:: Thursday, October 30, 2003 ::

So Farewell then Iain Duncan Donuts

The Save Iain Duncan Smith blog fought a valiant, and amusing, fight. Maybe someone should set up a 'Save Us from Michael Howard' blog. Alternatively arm yourself with holy water, garlic etc and send Buffy to infiltrate the young tories.

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South British politics at the Crossroads?

George Galloway is to stand in all European seats in England and Wales next year. He will head a broad anti-war coalition involving the likes of George Monbiot and with strong components from the Stop the War coalition, the muslim community and the Socialist Alliance.

This is a positive step relative to the weak and divided left which fought the Brent East by-election and which failed to capitalise on the massive anti-war movement. Galloway provides a useful figurehead around which to rally.

It is also positive that this coalition will not be standing in Scotland. In Scotland we were able to bring the anti-war voters onboard with the SSP (and the Greens did the same thing). I think we showed that you can build a new party at the same time as progressing the anti-war movement.

George and the new coalition have no plans to launch a party. This probably suits both him and the likes of John Rees of the SWP who spoke alongside him in London. Both have different ideas. Galloway wants to reclaim Labour, Rees wants to build an electoral front which will channel recruits to the "revolutionary party", the SWP of course. Neither have a perspective to build a new workers party in the mould of the SSP which is democratic and pluralist. The SSP requested a speaker at the "British politics at the crossroads" rally, but were politely refused, presumably the north part of Britain is not at the crossroads.

George made this clear in The Guardian today.

"We will not be a political party, but a coalition around which we hope many will rally - some perhaps only for the day, merely lending us their votes - to show the true colours of the British people. Who knows, maybe the results will be cathartic within the Labour party itself, and help to spark the long-heralded -and much to be hoped for - "reclaiming" of the party by those with Labour's best interests and traditions at heart, notably the trade unions, who must play a central role."

George also sought to politically differentiate himself from some of those sharing the platform with him. Or at least that is how I read the following from his speech (reproduced on Aljazeera)

"My socialism is not that of "bloody revolutionists" or foreign ideological importations. It is rooted in this land and in its traditions of liberty, dissent, co-operativism and trades union action and it is open to every freeborn British person , every faith, all men and women on equal terms. Politics is about schools, hospitals, roads and jobs as well as about grand theories of democracy, rights, foreign affairs and free trade."

And what role will be played by the likes of RMT General Secretary Bob Crow (who was billed as a speaker in London) and Mark Serwotka of the PCS who are keen to launch a real left alternative party and who have the muscle of the trade unions with them? Also left out were the likes of Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party, who could surely head a West Midlands list for Europe. The SP have their own sectarian hang-ups but would be likely to try to seek some kind of electoral agreement if they won't come on board entirely.

One step forward, two steps back? No, more like one step sideways. The same plan with different faces and a slightly different angle.

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:: Monday, October 27, 2003 ::

In the land of Norway where the shadows lie

Norwegian death metal nutter and church burning murderer Varg Vikernes recently tried to skip jail, hijacking a car whilst allowed out on leave from jail.

Vikernes used to call himself Count Grishnáckh (and is commonly referred to as "the count" in Norway, well there is one letter too many in there really.) His Black Metal band was called Burzum, which as this site explains comes from Tolkien's baddies in some obscure book he wrote and is "the Black Speech word for "darkness", taken from the inscription on the Ring: ...agh burzum-ishi krimpatul, 'and in the darkness bind them'. "

So I guess he was on his way to join the queue for the Norwegian premiere of Return of the King. 144 hardy souls have been camping out for three weeks already for the film which opens in December. December in Oslo, sounds pleasant.

Norways Aftenposten paper reports "As night fell a nearby elf raised his sword in the air and vowed that he and his descendants would hold this ground until the world ends. Other members of the camp shuffled off to a nearby gas station to take advantage of the heated steps there. "Get a life," shout various passersby"

Viggo Mortensen

Meanwhile Viggo 'Aragorn' Mortensen turned out to support the 100, 000 strong Washington DC demo against the occupation of Iraq.

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What George Did Next

It seems likely that George Galloway will not force a by-election but may stand for the European Parliament on the London 'peace and justice' list that is being put together by an assortment of people around the Stop the War Coalition/Socialist Alliance axis. The main figures involved are George Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob from Birmingham. The Green Party have not responded well to the proposals claiming that the new coalition will be a front for the Socialist Workers Party and has nicked their programme.

It is the latter complaint that I find more interesting than the former. I think the left can only get back on track in England if it makes itself relevant on the small issues as well as the big issues. That means thinking globally sure, but acting locally. As James Meek wrote in a recent Guardian article "It's too bad for them that the Socialist Alliance has been so busy stopping the war in Iraq and dodging tear gas in coastal resorts such as Genoa and Seattle that it has been unable to tackle the BNP head on. As any marxist schoolboy would tell you, the forces of bourgeois neo-liberal global capitalism have Burnley by the throat."

