Thursday, 11 September 2008


On writing about 'democracy' it becomes clear that this is not a single problem but a complex of problems that permeates many other subjects. To understand the continued importance of taking up the mantel of democracy we must turn to Marx & Engels.

Rather than counter posing democracy to socialism, Marx & Engels saw their task as integrating the two objectively (programmatically and, crucially, in terms of the real mass movement). They began by prioritising the fight to democratise political forms as an integral part of the fight for socialism and communism.

This reading of democracy flows from an understand of democracy as a practice: strongly related to a conception of human capability and confidence through the process of democratic practice, through revolutionary struggles, through people transforming themselves through their activity. For this reason Marx would note the relative progressive nature of the bourgeois republican form of state, as compared with other forms of bourgeois state power, that could provide the class with opportunities for this struggle.

The political activity of the M&E team involves the logical continuation of this view in both the slogans they raised and the politics they fought for, as articulated within the call for suffrage. Marx said of universal suffrage that it could provide the class with a school of development despite the obvious fact that this will remain abused as a play-thing in the hands of the ruling classes and must subsequently be 'set aside by a revolution or by the reaction'.

This is an approach also reflected with their active involvement within the revolutions of 1948, an involvement implying an unambiguous attitude towards democracy and the fight for it to be broadened and taken to new heights.

In applying theory to concrete material conditions, Marx was able during these years to drive the political logic of democratic demands to its conclusion: conflict with bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois-democratic movement, going beyond the realistic and practical stance of bourgeoise-democratic movements in the demands raised.

This manifests itself in a multitude of ways, including within the organ of extreme democracy launched by Marx, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, it championed: “a democracy which everywhere emphasised in every point the specific proletarian character”, as Engels said many years later (K Marx, F Engels CW Vol 26, Moscow 1990, p122).

Demands that Marx & Engels raised for widened political democracy - for suffrage, against censorship - were often clearly not demands that in themselves went beyond the limits of capitalism of course, however they helped provide the necessary from through which the 'battle for democracy can be fought and won' as the basis for the realisation of majority rule (Weekly Worker Oct 14 2004).

The point is to 'define consistent democracy in socialist terms, and consistent socialism in democratic terms' (H Draper Karl Marx's theory of revolution Vol I, New York 1977, pp282-283). In doing so Marx was able to recognise that struggles within the state are simply the ways in which real struggles are fought out among the different classes, a fact culminating in the modern state which is thoroughly dominated by the bourgeoisie.

So Marx says the goal of revolution, which is 'freedom', means to make society again again into a community of men for their highest aim, a democratic state (KMTR 100). This means not only democracy in political forms, but also democracy in civil society, economic democracy. In contrast, our understanding of democracy within capitalist society remains predicated upon the distinction of the economic and the political.

We may join Marx in drawing from this the conclusion that true democracy requires a new social content – socialism, that must take as central to its adoption democracy forms that far surpass that which is considered feasible within capitalist society. As has been noted before: "Without a social content there can be no consistent democracy. Without democracy there can be no socialism." (CPGB)

Marxism & Women's Issues

The emancipation of women has long been been of importance and controversy for Marxists. In this article an exposition of a general Marxist theory of women's oppression will be explored before proceeding to consider the lessons to be drawn from this understanding. In so doing it is necessary to critically examine those attempts on the left to champion an 'anti-capitalist feminism' as the logical solution to this form of oppression, as expressed most recently by the Alliance for Workers Liberty's front organisation, Feminist Fightback.

It is first necessary to briefly examine what is meant by the term 'feminism', particularly given the wide range of meanings that it has been attributed.

A clear definition of what Feminist Fightback takes this term to mean is provided within its founding statement of 2006, in which it declared: "we think feminism is about ordinary women coming together to challenge sexism in their own lives, and to support women around the world demanding their rights". In this founding statement, Feminist Fightback highlight its attempt to reach broader layers of 'women of all ages', implying the founding of a movement that aimed towards broad struggles for "freedom, equality and social justice" [1].

Feminist Fightback would later substantiate this fairly vague statement with a commitment to 'socialist feminism', predicated upon a combination of challenging women's oppression and an equally vague commitment to 'anti-capitalism'. As with feminism, the varieties of 'anti-capitalism', and indeed 'socialism', are many, a point upon which Feminist Fightback chose not to dwell in an attempt to reach those 'broader layers' the founding statement touches upon.

It is crucial for us to oppose the suggestion that feminism is able to adequately provide a solution to the root causes of women's oppression, as well as the claim that feminism is able to adequately explain its origins. Feminist Fightback's support for feminism is substantiated by the acknowledgment that while many female revolutionary figures of the twentieth century rejected 'feminism', citing revolutionary heroines such as German communist figures Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxembourg, it would be "sectarian" for socialists today to do so, following the advent of Stalinism in Russia and movements of 'socialist feminists' during a period of second wave feminism [2].

The term 'feminist' arose for the first time in the 1890s, brought about by movements focusing largely upon the promotion of equal property rights and access to education, and eventually, movements calling for the extension of the right to vote to women.

These movements were sharply criticised by the female revolutionary figures Feminist Fightback cites. These revolutionaries rejected feminism while waging fierce polemical attacks in defence of a commitment to the principle of the right of women to vote, to engage freely in political activity and other basic rights. These remained principles intrinsic to a project distinct from that perused by 'feminist' movements.

Rosa Luxembourg is one such female revolutionary figure, indeed arguably one of the most important revolutionary female figures of twentieth century political history. An activist for the revolutionary transformation of society, she also rejected the politics of feminism. Writing before the ascendancy of a Stalinist bureaucratic control of the Soviet Union, Luxembourg would distance herself from an explicit commitment to 'feminist' politics, agitating against the suggestion that such politics could adequately resolve the inequalities facing women.

