Letters

Free tickets

The Socialist Party in England and Wales’s annual school - self-explanatorily entitled ‘Socialism’ - offered an opportunity to catch up with the comrades, as they continue to wrestle with the recent changes in the Labour Party.

Glenn Kelly, SPEW’s joint industrial organiser, and RMT union president Sean Hoyle addressed the problem in a Saturday evening session on Labour and the trade unions, although it ended up being very focused indeed on Hoyle’s union and the equivocal attitude it has taken so far to reaffiliating to Labour - this year’s AGM resolved to explore rejoining the party that its ancestor union proposed in the first place, although leaving the basis very vague indeed. Comrade Kelly - who longer-term readers might remember as one of the four Unison members ludicrously suspended from the union for racism for using the three wise monkeys on a leaflet - congratulated the RMT for taking exactly the right position. The battle in the Labour Party is hardly won; most councillors and MPs are still on the right; the RMT should make sure it gets its money’s worth.

Comrade Hoyle, though not a SPEW member to my knowledge, seems very much on the SPEW ‘wing’ of the RMT, and very attached to the ill-starred Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition electoral front the two organisations sponsor. His rhetoric was very opposed to unconditional reaffiliation, but he was very vague on what exactly it was he was presenting to the party authorities - they were not conditions, but perhaps questions, or maybe something else. In his first meeting with Ian Lavery, Labour Party chair, he demanded an RMT comrade’s £3 back, after he was denied a vote in the 2015 leadership contest, but apparently Lavery only had £1 on him, so negotiations are not going well so far. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that they are happening, in some sort of informal way. Meanwhile, he noted that several motions urging the RMT to get on with it and affiliate had appeared in rapid succession, and darkly hinted that this was the work of the right, but we have only his word for it, and frankly we are sceptical - it is more likely members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty or similar.

Comrade Kelly had said that the discussion would have been a very different one two and a half years ago, but, so far as the floor debate went, that was something of an exaggeration. The speakers’ list was dominated by SPEW and RMT comrades, who all seemed to be of one mind on the issue. Things regrettably did descend into the exasperating Socialism tradition of people listing the bad behaviour of municipal Labour administrations. “Don’t you know they’re attacking binmen in Birmingham?” “Don’t you know they’re forcing driver-only operation on Merseyrail?” Yes, comrades, we do.

I argued that there was a weirdly passive attitude in all this. Comrade Kelly had correctly noted that there was a struggle going in the Labour Party, yet he seemed to be recommending a ‘wait and see’ attitude as regards its outcome. I wished the RMT comrades the best of luck in squeezing concessions out of Lavery and co, but asked how they could possibly have more influence over the Labour Party unaffiliated than affiliated. The answers I got were less than satisfactory, and sometimes odd. Comrade Dave Walsh from Merseyside argued, peculiarly, that mandatory reselection was a fight to be won outside the Labour Party. Kelly pointed out in relation to this that the Unite union’s policy on mandatory reselection had been moved by a SPEW comrade, and very good too, but this just makes things weirder still - if you can move it in a Unite branch, why not a CLP?

The closest thing to an answer was that a Corbyn government was likely, but would come under intense pressure from the capitalist establishment, and if anything were to go wrong then the RMT (and by extension SPEW) would have been ill-served urging a full-blooded intervention. This seems to be an argument that the disillusioned youth will then be ready to flood into Tusc or similar, although it was not stated as such. I cannot see what other conclusions could be drawn.

All of which is pretty frustrating. Both Kelly and Hoyle - and those members of the audience who could see beyond what was happening at the end of their front garden in Birmingham, Hackney, Rhondda or wherever you like - had between them a fine programme for revolutionising the Labour Party: reselection, a sovereign conference, an end to bans, an amnesty for the excluded, the abolition of the compliance unit, and so on. All of this could be lifted wholesale from our literature. It is a bitter shame that for them it is not a programme, but an ultimatum.

Elsewhere, supremo Peter Taaffe was to be found holding court on the October revolution, and took us back to a nobler age - when the last 30 years of research into the question had simply not happened at all. Taaffe told us he does not trouble himself with “hair-splitting academics”, which rather settled that. He was, however, perfectly happy to debate - and had invited the likes of Richard Pipes, Orlando Figes and Simon Sebag Montefiore along, even offering 20 free tickets for their supporters, but had gotten no luck. The CPGB’s Jack Conrad welcomed that spirit, and invited Taaffe to next year’s Communist University - with as many free tickets as he wants. Readers of this paper will no doubt await his response with interest.

Jim Grant
Labour Party Marxists

Safest space

And so we bid farewell, for now at least, to the Anarchist Bookfair, London’s only major anarchist-orientated event for the last 34 years. For those who don’t already know, the Anarchist Bookfair collective this year won’t be attempting a 35th year, following threats of a boycott and active picketing by certain groups and individuals.

