Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Mindless criminality or revolution?

The current outpouring of seemingly mindless violence at first glance appears to have nothing to do with revolution or demands for social change.

'Out of control teenagers with no respect' is the general categorisation of those who have burnt cars, looted consumer goods and destroyed small businesses in the last few days across England.

However, the causes of this phenomenon are exceedingly complex, and include the failure of leadership within the working class.

Before analysing the current situation let us look at a very prescient prediction by the opportunistic Deputy Prime Minister captured in this Sky News broadcast of 11 April 2010; just before the election which brought him into power, supporting the very policies he was warning against: 

There is a danger in having any government of whatever composition led by a party which doesn't have a proper mandate across the country trying to push through really difficult decisions; I think a lot of people will react badly to them... I think there's a really serious risk [of rioting].

The move from the peaceful protest, so beloved of middle class conscience-salving liberals, to violent disorder, was signalled in the protests against the cuts and the increase in university tuition fees last winter. The presence of those who had been written off politically by navel gazing 'leftists', was a warning ill-ignored by the political class. The disaffected working class youth, articulated very well their feeling of exclusion from any kind of prospects for the future, and their anger at being made to pay for the mindboggling, greed-fuelled excesses of rampant capitalism, whilst the vehicles of such greed were protected from failure, and the architects of the current crisis allowed to continue their champagne lifestyle.

The unreconstructed defenders of capital, represented by the government of millionaires for millionaires, might be expected to exhibit the gung-ho mentality which has led to the acceleration of the attacks on public services, public sector employees and pension rights; the real crime has been the failure of those who would pretend to speak for the working class of this country to find a back-bone. 

The political inheritors of the Blair-Brown legacy, a legacy which wooed the fat cats in the city and positively encouraged the growth of the greed mentality, need to stop wringing their hands and instead step aside and make way for a leadership which will channel the frustration of the disaffected working class, youth and otherwise, into a real movement for change.

The rioting and criminal behaviour over the last few days is not a positive movement for change, to be in any way welcomed or encouraged: it is, however, a real expression of dissatisfaction with the current social order. 

A society at peace with itself does not produce mass criminal behaviour on such a scale: to this extent, such behaviour, born out of social dissatisfaction, becomes a social movement, and is to that limited extent revolutionary.

If one has no hope, no prospects, what sanction is a criminal record?

In the absence of meaningful sanctions and a clear alternative, why expect anything different?

Calls for the army to be brought in, and the use of increased legitimised state force are borne out of an understanding of this equation.

Respect whether for elders, property, or social mores, has to be earnt, and must then be continually justified, if it is not to be lost.

By what authority does this coalition government take money from education, social security, and consumers through VAT increases and spend it on foreign wars, propping up a rotten system, and paying millionaires to preside over the further pillage of the country's economy?

The people looting and burning in the last few days have no respect for a society which in their eyes has given up any right to such respect.

Society will now have to earn back that respect, by changing in a way that values our youth, their aspirations, their abilities.

The task of the left is to show the rapidly increasing numbers of the seriously marginalised and disaffected, that the answer lies not in the aimless wanton destruction of the symbols of the ancien regime, or the expropriation of the trappings of success flaunted by advertising and too expensive for many to obtain without jobs which don't exist, but rather the systematic building of a society that will deserve respect.

The alternative will be the building of an inreasingly authoritarian state, devoid of rights and liberties, in the defence of the property of the few.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Big Society - I agree with David!

I am happy to echo Cameron's calls for the shrinking of the State and the development of the Big Society.

In fact I would go further - let's get rid of the State all together!

Of course anyone who knows their Marx knows that the Big Society is the ultimate aim of the Progressive Left, along of course with the withering away of the State.

The difference is however, that we actually mean it. The representatives of global capital can not allow the abolition of the repressive structures of the State, existing as they do to protect the thieves and charlatans of International Capital from the attempts of the workers to regain what is rightfully theirs.

In the absence of the police etc. then the people of Egypt would, last week, have wrested the stolen billions from Mubarak and his cronies, along with the political freedoms they seem to have won.

