5 April 2005

NO TO THE ACADEMIC BOYCOTT — 1

The Association of University Teachers, of which I am a member, is contemplating an academic boycott of Israel (see story here). I am strongly opposed to it, not because I approve of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – I don't – but because:
Israeli universities are not reponsible for the actions of the Israeli government or the Israeli army any more than British universities are responsible for the actions of the British government or the British army.

I believe it important not only to maintain but to strengthen academic links between British universities and both Israeli and Palestinian universities because I think such links can play a small but significant part in encouraging dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

A boycott – whatever the intentions of its supporters – would have no effect except to give succour to anti-Semites.

HEY! HO! LET'S GO!

A few useful tools for following the election: first, the BBC’s Poll Tracker, which allows you to compare all the latest opinion polls (here); second, from the excellent Keele University Political Science Resources website, comprehensive constituency-by-constituency results from the 2001 election (here); third, the Financial Times election site (here), which if 2001 is anything to go by, should be the best of the newspapers’ efforts; and, fourth, tacticalvoter.net (here), just in case you’re still in any doubt about how best to beat the Tories.

NO-HOPER LEAVES LABOUR SHOCK

The defection to the Liberal Democrats of Stephen Wilkinson, hitherto Labour candidate for Ribble Valley, has been milked for all it is worth by Charles Kennedy and his chums, and you can't blame them for that.

But is it really that significant? Though the Lib Dems won it once in a by-election, Ribble Valley is now one of the safest Tory seats in the country, and Labour hasn't the faintest chance of winning. Here's how it voted in 2001:

Nigel Evans (Conservative) 25,308 (51.5%)
Mike Carr (Lib Dem) 14,070 (28.6%)
Marcus Johnstone (Labour) 9,793 (19.9%)

So Wilkinson's defection is that of a complete no-hoper. Did it really deserve the prominence it got on the Today programme?

THE BROADCASTERS' NIGHTMARE - 2

So it's not going to happen – the royal wedding and the Pope's funeral on the same day, that is. But wait! The wedding now clashes with the Grand National. . .

4 April 2005

THE BROADCASTERS' NIGHTMARE – 1

It appears that the Pope's funeral and the royal wedding could well coincide. "Thanks for that, Nicholas, and we'll be back to you for more from Windsor soon. Now over to Jeremy Bowen in Rome. What's the mood like there, Jeremy?"

2 April 2005

CUBA SOLIDARITY – 5

Oliver Kamm has a good post here.

Support for the overthrow of Castro’s tyranny ought to be as much an issue for progressive opinion as was opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. It is clearly not regarded that way.

1 April 2005

TROTSKYISM TODAY

I'm not making a habit of recommending The Nation, but this piece by Raymond Aronson on Isaac Deutscher's recently republished biography of Trotsky is excellent:
It has always been tempting, in the 1930s, in the 1960s and again today, to look for the original sin of the Bolshevik revolution. But what if it was the revolution itself? Not its radicalism and not its use of violence but rather the vanguard party's determination to assume power over a backward society in the first place, and in the single-party state that followed? . . .

It turns out that hope based on illusion is no more than a false hope, and has led, time and again, to disaster. But that is the easy lesson. The more difficult one is that sometimes it takes a lifetime, even generations, to dispel the power of illusion.

31 March 2005

WHAT THIS ELECTION IS ABOUT FOR SOCIALISTS – 1

1. There is not a serious systemic choice among the major parties between capitalism and socialism at the next general election.

2. The choice is between capitalism managed by the Labour Party and capitalism managed by the Tories. Labour capitalism is not pleasant. But it is a lot better, not least because it is more egalitarian, than Tory capitalism.

3. There is no sign of a movement that holds even the faintest hope of starting a serious socialist challenge to Labour at the election that is not fatally tainted by its association with Leninist cretinism in one of its myriad forms.

4. If you are a socialist, vote Labour.

29 March 2005

SHOW US THE EVIDENCE

Harry (click here) alerts the world to this bizarre claim from the Guido Fawkes blog (click here) :
There is also clear evidence that Labour staff have been involved in a semi-official disinformation effort, run out of Labour's offices, on left-wing websites to discredit anti-Blair tactical voting initiatives.
Now, I have been arguing against dickheads who believe in anti-Blair protest voting for some time (click here , here and here just for starters) and I am a member of the Labour Party. But I have acted entirely autonomously.

