November 28, 2012

Why Not Join the Labour Party? A Personal Reply to Owen Jones and the Labour Left

Posted in Communism, History, Personal, Politics, Social-Democracy, Theory, United Kingdom tagged , , , , , at 03:36 by Matthijs Krul

The errors of the giants of revolutionary thought, who sought to raise, and did raise, the proletariat of the whole world above the level of petty, commonplace and trivial tasks — are a thousand times more noble and magnificent and historically more valuable and true than the trite wisdom of official liberalism, which lauds shouts, appeals and holds forth about the vanity of revolutionary vanities, the futility of the revolutionary struggle and the charms of counter-revolutionary “constitutional” fantasies.

Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 12, p. 378.

I am not usually fond of the obligatory Lenin quotes in socialist articles, but this particular phrase stood out in the context of what has been called ‘the defeat of the left’, and the struggle between social-democratic and radical responses to it. Lenin is dead; but the question of political strategy and socialist potential is alive. Unusually for members of the committed and serious left involved in Labour Party politics and activism, Owen Jones actually took the trouble, about a year and a half ago, to write an argument why the left should be in Labour. Of course, many such appeals for Labour get written by fake leftists, careerists, right social-democrats and think tank idiots from time to time, but such appeals make ‘the left’ into such an amorphous entity that these hacks can pretend there is a commonality of viewpoint and tradition between Emma Goldman and Luke Akehurst. The Labour left in the proper sense – those who are committed in one form or another to a substantive socialist vision opposed to capitalism and who are serious about the possibility of achieving it – rarely write such apologetics. That is a shame, because it is an argument worth having. Between the old, ossified clichés of the various ‘three letter parties’ on the Marxist left and the blatant opportunism of those using Labour as a vehicle for ‘achieving aspiration’, the arguments for party strategy are currently not well developed. Yet this is a crucial decision in theory as well as practice, and goes beyond a mere immediately tactical choice. It concerns the question of what you consider the core of what ‘the left’ should be about, for it to be worthy of its name and accomplishments.

In such a fundamental question, there are inevitably going to be both objective and subjective arguments involved. By this I mean: partially it can be debated in terms of arguments that are universalizable and general, and would apply in any similar situation for anyone, and partially it is a matter of personal commitments, priorities, and theoretical ‘intuition’, which may not wholly escape the boundaries of personal experience and idiosyncrasy. It seems fair then that in this reply I shall produce both, and I emphasize that I speak only for myself and my own considerations in this; ones which may of course change over time, besides. The question is made all the more complicated because, as anyone who has ever engaged with radical left micro-sects is aware, much of it depends or appears to depend on the reading of history in one particular way or another, and therefore it quickly gets mired in historiographical quicksand. This can’t be entirely avoided, but it is important in my view to be able to tell the difference between analytically major and minor issues. On the left altogether too much strife and confusion abounds simply because of an inability on the part of many writers to clearly state what to them is a premise and what to them is a conclusion. Explicating this will not necessarily lead to more agreement, but can make disagreement at least more productive and perhaps clear some old obstacles off the path. Read the rest of this entry »

April 16, 2012

Lord Ahmed’s Bounty

Posted in Asia, Imperialism, Politics, United Kingdom, United States tagged , , , , , at 02:15 by Matthijs Krul

The news today in London is that the Labour Party is considering expelling their notorious peer, Lord Ahmed, for allegedly having put a bounty on the head of some war criminals.(1) This is a practice hardly unheard of – just recently, the United States set a $10 million bounty on the head of the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-i-Toiba, and they had previously done the same with Osama Bin Laden, various Iraqi figures, and so forth. This corsair approach to political operations stands the Party of Order in good stead, no doubt. But they had not counted on the wily Lord Ahmed, who is reported to have responded to this in the Pakistani Express Tribune by putting an equal sum of money on the heads of… Presidents Obama and G.W. Bush.

Lord Ahmed denies having done so, and claims his statement was merely an expression of opposition to the adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. This may be so. But the substance of the claim is interesting. Firstly, it seems fair to say that if the wholesale murder of civilians is to be deplored – which it surely is – on the part of Lashkar-e-Toiba, who are held responsible for the assassinations in Mumbai in recent times, then the same should surely apply to the orchestrators of several wars of a nature most devastating to civilians in the Middle East. Secondly, the immediate response on the part of the “Labour” Party to prepare to expel Lord Ahmed is telling. From its very origins onwards, this so-called “Labour” Party has failed every challenge set before it in the domain of chauvinism and expansionism abroad. It joined the Asquith government in the imperialist butchery that was World War I. It supported the campaigns against the ‘tribes’ in Iraq, the ‘neutrality’ policy in Spain, the rejection of a Soviet alliance in 1939; it supported colonization and imperialism in the Empire and worked as vigorously to maintain these possessions as one would expect of a society of shareholders in rubber futures. It supported the Suez adventure, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the adventures in Iran; it supported the two Gulf Wars and the occupation of Afghanistan, the fourth such by the United Kingdom. It has, in other words, appeared as the agent of the labour aristocracy in foreign affairs, the ‘left foot of imperialism’.

