern Ireland, says Frank O'Neill, 78, chairman of the Chicago chapter.
But the British and Irish governments might disagree. Their sources say the money raised here actually goes to the "Real IRA"--officially branded by the U.S. State Department on Wednesday as a "foreign terrorist organization"--to buy weapons in arms markets in the Balkans for use in Northern Ireland.
One distinctive face notably missing from last Saturday night's gathering was David Rupert, a 6-foot-7-inch New York state native with Mohawk Indian features. For years, Rupert was a familiar face at these fund-raisers, but last month was unmasked as a spy for the FBI and the British and Irish governments.
"He's a piece of s---" O'Malley said. "As soon as someone said we had a mole, he was the first person I thought of."
Rupert will be the lead witness this summer in the Irish government's case against Michael McKevitt, the purported leader of the Real IRA, blamed for the 1998 bombing in Omagh that killed 29 people.
Rupert reportedly worked his way up through this Chicago chapter to become close to McKevitt and gather damaging evidence.
"We were fooled," O'Neill admitted. "It's kind of an embarrassing situation to be caught with our trousers down."
It's easy to see how an outsider might penetrate the group. All were welcomed Saturday night. No bouncer screened out potential British spies.
"We've nothing to hide," O'Neill said.
In past years, the group has even attracted elected officials. Ald. Thomas Murphy (18th) accepted a plaque from the group last year at the Abbey Pub.
"I wasn't real sure of the group, but I talked to some people," Murphy said. "They told me [U.S. Rep.] Bill Lipinski was their honoree the year before. It wasn't like I gave them any kind of financial support."
Lipinski did not appear in person to accept his award that year but received it in the mail, said an aide who acknowledged the congressman "doesn't know the organization very well."
"Armored cars and tanks and guns came to take away our sons; but every man must stand behind the man behind the wire," the night's entertainment, an Irishman with a guitar, sang.
The Irish Freedom Committee was founded in New York in 1987 by Irish- American activists who felt the Provisional IRA and its political wing, the Sinn Fein party led by Gerry Adams, were compromising too much with the British.
When Adams persuaded the IRA to adopt a cease-fire in 1997 so the party could join a new government in Northern Ireland, the activists took that as proof.
"Gerry Adams is a traitor and a collaborator," O'Malley proclaimed to the crowd Saturday night.
The original IRA stood for nothing short of total British withdrawal from the whole island of Ireland, and that fight should continue, these folks say.
The IFC's Chicago and Boston chapters, which held simultaneous fund- raisers Saturday, split from the New York chapter in a dispute over which prisoners to support with these fund-raisers. Some say Rupert engineered the split.
Only three dozen or so IRA prisoners remain in jail, most of them in the Republic of Ireland, for not agreeing to sign on to the peace process. IFC National Secretary Deirdre Fennessy calls them "martyrs."
"A nation once again, a nation once again. And Ireland, long a province, be a nation once again," the songs go on.
British and Irish officials estimate the Chicago group raises about $20,000 to $40,000 a year to send to Ireland. As of yet, they have not been able to prove any of it goes for guns.
O'Neill declines to disclose the night's take, though he says it's up from last year. O'Neill and Fennessy strongly defend their First Amendment rights as Americans to meet and take a political stand against what they call the "so-called" peace process in Northern Ireland.
"What did the peace process do--it gave the six counties back to England," said IFC member Richard Wallace.
Voters in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly approved the peace process, though it meant surrendering the Republic's constitutional claim to the six counties of Northern Ireland.
But even if theirs is a minority position, members of the committee say they should be able to meet and espouse it without being accused of gun-running or being infiltrated by spies.
Copyright 2000, Digital Chicago Inc.
NEW LABOUR : 'ENDGAME IN SIGHT'
23rd May '01
Yesterday as the Tories stepped up their attack on Labour's tax plans, William Hague announced that Gordon Brown's refusal 'to rule out scrapping the national insurance ceiling altogether, meant four million people are now faced with the prospect of effectively paying income tax at 50%'. In real terms what Hague means is that those on an income of over £30,000 would be invited to pay more in tax.
The Tory estimate was that 4 million people would be directly affected by any such move by Labour. Pressing home the advantage Michael Portillo, when interviewed on Newsnight described Labour 'plans' as an attack on 'the middle income, middle Britain, the middle class'.
What is interesting about Tory calculations is that not only do they believe anyone earning over £30,000 is middle class, but that in a country of over 60 million only 4 million,less than 10% fall into such a category.
Of course not everyone is earning, so allowing for spouses and offspring this puts the total membership of the middle class somewhere in the region of 20% to 25% of the population.
Take off 5% for the super rich and this leaves an overwhelming 70% as working class, even in Tory eyes. It is particularly remarkable since, not so long ago, New Labour were busy informing us that 'we are all middle class now'. In reality of course what makes 'Middle Britain' so attractive and important to politicians is that it is this strata of society, even though a minority, which more than any other is likely to vote. The paradox is, that even as increasing number of the working class stop voting, because of this orientation by the two major parties, the political choice narrows rather than increases.
Some estimates suggest that the voter turn-out may this fall below 60%. Of the 40% not taking part the vast majority will be working class.
This 60-40 split is funnily enough, precisely the economic reform needed to stabilise society that was recomended to Pinochet after the coup in Chile in 1973. The basic idea was that the regime would bribe an additional 30% of the population with money not taken from the rich, but from the bottom 40%. This bribing of the upper working and lower middle class would, it was felt, deliver both economic stability and majority democratic support for the regime.
In Britain it was called Thatcherism. It is the same ideology New Labour subscribe to. However the onus is all on Gordon Brown to raise revenue. Mainly because after a quarter of a century of Thatcherism the basic infrastructure - roads, railways, schools, pensions, health service is collapsing. While the working class have been 'squeezed until you can hear the pips squeak'.
Of course for New Labour any taxing of the really rich is out of the question. And while Brown might dare trifle with middle classes National Insurance Contributions,the revenue raised as estimated at 1 billion a year,would only buy time. Unable to penalise the working classes for economic reasons and the middle classes for political ones, New Labour will in reality be forced to privatise practically everything. Post office, Fire Brigade, even air traffic control. The big question is once that's been spunked on maintaining majority support for the Chile experiment what then?
The constant attack on civil liberties, the right to jury trial,the right to assembly,along with the steady militarisation of the police may offer some indications on how a pragmatic establishment really see the endgame. One way or the other the endgame is in sight.
WEEKLY WORKER INTERVIEW WITH SSP CANDIDATE
22nd May '01
Reproduced from Weekly Worker 384 Thursday May 17 2001
Nationalism and tactics
Bob Goupillot, a member of the Republican Communist Network, is the Scottish Socialist Party candidate for Midlothian, near Edinburgh. Peter Manson spoke to him for the Weekly Worker
What is your record in the workers’ movement?
I was brought up in very much a Labour Party background. I joined my local branch in Middlesbrough when I was 16, but I wasn’t particularly active. In 1977, when I was in my early 20s, I went to study at Coleraine in Northern Ireland. In 1981 I came to live in Edinburgh and rejoined the Labour Party
The Edinburgh party was very leftwing. It was led by Alex Wood and, in what was for some people a surprising victory in the 1984 local elections, it took over Edinburgh district council, which had always been Tory-controlled. Neil Kinnock described Edinburgh as "the dirt under the finger nail of the Labour Party" at the time. By the time of the miners’ strike of 1984-85 I was chair of Prestonfield-Mayfield Labour Party in the south of Edinburgh.
During the strike I was heavily involved with the Edinburgh Miners’ Support Group: collecting money, going on pickets, etc. Here I met anarchists, republican socialists, Trotskyists and members of Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism - all of whom influenced my politics. By the end of the strike I was thoroughly disgusted with the Labour Party leadership, so I left the party. Thereafter I became a full-time political activist. I helped develop Edinburgh Unemployed Workers Centre into a resource for the class, got deeply involved with unemployed struggles and against the apartheid regime in South Africa. At this point I called myself an anarchist. An FRFI comrade used to quote Lenin as saying, "Anarchism is the price we pay for opportunism." In my case this was certainly true.
The Irish struggle against the British state also had a big influence on me. My experiences during the poll tax campaign convinced me that anarchism was not the way to overturn capitalism. It was then I got involved with communists - people like Allan Armstrong. In the 1990s I helped form the Red Republicans, which later became a grouping in the Scottish Socialist Alliance.
The movement against the poll tax had very deep roots in the working class and showed the need for a revolutionary working class party. Since then I have been searching for a bigger organisation - a party or an alliance that can unify the working class, or at least its most advanced elements.
Although I spent a lot of my life as an unemployed activist, I am now in the Transport and General Workers Union. I have recently been involved in a successful struggle to get the union off the ground in my workplace, where we have won a union recognition agreement.
What was your attitude to the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance?
I was very encouraged. Most people I knew (excluding the Socialist Workers Party) either joined or were actively considering joining - people from different parties or no party, who I had been in united fronts with for years. Here was an organisation which actually had some potential.