So, as far as I'm aware, has every other blogger who has attacked the idiocy of voting against Labour because we don't like Tony Blair – in the dumb belief that this will secure a smaller Labour majority that in turn will guarantee the replacement of Blair (er, totally outrageous, er, imperialist apologist Bush poodle, er) by Gordon Brown (er, true internationalist, er, anti-imperialist, er, socialist).

Cretino-leftists, listen up: you might not like Labour, but the only alternative government is Tory. And anything other than voting Labour most places and Lib Dem to beat a Tory if Labour is in third (see tacticalvoter.net) makes no sense. Peter Hain might have got the last bit of that wrong in his piece in the Guardian yesterday (click here), but otherwise he's spot-on.

And Guido, show us the "clear evidence".

26 March 2005

HOW TIMES CHANGE

"At present there exists no alternative to the Tories which the revolutionary movement could support. . . The only real alternative to capitalist politics is provided by the revolutionary left groups as a whole. Despite their smallness and despite their many failings, they represent the only way forward." Tariq Ali, 1971 (in The Coming British Revolution )

"Vote Lib Dem. If the result is a hung parliament or a tiny Blair majority it will be seen as a victory for our side." Tariq Ali, 2005 (in an article in Red Pepper)

25 March 2005

AM I AN ISLAMOPHOBE TOO?

I’ve never had a great deal of time for the idea of “Islamophobia”. Is it phobia about Islam as a whole? Or phobia about about any part of Islam? Or phobia about Muslims in general? Or phobia about any group of Muslims? And which bit of phobia – fear, aversion or hatred – is it? Or is it all three?

As an atheist and secularist, I very definitely have a strong aversion to Islam as a whole, though it is I believe a rational one. I have no fear of Islam, though I would have if I lived in an intolerant Islamic state or if I were faced with the proclamation of a fatwa. I hate certain aspects of Islam (for example the intolerance of homosexuality and the patriarchal attitude to women found in most versions of the faith) but not every element of it. And although I have an aversion to some Muslims and indeed fear and hate a few – for example the persecutors of Salman Rushdie or the perpetrators of 9/11 – I do not have an aversion to Muslims in general and certainly do not fear or hate them. My attitudes to Christianity and Christians, Buddhism and Buddhists, Judaism and Jews and indeed every other religion and its believers are pretty much the same.

Does this make me an Islamophobe? I don’t think so, but I’m pretty certain the new weblog Islamophobia Watch (click here)would disagree, seeing as it has branded several other people expressing views not unlike mine – among them Nick Cohen, Andrew Coates and Harry – with the label.

Maybe, though, I’m being too literal in my definition of Islamophobia. Maybe it hasn’t got anything to do with fear of, aversion to or hatred of Islam or Muslims. Islamophobia Watch quotes a Runnymede Trust document from 1997, Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All, which defines eight characteristics of Islamophobia:
1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
2. Islam is seen as separate and 'other'. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'.
5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

Now, I don’t see Islam as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change. I acknowledge that Islam shares values with other cultures, is affected by them and affects them. I’m against discrimination against Muslims. And I know that most Muslims are decent, peace-loving people. But at the same time I very definitely see Islam as separate and “other”. It has very little in common with my view of the world. And, most important, I know that in some of its forms Islam is precisely barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist, violent, aggressive, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a “clash of civilisations”. If it’s Islamophobic to say that – well, long live Islamophobia.

A SOCIALIST FOR ALL SEASONS

I know lots of people who are good at more than one thing, but very few who could match Chris Pallis, who died last week at the age of 81. From the early 1960s until the early 1980s he managed to combine being both one of the world’s leading authorities in neurology and one of the most innovative and stimulating voices in British left politics.

Tribune readers can be forgiven if the name doesn’t ring a bell. His medical accomplishments, working as a consultant at the Hammersmith hospital, were extraordinary — his work on brain death remains the basis for decisions about when the life-support machinery can be turned off — but they were not the stuff to get him noticed among most politicos. More important, he did not do politics under his own name. For political purposes, he was first (briefly) Martin Grainger and then Maurice Brinton, under which pseudonym he was the leading light of the libertarian socialist group Solidarity throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a brilliant reporter and polemicist and an accomplished translator.

