Student support

The Natfhe and AUT trade unions, which represent the vast majority of lecturing staff on our campuses, will be entering into a national pay dispute with their employers in March. The action will commence with a one-day strike on March 7, followed by boycotts of marking and exams beginning on March 8.

Despite an extra £2.3 billion being put into higher education (through a combination of increased government funding and the introduction of top-up fees), many lecturing staff remain chronically underpaid and a significant proportion of lecturers are now on hourly-paid contracts.

In the further education (FE) sector, a pay deal that Natfhe members struck to win in 2004 has still not been implemented, despite an FE lecturers’ strike in November 2005 to demand its immediate implementation.

Clearly, widespread industrial action by key workers on campus will have a big impact on the lives of students, so student unions locally and the National Union of Students have a responsibility to take a clear and explicit position on the strike. Unfortunately, the NUS has not done so.

In private, and occasionally even in public, NUS leaders will express quiet support for the lecturers’ struggles, but despite its official position of support for AUT and Natfhe, the union nationally has made no explicit public statements of support for the workers who provide the backbone of our sector.

Worse still, some student unions have come out in explicit opposition to elements of the dispute, particularly the boycott, which includes a refusal to assess work or to mark or set exams. While it is unfortunate if NUS members’ studies are disrupted by industrial action, the blame for this disruption lies entirely at the feet of university and college managers who refuse to pay their staff fair wages.

The blame does not lie with the workers who are using the only real weapon available to them - the withdrawal of their labour - to fight for a decent wage.

It is at times such as this that the slogan, ‘Students and workers unite’, becomes really meaningful. The Natfhe/AUT dispute is not just a fight for higher wages: it is a fight for a quality higher education sector - something impossible without well paid and properly motivated staff. This dispute is part of the same struggle as the student movement’s battle against fees. To take any position other than full and unconditional support would undermine our own struggle.

Student unions should organise solidarity with striking lecturers, including supporting picket lines where they exist, and encourage students not to cross them. Student unions should also organise joint meetings with lecturers’ unions in order to explain the issues to students. Nationally, the NUS should take a lead in building solidarity and winning the arguments within the movement.

Student support

CPGB chimera

The Weekly Worker yet again puts forward its irritating and ignorant inversion of Marxism - that, in order to become the new ruling class, and therefore establish socialism, the working class must first “win the battle of democracy” (‘Banning bad ideas’, February 23).

This is not Marxism, but sheer revisionism! The central strategic concept of The communist manifesto is that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is for the proletariat to raise itself to the position of ruling class”, in order to win the battle of democracy. That is, establishing the political, economic (and indeed military) rule of the working class is the means by which we can achieve a truly free and truly democratic society: ie, communism. Not the other way round, comrades!

Fighting for “extreme democracy” or using democracy under capitalism in order to become the ruling class is completely back to front and will lead inexorably to accommodation with capitalism and the generation of illusions in democracy and therefore capitalism itself.

Demonstrating “fitness to become the new ruling class” will be achieved when the working class develops a fuller understanding that capitalism has served its time, that the task of the hour is the overthrow and complete destruction of the capitalist state and all of its ‘democratic’ paraphernalia, the establishment of the rule of the working class in its own interests, and the active use of its new political and economic power to establish socialism and democracy.

‘Fitness to rule’ will certainly not be achieved by continuing to believe in the winning of reforms, a ‘democratic’ capitalism or fighting for the chimera of “extreme democracy”.

CPGB chimera
CPGB chimera

Bad publicity

One good reason for not prosecuting and jailing mad cranks such as David Irving is the publicity it gives to holocaust denial.

Until trials such as this, 99% of the public would probably have been unaware of such crazy theories. With Irving’s jailing, the claim that gas chambers are fictional is now more public.

However, let us not ban mad or nasty political ideas: it creates martyrs for the far right. The Nazi-lovers of Europe are probably relishing the jailing of Irving.

Bad publicity

Capital fellow

I see from your website that the CPGB’s aim is to destroy all capital. Perhaps you would like to examine the living standards of communist countries such as the Soviet Union or China.

