18 December 2004
NEW NEW LABOUR?
Ruth Kelly as education secretary is daring but I like it: she might be a Catholic and not well loved by the femintern, but she appears to be competent and is at least open to argument. I'm also pleased that Stephen Twigg and David Miliband have been promoted. Both of them are young, hostile to the traditionalist back-to-1945 crew, and the Blair administration needs rejuvenation. They all need to do the business, but at least I have some hope.
Next step? The two old-timers at the top right now who are obviously well past sell-by are Jack Straw and John Prescott - 1970s Eurosceptics and yesterday's men. If he's serious about the referendum on the European constitution, Blair would do well to shaft the pair of them sooner rather than later. C'mon . . .
9 December 2004
GALLOWAY ISN'T QUITE YET IN THE CLEAR
No journalist in his or her right mind argues too vigorously with the judgment of a British libel court — and I’m still just about in my right mind. You won’t catch me saying that George Galloway should have lost his case against the Telegraph because he lied in court and trousered large wads of wonga from that latter-day Mussolini, Saddam Hussein.
Indeed, though I’m no admirer of the MP for Glasgow Kelvin (soon to be candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow), I think he won pretty much fairly and squarely — given the rules of battle and the Telegraph’s legal tactics.
The Telegraph had precisely accused him of lining his own pockets with cash from the Iraqi regime (buying with it, inter alia, a “£250,000 villa” in Portugal). And it did so on the basis of a chance discovery of documents it had not established were genuine. Worse, if they were genuine, they did not show that Galloway had personally received a bean from Iraq.
In court, the Telegraph did not use the established defence of justification, that its defamation of Galloway was provably true (which would have meant demonstrating that the documents were genuine and that they showed he had personally benefited from Iraqi cash). Rather it adopted the weak defence that it had published material in good faith that it believed ought to be in the public sphere — the “Reynolds defence” established (if that’s the right word) a few years ago in a libel defence by the Sunday Times in an action brought by Albert Reynolds, the former Irish prime minister.
Like most hacks I know, I like the idea of the Reynolds defence: there are plenty of circumstances in which publication of defamatory material of provenance a bit too dubious to allow the defence of justification should be protected from libel action. They are, however, limited circumstances.
At very least, it should be incumbent on the publisher to make even the slightest question of the authenticity of such material explicit on publication: “If this letter is genuine, it suggests . . .” And the person who is its subject should at very least be given a serious opportunity to put his or her case.
Splashing unsubstantiated inferences from possibly dodgy documents across the front page at the first possible opportunity without allowing any time for someone to respond is — how shall we put it? — indefensible. And that’s what the Telegraph did.
But (and it’s a very big but) this should not be the end of the story. Galloway and his supporters have been crowing about his supposedly complete vindication by the High Court. But the judgment was much more limited. Galloway won because the judge decided that the Telegraph’s defence of its actions was asinine. It didn’t make clear any doubts it had about its documents, it massively over-egged its story and it gave Galloway only the most cursory opportunity to respond to its allegations.
The judgment does not, however, show that the documents on which the Telegraph based its story were fake. Nor does it put to rest the well sourced story — published by the Guardian earlier this year and not challenged legally by Galloway — that he accepted money for a pro-Iraq political campaign from a Jordanian businessman, Fawaz Zureikat, who got the cash for his donations, with the full support of Saddam’s fascist regime, from the UN programme set up to alleviate the effects on the Iraqi people of the sanctions imposed against Saddam during the 1990s.
This is a less damaging tale than the one published by the Telegraph. There is no evidence that Galloway benefited personally: any cash from Zureikat, he says, went to the Mariam Appeal, Galloway’s anti-sanctions pressure group. And there is no evidence that Galloway ever had even the faintest clue that Zureikat’s cash might have been siphoned off from the UN programme at Saddam’s request.
But this is still pretty damning stuff. At best, it shows Galloway failing to ask questions that he should have asked about where money was coming from. At worst — OK, I’m not going there.
In the meantime, lest we forget, Galloway will live for all time on videotape for his sycophancy to Saddam: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”
He was “Saddam’s little helper”, as the Telegraph headline had it, even if he wasn’t personally paid for his services and even if all the documents the Telegraph turned up were fakes. Now he’s decided to stand against Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow, democratic socialists should make sure this apologist for kleptomaniac totalitarian dictatorship is dumped in the proverbial dustbin of history — where he belongs — by volunteering for her campaign.
28 November 2004
NEW LABOUR'S LEFT-WING PAST
Now I don't have a great deal to argue with in the case of the "Stalinists". But I can't quite work out how some of the "Trotskyists" managed to get into that camp. Gordon Brown, for example, was very much anti-Trot as a student (he took a line on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders' work-in that was pretty close to the Communist Party's) and he was close to key Scottish CPers until the CP went under. And I've never come across any evidence that Denis MacShane, David Blunkett or Margaret Hodge were ever more than temporarily allied with Trots, in particular and long-forgotten circumstances. Of course, if anyone has the evidence, I'm quite happy to be enlightened. On the other hand, Ken Livingstone's associations with Trotskyists go back aeons and continue to this day . . . though I suppose he doesn't really count as New Labour.
How red is the Labour Party?
Old Trots and old Stalinists now glower at each other across the Cabinet table, where they feel at home because Blairism demands the religious loyalty they are used to. They include:
The Stalinist wing
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary Former Broad Left president of the NUS; branded "a troublemaker" by the Foreign Office when, on an NUS trip to Chile, his "childish politicking" aimed at embarrassing his right-wing opponents, was "nearly disastrous" for Anglo-Chilean relations.
Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education Former Broad Left president of NUS; led demonstrations for higher student grants, and was, he admits, "a strong opponent of the foreign policy of the USA".
John Reid, Secretary of State for Health Former Communist and researcher for the Scottish Union of Students. Claimed he joined the CP because it was the only non-Trotskyist political group on campus when he was an undergraduate student at Stirling University.
Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner Former Communist and chairman of the British Youth Council. Led a BYC delegation to Cuba in the 1970s.
Trevor Phillips, chairman, Commission for Racial Equality Former Broad Left president of NUS, led sit-ins, went to Cuba with Mandelson's delegation.
Alan Johnson, Work and Pensions Secretary Says he was close to the Communist Party in his youth, and gets agitated if you suggest he might have been a Trot.
The Trotskyite wing
Gordon Brown, Chancellor Showed political colours by choosing to do his PhD thesis on James Maxton, the leader of the rebel Independent Labour Party in the 1920s and 1930s. The ILP was accused by Stalin of being a Trotskyist front.
Alan Milburn, Labour's election planner Before joining Labour Party in 1983, Milburn was the manager of a socialist bookshop in Newcastle, and a CND activist, described, by Roy Hattersley, as "incapable of writing an election manifesto without drawing the battle lines of the philosophical struggle".
Paul Boateng, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Former left-wing rebel. Once called on Labour Party to "have the guts to support workers who have the guts to fight Thatcher".
Denis MacShane, minister for Europe Former left-wing NUJ
leader, arrested on picket lines in the 1970s, once alongside Arthur Scargill. Led the NUJ's biggest strike.
David Blunkett, Home Secretary Former leader of Sheffield City Council, which was known as "the socialist republic of South Yorkshire".
Margaret Hodge, Minister for Children Former leader of Islington Council where she had a bust of Lenin installed in the town hall. During her tenure, it became known as the "Socialist Republic of north London".
Neither . . . nor . . .
Tony Blair, Prime Minister Not known to have believed in anything when young, except God.
26 November 2004
TROTKSKYISM TODAY - 1
25 November 2004
THE FAR LEFT IS A VERY BAD JOKE
Say what you like about the government, the state of British football or the weather, it has been a marvellous couple of weeks for observers of the ludicrous antics of the British far left.
The biggest spectacle, of course, has been George Galloway’s libel action against the Telegraph in the High Court — unresolved as I write — which has been remarkable for the forthright way in which Gorgeous George explained his famous greeting to Saddam Hussein: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”
The MP for Glasgow Kelvin — and soon-to-be Respect Coalition (George Galloway) parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow in London’s East End — said he was merely conveying the solidarity of the Palestinian people, whom he’d just met, to the Iraqi people, who would be informed of his salutation by Saddam — aka "Sir". And the Telegraph’s headline, “Saddam’s little helper”, was, he told the court, losing his calm momentarily, nothing less than “a dagger, a sword right through the heart of my political life”. Ooo-er.
To be honest, though, more heat than light emerged from the Galloway-Telegraph show — and for much of the past fortnight it has been almost eclipsed by the shenanigans surrounding another Scottish charmer of the left, Tommy Sheridan, member of the Scottish Parliament and perma-tanned figurehead of the Scottish Socialist Party, which Galloway refused to join after being expelled by Labour.
The story that did the rounds was that Galloway refused to accept the SSP policy of parliamentary representatives taking only an average worker’s wage from their salary: I am happy to report that Galloway says this was down to Sheridan misunderstanding a joke.
Anyway, Sheridan hit the headlines for resigning from the SSP leadership amid tabloid allegations that he had engaged in rumpy-pumpy with a woman other than his wife, Gail, who is pregnant. Sheridan, who came to prominence as the public face in Scotland of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency’s anti-poll-tax campaign in the late 1980s, denied the scurrilous allegations, said he simply wanted to spend more time with his family-to-be and promised he’d sue.
It seemed like end of story. But then it emerged that the SSP executive had forced him to resign for reasons that were at least in part related to his personal life — if not the story that had been splashed over the Sunday newspaper — and there were reports that he had been stitched up by his enemies in the SSP, who had not only conspired to evict him but had also fed the bourgeois media with various sex-romp claims. All the contenders for Mr Sheridan’s coveted position as leader of the SSP are, incidentally, former members of the Militant Tendency.
Phew! And that was before the return of the Redgraves, glory be, to the political fray, with two members of the famous acting family, Vanessa and Corin, announcing a new political party, Peace and Progress (click here), to fight the next general election.
