Loads going on since I last posted anything. Been part of some great local protest movements as communities battle against the cuts, and been helping out as best I can. Over the months there have been mass meetings, strikes, marches, peoples assemblies, occupations and sit-ins. And all the time, people want to discuss ideas about the world, and are interested in learning about history and politics of social movements. So we find ourselves discussing new questions every week – in meetings, on facebook, in the pub or where-ever. Important questions emerge – such as one about the relationship between trades unionism and other community struggles against the cuts, or how social movements should relate to green and labour parties, and whether or how councillors can become allies in our struggles.
So I have been having important political arguments – but within my community and its campaigns – rather than as abstract political theorising ‘to the world in general’ on a blog. But at the same time, just as the capitalist system is going into crisis, so are the organisations of its socialist opponents. For example, the UKs SWP is currently in a protracted crisis. I have been commenting on these questions of left strategy and organisation on other blogs and forums, but hope to bring some of these arguments and ideas on this blog – where they may take a more structured form. Again, that is if I find time, what with life and all.

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Service resumed – back to blogging.

Hi all. After a long break I have resumed blogging, with three posts below that have been accumulating this year. First there is a comment on the Egyptian revolution, comparing the successful overthrow of Mubarak with the disastrous western intervention in Iraq (A tale of two Squares). Then there is a brief restatement of the history of the political philosophy of liberation from below, drawing on the history of the international workers movement (No Saviour from on High Delivers). Finally, these themes are brought together in a commentary ‘On the Libyan Tragedy’.

I have also updated a backlog of comments that had accumulated – both supportive and critical of the positions taken here – so let the debates resume!

The break from blogging since October signified something else – a return to ‘real life’ activism on my behalf. For it was in October that the anti-cuts movement took off in the UK. Since then I have been busy helping to organise local protests and meetings in my town – often hundreds strong – to defend public services. Time will tell if I can maintain both commentary and activism – and my day job – and my normal life!

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Some Thoughts on the Libyan Tragedy.

The art of revolution entails two things – uniting the masses and dividing the ruling elites. This appears to have been behind the success in Egypt, where the army top brass calculated that its interests would best be served by abandoning Mubarak, given the threat that ordinary soldiers would side with the people on the streets. The urban masses of Cairo – one of the great cities of the world – had overcome religious and other divisions and suddenly stood millions strong. In Libya, the opposite has now happened.
The revolution that began a month ago on Feb 17th also had initial success. Not only did the youth lead the seizure of cities from Benghazi to the outskirts of Tripoli, but the revolt also began to split the regime, with sections of it coming over to the revolution – including state and military figures. By the end of February Gaddafi looked isolated and ready to fall.
But Libya is different from Egypt in two ways – firstly it has OIL fields and secondly its tribal divisions are deeper. So Gaddafi had always been able to use the oil wealth to buy support from sections of the masses and play off one tribe against another – a long game of divide and rule. This oil means another thing – the Western imperial powers will want to use any opportunity to assert their power to protect their substantial interests in Libya’s oil fields.
At the end of February we saw a change of tone from the western political leaderships. While they had been lukewarm about the Egyptian revolution, praising Mubarak as an ally and scaremongering that the revolution was really an ‘Islamicist takeover’, suddenly they found a new stridency over Libya. It was then that David Cameron began calling for the overthrow of Gaddafi, for a no-fly zone, for arming the rebels – and the SAS made their abortive intervention in Benghazi. While the revolutionaries of Benghazi kicked out the SAS and hung a banner prominently denouncing western interference, the damage was done.
This was a gift for Gaddafi. He could now credibly portray the revolution as a western imperialist plot while posing as the great ‘national hero’ and ‘anti-imperialist leader’. Western threats would inevitably and rally more support behind his regime. Cameron’s sabre rattling – rather than opening up further cracks within the ruling elites, would help cement Gaddafi’s teetering rule. Ruling elites throughout history have used fears of foreign invasion – real or imagined – to suppress dissent. But in the Arab world, which has long smouldered under the heel of western colonialism, such threats of western interference are political and cultural dynamite.
The joy of the Arab Spring of 2011 was that the masses would (even if only briefly) take the centre stage of history – acting for themselves. This act of revolution promised to overcome years of indignity and oppression meted out by both Arab rulers and their imperial overlords. Bush and Blair’s adventure in Iraq has lead to such a bloody disaster because liberation can never come from above, from a foreign army. In contrast to the unity and solidarity achieved on the streets of Cairo, post invasion Iraq saw only years of civil war and sectarian strife.
Now it looks like the imperial powers will get embroiled in Libya – even given the experience of the Iraq disaster showing the bankruptcy of so called ‘humanitarian interventionism’.
Now the tyrant Gaddafi is threatening to become the butcher of Benghazi. But can the powers that levelled Fallujah in 2004 save Benghazi in 2011? In Iraq’s Fallujah, the USA and UK forces suppressed a city-wide uprising – when ‘our side’ used chemical weapons such as white phosphorous and killed thousands of civilians. The western powers are no better than the tyrant Gaddafi – and they can be worse. 100,000’s died because of Bush and Blair’s invasion.
If the west intervenes in Libya it will be to secure its assets and interests there, especially around Oil. Most probably they will partition the country, between East and West – a Balkanised Libya, leading to bitter civil war. Tyranny will be strengthened – not democracy and freedom. This is the Libyan tragedy. The people of Libya are stuck now between a rock and a hard place – between the murderous Gaddafi regime – and the imperial greed of the west.
And the stench of hypocrisy rises pungently from every utterance of Cameron. For at the other end of the Middle East, the dictatorship in Bahrain is also using bloody force to crush a democratic revolution. And the forces of repression are being backed up by the pro-western absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, armed by Britain. What do we do? The Queen is inviting the murderous and brutal King of Bahrain to London to the Royal Wedding! Why don’t they be even handed and invite the murderous Gaddafi as well? The palace garden party will be full of dictators, corrupt monarchs and war mongers – he will feel in good company.