In a time when the International Criminal Court expresses the universal aspiration of mankind to a justice that is more than just partial, national, and one-sided, and when due to the forces of global ‘free trade’ the various nations and peoples are made ever more immediately aware of each other’s circumstances, such institutions as the ICC and the UN nonetheless manifest themselves as the Kantian-universalist banner under which imperialism is now forced to march. This makes their real functioning all the more despicable and all the more transparent. The ICC has only prosecuted and imprisoned those defeated or isolated by the great powers, it has been totally unable to challenge the militarism of these powers themselves. This despite the fact the Nürnberg precedent clearly indicates that “waging aggressive warfare” is a hanging offense. Under these circumstances, then, to clearly outline the hypocrisy on the part of the US government and its lackeys abroad is an important political step. To identify the American rulers as not being above reproach and not to be taken in by their sanctimonious aura of “good will to all men” is of great significance for any critical political understanding.

Militarism and chauvinism pervert the judgement of the citizen, lead to pointless hatred and slaughter, and achieve only division where their should be unity between working people. Active support for imperialism is tantamount to support for those classes in whose interest it is undertaken. Choosing the cause of the white labour aristocracy in the West over the cause of internationalism and the cause of the global working people is a political and strategic blunder, as great as that of 1914. For those reasons, whether or not Lord Ahmed actually said what is alleged, we say that he should have said it. And if push does come to shove on this matter, we say it is not the Labour Party that should expel Lord Ahmed, but it is Lord Ahmed that should expel the Labour Party, which has betrayed the interests of working people worldwide.

“My deeds upon my head! I crave the law,
The penalty and forfeit of my bond.”

1) “Peer suspended after bounty claim”. BBC News (April 15, 2012). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17723890

April 4, 2012

George Galloway’s Election Victory

Posted in Politics, United Kingdom tagged , , at 17:46 by Matthijs Krul

The return of George Galloway is a political fact. Once expelled from the Labour Party for calling on British soldiers to resist the war in and against Iraq, he became the epitome of opportunistic, celebrity politics since. Under the banner of the Respect Party – a coalition of Trotskyist groups, Labour left locals, and largely Muslim petty bourgeois – he was elected MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, defeating the Labour candidate Oona King. Yet he failed to deliver on anything useful while in parliament. One must not overstate the significance of parliamentary elections as a vehicle for radical social change, but precisely a representative of a small party, agitating on the left, must make sure to do everything possible to maximize the parliamentary presence. One must either reject the parliamentary road altogether, which is leaving a possible lever on the state power unused and uncontested to our political opponents, or one must partake in it, and take it as seriously as one can as a forum for exposing the opposition and expanding practical means of socialist politics. What is disastrous are strategies which try to achieve neither, either by choosing parliamentary methods and abandoning all other modes of struggle altogether, or by the opposite, entering parliament and doing nothing at all with it.

Galloway undertook the latter – for a salary several times that of the median worker, he failed to vote or take part in parliamentary activity almost entirely. Between 2005 and 2009, only eleven MPs voted less often than he did, and that includes the abstentionists of Sinn Fein and the speaker and his deputies, as well as two MPs who died in office. Galloway claimed to have compensated for this by his public activities – making speeches against imperialism, challenging the reactionaries of the US Senate in their own chamber, and so forth. But he had precious little to show for it. Galloway also plays to religious, sectarian sentiments; he fails to clearly distinguish a meaningful anti-imperialism from hypocritical sycophancy towards regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria; the Respect Party itself has consistently shown its opportunism in its dalliances with reactionary religious groups and movements in the UK. His embarrassing participation in the reality TV programme “Celebrity Big Brother” only underlines his activities as being fundamentally opportunistically self-interested, self-aggrandizing, and making a mockery of socialism, which does not need such ‘friends’. Read the rest of this entry »

December 6, 2011

A Question of Votes?

Posted in Europe, Politics, Social-Democracy tagged , , , , , , at 18:00 by Matthijs Krul

Among many progressive-minded people in the United Kingdom, the seemingly perpetual and unstoppable rightward trend of the Labour Party is a constant source of frustration and anger. Many have remarked on the massive gap in general political orientation between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party activists, and in turn between the party activists and the Labour voter population one would normally expect. Yet the Blairite stalwarts always defend the course, slowly set in under Callaghan and Kinnock and totally dominant since the election of Blair himself, as essential to electoral victory for Labour. Without the votes, the argument runs, Labour cannot win a majority in Parliament, and without a majority in Parliament it cannot make policies, and to win the votes, it needs to ‘capture the centre’. Leaving aside the questionable sense of principle and the point of political parties this particular refrain exhibits, it is important to make the argument that it is also strategically wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

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