Of course there were a lot of difficulties learning to work together. You had people from Militant, the old Communist Party, those who had an anarchist or republican background or who had been in the Workers Revolutionary Party - all these people came together. Most knew each other from the struggle against the poll tax, which had really laid the ground for unity.
It was really exciting, and still is exciting now we have the Scottish Socialist Party. Over the last four or five years we have learnt to work together and respect each other. For example, I was always at loggerheads with people in Militant during the anti-poll tax campaign, but now we have learnt to understand and respect each other better.
We mustn’t be complacent, but I have great hopes for the SSP. The question is how to realise them.
We in the CPGB have been highly critical of the SSP’s nationalist orientation. How do you view this question?
In Scotland nationalism forms a very important strand in the population, including in the working class. There is the conservative brand, which is tartan and anti-English. How to combat this sort of nationalism is something we need to pay more attention to.
But then there is the other brand - part of the Scottish renaissance, a radical nationalism. For example, people like the actor, Peter Mullen, and Kevin William-son of Rebel Inc, both SSP members, have been very good at tapping into and reflecting that positive, cultural side to political struggle. But the SSP doesn’t sufficiently challenge the negative side, which tends to be insular, inward-looking and anti-English, as well as it should. We should be making our links with England, Wales and Ireland stronger and more concrete.
You can understand why people like the comrades from the International Socialist Movement might want to focus on Scotland after their difficult relationship with Taaffe. But we must not be nationalistic. We must turn outwards. Until the rise of the Socialist Alliance the question of making links with organisations in England was much more controversial. But now the obvious answer is to link up with the SA.
How do you view the SSP’s call for an "independent socialist Scotland"?
The slogan combines the negative side with the positive side, but I can understand why the SSP takes that position. I don’t believe it is a nationalist party. It is true that the SSP should make clear how it sees itself in relation to the working class in England, Wales and Ireland (and the Republican Communist Network needs to make its voice heard here).
And I think mistakes are being made. The SSP’s actual position is for a "confederation of socialist states". But its internationalism is abstract - we need to make those links more concrete. At the last SSP annual general meeting the RCN (Scotland) moved a motion calling for exactly that: stronger links with England and Wales, along with troops out of Ireland. We were disappointed and bemused that Marcus Larsen chose to report that in such a negative way in the Weekly Worker.
But isn’t an "independent socialist Scotland" a separatist call that actually weakens those links?
It’s not seen as a separatist call in the SSP. That’s not what underpins it. It’s seen as a way to rally the working class in Scotland and act as a trigger to others. Like Connolly saw the revolt in Ireland or Maclean saw the call for a Scottish workers’ republic as a spark. Lenin hoped the Russian Revolution in 1917 would be a trigger for revolution in the west - he hoped that Russia could hold out until workers in more advanced countries followed suit. History didn’t go that way, but it doesn’t mean Lenin was wrong.
The SSP hopes that an independent socialist Scotland can inspire workers elsewhere to take action. We are further along the road than similar organisations in England and Wales. It’s not a question of being arrogant, but simply of stating a reality which goes back to the poll tax.
I am from the north east of England. You could say that socially and economically the north east is very similar to Scotland. But it doesn’t have a common cultural identity (or "national consciousness", as Neil Davidson has put it). On the other hand, Scotland sees itself as a nation. Having a national consciousness helps rally people - including the working class. That is the positive side. It’s seen as pushing for greater democracy and freedom. The people’s right to rule themselves.
But Lenin didn’t start from the position of suggesting a separate revolution in Russia, surely? Why start off with the notion of an independent socialist Scotland?
You have to start somewhere. Calling for a world revolution is fine, but you have to make a start where you live.
Alan McCombes has implied that SSP MSPs might cooperate with a Scottish National Party administration in Edinburgh to secure a referendum on independence.
The rights and wrongs of backing the SNP on a referendum have been speculated upon, but it has never been put forward as a policy.
I agree that it’s wrong to see independence in and of itself as a good thing - independent of what? Not of multinational capitalism. If the working class in England and Wales began to organise and move ahead - learning from our experience and going beyond it - then to call for independence would be wrong. But if British society in general was drifting to the right, independence might be appropriate.
There are people in the SNP who call themselves socialist, and for them independence is a principle. But the CPGB makes the mirror-image mistake. It says independence is never a good thing. Actually it’s all a question of tactics and right now it’s not a good thing.
We are not an offshore island like Cuba. Independence is a tactic, not a principle. It’s viewed as a principle by some people, but not by me - I’m not sure that now is the right time for independence. But we are not against independence, full stop. That’s not what we should be stressing. When people hear the call for an independent socialist Scotland they latch on to ‘socialist’ more than ‘independent’. The word ‘socialist’ is the important part. It’s like demanding a federal republic: where is the class content? It’s a slogan without any kind of class definition.
So the RCN in Scotland and Britain needs to think about the current slogans - none of them are adequate. Not even a ‘Scottish workers’ republic’ is adequate. It doesn’t relate to the wider working class in Britain and the rest of the world.
You seem to be saying that the SSP’s call for an independent socialist Scotland is pretty similar to the demand for a Scottish workers’ republic in any case.
I prefer the Scottish workers’ republic. It represents a different vision that’s easier to grasp, especially in the context of making links with the working class. But the SSP doesn’t like the word ‘republic’ because of its associations with Ireland and the question of sectarianism.
But we shouldn’t be afraid of using the word: we’re republicans, whether it’s a Scottish workers’ republic, a federal republic or whatever. A republic is about being a citizen here and now - we need to hammer that home. The Weekly Worker is always talking about the working class as being a slave class, and I think there’s a truth in that. Being republicans means that the working class is taking a step away from a slave mentality and towards a communist mentality - being a class for ourselves.
Isn’t the key question all-Britain working class unity?
In theory I’m for the closest links. But at this point in time an all-Britain centralised party is not on the cards. I can understand why the CPGB argues for this, but tactically it’s not the right way. You can come over as unionists rather than anything else, like the Workers’ Unity platform in the SSP
Greater unity must develop out of our own experience, not be imposed from above. The whole question is situation-dependant. There is no basis at the moment for an all-Britain organisation. When the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales develop further, then perhaps there will be a firmer basis. Unity is a process, not an event: it’s no use standing on a mountain and shouting for it. It’s about tactics - moving forward in a real way.
We need a single democratic and centralised party to take on the UK state. What on earth is objectively stopping us deciding to unite now?
It goes back to the CPGB’s view on the national question in Britain and Ireland. It’s your Achilles heel: you don’t have a rounded view. There’s been an ongoing debate amongst the working class in these islands about nationalism - its positive and negative sides.
On Ireland, for instance, the British working class hasn’t offered its support for the national struggle. The national question has often sparked off wider revolts. If you believe that revolutionary nationalism is always negative, then that is a wrong view.
There isn’t a magic formula for an all-Britain party. Consciousness is the key - it’s all about developing the appropriate organisational forms that we need as a class at any time. In some circumstances a democratic centralist party would be the right approach: for example, in a pre-revolutionary situation.
But what kind of party can the working class achieve at this point? It’s no good replacing where the working class is with our subjective wishes. And it’s important not to be abstract - truth is concrete. We must attune our tactics to where we are now. Those arguing for a democratic centralist all-Britain organisation will find themselves isolated. Progressive communist elements have a different view.
In the SSP we already have unity in action, freedom of debate. It’s more like a democratic centralist party than people believe, although of course it doesn’t see itself as that. On the big issues like the Faslane protests every wing of the party is united. In this election campaign we are united as a party and standing in every seat. Yet the debate will continue.
What is your view on the entry of the SWP?
I’m massively enthusiastic - 100% in favour. It’s a historic moment. If we hadn’t gone for it, it would have been an opportunity lost that we’d have come to regret.
The SWP is strong on relating to the workplace and should also boost our international work. They have better positions on Palestine, Kurdistan, etc. With the SWP joining there should be wider debate - the SSP is a pretty open party. But of course the SWP doesn’t come from that tradition: it will have faction rights in the SSP, but not internally within the SWP platform. So it could prove a difficult time for the SWP.
But it’s not just about the SWP and SSP: it will have a wider impact on the working class. People at present who are standing on the verges may themselves now be encouraged by a stronger left force. There are many non-members supporting our election campaign, waiting to see how it goes.
The May Day march in Edinburgh was actually led by the SSP - we are now seen as the leadership. Tommy Sheridan is the most well known politician in Scotland, according to the opinion polls.
Our aim is 100,000 votes - and I think we’ll get them. There’ll be areas we’ll do very well in - those places where we’ve put down roots: Glasgow of course, but also Dumfries and other places. And here in Midlothian we’ve been involved in several campaigns and may do quite well. It’s very much old Labour territory, but Labour is seen as having moved to the right, as not being for the working class.
How do you view the role of the RCN?
