Sheridan fiasco

Hugh Kerr’s absurd claim that the Scottish Socialist Party has put internal difficulties behind it and now has within its sights the wonderful prospect of a tartan, pro-independence coalition government led by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party is a tad premature (Letters, May 18).

Tommy Sheridan’s ill-advised court case against News International has triggered a renewed outbreak of faction fighting. As Peter Manson reported in the Weekly Worker, the SSP’s executive unanimously called upon him to desist from the action and a split is certainly on the cards.

Incidentally, Peter, you might be interested to know that the Sunday Herald seems to have plagiarised your article: ie, it did not credit you or the Weekly Worker. Virtually your entire report was lifted by this and other ‘quality’ papers here in Scotland.

Given the distinct possibility that Alan McCombes faces heavy fines and jail because of Sheridan, the factional war can only but increase in intensity. This Sunday’s national council meeting in Glasgow Caledonian University has before it an array of opposed resolutions on the Sheridan fiasco.

There is a single motion from the EC which was agreed by 19 votes with none against (though there were three abstentions). The position of the Socialist Worker platform was interesting, I am told. The executive is committed to keeping confidential proceedings of its November 9 2004 EC - the meeting which discussed how Sheridan should deal with the revelations that were about to appear in the News of the World.

There is only one copy of those minutes. Comrade McCombes has them and refuses to hand them over and he should get the full backing of all socialists throughout Britain.

However Aberdeen South branch has tabled a motion that criticises the “failure by sections of the SSP leadership to support Tommy”. This “failure” is deemed to explain why the SSP has suffered a loss of support over the last couple of years. The comrades want to see Sheridan lead the vital 2007 election campaign.

Cardonald branch also demands full backing for Sheridan. But it goes one better. It condemns the fact that the EC kept a Big Brother-type record of a meeting which concerned allegation over his “private life”. The EC should not only refuse to hand over the minutes. It should “immediately” destroy them.

In a further twist the branch - Tommy’s own - “condemns” what it calls the “ongoing political witch-hunt” against comrade Sheridan, “which is clearly designed to drive him out of the party he has helped so much to build.”

This Sheridanite approach is backed with similar motions from Cathcart East and Motherwell Branch.

However Renfrewshire complains that the Sheridan court case has placed the SSP in “an impossible situation”, as does Shettleston. Both branches call upon him to drop his action for the sake of the party.

Meanwhile Kevin Williamson - ultra-nationalist and a man who hates the Weekly Worker with a frightful passion - has had his regular ‘Rebel Ink’ column spiked this week by Jo Harvie, the editor of Scottish Socialist Voice. Comrade Williamson has the knives out for Colin Fox, the man who replaced Sheridan as party convenor. Apparently he is not pro-independence enough.

Comrade Williamson wanted to provide SSV readers with what he call the “background material” to the court case. Not that he was out to dish the dirt on anyone. Oh no. Anyway, seeing as comrade Harvie was dead against publication, he has gone about it himself. For the missing column see - http://kenvinwilliamson. blogspot.com.

Given the SSP’s virulent nationalism, its promotion of the Sheridan personality cult (till 2004) and the absence of any serious discussion or debate in Scottish Socialist Voice, I really can’t understand why some comrades in England still uphold the SSP as some kind of model to be emulated.

For me its degeneration stands as a living example of where petty nationalism and opportunism get you. Be warned.

Sheridan fiasco
Sheridan fiasco

Excessive force

More than 15,000 representatives of campesino, indigenous and black community groups from across the south-west of Colombia began arriving at the indigenous reserve of La Maria in Cauca on May 15.

They were there to protest against the effects of the free trade agreement signed between Colombia and the US, and to criticise the lack of progress on national and regional agreements to expand land rights to indigenous and black communities in the region.

The protestors took the decision to peacefully occupy the Pan-American Highway, which links Valle de Cauca, Cauca and Narino and extends downwards to Ecuador. They demanded that the government begin dialogue with these marginalised populations and comply with its legal obligations. Characteristically, the government met this peaceful protest with violence.

Even more worrying was the action of the governor of the Cauca region, who suggested that the protests were being led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The governor’s words served to legitimise the excessive use of force by the police. Accusations that the protests were coordinated by the FARC were fiercely denied by the protestors and their representatives.

The organisations leading the protest are now calling for national and international solidarity to challenge the repressive actions of the state and are demanding that the United Nations sends a delegation to monitor the situation.

Excessive force

Exchange value

A new Iranian oil exchange opened this month and it will be trading only in petro-euros.

