Archive for December, 2008

Stuff to Read Elsewhere

December 20, 2008

Johnny Guitar over at Your Friend in the North is someone I enjoy reading, even if I disagree with much of what he says (as doubtless he disagrees with me). He has put up an interesting post with a suitably Leninist title on events in Greece which is well worth a read, as are the comments, which are worth thinking about in relation to Lao-Tzu’s challenging point in the comments to my own piece on the Greek riots.

Not sure if it is equally worth reading, but I have put up a longish discussion of the Fenians sparked by the current History Ireland special on them, and mentioned some books I found particularly useful for reading about the IRB.


The End of History?

December 16, 2008


Couldn’t resist that title/groan-inducing pun for a post about the precipitous decline in the numbers of schools teaching history at A Level, and even at GCSE in Northern Ireland, as reported by the Irish News (link will probably soon require subs). In a country as obsessed with its history as Northern Ireland, it seems incredible that a quarter of all secondary schools are opting out of A-Level history, while 20 schools, around 10%, are not offering GCSE history. Although history remains a strong subject – about 8% of pupils sit it for A Level – its future (and the future of those who teach it at both secondary and tertiary level) is obviously endangered if schools continue to cut it. There is also a class divide emerging, with history weakest in the non-grammar schools, where it seems students are being encouraged to take vocational qualifications and perceived softer subjects, like media studies.

This raises a number of issues for the Left. The first relates to the question what is an education for – is it, or should it be, mainly for the production of technologically proficient and compliant workers who never think about broader societal issues, or should it be to create more rounded individuals who can function as good citizens. There is also the issue of how young people come to political consciousness. In this day and age, when politics is presented purely as managerialism, when political, let alone class consciousness is low, and the left has difficulty getting its message across in a culture saturated with the likes of Lindsey Lohan’s sex life and the X Factor, it is less likely than it has been for decades that young people will think seriously about politics. The study of history – of issues like the Russian Revolution, Hitler’s Germany, the French Revolution, and Irish history – exposes them to the ideas that have motivated progressive forces in the past, and often gives young people their first introduction to the political and social factors that have shaped the world they grew up in. If large numbers of young people – especially working-class young people – no longer encounter these ideas during their education, then the left will suffer for it in the long run. In a place like NI, where the left already struggles desperately, this is a very worrying trend.

Greece: Political Action the Correct Response

December 16, 2008

No new posts for a few days due to being too busy, and now the Greek situation seems to have calmed itself down. There are still though valuable lessons that can be learned from the shooting of a 15 year old boy by the police there. After several days of rioting, there have been renewed protests today, with the social democratic opposition PASOK calling for new elections, and trade unionists putting the protests in the context of a rapidly rising unemployment rate. There is huge dissastisfaction with the government, while university buildings have been occupied. Some of the more infantile on the left, and paranoid on the right, have been searching for signs of revolution in these events.

For serious political analysis we need to turn to the Greek Communist Party and its youth organisation (the KKE and KNE). The KKE is a significant force in the political life of the country, with members of the native and European Parliaments, and a very strong presence in the trade unions, student and youth movements giving it added significance. The KKE has protested vigorously against the shooting, organising mass protests in major cities on the one hand and raising questions in parliament on the other. The KKE has also supported protests called by trade unions and other mass organisations of young people and pupils. Even civil servcants have been striking, something that seems inconceivable in our part of Europe in response to such an event.

A general strike linked to the ongoing economic situation, in defence of pensions, salaries, jobs, and for the right to education and childcare took place on December 10th, which also gave voice to the protests. And here we come to the crux. The government sought to exploit the riots and violent protests to put presure on the labour movement to call off its actions in defence of workers’ rights. In the words of the KKE, “what is needed today is political condemnation of the government, of the whole net of mechanisms of intimidation and state repression, including the invisible ones. The reply to state autocracy is struggle within a mass movement in order to ensure the true causes were not covered up.” In other words, the KKE sees the shooting as the outcome of anti-people and authoritarian policies aimed at weakening the labour and social rights of workers and young people.