In terms of the SSP, one of our roles is to argue for making our international links more concrete - that means strengthening our links with the Socialist Alliances. And we could usefully promote the formation of SAs in Ireland. In the SSP, prominent RCN comrades such as Mary Ward and Allan Armstrong are very well known figures.
Secondly, we have a role in terms of our republicanism: encouraging workers to act as citizens, not subjects. In terms of theory we have to explain what communism is, how to get there. And there’s also the question of Ireland - we have a role in helping the working class in Ireland emancipate themselves from British imperialism.
I’d like the RCN (Britain) to be seen as a model of democratic cooperation amongst comrades. If you look at the friction between the ISM and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, it’s obvious that there must be a better way of doing things. So we must be an example of - dare I say it? - fraternal relations.
That’s how we’ll build an effective organisation - through working with each other more and more closely, listening to each other and building trust. That’s how we’ll defeat separatism.
BNP ELECTION DETAILS
18th May '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action
The BNP have announced that they are standing 32 candidates in the general election. They have publicly stated that their priority is local elections, where they see the 20%+ votes won in places like Bexley, Burnley and Tipton as a sign that they can actually win seats at a local level. Once they have local councillors they hope that potential supporters will no longer see a BNP vote as a wasted vote in parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, they are using their limited general election campaign to attract new recruits and train their members in election work.
The constituencies they have declared they are standing in are: Sunderland South; Sunderland North; Burnley; Pendle; Oldham East & Saddleworth; Oldham West & Royton; Ashton-Under-Lyne; Dewsbury; Bradford North; Blaby; Leicester East; Erewash; Dudley North; West Bromwich West; Birmingham Edgehill; Coventry North East; Stoke-on-Trent South; Enfield North; Bethnal Green & Bow; Poplar & Canning Town; Chingford & Woodford Green; Walthamstow; Hayes & Harlington; Ruislip & Northwood; Bexleyheath & Crayford; Lewisham East; Mitcham & Morden; Croydon Central; Barking; Dagenham; Romford; Broxbourne.
BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing in Oldham West, and former leader John Tyndall in Mitcham & Morden.
FAR RIGHT ENTER ITALIAN GOVERNMENT
18th May '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action
Silvio Berlusconi's victory in Sunday's Italian general election will see the Far Right enter national government after the National Alliance polled 11%. In a familiar pattern the social democrats and communists lost support to the Right. Gianfranco Fini, the National Alliance leader, is tipped to become the deputy prime minister. Berlusconi's Forza Italia fought the election in a coalition with the Far Right parties National Alliance and Northern League. Curiously this alliance is referred to in the media as being of the 'centre right', despite the politics of his allies and a local pact made in Sicily with the openly fascist MSI-Fiamma.
The election results were welcomed by Jorg Haider, leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, but caused concern among more liberal elements. A Swedish newspaper summed up this feeling: "An ugly situation has arisen in Italy and Europe. Racist and intolerant forces have come into power again."
TOMMY SHERIDAN INTERVIEWED BY SOCIALIST WORKER
18th May '01
Scotland's socialist challenge to Labour THE SCOTTISH Socialist Party (SSP) will be a powerful force in the general election. Socialist Worker spoke to Tommy Sheridan, the SSP's member of the Scottish Parliament, about the potential for the left. On the day of the interview it had been announced that the SSP and the Socialist Workers Party in Scotland were uniting.
WHAT'S YOUR message as the election campaign begins?
IT IS time for a real challenge to Labour after four years of them letting down working class people. Labour have realised that in the run-up to the election they had to talk more left, to give more prominence to empty rhetoric about ending child poverty, for example.
But the figures reveal the truth-New Labour have spent less on improvements to public services than the Major government, a Tory government, did. They say they intend to spend more, but that does not cut any ice. The people who get the new tax credits can lose up to 85 percent of the money through reductions in housing benefit and council tax benefit because the credit is regarded as income.
Why don't we have an 85 percent tax rate for the richest, not the poorest? All you get from Labour is the spin, from people who have no notion of what it is like to live in the real world on a low income or benefits. I did a debate recently with Polly Toynbee.
Her new book is full of the corrosive cynicism that there is no alternative, that we can complain all we want but there is no other way-except for Hague and Widdecombe waiting in the wings. Of course that's a frightening prospect for working class people. We say there is another way, a socialist alternative.
If the disillusion with Labour is not mobilised by the left, there is a danger it can be mobilised by the right. We have to strongly defend the provision of asylum. New Labour will not do it. There's a briefing document for Labour candidates which says if they are challenged about prisons for asylum seekers then the response should be that it is too expensive. Too expensive!
Politically they are no longer prepared to stand up for the right of people to flee violence and torture and desperate poverty. Instead they argue on the basis of cost. It shows how far they have gone.
WHAT DOES the SSP stand for?
WE OFFER a clear class programme in opposition to New Labour's record of betrayal, against the businessmen at the centre of government and Labour's readiness to serve the interests of a wealthy minority. We call for public ownership of oil, transport, construction, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and finance, the return of privatised assets, a minimum wage of £7 an hour and a maximum wage, a shorter working week, restoring the link between pensions and earnings.
To deliver that would require revolution, no doubt about it. But we can't have a secret revolution. We need the support of the majority in society.
WHAT ARE the prospects for the left in the coming election?
OUR TARGET is 100,000 votes. If that is supplemented by recruitment -and it must be, because votes are no good without recruitment-then we will have established ourselves as Scotland's fifth party.
In many of the urban areas we will be the third party, supplanting both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. It will be the sowing of the seeds, a two-year campaign involving industrial campaigns, direct action and civil disobedience leading up to the Holyrood Scottish Parliament elections of 2003 when I firmly believe there is a real prospect of winning eight MSPs.
I wish all the best to comrades building the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales. It is an excellent project and I hope it can evolve in the way it has in Scotland.
WHAT ABOUT the Scottish nationalists?
SOCIALISTS have an ideology which challenges the establishment and can unite the working class, whereas the nationalist ideology is divisive. It sees the world through nationalist spectacles that have never been appropriate because Scottish bosses and industry are just as ruthless as English, French or German bosses.
We look through class spectacles. We try to unite the working class in Scotland as part of an international movement for socialism.
WHAT DO you think is happening internationally?
A DECADE ago, after the downfall of the Stalinist bloc countries, the certainties in politics became uncertainties. The whole notion of socialism was under attack by the ruling class. They declared the New World Order had been established and that socialism was finished. That was a weak moment internationally. But it sparked a process of re-examining ideas and looking at new forms of organisation.
In Europe you can see there were realignments of the left on radical programmes. Over the last four or five years the whole world situation in terms of questioning both the moral and economic right of the free market to dominate has increased apace.
It has accelerated over the last three or four years to the extent that being anti-market is quite popular. We need to improve the equation so that being pro-socialist is popular too. The anti-globalisation forces are refreshing, but what's missing is the idea of what will replace the present set-up. There is definitely a thirst for genuine democracy but that requires public ownership and accountability.
It's not enough to just feed off the world movement-we have to be part of shaping it as well. First and foremost we stand on the side of the youth, environmental campaigners and anti-nuclear protesters. But we also have to explain we are involved in a project that encapsulates them as well, which is built around a socialist alternative.
HOW DO you respond to the SWP-SSP merger?
IT IS very exciting that the SWP has joined the SSP. It is part of a wider process going on at the moment, in opposition to New Labour and the destruction brought by global capitalism. There is a great feeling for unity among the left inside the working class movement.
It is not a moment too soon for all of us to respond positively to that mood. The response from the class as a whole, the more they find out about it, will be, "Thank Christ, at last the left has got their act together."
Tony Benn often says there are far too many socialist parties and not enough socialists, and it does ring true in many of the battles that we face. We are so divided, whereas the right wing and the establishment are so united. In official politics there is an increasing hegemony around the promotion of the free market. We cannot afford the luxury of being so divided on the left.
The 80-20 principle is a good one to adopt-there is 80 percent that unites and 20 percent that divides us. Surely that's enough for unity and common action? A social attitudes survey recently showed that since 1999 Scottish society has moved to the left and that nearly half of the electorate is to the left of Labour-well up on 1997.
In no small way I believe this is due to the SSP raising left politics and socialist ideas. Now in the SSP at least 90 percent, maybe 95 percent, of the active left will be in one party, promoting one paper, promoting one programme. At last weekend's May Day demonstrations in Glasgow and Edinburgh there were SSP contingents with one banner, one set of placards, selling one paper.
WHAT POLITICAL lessons are there from the Record's disgusting campaign against the SSP over drugs and other issues?
I HAD a column in the Record for the best part of a year and a half, which we used constantly to raise the SSP's banner and socialist ideas. For example, we called for the scrapping of Section 28 when the Record was running a vile campaign to keep it. The Record let it continue because it was popular. But we heard that Gordon Brown was furious that the Record was not being slavish enough towards Labour.
He apparently demanded that there be a new editor and one duly arrived, Peter Cox. His background was in the Murdoch press. Two days after he took control I got a letter saying the column was finished. For the Record, I went from being the "Radical Voice of Scotland" to "Pillock Number One", "a low life lurking under a stone".