This does not mean that Luxembourg ignored women's oppression. She famously attacked the reformist-dominated Belgian Social Democrats for dropping their call for women's suffrage, understanding this as a basic demand that the state must be forced to grant, not voluntarily, but through political pressure. Luxembourg did not view these issues within a political vacuum, instead viewing among socialists the abandonment of demands pertaining to women (such as the right to vote) alongside the abandonment of revolutionary methods.

Women's suffrage is, on this account, viewed not just as the goal of women but a common class concern for men and women of the proletariat within the broader context of an explicitly communistic struggle for political power. Luxembourg made it quite clear that the absence of any semblance of political rights for proletarian women is an injustice but that:

"we do not depend on the justice of the ruling classes, but solely on the revolutionary power of the working masses and on the course of social development which prepares the ground for power".

It is for this reason that Luxembourg suggests the "mass struggle for women's political rights is only an expressing and a part of the proletariat's general struggle for liberation", women's suffrage is supported because this "hastens the hour when the present society falls in ruins under the hammer strokes of the revolutionary proletariat", not as an adjunct or issue in any way distinct from this project. As distinct from our Feminist Fightback friends, Rosa Luxembourg understood the need for the kinds of demands posed by women's oppression to be linked necessary to an adequately rigorous and principled revolutionary strategy [3].

This is a view shared by other female revolutionists of this period, such as Russian revolutionary leader Nadezhda K. Krupskaya. Krupskaya notes that the commitment Rosa Luxembourg expressed to advancing a stated dedication to women’s suffrage was shared by Lenin in his report on the International Congress in Stuttgart, condemning the practices of the Austrian Social-Democrats in putting off the struggle for these electoral rights for women [4]. While raising these slogans expressing a commitment to women's rights Lenin made it clear that it the source of this oppression is capitalism, not a lack of rights. In contrast to feminists of this period, for Marxists the oppression of women is understood as impossible to entirely remove within the confines of a capitalist society, extending from an analysis of oppression as embedded within the material relations of class society. This is an understanding that extends from the analysis provided by the most influential contributors to modern Communistic thought, Karl Marx & Fredrick Engels.

Karl Marx

Support for the equality of the sexes and the championing of women's rights run through-out both the writings of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels and those subsequently inspired by these works. Marx cites the words of utopian socialist Francois Fourier in arguing that the degree of female emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation of any society, in a discussion of the nature of communist society, while Engels would expand upon the nature of the nuclear family and its implications for women within 'The Family, Private Property and the State'.

In this work Engels highlights that it is not the case that the oppression of women has occurred in all human societies, indeed it is possible to observe relative equality within pre-class societies. Within what Engels describes as 'primitive communism', a degree of right to basic resources and as such embryonic equality is noticeable, due in large part to the fact that the sexual division of labour carries no subordinate social status, as it would later do so, with the emergence of class division. Within a system of 'primitive communism', the role of women in the production process afforded a degree of political power within society.

If we accept this premise it poses the question: what were the circumstances in which we may begin to see the emergence of class society and what were its logical consequences for women and the family? It is possible to understand these changes in human social organisation according to both how people gain their livelihood: the particular mode of production in that society, the sexual division of labour, and the subsequent implications for the political power of women.

A number of changes may be observed over time, including technological advances creating a situation in which a 'social surplus' is created which is then appropriated by a minority, creating a division of class. Engels notes that with the first iron plough drawn by cattle, large scale agriculture became possible, creating a comparatively unrestricted food supply. This marked a turning point in which production for use to production for profit became increasingly prevalent.

Accompanying the development of private property, production transferred from the household. The decline of household production took places as capitalists invest money accumulated via trade in the production of goods, marking the growth of wage labour alongside a decline in household production, with dramatic effects on the nuclear family. The proletarian family increasingly characterises domestic life under capitalism in contrast to pre-capitalist, multi-generational family forms defining the ‘early days of the industrial revolution’.

It is for these reasons that the family became the compulsory, patriarchal family of class society, as child rearing becomes increasing tied to the social oppression of women.

The reasons for this development relate to the needs of these new social forces: men of wealth required sons for the transmission of that wealth, and the primary function of the legally wedded wife was to be the breeder of heirs to a man's property. With the predominance of private property over common property, and with the interest in inheritance, father right and monogamy took the ascendancy and marriage became more than ever dependent on economic considerations.

Alongside the rise of class society is the rise of inequality, as the surplus created is initially shared instead of being accumulated by any one individual. Surplus grew alongside inequality as the position of the male is consolidated as the "head" of the nuclear family household for the purpose of inheritance, the passing on of property accumulated within the production process. This creates the 'double burden' of domestic and childcare work alongside waged labour for many women. With the division of social class the family emerges alongside what is described as the 'worldwide-historic defeat of the female sex'.

An understanding of the nuclear family as a product of particular historical circumstance, and as such subject to potential change, must serve as the basis for the furthering of communistic demands pertaining to women's issues. Marx notes in the German Ideology that "It is with the abolition of private property that the abolition of the family is self-evident". In drawing this conclusion we as Communists argue that women's oppression can only be ended when relations of production on which it depends are overthrown .

Soviet Union

Feminist Fightback argue that there exists a "the massive regression in political culture which Stalinism and social democracy brought about on this issue", but to understand the emergence of Stalinism and its consequences for the family and issues pertaining to women, it is necessary to understand the material basis of this regression in 'political culture'.

The coming to power of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 revolution would create a situation in which substantive gains for women were possible, including the removal of infamous laws placing women in a position of inequality, restricting divorce and surrounding it with disgusting formalities, denying recognition to children born out of wedlock, enforcing a search for their farthers, etc. As Lenin noted at the time, these remained laws "numerous survivals of which, to the shame of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism, are to be found in all civilized countries" [4].

