new issue of the commune – now free!

The August 2011 issue of The Commune marks a substantial step forward for our paper. We will now be distributing the paper for free, and in much-increased volume.

This issue features  reports from the 30th June strike day, debate on the reasons behind the European crisis, and an extended essay on the war in Libya… and much more. See below for a list of articles.

You can download a PDF of issue 24 by clicking on the image above. If you enjoy the paper and would like to share these ideas with others, write to us at and we can post you some hard copies to distribute.

Articles this month:


their media and ours – this month’s editorial looks at the meaning of the ‘Hackgate’ scandal

the criminalisation of dissent – on the imprisonment of anti-fees activist Charlie Gilmour

cleaners’ strike in city pays dividends – cleaner activist Alberto Durango reports on a strike at Guildhall which shows that direct action works.


30th June (‘J30’) saw some 750,000 public sector workers take strike action over Tory attacks on pensions. This was the next step forward for the anti-cuts movement following the mass demonstration on 26th March. We discuss the significance of the day and its lessons.

less work for all! – Steve Ryan was on strike with PCS civil servants’ union colleagues

a movement taking its first steps – for Izzy Parrott, the J30 day of action was about more than pensions: but it didn’t have the feel of a wide, grassroots movement.

tense debates over camping plan – Activist solidarity initiatives for the day had rather mixed results. Daniel Harvey stresses the need to centre our activity around the workplace.


‘something out of the ordinary’ – College worker Siobhan Evans reflects on a hard-fought struggle against redundancies in her workplace.

NHS: reform, or privatisation? – East London GP Jonathon Tomlinson continues our series on alternative ideas as to how public services should be run.


the crisis in europe: debating the role of finance – John Keeley argues that it’s more than just Europe’s periphery that’s in crisis; it’s the entire capitalist system. In reply Oisín Mac Giollamóir argues that financial crisis is every bit the ‘normal’ functioning of capitalism

management by abandonment – Nic Beuret writes on the economic and political pressures behind border controls and the EU’s ‘Fortress Europe’ anti-migrant measures.

what is NATO fighting for in libya? – Joe Thorne asks if the western powers have really taken a humanitarian turn

the left 

a weekend at ‘marxism’ – David Broder reflects on the Socialist Workers’ Party’s ‘Marxism’ event, arguing libertarians should do more to relate to the SWP

what is the commune?


8 thoughts on “new issue of the commune – now free!

  1. Joe Thorne starts from completely the wrong place. It takes him several paragraphs to conclude that NATO is not in Libya for humanitarian purposes.
    Well who would dispute that? They are there to look after their own economic interests — mainly oil — and to influence the nature of any new government. But the questions Joe doesn’t ask are — Why are NATO supporting the rebels and not Gaddaffi? As communists do we support the rebels or the dictators in the “Arab Spring”? If we support the rebels as I assume we do, surely we should welcome support — critically of course because the enemy of our enemy is not always our friend — from wherever it comes, even from NATO. The context and the key starting point is the rebellion in the Middle East which is now spreading into Africa and Europe. The end of the Gaddaffi regime would be a boost to that rebellion. To denounce NATO is in effect to support Gaddaffi against the rebels.

    It is clear that US imperialism and NATO have a real problem. They have been backing dictatorships for decades but partly because of the global recession, people particularly young people are not prepared to take these regimes any longer. The US and NATO have to find a new strategy — somehow to placate the new rebellious forces. They will decide what to do for pragmatic reasons based on survival. If under threat of a strike an employer gives us higher wages do we tell him to get stuffed and denounce him as a robbing capitalist. No we take the money and keep our powder dry for the next fight. The class struggle is a contradictory process.

    Some people have said we don’t know who the rebels are. That is true. Would it be better if there were mass Stalinist or Social Democracy parties or even vanguard parties of the SWP/SP type that we are used to? I think not.
    The rebels will have to make it up as they go along. We have to listen and learn from their experiences.