It would be naive to think that the Record's attacks did not have an effect, especially on a layer of older people. For younger people I think going against the stream has made us more attractive. I have done public meetings recently in Fort William, Bellshill, Clydebank, Dumbarton and Coatbridge, and one of the best things about them was the number of young people there compared to previous meetings.
That might just be the growth of the anti-globalisation movement and so on, but an element is that we have touched a nerve by raising the drugs issue. Some people have said I shouldn't have raised this issue before the election, that it will lose votes. But it would be electoralism if you start to dilute your politics and policies because an election is coming. I always emphasise that the number one issue on drugs is starting the war on poverty because that is where problem drug use thrives.
'A NASTY TASTE IN THE MOUTH'
12th May '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action
Julie Burchill's column in the Guardian magazine (5/5/01) succeeded in being anti-capitalist, anti-racist and pro-working class, all on the same page, which puts the Left's efforts in this department to shame. Here we reprint a section of the article:
"Of course, we all know who can't be trusted to play the white man with Johnny Foreigner: it's the working class, isn't it? That idle, boozed-up, aggressive white working class who are the only thing standing between this divided hellhole and life as one long Nescafe ad, with the residents of Hampstead giving high-fives to cheery old African gents in the dappled sunlight. That the working class might have a thoroughly legitimate reason for becoming more agitated about immigration than the tolerant middle class, with their health insurance, private schools and comfy cars, is never considered by these usually oh-so-caring types. Instead, anti-racism has become yet another stick for the ruling class to beat the working class with.
The white English working class is now the only group of people that the chattering classes are happy to hear mocked and attacked. Whether it's Louis de Bernieres decrying the "anti-education, anti-culture attitude of the white working class", Keith Waterhouse's tired old routine about the moronic Sharon and Tracey (but never Winston and Leroy, let alone Seamus and Paddy) or Jon Snow in this paper last week chiding the white working class - more in sorrow than in anger - for not being prepared to work all the hours God sends like those nice Indians/ Kosovans/Algerians, but rather wasting their time "sporting a red cross daubed across their faces watching Sky digital". (I thought the official caring liberal line was that we work the longest hours in Europe, and that it's bad for us and we should all relax more.)
What we now have is a new version of the deserving and undeserving poor - the noble new British working class, who are ethnic, and the thoroughly swinish old working class, who are white. And I honestly can't think of anything worse for race relations in this country than for its indigenous proletariat to be lectured on how lacking they are in comparison to the country's immigrant population, and how grateful they should be to have them here. I don't remember the last time politicians praised the white working class for one damned thing they've done for this country, be it die in their millions in their masters' wars or risk their lives daily to pull coal out of the earth or face their dismissal with fortitude when their valour was repaid with the dole queue. If you want a full-on race-hate revival, just keep on telling people, as Robin Cook did, that there was no such thing as the British race (why is it on the Census, then?) or implying that, before immigration, this country was some sort of cultural wasteland, which is as silly and ill-sorted an idea as declaring that Africa and India were culturally impoverished before whites poked their noses in. We were all doing fine by ourselves, and now we can all do fine together - but only if law-makers, politicians and quangos butt out and leave regular people to rub along in their own muddled, but above all human, way."
WARS AND RUMOURS OF WARS...
11th May '01
By Eamonn McCann (Reproduced from Belfast Telegraph 9 May)
David Trimble announced yesterday that he'll pull the plug on the Executive if the Provos haven't begun dumping arms by July 1.
Gregory Campbell wants Martin McGuinness dumped out of office for admitting that he was a member of the IRA on Bloody Sunday.
The European Court of Human Rights has castigated the British government for failing to seek out the truth about the killing of 11 IRA members and a civilian in the 1980s.
Members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit are challenging a Dail committee which wants them to explain how and why they shot John Carthy dead at Abbeylara in Longford last year.
And there's more. But that's enough to be going on with.
Has there ever been a more hectic time for aficionados of debate on political violence? Has it ever been so difficult to make sense of it all?
If the Executive collapses seven weeks from next Sunday because the Provos haven't met Trimble's deadline, by what date exactly, or even approximately, does the First Minister envisage decommissioning will actually begin? July 3001?
Mr. Campbell and his colleagues have been proclaiming for years that Martin McGuinness not only was once but is now a member of the IRA. So the offence which precipitated the DUP move would appear to have been McGuinness's decision to come clean.
Nationalist politicians in the South, with no exception that I've noticed, have strongly approved the ruling requiring Britain to compensate the relatives of the men killed by the RUC and the SAS in the '80s. The failure of the system in the North to provide an open and transparent inquiry into the deaths is unacceptable, they form queues to explain.
But they sing from a different hymn-sheet when it comes to John Carthy.
Members of the Garda ERU want exemption from giving evidence on the ground that a public investigation of the Carthy killing would put garda lives at risk, damage future operations and compromise national security. They will argue their case to the Government Secretary General and, if rebuffed, will appeal to the High Court. It seems taken for granted in Dublin that if they lose in the High Court, they'll then head for the Supreme Court.
The ERU's arguments scarcely differ at all from the case made on behalf of the RUC and SAS in relation to the killings at the centre of the European judgment.
And they bear an uncanny resemblance to the arguments set out last November in applications from the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence for Public Interest Immunity Certificates in respect of MI5 agents and documents relating to Bloody Sunday.
If these arguments are good enough for the security forces in the South, why not in the North?
Then there's Crickey O'Kane and Paul Daly. O'Kane was gunned down in Derry on the 23rd of last month, Daly in Belfast last Friday. Both men have been accused by what are coyly called "local sources" of having been involved in the drugs trade. The canines on the boulevard are unanimous that the IRA carried out both killings. But there hasn't been, from any of the aforementioned elements, anything resembling an outcry. Shout 'drugs baron!', it seems, and it's OK to kill.
What can we conclude, except that all talk of principled opposition to violence is a cover for political convenience?
There is no mainstream party in Northern Ireland, or in the South, which seriously wants to take the gun out of politics. What they mean when, ritually, they make this call is: Take your gun out of politics, let mine stay.
'I REMEMBER THE DAY BOBBY DIED LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY'
11th May '01
Reproduced from Ireland On Sunday
TWENTY YEARS ago today, Brendan "Bik" McFarlane was "officer commanding" republican prisoners in the Maze jail - his soul in torment over the death of Bobby Sands after 66 days on hunger strike.
"By picking the jail as her battle ground, the Iron Lady thought she was attacking the soft underbelly of republicanism but she found it was made of steel.There is no question it was one of Britain's biggest mistakes in dealing with the conflict."
These days Mr McFarlane is a busy man. He works in Gerry Kelly's constituency advice centre and is also much in demand as a travelling balladeer in the republican clubs and pubs of Belfast and beyond.
If it hadn't been for the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s he'd probably now be a priest abroad somewhere.
In his final year as a seminarian, Mr McFarlane left to return home when the North imploded in a political conflagration.
The nickname comes from his surname, McFarlane, also the name of a brand of biscuits (biscuits - bikkies - Bik).
He lives with his wife and two small children in the republican heartland of Ardoyne, north Belfast.
The familiar prison mug shot of Mr McFarlane's face - brows arched, lips curled in apparent contempt of his captors - is one of the enduring images of the Troubles. Mr McFarlane's hair is now greying, the face far softer.
He wasn't allowed to join the hunger strike himself, despite his entreaties, as he was regarded as a propaganda liability because of his convictions. Mr McFarlane was serving 25 years for five IRA murders at the Bayardo Bar on the Shankill Road.
He had been the driver on an IRA operation against the suspected UVF haunt.
A bomb left in a duffel bag at the pub entrance exploded and the fleeing IRA men opened fired on a group of men outside.
The attack took place exactly two weeks after the "Miami showband massacre" when UVF men, dressed as UDR members, waved down a van carrying band members, ordered them to stand on the roadside, and placed a bomb under the driver's seat, killing five.
In one letter asking to be allowed to join the strike, he wrote: "I've had more publicity lately than Prince Charles and not a word about it (the Bayardo bombing). Propaganda-wise, I'm burnt-out. I've always been in the front line and I haven't changed one iota.
"I should be there, and I still want to be there. I've no need to tell you what degree of commitment I have or how much understanding of the situation I have. You know I'd do my best and I know I'd die." The appeal was unsuccessful and Mr McFarlane survived.
One senses that a shutter has come down between him and those agonising days, a mechanism that allows him to function despite the vivid memories of 10 men slowly starving to death over eight-months in 1981.
"The IRA army council was actually opposed to the hunger strike but we won the argument. Of course, it was about much more than prison rights. It wasn't about whether you could wear a pair of Wranglers but about annihilating criminalisation.
"By picking the jail as her battle ground, the Iron Lady thought she was attacking the soft underbelly of republicanism but she found it was made of steel. There is no question it was one of Britain's biggest mistakes in dealing with the conflict.