Currently almost all oil buying and selling is in US dollars through US-owned exchanges in London and New York. This apparently insignificant event has consequences far greater than the US merely bombing Iran’s nuclear sites.

Almost all of the world’s oil is sold on the London Petroleum Exchange and the New York Mercantile Exchange, both owned by US citizens and selling and buying only in US dollars. The success of the Iran oil exchange makes sense to Europe, which buys 70% of Iran’s oil. It also makes sense for Russia, which sells 66% of its oil to Europe. And China and India have already announced they are interested in the new Iranian exchange.

This is why we have the déja vu with the US threat against weapons of mass destruction in Iran. If there is a tactical nuclear strike on these ‘weapons’, who would bet against a certain oil exchange, and more, being bombed too? A warning to all.

Exchange value

Chávez in London

I was taken along to the Camden Centre by a group of my students - mostly Colombians and Venezuelans - to hear their revolutionary hero address the people of London. As we waited for him to arrive, the atmosphere was extraordinary: drums banging, colourful flags waving, huge amounts of laughter and riotous commotion.

When mayor Ken Livingstone and Chávez finally came on stage, the hall just erupted. The main chant was the one that had thundered through the streets of Caracas in April 2002, when that infamous US-backed military coup was defeated by a popular uprising. “We love you!” shouted a woman, as the chanting died down. “I love you very much,” replied Chávez in perfect English, reaching out his hand in a comedy gesture of true romance. Soon Chávez reverted to Spanish, but fortunately I had been given a gadget to tune in to the English translation.

The oration commenced at around 4.30pm. Two hours later, the profusely sweating speaker asked Ken how much time he’d got left. “We take it you’re probably only half-way through!” Ken joked. Chávez laughed, but was not going to let that opportunity slip - we still had two more hours of it to endure.

To many in the audience, it must have seemed an exasperatingly rambling stream of consciousness. We were reminded in some detail of the exploits of Simon Bolivar, the strategic genius of the Black Jacobins, the geographic proximity of Karl Marx’s north London grave, the idealism of Rosa Luxemburg, the need for a global women’s strike, the success of the London congestion charge, the need to save the planet, the heroism of Che Guevara and the crucifixion of that great revolutionary, Jesus Christ. “If they assassinate me, I won’t be surprised,” he said. “But still it won’t stop me!” Thunderous laughter and applause.

The president also found time to mention by name the Venezuelan ambassador and numerous members of his family, George Bernard Shaw and various other writers from these islands, Tariq Ali and other illustrious personages on the platform, Alan Woods and comparably lower-ranking comrades discernible on the floor - not to mention Chávez’s own mother, without whom he would not be speaking to us at all.

You could argue, of course, that it was a bit one-sided. Why should this guy be given such an excessive amount of platform time? But perhaps that would be to miss the point. Viewed from the standpoint of the Venezuelan and Colombian friends with whom I spent the whole five hours, it is precisely this guy who needs to be held to account - more urgently than anyone else. Chávez, I suspect, is doing it in the only way his supporters will allow - by making himself available, by being visible in the flesh, by letting it all hang out.

Western politicians appear once their studio make-up has been applied, posing for this or that photo-opportunity or tightly controlled press conference. But Chávez’s supporters need more than that. They need to know that this man really has time for them, that they come first, that he is willing to stay among them, as he dreams aloud for hours. In an ideal world, all would be equal and this kind of thing could be dispensed with. For the moment, though, revolutionary empowerment depends on a mobilised and armed populace - and equally on checking up on this symbolic figure above all others.

Chávez is a leftwing version of Ken Livingstone - by no means a Lenin, but in his best moments someone who has discovered that revolutionary politics is not necessarily a bad thing if you can harness the energy - as and when it flows - to enhance your own political chances. As and when capitalism proves stable and invincible, such figures bend with the prevailing winds. But under exceptional circumstances, they can also bend the other way.

At one point, Chávez remarked that he did not understand those anarchists who saw power as a bad thing. “Power is good,” he observed. “Everyone needs power.” To me, it seems obvious that, thanks to Venezuela’s revolution and its Bolivian and other reverberations, ordinary people across South America are at last beginning to sense their own power.

Chávez stressed that for George W Bush and his allies, bogged down as they are in the Middle East, this is a moment of crisis. For the rest of us, it is equally an opportunity. My Venezuelan student comrades are undoubtedly right.

Don’t keep complaining about Chávez and his limitations. There is only one realistic way to complete the unfinished Bolivarian revolution. It is up to the rest of us to spread its flames to North America, Europe and the world.