    Dave Spencer


  2. I think that’s a shallow analysis. The fact that the rebels don’t have overt left-group politics is not evidence that they are creating something better, as if the mere absence of Stalinist/Trotskyist organisation proved it was some sort of libertarian class struggle. It is impossible to understand the conflict *purely* through the prism of your critique of the British left.

    Is Gaddafi a monstrous dictator? Yes. Is it better that the rebels win than Gaddafi does? Yes. But any communist participating in the rebellion would have to guard against the intentions of the rebel leaders, in particular their relationship with NATO. There isn’t just ‘dictatorship’ on one side and abstract ‘democracy’ on the other: many of the main leaders are former Gaddafi acolytes, who want to put themselves in power, as do (smaller) religious forces and also tribal, monarchist etc. cliques. Indeed, NATO also want to help reshape post-Gaddafi Libya and the Middle East which is why they are intervening.

    The strike analogy is inaccurate because whereas the strike threat fulfilling the workers’ demands would affirm their confidence, strength, the value of solidarity etc. and help prepare future struggles, NATO’s intervention will instead place limits on and mould the character of the rebel council as to ensure a compliant post-Gaddafi government. Moshé Machover wrote a very good piece on this, writing:

    “As Marx observed a long time ago, revolution is needed not only to overthrow the powers that be, but also to transform the people who are making it – the process of revolution is a transformative one which gives the masses confidence in their ability to change things and to be masters of their own fate. Once you call on other forces to intervene, all this is lost, and in this sense it is a defeat.”

    It isn’t just about oil. Gaddafi could sell them oil; I doubt the current economic chaos suits them much either. I also don’t think it’s right to say the NATO intervention is intended to “placate” the rebels – why would NATO think that necessary? What pressure can the rebels exert on them? NATO hypocrisy if we look at Bahrain, or non-intervention in e.g. Syria, would suggest that they were not compelled to act out of some desire to appease the rebels.

    To say that denouncing NATO is in effect to support Gaddafi is absurd. Firstly because it doesn’t loyally refer to the terms of argument already established in previous posts on Joe’s article (see link above). Moreover because this statement is in fact a direct expression of the idea that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, which is totally untrue. Very different scenarios, but by the same logic you would equally conclude that the anti-war demos in 2003 were effectively supporting Saddam Hussein, or indeed that anti-Stalinists helped fascism or that dissidents in Iran are effectively helping western imperialism. We have heard this kind of argument time and time again. What it does is remove the idea of working-class agency, instead forcing us simply to pick between various bad capitalist alternatives.

    We can, and do, oppose both Gaddafi and the NATO intervention. Communists in Britain have a particular responsibility to point to the many crimes of British imperialism and its real intentions.


  3. You say communists oppose both Gaddafi and NATO. Forgive me but there isn’t one word about opposing Gaddafi in the article. In what way do we oppose Gaddafi? The article opposes NATO intervention because NATO isn’t humanitarian. If that isn’t shallow I don’t know what is. Who claims that NATO is humanitarian?

    You talk about the Libyan rebels. What about the rebels throughout the Middle East? The defeat of Gaddafi would be a boost to the Arab Spring movement as a whole, not just to the rebels in Libya. You say NATO are intervening to reshape the Middle East. Of course. They would intervene with aid, weapons ,bribery whether they intervened militarily in Libya or not.

    I agree with the piece you quote from Moshe. That is exactly the point I am making — but about the revolutionary movement throughout the Middle East not just Libya! If Libya was an isolated incident like Iraq I would oppose NATO intervention but it isn’t; it’s in the context of a regional upheaval and supporting the Libyan rebels and their comrades in Egypt Yemen, Bahrain etc. We either support the rebels or we support the dictators. That choice was not there in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    My strike analogy was to make exactly the point you make but with reference to the rebels in the Middle East as a whole not to the rebels in Libya who are all you are concerned about. If they were an isolated case you would be right.

    I don’t understand your point about “the prism of my critique of the Britisn Left”. Nor about previous posts on Joe’s article — i wasn’t aware there were any.