Younger readers of Tribune might think that Vanessa and Corin Redgrave are no more than distinguished thespians with vaguely leftist views — that’s certainly the picture you’d get from the fawning pieces on their new initiiative in the Guardian (click here) and the Observer (click here) — but in fact it ain’t so.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the pair were leading lights in the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, a mad Trostskyist cult, led by the psychopathic Gerry Healy, that was revealed in the mid-1980s to have solicited and taken substantial sums of cash from Arab nationalist dictatorships, including Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Libya and, yup, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in return for favours that included grassing up exiles to their secret police forces (click here, here and here).
The scandal of the WRP’s Middle East pimping came to light after Healy’s sexual abuse of young women members of the WRP was exposed — and it destroyed the party. Yet the Redgraves remained loyal to their leader even after his disgrace. However inspiring they are on the stage, they have a record of political lunacy matched by no one else alive. There is no evidence whatsoever that they regret anything they have ever done.
And the moral of the story? Sorry, but it’s very simple. These people are at best comedians and at worst mountebanks of the worst kind. There is no credible left challenge to Labour at the next election anywhere in Britain. Vote tactically for the Lib Dems, for sure, but don’t waste your time on the candidates of the far left. They are, without exception, a very bad joke.
19 November 2004
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MILITANT - 2
16 November 2004
JACK STRAW'S BAD HISTORY
What's strange about the letter, however, is that Straw appends a postscript recommending Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder as "a prescient warning about Trotskyist adventurism".
In fact, it's nothing of the sort. The target of Lenin's polemic was not Trotskyists — at the time the pamphlet was written in 1920, there were no Trotskyists and Trotsky himself was commissar of war in Lenin's government.
Rather he was attacking the left communists in Germany and Great Britain — Anton Pannekoek and Sylvia Pankhurst — who argued that communists should never participate in bourgeois parliaments or reformist trade unions. (Click here for the text of Left-Wing Communism.)
But none of this is what's really weird about Straw's recommendation of this particular Lenin tract. As well as ranting against the left communists, Left-Wing Communism is also excoriating about bourgeois parliaments, reformist trade unions and reformist socialist leaders in the west — "reactionaries and advocates of the worst kind of opportunism and social treachery".
Does Straw really mean to recommend this intemperate anti-democratic diatribe to readers of the Independent? Something tells me that his memory is failing — or that he has never actually read it. But you never know . . .
12 November 2004
UNITED FOR PEACE — 25
"The resurgence of the communists," he opined, "has intensified the anti-communism of the ruling classes and their mass media, assisted, as always, by fake 'left-wing' and pseudo-Marxist intellectuals. This is especially the case in Portugal, Sweden, Cyprus and Greece — but we have seen evidence of it in Britain too, where the CPB has expanded its influence in the trade union and peace movements . . . The resurgence of the international communist movement . . . is the most effective riposte to professional anti-communists like Denis MacShane, Nick Cohen and Tribune columnist Paul Anderson and to the amateur ones who constitute tiny left sects."
How elegantly put, comrade — but I'm afraid to relate that we professional anti-communists will not be deflected from our task by the ever-more-spectacular growth of the CPB, with its dozens of fearless militants working as trade union press officers and its hundreds of newspapers sold every day. You see, we're worried that if we don't keep up a barrage of fake "left-wing" anti-communist propaganda, our paymasters in the ruling classes will stop handing over the wheelbarrow-fulls of cash every week to which we have become accustomed. A truly materialist analysis would demonstrate that we have no choice but to fulfil the pseudo-Marxist role our bourgeois masters dictate.
What a simpleton.
4 November 2004
I CRIED AND I CRIED
WOMAN QUITS JOB ON STRUGGLING MAGAZINE – 2
2 November 2004
WOMAN QUITS JOB ON STRUGGLING MAGAZINE
But now the girl done good at last. She's quit the Statesman over the fatuous cover on the current issue that equates Tony Blair with Josef Stalin.
I was going to post on the Statesman cover anyway, to make the points that the British left (a) still hasn't grasped the enormity of Stalin's crimes and (b) is in the grip of a quite extraordinary hysteria against Blair.
For now, all I'll say is that no one who knows what Stalin did could possibly claim Blair is doing much the same thing – and the article to which the NS cover refers, a Robert Service puff-piece for his new biography of Stalin, doesn't do it. In fact, it makes it very clear that there isn't that much Blair has learned from Stalin. "Tony Blair has not made the cellars of Bellmarsh prison stream with the blood of innocent detainees," Service writes, very reasonably. "It would be entirely ludicrous to suggest that Blair and Stalin, as exercisers of the might of the state in pursuit of political and personal goals, are in the same category."
So why the treatment on the Statesman cover? Desperation is undoubtedly part of the story – anything to make Blair look bad next to Brown, anything to put the ABC figures up beyond a boring old plateau of 23,000, exactly where it was before Robinson sunk his millions. (Ooh, a cold bitter is good. Fancy a couple of pints?) But it's worse than that. The current regime at the Statesman has a view of the world that is as blinkered as Kingsley Martin's when he refused to publish George Orwell on the Spanish revolution. John Pilger speaks the truth. John Kampfner has the supporting details. Amanda Platell supplies the sophistication. Cretinism rules, with rare pieces from Nick Cohen and the odd review giving us all a taste of what might have been.
At least there's still the Economist.
28 October 2004
THE WORLD MAY LIVE WITH BUSH
Like most readers of Tribune, I’m hoping John Kerry wins the US presidential election next week.
I don’t like what George W Bush has done at home — massive tax cuts for the rich, a big squeeze on America’s already inadequate welfare state, favours to big business on every front — and I don’t like his foreign policy. The way the Bush administration has gone about its “war on terror” since 9/11 fills me with despair. Cosying up to the Israeli right; the extraordinary failure to prepare for the “morning after” in Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq; the vile abuses of human rights in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib — time and again the Bush administration has proved itself irresponsibly short-sighted, incompetent and brutal. It’s time for a change.
Yet although I’m rooting for Kerry, I’m doing so in a manner so low-key it’s barely perceptible. OK, I’m writing this column, which of course will sway opinion throughout the world thanks to Tribune’s amazing syndication deals — aka me posting it on this weblog after the paper went to press.
Otherwise, however, I’ve done sweet FA. I’ve followed the US election campaign in the British newspapers and on TV, but far from obsessively. I’ve been to see Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 and was underwhelmed. And I’ve continued the boycott of American fast-food chains I began immediately after visiting Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time in the 1970s. Well, they back the Republicans, don’t they?
But I’ve done nothing so bold as sport a Kerry campaign badge, let alone contact an American voter in a swing state urging support for Kerry. The Guardian set up a scheme to do just this last week, encouraging readers to write letters to 14,000 voters in Clark County, Ohio, putting the case for removing Dubya. The stunt has, er, certainly had an impact: it was picked up big-time by the US media, and for a while last week the Guardian’s website was one of the most visted on the planet.
But all publicity is not good publicity. Rather a lot of the American response to my favourite daily’s initiative was elegantly summed up by the disgruntled recipient of a letter who wrote back: “Hey, England, Scotland and Wales, mind your own business. We don’t need weenie-spined limeys meddling in our presidential election. If it wasn’t for America, you’d all be speaking German.”
One reason for my inactivity is that I take the point: we limeys — weenie-spined or otherwise — have no more right to intervene in US elections than have Americans to intervene in elections over here. More important, I can’t think of anything I could do that would make a blind bit of difference to the result on November 2.
But if I’m going to be completely honest, the biggest reason for my atrophy isn’t political realism. I’m as game for hopeless causes as the next dreamer — anyone for socialism, European federalism or proportional representation? The truth is that I don’t believe that the outcome of this election is quite as important — at least for anyone living outside the US — as most commentators seem to think.
Now, I’m not arguing here, as some Leninist crazies do, that there is no difference between Bush and Kerry because they're both capitalist imperialists. There is a gulf between them on domestic policy — on healthcare, on education, on workers’ rights, on pensions, on taxation. And there are at least grounds for believing that a Kerry White House would be rather more Realpolitik-oriented than a Bush White House — less adventurist and more enthusiastic about working through international consensus.
But the differences between Kerry and Bush on foreign policy (except on the environment) are not huge.
On one hand, Kerry is no dove: as Edward Luttwak argued cogently in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, those peaceniks who think he would adopt a policy of non-interventionism simply haven’t examined his record, which is consistently hawkish (including voting for war in Iraq). Certainly, a Kerry victory would not – thankfully – mean a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
On the other hand, it’s at least plausible – I would say likely — that a second-term Bush administration would be much more cautious on foreign affairs than the first-term Bush administration has been. The neo-conservatives who lobbied successfully for the invasion of Iraq have also been responsible for everything that has gone wrong since, and their star is on the wane. What’s more, the scale of the US commitment in Iraq — and the likelihood that it will not be brought swiftly to an end — makes it extremely unlikely that any administration will seek out further targets for pre-emptive action.
Maybe I’m complacent, but I just don’t buy the scenario that has Bush marching into Iran or North Korea. Sorry if this sounds like heresy, but I think the world could live with a Dubya victory.
25 October 2004
UNITED FOR PEACE – 24
The issue is the attitude of the STWC’s leading lights – notably its chairman, Andrew Murray, a member of the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain (the Morning Star party), and its convenor, Lindsey German, leading apparatchik of the quasi-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party who stood for the Respect Coalition in the London mayoral contest – to the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.
The IFTU, dominated by the Iraqi Communist Party, appears to be the nearest thing there is to a real independent trade union movement in Iraq and has representatives in London who have been pressing their cause (click here and here), backed by an assorted group of dissident leftists and the TUC.
The problem for the STWC leadership is that the comrades of the IFTU, though opposed to the US invasion and occupation of their homeland, think that it would be a good idea for the occupation to continue at least until the promised elections in Iraq in January – whereas the SWP and CPB reckon that the only revolutionary course is to back the Iraqi “resistance”.