This is due to a small group of radical feminists handing out leaflets opposing changes to the Gender Recognition Act. This caused quite a stir among the trans activists present, who surrounded those handing out the leaflets and demanded their ejection. When bookfair collective members such as Helen Steel attempted to intercede to stop what was likely to spill over into violence, she was herself surrounded and called names such as “ugly terf”, “terf scum”, “bitch” and - most amazingly - “fascist”. This was all justified on the basis of demanding a safe space for trans people to express themselves. As far as Helen Steel or the collective were concerned, the bookfair attempted to accommodate both groups to put forward their positions. But, as far as I’m concerned, nobody was being threatened by a leaflet debating a big issue for many feminists.

Of course, the groups who denounced the bookfair did not see it this way. The logic of safe spaces in this particular instance seems basically to destroy the very essence of the bookfair itself: namely a space for all ideas to be exchanged and argued out. But it seems that name-calling, physical confrontation et al do not challenge safety at all - as long as only the correct positions are allowed. A Strange logic indeed.

The bookfair has always been an eclectic mix of political causes and positions, all loosely orientated around the broad organisational and historical traditions of anarchism. All the way from anarchist communism to full-on anti-collective individualism. You would often see Catholic worker or other Christian anarchists mere tables away from an old punk with a banner proclaiming all religion as murderous and bigoted. The understanding obviously being that this was an open platform for the exchange of ideas, a forum to find common ground for struggle in the future. And many initiatives were indeed sprung from this melting pot over the years.

I look forward to the new and ‘completely safe’ incarnation of the bookfair in the coming years, as seen by those who opposed its previous model. Without the messiness of the plurality of positions, those left with the right politics will be able to really buckle down to the serious issue of winning the hundreds of totally separate campaigns brought into focus.

And so now the anarchist movement finds itself in a position where it no longer needs to worry about differences of position or orientation of activity. Every group and individual can have their own complete anarchism without fear of challenge or debate, with all the anxiety-inducing rage such ‘liberal’ concepts seem to bring up among younger comrades these days. For, as we all know, the safest space is, of course, no space at all.

Danny Daly
email

Patel’s secret

Priti Patel’s secret negotiations in Israel have a far more serious and dangerous significance than claimed. The Israelis may be correct that they were not unauthorised after all. Israel and Saudi Arabia are alarmed at Assad’s success in Syria and the emergence of Russian-Iranian power in the region, and have hatched a plot to reverse this by war if necessary, beginning in Lebanon. It is clear that the intention is to relaunch the Lebanon civil war of 1975-90, which left 120,000 dead.

We saw the first indications of this with the Saudi attempts to isolate Qatar and force it to break economic and political relations with Iran. This involved Israel (covertly), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Bahrain and the Maldives, on the one side; and Iran, Turkey, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia, on the other. The real target here is Iran. But the question was whether Turkey and Russia could remain aloof, whilst the US asserted its total power in the region. That is still the question now, as the situation escalates.

On September 4, five days before Patel was sacked by Theresa May, Israel began a giant military drill on the Lebanon border, the biggest in 20 years. The drill ran for 10 days and involved thousands of ground, sea and air forces, to prepare soldiers for “preserving the current stability in the northern sector”. There is no doubt that the target is Hezbollah, which defeated the Israeli Defence Force twice, in 2000 and 2006, and remains so important to Assad’s success. It is clear now that this drill was executed as part of a war plan with Saudi Arabia, which the USA and Britain, possibly via Ms Patel, were directing.

On November 4, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri issued a resignation statement from Riyadh; his life was in danger, he claimed: “Iran controls the region and the decision-making in both Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I want to tell Iran and its followers that it will lose in its interventions in the internal affairs of Arab countries.”

Iran credibly claimed: “The resignation was aimed at creating tension in Lebanon and the region. This resignation was also meant to compensate the US for its failures after the defeat of the Daesh.”

Hariri, who has dual Saudi-Lebanese citizenship, leads the liberal (relatively) Future Movement, which is part of the March 14 Alliance that includes Christians associated with the Lebanese forces and Kataeb party. He has supported the Syrian rebels in the past, which prompted Syria to issue an arrest warrant for him as a terrorist supporter. Most of its base is made up of Sunni Muslims. It has a parliamentary majority.