People do not like communists because your ideas are outdated, unpractical and, as history has shown, wholly pernicious. Now is the time for you to realise capitalism and liberal free markets (shock, horror) do not represent oppression, but an opportunity for people to work themselves out of poverty to improve themselves.

Communism does not and has never worked, so why on earth do you keep up with your illogical charade?

Capital fellow

Spiked letter

I would like you to have a letter that I recently sent to Socialist Worker. They would not print it. Neither would they print a previous letter I sent them on the same issue.

I was convinced the Socialist Workers Party’s original line on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was wrong. There was no real debate on this within the organisation. I tried to raise this at our conference and got slated by John Rees.

I have since resigned from the SWP, as this was the final straw for me after years of more centralism than democratic centralism.

A recent Callinicos article on the subject of the bill is no better and seems to suggest he liked the ungutted version, which was, in my opinion, far worse than what we now have. George Galloway also takes this line, of course.

What follows is the text of my most recent letter.

A recent article in Socialist Worker stated that the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was gutted in parliament. Although the piece did not go into detail, the implication was that the original, ungutted, bill should have been passed by parliament. George Galloway, Respect MP, supported the original bill and voted against amendments to it. The article also suggested that this bill would have closed the loophole in the present law and Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, would have been prosecuted under it.

Another article, this time by Alex Callinicos, stated that those on the left who opposed the original (ungutted) bill look “pretty stupid”. The reason he gives is that existing law did not successfully prosecute Griffin. He is of course right in that Griffin got off, but wrong, in my opinion, to support the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in its original form.

The original bill was, even if well intended, badly worded and problematic. It could have meant that anyone who said or published something “likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom it is likely to stir up racial or religious hatred” could have received a seven-year sentence. Language only had to be considered “insulting” to be actionable. The amended bill limits the new offence to somebody who “intends” to stir up religious hatred and removes the words “abusive or insulting”, so that only “threatening” speech and behaviour constitutes a crime. The amendments are certainly an improvement, as so many Labour rebels agreed.

As for those who believed that existing law went far enough, many other cases have proved this: since 2001 the crown prosecution service has prosecuted 44 cases of religiously aggravated crimes under existing law. The 1998 crime and disorder act extends the offence of causing alarm or distress to include cases that are racially or religiously aggravated. Obviously, Griffin got away with it this time - he may not next time.

However, should the left support bad laws that can be used against us? I don’t think so. We don’t need more repressive laws but more free speech to combat bigotry and promote tolerance.

Spiked letter

Class above

While we have all been arguing over whether the Danish cartoons, or the protests in response, constitute racism (there seems to be no clear answer), Chris Williams reminded me of the underlying fact of the matter: “Religion is being used as a fig leaf to hide behind. It glosses over class divisions”. Surely we should concentrate on bringing into more widespread debate this issue of class as the determinant of conflict.

Chris may have done his argument a disservice, however, by having a swipe at “SWP comrades fresh from college”. These are exactly the people with whom we need to involve and engage: open and intelligent debate will ultimately win them, as opposed to following party dogma for the sake of local elections.

Class above

Blood libels

The CPGB seems to have belatedly been forced to discover that there is such a thing as islamophobia and that it is not good. However, it is rather like pulling teeth: painful to endure (perhaps) or to watch (certainly). Perhaps it is also painful in the same sense that it was when Lyndon Baines Johnson struggled to pronounce the word ‘negro’.

Tony Greenstein rightly takes Peter Manson to task for his inability to see the racist character of the cartoon of Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb. There is little that could be more obviously racist than this, but Manson seems unable to see what to most anti-racists, muslim or non-muslim, is simply blindingly obvious.

I note that the only real difference between the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty on the question of the Danish cartoons is that the AWL has had the courage of its islamophobic convictions, and decided that since the overriding issue is ‘free speech’ (a remarkable assertion since the cartoons are not banned or threatened with being banned), they should, along with the British National Party, defend this free speech by publishing them. The CPGB seems to agree that the issue is free speech, but then declines to put its neck on the line for that freedom.