The removal of old laws that kept women in a position of inequality as compared to men remained progressive developments; the October revolution resulted in political and legal rights in equality with men in sharp contrast to that which has and had been achieved by any government before and after it. However the achievements that were gained by women within the Soviet Union would soon be clawed back by the increasingly bureaucratic Stalinist leadership.

The attempt to 'abolish' the family in a context of generalised want resulted in a situation in which the laws introducing formal legal equality concerning the family and marriage established by October revolution were subsequently mutilated by vast borrowings from the laws of bourgeoisie countries. Resolutions celebrating the 'complete and irrevocable triumph of socialism in the soviet Union' were made all the more cruelly ironic by the introduction of laws challenging some of the more important civil, political and cultural rights of women, including the right to abortion. Prohibiting abortions served to criminalise working women, servants, peasants wives, namely many of those most vulnerable within the Soviet society.

As Marxists we view the condition of women not in isolation, but inseparable to and from the particular development of individual societies. Rejecting he abstraction provided by Feminist Fightback, the 'degeneration of political culture' may only be understood in the reference to the needs of the ruling stratum in creating a 'cult of the family' in which a stable hierarchy of relations could be ensured in support for authority and power of the Stalinist mis-leadership. This bureaucratic distortion of Stalinism in no way implies that it is "sectarian" to not support the political project of feminism. A project soundly rejected by principled female revolutionists before the advent of Stalinised rule within Russia.

While acknowledging that the subordinate position of women is the result of the capitalist system, implying a system of exploitation and division of labour, and that women can only be liberated fully when capitalism is overthrown and replaced by communism, this does not mean however that Communists simply wait for communism. The role of Marxists is clear in fighting for full equality, demanded alongside the defense and extension of existing rights.

Revolutionaries involve themselves in the struggles to advance equality as intrinsic to a wider project of human liberation. Our solution is that provided by Marxism in liberating and unifying those directly oppressed and exploited by capitalism in the fight for a politics able to end this exploitation and oppression. In so doing, we fight for an organisation that can successfully bring about the material conditions for the end of oppression and divisive capitalism.

The role of the revolutionary is to act, in the words of Lenin, as:

the tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; ... able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; ... able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.

[1] Feminist Fightback, Founding Statement


[3] Rosa Luxembourg, Women's Suffrage and Class Struggle

[4] Lenin, The Emancipation of Women

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Sheila Rowbotham at 1968 and all that

Professor of Gender and Labour History, Sociology at the University of Manchester, Sheila Rowbotham spoke to a crowded gathering of attendees of '1968 And All That' on the topic of 'The personal and the political in 1968' discussing the way events in 1968 shaped her work and philosophy. The central focus of Sheila's talk remained the political and cultural influences on a broad school of 'second wave' feminism developing in a period following the summer of 1968, within which she played an instrumental part.

Readers may be aware that Sheila has faced the prospect of forced retirement from the University of Manchester, inspiring a facebook campaign opposing the termination of her contract; the publicity the campaign has attracted seemed reflected in the attendance of the event, with many of those present forced to stand due to limited space.

Citing the influence of 'first wave' feminist thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley in inspiring conceptions of individual lives dictated by reason as the source of emancipation, Sheila suggested this idea provided an influence to the work of later feminist writers. Sheila cited the work of Doris Lessing, in the formation of what would prove to be a characteristic feature of second wave feminism: the importance of 'personal experience' as the subject of political discourse. The influence of 1968 was to provide a language in which to discuss the importance of these experiences, a language that would prove highly influential to later Women's Liberation movements.

Sheila noted that the existence of revolutionary heroines such as Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxembourg were figures that did not come across as having "personal feelings" and if they did, as she conceded, this was not "part of what was meant to be said about them". That the revolutionary figures cited by Sheila shunned a confinement to those issues seen to pertain to the domain of women was not a subject that was expanded upon in great depth, unfortunately.

The focus upon personal experience as a vehicle for "willed freedom" implied a focus upon the role of 'individual will' as the agent for social change. Sheila also noted however a problematic implication of 'the will to be free', mitigated as this will is by stratifications of class and its associative implications.

In the context of the escalating Vietnam war and the great swelter of ideas prevalent during 1968s Sheila joined the International Socialist, precursor of the Socialist Workers Party, for eighteen months until it is suggested there were moves to expel her. This involvement coincided with a workerist period in which the IS sought direct influence with the workers movement with the mass entry of members into factory work places. As a consequence of this turn to industry, those seeking to engage in the emergent women and gay liberation movements retained a fractious relationship with the Executive Committee of the IS.

Contributions from the floor highlighted the failings of 1968 inspired second wave feminism to deliver the promise of equality it desired; noting the ability of capitalism to accommodate a focus upon identity politics without dramatically altering its underlining exclusionary and exploitative logic. That capitalism has been able to adopt the rhetoric of women's emancipation to sell everything from cigarettes to soap suggests that capitalism retains a versatility in its search for profit.

In contrast to the decidedly equivocal approach that has been taken in relation to women's issues in the past, communists must serve as the tribune of the people, able to react to every manifestation of oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects, while viewing such movements as part of the fight for universal human liberation which only the working class can lead.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Galloway on being gay in Iran: fact from fiction

George Galloway, principle representative of the Respect Renewal organisation, has made a number of statements in recent weeks that should trouble those of us who hold principled support for gay rights a cause of worthy support.

On the Wright Stuff Show on Channel Five, Galloway comments on the Independent story "peers call upon Smith to halt deportation of gay Iranian". The article highlights the potential deportation of a gay Iranian, Mehdi Kazemi, from the United Kingdom and the subsequent struggle to prevent this.