What they call the coordinated rioting is in the view of the Greek Communists only playing into the hands of the elements within the state that want to weaken the power of the extra-parliamentary protest that is such a vital weapon for progressive politics in other countries that just does not exist in the UK and the Republic. “The way to react does not lie in retaliatory riots. On the contrary such events are quite accomodating for those that want to impose fear and intimidation to the people, who are trying to prevent the emergence of an organized and mighty mass movement that will be able to sweep not only the ND and any other anti-people’s government, and pave the way for a real change at the level of power in favour of the people”. The statement issued by KNE lamented that the rioting has enabled the capitalist media to ignore mass political protests, and pointed to an attempted attack on the KKE offices in Thessaloniki by a group of rioters, and claimed there was an attempt to spark trouble at a KKE rally, from both the police and the organised hooded rioters. It also quoted the General Secretary of the KKE calling on ultra-leftists to stop “caressing the ears of the hooded individuals” in an opportunistic effort to secure more votes and influence.

The main core of the KKE message is therefore simple – the death is a tragedy, and justice must be done, but the events must be understood in their proper political context, and the response of the people, especially young people, must be at the same level. Rather than indulge in violence that can serve to strengthen repression and the ability of the state to withstand popular pressure, “we call upon the working people, particularly those who in recent years have – for different reasons – withdrawn from an active interest in politics, or those that are still hesitating, to organise themselves into the trade unions, the associations, both in workplaces and at the neighbourhoods. It is absolutely necessary for our country to be staffed with struggling workers because a major storm is ahead of us, because of the economic crisis and on the pretext of the crisis.”

This seems to me to be a sensible message. Some people have learnt nothing from the empty experience that was 1968. Rioting students with under-developed politics and a fetish for bricks and bottles will not – and cannot – effect political, and certainly not social, revolution. However, they can strengthen reaction, as happened in France in 1968, and cost real progressive politics many of the potential best activists of a generation. While some of the rhetoric of the KKE might seem exaggerated to us, we must remember the different history and political culture there, as instanced for example by the attempted attack on the KKE office from those supposedly on the left (there is a background here in Communist resistance to attempts to turn the annual protests on the anniversary of the Colonels’ coup into riots as well), and the more open use of intimidation against popular protests by state forces there than we are used to here. The anger of people is justified, but if not properly directed, it will achieve little.

Casement Questions

December 10, 2008

After one of my earlier posts on Roger Casement in November, some people have taken the time to write to me with more details, for which I’m grateful. They have brought to my attention a number of questions surrounding the tests that were carried out a few years ago as part of W.J. McCormack’s project on the Black Diaries, and which claimed to have definitively proven that they were genuine. Other forensic experts have challenged the methodology on which those tests were done. I am posting below a number of links where the arguments against the reliability of these tests is made, in the interest of full information, and so that people can make up their minds for themselves. The new information certainly is worth serious consideration, and I think it is also important to note that the objections to the diaries for many people are genuine concerns, and are not connected to other agendas, and certainly not homophobia.

Horan questions

Matley and Mannerings Questions are here (I can’t get a hyperlink to work for some reason, but it works when I paste this
in the browser)

An additional point that has been raised in correspondence is the fact that that the McCormack project claimed that Raman spectroscopy would be destructive of the documents, but that in fact a UK company called Foster and Freeman had produced a machine which it claimed would not be destructive before the tests were carried out.

Hope these are of interest to people.

No-One Expects the Spanish Inquisition

December 8, 2008

There was an interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 on the battles between church and state over the spread of secularism in Spain, which is being repeated tonight at 8.30pm. The Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been promoting a secular agenda, legislating for gay marriage and speedy divorce. His government has also introduced new classes called Education for Citizenship, which have provoked a great deal of resistance from the Catholic Church and its schools, because they deal with issues like sexuality, divorce and abortion. These are the same battles that have being going on in Europe, on and off, for the past two centuries, since the Enlightenment raised the demand for the separation of church and state.