That the CPGB’s newly discovered ‘concern’ with islamophobia is highly problematic is shown by the mind-boggling stupidity and sheer ignorance of associating the islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir with those who carried placards on a February 3 demonstration at the Danish embassy demanding that critics of islam be ‘beheaded’, ‘massacred’, ‘slayed’ and so on (‘SWP “racism” fig leaf’, February 23). In fact, those vile slogans were carried by supporters of al Ghuraba, the tiny ‘Saviour Sect’, which is a successor organisation to Al Mujaharoun and not associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Since the government is planning to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, a non-violent islamist organisation, and since the CPGB claims to defend it against this persecution, is it not unreasonable to demand that the CPGB familiarises itself with the real views of Hizb ut-Tahrir and not peddle dangerous disinformation?

Thankfully, the Weekly Worker is not the journal of record on these matters. The Guardian reported: “Most muslim organisations condemned the placard slogans as the work of unrepresentative, extremist factions. The general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, blamed ‘agents provocateurs’. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which organised Saturday’s protest, agreed. Its spokesman, Taji Mustafa, said yesterday: ‘We condemn those [placards]; those are not acceptable. Many muslim groups have condemned the Friday protests and the images that were used then ... we must not at this time stoop to the level of those who want to resort to insulting the prophet of islam as a terrorist’” (February 6).

As a socialist, and despite massive differences with Hizb ut-Tahrir, I regard it as a duty to defend it against racist/islamophobic attacks on its democratic rights. Retailing what are in effect blood libels can only help Blair to ban the organisation.

Blood libels
Blood libels

Expense account

I was disappointed that the Weekly Worker has not had an article analysing the recent Dunfermline and West Fife by-election. This is a pity, as I prefer to read the analysis of important events in your paper.

If I was a member of the Scottish Socialist Party I would carefully scrutinise the election expenses return of the successful Liberal Democrat candidate. According to Scottish Socialist Voice, the Liberal Democrats delivered 500,000 pieces of literature, some of tabloid size, and had 100 people at a call centre in Somerset.

It may be that these expenses were more than the prescribed legal limit for parliamentary elections.

Expense account
Expense account

Drawing the line

A few points in response to Emily Bransom’s letter and to the more sensible elaborations of Tom May.

I do not claim to speak on behalf of “all” women. I realise that there are a few insensitive individuals with extremist views like Emily’s and that not all of them are male. But they represent only a fraction of the population.

As for accusing me of “rants” and “hysteria”, I suggest Bransom first looks at her response to my letter, perhaps moving on to question her own crude dogma. What kind of ‘choice’ is it to abort a child the day before birth? Who on earth in their right mind would make such a ‘choice’ as a free and sane individual, and what kind of doctor would perform such an act? As May points out, it would be a matter for a psychiatrist. Not only this, but Bransom calls for it to be “on demand”, as if medical staff are mere automatons who would carry out any unethical procedure and obey any orders.

If it is okay to abort a child a day before birth, then why not a day or a week after? There is no major difference in either development or awareness during this stage - birth is merely a change of environment. Hence, I rightly call what she defends infanticide. There is nothing “wild” about making this claim. Most people I know, on the left or the right, agree with me. So does most of the population, and so does medical science.

There is nothing socialist about Bransom’s views. What they have more in common with is a crude, rightwing libertarianism. It is a Nietzschean worldview that promotes an inevitable hierarchy of beings and declares it to be in our genes that the strong will lord it over the weak. It is late capitalist individualism gone mad.

Why does May, despite his relative sensibility on the issue, describe my views as being “irrational” and Bransom’s response to be correct and even rational? He seemed to have more agreement with the general thrust of my position than with hers. Although I would point out that an infanticide/third-trimester abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother - the baby could be delivered by Caesarean section and an attempt made to save its life, as it would be viable at this stage outside of the womb.

I am no moral preacher. In fact I am a social libertarian on most issues. But a point comes where I draw the line. This line is drawn where exercising my perceived rights would end in somebody else’s death. Although I am of the view that abortion should be legal in our society, there is a stage where it is simply not viable and would be inhuman. Frankly, I am sick to death of the views promoted by the extremist wings of both the pro-life and the pro-choice movements. As a socialist woman I see nothing progressive in such arguments.