Chávez in London
Chávez in London

Greek SWP

I want to contribute certain points to the discussion, which has at last started publicly, about the role the Socialist Workers Party played in the organisation of the European Social Forum.

I share the view of comrade Tina Becker about the SWP’s behaviour in the ESF demonstration (Weekly Worker May 11). The SWP did not use direct or physical violence, but ‘passive violence’ - which, by the way, is much more immoral and vulgar than direct violence (although I don’t justify the latter, except in cases of self-defence).

However, the SWP was guilty of repeatedly obstructing the whole process from the outset - actions that amounted to undisguised and shameless sabotage. Because of the SWP, things that were self-evident had to be discussed over and again.

l The venue for the ESF would probably have long been decided if SWP members had not insisted on their proposal for holding the forum at the university - without ever being concrete or making the necessary contacts (it goes without saying that they were aware of the unfeasibility of this proposal). Similarly, the date could have been decided upon immediately after the Istanbul preparatory meeting, rather than at Frankfurt.

l Three weeks before the beginning of the forum, the SWP raised an issue about the budget for the Babels interpreters, querying whether the number of translators proposed was really necessary and whether their tickets should be covered or not. All the information relating to this had been provided by Babels as early as last June, and there had been plenty of time for all this to be discussed and contested. In any case, expenses for Babels are always covered by the forum - this was not something new. The original proposals were finally approved, but only after a seven-hour discussion!

l As soon as the organising committee set up its headquarters in Voulgari Street, SWP members took over one of the computers and nobody else was allowed to have access to it. All the other PCs were accessible to everybody (three days before the forum, some of the Babels friends and other comrades ‘freed’ it).

l The SWP sent no interpreters to Babels, did not help at all with their accommodation, and withheld information about the participation of Turkish interpreters. This resulted in a shortage, and Turkish participants had problems following seminars, etc.

We ought to have spoken out publicly, to bring these practices to the knowledge of all (I have written more extensively about them - see www.socialforum-media.gr/forum/viewtopic.php?p=6855#6855). But instead, we entered a game of patience and interminable dialogue, ‘pampering’ the SWP. I believe it was a political error by the organising committee - but also by all of us, individuals and groups - that we showed excessive and unjustifiable tolerance. There are three reasons for this, in my opinion:

1. The argument that ‘we should not expose our failings to the media and give a negative image of the ESF to the public’ (an argument answered by comrade Becker). This leads de facto to a secretive attitude and to lack of confidence in the people.

2. Since the burden of Stalinism and all sorts of anti-democratic, repressive practices belong to our ‘heritage’, we have gone to the other extreme and function too permissively. As if we were afraid that putting limits and being outright in certain situations amounts to Stalinist practice. As if democracy did not have limits and restrictions.

3. We have not completely excluded from our practice, and from our way of thinking, the use of such methods, although we have made big steps forward. To openly and definitely challenge the anti-democratic practices of others would pose an indirect threat to ourselves too, as it would create a commitment on our own part. Maybe we are not yet 100% ready. Too bad for us! We have to do it anyway.

The SWP and its practices are not a sad exception (the first place is claimed by the Greek Communist Party, the KKE!) or even just a condensed dose of the kind of estranging mechanisms, political narcissism and amorality that constituted the past practices of many, if not all, of the Greek left. They still survive as functional elements that demand to be overcome in a radical and urgent fashion.

Greek SWP
Greek SWP

Mad and bad

The reply by Guy Taylor, quoted in the Weekly Worker, to charges relating to the SWP’s behaviour at the recent event in Greece was the most hypocritical defence of the SWP I have read in a long time.

For years SWP members (including senior union activists) have used thuggish and bullying tactics towards their political opponents. Their tactic of roughing up men from rival groups at their Marxism (sic) event by using groups of women, is as low as it gets.

The CPGB may be mad, but the SWP is just plain bad.

Mad and bad
Mad and bad

SWP swots?

What’s all this about argy-bargy for the front spot at the Athens demo by the SWP’s International Socialist Tendency? Who cares who stands at the front of a demo anyway? Only swots want to be at the front - the same ones who fancy themselves as organisers of five-year plans, gulags, ‘re-education camps’ and alienated work in general. You can’t fight alienation with alienated means.

Long live laziness!

SWP swots?

Future query

It seems that whenever I turn my radio on, I hear Tony Blair and David Cameron arguing about illegal migrants.

I would like to hear more about your communist contribution to this issue. What will the future of politics in the UK be if its two major political figures concentrate on immigration?