What’s most surprising about this bust-up is that it has taken so long to come about. It is guaranteed to run and run – and also has a delicious personal angle: Andrew Murray was for several years Mick Rix’s Alastair Campbell in the Aslef press department, and now plays a similar role for Tony Woodley of the Transport and General Workers Union, whose line on these events, an utterly irresistible confection, is here . . .
18 October 2004
ANOTHER LEFT IS NECESSARY - 3
And he make the eyes to weep, no kidding! He is truly veteran of struggle. He is past it, say bourgeois press scum - but even so we cry so much because he is here and now. He is indeed lamentable, but for good - is real tears of anger and solidarity with the oppressed masses in Iraq and Palestine against the criminal Zionists and illegal occupiers of Iraq!
Comrade Benn is up to minute like the real Big Ben - Bong! Bong! Bong!, I love it on your radios - he make the speeches so beautiful, so much in tune with audience, so old-time, like making love to comrade you know many years and respect as comrade but not fancy that much though comfortable! If he is never reading novel as he is proclaiming loud, we say: at least he still inspiring the comrades of like mind in his reformist way!
Also, I meet many comrades in discussions on the arranged matricide, in Slavka a big problem - and we solve it! We hold workshop in proletarian stronghold Notting Hill, and many comrades speak for it for there are many matricides arranged very happy and we fight against Islamophobia and the cultural imperialism -- unanimous! We are all agree that arranged matricide often progressive in Islamic context!
We make many links with UK proletariat: it is OK with us boss as you say! Long live Comrade Galloway and victory with his writs against the bourgeois scum press! Long live Mrs Chairman of the Social Workers' Party! Long live all proletarians united against reality! Where do I send invoice?
15 October 2004
ANOTHER LEFT IS TRULY NECESSARY
Welcome, comrades, to the European Social Forum in England’s London! On this weekend, the activists from all over the Europe and total globe involve and celebrate wildly in a festival of talks and actions against the capitalism and the globalisation. You can meet all progressives of the continent, no kidding — every tendency left on the shelf, pretty much 57 varieties like the Heinz company say! As delegate from the Slavka Movement of the Oppressed Minorities and member of the Slavka Revolutionary Workers’ Party central committee, I salute you!
It is naturally minus the imperialist pro-war social democracy, the opportunist poodler Blair and his co. But it is naturally also embracing the comrades semi-detached from any serious tendency but in struggle against what in the German it calls “the real politics”. I think here of the Red Pepper, Mrs Wainwright’s magazine, in forefront of anti-reality left here, with links to same currents in Brazil and elsewhere, with international circulation and many readers in proletariat!
As well there are — of course! — the Muslim brothers, in historic new alliance against the imperialism. Perhaps they can hook up with the lesbian sisters and come together for peace, like John Lennon sings in Beatles? It is festival against the war and the racist hate — solidarity with the martyrs against criminal Zionists and illegal occupiers of Iraq!
Make no mistake about it, we are one in struggle against imperialism. It is one struggle, one fight against mad dictator Bush and the corporate cronies who bring capitalist “civilisation” in ruins of Iraq.
We salute Respect coaltion, which is rocking the bourgeois politics to foundations in Hartlepool, Leicester and Aldgate East, all famous battles in this year of struggle, followed by comrades worldwide.
We salute also Comrade Scargill, leader of the struggling National Miners’ Union, in headlines this week for famous proletarian unity move. The knees of Blair and fellow scum are trembling in their bed!
The comrades you can listen this weekend are also the most famous top dogs in Britain for struggle.
Biggest dog of all is Comrade Galloway, partisan of anti-imperialist struggle and staunch friend of Iraqi people. He is leader of British proletariat against the lying so-called Labour Government! So what if bourgeois press say he takes shilling of Saddam Hussein? We say there is one solution only, death to bourgeois press scum!
Almost equal supreme dog is Ken Livingstone, leader of London workers. He too is the great anti-imperialist fighter. Many years, he backed the late Comrade Healy against the Pabloite revisionists and degeneration of workers’ international; now he struggles with class-fighters of Socialist Action who are staff of the revolution at City Hall!
But let us not forget the lesser dogs! Comrade Murray, leader of innumerate masses who march against Iraq war last year and rigid member of the mass-party, Communist Party of Britain. Mrs Comrade Chairman, second-in-command of the mass peace movement, militant of the mass-party, Social Workers’ Party. And many other dogs of other mass proletarian tendencies too numerous to mention!
Aaargh! OK, I can’t keep this nonsense up for the whole of a column. I’m no Craig Brown. I admit defeat. And I apologise if it’s not very funny. But seriously — how can anyone take this beano as in any sense politically important?
The participants represent no one but themselves. The overwhelmingly dominant factions on the British organising committee, who stitched up the agenda for the big plenaries, are the dinosaur sects of cretino-Leninism — the SWP, the CPB, Socialist Action. They couldn’t save a deposit in a general election and their politics stinks. The Respect Coalition, the nearest thing they have to a political project, is a principle-free alliance of leftist posturing and Islamist reaction fronted by a charismatic egomaniac.
OK, Ken Livingstone has given the shindig his backing — but that is the London mayor at his most Machiavellian, making sure he never has a challenger from the left however long he continues to pursue the boring gradualist social-democratic capitalist politics that are his (and our) only hope in the real world.
Perhaps if 50,000 people turn up to the ESF, as the organsiers initially predicted, the sheer weight of numbers will give it an unpredictable dynamism. But that is looking rather unlikely: even the organisers are now predicting only 20,000, and the best intelligence is that the actual number will be half that.
But I’ve got better things to do even if 100,000 arrive. Ipswich are playing at home, and I can’t stand Leninist bores.
11 October 2004
ANOTHER LEFT IS NECESSARY - 1
But, as the MC5 had it, the time has come for each and every one of you to decide whether you're gonna be the problem or you're gonna be the solution . . .
I'd be the first to admit that I've not been at the centre of the events leading up to the event. But according to the pretend-CPGB's Weekly Worker (click here), it's not looking good. Hardly anyone is going to show up, it says, despite Ken Livingstone's generous offer of a free Travelcard for the first 20,000 who register. The worst of the local fuck-wit Trots and Stalinists - Socialist Workers' Party, Communist Party of Britain and Socialist Action - have stitched up the agenda, which looks distinctly lacking in detail (click here for the official website). And someone is going to have to pay for using the Millennium Dome as a doss house.
We shall see.
1 October 2004
GAMBLER BLAIR ISN'T FIT FOR OFFICE
For Straw’s warning was and is the most convincing argument against the war — that its aftermath was irresponsibly ill-thought-through.
There were and are other anti-war arguments, to be sure. In the months before the invasion took place, the most potent (lest we forget) was that it was dangerously reckless to take on a mad dictator who was probably armed with chemical and biological weapons and had previously been prepared to use them.
If the American and British governments were right about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — and nearly everyone at the time thought they were, including Dr David Kelly, whatever his doubts about the presentation of the evidence — taking Saddam on in battle was crazy. It wasn’t quite as bonkers as, say, responding to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 with an ultimatum to the Kremlin, but it wasn’t far off. Even a last-ditch use by Saddam of “battlefield” sarin nerve gas weapons against civilian targets would wreak terrible damage, the peacenik Cassandras warned (myself among them).
In fact, of course, it turned out that we were wrong — and so were the US and UK governments. The invasion was easily accomplished by the American-led coalition. Saddam’s army crumbled away, and he didn’t use those feared WMD. Indeed, it transpired that his chemical and biological weapons didn’t exist (or at least couldn’t be found).
Subsequently, the anti-war lobby changed track. It plugged away relentlessly with two claims: one, that the US and the UK went to war against Saddam on a premise they knew was false, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and lied to us all; and two, that the invasion was illegal in the absence of a new UN resolution supporting it.
This line of argument is still very much alive — it was restated last week by Tribune’s leader column, and I’m sure it was very much to the fore in the minds of anti-war delegates at the Labour conference as they prepared for this week’s debate on Iraq in Brighton (still to take place as I write).
There's no doubt that this case against the war is superficially strong. It has been clear all along that Saddam’s supposed possession of WMD — or more accurately his refusal to co-operate with the UN inspectors charged with ensuring that he had given up the WMD he once had — was not the real reason the Bush administration decided to take Saddam out but was rather the pretext it chose to clothe with legitimacy its goal of regime change. It is certainly true that WMD was central to Blair’s public case for backing Bush. No one can deny that the WMD have not so far been discovered. And the second UN resolution was not passed.
But so what? It doesn’t follow from all this either that Bush and Blair knowingly deceived us about WMD or that they went to war illegally. It’s far more plausible that the US and British governments simply put the best gloss they could on the evidence available at the time — which with the benefit of hindsight turns out to have been shonky, but, well, no one knew that then. And the invasion of Iraq is at very least defensible in terms of international law because of the UN resolutions on WMD that Saddam blatantly defied, even if the WMD didn't actually exist.
More fundamentally, there’s the problem that international law is an ass. It makes the sovereignty of any state — no matter how unjust, undemocratic or bloody — pretty much inviolable so long as it stays just the right side of genocide or invading its neighbours. Even if the invasion of Iraq was against international law (and I don’t think it was), that in itself wouldn’t make it wrong. Regime change, as long as it resulted in a free democratic Iraq and was achieved with minimal casualties, was a worthy goal.
What the documents leaked to the Telegraph show, however, is that Blair backed Bush even though he was warned by Straw that the US administration simply hadn’t thought through what regime change should entail beyond smashing up Saddam’s state machine, and that the result of this lack of "morning after" planning could be chaos or a new dictatorship. In ignoring his foriegn secretary’s advice, Blair showed himself to be an extraordinarily rash gambler who is blind to the consequences of his actions. It's for this reason rather than any other that we should question his fitness for office.
26 September 2004
MAN GETS JOB ON STRUGGLING MAGAZINE - 2
NOW LET'S BURY THE GUEVARA MYTH - 2
"The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban revolution's first firing squads."