Joyce McMillan also wrote an interesting piece in the Scotsman recently examining anti-racism in the light of the undercover reporting of police racism.
She noted "the existence of that official anti-racist culture has actually increased the appeal of racist ideas, language and action for that minority who, in every society, like to think of themselves as rebels, dissidents and bad boys. In that sense, we in Scotland have at least one reason to be grateful to Tommy Sheridan and his Scottish Socialist Party, for setting up a dissident working-class alternative to current mainstream politics that is immaculately non-racist, whatever its other weaknesses. But in large areas of England, that far-Left alternative is absent or negligible; and as the language of some of those recruits showed, a vote for the BNP can come to be seen as a gesture of radical, populist defiance against establishment values."

Any initiative that can increase the reach of the left is a good thing. But it needs to have a firm political programme which addresses the big questions in the context of everyday problems like the damp on the walls or the local post office shutting down.

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:: Thursday, October 23, 2003 ::

Bush Tucker

NEWS.com.au | Whirlwind over, Bush flys out

US President George W. Bush's address to the Australian Parliament was marred by rowdy heckling, with two anti-war politicians refusing to leave the chamber. Greens senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle jeered Mr Bush, who was forced to stop his address.

"I love free speech," Mr Bush remarked as an attempt was made to eject Senator Nettle from the chamber.

You can hear audio of the exchanges at the above site.

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:: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 ::

BBCi - The Big Read

BBCi - The Big Read Well I've read 11 out of the top 21 books which have made the shortlist for BBC's attempt to find "the nations best-loved book". And er, I've seen the films of "Gone With the Wind' and 'Little Women'. I would like to emphasis that I have not read 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' nor 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'. I do feel inspired to read 'His Dark Materials' though. Voted for 1984 in the end but probably the online fan-base of JK Rowling and JRR Tolkein will see one of their entries take the top spot. Because geeks rule the world. The online world anyway.

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Another Scotland is Possible

Socialism 2003

Bob Crow and Rosie Kane MSP exchange ideas at the SSP's Socialism 2003 - Another Scotland is Possible weekend event. The event included some powerful condemnations of New Labour from the likes of Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka and John McAllion. You can see more pictures of the weekend here.

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:: Friday, October 17, 2003 ::

Road to Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez

Tommy Sheridan to meet President Chavez of Venezuela The Scotsman

Venezuela Dreaming: Tommy Sheridan on his Venezuela trip Scottish Socialist Voice

SSP leader Tommy Sheridan has been invited to travel to Venezuela to meet President Hugo Chavez.

The visit has provoked some discussion in the SSP and elsewhere on the left, although the right-wing parties have been surprisingly quiet. From some there have been the usual kneejerk responses to the situation in Venezuela along the lines of "my sect doesn't have a section in Venezuela, therefore there can never be socialist change there."

There have been a few articles in Frontline (here with a response here and another here) giving different perpectives on developments in Venezuela and there will be another in the next issue. There was also an excellent piece in a recent International Viewpoint and this report at the In Defence of Marxism is also interesting.

Firstly I'm not sure that Chavez himself would describe himself as a socialist, on the other hand Tony Blair would describe himself as a socialist on rare occassions, so maybe actions speak louder than words. He is certainly a Bolivarian, a radical anti-imperialist with a vision of uniting Latin America. Under Venezuela's new constitution it is known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Support for Chavez is expressed through the Bolivarian circles which mobilise the poor. Venezuela is a potentially immensely rich country with incredible reserves of oil and other natural resources. It is also a country with huge disparities of income. Inequality is a central problem in Venezuela with slums and shanty towns side by side with huge air-conditioned shopping malls in the big cities.

Around 70% of Venezuelans belong to the "marginal class" who live in poverty with no secure jobs. This is the layer who Chavez has appealed to and mobilised.

There have been criticisms of Chavez' inability to substantially change the position of the poor. However Chavez is not a dictator. He does not run the country single-handedly in the tradition of the latin-american Caudillo. He faces opposition from the Venezuelan ruling class at all levels. They control key positions in the oil industry and the judiciary. They also have powerful elected political positions in many regions. And above all the opposition of US imperialism couldn't be clearer with constant undermining of the government. They are desperate to get rid of Chavez as two coup attempts and a reactionary general strike have shown.

It was the mobilisation of the poor which was the key factor in the defence of Venezuelan democracy and the Chavez presidency. It is absolutely blind not to recognise this. The army watched which way it was going. They would not have defended Chavez if the masses were not with him.

Now that the economy has begun to recover from the bosses strike Chavez is taking serious anti-poverty measures.

This report is from Americas Business News:

"The highly publicized programs, including literacy and urban health-care initiatives backed by the Cuban government, appear to be paying off. A September poll by the respected Datanalysis firm showed a jump to 36% from 31% in Mr. Chavez's popularity over August. "The government is throwing a lot of money into the street," says Andres Duarte, a food importer. "It's beginning to percolate down the system, especially with food subsidies. There's no question it's working on Chavez's behalf."