Galloway first comment is that "all the papers seem to imply you get executed from Iran for being gay. That's not true" [1]. To understand the factual inacuracy of this statement an overview of the Iranian legal code is needed.

Were Galloway to examine the legal status of those engaging in same-sex sex acts in Iran he would find that his analysis is far from correct. The legal status of Lesbian and gay men in Iran today is established during a period between July 1991 to November of the same year, during which a modified Iran Criminal Code is ratified [2] Articles 108-140 of this criminal code identify the crime of homosexual and lesbian sex acts and the appropriate punishment for those said to have commited them.

For the purpose of understanding these section of the Iranian Criminal Code three translations have been examined, including that supplied by the Iranian Queer Organisation (IRQO) the Movement for the Establishment of Human Rights in Iran (MEHR) and finally the UN Refuge Agency.

We find within these 32 articles an identification of both particular forms of crime pertaining to gay men and lesbian women (identified as Lavat and tafkhiz and Mosaheqeh) alongside an associated punishment of Hadd.

Within the penal code the term Lavat encompasses an understanding of Sodomy as "sexual intercourse with a male". This remains an act identified as a form of Hadd offense, these are serious offenses identifiable in reference to specific punishments. In this instance it is death to be decided by individual Sharia judges having "confessed four times" to having committed the offense [3].

According to the translation provided by all three documents, the criminalisation of same-sex acts is not limited to sodomy. The Islamic Penal Law also stipulates crimes for Tafhiz, defined here as "the rubbing of the thighs or buttocks" committed by two men. This is a crime understood alongside other forms of homosexual act such as the act of a man "kiss(ing of) another with lust".

These crimes are understood as subject to a form of Ta’azir. Ta'azir crimes are understood as involving punishments ranging from six to nighty nine lashes the first three times, the fourth time however "the punishment ... would be death" [3]

Lesbianism is conceptualised within the Iranian Penal Code as "homosexuality of women by genitals". Defined as 'Mosaheqeh' within the translation provided by the Iranian Queer Organisation [4].

Lesbianism remains distinct from male homosexuality within the criminal code. Feminist authors Julie Dorf and Gloria Careaga note that "legal distinction between gay men and lesbianism is that sodomy is defined as uniquely male" [6].

As for lavat and takfhiz, the punishment for moshahegeh involves a form of Ta'azir punishment, 100 lashes for each party, the first three times a confession is gained, while a death sentence will be issued the fourth time [3].

As the original Independent article notes, Medhi's former partner has been executed within Iran. In response Galloway makes the claim that Parham, Mehdi's boyfriend was hung "not for being crime. for committing. um. six crimes. er. against young men" [1]. Pausing briefly to expand upon this point a number of points are worthy of consideration.

In a statement released by Mehdi he notes that "I was 15 years old when I started dating one of my class mates in school. His name was Parham" [7]. What followed was a relationship that lasted up until the point at which around March 2006 Parham had been arrested and mentioned Mehdi's name to the government under 'interrogation'.

The first point worth making is that there is no way of ascertaining if Parham was executed for the crimes stipulated within the Iran Criminal Code, however this execution was committed in a context in which, as queer organization Outrage! note:
Claims of rape are made to save the family's honour or to save the passive partner from execution, and are part of an Iranian government propaganda offensive to scapegoat and demonise gay people
In this context, it seems a highly credible explanation that Parham was executed for the crime of homosexuality, and his naming of Mehdi as involved in these acts would seem to have formed part of this investigation into this offense.

Speaking at the 2008, March 15th Stop the War demonstration Galloway commented, in reference to protests from the audience, that “the khaki war machine now has its pink contingent” [8]. This remains a slur on those anti-war activists who combine principled opposition to Invasion of Iran with a commitment to the rights of those Lesbian and Gay individuals within Iran George Galloway seems not to recognise.

[6] [Women's Rights, Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives: 325]

Monday, 10 March 2008

Socialist Party and the Commanding Heights

Reading Marxist Economist Rudolf Hilferding on finance capital I came across the Hilferding quote that "taking possession of six large Berlin banks ... would mean taking possession of the most important spheres of large scale industry".

Writing in the introduction to the translation, Tom Bottomore recognises that Hilferding would not equate this process with socialism, instead understanding this as one step on the road towards it, he does however suggest that:
the development of the capitalist welfare states since WW2 has depended very largely on gaining control of the 'commanding heights' of the economy in this sense, and that any further advance towards democratic socialism in the Western societies can only follow the same course (Finance Capital, Hilferding:9)
I presume that Bottomore is working upon the same distinction Hilferding refused to make between the formal 'bourgeois democracy' of the Weimar republic and the proletarian democracy that would be sought to replace it. A view largely in accord with the notion that thanks to the 'socialization' of the economy it no longer become necessary for the state to be 'smashed', but instead "taking it over and extending its role in planning and controlling socialized production" was the necessary step towards socialism (9).

However the notion of 'conquering the commanding heights' of the economy (as a step either towards, or the realization of, Socialism) retains a relevance beyond the fact that it has been "predicated for almost a century by the leaders of the social democratic labour movement" (106 Mesaros)

It was the Labour- entryist organisation, Militant, who argued that Socialism could be achieved by an "enabling bill" passed through parliament. Within Militant issue 767b, 27th September 1985 we find the following suggestion from Rob Sewell:
A Labour government is always elected in times of crisis, when the desire for change is at its highest . . . Instead of bowing the knee to capital and hoping to run capitalism better than the Tories, it should immediately push through an emergency `Enabling Act' through Parliament.
Former Socialist Party member Comrade Michael Wainwright challenged the party to provide a justifiction of the politics in an article titled Marxism and the state: an exchange. Seeking to defend the indefensible the Socialist Party's Lynn Walsh replied with the suggestion that such action must be taken in association with "a plan of production, and workers’ control and management of industry", which of course must be international. That the comrade felt the need to suppliment the demand for the Labour Movement to take control of the "commanding heights of the economy to be nationalised" as a means towards achieving Socialism, with the need for "workers control" is all the more pognient given the relative abscence of any discussion of workers control in articles calling on the Labour government to Nationalise Northern Rock during much of the discussion of the 'looming recession'.