No, the only parts of the State that Cameron wants to abolish are those which provide socialised Healthcare, Education, Housing and Welfare, the very reforms hard won by the working class after the murderous global conflicts that Capitalism plunged them into in the first part of the 19th Century. From the Capitalists' point of view these reforms, whilst expensive, have at least blunted the anger felt by the working class and prevented the sort of revolutionary upheavals felt in other societies where the money is spent instead on oppression to the same aim.

The reality is, of course, that it is actually cheaper to spend billions on repressing people, than it is to provide decent Healthcare, Education, Housing and Welfare, and that is why it is the preferred course of Capital in countries like Egypt, Tunisia etc. and why, in the face of dwindling returns and the global crisis of Capital, that even in the UK we see cutbacks on Social provision and an increase in the repressive apparatus of the state along with Police Tactics of Kettling, calls for Water Canon etc.

If Cameron can talk about sweeping aside the laws protecting children from Paedophiles and breaches of Health and Safety, "if someone wants to help out with children, we'll sweep away criminal record checks & health & safety" (fifth paragraph), then how much easier will it be to ignore the laws protecting demonstrators from police excesses and to deal with the unrest resulting from the abolition of social provision?

The reality of Cameron's Big Society will be a return to Victorian England so well described by Dickens, where only the wealthy can afford unfettered access to the Law, Healthcare, Housing and Education, and Charitable provision by do-gooders, with the time and wherewithal to salve their consciences, was all that was available to the poor and dispossessed. At the same time the oppression of the poor, the criminalising of the desperate, and the crime of deportation will be echoed by the growth of repression.

The alternative is for the real beneficiaries of the putative Big Society to organise it - the workers taking control, running society and the engine of the economy for the benefit of all. Only when we have reached this truly Big Society will the State be unnecessary and can finally be abolished.

Forward to the Socialist Revolution and the real transformation of Society.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Where next for the Egyptian Revolution?

I have been totally absorbed by the unfolding events in Egypt in the last few weeks. My usual online jousting with comrades involved in the UK anti-LibCon cuts movements has been suspended as all my spare seconds are spent watching al-Jazeera English and reading the twitter streams from Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt.

The emotional rollercoster is palpable reading the expressions of revolutionary courage, hope, and bravery, along with the raw anguish and murderous rage agains the barbarism employed by a true military industrial combine desperately clinging to power in the attempt to hold on to the Billions of Dollars wrung out of the Egyptian workers and peasants.

Numerous times I have failed to tear myself away from the continuous stream of information and emotion to try and spend time on my work, with my family, or even to write this post.

At every turn, there has been a reminder of the history of revolutions long since fought: the betrayal by 'Western Democracy' of once trumpeted ideals which are now exposed as secondary in importance to the supply of oil and the security of Egypt along with other interests of organised global capital; the rapid development of street power with committees organising the day to day life when the state bows out; the use by the so called 'Father of the Nation' of the worst dregs of society to try and cow the revolution and the bystanders into submission; the importance of workers' control of the press to cut across the lies being fed on Egyptian State TV and other media - the list goes on.

Every day is like re-reading another passage from Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution with the absence of one thing - an organised working class leadership.

No one doubts the revolutionary zeal of the students and middle class youth who have fought bravely against heavy odds, and in some cases paid the ultimate price. But some of them are now starting to draw class conclusions about the need to be in control of the media; the relationship with the army; the wealth stolen from the people by the regime's cronies; asking questions about the involvement of Sawaris in the negotiations; the attitude of street committees in better off areas towards the revolution.

The ability of the revolution to unite all layers of society in Tahrir square, from all ages and all faiths and none has been a real testament to the fact that this is not just a political revolution but a social revolution. But the question on everyone's lips is 'what next?'.

The need for leadership has become apparent even among the youth who started with a natural distrust of leadership. According to blogs and interviews, structured decision making process has developed in Tahrir square; leaders for specific tasks have been elected.

Whatever the outcome of the current standoff, with a liberal capitalist government in place, there can not be much of an economic outlook for the great number of Egyptians. Without taking control of the large monopolies currently owned by the generals - stolen from the nationalised assets of Nasser's legacy; without taking a lead from the workers who in a small number of areas have expropriated their workplaces; without demanding real participation in decision making, rather than the ability to vote once in 5 years for which careerist politician to send to parliament, or to control their union, further contradictions will be generated to lead to another convulsion for Egyptian society.