15 September 2004
WHAT'S WRONG WITH BRITISH JOURNALISM
I was supposed to spend last weekend decorating the hall, but I got sidetracked by reading Andrew Marr’s new book on journalism, My Trade. It’s an odd confection, part hilarious anecdote, part history, part “how to” guide. But it’s strangely addictive, not least because it contains some of the best sustained critical thinking by a practitioner that I’ve read for a long time on the state of British journalism.
Marr, currently the BBC’s political editor, has been consistently ribbed by Tribune in recent years because he was a bearded badge-wearing paper-selling Trot when he was a student at Cambridge University a quarter-of-a-century ago. (I think he was there at the same time as Martin Rowson, cartoonist and Tribune columnist, but I could be wrong.)
Now, I’m all for reminding the great-and-good of their youthful leftist foibles. I have enjoyed the recent spate of recycled anecdotes about Alan Milburn, in years gone by one of the mainstays of the Newcastle far-left bookshop Days of Hope (aka Haze of Dope), and Kim Howells, who might or might not take a sympathetic view of student occupations of campuses against top-up fees given his role in the famous Hornsey art-school sit-in in 1968.
But, hey, we all move on, and the real saddos today are the 40- and 50- and 60-somethings who have learned nothing in the past 20 or 30 years and are still peddling the same Leninist snake-oil — the Tariq Alis and George Galloways, the Andrew Murrays and Lindsay Germans.
By comparison, Marr’s journey — if not Milburn’s or Howells’s — has been one from darkness into light. These days, he is meticulous about keeping his politics to himself for professional reasons (just as he should be). But before he joined the BBC he was, both in his newspaper columns and in his book Ruling Britannia, published in 1995, an enthusiast for all the causes espoused by the thinking democratic left (or what remains of it): Europeanism, redistribution, the welfare state, devolution, proportional representation for the House of Commons, radical reform of the House of Lords.
Whatever, his new book has more than its fair share of moments. It is worth reading just for his hilarious account of his time at the helm of the Independent in the mid-1990s, which should be studied by every wannabe editor. He was pitched into it even though he had no experience as an editor since his school magazine. And he struggled from the start against almost impossible odds. His proprietors were clueless about the nature of the business they were running and, despite promises, cut his budgets (which meant job losses, which meant he lost it with the journalistic staff). Eventually he was sacked after one too many run-ins with the chief incompetent megalomaniac among his bosses, David Montgomery.
There’s also some well-told history here (albeit with a few sloppy factual mistakes). And some of Marr’s descriptions of how journalism works today are as good as any. But what’s best in My Trade is his take on the state of British journalism.
Like other left-of-centre practitioner-critics of the recent past — notably John Lloyd of the Financial Times and Martin Kettle of the Guardian — Marr is less than impressed by what he reads, hears and sees every day. He makes well directed swipes at the hackneyed emotionalism that has crept into every newspaper, the cult of celebrity and, particularly, the decline of reporting of politics and serious discussion of policy.
Unlike Lloyd and Kettle, however, Marr doesn’t consider that the problem is simply (or even largely) that journalists have been overcome by an all-pervading cynicism about the political class that renders them incapable of doing the job required of them in a democratic polity. Although he says that politcal journalists “have become too powerful, too much the interpreters” and that “the political story has become degraded”, he argues that the reasons “have as much to do with politics as with journalism”. The Labour government’s current troubles with the media are as much a deserved reaction to its strict news management regime as they are of hacks acquiring a permanent anti-politician sneer. “Central control and manipulation created, within a few years, some of the worst press coverage any government in modern times has suffered,” he writes of Alastair Campbell.
Marr identifies the real enemy as an “idle, office-bound, marketing-directed copycat culture in modern news which is turning off readers and viewers”. What journalism needs now, he says, is fewer columnists and more reporters getting out of the office and talking to real people. At the risk of giving Tribune’s new editor, Chris McLaughlin, a good excuse to get rid of me, amen to that.
14 September 2004
MAN GETS JOB ON STRUGGLING MAGAZINE
Steve Platt and I put in an application for the job, vacated in summer by Mark Seddon (who took over from me in 1993), because we were worried that the august organ was about to go down the tubes. Despite an influx of about £350,000 investment from the trade unions (who now own it), it's selling only 3,000 copies a week. But the paper's board decided that we were damaged goods, and that was it. I don't think either of us is that upset.
Now the job has been taken by Chris McLaughlin, until earlier this year political editor of the Sunday Mirror and currently a columnist on the Big Issue, who used to work way back when for Labour Weekly, the official party paper that closed in 1987. I know nothing else about him — to my shame I haven't read the Sunday Mirror or the Big Issue for years — but his praises are sung in the Independent today by Bill Hagerty, who was an editorial adviser to Seddon. Whatever, good luck to him.
4 September 2004
WHITHER THE TRADE UNIONS?
3 September 2004
NOW LET'S BURY THE GUEVARA MYTH
Like every other leftie teenager of my generation I had that poster of Che stuck on my bedroom wall — in my case taking pride of place in a collage that included an International Socialists placard demanding “Defend the Portuguese workers’ revolution!”, some arty French shots of girls with not much on, bills for gigs I’d peeled off boards in town and assorted beer mats.
I was very proud of the overall effect, which I thought compared very well with the efforts of the Dadaist artist Kurt Schwitters, but my mum and dad redecorated the room when I went to university.
I protested, but to be honest by then I’d moved on. Most of the bands whose promotional materials I’d artfully arranged had become unfashionable with the arrival of punk, and I was no longer at all enamoured of the International Socialists, who had become the Socialist Workers Party and chucked me out. But I was particularly embarassed by the poster of Che, based on Alexander Korda’s famous photograph of him taken in 1960.
I know the image is always talked about reverentially by media studies types as iconic and everlasting — but in late-1970s Britain it became about as cool as flared trousers, for one simple reason: Wolfie Smith, the ludicrous bedsit revolutionary in the BBC sitcom Citizen Smith, who looked just like the Che in the poster. Wolfie, played by Robert Lindsay, was, to put it mildly, not the sort of character any serious (or fashion-conscious) socialist would ever wish to emulate, particularly if he had younger sisters.
More seriously, I’d also started to have big doubts about Guevara’s politics. When I put the poster up, I hadn’t known a lot about him. I knew he’d been a guerrilla leader with Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution, and I knew he’d subsequently worked tirelessly to foment revolution elsewhere and had been killed while leading an armed guerrilla uprising in Bolivia in 1967. All very romantic. But that was about it.
As I read more about the Cuban revolution and Latin America in the 1960s and the 1970s, however, it became clear that Che wasn’t quite the revolutionary hero I’d assumed him to be. Yes, he was personally courageous, single-minded and ascetic. But the guerrilla strategy he expounded and epitomised had been a miserable failure everywhere in Latin America except Cuba — and was roundly (and convincingly) condemned as suicidal adventurism by most thinking Latin American leftists.
Worse, Guevara, from the mid-1950s until his death, was an out-and-out dogmatic Stalinist — show trials, gulag and all — who was such an admirer of the Soviet dictator that he insisted on putting flowers on his tomb when he visited Moscow in 1960, fully four years after Khruschev’s “secret speech”.
If this Stalinism had simply been a matter of opinion with no effect on others, it might have been forgivable. But Guevara put his worldview into brutal practice. As a senior figure in Castro’s administration, he played a leading role in creating a single-party police state, throwing opponents into jail and banning free trade unions. And although he broke with Moscow in 1964, it was not because he had given up on Stalinism but because he thought the Soviet leadership was, unlike his hero Stalin, insufficiently committed to world revolution and crumbling in the face of petty-bourgeois deviationism.
And so it was, 25 years ago, that I came to the conclusion that Guevara was even less of a role-model than Wolfie Smith. Big deal, you might well think, but this rambling reminiscence does have some contemporary relevance. It was brought on by seeing The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles’s movie about Guevara’s trip around Latin America in 1952 with his friend Alberto Granado on a battered Norton motorbike, long before he became a Stalinist.
I loved the film: it’s not quite in the class of Kings of the Road or Easy Rider or Thelma and Louise, but it’s an accomplished cinematic spectacle, as good a road movie as I’ve seen for a long time. One of the main reasons it works so well is that it doesn’t preach politics — all we see is the young Che and his mate coming up against appalling poverty and squalor and, well, being moved to do something about it.
Paradoxically, however, this is also the film’s greatest failing. What matters most about Guevara as a real historical figure is not that he was horrified by poverty and exploitation and decided to “do something” but that (after a brief flirtation with Gandhianism) he specifically and tragically chose the dead-end of armed struggle Stalinism as his mode of action — rather than, say, trade union organising or reformist democratic socialism.
It’s difficult to see how The Motorcycle Diaries could have gone into any of this and kept its coherence as a film, but the effect of its keeping the politics vague is to breathe new life into a myth that should have been buried long ago.
31 August 2004
THE END OF THE LEFT – 3
"While we take all this on board . . . we’d still put changing circumstances ahead of any of these arguments as the decisive factors in changing people’s minds. That’s not just a reflex expression of Marxist hostility towards treating politics as a conflict of ideas, rather than (instead of as well as) a conflict of social forces, it’s the result of wondering:
- whether the phrase 'widely read', which Anderson applies to Goldman and Berkman, applies to any of the people cited
- whether the specifically 'left' individuals in the list really made more impact on changing attitudes than such figures as Muggeridge, Orwell, Conquest and others who found readers across the political spectrum, and also among the self-consciously non-political
- whether even they made as much impact as newspapers, television and other mass media . . .
- and whether the often obscure, jargon-ridden, internecine quarrels of leftists and ex-leftists about the nature of the Soviet Union ever could have mattered – or should have mattered – more than the steady accumulation of knowledge about the brute facts of life under dictatorship, to which all those cited certainly, and admirably, contributed, but which they were in no position to guide or dominate.”
OK, to take these in reverse order.
One, I wasn’t writing about the quarrel among leftists and ex-leftists about whether the Soviet Union was state capitalist or a degenerate workers’ state (or whatever), which I think played very little role in convincing the left that Soviet socialism was a dead-end.