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‘No saviour from on high delivers’

Adding to the post below about the Middle East. The long story of winning democratic rights in Britain has given us a hard won experience – from the Chartists of the 1840’s to the struggle for women’s rights to vote at the beginning of the twentieth century. Liberation can only come from below – not from above. In 1864, the First International Workers Association declared in the opening lines of its founding statement ‘That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves’. This political reality was then widely recognised. A verse from the 19th century working class anthem the ‘internationale’ famously declares that ‘No saviour from on high delivers’. No saviour from on high – especially raining bombs down from the sky – can liberate the working people.

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This is what revolution looks like – a tale of two squares.

Remember the famous media event in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq? When ‘the masses’ pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein? This was supposed to signify the ‘liberation of Iraq’ - a popular revolution. At first the media only showed us a close up. Later, long shots of the incident were published (reproduced below) which show that it was a tiny event stage managed for the world media. This helps explain why the aftermath of the invasion saw years of bloody civil war in Iraq, full of sectarian strife. There was no popular revolution from below – only a decapitation of the regime from above by an imperialist war machine.

Firdos Square during the famous toppling of the Statue of Saddam Hussein

Firdos Square during the famous toppling of the Statue of Saddam Hussein

A mass popular revolution achieves two things – not only can it bring down a tyrannical regime – but it also organises something to fill the vacuum. Civil society grows in a revolution – mass democratic organisations and associations emerge at the grassroots, able to unite the people. But none of this emerged out of the chaos of Bush and Blair’s ill advise Iraq adventure, and nor could it.

Now contrast the picture of Fardis Square, Baghdad in 2003 with pictures from Tahrir Square, Cairo in 2011. This is what a real revolution looks like – not a stage managed event – but the masses taking centre stage of history.

Tahrir Square, Cairo, 2011 - the masses topple Mubaraks tyranny

Tahrir Square, Cairo, 2011 - the masses topple Mubaraks tyranny

Lets hope this revolution – liberation from below – can bring real democracy and equality for the people of Egypt – in a way that Bush and Blair’s war machine never could for the people of Iraq.

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Protests against cuts grow across Britain.

Most towns and cities in Britain have just seen substantial local protests against the cuts. This week there were waves of protests either on the 20th of Oct (day of the Con-Dem governments spending review) or today – the Saturday after. And more local protests, marches and rallies are planned everywhere. The biggest so far has been todays 20,000 strong STUC march against cuts in Edinburgh. Thousands also took to the streets in Sheffield, Manchester, Cambridge, London and Bristol. Reports are coming in of good turnouts everywhere.