Here we have the words of one of the Catholic parents opposed to the new classes

“If you are able to lead kids to a certain way of thinking, you can have full control of them – that’s what I think the government is trying to do now,” complains Agustin Losada, a parent whose formal objection to the new classes is supported by Madrid’s Conservative regional government.
Mr Losada adds: “The right to educate children in moral principles does not belong to the government, it belongs to the parents. It’s a principle that’s recognised by our constitution.
“By forcing everybody to study this kind of subject, the government are trying to impose a view which is not in line with what some parents could think.”

Here’s the rub. The Catholic Church is of the opinion that the state should leave the moral education of its flock to the Church, regardless of the fact that people live within society, and that if society is to work, people must behave according to its norms. This is of course a fundamental clash in views of what forms government and national identity should take in Spain. Should they reflect Spain’s Catholic heritage, or should they reflect the civic ideals of modern democracy? The Bishops are clear. The effectively warned people that they shouldn’t vote for the Socialist Party, but it was re-elected, and is pushing ahead with its programme.

The response from the church and the opposition Popular Party has been guerrilla warfare, with schools teaching their own versions of their classes with the support of local governments controlled by the opposition. My personal favourite was in Valencia, where they are teaching the classes, but in English so that the pupils cannot understand them. Viewing the opinion polls and listening to the programme, it seems that the church is doomed to failure on this issue, but the fact that the Popular Party is lining up behind it means that that cannot be taken for granted. While the situation is reminiscent of other European struggles over the past two centuries, it also calls to mind the struggles over Darwinism and secularism in the United States.

Of course these are themes not unfamiliar to people in Ireland, north and south. The southern Irish constitution as originally written by Fianna Fáil embodied Catholic social teaching – as did the policies of the Treatyite government before it – and the effects are still felt to this day. In the north, religion remains the overwhelmingly most important factor in social and political relations. Although great progress has been made, the fight for our own secular democracies and politics north and south go on. Still, if Spain can change, so can we.

Communism in Iraq

December 4, 2008

The Iraqi Communist Party is a party with an honourable history. At all stages, it has stood up for the rights of the working people of Iraq against those who would oppress them. As a result, the Baathist regime oppressed and murdered Iraqi Communists, who nevertheless continued to struggle against the regime, sometimes through insurgency. Although it is no longer the force it once was, it remains a significant presence on the ground in Iraq, so much so that the Americans and their allies have had to recognise it in the government. Since the invasion and removal of Saddam, the Iraqi CP has been rebuilding itself, out among the people and on the ground, holding meetings and carrying out political work throughout the country, with no regard to religious affiliation or the threat from terrorism.

The Iraqi CP is also very active internationally, with international solidarity work a key part of its activities, as for all communists and workers’ parties. There was a meeting last month of Communist and Workers’ Parties in Sao Paulo, and the Iraqi CP’s text is a good indication of the difficult and dangerous conditions in which progressive political activists find themselves in Iraq.
So what is the Iraqi CP’s analysis?

Five and a half years after the US war on Iraq, the collapse of the dictatorial regime, and occupation, the struggle to end the foreign military presence continues to be closely interconnected with the struggle to rebuild the new Iraqi state and determine both its context and character. Hence the “uniqueness”, so to speak, of the situation that has unfolded in Iraq.

The Iraqi CP opposed the invasion but after it decided that it would be best to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, in order to try and ensure that the new regime would be secular and democratic as far as possible. This has led some on the left, especially in the west, to slander the Iraqi CP as tools of the occupation. Of course, the people saying this have almost universally no understanding of what it is to be in a country where promoting socialist politics can lead to being the victim of murder, nor of the dangers in forming alliances with religious nationalists. The Iraqi CP is clear what the immediate priority must be.