To cap it all, this was rather a long time ago and well outside the political mainstream. Solidarity was never very big: even at its height in the late 1960s and early 1970s it had hundreds rather than thousands of members, making it a minnow by comparison with the main Trotskyist groups, let alone the Communist Party or the Labour Party. And the group has not been around for ages: it disintegrated as a national organisation in the early 1980s and became no more than a magazine, the last issue of which was published way back in 1992, by which time the byline Maurice Brinton had not appeared for the best part of a decade.

In its time, however, Solidarity was a key player on the British left, notable both for its exuberance and for its originality. It played an important role in the direct action wing of the early 1960s peace movement (it was the inspiration behind Spies For Peace in 1963, which blew the gaffe on the regional seats of government at the heart of the state’s preparations for nuclear war), was instrumental in reviving the squatting movement later on in the same decade and was influential in the wave of shopfloor militancy that swept Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1980s, the group played an major part in the creation of the Polish Solidarity Campaign and came close to being prosecuted for distributing what the right-wing press called a “do-it-yourself abortion guide”. (It was actually nothing of the kind, but the story is too complex to relate here.)

Most crucially, Solidarity had something different and relevant to say. While the rest of the far left was recycling the tired old platitudes of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, Solidarity, inspired by the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie (led by Cornelius Castoriadis, whose writings, written under the pseudonym Paul Cardan, were first translated into English by Brinton), carved out a political space for a revolutionary libertarian socialism, opposed to the cautious bureaucratic reformism of Labour and the trade unions, hostile to the police-state “socialism” of Soviet-type societies and dismissive of the deluded authoritarianism of latter-day Leninists.

Its magazine and, particularly, its dozens of pamphlets shaped the thinking of a generation of libertarian socialists. Among the pamphlets were several by Brinton: the group’s manifesto As We See It; Paris May 1968, his brilliant eyewitness account of the near-revolution in France in 1968; The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, his classic debunking of Lenin’s hostility to workers’ self-management; and The Irrational in Politics, a restatement and development of the early work of Wilhelm Reich. Some of the pamphlets are still in print; many more have been republished on the web.

***

I joined Solidarity in the late 1970s and never actually left, but I didn’t know Brinton well. He semi-retired from the group in 1980 just as I was getting involved. All the same, I’d say he had a bigger impact on my political outlook than anyone apart from my grandfather and George Orwell, both through his own writings and through his Castoriadis translations.

I was reading his work again when I heard he had died: a collection of his essays and pamphlets, edited and introduced by David Goodway, has just been published, and I was working on a review. I had been struck by how exciting I still found his writing. Brinton’s style is aphoristic, his approach to received wisdom scornful, his erudition apparent but never intrusive. Very few political writers are thrilling: Brinton was, and still is. It is very sad that he has gone, but Goodway’s book is the best possible guarantee that he will not be forgotten.

For Workers’ Power, a collection of writings by Maurice Brinton edited by David Goodway, is published by AK Press at £12


The Guardian ran an excellent obituary yesterday by David Goodway and Paul Lewis (click here).

21 March 2005

LIES, LIES, LIES – 3

I've just watched the BBC's Panorama programme on the British government's decision-making in the run-up to the war on Iraq (transcript here) – and my verdict, I'm afraid, is that it was utterly unconvincing in its attempt to show that Tony Blair deliberately lied to the public in order to start the war.

It did show that Blair responded to an American decision to go for regime change in Iraq by agreeing that it was a good idea — and then did his best to find a justification for it that would (a) pass muster in terms of international law and (b) be acceptable to as much British opinion as possible. And it showed that he and his advisers hit on weapons of mass destruction as the best possible justification — which of course turned out not to be quite as watertight as they thought it would be.

But where exactly is the lying here? Blair obviously believed that the US case for regime change was right but recognised that unless there was a rationale for war against Saddam in terms of international law it would be very difficult to persuade other European governments or the British electorate to support it. So he actively looked for that rationale — and genuinely believed he had found it in WMD.

Sorry,folks: that's not lying, it's politics. You can say that Blair should have been more sceptical about the intelligence on WMD, that he should have been less enthusiastic about tagging along with the US, that he should have questioned the lack of thought about what happened after regime change — and I'd go along with all of that. But it's his judgment, not his veracity, that is at issue.