Two, it was precisely through the mass media – in particular newspapers –that left critics of the Soviet Union had their greatest impact.
Three, I agree completely that the likes of Muggeridge, Orwell and Conquest had more influence than sectarian polemicists who directed their writings at a purely left readership (and in the case of Muggeridge and Conquest, I’m pushing it to describe them as “left” critics, though Muggeridge certainly went out to Russia in 1932 as a Fabian and I have in front of me a passage by Conquest written in the late 1950s quoting approvingly from Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Marx . . .) – but so what?
And four – all right, I admit it: I can’t really answer scepticism about how widely read left critics of the Soviet Union really were except with anecdotes and circumstantial evidence: lots of reviews of books and mentions of promotional speaking tours in the contemporary press, name checks in other people’s memoirs, articles by the relevant authors in the national press and opinion weeklies et cetera. Of course, it’s quite possible for a book to be widely reviewed yet remain unread — which happened, for example to Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia – or for articles to appear in even large-circulation newspapers yet have a nugatory readership. But until someone does a trawl through publishers’ archives and old library lending records, I’m afraid anecdotes and circumstantial evidence are the best we’ve got.
30 August 2004
THE END OF THE LEFT? – 2
"We have some doubts about the suggestion that the present malaise afflicting so many leftists will pass, much as previous 'waves of cretinism' passed because . . . 'some part of the left kept its head and argued the case against the prevailing delusions consistently and publicly'.
"This seems more optimistic than the present situation warrants: try arguing with those who are thus deluded and see if they are even capable of conceding that they could possibly have got anything wrong at all. It also seems more rationalistic than the past cases he cites might suggest. It’s at least arguable that 'enthusiasm for the Soviet Union' and 'sucking up to the IRA' succumbed to the attrition of changing circumstances - ranging from very well-known historical events to less well-known but highly effective organisational manoeuvres within labour movements - rather than to rational argument, which largely (though not, of course, entirely) followed on from those circumstances. As for 'anti-Europeanism' and 'uncritical support for any third world populist would-be tyrant claiming to lead a national liberation struggle', both are still going strong in at least some sections of the left, and precisely those that are least amenable to argument. . .
"We remain unconvinced that 'left' in the singular has much use or relevance, and we’d still prefer to see the pluralism that some celebrate, others deplore and we ruefully put up with acknowledged more consistently - notably, and most helpfully, through the making of some necessary and very sharp distinctions, such as between liberal lefts and socialist lefts, and between genuinely democratic lefts and the lefts that are either anti-democratic or (even worse, because even less honest) contemptibly self-deluding about democracy and its enemies."
Well, I agree with some of that – in particular the contention that the notion of a singular "left" has little use or relevance. There are today and have been for 200 years many lefts, some of them little short of despicable. Where I disagree is in my estimation of the power of argument to change minds.
To take the example of the left's enthusiasm for the Soviet Union, because I think it's the most important left delusion of the past 100 years. I don't deny that changing circumstances had a massive effect in opening people's eyes — from Kronstadt, through Spain, the show trials, the Hitler-Stalin pact, Stalin's colonisation of eastern Europe after 1945, Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and the rise and suppression of Solidarnosc, right up to the collapse of "actually existing socialism" in 1989-91.
But the relentless arguments of left critics of the Soviet Union – seizing on these events, to be sure – also had a crucial impact. Bertrand Russell's anti-Bolshevik polemic of 1920, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, which remained in print until very recently; Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman's records of their disillusionment with Russia in the 1920s (published in the UK as well as in the US and widely read); Malcolm Muggeridge, Walter Citrine (TUC general secretary) and William Henry Chamberlin (Manchester Guardian correspondent), who all produced critical accounts of Stalin's Russia in the early to mid 1930s; George Orwell, the Tribune left, the ILP, the anarchists and the Trotskyists in the late 1930s and (particularly) the 1940s, who published a stream of material of their own and from foreign experts; the cold war social democrats from the 1950s (among whom I'd include Robert Conquest and Leonard Schapiro and most of their Menshevik-inspired friends in the US); the democratic socialist, libertarian, Trotskyist and ex-communist defenders of the Hungarian revolution; the defenders of "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia and Solidarnosc in Poland; the Edward Thompson wing of the 1980s peace movement – all of them stuck to their guns, and I think they had a cumulative impact in changing the political atmosphere. Certainly by the 1960s pro-Sovietism was the prerogative of a small minority of British leftists, and by the 1980s the only pro-Soviet diehards on the Brit left were either extraordinarily stupid, on the make or both (let us not forget that the Soviet Union funded the Communist Party of Great Britain almost until its death and that freebies in "socialist" spas were enthusiastically taken up by trade unionist bollock-brains right up to the end of the 1980s).
I think it would be possible to tell a similar story of left sucess against anti-Europeanism or kneejerk third world national liberationism (with some of the same people playing key roles). Whatever, I can't see any reason why opponents of left cretinism today shouldn't prevail again. As Bob Marley put it, don't give up the fight.
27 August 2004
THE END OF THE LEFT? – 1
I’m late on this (I’ve been away on holiday) but it’s a hoo-hah that is worth noting even a fortnight on. Cohen’s argument is that something very odd has happened to the left in Britain in the recent past: in its enthusiasm for opposition to the war in Iraq, it has embraced clerical reaction for the first time ever. The Stop the War Coalition was the Socialist Workers Party getting into bed with the Muslim Association of Britain. Ken Livingstone endorsed and met the anti-Semitic Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The left and liberal press have been fawning in their treatment of Islamist bigots. No one on the left – or hardly anyone – has taken any notice of Iraqi democrats’ approval of the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Cohen concludes that “there no longer is a left with a coherent message of hope for the human race”.
I almost share his sense of despair. Unlike Cohen, I opposed the war – not because I thought it was wrong to overthrow Saddam Hussein but because I thought the US and its allies hadn’t thought it through and were taking an irresponsible risk – but like him I believe that the left in Britain and elsewhere should now be supporting those in Iraq who are trying to create a tolerant liberal democratic polity, not whining about the process through which the US and Britain went to war. I have been sickened by the way that so many of my fellow opponents of the war have gloried in every setback that the US and the interim Iraqi government have suffered. And I can’t believe the tolerance of idiocy and worse that seems to have become the norm in the liberal and left press. The left in Britain today is in a worse state than at any time in my adult lifetime.
But I’d stop short of writing off the left completely. Waves of cretinism have swept the left in Britain before – enthusiasm for the Soviet Union (most marked in the 1930s but still a factor 50 years later), anti-Europeanism in the 1960s and 1970s, uncritical support for any third world populist would-be tyrant claiming to lead a national liberation struggle from the 1960s onwards, sucking up to the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s – but they have passed, largely because some part of the left kept its head and argued the case against the prevailing delusions consistently and publicly. We need to do the same today.
TACTICAL VOTING ?
Don't scotch Labour's chances
Paul Anderson struggles to decide which is worse: voting Tory or voting for the Scottish National Party. I'm afraid I can't help him, being of the view that you should always vote Labour. Perhaps though, I can help him with his confusion about the SNP.
If their desire to break up the United Kingdom wasn't bad enough, SNP members are already actively campaigning against the proposed European constitution. Romano Prodi recently made it clear that an independent Scotland would not be part of the European Union.
The soon-to-be SNP leader, Alex Salmond, is an unabashed Reaganite, believing that applying the Laffer curve to business tax is the key to a bright economic future for Scotland. Worse than that, SNP members believe that, while they're slashing taxes for business, the shortfall will be made up by increasing personal taxation.
Worst of all, they will always opportunistically back the Tories in Parliament where they calculate it will do the Labour Party the most damage. They haven't changed since they backed the Tories to bring down James Callaghan and usher in 18 years of Thatcherism.
So, if you get stuck with a Tory MP, you'll be represented by a man (because they almost always are) who is Eurosceptic, would slash public spending and opportunistically oppose everything Labour does. On the other hand, if you get stuck with a SNP MP, you'll he represented by a man (because they almost always are) who is Eurosceptic, would slash public spending and opportunistically oppose everything Labour does.
Head of Press, Scottish Labour Party Glasgow
Microscope needed for Lib Dem principles
Michael Foot hails Tribune as a truly great international socialist document. Yet, in the same edition, there is an article by Paul Anderson exhorting Labour supporters to vote for the Liberal Democrats.
I have lived in areas where Labour has not had a chance of winning, yet have always voted Labour to register my support for a socialist democratic party. In such areas, Labour activists work hard supporting the party, standing in unwinnable seats, to ensure that people have a chance to vote Labour as part of the democratic process.
In recent by-elections, the Lib Dems have jumped from third to first place. Does this mean Anderson wants us to abide by rules that they don't? In addition, since they are clearly doing this by attracting an anti-Labour vote from Tories, should committed Labour supporters give the Lib Dems such succour?
Should Labour supporters really help a party which can knock on one door and say they are against hanging and knock on the next one and say the opposite purely to gain votes?
Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten has said that he and others would like to move the Lib Dems to the Right. They could succeed and have a larger parliamentary party, increased by tactical voting.
I suggest that calling on Labour supporters to vote tactically, rather than on principle, does little to help stem the disillusionment of many in the political process.
Treacherous advice is a pernicious vice
Paul Anderson has exploited your pages to try to damage the Labour Party.
He urges people to vote tactically for the Liberal Democrats in seats where Labour starts in third place. Quite apart from the fact that there is no equivalent effort by Lib Dem pundits to get their supporters to vote Labour where we are the main challenge to the Tories, his list is compiled in complete ignorance of the local circumstances in the seats concerned, and in the knowledge that it will be used to squeeze the Labour vote in Lib Dem leaflets.
In some of the seats he mentions. Labour's vote is going up and we may overtake the Lib Dems. In others, the two parties are neck and neck and the main challenger is unclear. In yet more, there is no hope of anyone beating the Tories for the parliamentary seat, but a strong Labour campaign might deliver local Labour councillors on its coal tails.