"Bobby Sands was a human dynamo. He never stopped. He was always writing, or singing or lecturing us in Irish history. He was someone who inspired confidence, he would have been a great leader if he had survived," says Mr McFarlane.
Did Mr Sands believe from the start that he was going to die? "Well, it's impossible to say, but I think he had a very good idea he was going to die. I remember meeting him one Sunday at Mass and he asked me who was going to replace him?
"I was taken aback, but he asked me again: 'Who is replacing me? I need to know that you have it worked out.' I told him Joe McDonnell from Belfast was going to replace him and he said that was sound - he was a good choice.
"Bobby then changed the subject and went off to find someone who had tobacco for him. I couldn't believe what I had heard and turned around and said to another man: 'Did you hear that? He believes he is going to die.'
MEMORIAL: Hunger strikers are commemorated in Belfast
"The day he was taken away from the wing to the prison hospital, I managed to get a word with him in the shower area and we wished each other well and shook hands. I only saw him once again after that.
"There was a delegation from Europe that Charles Haughey had got to visit the jail to try and end the strike. Bobby said he would meet them, but only if Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and myself were in our delegation.
"The British refused to allow that, so I met the delegation and then went in to see Bobby. The proposal didn't get off first base. Bobby refused to see them.
"At this stage, he had gone without food for 56 days or so. I barely recognised him. His eyes were deep in his face and his cheeks were sunken. He was so frail and fragile, propped up on the pillows.
"At first he didn't recognise me. When he did, he gave a weak smile; his grip was weak too. He could only talk very slowly and with great effort. I outlined to him that the Brits were not playing ball. He said Haughey was trying to manipulate us for political reasons - he was contemptuous of him.
"He asked: 'What about the big lad?' meaning Gerry Adams, and asked about other prisoners on the wing and how the women were in Armagh jail. He asked me to give everyone his best.
"It was a difficult visit for both of us, he was in obvious pain. I said I would go and he said: 'Take care' and then, his last words to me: 'I'm dying, cara, I'm dying."
Mr McFarlane remembers the moment he heard the news, at 2am on May 5, 1981, that Bobby Sands had died.
"I had decided to leave the radio connected to the window grille overnight (the prisoners had tiny crystal radio sets smuggled into the jail which they would conceal inside their bodies when not in use).
"At 2 am, the news read that he had died at 17 minutes past one. I was shattered, even though we were expecting to hear it.
But the grief and sorrow and heartache were just beginning. Within another three weeks, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara were also dead.
Looking back, he says there are two ways of thinking about the hunger strike. "Politically, it laid the foundation stone for what we have now; the opening of avenues to republicanism and for a new politics on this island.
"In a personal sense, there is a huge sense of loss. The heartache goes on; it's as though it happened yesterday to me."
And what would Bobby Sands think of Sinn Féin's peace strategy?
"How could you answer that? He was an individual and how he would react now is totally unpredictable.
"Whatever road he would have taken, he would have been in the leadership. He was so dedicated, committed and a tremendous organiser. He could always get more out of people than they thought they had to give.
"The dissidents have popped up again after 15-20 years of silence. What have they been doing in the meantime to further the struggle? Their shallow arguments are a disgrace and are soiling the memory of those who died.
"I find it extremely hurtful that some Republicans could say we are manipulating the hunger-strike anniversary. We all came out of this struggle and we should be able to respect that memory."
Copyright Ireland On Sunday 2001
SWP ENTERS SSP
9th May '01
By Sarah McDonald ( Reproduced from Weekly Worker - 3 May )
Throughout last week the Scottish Socialist Party organised a series of regional aggregates to discuss the proposal from the executive to accept the Socialist Workers Partys application for its members to be allowed to join the SSP. At each aggregate a consultative vote was taken to advise the national council, which took the final decision on Sunday April 29.
The results were as follows: East: 34 for, one against, one abstention; Highlands and Islands: 30 for, 11 against, six abstentions; North East: 15 for, 13 against, no abstentions; West: 53 for, 11 against, two abstentions. Total: 132 for, 36 against, nine abstentions.
The results show an overwhelming majority of SSP members in favour of unity. The closest result was in the North East, where two separate aggregates took place. The aggregate dominated by the Dundee branches voted narrowly against the executive, but the overall vote for the North East (including Aberdeen) tipped the balance in favour of unity.
The reason for this hostility comes from the Dundee-based Committee for a Workers International grouping - the rump of what remained after the overwhelming majority of the former Scottish Militant Labour broke from Peter Taaffes CWI. This majority is known as the International Socialist Movement. The Taaffe loyalists claim they want to stick with the original timetable, which would allow the SWP to join at the end of June. This, they say, would give the SWP time to clarify its position on a number of issues: eg, the national question. They also state that by campaigning together in the general election the SWP will be able to prove they have changed their ways and have a genuine interest in building the SSP. In reality the CWI opposition is based on the same sectarian hostility to the SWP - and to left unity not under CWI control - as is daily displayed in the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales.
Many comrades who attended national council pointed out the debates around political issues should increase when the SWP join, not be finalised and then buried beforehand. As Alan McCombes said (and then promptly corrected himself), calling for a trial period and for the exclusion of socialists over political differences would be even more bureaucratic than the SSP executives guidelines banning the public sale of factional literature.
The CWI group, through the Dundee West branch, presented the following motion to national council: The NC agrees to a period of joint work with the SWP during the election campaign prior to them joining as agreed by the last SSP NC. We believe that the proposed timetable is too short to allow the necessary time for joint work and discussion on the outstanding political issues and organisational implications of the SWPs membership. The question of the SWPs membership should be re-discussed at the NC at the end of June.
Aside from the CWI stalling tactics, the other main opposition to unity came from the London-phobic Scottish nationalists. Various comrades expressed a fear that the SWP would overturn the nationalist position for an independent socialist Scotland. This cannot be ruled in the long run, but does not seem to be on the cards in the near future. Playing to his ultra-nationalist wing, comrade McCombes reassured a comrade from the youth group that the SSP would not affiliate to the SWP-sponsored Globalise Resistance so long as it was still run from London. To the amusement of many (and the embarrassment of the CWI), Donald Anderson of the particularly vile Scottish Republican Socialist Movement voiced his support for the Taaffeite motion.
The outcome of national council was extremely positive with the final motion for unity carried overwhelmingly: 25 in favour, three against and no abstentions. There will certainly be immediate political and organisational ramifications. Organisationally the SWP is to provide four full-timers - interestingly one of them is to be funded by the SWP central committee. This begs the question: will other platforms within the SSP, such as the Republican Communist Network, be entitled to fund a full-timer? When asked about this possibility Allan Green did not provide an answer.
The political effect will also be interesting. The SWP - formally a revolutionary organisation - will shift the numerical balance towards all-Britain unity and internationalism, although, judging from its attitude towards the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, that is unlikely to impact upon the reformist nature of the SSPs programme and politics.
The 2003 elections to the Holyrood parliament and their immediate aftermath will obviously be crunch time. Polls indicate that the SNP will emerge as the largest party. The SSP leadership is using the June 7 Westminster general election to boost its chances. One hundred thousand votes across the whole of Scotland is designed to provide a springboard towards seven or eight SMPs and a post-election deal with the SNP on an independence referendum. The SSP leadership will vote not for an independent socialist Scotland but an independent kingdom of Scotland.
Will the SWP platform go along with this separation - a move which would obviously weaken the historical unity of the working class movement in Britain?
It is too early to judge. And what about the anti-nationalist Republican Communist Network? What position will it take? This remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: in Scotland authentic communists will fight tooth and nail for the most militant, most democratic unity of all nationalities in Britain against the UK state.
So the entry of the SWP into the SSP on May 1 2001 holds great opportunities for the left - not just in Scotland, but also for England and Wales. It is an objective and subjective boost to those who want to see the SA and WSA move towards a party structure. The potential is there for the left to end its organisational division along national lines and come together into one all-Britain democratic and centralist party.
MAY DAY SIGNALS ARE STILL FAILING TO GET THEIR MESSAGE THROUGH
7th May '01
By John Lloyd ( Scotland on Sunday - 6 May )
WALKING away this Tuesday last (May Day) from the anti-capitalists penned into a box around Oxford Circus by a police force twice their number, I came upon a woman of young middle age, the uniform of the store in which she worked below her coat. She looked at me sharply and said: "You one of them?"
It was clear what she meant. Was I one of the anti-capitalists who had roamed through the centre of London that day and the night before, done a little drug-taking, bit of smashing, a lot of shouting? For them this was an epicentre of neo-imperialist globalisation. For the woman it was where she worked: by her accent it was the heart of her city.
Flattered by her thought I might be taken for an angry youth, I thought of saying "Yeah!" in the appropriately militant style. But I had been with the angry youth for the past four hours and they held no elixir for me. No, I said, I was there in the capacity of a reporter.
"Well," she said, "you can tell me what they want! What do they want? Theyve had every advantage! And all they know is to bloody destroy! What do they want?"
