Often portrayed as responsible for bringing down a Labour government and ‘letting in’ Thatcher’s Tories, the 1978-79 ‘Winter of Discontent’ remains a high point in the history of the class struggle in Britain.
by Sheila Cohen
The Winter of Discontent (WoD) has not had a good press – either from the right or, less predictably, from the left. The most recent diatribe against this historic wave of struggle comes in a relatively recent publication whose author claims that “The Winter of Discontent marked the democratisation of greed…It was like the spirit of the Blitz in reverse”. A former Labour minister’s comment on the WoD that “it was as though every separate group in the country had no feeling and no sense of community, but was simply out to get for itself what it could” is used to illustrate “the callous spirit which characterise[d] the disputes”.
Stuart King of the Permanent Revolution group and a member of the new Anti-Capitalist Initiative has written a reply to a previous article.
The ACI and wary libertarians
Jackie Lucas’ article on the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) in the June issue of the Commune appears to take a positive, if wary, attitude towards the ACI. Perhaps I can tackle some of these suspicions.
Jackie quotes from an article in Permanent Revolution 22 on the launch of the ACI where we talk about why young anticapitalist activists are not joining the Trotskyists or organised far left but rather are attracted to a vague libertarian and even anarchist politics. Jackie quickly declares “This in itself should alert libertarian leftists to what they are letting themselves in for if they decide to join this project which has not renounced its political origins or traditions.” Continue reading “a response to jackie lucas”→
A ‘comrades reunited’ front or something else? Libertarian communist Jackie Lucas poses the question, is this as home for libertarian leftists?
The 28th April launch meeting in London of the ‘new’ anti-capitalist project was surreal. The meeting had been called by Simon Hardy, prior to his resignation from Workers Power, where he had been the editor of the group’s monthly paper, who with others had resigned from the Trotskyist group on 14th April, only to be back in the same room with them discussing the future. Continue reading “new anti-capitalist initiative launched”→
Guest post by Chris Strafford on how communists should relate to mass movements, and his experience of the CPGB
The capitalist crisis has opened up a new period and instigated the intensification of class warfare on every continent. Movements such as Occupy, the uprisings in the Middle East, the student movement in Quebec and the popular protests in the Russian Federation represent an acceleration of the class struggle. After listening to two electricians speak in Manchester about their struggle against BESNA I was struck by how these movements have transcended national boundaries and how the language of Occupy and Los Indignados in Spain have embedded themselves in a layer of working class activists. This is also evident in the affinity many people have with the 99% slogans adopted by Occupy. Continue reading “which way forward for the revolutionary left?”→
Ollie Sutherland was not impressed by the common call on the left for us to vote labour.
What always strikes me as bizarre about elections is the importance the left places on them. Every few years working people get the chance to choose which part of the ruling class they wish oppress them; as it’s always the ruling class in power after the elections, why do most of the left encourage participation in them? Elections are an ideological cornerstone of capitalist ‘democracy’: that people have control over who governs the country and makes key decisions about society. Therein lies the problem: they give people the illusion of control, when people’s lives and society are actually controlled by their workplace and the economic system – not parliament or City Hall. Continue reading “you can’t say that! ken livingstone as a barrier to working class organisation”→
George Galloway’s victory in the Bradford West by-election has caused a stir, says duvinrouge.
The people massively voted for a candidate to the left of Labour even with a Tory-FibDem coalition. This has got Labour nervous and inspired the Left. However, as much as Galloway appears to be on the side of ordinary people as opposed to the rich, he is another political ego on another stage of his trip. The whole parliamentary system is full of them, all dreaming about one day being Prime Minister. Today more and more people are fed up with the egos. Not just the political variety but the corporate whores as well. Increasingly people are realizing that they don’t need to put up with them. That society can be run without structures promoting power and control. That society is one of direct democracy. That is, communism. All over the world people have got a taste of direct democracy through the Occupy movement & their General Assemblies. Tahir Square has spawned workers’ councils. We can organize society to meet our needs rather than just being used to generate profit for an elite.