Recently authorized expenditures include 80 billion bolivars ($50 million) for an adult-literacy campaign and 164 billion bolivars for health clinics and hospitals.

"It's a big help to buy cheap food like rice, corn flour and sugar," says Barbrina Bastarda, 23 years old, a student in the sprawling western Caracas working-class zone called 23 de Enero, or January 23, after the date on which a dictatorship was overthrown in 1958. Ms. Bastarda says she also recently got help in the form of a free eye examination from doctors at a mobile clinic after she complained of headaches. "They sent me to a place where I bought very low-cost glasses," she says."

(Hey is that the Cubans giving foreign aid to Venezuela? But I'm always being told they are socialism in one country Stalinists! Cuba has sent 5000 doctors to work in Venezuelan "barrios" - poor neighbourhoods.)

The latest literacy program is aimed specifically at the urban poor and rural and indigenous peoples. Interestingly it will include all of Venezuela's indigenous languages and not just Spanish.

There has been a new decree from the Venezuelan government making redundancy illegal and Chavez has encouraged workers to seize their factories if the bosses try to ignore it. The government banned the common corrupt practice of charging students in state schools and called on parents and students to occupy schools which do not comply.

The government has undertaken extensive land reform and campesinos have occupied land in often bloody clashes with landowners, despite having the law on their side. The land reforms so far only make a scratch in the problem of land distribution, redistributing unused land, but still have been violently opposed by the landowners. One of the first things the short-lived US-backed coup government of April 2002 did was to annul the land law.

Since the coup attempt in April 2002 millions of Venezuelans have organised themselves into dynamic mass organisations including land committees, militant trade unions, neighbourhood committees and Bolivarian groups, in order to defend the gains made in Venezuela. They have acted independently and militantly to defend these gains. (Check out some recent occupations, strikes and mobilisations at this Venezuelan leftist site.)

US Imperialism cannot accept 'people power' in Venezuela which could provide a centre of opposition to their rule in Latin America. There is growing discontent in Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia not to mention the existence of the left governments in Cuba and Brazil. There is no doubt that Bush and co will step up their attempts to bring down Chavez.

Tommy couldn't have picked a better time to go to Venezuela and I look forward to hearing his report back.

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:: Thursday, October 16, 2003 ::

"We don’t care what color the oppressor is. It is the oppression that connects us for real"

An interview with Public Enemy in Belgrade from In Defence of Marxism.

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:: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 ::

Party for your right to fight

Heard some cool news about an upcoming gig. Playing (where else?) the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, Public Enemy. I notice that they have had a new video censored by MTV, wonder if their visit is to coincide with the upcoming MTV Europe awards that are colonising Leith soon?

The corporate music outfit will be coming to Edinburgh for the awards that will be staged in a specially-built arena, which will be torn down following the awards. The event will surely provide huge publicity for Edinburgh and some money for the sparks and chipies putting up the arena, as well as the techies working on the day. Cultural activists like Tam Dean Burn argued that the event will have little to do with Edinburgh folk. There will be no tickets for sale in Edinburgh, most will go to the corporate sponsors of the event.

Interestingly the council, stung by the criticism, announced video feeds to Princes St. Gardens, and access to rehearsals for local school kids.

The council have invested £70,000 in the event, which they will surely recoup. Local activists of the Edinburgh People's Festival have called for the same level of funding to be provided every year to help local musicians, maybe with a special concert or funding for studio time.

And will I be going to the PE gig? It'd take a nation of millions to hold me back (if there are any tickets left!)

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:: Monday, October 13, 2003 ::

Random Revolutionaries

Arms a bit better now which is just as well as I have to move house on Wednesday. To celebrate my return here is a handy site which will help you come up with a name for your leftist splinter group.

Random Revolutionaries

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:: Friday, October 03, 2003 ::

Dem Bones

Ouch. Fractured elbow will mean vastly reduced blogging for a week or so. One-handed typing not much fun. This is my actual x-ray. Is this a blogging first?

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:: Wednesday, October 01, 2003 ::

Hammer and Pixel

An outbreak of Marxist blogs from around the world.

From Kerala, India Another World is Possible
From Lisbon, Portugal Tribuna Socialista
From California, USA Left Notes

and some recollections of life in the Irish Militant from Marc Mulholland at the Daily Moiders

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Tory Solidarity

From Simon Pia's Diary in today's Scotsman:

WE’VE seen it all now. The other day in Parliament, the massed ranks of the Tories rose in clenched-fist salute at the end of debate on the National Theatre for Scotland.

The display of revolutionary solidarity was not in honour of Iain Duncan Smith, the Chipping Sodbury guerrilla, but rather to register support for a motion put forward by the Red Fox himself (our man Colin Fox, the MSP for the SSP in Lothians). Perhaps the Tories have finally realised that trying to outdo Labour on the right is impossible.

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