I began to say that they claimed to want a variety of things, but she turned away, impatient. She had a shopping bag with food and a wedding ring on her left hand. Home was an uncertain Tube journey away, Oxford Circus Tube station had been closed, there were probably kids waiting. It was cold and raining. "I dont get it," she said. "Who pays for them? Me!" And was off.
I might, given the chance, have told her of the bit of good there was in the anti-capitalists. The bit of good was that they saw the unfairness of the world, and were horrified by it. They saw it not - for the most part - at first hand, but on their TV screens and there they saw the inter-communal wars which now ensure that most victims of fighting are civilians; saw the hunger and hopelessness in large parts of the globe; saw that the rich are getting richer and the poor more hopelessly marginalised - saw it all, felt it was not fair, wanted to protest. Someone must be to blame! It must be those who are supposed to be running the world!
Can we blame them for thinking so? This is, after all, a culture of blame - or, put a different way, a society in which the lines of responsibility are supposed to be clear, and hiding behind structures is not tolerated. If this is so for minor accidents, must it not be so when the fate of millions is at stake?
Yet if that was the good, it had to be inferred. The bad was much more in evidence. The bad was the fact that, even had my street acquaintance really wished to know what they wanted, it would have been all but impossible to discover.
The protests had been designed as a kind of radical Monopoly, with demonstrations outside sites picked for their evident hideousness - headquarters of companies which did animal experiments, fur traders, the London office of the World Bank. This was the plan for the demonstrators: it was opaque for the bystanders. I was with them round the World Bank offices. One learned few lessons.
The most articulate - by a long way - were the Socialist Workers Party members shouting slogans to the effect that the World Bank causes poverty and death. A few other far leftists sold their newspapers.
One of those I bought, called Workers Hammer, had a two-page article about the death of a comrade who had been an official in a fraternal group in America, and a four-page article about how China had to be defended against the United States imperialists. Another gave much of its space to denouncing the other members of the Socialist Alliance, of which it was itself a member.
It was downhill all the way after that. Most of the people who showed up were completely aimless. They milled about, waiting for someone to fight the police, but mostly too frightened to do more than shout. The streets around were empty, and many of the offices and shops boarded: but the few people who did pass by and who stood to watch were ignored. There was no leafleting, no speeches.
Demonstrations, in a democracy, are supposed to be expressions of dissent, proposals of alternatives. More than normal politics, the politics of demonstrations must be clear, quickly assimilable, clearly stated. A wrong has - in the demonstrators view - been done, or is still being done. A state of affairs must be ended. A government must be got out, at home or abroad. Oppression must be publicised.
Hence the slogan to be quickly read, instantly understood. Hence the passion of the speeches. Hence the chanting and the banners - the desire to make an impact, emotional as well as intellectual - in order to engage the indifferent citizen in some common sense of outrage. It is, of course, progressively more difficult to jolt the satiated, busy and distracted populations of today into a groove other than that they wear for themselves, from work to pleasure and back. But the more, then, those who protest the status quo have to try.
This was the polar opposite of such an enlightenment vision of protest. Its slogans were "F*** capitalism!" Its militants were slightly mad looking, or abashed, or drunk/stoned. It had no interest in the slightest in convincing anyone. It adopted the pose that if you dont know what the problem is, you must be part of it.
The thought that, since the World Bank is known to pump billions of western taxpayers dollars into poor countries it should be explained as to why it was a global oppressor did not seem to strike anyone. F*** it!
That was the bad to set against the good: but there was also the ugly. Ugly were those who darted about the edges of the crowds, often with bandanas hiding their faces, looking for skirmishing opportunities with the police. Skirting round the demonstrators pinned into Oxford Circus - in what must have been a breach of their rights - I saw some of these in the side streets. They were sharply distinguished from the vast majority who were there to gawp and shout. They were focused on causing some mayhem; but because they were so few, and because the demonstrators themselves numbered only 3,000 or 4,000, they seemed dispirited. The bottles they threw were mainly plastic. They were unable to muster a major attack, or to break out of the cordons.
They were, I thought, interchangeable with those who would demonstrate for the National Front. Like the modern-day racists, they saw politics as a theatre of victimhood - a forum within which they had to show, on television, that the state was bludgeoning them. Since the state had got wise to that one, they had to provoke it. They had to lure the police forward, get them swinging the stocks, make the blood flow.
It was ugly in its cynicism and in its contempt for reason. It had, indeed, given up on reason: reason was, implicitly, consigned to be a weapon of the other side.
Before it, all projects of reform, or improvement, all debates on how poverty is best alleviated or how wars are best quelled were reduced to so much meaningless verbiage. It posited a vast, oppressive, unspeakable them - the state, capitalism, the rich, globalisation.
This hardly makes the government quail: indeed, the success of the police operation, the small extent of the damage and the ugliness of the demonstrators made it look good. Anti-capitalist May Day was pitiful: society cannot exist, as we understand it, without protest based on what we assume to have in common - language, reason, sympathies.
The Left is, indeed, lost without these. But these "leftists" were simply lost. And inexplicable to, along with everyone else, my acquaintance in Oxford Street, who was right to turn away and go home to the family.
ANTI-ENGLISH CLAIMS DISMISSED
5th May '01
By Lorna Martin ( Reproduced from The Herald - May 2nd )
A LEADING historian yesterday denounced Lord Tebbit's claims that anti-English racism in Scotland had escalated in the wake of devolution as an "irresponsible rant".
Tom Devine, professor of history at Aberdeen University, and author of The Scottish Nation, said there was no evidence to suggest that Scots had become a nation of rabid anglophobes.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "This is not a Scottish problem. It is an English problem. Scots have lived for three centuries with a dual identity and have been conditioned by a national inferiority complex.
"That is beginning to fade and is being replaced with an increased self-confidence. Far from devolution stirring up antagonism towards the English, it will, in fact, improve relations between the two nations."
He said there was no doubt that ethnic hostility existed in Scotland, pointing to recent attacks on refugees in Glasgow.
He also accepted that there was still a grudge held against the English, a lingering resentment which, he believed, stemmed from almost 20 years of suffering at the hands of a damaging democratic deficit.
"The problem does date from the 80s and early 90s and the impact of Westminster rule in Scotland. Scots consistently voted against the Conservative party but their policies were imposed on the Scottish people against the wishes of the majority.
"What was basically an English electoral dictatorship rode roughshod over Scots. Any tension or frisson is a lingering legacy of that political and social period. But, in the long term, devolution can only be good for Anglo-Scottish relations. We now have to take responsibility and can no longer blame the English, or claim that, when things go wrong, that it is Westminster's fault."
The professor said many parts of England were more insular than Scotland and pointed to the scale of "coloured migration" to England, not mirrored north of the border, as a key factor behind that narrow-mindedness.
"Scotland is a great example of a mongrel culture. First with Scandinavians, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons and, in more modern times, with Jews, Irish, Lithuanians, Poles, and Asians. They are beginning to celebrate that diversity as they develop a greater awareness of how Scotland came to be the way it is."
In the past five years, the Commission for Racial Equality has received 31 complaints of anti-English racism, between 5-6% of its Scottish caseload.
Last year, it received three. In 1999, it received 12, but that figure was distorted by one person pursuing several complaints. In 1998, the year the Scottish Parliament was reborn, it received six, and the previous year, during which the devolution referendum was held, it received two.
The figures fluctuate, but the percentage remains constant. The English make up about 7% of the population of Scotland, and suffer between 5-6% of the reported cases of abuse.
Professor Devine's rebuff to Lord Tebbit was also supported by Malcolm Dickson, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who was sent a letter-bomb in 1994 by members of the Scottish National Liberation Army, who were angered at research he had published. He had examined the social and political attitudes of people born in England living in Scotland and found them to be similar to those of the indigenous population.
He still monitors the situation and has not seen any evidence of an upsurge in anglophobia. He said: "It is something that needs to be watched, but there are no signs that anti-English sentiment has increased.
"In fact, the problem may be more about how the media in England has been scouring Scotland for signs of anti-English prejudice."
THE LEGACY OF 1981
3rd May '01
By Danny Morrison
Danny reflects on the 1981 Hunger Strike and on Bobby Sands in particular.
I saw Bobby Sands for the last time on Friday, 19 December, 1980 in the visiting room of the H-Blocks, Long Kesh Camp. The previous night the first hunger strike had been called off before any prisoner had died. About a week earlier a government representative had contacted the Republican Movement and said they were anxious to resolve the crisis.
The prisoners were promised that if they ended the strike the administration would implement a flexible and progressive regime, offering education in place of onerous work and the prisoners their own clothes. The strike was ended to prevent the imminent death of Sean McKenna. Later that night a detailed document, which Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins would deliver to the House of Commons the following day, outlining the proposed changes, was secretly sent to the prisoners.
Bobby came out to meet me, having met with the governor, and was angry but composed. He told me that only hours after the strike ended the warders were jubilant and triumphalist. He felt the British had no intention of implementing the promised changes. As far as prison staff, and sections of the media that were later briefed by Downing Street, were concerned, they had broken the prisoners after a fifty- three day hunger strike and four years of a blanket protest.