15 March 2005

PROTEST VOTING IS FOR MUGS – 1

Up to now, I’ve not bothered to take issue with the arguments of people who back protest voting against Tony Blair in order to reduce the Labour government’s majority in the forthcoming election – but the chorus of voices insisting that it’s the best way to get Blair replaced after the election by Gordon Brown is growing louder, and the tone of quite a few emails I’ve received of late suggests that some of them think I might be sympathetic. So it’s time to make it clear that I'm not. Like Tom Watson MP (click here), I think protest-voting against Labour is a very bad idea because it could help the Tories back into power.

Now I know a Tory victory is highly unlikely, as Phil Edwards argues here. Labour is sitting on a giant Commons majority that could be overturned only with a quite extraordinary change in voting patterns; and Labour is clearly ahead in the opinion polls.

But are the opinion polls right? I really don't think they are. Every conversation I have about politics tells me that enthusiasm for the government is at an amazingly low ebb, among working-class voters even more than among middle-class ones.

In my own experience, Labour has got an Ipswich council-estate problem far more than it has an Islington dinner-party problem. My hunch is that, unless Labour gets its finger out, a vast number of people who say they will vote Labour will actually not bother to vote and that on a very low turnout the Tories will do much, much better than the polls suggest.

As things stand, we could be looking at a general election that mirrors the European elections, but with voters who backed UKIP then now voting Tory. I don’t think the Tories will win a Commons majority, but with a well-run populist campaign they just might – if Labour fails to mobilise on the doorstep, which is by no means impossible.

Even if the risk of an outright Tory victory is small, in other words, it is not negligible, and I think it's irresponsible to take it. I’m not a massive fan of the Blair government or indeed of Blair himself. But the government is not as bad as some of its more hysterical critics on the left make out. I wasn’t in favour of the war against Saddam Hussein, but have to admit the Iraqi elections have given hope to the Middle East. I didn’t want top-up fees, but they’re better than a university spending freeze. I’d prefer a PFI hospital to no hospital. And so on.

And although I’ve never particularly liked Blair, I don’t think that ditching him for Gordon Brown is any kind of panacea. No one has yet convinced me that a Brown government would be significantly better than Blair’s.

Nor, more important, has anyone convinced me that a Tory government led by Michael Howard would be anything other than a great deal worse than Blair – ultra-xenophobic, authoritarian, even more wedded to the nostrums of the Daily Mail.

So the priority at the next election is not to hasten the fall of Blair by voting selectively against Labour in some places so that Labour's majority is reduced – it would in any case be impossible to orchestrate a campaign that could be sure of such an outcome – but to keep the Tories as far from power as possible, which means anti-Tory tactical voting as advocated by tacticalvoter.net.

As for me, well, I was going to volunteer for Ooona King's campaign to have a go at George Galloway – and I might yet do so – but I'm now minded to stick to trudging the streets of Ipswich knocking on doors for Labour. It should be a safe seat, but the mood in the boozers and shops and streets makes me worry.

12 March 2005

SOLIDARITY AND ME


Several people have asked me about my involvement with the libertarian socialist group Solidarity. So here – at risk of appearing self-obsessed – is what I wrote last year for John Quail, who is putting together a history of the group.


I first came across a copy of Solidarity magazine in summer 1978: I bought it from the Essex University anarchists’ stall at a hippy fair in Suffolk during my year off between school and university. But it wasn’t until later that year, after I’d gone up to Oxford to study PPE, that I came across a member of the organisation, the irrepressible Graham Jimpson. Graham, who was then a youth worker in Rose Hill, one of the working-class estates in east Oxford, started coming along to meetings of the (largely student) Oxford Anarchist Group.

I joined the anarchist group in my first week at university along with 30 or so other enthusiastic freshers, and I think it’s fair to say that we revived it almost from the dead. We ran a vigorous campaign on the Persons Unknown case. We got on to the front page of The Times by distributing copies of “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name”, the James Kirkup poem at the centre of the Gay News blasphemy trial, while the elections for the Oxford poetry professorship were taking place in the Sheldonian Theatre. And, most important, the members of the group had gelled socially: more than 25 years on, some of my best friends are people I first met in the Oxford Anarchist Group in my first few weeks at university.