In Issue 517 of the Socialist in a short piece titled 'Shock of Recession draws near' the paper limits itself to favourably quoting Liberal Democrat Vince Cabel, the logical culmination of this politics is an article that would not be out of place among any one of a number of Liberal Democrat Party press releases. The Socialist Party note in the same issue of the paper that at the time the Labour Government was already "effectively part nationalising the bank". Why did it do so? It should come as no suprise to comrades that it would go on to Nationalise the bank "simply as a temporary response to a crisis, to be contained within the overall determination of capital as a mode of control, without affecting in any way whatsoever the fundamental command structure of the system itself" (Meszaros, Beyond Capital: 106).

The justification of this politics from Walsh, which the comrade admits "would not add up to a socialist society" is an understanding of the "partial" nature of Transitional Demands. The only problem being in this instance that the demands are in no way transitional. Rather more ingenious, than the fig-leaf of Transtionalism, is the suggestion by Comrade Walsh that such moves would provide the "social foundations on which the working class could proceed to build a socialist society". This view maintains an intellectual continuum with the politics of the Social Democratic Labour Movement though certainly not with Leon Trotsky.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Student Respect: "Be reasonable, demand the possible"

The role of Student Respect post Galloway has been an interesting topic of contention among many leftists: what would happen to the formation following its split at a national level we all mused. Prior to this split many of us witnessed long-standing comrades within the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) ditching depleted Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) meetings for ‘vibrant’ joint Respect events, Comrades close to the political project of the Socialist Workers Party rebranded themselves as ‘Student Respect members’ within the pages of Socialist Worker and on campuses for the sake of the party’s latest turn.

With good reason too, as SWP Central Committee member John Rees noted in response to Galloway, the SWP has “sunk significant resources into creating Student Respect” [1], without a trace one might have added. The need to substantiate the rationale for such a move with the talk of ‘great gains ahead’ makes political sense in this context.

On that basis in September of 2007 John Rees provided the following suggestion:
(Student Respect) … has had significant electoral success in local colleges and at the NUS conference. Student Respect has reshaped the left in the colleges
We may ask what to make of reports of the recent gains of student Respect in campuses as wide ranging as Essex and Goldsmiths in reference to this quote.

A report in the 8th of March issue of Socialist Worker noted the election of what were billed as a 'left slate' of 7 candidates. Beyond the spin, the gains made at Goldsmiths were not those of the SWP, but instead the rather heterogeneous sounding 'left' [2]. Only two of those elected were actually Student Respect members: Campaigns and Communications Officer, Jennifer Jones and James Haywood, Campaigns Coordinator. Prior to the election Respect were listing only Jennifer Jones and Grace Lally as Respect Candidates under the optimistic sounding heading: “this month we can take Goldsmiths back” [3]. Returning to the Socialist Worker 'Reports Roundup' the conclusion drawn on the basis of this election, namely that “this vote shows that radical politics are winning a massive hearing among students” seems even less assured.

Candidates stood on platforms almost indistinguishable from those of non-slate candidates. There was no direct mention of the subordination of education to the needs of a market economy within the manifestos of the Student Respect comrades; Where mentions of cuts to services do exist, it is only on the basis of the suggested mis-management of a University that "treats our Union with complete contempt" and the need for a better managed Union. Variations of similar themes ran through-out the election manifestos of all contestants. Noting that the union should be a "campaigning force on behalf of all our members" retains very little purchase in a context in which both left and right have adopted similar rhetoric of accountability and democracy, if just for the sake of getting elected.

While the references were different, and i'm certain the intentions varied, both left and right broadly accommodated themselves to the bureaucratic and largely economistic character of left student politics.

The manifesto of Student Respect member Grace Lally noted the sorry state of student politics in reference to the fact that: "Goldsmiths used to be synonymous with radical student activism" [4]. Ironically the comrade has a point.

Were they to probe the issues 'of relevance to students' at a slightly deeper level they may come to the conclusion that reforms identified on the basis of the needs to render education more responsive to a market economy are not a new phenomenon. The 1960s Fouchet Reforms (named after the then Minister of Interior from 62 to 67) proposed to "install more difficult entrance exams, a more intense selection process, and a sort of “second-rate” degrees, which would be available after two years of study" [5]. Opposition to the Fouchet Reforms would form part of the radicalised student movements leading to May 1968. A movement that would influence the role played by students outside of France, popularizing the use of occupations of University buildings.

The comrade politics is all the more interesting in a context in which the slogans inspiring these "radical movements" find little echo among the existing left. We should have no illusions in documents produced during the period, the politics often expressed remained deeply flawed and partial. However, the willingness to engage with the the implications of Modern capitalism for education, beyond simply lamenting its manifesations, is athema to Student Respect's political project.


Thursday, 6 March 2008

Venezuela & Chavez

The Weekly Worker claims a unique position on the basis of the majority of the “leftist commentators” who have provided commentary upon a fairly limited section of the ‘progressive’ reforms within the proposed constitutional amendments, at the expense of those which sought to consolidate the arguably substantial power base of the Venezuelan leader (Chavez Suffers Major Constitutional Setback). The WW is quite right to note the absence of an engagement precisely on the ‘democratic deficit’ apparent within the proposed reforms of the Venezuelan constitution.