The main opponent of Future Movement is the March 8 Alliance - most important part being the Free Patriotic Movement, which is led by general Michel Aoun and contains the Shia Hezbollah and Amal movements. The March 14 Alliance also has eight ministers and so have the independents, making up a national government of 24 ministers. Aoun is the president and a Maronite Christian, whose alliance with Hezbollah and Hariri, despite their support for the Syrian rebels, has held the government and country together in recent times - initially with the support of the Saudis, now withdrawn. Obviously, the complicated constitution, unfinished business from the civil war, could now unravel at the instigation of the Saudis and the USA-Israeli bloc. Priti Patel was undoubtedly informed of all these details at the 14 meetings with the Israelis. Militarily Hezbollah is stronger and far more battle-hardened than the Lebanese national army. It cannot simply be dismissed from government; it is often referred to as a ‘state within a state’.

Saad Hariri was reportedly arrested as soon as his jet touched down at Riyadh on November 3, when Saudi policemen boarded it and confiscated all mobile phones. They took him off and obviously wrote his resignation statement. But he was shuttled to Abu Dhabi on November 7 to meet Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi. The apparent kidnapping of the Lebanese head of state - it is still not clear whether he is a willing or unwilling participant in this affair - is part of the war plans of the USA.

Central to this also is the situation in Yemen, the merciless bombarding and starving by blockade of the civilian population, funded and organised by Britain and the US to defeat the Houthi rebels, Iran allies and fellow Shia co-religionists.

The number of British-made bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia since the start of its bloody campaign in Yemen has risen by almost 500%, according to The Independent. More than £4.6 billion of arms were sold in the first two years of bombings, with the government granting increasing numbers of export licences despite mounting evidence of war crimes and massacres at hospitals, schools and weddings. The United Nations says air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are the main cause of almost 5,295 civilian deaths and 8,873 casualties confirmed so far, warning that the real figure is “likely to be far higher”.

President Macron of France is also involved, the BBC reported on November 9, making a surprise visit to Riyadh on November 10. They reported that Macron discussed the war in Yemen, but undoubtedly the main topic was Lebanon. France is the former colonial power and still has major interests there. Also, France is a strong supporter of the 2015 Obama nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has repudiated with the backing of the Saudis. Macron said on November 9 that he had had informal contact with Hariri.

On November 9, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies told their citizens in Lebanon to leave the country immediately. This came after Riyadh accused Iran of “direct military aggression”, saying it supplied a missile which it claims was fired by Hezbollah at Riyadh from Yemen on Saturday. The conflict between the USA, its allies in this region and not only Syria, Russia and Iran but also the European Union, is deepening now.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Conflagration

Once the de facto alliance for the defeat of Islamic State achieves its ends, there will be a huge Middle East war, ostensibly between the regional imperial powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, but more widely between Sunni and Shia and, more widely still, between the global imperial powers, with Russia, France and Germany on Iran’s side and America, Britain, Turkey et al on the other.

It will be a war for the redivision of the region and it will cost millions of lives, with many millions more displaced. It is the price, along with the rise of fascist IS in the first place, for the failure of the Arab spring. But it is only a deepening, widening and re-emerging of that spring and its transformation into an Arab October that can stop it.

The war must be turned into civil wars against the tyrants, the Islamists, Zionists, the theocrats, the regional and global imperialist powers, bandits of all kinds for a federation of socialist sovereign states of the Middle East. Unfortunately, the degenerate neo-Stalinist western left is gearing up to back Putin and Tehran against such a perspective in yet another grand show of pseudo-anti-imperialism in opposition to revolution, democracy and socialism. But we must take the revolutionary approach wider and in opposition to these reactionary forces squatting in the labour movement, because this war and the one being fomented by Trump in south-east Asia will morph into a wider global conflagration involving the big powers directly, which can only end in world proletarian revolution or the complete destruction of the human race.

David Ellis
Leeds

Catalonia

Felipe VI’s exhortations against an independence referendum in Catalonia showed that this monarchy is deeply involved in politics in spite of being only ‘constitutional’. The fact that his orders were ignored shows how little the king counts. In Catalonia, the use of Madrid’s police and military violence has highlighted the oppressed status of Catalonia in the Spanish state.

The oppression that comes from Madrid is not simply a military one. It is the oppression of the big multinationals and of the biggest capitalists against the smaller ones in Catalonia. It is the oppression of high finance capital. It is the oppression of the imperialist policies of Spain, which treat Catalonia like some sort of colony.

In Catalonia, however, the ‘independentist’ Carles Puigdemont has appropriated the bulk of the revolt of the masses there. Because the communists, the socialists and the trade unions have not adopted a programme against the capitalist oppression of Madrid, the working class and exploited layers of the masses in Catalonia have not been able to organise themselves independently from him.

Now that Puigdemont is in Belgium, under the protection of the ‘independentist’ New Flemish Alliance that is making the Belgian workers pay for the capitalist crisis, there is in Catalonia a movement insufficiently organised on a programme to oppose the capitalist oppression of Madrid. It could be that it is not possible any more to create republican, anti-capitalist and socialist movements independent from the local bourgeoisies (like the Catalan one), unless one calls for support from the rest of the workers in Spain. But, if Puigdemont can call (unsuccessfully) on the EU to come to his aid, what stops the workers of Catalonia calling on the workers of Spain and the EU?