It can be said that national, democratic and social tasks combine and interact. Therefore, along with the task of ending the occupation and its legacy, restoring full national sovereignty and independence, we have the tasks of eliminating the legacy of decades of fascist-type dictatorship, restructuring the Iraqi economy and rebuilding the state on a democratic federal basis. International and regional factors interfere, making the struggle even more complex and intensified. Our party has put forward its own vision, encapsulated in the Patriotic Democratic Project, that aims at building a modern democratic state; a state based on law and institutions and the principles of citizenship, ensuring democracy and social justice, as opposed to sectarian projects and a return to dictatorship, whether nationalist or religious.

The Iraqi CP is calling for a set and rapid timetable for the withdrawal of all US and other forces – so that Iraq cannot be a base for future operations aimed at other countries – and in the meantime full Iraqi control and oversight over the troops stationed there. Its primary goal is independence – for the Iraqi people to be able to decide their own future, politically, economically, and socially. This cannot be achievd without

first and foremost, national unity and national consensus, as well as pushing ahead with the policy of national reconciliation.

In other words, the future of Iraq depends on uniting its people in their common interest, and on them working together to build a better, democratic future. This is why the Iraqi CP has emphasised the necessity to work among all sections of the population, and it has had success, building its influence especially among young people and women, those with in some senses the greatest interest in ensuring that the new regime is fully secular and democratic, and that there is no return to old customs and religious domination. This work has met often with hostility from the forces of reaction, with many Communists being murdered for their politics, but the CP has not and will not be distracted from its goals.

We must look ahead as Iraq enters a new crucial phase in its fight to end the occupation, restore its national sovereignty and independence, defeat sectarianism and anti-people forces, and build a unified democratic and federal Iraq.

This is both a clear and sensible agenda that rejects the exploitation and oppression of the people of Iraq by foreign forces and offers resistance to the forces of religious reaction. The need to create first and foremost a functioning democratic and secular politics in which socialist politics can flourish is not unfamiliar to Irish socialists. Our situation has been nothing comparable to Iraq, nor even India, but the themes remain the same. For socialists, the unity of the working class is the first and most important goal. When faced with a divided working class and political and sectarian violence, socialists must hold fast to their principles, and meet the challenges posed each as they come. An end to division and sectarianism and the democratic control of affairs are essential for socialist politics to make serious progress. The Iraqi CP is to be admired for avoiding the simplistic and reductionist answers that would only strengthen the forces of reaction. Long may they flourish. And as their paper to the international meeting ended, Long Live International Solidarity!

The Costs of Capitalism

December 2, 2008

Two recent stories demonstrate the exploitation that lies at the heart of capitalism, and the ways in which ordinary people pay for the profits of huge corporations.

The first is a tragic story from the US, where a seasonal worker at Wal-Mart was trampled to death at the beginning of the annual sales there, called Black Friday. The company, which is known for cutting all available costs to keep profits high and opposing union rights, had hired extra security, but the police said not enough. Obviously the consumers – who apparently complained when they were told to leave, some saying they had been waiting for 36 hours, are to blame for this incident, but it says much about the culture of consumerism on which much of the modern economy is based.

And, more mundane, but still indicative, the fact that rail travel in Britain after the next approved price rises will cost more in real terms under the private companies than it did under British Rail. As we all know, the companies that were privatised under the Tories and New Labour were undervalued to sell them more cheaply, in order to make them more attractive investments. The price has been paid by the consumer. Actually, with the privitisation of the rail network, that price has been in blood as well with a decline in safety forcing the reversal of the privitisation of the rail network, though not the services themselves.

It is good to have such reminders that the market operates in the interest of us all isn’t it?

Baader Meinhof Film Review

December 1, 2008

I have posted a review of the Baader Meinhof Complex film over at Cedar Lounge Revolution. It discusses the film, and the ideological and political bankruptcy of these terrorists.