The role of Marxists on this basis is clear: to understand the nature of Venezuelan presidency and on this basis draw necessarily correct conclusions. Related to this point, Nick Rogers is right to highlight the need for an independent Working Class voice.

In reference to the ability to cultivate such a voice, it is perhaps worth making explicit the fact that “tying the working class and its organizations to bourgeois ruler serves to impede independent working-class struggle”. Related to this point, the need to “establishing the class independence of the proletariat from all wings of the bourgeoisie—no matter how “progressive” or “anti-imperialist” their proclamations [1] remains readily apparent during this process, alongside the role of a revolutionary, internationalist workers party through which this aim may be realised.

The potential for the consolidated power of a bourgeois ruler to in turn be used against an independent working class force may been noted in reference to the fact that “the presidency – no matter who occupies it – remains an institution of the bourgeois state which be it said revolutionaries are in favour of totally abolishing not strengthening” [2] as Workers Power have rightly suggested.

Despite this Workers Power curiously criticise the “modesty” of the proposed reforms for not abolishing the “the 1999 constitution's protection of private ownership of the land, the factories, the banks, the media etc”. Such an approach of course ignores that such provision would be unlikely to be destroyed precisely because these remain intrinsic to the nature of Chavez’s bourgeois political project. The role of Marxists during this process is not to challenge the ‘immodesty’ of such leaders but to instead turn to those organised forces able to play a progressive role within the region, precisely by ‘sweeping away’ the bourgeoisie regime.



Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Left & the Homosexual Question: Germany

The reaction of the socialist left to the 'homosexual question' has a rich and varied trajectory, I will attempt to provide a brief outline to some of the main themes. In order to understand the nature of the left's reaction to the issue of what we would now term 'gay rights', an understanding the historical contexts occasioning the call or protection of marginalized sexual minorities is needed.

At the end of the 19th century there occurs a particular tightening of laws in reference to 'homosexual' or same-sex sex acts, this is expressed in the UK in the form of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 and within Germany via Paragraph 175 of the German Legal code.

Paragraph 175 of the German Legal code introduced a provision of the German Criminal code from 1871 onwards punishing "unnatural fornication" among "persons of the male sex" as a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment and potential "loss of civil rights"[1].

It may be noted that during a period following the introduction of Paragraph 175 "until Hitler's accession to power in 1933", movements of opposition to the criminalisation of same-sex acts, among both "homosexual emancipation movement" and socialists remained unrivaled in neighboring european states; a fact partially reflected by the petition of the Reichstag by the formation of what has been termed the first "gay liberation organization" in the form of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, formed in 1897 [2]. The extent to which we can logically align this organisation to the political trajectory of "gay liberation" is deeply questionable, yet it’s formation does say something about the response the law engendered from a range of Germanic society.

We find an expression of opposition among socialists expressed by many of the leading members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) during this period. August Bebel, co-founder and parliamentary leader of the SPD of Germany was the first politician to speak within the Reichstag against the criminal code in 1989, supporting a petition calling for the repeal of the statute. Bebel noted that in a society in which so called 'unnatural fornication' is prevalant among "all sections of society", enforcement would require the Prussian state to "build two new penitentiaries just to handle the number of violations against Paragraph 175 committed within the confines of Berlin alone" [2].

Sections of the Social Democratic reichstag representatives delegates "distanced themselves firmly" from Bebel, while a commitment to the rights of Homosexuals did not remain an approach articulated within the political programme of the SPD [3]

However Bernstein would not be an isolated figure in opposition to Paragraph 175, other prominent members of the German Social Democratic Party would oppose the statue and raise issues of relevance to the rights of persecuted sexual minorities. Within one of two articles published in Die Neue Zeit leading SDP theorist Eduard Bernstein elaborated a view upon the trial of Oscar Wilde, prosecuted under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, within the United Kingdom. Bernstein including an acknowledgment that

within the German social-democratic movement, very far-reaching differences of opinion regarding the position society should adopt towards those sexual activities which do not fall within the ambit of what passes for normal [4]

In understanding how to characterise the 'crime' for which Wilde had been persecuted, Bernstein rejects judgements "based on more or less arbitrary moral concepts" instead noting the historic variability of what are considered 'unnatural acts' in reference to the historic prevalence of same-sex sex acts within Greek and Roman society.



[3] Leftist Sexual Politics and Homosexuality: A Historical Overview


The National Union of Students (NUS) and the struggle for gay liberation

In order to understand the prominence of commitments to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) rights within the organizational structures of the National Union of Students an understanding of the historical trajectory and emergence of such rights is necessary.

The formation of Gay Liberation movements during the 1970s reflected a rising level of 'radicalized' anger among marginalized of LGBT minorities, influenced most clearly by the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York. The Stonewall Riot followed a 'raid' upon a gay drinking establishment in Greenwich Village, as punters turned their attention to the invading police force and met the routine harassment with resistance. The Stonewall Riots would influence the formation of 'Gay Liberation' movements within both America and the United Kingdom.

Despite the eventual dissipation of the Gay Liberation, under the pressure of conflicting internal differences, the organization would prove influential. Its legacy is expressed, albeit in a partial and conditional form, in the formation of a gay and lesbian 'movement' within NUS. As the NUS document 'Liberation officers in Every Union' notes, while there existed no "formal national campaign" in the early 1970s during the movements height, by 1971 the "first explicit policy on lesbian and gay liberation was passed by annual conference", while by the mid 1990s a specific LGB Campaign had been formed [1].

A degree of representation of minority groups has been ensured by utilising organisational structures for this purpose; regular LGBT conferences are meant to "democratically set the policy that gives the political direction to the campaign" alongside the election of LGBT officers [1].

While there rightly exists structures to ensure the representation of marginalized groups within the NUS, part of the proposed Governance Review of 2007/08 includes proposals that would attack 'Liberation' sections such as that of the LGBT Campaign.