  4. Hi Dave

    My point on the British left was that you seem to take as a starting point your criticism of historic left traditions, hence you write it is better the rebels do not have recognisable left group politics, than if they did. Which I do not accept. Even if such groups are undemocratic and divisive, anything constituted as a class-centred movement would be better and more liable to positive change than the actually-existing pro-capitalist/nationalist/religious etc. forces. You assert that what is happening in Libya is a class struggle, but don’t address the contradictory character of the rebel camp, which Joe tries to do.

    I also think this view is expressed in your assertion that no-one claims NATO is humanitarian. Maybe no-one on the left, but the vast majority of the press do and plenty of people will think their current intervention is humanitarian. Your argument appears to be that it is humanitarian in effect but not in intention. Surely Moshé’s point is about the whole region though – NATO are intervening to displace the Arab/democratic/from below spirit of the Arab spring and thus should be opposed.

    Comments on Joe’s article can be found here

    From these comments and on previous posts Joe has staked out an overtly anti-Gaddafi position and the piece is clearly supportive of the rebels’ aims. The piece is about the extent to which the legitimate aspirations of the rebels are compromised and reshaped by NATO’s intervention and the forces leading the Transitional National Council.

    I guess Joe doesn’t actually write “Gaddafi=dictator” although this is based on the assumption we would all hate Gaddafi anyway, which is why he writes e.g.:

    “Obviously the[ rebels] know that our society isn’t perfect, but basic freedom of assembly, of language, to read and discuss at will, to vote, etc. – all these things are enough of a motivation.”

    “Apparently other Stop the War people are rolling out the usual line: it’s necessary to “keep it broad” – quasi-fascists no exception! So let’s take this as a starting point: absolute political separation from the Gaddafists, and open political condemnation of Gaddafi is necessary in principle, and failure to uphold this principle has been divisive in practice – it’s no good asking Libyans to “keep it broad” by marching alongside supporters of the tyrant who has, in many cases, driven them into exile.A similar dynamic, albeit worse, is apparently at work in the US, where the ANSWER coalition is heavily propagandising on behalf of Gaddafi.”

    ” In the West there is obviously no material basis for class struggle – in a real sense, Gaddafi is the main threat – and in the East it is likely that there is no subjective base for it at present.”

    But Dave, I don’t really understand your overall point though. You agree NATO want to shape the Middle East process and think it is a bad thing, yet support one of the means by which they do it…


  5. In the late 1980s I was at a meeting addressed by the leader of the Moscow Independent Peace Movement. He described his life in Russia . When he took his dog for a walk in the park he always took a carrier bag with a jersey and tooth-brush in case he was arrested. Sometimes the KGB would play tricks on him like padlocking his front door from the outside so he couldn’t get to work. When he arrived in Vienna his friends asked what was wrong with his voice because he was whispering. It was because his flat was bugged and he always whispered. Some Trot asked him “Does your group believe in unilateral disarmament for Russia? (the workers’ bomb question)” He smiled “What we want first of all is the right to discuss that issue,”
    I realised that’s how bad it was in Russia. Workers’ state? Bollocks.

    That’s how bad it is in the Middle East under dictatorships. That is the point. The question of NATO in Libya is a secondary question. US imperialism and NATO have supported these dictatorships. The people are not prepared to put up with them any more. We cannot legislate who the leaders of these movements will be. Neither can NATO though they will try of course.

    Do we really want a bunch of Stalinists running countries or even a bunch of Trots? They do not believe in democracy. Follow cold logic. Some of our friends might be signed up to them but their leaderships have sabotaged every broad workers’ movement over the last decades. They would do it again. We need to support the rebels and get into discussion with them to listen and to learn.