Anderson's insistence that the differences between Labour and the Lib Dems are nugatory can only have been written by someone who has not encountered the Lib Dems' vile behaviour in local government, the constant anti-Labour sniping of Lib Dem MPs such as Norman Baker and the drive by senior Lib Dems for their party to adopt neo-Thatcherite economic policies.
Even more absurdly, Anderson says Labour supporters should vote Lib Dem in all the seats they already hold - including, presumably, the ones that Labour could actually gain from them such as Chesterfield.
His article is a slap in the face for dedicated Labour activists who are working hard in the seats concerned.His treacherous advice should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
I hate to say I told you so. If you leave Paul Anderson long enough, he will abuse his position as a columnist to try to get Labour voters to vote Liberal Democrat. And that is exactly what he has done.
Anderson is not making some abstract point in favour of anti-Tory tactical voting in his article. It is specifically aimed at getting some Labour voters to vote for the Lib Dems. It will not get any Liberal Democrat supporters to vote Labour in other constituencies. He tells us that he has sent a copy to the Lib Dems, because he knows that it will be of use to them.
What is worse, in his own words, Anderson has "carefully written it so that Liberal Democrats can use it in election material to make it look like Tribune, the Labour weekly, backs their candidate".
Tribune is not saying that Labour voters should back the Lib Dems. And Tribune was not saying that at the last general election either, when Anderson's articles were used by Liberal Democrats to claim that Tribune was supporting them then. Anderson has waited until Tribune was changing its editor before writing his article. Let us hope that the new editor responds decisively to deal with this slur on the good name of the magazine.
7 August 2004
SOLIDARITY WITH THE HEROES OF WARSAW
There is a simple message to the few veterans still alive from that heroic struggle: comrades, the decent left in Britain salutes your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.
5 August 2004
OBITUARY: PAUL PICCONE
But when I first came across Telos as a student in the 1970s, I became an instant addict. It was a left-wing academic journal wholly unlike the ones with which I was familiar – New Left Review, Capital and Class, Monthly Review and so on – in its refusal to entertain Leninist or structuralist Marxist bullshit and in its wholehearted commitment to translating contemporary left-wing thinkers from Europe and historical texts from the western Marxist tradition (properly so-called rather than the Leninoid confection put up by Perry Anderson and Robin Blackburn at NLR and Verso). OK, it also ran some excruciating stuff (particularly from its US contributors), and some of the translations were shonky. Over the years, Piccone managed to alienate rather a large number of editorial board members and contributors for no good reason. And from the mid-1980s some of its enthusiasms were distinctly weird. But from its foundation in 1968 until 1990, it did a lot more good than harm.
Every issue contained material that was unavailable elsewhere in English: it was through Telos, more than anything else, that I got to know Gyorgy Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Andre Gorz, the post-Socialisme ou Barbarie work of Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort, Jean Baudrillard, Norberto Bobbio, the Italian workerists, Agnes Heller and the Budapest School, Victor Zaslavsky and a whole lot more besides. The journal also introduced me, directly or indirectly, to a whole string of American writers and thinkers – the New York intellectuals, Christopher Lasch, Russell Jacoby – that were off the radar at the time on the parochial British left.
As well as editing the journal, Piccone also wrote the best book on Gramsci in English, Italian Marxism. So, however unattractive his eventual destination, I think he deserves a modicum of respect.
WHERE TO VOTE LIB DEM NEXT ELECTION
As I’ve argued before in this column (most recently here), for more than a decade the differences between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have been nugatory by comparison with the differences between either of them and the Tories. On some issues, Labour is more egalitarian, more liberal or more democratic than the Lib Dems; on others it’s the other way round. But both are parties of the democratic Centre-Left — and either is infinitely better than the Tories. So the priority at the next election, just as at the last one and the one before that, is to vote tactically for whichever candidate, Labour or Lib Dem, has the best chance of keeping the Tory out.
In most constituencies — those where Labour won at the last election or came second to a Tory — that means voting Labour. But in quite a few constituencies, the Liberal Democrat either won or came second to a Tory in 2001. In those constituencies, the best way to beat the Tory candidate next time round is to vote Lib Dem.
What follows is a list, in alphabetcial order, of: those constituencies in England and Wales where a Lib Dem came second to a Tory in 2001; and those in Scotland — where there have been boundary changes — where the Lib Dem would have won in 2001 if the new constituency boundaries had been in place. I have shamelessly pinched the latter from the excellent website Election Prediction (click here).
But on with the fun. Lib Dem and Labour supporters should vote Lib Dem in England and Wales where a Lib Dem won in 2001 and in:
Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine
Argyll and Bute
Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirk
Bexhill and Battle
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Cambridgeshire South East
Chesham and Amersham
Fife North East
Folkestone and Hythe
Haltemprice and Howden
Hampshire North East
Isle of Wight
New Forest East
New Forest West
Orkney and Shetland
Penrith and The Border
Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Skipton and Ripon
Surrey South West
Tiverton and Honiton
Westmorland and Lonsdale
Everywhere else, Lib Dem and Labour supporters should vote Labour.
Note that, just as when I did a similar column to this before the 2001 general election, I have carefully written it so that the Liberal Democrats can use it in election material to make it look as if Tribune, the Labour weekly, backs their candidate in each individual constituency. I have of course sent a copy to their headquarters in Cowley Street.
More seriously, there are a couple of things to note about my advice. The list doesn’t include Brentwood and Ongar, where Martin Bell stood as an independent against Eric Pickles in 2001 and came second, with the Lib Dem dropping to third from second in 1997: maybe it should. And, more importantly, I’m not sure what to recommend in seats held by Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party. The Tories are rank outsiders in all Plaid’s seats, so anti-Tory tactical voting is irrelevant in them. But in three constituencies the SNP would have won on the 2001 figures with the Tory second — Angus, Banff and Buchan, and Perth and North Perthshire. So maybe Labour and Lib Dem supporters there should vote tactically for the SNP.
28 July 2004
SADDAM’S BRITISH ADMIRERS – 6
THE PRESIDENT – SADDAM HUSSEIN
Alan Bott, from Iraq: Under the Leadership of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party, News Line special report 1980
The crucial importance of revolutionary leadership has been expressed in Iraq most strongly during the celebrations to mark the 12th anniversary of the July 1968 Revolution.
The occasion also marked the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein's assumption of national leadership.
Everywhere in Baghdad, his portrait was alongside that of his predecessor, Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, and coinciding with the celebrations of the Revolution were special exhibitions - one of books by President Hussein and another documenting his life and political struggles, in contemporary photographs and documents.
It is a story which has been dramatised in a semi-fictional form, first in a two-volume novel The Long Days by Abdul Ameer Mu'alla, and a film of the same name, by the Egyptian director Tawfiq Saleh.
Both accounts present in an exciting and popular way the true story of Saddam Hussein's flight from Bagh dad into Syria after an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Abdul Kerim Qassim in 1959.
The photo-documentary exhibition of the President's life is in the attentive care of Hamid Matbei at the Baghdad Museum of Modern Art. He explains the story with genuine pride - as a part of his own past.
Saddam Hussein was born into a poor family in the spring of 1937, about 120 kilometres from Tikrit, in a village called Al Awja. His father died before ever seeing his son Saddam and the task of bringing up the future President fell to an uncle who was then an officer in the Iraqi army.
From the age of three he was looked after at the home of another uncle, Haj Ibrahim al-Hassan, who lived just south of Tikrit. The family moved when Saddam Hussein was only six and at his new home in the al-Hawaja area, he was to learn first-hand the struggle of farm life.
Another move in 1947 took the family to the Nineveh area and soon after Saddam Hussein began his formal education at schools in Tikrit and then Baghdad.
He developed political convictions which led to his taking part in the 1956 demonstrations over Allied aggression in Egypt. This was to be the turning point in his life, at the age of 19.
After the July revolution of 1958. Saddam Hussein and several of his comrades were briefly jailed along with other militants and on his release he continued both with his studies and with clandestine political work.
Abdul Kerim Qassim’s regime brought a new reign of terror in Iraq, after abandoning its original revolutionary line. Protest soon became confrontation with Qassim's government and police and it was at this point that the secret Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party Command aid plans for an attempt on
Saddam Hussein was one of seven party members selected for the mission - a daring attack on Qassim's car as it was driven along the old Rasheed Street in Baghdad city centre.
His task was to cover and protect those carrying out the attack. One comrade was killed and another badly wounded in the shooting.
It was while Saddam Hussein was carrying the wounded comrade that he was hit in the leg by a shot from a security policeman working undercover as a local greengrocer.
After making their escape from the scene, they hid for days, shattered by the news that Qassim had survived with only slight wounds.
Saddam Hussein's comrades, unable to obtain the services of a doctor, were forced to remove the bullet from his leg using a razor blade, sterilised in a flame.
His later escape from Baghdad, while police carried out continuous raids in the hunt for the attackers, is recorded in detail in the documentary exhibition and is the main subject matter of the film “The Long Days”.
On horseback, on foot, by motorcycle and donkey, he travelled the 1,000 kilometres into Syria, across the desert, in spite of his painful wound.
The photographs of those who helped him on his way are the rugged faces of Iraqi peasants, his brother in Tikrit, and other Ba'athist sympathisers.
After three months in relative safety with Ba'athists in Syria, he travelled to Nasser's Egypt, where he studied law at Cairo.
After the Ba'athist Revolution of 1963 in Iraq he returned to Baghdad, only to discover after six months of the new regime that the leadership had adopted policies to serve their own interests.
Soon he was back at work in secret, frequently disguised, using three names, in hiding and on the move from place to place to evade the police. The exhibition shows one of the best photographs of Saddam Hussein as a “Wanted” poster issued by the authorities.
Arrested, in spite of all his precautions and skill in clandestine operations, he spent two years in various Iraqi jails, before escaping to continue secret work.
Arrested again, he staged another daring escape while under armed escort in 1966, to play his part in rallying the forces for the July 17 Revolution two years later.