Proposals include attempts to split the existing NUS national executive into a "board" and a "senate" in which the senate will include representatives of each liberation campaign, in contrast to the 'non-political' board that will meet a limited number of times a year and be comprised in part by external appointees. The board has been created to over-see "legal policies, the “strategic planning framework”, the wages of senior management, development of budgets and estimates, scrutiny of financial performance, scrutiny of senior management and appointments" [2]. It remains the case within the existing proposals no Liberation officer is ensured a place on a board that will possibly scrutinize their work.

Communists must be at the forefront of those defending the autonomy of the campaigns as the most consistent supporters of the rights of minority groups, however beyond simply seeking to defend the existing structures of NUS, questions must be raised about the reasons for dwindling LGBT conference sizes and the failure of many of the Liberation campaigns to resonate with students.

Priority campaigns are those said to be "based on the policy" decided upon at NUS LGBT conference meaning broadly that the LGBT committee, proposed of those elected at LGBT conference, "decide upon the priority areas for the year ahead" [3]

The existence of many of the campaigns remains unknown to most students, while the limited scope and visions they express reflect a growing apolitical trend within student politics. The mismanagement of these campaigns is assured by a situation in which so-called ‘independents’ have been able to secure election as LGBT officers. This is a process aided by the general lack of awareness of most students that annual LGBT conference is even taking place.

Accommodation by the left to the narrowness of the campaigns proposed is likely to result in the depoliticisation of many students, who have and will continue to turn away from the increasingly sectional, individualistic and apolitical politics pursued by the campaign.

The need to raise demands that speak to everyday existence of LGBT students remains clearly evident. As Lenin once noted Marxists must seek to "react to every manifestation of Tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects"[4] on the basis of an understanding that the project of Marxism is the project of human emancipation, possible only on the basis of collective liberation in which the opportunity for each individual's self-development is recognized and made a reality. This remains the only way that emancipation, irrespective of individual sexuality, may be won and sustained.

[1] A Liberation Campaign In Every Union


[3] NUS LGBT Priority campaigns 2005-06

[4] Lenin, What is to be done?

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Once More With Feeling: musings on the Soviet Union

Ukrainian born Leon Trotsky assumed positions of prominence within both the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, holding high-ranking ministerial office within the newly formed Soviet government following the successive October revolution. During the early 1920s Trotsky led movements of opposition to the newly emerging Soviet bureaucracy, before his eventual expulsion in from the Communist Party and deportation from the Soviet Union in 1929.

It is during this subsequent period that Trotsky began to develop a theory of the Soviet Union’s development as conforming to that of a ‘degenerated workers state’. An understanding I will seek to expand upon in greater detail.

The starting point for a discussion of the nature of the soviet State remains the initial characterisation of the Soviet Union as that of the world’s first workers state emerging organically from the 1917 October revolution.

Within the early 1920s we begin to see the development of forms of 'bureaucratic deformation' within the USSR. The emergence of the young bureaucracy, originally subordinated to the wider agency of the working class, begins to grow independent from this constituency.

This growth of bureaucratic deformation remains bound with a series of historic catastrophes for the working class. The principle features of decisive importance included “the backwardness of the peasantry, the weariness of the proletariat and the lack of decisive support from the West” (1). The hasty retreat of the German Communist Party provides one glaring example of this. This retreat occurred during a period in which many Russians looked to Germany as the most likely basis for the international growth of revolution. This failure remains of decisive importance for the consolidation of power of the growing bureaucratic regime.

The characteristic features of the Bolshevik Party internal life during the initial years of the revolution may be broadly understood as belonging to the organizational method of democracy centralism; this enabled freedom of criticism and the intellectual struggle of competing ideas. As has been noted, “the history of Bolshevikism is the history of the struggle of factions” (2).

In the contexts of an escalating civil war, blockade and famine within the newly formed workers state, temporary measures of self-defense were taken to prohibit opposition parties.

A series of successive measures, “by means of a number of minor civil wars waged by the bureaucracy against the proletarian vanguard”, enable an understanding of the eventual dominance of a bureaucratic caste (1).

The prohibition of alternative parties and internal factions is transformed in understanding from a temporary evil necessitated by a hostile Civil War, to an elevated "principle" (3). The vibrant internal life of the Bolshevik Party, within which there existed a struggle of ideas, groups and factions, is replaced with the threat of internment in concentration camps, exile or death.

Power is transferred from the mass organizations upon which the successful revolution depended, as democratic centralism finds its distorted expression within the bureaucratic centralism of the ‘dictatorship of the bureaucracy’.

This usurpation of this power is enabled only because the “social content of this ‘dictatorship of the bureaucracy’ is determined by those productive relations that were created by the proletarian revolution” (1).

The ‘dictatorship of the bureaucracy’ is forced to defend the property relationships established by the proletarian revolution, for the purpose of maintaining its own interest; while at the same time representing the “worst domestic brake on progress, the greatest internal source of danger to the workers state, and an absolute obstacle to socialist revolutions outside the Soviet Union” (4).

The task that flowed from this is analysis was the need for a political movement to overthrow the bureaucracy for the purpose of the preservation of the existing property relations. Without the working class militating to crush the bureaucracy and open the way for socialism:

The bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back into Capitalism (5)

Trotsky was entirely correct in this analysis, as substantiated by subsequent historical events, to the great misfortune of Russian workers who have witnessed a steep decline in life expectancy and the great many destructive uncertainties of capitalism. On the basis of the then still existent Soviet Union property relations, implying the curtailing of the rights of capital and the limited monopoly of foreign trade, adherents of global capital perceived the USSR as an irreconcilable enemy and welcomed this development. The subsequent restoration of capitalist property relations heralded a period within which the ideas of Marxism were said to be defeated.