Future query

Nostalgia trip

Jeremy Butler’s spirited but essentially aimless review of Doctor Who was a missed opportunity for the Weekly Worker (‘Who’s stereotyping’, May 18).

I am sorry but I don’t see the tiniest bit of relevance in Jeremy’s self-confessed geekhood. This is a television programme that pulls in seven million viewers. In its heyday in the 1970s it more than doubled this total.

On another level, Doctor Who is a national institution. It has its own myths (for example, hiding behind the sofa when the monsters appear) and has traditionally appeared at the peak viewing time of Saturday evening. This has nothing much to do with social misfits. The only period in which Doctor Who partly became a geek outpost was in the mid-to-late 1980s when its audience was dramatically shrinking (even then we are still talking about millions). It is supremely popular television.

Doctor Who first appeared in 1963. It was a classic product of its period. Britain was still in the shadow of having been one of the ‘victors’ of an ‘anti-fascist war’. One consistent down the years has been the Doctor’s ability to foil plots to dominate the universe by tyrants; the purity of its good/evil dichotomy being a key ideological signifier. This ‘anti-fascist’ message was amplified even more explicitly in stories such as ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (1975). Also, consider what a Dalek looked like in its classical incarnation: it was a lump of grey, World War II metal; it was ‘German’.

A society that had the Doctor as one its main fictional heroes could have only been one nourished on the gruel of welfare state social democracy. Having this oddball, bohemian and alien adventurer doing the human race’s universal dirty work in the battered old authority symbol of a police box was an expression of how our commodity-ridden society had apparently begun to espouse ideas that were alien to its existence. Watching Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor, 1974-81) asking Daleks for cups of tea and offering Cybermen jelly babies was the ideological equivalent of expecting a sick, irrational society to continue providing comprehensive medicine.

By the 1980s this juncture was beginning to break down; so Doctor Who also broke down. The fifth Doctor (Peter Davison, 1981-84) was permanently full of self-doubt; the sixth (Colin Baker, 1984-86) came across as an obnoxious, self-obsessed Thatcherite; and the seventh (Sylvester McCoy, 1987-89) compensated for his lack of purpose (and acting skills, presumably) by shouting a lot.

The world that created Doctor Who has, in large part, ceased to exist, so its recasting for today is inevitably wrapped in nostalgia. Jeremy blithely skates over this by making reference to “exploring lost love and past relationships”. The reintroduction of the robot dog, K9, former companion Sarah Jane, Daleks and Cybermen (and the retention of a police box, do any viewers under 50 have the slightest idea what this is?) is offering a message of authenticity: we are reviewing the past. One can well imagine dads pausing over their spam and chips on Saturday evenings to wax lyrical about the history of the Daleks and what they were doing when the programme first appeared in the 1960s. This is one long nostalgia trip that tends to blunt some of the concerns the scripts show over the impact technology is having on modern society (last week, I watched the Cybermen sending people to their living death, or, in this case, an ‘upgrade’). To make judgements on this we have to go backwards through the imprint of the past. But nostalgia is extremely popular.

Jeremy talks of the “higher standard of special effects” in the new series. This is undoubtedly correct, but is it an unambiguously good thing? Expensive special effects can in fact exclude an audience from involvement by their very perfection. We know Doctor Who is an illusion, but we stop looking for the flaws and breaks in the production. In other words, we stop being conscious and give ourselves over to the spectacle unfolding on screen. This could not be said of the papier mâché monsters of the 1970s. Older episodes, where a tight scenario (usually, as Jeremy states, in an abandoned quarry) is interrupted by the latest hideous creation of a cash-strapped BBC props department, actually prod us into an awareness of the limitations of the production; indeed of its status as a product of somebody or something.

I actually enjoy watching older episodes and the conscious struggle that its producers are making to overcome and learn. It also makes me aware that the Doctor is a bit like me.

Anyone care for a jelly baby?

Nostalgia trip
Nostalgia trip

Scare tactics

The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs has tabled amendments to the Armed Forces Bill with regard to the government’s intention to apply the sentence of life imprisonment for the charge of desertion, including refusal to participate in a military occupation.

These new provisions are a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate those in the armed forces who out of conscience might object to participating in a military occupation of a foreign country, such as Iraq.

The deeply held feelings of soldiers who object to participation in such controversial occupations need to be treated with understanding and compassion rather than bullying and scare tactics. That is why the Socialist Campaign Group will be pressing for amendments to remove the excessive punishment of life imprisonment for desertion, especially with regard to refusal to participate in military occupations.

Scare tactics
Scare tactics