    The fact that NATO are supporting the rebels and not Gaddafi in my opinion is a good thing. They are doing it for their own strategic reasons obviously.
    It is a gamble. They might win over the rebels and put their own stooges in power. Their influence might spread to other rebels. But the movement might open sufficient democracy throughout the region for the working class to have a voice. And that voice might spread as it seems to be doing to Africa, Greece, Spain. I may be naive but I think the Arab Spring is the equivalent of Paris 1968 and Berlin 1989. NATO has seen the writing on the wall and their intervention in Libya is a sign of weakness not of strength.


  6. I think Dave’s position is to invite a repetition of the Iranian Revolution. Back then many of us thought that the movement of the masses was bound to result in something better. It didn’t. Arguably it resulted in something worse. Looking at the actions of the Islamists within the rebel forces – and dave says such forces didn’t exist in Iraq, they did many of them were the same fundamentalists who are now fighting in Libya, and went from the east of Libya to fight in Iraq – in killing their own Military leader who had defected from Gaddafi shows how difficult it would be for any really socialist forces to operate within their ranks.

    What is happening in Syria appears to be a genuine revolution as opposed to a sectarian Civil War, which is what exists in Libya. Yet, recent reports suggest that even there the dominant force is the Muslim Brotherhood. That is probably inevitable given the conditions, but it does show the dangers of seeing the Arab Spring through rose tinted glasses. In Bahrain, genuine grievances are also being used by Iran for its own purposes, as indeed it is doing in Iraq, in fermenting the growing tension over oil reserves and access to the Gulf between Iraq and Kuwait i.e. the very issues that led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait originally.

    The revolution in Egypt seems to have stalled, and we now see the Army openly attacking demonstrators in Tahrir Square. The eruptions we are seeing seem far closer to the demonstrations we saw in South Korea twenty or so years ago, that eventually led to the introduction of bourgeois democracy. But, outside Egypt, I do not see the economic and social basis that existed in South Korea, which arose from its rapidly growing economy. And, Korea did not have the factor of a very reactionary, and potentially powerful Islamist ideology to be able to divert the struggle.


  7. The revolutions in the Middle East are acting as an inspiration to people across the globe. It may or may not go the way we want but something is better than nothing. The masses are not sitting back and accepting their lot but taking up arms in the most difficult of circumstances, if that is not a cause for celebration I don’t know what is.

    Instead of passing judgement on the events the left have to influence them. Iran may not be anything like a socialist paradise but I reject the idea it is now something worse than before. Comments like that is a reason the left have lost so much support in that part of the world. The revolutionary socialists of Egypt made the point that the lefts attitude to religion has been a disaster for its support. I am not arguing the left should capitulate to mysticism but tactically we need a rethink.


  8. Was this some kind of joke? “Iran may not be anything like a socialist paradise…” In many ways I would argue that it IS worse than the Shah. At least the Shah was acting as a typical bouregois Bonapartist, and bringing about modernisation. The current medievalist, clerical-fascist regime has not only acted to crush workers and socialist opposition more ruthlessly than did the Shah, but has taken Iranian society backwards, as witnessed by its declining economy. The only area it seems to want to put lots of effort into advancing technological development is in armaments, and its drive to create a nuclear bomb.

    No something is NOT always better than nothing. That is why Lenin and the Comintern argued fiercely against giving support for such reactionary movements even when they were fighting in the name of “liberation”. We might fight moving in the same direction on the battle field, but with a close eye to what they are doing, as much as on the enemy in front of us. Where we can we should attempt to drag any potentially healthy forces away from them.

    The latest reports from Egypt show the danger. Newsnight last night showed how the Islamists to the Right of the Muslim Brotherhood are now appearing as by far the most powerful organised force, as Mark Urban’s video at the link demonstrates. In Syria the MB are the most powerful force. In Libya, it is again those islamist forces who went to fight in Iraq, who are influential amongst the fighters in the east, while in Bahrain, Iran is acting to stir up Shia opposition.

    Lenin warned particularly about movements that were acting as agents of foreign Governments, and of the mullahs. It is not a matter of the left’s attitude to religion, but of our attitude to reactionary social forces represented by political Islam.


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