Trotskyism ‘carried the torch’ during the dark years, highlighting the deformations that were elevated to ‘principles’ on the basis of the needs of the bureaucratic caste that had assumed power. It is upon the Marxist tradition, upheld by Trotsky, that we must seek to build to the appropriate lessons of the Soviet Union in our fight for new October revolutions.


2) Trotsky, L. The Revolution Betrayed. Pg.91.

3) Trotsky. L. RB. Pg.240.



Friday, 1 February 2008

Those nominations in full..

The deadline has passed and now the prespective 'left' candidates have emerged. This is the list of prospective candidates, along with their particular grouping, to be ammended as and when necessary:

Education Not For Sale
President: Daniel Randall, Sheffield University
National Secretary: Heather Shaw, Sheffield College
National Treasurer: Koos Couvee, Sussex University
Vice-President Further Education: Laura Simmons
Block of 12: Heather Shaw, Sheffield College

Ruqayyah Collector (SBL)
Ciarán Norris (Indie)
Daniel Randell (ENS)
Wes Streeting (NOLS)

Richard ‘Bubble’ Budden (Indie/"Bubbles")
Heather Shaw (ENS)

Koos Couvée (ENS)
Dave Lewis (Indie/"Bubbles")
Bryony Shanks (SBL)

Rob Owen (RESPECT)
Sam Rozati (Conservative)
Aaron Porter (OI)

Sarah Bolt
Hind Hassan (RESPECT)
Ama Uzowuru (OI)

Simon Byrne (RESPECT)
Laura Simmons (ENS)
Beth Walker (Indie/"Bubbles")

Joel Braunold
Arran Cottam (SS)
Primal Andrew Fernando
Dan Glass (ENS)
Hind Hassan (RESPECT)
Becci Heard
Evangeline Holland- Ramsay (Independent FE)
Yemi Makinde
Ed Marsh
Florian Mertens
Stephen Mullen (Independent FE)
Susan Nash
Rob Owen (RESPECT)
Sam Rozati (Conservative)
Bryony Shanks (SBL)
Heather Shaw (ENS)
Elizabeth Somerville
Christopher Strafford (CS)
Tom Stubbs (LDYS of sorts)
Nasir Tarmann
Ben Whittaker
Hollie Williams (NOLS)

Anoosheh Azaadbar (Iranian student)
Rose Gentle

Friday, 18 January 2008

Alliance for Workers Liberty: lesser evils and collective class action

Readers may or may not be aware that the Searchlight publication and associated organisations 'Hope Not Hate' and ‘Stop the BNP’ split from Unite Against Fascism in 2005. This has raised a series of questions about how the existing left interacts with the fractured anti-fascist movement. Alongside this debate emerges a series of issues of relevance to anti-fascist work.

Charlie Salmon of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty (AWL) treats us to his ruminations on the nature of Fascism in the article For A Working Class Campaign against Fascism in the latest edition of Solidarity.

Salmon characterizes Unite Against Fascism group as “a political coalition of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Action” utilized when politically expedient for the purpose of “protests or conferences” (1). The extension of an invite to Sir Iqbal Sacranie as a headline speaker to UAF’s 2006 national conference, despite Sacranie’s well-documented reactionary and homophobic politics, is correctly noted as reflective of this opportunist political trend.

The article does fall short on a number of levels; the conclusions drawn remains deeply flawed. While the suggestion of a political alternative in the work of Searchlight, albeit one about which it remains mildly critical, is problematic to say the least.

The features of the UAF are contrasted to the “work towards major mobilisations of trade union members”, seemingly characteristic of the Searchlight organisation, alongside the latter's focus on “very successful, grass-roots responses” (2). The AWL limits the criticism of the Searchlight’s 'Stop the BNP' produced campaign material to an endorsement by millionaire Alan Sugar. An individual, who, readers will be amazed to find, apparently has "nothing to say about poorly funded public services and the attacks on the working class".

Searchlight suggested that the prime reason for their departure was because "it is incompatible for us to be in an organisation that is pushing a different strategy to our own" (1). A view seemingly collaborated by Salmon's article. That the reasons for the split amount to anything more than a desire to better pursue its particular brand of Labourism remain less than clear.

The role of anti-immigration as a characteristic feature of both Blair and Brown's premiership is a topic that receives scant attention in the pages of Searchlight. Any mentions of the Labour Party are confined to examples of the successful electoral 'fight-backs' of the kind Salmon touches upon as exemplary examples. The superficial analysis of the politics of Searchlight would seem to operate in contrast to suggestions made elsewhere within Solidarity that “eulogising Labour’s triumphs” with the use of a “single leaflet through the door a week before an election” simply won’t cut it (4).

This is perhaps reflective of the potentially divisive nature of the AWL’s call for a vote for Labour “in almost all the areas where the BNP is standing” in which no other ‘independent working class candidates’ are standing (5). An approach that while conducted under the ruberic of ‘collective working class action’ would seem to lend itself to ‘polemics’ of the kind Salmon provides.

While the article provides very little in the way of new information, it does provide something of a surprise with its use of the old, treating us to a good three paragraphs on Trotsky's views on the united-front tactic.

While providing quotes highlighting a series of entirely correct statements made by Trotsky on the nature of the united front, a correct integration of these views are far from evident by the AWL’s politics. Indeed this politics operates in direct contrast to the most perfunctory of understandings of this tactic. For Marxists, the question is not decided by a quotation, but by means of the correct method.

While Solidarity notes the need while utilising this tactic to “break ideologically and organisationally with the reformists and the centrists” (2) the extent to which this remains an abstraction far from concrete application remains evident within the pages of Solidarity.

(3) For a Workers United Front Against Fascism