On the 11th anniversary of the Revolution, President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr announced he was stepping down from office, in favour of his second in command. Saddam Hussein - a decision which carried the unanimous approval of the leadership of the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party.
He assumed three posts at once, secretary of the party's Regional Command, chairman of the Revolution Command Council and President of the Republic.
In his speech accepting the responsibilities of leadership, the new President said: “I would never hesiate or delay undertaking the responsibilities of the forward march of the leadership, dealing with patriotic and Pan-Arab tasks on the path of unity, liberty, and socialism, embodying the spirit of revolutionary, initiative required of an official.”
Since taking office and making that pledge to the party and the Iraqi people, he has achieved a reputation as a man of firm action in home affairs, insisting on the highest standards of dedication and integrity of government officials.
He has also become a leading international statesman both on a pan-Arab level and in the movement of non-aligned nations.
He played a leading role at the 10th Arab Summit in Tunis, in making opposition to imperialism and Zionism a central issue, along with policies for economic integration of Arab states.
At the Sixth conference of the Non-Aligned Movement last September in Havana, he stressed a fiercely independent line, again rejecting imperialism and Zionism and exposing fully the treachery of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Saddam Hussein's drive for modern development in Iraq, the election of a National Assembly in June, the improving of living standards through wage rises and price controls, along with new social welfare provisions, have built up a momentum of achievement which the President and the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party are determined to maintain.
President Hussein told Iraqis in a speech to mark July 17: “When we talk about the future - expressing the conscience and aspirations of the Iraqis - it is now based on increased capability. It is based on our confidence in the possibility of attaining our ambition in an accurate way, in the light of experiences we have gained, the achievements we have accomplished and the competence we have over the past 12 years.”
27 July 2004
SADDAM’S BRITISH ADMIRERS – 5
"For some 20 years, Redgrave's real day-job was as loyal, undeviating servant of a political movement that, had it been successful, would have turned Britain into a Marxist tyranny and an open-air lunatic asylum. Moreover, his powerful personality and his mastery of Trotskyite doggerel enabled him to become the ideological hatchet man within Equity for the party leader, the despicable and loathsome predator Gerry Healy."
Ms Redgrave's response:
"Mr Myers has every right to express his views, to wit, my brother and I are lunatics baying at the moon, that the WRP (which we left in 1986) was vile, evil, etc. He did not mention that Trotsky exposed to the world all the horrors of Stalin's regime before any writer in the west. I also observe that he does not mention my brother's political support for Gorbachev's Perestroika and Glasnost, which Gerry Healy and I shared.
"We three founded the Marxist Party in 1987 on the basis of this political perspective. Mr Myers repeats an allegation that Corin and I have refuted on many occasions, because it is untrue: that we supported terrorism. Specifically, that the WRP received financial backing from Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi. The WRP never received financial backing from Saddam Hussein. The WRP totally and publicly opposed Saddam Hussein's regime from September 1980, when he declared war on Iran. Corin and I were appalled by that war, and all the terrible things that followed. You will remember that the US and Israel supported that war. In the case of Libya, Colonel Gaddafi never financed the WRP."
Oh yeah? Below I reproduce two key features from the libertarian socialist journal Solidarity published way back in 1988 that take a rather different line.
THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED
Tom Burns, Solidarity, issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
Elsewhere in this issue, in a dramatic exclusive, we publish a damning extract from the secret report of an internal inquiry into corruption within the Workers Revolutionary Party. The full report, which has been leaked to us, chronicles an astonishing tale of abject perfidy by leading members of the group. In this article, Tom Burns gives the background and comments on the inquiry's extraordinary findings
We publish this document in the interests of political hygiene. It consists of about half of the confidential internal interim report on Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party prepared by a "commission" of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Following his expulsion from the WRP on October 19 1985, Healy and his supporters were expelled from the ICFI in December 1985. This was as a result of allegations of sexual abuse, even rape, of women in the party, physical assault on other members, and the establishment of a "mercenary relationship" with a number of Arab despotisms (see Solidarity issue 11).
The text deals with the WRP's financial and other dealings with their foreign backers. It is largely self-explanatory, but a few background details may be helpful. The commission was set up at the insistance of David North, longtime chieftain of the Healyite Workers' League in the United States. North, together with the anti-Healy coalition inside the WRP headed by Michael Banda and Cliff Slaughter, was instrumental in the summer of 1985 in the ousting of Healy.
The ICFI inquiry had the reluctant support of the Banda-Slaughter WRP, who correctly foresaw that an exposure of the facts could be a means of bringing pressure to bear to transfer control of the IC to North. (Indeed, the WRP was suspended by the ICFI on December 16, the day this report was submitted.)
The commission nevertheless had an interest in protecting the reputations of Healy's erstwhile supporters, since they had all been aware (to some extent) of what had been going on. One result of this was that the report as circulated to the WRP's leadership in late 1985 was censored. The names of those who had taken sides against Healy, together with those of Arab politicians and intelligence agents, were suppressed, and the copies of the documents from Healy's files which were attached to the original report as exhibits were removed.
The commission only had access to fragments of the documentary evidence. On October 9 1985, when the crisis in the WRP came to a head, Mike Banda and his anti-Healy supporters walked out of the party offices in Clapham. This left Healy's acolytes in control of the premises for about forty-eight hours, during which time they removed large quantities of the most sensitive documents. This report is therefore based on the few documents they overlooked, plus some material from other WRP files and accounts.
Healy of Arabia
Even these remnants disclose payments of over a million pounds to the WRP from Arab regimes and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The report clearly shows that for nearly a decade the WRP acted, quite literally, as the paid agent of brutal and oppressive foreign powers. This lasted from at least as early as 1975, when the first contact was made with the PLO, until 1983. During this period a series of agreements was concluded with the Libyan regime and the WRP's political perspectives were amended to suit their paymasters.
The document alleges that the WRP acted - through Gerry Healy, Alex Mitchell, Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, and a number of others -as a collector of information for Libyan Intelligence. This function had, as the report puts it, "strongly anti-semitic undertones". Put plainly, they were Jew-spotting in the media, politics and business. The Khomeini revolution and the Iran-Iraq war - in which the WRP's efforts to support both sides soon collapsed - put paid to their employment by the regime of Saddam Hussein. But before this disaster the WRP's connections with Iraq clearly generated more than the £19,697 identified in the report.
The Iraqi connection had sinister aspects. From 1979 on, the WRP provided the Iraqi embassy with intelligence on dissident Iraqis living in Britain. Since Saddam Hussein's dictatorship does not scruple to arrest the relatives of opponents, to use torture on a vast scale, or even to murder children, it seems likely that the WRP were accomplices to murder.
One example of the depths to which these corrupt practices drove the party occurred in March 1979, when with only one dissentient the central committee of the WRP voted to approve the execution (after prolonged torture) of more than 20 opponents of the Iraqi government. One of the victims, Talib Suwailh, had only five months earlier brought fraternal greetings to the conference of the WRP's own front organisation, the All Trade Union Alliance (see the Slaughter group's News Line, 20 November 1985).
In addition to the £1,075,163 identified by the document as having come from the Middle East and Libya between 1977 and 1983, the report gives, in a section dealing with the WRP's internal finances which we do not print, breakdowns of a further £496,773 received between 1975 and 1985 from other sections of the International Committee, almost entirely from North America, Australia and Germany. This raises further questions about how additional Middle Eastern money may have been recycled to the WRP via other IC sections; it is known, for example, that the Australian section received at least one substantial payment from Libya.
The death agony of the WRP
The WRP's fission products included, at last count, six organisations plus a large number of dispersed and semi-detached individuals. On the anti-Healy side, in early 1986 Slaughter's WRP was expelled from North's International Committee; it in turn ejected North's British supporters, led by Dave and Judy Hyland, who then formed the 'International Communist Party1. Mike Banda was also expelled with a more politically disparate group who established a short-lived discussion circle, Communist Forum; Banda himself repudiated Trotskyism completely, and a number of his associates have joined the Communist Party.
In the summer of 1986 the WRP began negotiations with the LIT, Nahuel Moreno's Argentinian-based international apparat, (notable mainly for their enthusiastic support for the Argentine junta's invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas). These talks have, in turn, generated yet another internal opposition (Chris Bailey, Gerry Downing, David Bruce, et al), who face expulsion if the marriage is consummated.
It is certain that the anti-Healy camp know far more about the dirtier aspects of the WRP's past than they have so far publically admitted. Indeed, their coyness about the past is one of the few things which unites the warring factions. Probably none of them know the full story, but virtually all of them know more than they have revealed so far. These include North, who has resolutely chosen not to make public even the skeletal information we publish; Cliff Slaughter, who for many years was secretary of the International Committee; and Dot Gibson, who was responsible for running - and falsifying - the accounts of the WRP and its companies. Silence denotes consent.
Healy and a number of his supporters are even better placed to be held accountable for the despicable practices which this report alleges. It states, for example, that Alex Mitchell and Corin Redgrave were as deeply involved as Healy himself in the dealings with Arab governments. So was Vanessa Redgrave, whose personal finances are alleged to have merged with the inflowing money.
One part of the document not published here states, "It was learned from cde [name suppressed] that one large IC donation of $140,000 to the party was never recorded. Under instructions from G Healy it was given to Vanessa Redgrave who had run into tax problems."
The pro-Healy WRP which emerged from the October 1985 schism has also had its problems. From the beginning Healy had an uneasy relationship with Sheila Torrance, who ran the organisation and the restarted daily News Line. In the summer of 1986, Mitchell suddenly quit, returning to Australia, and the association between Healy and his showbiz 11 on the one hand and Torrance on the other deteriorated. The break came in December. Torrance kept a majority of the remaining membership and News Line, which by now had a circulation in the low hundreds.