Drawing the line

Ulster view

Jack Conrad wants the CPGB to come down in favour of self-determination for the people living in one county and four half-counties of Ulster (‘Self-determination and the British-Irish’, February 16).

It is unusual for a party based outside an area to demand self-determination for people living inside that area without seeking the opinion of communists there. Has the CPGB sought the opinion of communists based in Ireland, Ulster or the one-county, four-half-county area? If so, what was their opinion?

Ulster view
Ulster view

Sectarian logic

I wish to respond to Jack Conrad’s recent article. Conrad defends the demand for a “one-county, four-half-county British-Irish province [which] exercises self-determination”.

He adds: “Such a programmatic clause would help reassure backward and medium-developed British-Irish workers that they have nothing to fear from the rule of the working class. We have no interest in forced or involuntary unity and reversing the poles of oppression.”

Some immediate objections arise from this proposal, which on their own would be sufficient to render it unacceptable. While showing commendable concern for the ‘British-Irish’, Conrad does not seem to evince any concern for the remaining catholic Irish trapped in this purified sectarian state. His argument not to “reverse the poles of oppression” appears to leave the current pole untouched. What compulsion does he envisage will be necessary for this population’s incorporation into this state and how will this sit with the quest for the maximum unity of the working class?

It should also be pointed out that the ‘British-Irish’ have never sought self-determination, but only the support of British imperialism in their assertion of sectarian rights. Tailoring one’s programme of state forms to that acceptable to the ‘British-Irish’ would leave imperialism in place. Why does Conrad think it an acceptable method to derive the socialist programme from that which is acceptable to the most “backward and medium-developed” workers?

The ultimate logic of this is exposed in these workers being asked not to fear the rule of the working class - that is, rule by themselves? Presumably their commitment to this class rule will be made more palatable by their being able to exercise it without the encumbrance of having to deal with such a large number of catholic workers.

The only possible claim to a separate state for the protestants is that catholics cannot, under any circumstances, be trusted to be in a majority. In fact, even the confessional state created in the 26 counties in which this has been the case, and which has only been the other side of the coin to the sectarian state in the north, has never descended into the depths of violent bigotry that has characterised the northern state.

As one reads through the article, further problems leap from the page. The principal issue, it is argued, is that “drawing state boundaries must take full account of the sympathies of all those concerned”. But who will draw the boundaries? Who will decide? The British? The protestants only? The population of that artificial entity known as Northern Ireland? Who?

In a flight of fancy Conrad speculates that this repartition can take place in “benign conditions” where “a rapprochement can take place and divisions and mistrust be overcome”. How on earth could this happen in a sectarian carve-up? And let us be concrete about this (Conrad is keen to assert this programmatic demand is “for the here and now”). Why would unity arise in an exercise designed to cement division through definition of territorial state power? Conrad jibes that his comrade, Anne Mc Shane, is “scared” of defining the new border. Well, if you are not scared you don’t know what you are talking about.

Let us forget about “some imagined future”. The drawing of state boundaries based on sectarian demographics invites multiple sectarian pogroms. That is why the only political force to advocate it in the last 30 years has been the loyalist killers of the Ulster Defence Association. The sheer irresponsibility of the proposal for a “one-county, four-half-county British-Irish province” whose boundaries can be known only to Conrad but which would have to include at least one-third of the catholic population in the Six Counties - perhaps 250,000 people - simply beggars belief.

There really is no excuse for such stupidity. Why on earth would this partition prove any more successful than the last one? Does Conrad want another “carnival of reaction”, as Connolly put it?

A feature of the whole article is appeals to principles based on nations and their equality, yet acceptance that the Irish protestants are not one. We are fed population statistics and then told we need political solutions. We get Stalin’s check list, then are told the question is not one of “economics, linguistics or history”, but one belonging “wholly and exclusively to the sphere of political democracy”.