Graham had been a member of the anarchist group as a student some years before but had dropped out of it some time after getting a job in the real world (he was five or six years older than the rest of us). Now he became one of its stalwarts again, and for the next couple of years he, I and 40 or so others had a merry time playing at revolution just as it was going out of fashion.

There were countless demos, innumerable meetings and conferences, hundreds of heated arguments and lots of sex and drugs and rock and roll. The OAG was the biggest group on the Oxford student left scene apart from the Labour club and one of the biggest anarchist groups in the country. We had weekly public meetings and pub nights, ran the university left newspaper, Red Herring, turned up on all the major national demonstrations with our banner and organised two big national anarchist conferences (1980 and 1981). What I remember with particular fondness, however, is our stunts – handing out leaflets urging abstention outside polling booths in the 1979 general election, heckling a giant Billy Graham meeting in Oxford town hall and turning on the sprinkler system, disrupting the Miss Oxford pageant, organising a 20-strong demonstration against West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt that inadvertently caused the Thames Valley police to mount a giant show of counter-terrorist strength.

When I joined the anarchist group I was a Stirnerite individualist, which had something to do with punk, something to do with youthful enthusiasm for the Beat poets and something to do with disillusionment with the Socialist Workers’ Party, which I’d come close to joining as a schoolboy in Ipswich and which had dominated the local Anti-Nazi League. But by early 1979 I’d decided that I was a social anarchist; a few months later, thanks to Graham, I’d read my way through a fair selection of Solidarity’s pamphlets; and some time after that, after meeting various Solidarity members and going to Solidarity conferences – my first one was in Manchester -- I took the plunge and joined.

Precisely when, I don’t remember: my guess is spring 1980, but it could have been earlier. At the time, the Oxford Solidarity group was tiny: the only other members apart from Graham when I joined were Ed Pope and Dave Levy, though if I remember rightly a few other people joined from the student anarchist group about the same time as me or shortly afterwards. I was definitely a member by summer 1980, when the Oxford group produced the issue of Solidarity for Social Revolution that included a special supplement by the London group on Poland: I laid out quite a bit of the mag on Graham’s living room floor. Apart from selling the magazine and doing the production work when its turn came around, Oxford Solidarity didn’t do much as a group, though Graham, Ed and I were all involved in producing Back Street Bugle, Oxford’s alternative paper, as was Bob Hammersley, who was recently ex-Solid.

What made me join? It was only partly that I’d come to the conclusion that Solidarity had the right ideas: at that time I was almost as much in agreement with the Libertarian Communist Group or the anarcho-syndicalists, although I’d definitely acquired a taste for Maurice Brinton and Paul Cardan (one of the pseudonyms Cornelius Castoriadis used for Socialisme ou Barbarie and the one his work had been published under by Solidarity). Much more important was the social buzz of Solidarity. I particularly remember Bill Beveridge, Nick van Hear and George Williamson, all of whom pitched up in Oxford before I joined. (The first time was for a party at Graham’s, when Ed Pope scandalised Graham’s social-worker colleagues by taking all his clothes off and wandering around the kitchen enthusing about naturism.) Then, when I started going to the conferences, I met more people I liked. By the time I signed up, Chris and Jeanne Pallis were semi-detached from the organisation, and the arguments that would eventually lead to the group splitting in 1981 were well under way, with one group arguing for a much more orthodox left-communist perspective and another, part-situationist in inspiration, railing against supposed capitulation to the trad left. But the only things wrong with Solidarity from my point of view were that it was overwhelmingly male (which is not a feminist point) and most of the members seemed to be getting on a bit (though actually most were younger than I am now).

I went to all the conferences in the run-up to the 1981 split, and for some perverse reason found myself getting more involved in the group just as nearly everyone else was giving it up as a lost cause. I volunteered to be international secretary and wrote more and more for the magazine. When the split finally came, my sense of facing political homelessness was unexpectedly disorientating. I was one of the people who argued most strongly for the organisation and, more importantly, the magazine to continue, and my sense that we shouldn’t let it all go increased when I found myself back in Ipswich after university taking a year out doing odd jobs before starting a postgraduate journalism course at the London College of Printing.