Bobby predicted a second hunger strike but pledged to do all in his power to oversee the transition to the 'liberal' regime that they had been assured. Within days his suspicions were confirmed. Relatives brought clothes up to the prison but the authorities wouldn't accept them and required the prisoners to humiliate themselves and put on prison clothing to collect them. And so, British petty-mindedness forced the continuation of the blanket protest and triggered the second hunger strike which would last for seven months, result in ten prisoners dying and lead to much loss of life on the outside.
Bobby devised a strategy that left the decisions and judgements on negotiations not solely to hunger strikers themselves, whose physical state would be weak, but to his successor as IRA officer commanding, Brendan McFarlane, in conjunction with Gerry Adams and myself as advisors on the outside. He began his hunger strike on March 1st, 1981. Five days later the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Frank Maguire, died suddenly.
The blanket protest had began in 1976 when republicans refused to wear prison uniforms after they were sentenced. Until then, convicted prisoners had been allowed to wear their own clothes and organise their own command structures. But under the British policy of 'criminalisation' all this was changed. Throughout the conflict successive British governments regularly challenged republicans to test their support at the ballot box.
From his cell Bobby Sands stood in the subsequent Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election and was elected on April 9th with 30,492 votes. Mrs Thatcher refused to accept his mandate as an opportunity to open negotiations. Instead, she amended the Representation of the People Act, banning another prisoner for standing in any future by-election, which, incidentally, is how Owen Carron, a member of Sinn Fein, came to stand and succeed Bobby as MP.
Bobby's success was repeated by two other blanket men who were elected to Dail Eireann in June 1981, one of whom, Kieran Doherty, also later died on hunger strike.
I doubt if Mrs Thatcher ever reflects on her mistakes and miscalculations or the misery she caused. She described the hunger strike as 'the IRA's last card'. Far from it. It rejuvenated the IRA and provided the springboard for Sinn Fein's entry into electoral politics.
After the hunger strike ended the prisoners won all their demands, and more. The release of H-Block inmates was negotiated under the Belfast Agreement and was an explicit admission of their political status.
The sacrifices of IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands MP, who died twenty years ago next Saturday, and his comrades, utterly changed the course of history. It consolidated long-term support for the Republican Movement, ensuring that it could not be militarily defeated, and turned Sinn Fein into an electoral force. Few doubt that in the short term Sinn Fein, the only party that is anti-partitionist in practice, will overtake the SDLP in the North and will hold the balance of power in the South.
The hunger strike of 1981could have been avoided had the British government honoured the commitments it gave. Has Britain learnt the lesson? One doubts it, when one sees how, twenty years later, a different government attempts to renege on the commitments it gave to republicans in another document, one not just delivered to the Commons by a secretary of state, but agreed and voted on as an international treaty - the Belfast Agreement.
Text © Danny Morrison -
design ©Blacknight Solutions 2000-2001
TEBBIT BLASTS SCOTS IN RACE ROW
3rd May '01
By Brian Currie (Reproduced from the Evening Times, 1st May)
VETERAN Tory right-winger Lord Tebbit claimed today there was intense racial antagonism towards the English in parts of Scotland.
And he blamed devolution for what he claimed was a rise in anti-English feeling.
"There is now intense racial antagonism in some parts of Scotland between the Scottish and the English people," he said.
"Now I am not sure what are the causes of that although I think devolution has something to do with it.
"If you go to a football match in Scotland you are subject, as an Englishman, to obscene chanting anti-English slogans." Lord Tebbit, who was commenting on Tory leader William Hague's move to force MP John Townend's to apologise on his race remarks, repeated Mr Townend's call for integration, and warned that multi-cultural societies were dangerous.
Mr Townend said Britain was becoming "a mongrel nation" because of immigrants.
Lord Tebbit drew a distinction between a multi-cultural society and a "multi-racial or multi-ethnic society."
"I do not know of any happy multi-cultural society," he said.
"I think you have to be very careful. Because if you get a nation which has within it two nations, then you potentially have problems.
"And it is a matter of how quickly and thoroughly those who come into the country are absorbed into the mainstream culture.
"If you look across the world, whether it is the Balkans, or Sri Lanka or Indonesia what you find is where there is multiculturalism there is an unhappy community."
Lord Tebbit claimed the United States was a prime example of the success of integrationism, with people proud of their roots but giving their first loyalty to their country.
In comparison, British schoolchildren were told that Christmas was the "winter festival" and urged to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali, he said.
The SNP said there was a consensus among all political parties in Scotland to drive out all forms of racism.
A spokesman said William Hague had to get a grip on the problem within his own party but Lord Tebbit "seemed to be interested in keeping the row going".
SWP - SSP MERGER
2nd May '01
Two articles by Robbie Dinwoodie ( Reproduced from The Herald, May 1st )
RIVALS MAKE PLEDGE TO BE MORE SOCIABLE
TWO rival parties on the left today bury their differences and join forces in a May Day merger in Scotland which they hope will mark a break from the past pattern of splits and factions among socialists.
As of this morning, the Socialist Workers' Party ceases to exist north of the border and its members transfers to the Scottish Socialist Party, which will have its membership of 2000 increased by more than 10% at a stroke.
Tommy Sheridan MSP, convener of the SSP, hailed what he called unprecedented socialist unity in Scotland.
He said: "May 1 is always a significant day for socialists, but to be able to announce further unification of the socialists in Scotland makes it a great occasion.
"The SWP joining us will make us bigger and hopefully even more effective at raising socialist ideas and supporting workers in struggles and campaigns against poverty and low pay.
"For the first time in 70 years, around 90-95% of the active socialists in Scotland will be in the one party, selling the one paper, and promoting an independent socialist Scotland. We are stronger together."
The most obvious indication of the change for many will come during weekend city-centre shopping, when leaving factory gates or pubs, or when passing close to demonstrations. At such times, the sight of SWP activists, come rain or shine, selling the Socialist Worker has been a familiar one.
Many prominent politicians, now by no means considered to be on the left, spent their student days or political apprenticeships selling the publication. However, north of the border, its street sales ended last weekend.
The detailed memorandum outlining the merger states: "From May 1, former SWP members will sell the Scottish Socialist Voice. Public sales of the Socialist Worker will cease in Scotland."
The plan for the next two months, covering the general election period, is for the Voice to become a weekly paper. If this can be sustained, its staff will increase to six, including Dave Sherry, existing SWP journalist. He and two other full-time SWP staff have been promised a place in the SSP.
The memo reveals that there are 272 existing Scottish members of the SWP. Their subscriptions mean the SSP will be between £800 and £1000 better off each month. The SWP pledges to raise at least £15,000 towards the cost of the SSP general election campaign in which the party will contest all 72 seats in Scotland.
The memo is also frank about the potential pitfalls, saying: "We recognise that the entry of the SWP into the SSP could create some tensions in certain areas, especially in the initial period.
"All SSP and SWP members have a serious responsibility to behave in a tolerant and respectful manner and we would appeal to members of both parties to act in a co-operative and comradely fashion towards one another."
Keir McKechnie, an SWP organiser, said that of the 117 members able to attend a meeting at the weekend, all but one voted in favour of the move. "The overall mood has been that having a larger party uniting against New Labour was very exciting," he said.
The move had also been backed enthusiastically in London, where the party south of the border is making its own moves to play a leading role in a new socialist alliance for England and Wales.
Mr McKechnie said they had been impressed by the SSP's campaigns and achievements but the merger was also in tune with the international moves against global capitalism.
"There has been some discussion on how you marry the (Scottish) national question with the fact we are principled internationalists but we have always said we would never shed a tear if the British state broke up," he said.
Mr Sheridan said last night: "The most important feature of this is the unifying of the left compared to the previous divisions on the left. Socialists often knocked lumps out of each other and forgot who the real enemy was.
"Tony Benn often made the point that there were far too many socialist parties and not enough socialists. What is happening now is that we are trying to address that fact by bringing more socialists under one banner."
PLAYERS IN HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT
THE history of the far left over the last two generations has so many splits and mergers that it could have made a Monty Python sketch. In fact, it did.
But, with a suitably broad brush, here goes. As good a starting point as any would be the Revolutionary Socialist League of the 1960s. When it split, powerful leading figures took the ultra-left off along three different lines.
Tony Cliff formed the International Socialists, later to reform into the Socialist Workers' Party. Gerry Healy's Workers' Revolutionary Party became a favourite vehicle of the thespian left. Ted Grant decided it was better to work within the Labour party, and Militant was born.
In some ways, it is the first and third strands of this left-wing tradition that are being reunited in Scotland today with the merger of the SWP (direct heirs of Cliff) and the SSP, which was formed with Scottish Militant Labour as one of the main driving forces.
The other grouping of the far left which had a brief bearing on specifically Scottish politics was Ernest Mandel's International Marxist Group, which drew heavily on university intellectuals and was championed by Tariq Ali.