Out with the professional political egos ruling; in with delegates & assemblies!
In the aftermath of the ‘Bradford Spring’, I thought I’d share a brief recollection of one of my few face-to-face encounters with George Galloway.* It took place amidst a controversy pretty typical of Galloway’s career, where in the face of a straightforward case of socialist principle he instead jumped to defend the Iranian régime.
Four years ago, Galloway was in choppy waters. Having stretched the SWP’s loyalty to him to breaking point with his ‘outspoken’ views on sexual morality and his bizarre Big Brother appearance, in November 2007 he split their Respect venture as to still further exert his authority over it. Nonetheless standing in the May 2008 London elections (though still an MP), he was keen to stay in the media spotlight and thus made an appearance on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff. Continue reading “the cat that got the cream (and avoided the ginger beer)”→
In the lead-up to the latest national strike day on 28 March, Sheila Cohen asks whether the anti-cuts campaigns are working
I have been asked to write an article about anti-cuts campaigns, and said I don’t know much about them. I don’t know much about them because I don’t think they work. I don’t think they work because the government and ruling-class generally are rabid hyenas without an iota of inclination to give a flying **** about the needs and wishes of so-called “ordinary people” – if they did give such a thing they wouldn’t be, well, ruling. But I was asked to write nonetheless.
As a dutiful writer, I began preparing for this piece by doing (admittedly, a very small modicum of) research. One dedicated anti-cuts organisation I turned up which shall be nameless, but describes itself on its website as “a diverse collation of…groups and individuals that have come together to challenge social exclusion and promote social justice” includes as part of its many activities a project to unite unemployed workers, a “celebration” of its locality with a “one day community event” and, of course, intransigent opposition to racism – and quite right too. The community event was warmly received, with one participant commenting that it had, indeed, given “a real sense of community”. So what’s not to like? Continue reading “time to cut the anti-cuts campaigns?”→
David Broder was unconvinced by ‘Anarchism: a Marxist Critique’ by John Molyneux
There’s a bloke who sells the News Line at Broadway Market on Saturdays: Britain’s first-ever colour daily paper is still going strong, it seems. Only thing is, the News Line is the paper of a small Trotskyist group called the WRP, and it could only afford to go full-colour because Colonel Gaddafi was paying for it. So seeing the seller as I walked to the Anarchist Bookfair on the 22nd – two days after the Libyan dictator met his end – I was keen to debate the merits and demerits of this news. He stuck to his (pro-Gaddafi) guns, angrily telling me I “didn’t understand the Marxist theory of the state” and was an “anarchist”.
After the bookfair us Communards went for some much-needed refreshments at the Wetherspoons. At the pub a slightly drunk ‘anarchist’ started chewing my ear off about how much he hated Marxism (“Marx was a totalitarian”) but also his sadness about the passing of Colonel Gaddafi, who had, at least, built lots of hospitals. I wondered whether either this anarchist or my Broadway Market Marxist were particularly good representatives of their schools of thought, or indeed honest in their criticisms of others. Continue reading “the power to make change for ourselves”→
Joe Thorne writes on NATO’s role in post-Gaddafi Libya, and whether its ‘humanitarian intervention’ is really cause to re-think anti-imperialism
Less than a month before the fall of Tripoli, the BBC suggested that rather than a rebel victory, “what may emerge is a complicated deal struck between rebels and erstwhile Gaddafi loyalists to get the Libyan leader out of the picture and open up the way for a national transitional government.”
Indeed, I argued in the last issue of The Commune that this was precisely NATO’s strategy. They saw such a compromise as the best means to ensure the political stability they want. It would allow the NATO powers, as the brokers of any compromise, to play king-maker, and perhaps facilitate acceptance of foreign troops on Libyan soil, as ‘peace-keepers. But this was far from certain: the rebels were neither NATO pawns nor idiots, and many would oppose such impositions.
In the event, Gaddafi’s army collapsed quicker than most had predicted. The stalemate which had prevailed since late March was broken on 29th July, when rebel fighters in the West took five small villages in the plain below the Nafusa mountains. This opened the way for the push to the coast and the taking of Zawiyah on 19th August, and the severing of the coastal artery supplying Tripoli with petrol and food. Thus followed a collapse of morale in the loyalist army.