Marie Lynam
email

Dystopian

The United States is now the sole United Nations member not to agree the 2015 Paris accord, which aims to gradually reduce emissions of greenhouse gases - Trump announced in June that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement. The US is the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide after China. However, as with other exit agreements, the US will still have seat on the climate table for the next four years until formal withdrawal is complete.

This week’s 23rd conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) in Bonn comes at a time of several significant developments: for example, the World Meteorological Organisation announced that 2017 is set to be one of the three hottest years on record. Further, the medical journal The Lancet reports that climate change is affecting human health.

Trump’s abandonment of the Paris agreement comes when the US Climate Change Assessment Program reports that greenhouse gases were the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”. Of course, there was an outcry following Trump’s decision and former president Barack Obama said: “the nations that remain in the Paris agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created.” This was a response to Trump’s claim that it had been “the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries”. For all the talk about jobs, the UN reported noted the mismatch between the pledges following the Paris accord and what is necessary to keep a rise in global temperatures below 2˚C.

Of course, we get the usual reports about the risks of climate change - extreme weather, water stress and harm to human health, not to mention the risk to low-lying small island states being inundated thanks to rising sea levels. But what is the goal? To limit the rise to under 2˚ by the end of the century. There is indeed a wide gap between rhetoric and action. Only measures to lower carbon dioxide emissions through the reduction of fossil fuel use would achieve the target. Anything else and a dystopian future awaits.

Simon Wells
Manchester

Discredit

Two official reports published last week confirm the view of Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, based on evidence from local benefit claimants, that universal credit has been ‘discredited’ and must be abandoned, not reformed. It is causing untold suffering, with increased poverty, homelessness and use of food banks here and everywhere else it exists.

A report by homeless charity Shelter last week showed that over 300,000 people nationally were homeless. Its figures showed Rugby is now the fifth highest in the West Midlands for homeless people, with an increase of 120% since 2013. And what has changed since 2013? The introduction of universal credit to Rugby - one of just six pilots nationally.

Rev Michael Bochenski, the chair of Hope4, which runs Rugby’s homeless shelters, agrees. He said last week that “part of the reason for the local rise in homelessness was universal credit”. Tusc has growing evidence that is the case. We have spoken to many universal claimants who have been evicted, and others who had been threatened with eviction, because they had been forced to wait over six weeks for any benefits, including housing benefit; or they had been sanctioned - cut off benefits for weeks for little or no reason. This is the type of suffering Rugby MP Mark Pawsey, and his government, won’t accept.

A study into food bank use has further confirmed our view. The largest ever study in Britain - by Oxford University, published in June - found many food bank users experienced dire poverty, and it warned that welfare changes, such as the roll-out of universal credit, were likely to drive up use of food banks further. Two in five food bank users were waiting for benefit payments - a common problem with universal credit.

Local evidence again confirms that. Rugby food bank now reports that use has grown for the fifth year in a row - much more than the national average. Rugby has been piloting universal credit for those five years, unlike most parts of the country. So universal credit - with its six-plus weeks delay before receiving any payment, and the sanctions that accompany it - are obvious reasons for this increased use.

Mark Pawsey MP is reported as saying that the need to visit food banks was “highly undesirable”. Mark - it is a necessity for those suffering poverty caused by your government’s policies, including universal credit. Mark Pawsey also says the welfare system “supports millions of people on low incomes or are unemployed” - how can it, when people have to use food banks, face eviction threats and are made homeless? What an indictment of 21st century Britain, the fifth richest country in the world!

Universal credit is Tory government policy, fully supported by local MP Mark Pawsey. It is causing untold suffering in areas where it has been rolled out, such as Rugby.

It cannot be reformed. It has to go.

Pete McLaren
Rugby Tusc

What next?

The cuts carried out by the Tory government continue to make themselves felt. I know this from personal experience.

First, the Tory-controlled Cambridgeshire County Council closed down the Bowthorpe mental health day centre at the instructions of the government. Second, I was taken off the books of my consultant psychiatrist at Agenoria House, the office of Wisbech community mental health team. Third, my psychiatric nurse at North Brink surgery left and hasn’t been replaced. Fourth, I failed my personal independence payment medical, meaning I can no longer afford to see a counsellor. Fifth, my nurse practitioner at North Brink surgery can no longer see me, as she now only does home visits.

What next? Perhaps I’ll fail my employment and support allowance medical. Thankfully, that won’t take place until July 2019.

John Smithee
Cambridgeshire