It was Scottish activists of the IMG who leapt aboard the newly-formed Scottish Labour Party in the 1970s as home rule seemed to beckon, and whose entryism was blamed by many for the demise of that party.
Jimmy Reid, now editor of Scottish Left Review, draws a distinction between these organisations as the "ultra-left" and the "hard left" as characterised by the "non-adventurist" Communist Party, which itself was declining as its power-base in the heavy industrial and mining unions withered away.
Riven by past controversies over Soviet suppression of uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the CP's strength was waning with that of Moscow. When it split into the increasingly right-wing Democratic Left and a trio of competing factions using variations on the CP name, there was a haggle over bank accounts swollen by past Soviet aid which the DL commandeered.
It was some of the survivors of the wreckage of the old CP who joined some New Labour dissidents and some on nationalism's left fringe to form the Scottish Socialist Alliance, along with Tommy Sheridan's Scottish Militant Labour.
The result was the Scottish Socialist Party, which propelled Sheridan to the Scottish Parliament, a pragmatic success which attracted the Scottish membership of the SWP to throw in its lot with the SSP as from today.
OLDHAM - NOT BLACK AND WHITE
2nd May '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action
The recent attack in Oldham on a 75-year old white pensioner by young Asians raises difficult questions for many anti-racists because of the reluctance to condemn anti-social or racist behaviour by non-white offenders.
According to Oldham police 60% of racially motivated attacks in the area are carried out against white people. Even though these figures are challenged by some, and allowing for some of the attacks in fact to be legitimate resistance to white racists, there is still clearly a problem. As Tony Parsons wrote in the Mirror (30/4/01): "It doesn't help race relations in this country if we are afraid to admit that cowardly, vicious bastards come in all colours."
And yet it is precisely this failure by the Left to confront the issue that allows the Far Right to present themselves as the party with radical solutions. Like so many other issues - paedophiles, mugging, drug dealing, etc - that blight working class communities, the Left shy away from dealing with these difficult problems. Partly it is because the solutions involve long term commitment to those communities as opposed to the short term band-wagon jumping approach which is widely adopted; and partly because the Left haven't broken with liberal multi-culturalism that constantly promotes race over class.
In the absence of any progressive forces working in the community, the fascists will bring their own racial spin to play, and the 60 strong BNP picket of Oldham police station, under the banner 'Stop Racist Attacks Against Whites', would have struck a chord with sections of the disenfranchised white working class.
What does the silence of the Left say to the victims of anti-social crime? Does it mean the Left are on the side of the attackers? If the Left have no role in dealing with working class concerns, who does? The police? The State? The Far Right?
Of course the fascists have no such problem in taking sides, and their involvement lets the Left (and the ANL) off the hook. Rather than address the cause of the problem the Left only deal with the consequences by presenting it as an anti-fascist issue; and their anti-fascism is seen as being for the Asian community and against the white community, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the matter. Muslims attacking Hindus is not progressive. Youths attacking pensioners is not progressive. Racial attacks are not progressive. If they stopped for one minute and looked at the situation from a working class perspective then race could be removed from the equation.
Who benefits from the 'race' approach is hinted at in this Guardian article (20/4/01): "Tensions bubbled over once again a few weeks ago when a caller to the local paper claimed the National Front was rallying in Oldham on March 31. In the event, no application to march was received from the NF. 'It was a stunt to whip up the town' say police. It worked - 1000 people went ahead with their own [ANL] demonstration."
The situation in Oldham is not new, but the timing is important. As we go into the General Election ( BNP leader Nick Griffin has announced that he will now stand in Oldham) and another five years of Labour indifference to working class communities, the possibilities are tremendous. And the Far Right know this; if the issues remain defined by race rather than class they will obviously benefit.
The Sunday Telegraph (29/4/01) reported on the increase in reactionary views: "last week's MORI poll which put immigration and race relations behind only the foot and mouth epidemic, the NHS, education and crime as issues of public concern, ahead of the EU, unemployment and the economy". And Nick Griffin was quick to point out that "the row between the Conservatives and Labour over the Commission for Racial Equality's compact was helping the BNP by making race a legitimate political issue." (Guardian, 24/4/01)
To further exploit these divided communities the BNP have launched FAIR - Families Against Immigrant Racism, and produced a newsheet with practical advice on how to exploit the police guidelines on racist attacks for right-wing political ends, and other ideas for community action. On the other side, can we see new ideas to combat the growth in racism and address the failures of the current anti-racist strategies? No, the ANL are still going on about Hitler!
CRE BOOST FOR BNP
1st May '01
Interviewed on Five Live on May 1,Tory shadow spokesman on health Liam Fox refused to answer questions relating to the race row currently consuming the the Conservative party. Instead he would, he insisted, only concentrate on "what people were really interested in."
By that he presumably meant issues like the Euro, dear to Tory hearts, or the enonomy, where they anticipate a down turn, and of course his own speciality the NHS.
While it is true that in a recent Mori poll, the foot and mouth epidemic, and the problems with the NHS were cited as one and two in peoples priorities, 'immigration and race' actually came in fifth. Normally 'race' does not even make the top 10. Now possibly for the first time since the 1970's it is a top five prioity. Why has this happened?
Certainly there is a welter of evidence of a widespread uneasiness and resentment over the issue of asylum. In addition, other surveys have indicated high degrees of disenchantment with the establishments handling of race related matters generally.
For example, one recent poll commissioned by the CRE found 75% disgruntlement among whites at what they percieved as a government bias in regard to minority issues. In other words a rejection of the role of the CRE itself. If it cared, the CRE made no comment.
Meanwhile, the recent incidents in Bradford and Oldham would almost certainly have exacerbated these feelings of alienation further. Without any doubt the 'pledge' demanded by the CRE which has caused such furore within Tory ranks, poured fuel on that fire. The mishandling of the affair by Hague will undoubtedly have gladdened Labour hearts.
The 'mongrel race' comments of Tory MP John Townend, while ignored by Hague were fully expolited by Labour and the media for two whole weeks. Townend is a longstanding member of the Tory right and as such, he may claim Britain is in danger of 'mongrelisation through immigration'. He may even believe it. But that is not what he said. Rather he was objecting to the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's claim that there was no such thing as a British race. Yet even while knowing this, race relations 'experts', Labour and the media constantly repeated the mongrel race phrase as a mantra. With an eye to the election, some like the GMB's John Edmonds went even further claiming that Townend "effectively described Britain's ethnic minorities as mongrels".
Looked at objectively, the CRE pledge, Robin Cooks comments on 'tikka masala', and additional gratutious comments from Bill Morris on the subject of race all point to Labour itself playing the race card as a matter of deliberate policy.
Labour's intention in all of this was clearly to wrongfoot the Tories, who up until recently felt the issue was 'playing quite well'. The seizing by Labour of the Townend remarks and the belated backing down by Hague has changed all that. Instead of looking smugly racist, the Tories now look shallow and hypocritical on the issue.
For the 'racists' who made immigration a top five priority, the Tories are overnight exposed as party who 'cannot be trusted on race'. This was the exactly the result Labour wanted. In Labour camp there will be a feeling of triumphalism among strategists.
But a what cost to the credibility of anti-racism?
Only last week Nick Griffin crowed that the Tories had 'legitimised' the BNP's concerns on race. Now with Hague's humiliation in the face of the Labour led media onslaught, the BNP have been 'authenticated' as the only party in whom genuine racists can place their trust.
This is not, by any stretch of imagination, good news for anti-fascism. Moreover what the affair exposes is that is the left rather the right which is now most comfortable playing the race card. How long this will last is moot.
Certainly the downplaying, for a second time in a fortnight, by the police, media, and the left of the underlying racial nature of the clashes in Oldham at the weekend hint at an underlying nervousness on the issue.
For the CRE who never tire of racialising social issues, whose job it is to bring race to forground race at every oppurtunity, who approve of the pivotal role race plays in the media on a weekly basis, to then turn around and demand from politicians that it should not be exploited at election time, leaves them open to the accusation of being out of touch, or of charlatanism
Either way the serious questions it raises about the establishments willingness to play to the gallery when it suits will not to be lost on the watching public.
The whole affair can only add to the sense of, in particular, working class disenchantment with the overall anti-racist posturing by the establishment.
It cannot be said with any certainity how much effort the BNP will put into the general election, with their focus as it is on the local elections in 2002. Thus it may not be possible to measure the effect on it's new ranking as the 'only party who can be trusted on race'.
What can be said with absolute certainty is that until the Socialist Alliance, who will find itself confronting the BNP at the ballot box next May, divorce themselves entirely from the liberal agenda on race, it can never hope to be regarded as the party 'who can ever be trusted on class'.
If the SA enter the contest by continuing to totally discount working class peceptions on the related issues of race and immigration it will look as 'shallow and hypocritical' as the Tories do currently. In that case there will be only one winner. With ominous consequences, the BNP will have been handed the mantle 'radical alternative' on a plate.
But unlike the Tories the left will have no one to blame but itself.