Almost completely politically isolated – just about the only thing happening in 1981-82 in Suffolk was CND, and the local group was a less-than-inspiring coalition of ageing Quakers, Stalinists and Labour leftists – I travelled down to the meetings of the London Solidarity group at Ken Weller’s place whenever I could. After I moved down to London in summer 1982, I went to every meeting.

Unfortunately, London Solidarity in those days was hardly thriving. The regulars at the meetings were Ken Weller, Ken’s dog, me, Stuart Hathaway, Ian Pirie, Andy Brown and Nick Terdre, with occasional visits from Alex Castle, Alex Economou, Terry Liddle, Liz Willis and Sharif Gemie (who was living in Norwich at the time). We’d decided to revive the magazine as our main activity – it soon became our sole activity – and over the next couple of years we produced five issues, with Stuart doing all the typing and me doing all the layout. The magazine was printed by Aldgate Press, a spin-off from the Freedom bookshop in Aldgate, which was run by a couple of anarchist friends.

Those early numbers in the final series of Solidarity were a very mixed bag, but I think they improved. What it needed was someone to take it all in hand and bring it together as a magazine. It found it in Richard Schofield, then working as a graphic designer at the National Union of Students, who joined the group in 1983 or 1984 and soon became the de facto editor of the magazine. My own involvement waned at around the same time Richard arrived: from early 1984 I was employed by European Nuclear Disarmament to deputy-edit its magazine END Journal, which was more than a full-time job. Although I kept in touch with Richard and Ken, and went to a few editorial meetings, for the rest of the magazine’s life I was no more than an irregular contributor.

I was doing plenty of other politics during the time I was most involved with the magazine. From 1982 until 1984, I was a regular at the London Workers’ Group meetings every week above the Metropolitan pub in Farringdon Road, where a disparate bunch of syndicalists, anarchists, situationists and council communists met to chew the cud and plan interventions – among them Joe Thomas, Henri Simon, Dave Morris and others who had been involved in the recently deceased Rising Free bookshop. I particularly remember the evening that Ian Bone, newly arrived from Swansea, announced his plans to form a new propagandist and direct-action organisation (it was what became Class War) and denounced those of us who were sceptical as a bunch of wankers before flouncing out into the public bar. Around the same time, I was peripherally involved in the Brixton squatting scene – I opened a squat in Arlingford Road with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, in 1983, though I didn’t live there very long – and got to know the Black Flag types around the 121 Bookshop in Railton Road and some of the Villa Road squatters. At the London College of Printing in 1982 – where I was taught sub-editing by Wynford Hicks, the former editor of the early-1970s libertarian magazine Inside Story – I met Rick Walker, once of Liverpool Solidarity and by now the brains behind South Atlantic Souvenirs greetings cards, and we set up a club that took over the student union bar once a month to put on anarchist films and gigs. A little later, through Aleks Sierz, an ex-situationist I’d met through the London Workers’ Group, I got involved in the committee supporting the Italian autonomists rounded up and jailed in April 1979. I spent summer 1983 working for City Limits magazine, where another veteran libertarian, Duncan Campbell, was news editor and yet another, Diana Shelley, was in charge of the agitprop listings. In 1983-84, I was tied up in a high-profile industrial dispute over the introduction of new technology at Coastalpress, where I got my first proper job after the LCP (written up in issue five of the new series of Solidarity).

I never actually left Solidarity, but from 1984 onwards I drifted away, largely because the jobs I was paid to do left very little time for anything else. I moved from END Journal to Tribune as reviews editor – George Orwell’s old job, for heaven’s sake: who wouldn’t sell out for that? – then became Tribune editor in 1991 and then moved to the New Statesman as deputy editor, a job from which I was fired in 1996 when the magazine was taken over by Geoffrey Robinson. I spent a year working with Nyta Mann on a book about the Labour Party (published by Granta in 1997 as Safety First: The Making of New Labour, was Red Pepper news editor from 1998 to 1999 (while earning a living teaching at the London College of Printing), then in 1999-2000 was deputy editor of New Times, a monthly magazine published by Democratic Left, which had once been the Communist Party but had long since relented. Since the plug was pulled on that, I’ve been earning a living as a lecturer at City University and as a sub-editor on the Guardian’s comment pages.