Forward to a true social(ist) revolution!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Signs of things to come - the UK Police State

Today we saw an 18 year old protestor and his family rewarded for 'doing the right thing' by being locked up for 2 years and 8 months. In this sentence, the Judiciary have given a clear warning that those who break the law whilst demonstrating against this undemocratic government and its policies will be dealt with particularly harshly. This is to be compared with the lenient treatment meted out to the sick perverts who ruin lives, and the lack of action against murderers in police uniform. When taken together with recent comments by senior police officers and the activities of undercover police officers against legitimate even non-violent protestors, there is a clear warning that, without the intervention of the organised working class, the defenders of capitalist interest will have no compunction over trampling on the Human and Civil Rights of those campaigning for a fairer society.

Edward Woollard was one of a number of protestors who broke into the Millbank building on 10 November during the National Demonstration against tuition fees. Caught up in the exuberance of the moment, having threatened the Headquarters of the Conservative Party, he threw a fire extinguisher from the roof. The fire extinguisher did not hit anybody, and no-one was injured in any way as a consequence of his actions. After his actions were publicised, he gave himself up and today expressed his remorse and apologised for putting anyone in danger. As a result he is to be incarcerated and has been excluded from his college, having originally hoped to be the first of his family to go through higher education.

Compare this treatment with the sentence meted out on the same day to the sick pervert, masquerading as a religious teacher, who was tried (didn't admit) and found guilty of 13 counts of sexual assault on 6 girls aged as young as 4 years old, who received the barely longer sentence of 39 months; or the sentence of 28 months given to the 34 year old who admitted sexually assaulting a woman, but denied attempted rape.

The message is clear so far: the State will no more tolerate protest against the imposition of cuts necessary to protect the millionaires' profits than it will the sex offenders who threaten women and children.

Then we have one rule for the police, and one for everyone else. Where is the criminal investigation for the attempted murder of Alfie Meadows? The IPCC has been investigating this now for 1 month. We hear of no progress, no update on their web site, I will not be holding my breath to see anyone charged for this crime.

Even worse is the fact the PC Harwood, the murderer of Ian Tomlinson, escaped any criminal charges whatsoever. So if you are a young exuberant protestor who does something stupid in a moment of not thinking, as a result of which no one is hurt, and for which you apologise, you get 32 months in jail, but if, as a highly trained police officer, you happen to kill a protestor in the heat of the moment you get off scott-free.

If this weren't evidence enough of our descent towards authoritarian rule on behalf of the capitalist class, we also have the role of undercover police and other specialist units operating against legitimate groups of protestors. PC Mark Kennedy spent 7 years deep undercover in various organisations until rumbled by a fellow protestor. His role as agent provocateur has been well publicised and led to the collapse of the trial of six activists. It appears that he has had a crisis of conscience for the role he played. Not so other members of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit, or the Forward Intelligence Team, all police units set up to undermine legitimate protest. In fact the National Public Order Intelligence Unit appears to have very limited accountability and to have links to private security operators embedded in protest movements, according to a former undercover police officer interviewed for last night's Newsnight programme on BBC2. The link between private corporate security operating on behalf of big business and the shady world of undercover police operations must ring very loud alarm bells for anyone concerned with progressive politics and the right of protest.

Finally we have the Chief of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, effectively saying that protestors who surrounded the car of Charles and Camilla Windsor were lucky not to have been shot by armed protection officers.

Wake up Britain, before it is too late, and we have thugs in black shirts, paid for and trained by private security firms, sharing intelligence with the police and trampling on our rights to fight for our schools, our NHS, our libraries, our nurseries, our jobs. The message is clear - the criminal justice system, Police, CPS and Judiciary have already shown whose side they will be on.