Healy, the Redgraves, and a small rump, resurfaced in August 1987 as the Marxist Party, which has discovered a new messiah in Gorbachev, apparently due to lead a political revolution in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, in early 1987 yet another faction, headed by Richard Price, broke away to refound trotskyist orthodoxy as the "Workers International League". Torrance, with what remains of her WRP, is currently embroiled in a tussle with yet another group led by Ray Athow over the party's remaining assets. Tedious, isn't it?
Their morals and ours
One important aspect of the corruption of the WRP not covered by the report is the mercenary relationship it established with certain local authorities. For example, the financially scandal-ridden Lambeth council was effectively dominated by a group of councillors who were covert members or supporters of the party (one, at least, received a party salary and car) with all that implies in terms of jobbery and corruption.
The Labour Herald, an important journal of the Labour "left" and formerly co-edited by Ken Livingstone and Ted Knight, was financed and controlled by the WRP. The party also had important influence in, and access to, the highest levels of the GLC. We hope in future issues of Solidarity, with the help of our readers, to explore this further dimension of corruption. Incidentally, the WRP was far from being the sole beneficiary of such influence.
We apologise for what may appear to be an extended detour into political coprophilia. But the example of Healy's WRP raises questions which go far beyond that organisation alone.
What is relevant about this tale is not that the WRP was led by a monster (or monsters) - after all, there are plenty of those around - but that numbers of intelligent, self-sacrificing, and idealistic people (but what ideals?) accepted such a regime for decades. Psychiatry as well as ideology is needed to explain such a phenomenon. Masochistic party or leader fetishism is only one facet of the problem. Another is the amoralism stemming from leninist ideology: the denial of any relationship between means and ends. For us repellent methods have only produced, and will only produce, repellent ends.
We cannot accept the attitude which says that if it is necessary to support, or keep silent about, the torture and execution of dissidents in order to augment party funds, so be it; or that ordinary people are simply there to be lied to, manipulated, exploited and sacrificed to the interest of the self-styled revolutionary elite; or that only the interests of the party - often embodied in its leader - are relevant. The symptoms presented by the WRP express in an extreme form the basic attitudes of a wide section of the authoritarian "left", and this is true both here and now and in the societies they have brought or might bring into existence.
THE CORRUPTION OF THE WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY PARTY
Extract from the Interim Report of the International Committee Commission, December 16 1985
From Solidarity, issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
Here, published for the first time, we extract four key pages of the 12-page report on corruption in the WRP, prepared by a special commission of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Relations with the colonial bourgeoisie
The Commission was able to secure a section of the correspondence relating to the Middle East from the files in G Healy's former office. The documents examined by the Commission are seven relating to Iraq, four relating to Kuwait and other Gulf states, 23 relating to the PLO and 28 relating to Libya. The following report bases itself mainly on these documents.
From internal evidence in the documents under our control, it is obvious that much more material must exist, which was either taken out of the center when the rump was in control or kept elsewhere. Therefore the actual amount of money received from these relations and the extent of these relations must be considerably bigger than what we are able to prove in this report. The documents at our disposal clearly prove that Healy established a mercenary relationship between the WRP and the Arab colonial bourgeoisie, through which the political principles of Trotskyism and the interests of the working class were betrayed.
In late June 1976, the ICFI was informed for the first time that the WRP had establised official contacts with non-party forces in the Middle East. These contacts were with the PLO, a national liberation movement. However, in April 1976, two months earlier (and more than a year before a public alliance was announced between the WRP and Libya), a secret agreement with the Libyan government was signed by [name suppressed in original] and Corin Redgrave on behalf of the WRP (exhibit no 5). This was never reported to the ICFI. The Commission has not yet established who in the leadership of the WRP, beyond the signatories, knew of the agreement.
This agreement includes providing of intelligence information on the "activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere" by "Zionists". It has strongly anti-Semitic undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists and the term Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position. This agreement was connected with a demand for money. The report given by the WRP delegation while staying in Libya included a demand for £50,000 to purchase a web offset press for the daily News Line, which was to be launched in May 1976. The Commission was not able to establish if any of this money was received.
In August 1977, G Healy went himself to Libya and presented a detailed plan for the expansion of News Line to six regional editions, requesting for it £100,000. G Healy also discussed the Euro-marches with the Libyan authorities and responded positively to a proposal to have the "Progressive Socialist Parties of the Mediterranean" participate in the marches. This would have included PASOK, a bourgeois party in Greece. These plans did not materialise. G Healy reported this in a letter to Al Fatah leader [name suppressed] (exhibit no 6).
This letter and a number of further letters to [name suppressed] (exhibit no 14) demonstrate that the relations with the PLO - which according to the claims made by the WRP before the ICFI were supposedly based on the principled resolutions of the Second Congress of the Communist International - were cynically used to make the PLO an instrument for obtaining money from the Arab bourgeoisie, thereby destroying any chance of building a section of the International Committee among the Palestinians.
The complete political opportunism of the relations to the Arab colonial bourgeoisie is most clearly revealed in a redraft of the WRP perspectives signed by G. Healy (exhibit no 7). This document was presented to the Libyan authorities during a visit in April 1980. It reconciles the WRP perspectives with the Green Book. Instead of the "working class" we find "the masses" and the Libyan Revolutionary Committees are identified with Soviets. The criterion of the class character of the state is completely abolished. Like almost every document found by the Commission relating to the Middle East, it ends with a request for money.
G Healy lined up publicly with the reactionary forces in the Middle East. During a visit to Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March-April, 1979, G Healy, V Redgrave, and [name suppressed] met with the Crown Prince of Kuwait, Sheikh Sa-ad, and some of the ruling bourgeois families. When they were invited however to have dinner "with a group of left oppositionists led by the Sultan family"," according to their own report "the delegation declined to accept this invitation as we did not wish to intervene in the political matters in Kuwait" (exhibit no 8). The sole purpose of this trip was to raise money for the film Occupied Palestine.
The trip ended finally by the delegation urging the feudal and bourgeois rulers to censure a journalist of the Gulf Times who had written an article on the real purpose of their visit. The delegation finally received £116,000. In October 1979, Vanessa Redgrave visited Libya and asked for £500,000 for Youth Training (exhibit no 9). As of February 1982 the WRP had received "just over 200,000 pounds" from Libya for Youth Training (exhibit no 10). In addition to this a £100,000 fund was raised in the British working class. While approximately £300,000 was raised for this project, the real cost for the purchase, legal and building expenses for seven Youth Training Centres as of May 21, 1982 was £152,539.
In April 1980 a WRP delegation led by G Healy visited Libya, presenting his redrafted WRP perspective and asking for more money. From March 8 to 17, 1981 G Healy made a further visit to Libya, putting forward demands totalling £800,000. The Commission found a report in Healy's handwriting of this (exhibit no 11). This report contains the following statements: "In the evening we had a two hour audience with [name suppressed]. We suggested that we should work with Libyan Intelligence and this was agreed. ... March 13. The delegation was visited by [name suppressed] from the intelligence". This has a special significance, considering the fact that the Libyan Intelligence has excellent relations with the German Special Branch (BKA).
The Commission has not been able to establish to whom in the WRP leadership, if anyone, this written report was shown. The same applies to all other written reports and correspondence.
At that point G Healy had considerable difficulty getting all the money he was asking for. The report goes on: "March 15th. We were told that [name suppressed] had promised £100,000 which we said was welcome but inadequate. ...April 9th. Met [name suppressed] for the first time since he returned from Tripoli. He had no news but paid up £26,500 to pay for youth premises already decided. This brings the total to date paid from the promised £500,000 to £176,500. It looks as [if] our visit made no impact whatsoever".
In May 1981, G Healy's letters asking for the money became more and more desperate. On April 15th he writes a letter, marked "confidential", to [name suppressed] of the People's Committee in the Libyan People's Bureau (exhibit no 12) urging him to give the money. On May 17, 1981 a "private and confidential" letter is sent to "dear [name suppressed]" (exhibit
no 13) through Alex Mitchell.
On August 25th Alex Mitchell asks PLO representative [name suppressed] for an immediate meeting to discuss "the very grave questions which have arisen regarding our revolutionary solidarity work in the Middle East". He informs him that "with the full agreement of the Political Committee, our Party's proposed visit to Beirut and Tripoli has been cancelled".
In a Memo to G Healy, Alex Mitchell reports that [name suppressed] proposed to write a letter to Gaddafi and forward it through [name suppressed] of Libyan Intelligence. On August 28th, G Healy writes a letter to [name suppressed] in the name of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, complaining that he didn't get the money from Tripoli and blaming the Libyans for the price raise in the News Line (exhibit no 14). The same day G Healy writes another "private and confidential" letter to "Brother [name suppressed]" (exhibit no 15).
The last document in the hands of the Control Commission is a letter from G Healy to the secretary of the Libyan People's Bureau, dated February 10th, 1982, under the heading "Re: 1982 Budget" (exhibit no 10).
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the right-wing turn of the Arab bourgeoisie led to the drying up of the finances coming in from the Arab colonial bourgeoisie. Only a few documents could be found on the relations with the Iraqi bourgeoisie, although we know that many trips have been made there. The relations came to an abrupt end when the Iran-Iraq war started in 1980. The total amount obtained through these relations, according to the available documents, is listed below.
The Commission has not yet been able to establish all the facts relating in the case of the photographs that were handed over to the Iraqi embassy. We do know the two WRP members were instructed co take photos of demonstrations of opponents of Saddam Hussein. One of the members, Cde. [name suppressed], refused the order. A receipt for £1600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demonstration is in the possession of the Commission.
Money received from the Middle East
The following report on monies received from the Middle East was put together by the Commission from a careful analysis of many documents and cash books. We were told repeatedly that Healy wanted no formal record kept of the money coming in. A full list and graph of what was found is in exhibit no16.
A list by year shows the following amounts coming in:
1977 £46,208The Commission was told by both [name suppressed] and [name suppressed] that frequently cash was brought to the center which would not be immediately banked. Therefore, it was possible for large sums of cash to come and go without ever being recorded.
Analysed by country, where it is possible to distinguish, the amounts are:
Abu Dhabi £25,000
Unidentified or other sources £261,702