I still call myself a libertarian socialist, but I’m no longer a revolutionary, and haven’t been for a long time. I think the critical moment for me was probably the 1983 general election. For some reason, I’d thought that the Tories would lose it and that a Labour or Labour-Alliance government would return Britain to Keynesian corporatist business as usual. I watched the election results programme round at Andy Brown’s place in Wandsworth in a state of mounting drunken disbelief as the Tories won a landslide. In their second term they set about destroying trade union power and massively expanding the private sector. I decided that even soggy social democracy was a marked improvement on them and, swallowing hard, joined the Labour Party, I think in 1987. I’ve been a member ever since, though I haven’t been very active since the early 1990s.

I look back on Solidarity with great affection. Its best days were over by the time I discovered it. It was in its death throes as an organisation, and the magazine it produced in the late 1970s, Solidarity for Social Revolution, was a pale shadow of Solidarity for Workers’ Power at its best. SfSR nevertheless had its moments, and the final series of Solidarity produced by the London group from 1982 to 1992 was much better, particularly after Richard took it in hand. I still think of the people I met through Solidarity as the best bunch I’ve ever done politics with.

OBITUARIES – 8: CHRIS PALLIS (MAURICE BRINTON)

I am sad to report the death of Chris Pallis, otherwise known as Maurice Brinton, the leading figure of the libertarian socialist group Solidarity in the 1960s and 1970s.

He was a complex and inspiring man: the only British leftist to write a decent account of Paris 1968; a pioneer in debunking the Leninist account of the Bolshevik revolution; the translator into English of Cornelius Castoriadis (the leading light of Socialisme ou Barbarie in France).

Most importantly, he was the inspiration and guiding force of Solidarity, which was an an extraordinarily influential (though small) group and magazine in British left politics in the 1960s and 1970s. I was a member of the group at the very end of its existence – in fact, I never resigned.

Here's the Brinton line, from Solidarity's 1967 platform As We See It:

During the past century the living standards of working people have improved. But neither these improved living standards, nor the nationalisation of the means of production, nor the coming to power of parties claiming to represent the working class have basically altered the status of the worker as worker . . . Nor have they given the bulk of mankind much freedom outside of production. East and west, capitalism remains an inhuman type of society where the vast majority are bossed at work and manipulated in consumption and leisure. Propaganda and policemen, prisons and schools, traditional values and traditional morality all serve to reinforce the power of the few and to convince or coerce the many into acceptance of a brutal, degrading and irrational system. The ‘communist’ world is not communist and the ‘free’ world is not free . . .
A socialist society can therefore only be built from below. Decisions concerning production and work will be taken by workers' councils composed of elected and revocable delegates. Decisions in other areas will be taken on the basis of the widest possible discussion and consultation among the people as a whole. This democratisation of society down to its very roots is what we mean by ‘workers power'.
OK, workers' councils aren't exactly on the agenda today -- but the idea of socialism as "democratisation of society down to its very roots" remains as pertinent as ever.

11 March 2005

ARTHUR RANSOME: SECRET AGENT – 2

I know it's not the most important issue facing the world, but the Guardian has a good piece here by Roland Chambers, who is writing a book on Ransome and the Bolsheviks. He explains the bizarre position of Ransome in the early years of Soviet Russia, when he worked for British intelligence and acted as a courier for the Bolsheviks while employed as a foreign correspondent by the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian, largely in terms of his falling in love with Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia Shelepina, whom he later married. I'll come back to this over the weekend when I've got some time.

9 March 2005

CROWBAR TIME

My old partner in crime Steve Platt has posted the text of Squatting: The Real Story, a cult libertarian socialist classic he and others associated with The Leveller magazine produced in 1980. Click here.

8 March 2005

LIES, LIES, LIES – 2

Norman Geras writes a propos of this:

I've never conceded that Blair lied, and I don't believe he did. In this latest post all I say is that, if he lied, that wouldn't matter as much as getting rid of Saddam Hussein matters.

Paul Anderson writes:

OK, Norm, point taken – and I agree with you – but don't let's fall out over counterfactuals.

6 March 2005

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO GAUCHE

Blimey, I've been doing this two years now -- and I still stand by my first post (click here) and my second (click here). I'll open a beer in celebration.