Report of Woollard's trial
Report of child sex offender's trial
Attempted rape trial report
Report of decision not to prosecute PC Harwood
Report of Specialist Police Units operating against political activists
Newsnight Programme
Report on Windsors' car 'kettle'

Friday, 7 January 2011

Forms of Democracy

There has been much debate about organisation vs. spontaneity; and democratic centralist socialism vs. anarchism recently. This has been around both the organisation of the burgeoning movement against the cuts, and in questions about the way society should be run.

I will lay my cards on the table: I am happy to see the long awaited activism of students, young unemployed and workers who had been written off as politically apathetic by those who knew no better. The energy and vitalism, the new methods of communication, the lack of respect for the organs of the state are refreshing and herald a new turn in the fight for a new society. However, I am concerned that the anti-organisation, anti-leadership opinion will, if unopposed, lead to the movement fizzling out for lack of what marxist theoreticians have called the objective factor.

True democracy has not often been seen. The word comes from Ancient Greek dêmos ‘citizen body’ and kratos ‘power, sovereignty’. It was the way in which Ancient Athens ran society, and it meant that all who qualified as citizens collectively, as one body, held all power. The Assembly met every 8 days, all citizens were members, entitled to speak and vote, and all members over 30 years of age were qualified to serve on Juries which made all decisions in all trials without judges. Jurors received the average worker's wage whilst serving. There was an elected Council of 500 which met every day to ensure the wishes of the Assembly were put into effect and kept to budget. Similarly the State Officials were elected and held to account. The term of office that one could serve either on the Council or as a State Official was one year, and for the most part the number of Terms of Office was also limited. Accusations of incompetance of a State Official could be laid before the Assembly at the end of each month, and at the end of the year's Term of Office, performance was audited and debated in the Assembly. Incompetance was rewardable with fines, exile or even death!

The historians among you will realise that there are in this system many echoes of the young Soviet System of worker's councils, low wage differentials and power resting in the Assemblies (Soviets) of workers based in the factories and the barracks.

When Lenin arrived in Revolutionary Russia in April 1917, he stood virtually alone in the leadership in calling for 'all power to the Soviets' - the true democracy that placed Power and Sovereignty in the hands of the workers, as opposed to the elected oligarchy of the Constituent Assembly, which was no more democratic than our elected oligarchy in the House of Commons. He did not do this because he commanded a majority in the Soviets, on the contrary, he could only command the support of about 5% of the vote. However, he did it because he believed that the only way the revolutionary working class would be able to realise their aspisrations was through Soviet Democracy, both in the organisation of the Revolutionary actions leading to the transfer of power, and in the transformation of society to follow.

The fact that the proud democratic legacy of the Soviet System was hijacked by the corrupt Stalinist Bureaucracy in no way negates the validity of this system of organisation.

And what of Political Parties? Well the Athenian experience did not need Political Parties in the sense of electoral politics, as there were no elections to the Assembly. Blocs of support formed and reformed within the Assembly and the Council, but with low wage differntials and the possibility of being fined exiled or executed for incompetance, it was a brave or able person who put themselves forward for an Official post or a position on the Council. Decisions were taken on the basis of argument and the force with which those arguments were put.

In the last hundred years, traditional parties of the working class have variously played revolutionary, progressive, ultra-left, collaborationist and reactionary roles. In general, when really under the democratic control of workers, as opposed to the centralised control of careerist opportunists, the role played has been progressive. When control has been wrested from the workers by those careerists, then reactionary, collaborationist positions have been taken. However, on numerous occasions, when the working class has moved back into struggle, they have turned without fail to the traditional mass workers parties which had previously failed them, and have turned those parties back to the left, rather than following those revolutionaries who, understandably disgusted by previous betrayals have allowed themselves to march off into the political wilderness.

My call then, now, is for the new movements to unite with the progressive forces within the Labour and Trade Union movement; to seize this opportunity to establish a real democracy as opposed to the elected dictatorship which we currently have; and in turn for the Labour movement to welcome with open arms the new layer of activists with their unbridled enthusiasm, their ingenious methods of protest and communication, and their burning desire for a newer fairer society to enable the renewal of the movement and the change to the Socialist transformation of society which has for too long eluded us.

For more information on the history of democracy see DEMOCRACY’S ILLUSIONS by Dr. Peter Jones