Yet even Stalin’s check list provides little support for a political programme based on self-determination for the protestants. And let us be clear that this is what is being discussed - a nation-state (or rather a state incorporated by imperialism) defined in religious terms. Beyond all the changing self-identification of the Irish protestants as British, Irish or Ulster (the last endorsed by only five percent of protestants in a 2004 survey, but which alone supports any appeal to self-determination) lies a more essential and obvious point. While protestant identification of themselves as British (and therefore appealing to imperialist sponsorship) might fluctuate from 59% to 76% between 1989 and 2004, and only 39% in 1968, the objective foundation of this ‘nationality’ and the real subjective self-definition is their being protestants. It is self-determination for protestants Conrad is talking about when he uses the hitherto unknown and unrecognised (where I come from) label of ‘British-Irish’.

We are not talking about those declaring themselves British, because around 10% of northern catholics so define themselves, and we are obviously not talking about those defining themselves as Irish. It comes down to a claim to a state based on sectarian identification and this is what Conrad wants socialists to support.

One could engage in extended criticism of Conrad’s one-sided characterisation of the stability and common territory of the Irish protestant population - their state of ‘Northern Ireland’ has been anything but stable and their territorial integrity has been achieved only by severing ties to their brethren in the rest of Ireland and then the three Ulster counties left to the 26-county state. In fact, Conrad’s whole scheme is further testimony to their ‘national’ failure and their decline, not movement from “semi-” or “proto-nation” to full nationality.

Language cannot set them apart and the northern economy is utterly dependent on the British state, further confirming that the basis for any claims to state power on the island of Ireland is one founded on imperialism. As for their collective “character” or “common culture”, this has claimed ridiculous justification recently in the discovery of a protestant language - ‘Ulster Scots’ - that most speakers recognise as the way they speak English. Even Conrad’s list of cultural characteristics is essentially a list of myths and/or sectarian and reactionary motifs - king Billy, union jacks, anti-popery, anti-republicanism - all traits of a virulent monarchism and pro-imperialism.

All these characteristics do indeed make the protestants of the north of Ireland a separate people (to the varying degrees protestants actually share them), but, far from justifying capitulation to this reactionary combination, they are precisely why socialists oppose the northern state, oppose partition, repartition or any nonsense about protestant self-determination.

In order to win protestant workers to democracy and socialism it is necessary to reject the sectarian self-identification bound up with all this. It is impossible to win them to socialism through first accepting their claims based on this reactionary self-identification. Part of winning them to socialism must be the defeat of the sectarianism and pro-imperialism that Conrad wants to legitimate and strengthen with state power.

Conrad does not make any case, indeed does not even attempt to show, how his programme would hasten or assist the unity of Irish workers, which is more than negligent given that this is its declared purpose.

The future unity of the Irish working class lies not in reassuring bigots, but with the thousands who get as far away from them as possible. Comrade Conrad and the CPGB should think again.

Sectarian logic
Sectarian logic

Ice with that?

A few words in reply to Tom May’s thoughtful letter on the alcohol question.

Yes, red wine in moderation is good for the heart, but gains on this front are lost to higher rates of liver ailments. The beneficial element is not in the alcohol, but in the grape skin. This could be received by eating grapes rather than drinking wine.

If the abuse (where does moderation end and alcoholism begin?) of alcohol is a social problem, how does society solve it? For a start I would suggest more education in schools and in the media on the health dangers of alcohol. Warnings should be printed on bottles and displayed in pubs. These should include colour pictures of what alcohol does to the body. Such pictures are far from pretty.

Yes, gambling and the dangers from private motor transport are also social problems. If a socialist society has abolished money and in a world of free access to life’s necessities, then people cannot gamble. If there were free cycles and public transport there would be no need for many private cars. If socialist society was free from financial pressures and happier, and had more alcohol-free leisure facilities, maybe people would not seek escape in booze.

When sick and disabled patients have to make their own way for treatment, often at great cost in cab fares, a ‘booze bus’ has been set up to ferry the severely drunk to hospital. Maybe these people should be hosed down with ice-cold water and required to undertake detox and rehabilitation (to be funded by higher taxes on alcohol) or face imprisonment.

Socialism is not about doing what you like. It is about behaving like a responsible social being, contributing to the common wealth and receiving on the basis of socially defined need. Need does not include quantities of alcoholic poison.

Ice with that?
Ice with that?