I attended a lively protest of around 300 people outside the Town Hall of the small northern town of Lancaster on Wednesday. This was called at short notice to launch a local campaign, ‘Lancaster and Morecambe Against the Cuts!‘ and had a fairly good turnout for a weekday evening in a small city of only 50,000 people. Lots of people seem willing to demonstrate and campaign, hand out leaflets, put up posters and email workmates and friends.

Lancaster town hall protest against cuts

Lancaster town hall protest against cuts

Image from Lancaster and Morecambe Against the Cuts!

This feels like the build up to the big anti-poll tax uprising of 20 years ago, or the big anti-war upsurge at the beginning of 2003. And this is before the scale of the cuts have hit home – communities will see their sports centres, swimming pools, libraries and many more local facilities threatened. Such measures could spark outrage and bigger protest campaigns reaching well beyond the various organised lefts and trades unionists who make up the bulk of this current initial wave of protest.

The Scottish TUC must be congratulated for calling todays march – and bringing together protest on a national scale. Today the TUC (covering all the parts of Britain) announced a national demo for London, proclaiming it would be its ‘biggest and boldest’ protest ever. This is good – but it is scheduled for the 26th March 2011! We need a big London March in the next few weeks! And looking to France, days of coodinated strike action might work here in the current climate of anger. However, we should still promote the TUC’s March 2011 event – which really could be big if it coincides with the anger that will be generated as the cuts really bite next year.

We also need the kind of politics which can unite the whole working class and wider society – otherwise people might fight each other in a game of divide and rule as councils try to get people to choose which services are cut – swimming pool users against library users, or whatever. We need to be able to point to the billions of pounds the super-rich have been exploiting from this society over the past decade. The richest 10% now own £4,000 billion – which is nearly 50% of all private wealth in the UK. The poorest 50% of the population own just 9%. The rich have got richer at the expense of the poor. Even if we just collected the unpaid taxes of the wealthy, we could get 100 billion a year! This is without raising the taxes to the level Thatcher had them at for most of her period in office – restoring these tax levels would bring in many billions more.

In other words, we need to re-articulate a popular politics of class in Britain. But Labour’s newly elected leader has already broken his campaign promises that made Trades Unionists feel he might do this. He pledged during the recent leadership campaign that he would speak at the TUC’s westminster rally on the eve of the cuts announcement last week. This was a major way in which he differentiated himself from his brother, who flatly refused to speak at the Trades Union protest. So Ed was able to pick up large numbers of Trades unionists votes, which won him the leadership. However, this week he backed out of this commitment, and refused to address the TUC event, frightened of the media jibes of ‘Red Ed’ and desperate to appease the bankers, ruling elites and the powerful right wing inside the Labour Party.

We will need to generate a grassroots movement of protest and resistance, like we did 20 years ago with the anti-poll tax movement that broke Thatcher. This movement had no official sanction from the unions or the labour party. Grassroots local groups just did it! But its still sad that our union leaders, with 7 million members and enormous resources are not pulling their weight. We can see what would happen if they really did get off their arses and mobilise properly – we only have to look across the channel and see the mass union actions shaking France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and elsewhere.


Todays Edinburgh March.

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They Say Cutback – We Say Fightback! A slogan whose time has come.

Yes, its an old slogan – but as it rings through our streets once again, voicing the rage of a new generation, it has never been more relevant. Over the next few years it could become the battle cry of millions.

Great to see thousands of trades unionists and community campaigners lay siege to the Tory party conference yesterday. The footage on this well-made video shows a rich diversity of grassroots campaigners and working class movements. These included postal workers, health workers, teachers, council workers, private and public sector trades unionists, disability rights campaigners, community groups, including young and old and people of all ethnic, racial and religious groups. It was heartening to see all these united in the great common cause of our time – resistance to the public service cutbacks. Cameron and Clegg’s cut agenda aims to intensify the process of wealth redistribution from the working classes to the super-rich, making us pay for the crisis of their out of control system of finance driven capitalism.

This is just the start – protests, strikes and occupations must grow in response to the cuts that will be announced in the governments spending review on the 20th Oct.

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