The end, then, was not so much the “grubbier” compromise that the Western powers were hoping for, but a far more straightforward rebel victory. In consequence, the Libyan rebels are in a much stronger position to define the form of a new Libya than they otherwise would have been, and than NATO hoped they would be. In consequence it seems, for example, that a Western base is off the agenda and there are signs that some rebel elements are resisting the imposition of ex-Gaddafi loyalists. Continue reading “any hope for libya?”→
David Broder reflects on this weekend’s Marxism festival, a thousands-strong conference organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party. He argues that the libertarian left should be doing more to engage with SWP comrades in order to provide a positive alternative for those put off by how it organises.
Marxism is the biggest event on the British left. Across five days several thousand people converge on London for the Socialist Workers’ Party summer school, including representatives of most other significant left groups. The conference itself is SWP self-promotion, so they do not invite groups they disagree with for debate: they prefer to give a platform to ‘big name’ trade union leaders, politicians like Tony Benn or Marxist academics, who may sermonise for socialism but won’t really question the SWP’s own modus operandi.
This is a great shame, since ‘Marxism’ has great unfulfilled potential. It could be a weekend for the left to debate strategy and ideas in a collective way. Instead, the meetings are heavy on top-table speakers, while SWP audience members tend simply to reaffirm what the speaker has already said. Often in an anti-cuts meeting or similar, The Commune members will question whether we should really be collaborating with Labour politicians, what kind of direct action is appropriate, or if we should be making more radical, positive proposals rather than purely defensive demands. The SWP stock reply is: this isn’t the time to debate among ourselves, we need to be ‘out there’ campaigning. OK, so when can we have these debates? Continue reading “a weekend at marxism: how do we relate to the SWP?”→
Opposition to the military intervention in Libya has been muted in the UK, and positions on the left have been exposed by the tension between support for democratic struggle in the Middle East and a deep distrust of Western motives. This is an edited version of an online discussion between Commune members between 20-25 March, which aimed not at expressing a final position but exploring some of the contradictions.
In January the National Shop Stewards’ Network fell apart when the Socialist Party declared the foundation of yet another national anti-cuts campaign. Sheila Cohen reflects on the deeper roots of NSSN’s failure
What follows will have to be taken as a personal account, given the fierce antagonisms and uncertain alliances involved in the split which took place at the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) conference on 22nd January. Since that time, the comments of the NSSN majority have focused largely on the “democracy” of the debate, which saw a large vote for the proposal that the NSSN launch an “anti-cuts campaign, bringing trade unions and communities together to save all jobs and services”.
There is no point commenting here on the methods available for securing such large majorities. That would be to detract from the central issue which saw up to 100 people leave the conference – and the NSSN. Our spirited discussion at a nearby pub was not based on any lack of formal “democracy”, but on the fundamental irrelevance of the debate, if such it can be called, on the future of working-class politics in Britain. Continue reading “what it says on the tin? memories of the NSSN”→
An essay by Sheila Cohen. It is offered as a response to the question set by the Daniel Singer Foundation: “Given the devastating effects of the present crisis on working people, what proposals for radical reform can be raised which are both practical to the vast majority while moving us towards the goal of socialism?”
The current global crisis of capitalism makes the task set by the Daniel Singer Millenium Prize Foundation look relatively straightforward. Immediate proposals for radical reform would clearly include the demand that Western governments everywhere take over the banks and use the resulting trillions to fund health care, re-establish humane and affordable housing, rebuild education at every level, provide humane child- and elder-care, not to mention ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rescuing the devastation to humanity represented in Haiti, Somalia, and other disasters of the “developing” world. Such proposals would certainly be radical, relevant to the vast majority of the human race and, if granted, enough of a blow to global capital to knock it off its pedestal more conclusively than Saddam Hussein. Continue reading “starting all over from scratch? a plea for “radical reform” of our own movement”→