Systemic failure

The Electoral Reform Society recently published its report on the 2006 local elections in England. The report identified the first-past-the-post voting system as being deeply flawed and in need of change.

The key findings of the report were: in six London boroughs and six metropolitan authorities there was a ‘wrong winner’, in that the party that won the most votes did not take the most seats; many councils are effectively one-party states with little opposition to provide effective scrutiny, raising the increased possibility of corruption.

In almost every local authority area that was studied, there was a failure of the system and voters are simply not being fairly represented. It is unfair on candidates and parties and especially on voters. It is no wonder that there is a crisis of confidence in our democracy and low levels of turnout in elections.

Advocates of first-past-the-post say that it is simple and that the party that gets the most votes wins. Quite clearly, this is often not the case.

The government cannot ignore the failings of the voting system. There needs to be a full review of the way in which we elect local councils.

Systemic failure
Systemic failure

Think again

Socialists in Britain must support national self-determination for Ireland, but Irish socialists must oppose the Irish nationalism that is the basis for the demand for national self-determination. This appears to be your view, according to your Draft programme.

The only basis for this illogical position is British national chauvinism, in which the task of freeing Ireland becomes one for progressive British workers, while passive Irish workers stand mute as their British brothers carry out the task on their behalf. Think again, and try and work out the difference between the nationalism of the oppressed and that of the oppressor.

By the way, as I am Irish, I have no intention of taking instruction from you on my internationalist duties. You can shove it up your transitional programme, as far as I am concerned.

Think again


Recently, I wrote an article concerning events at the Marx Memorial Library (‘From Star wars to library wars’, May 25). The story has now moved on, as comrade Mike Squires recounts in the Morning Star (July 19).

“In April, I wrote a letter to the Morning Star urging people to join the Marx Memorial Library. The next day, by recorded delivery, I received a letter from the MML chairwoman Mary Rosser telling me that it was proposed that I be expelled for writing such a letter.

“I was, under rule, to be allowed to appeal that decision, taken by the finance and general purposes committee, at a general management committee meeting May 11. At that meeting, I read out a statement refuting the allegation against me and asking to be shown of what rule I had broken. No evidence was ever shown me.

“By now, the charge had altered. I was no longer accused of writing to a paper without library committee authority, but with being a member of the imaginatively named Mike Squires Group. This group, was, allegedly, trying to take control of the library for the Communist Party of Britain. No management committee member is a CPB member. Only a third of management committee members are elected each year, so, even if the allegation were true, it would take some time to ‘take control’.

“I told the committee that I do meet with like-minded individuals to discuss the library, but this is not a crime. It is not in violation of library rules and does not infringe upon the Charity Commissioner’s guidelines for the running of charities. Much was made of the library’s charitable status in the lead-up to my expulsion.

“Last Thursday, I received a letter announcing my expulsion. Once again, not a shred of evidence was forthcoming. I have written announcing my intention to appeal against expulsion at the next general meeting.

“I again urge people to join the library. It is a worthy institution that warrants full support of all in the labour movement.”

For my part, I would urge readers to support Mike’s continuing appeal by writing in to the management committee and protesting at his absurd expulsion. Members should attend the next library general meeting and give comrade Squires their full support.

The Marx Memorial Library should be the property of the whole movement and this decision sets an extremely worrying precedent for our future use of the building. I have also noticed that membership requirements are much more stringent than in the past. The aim of this appears to be to actively discourage new members, particularly those with communist politics deemed unacceptable by loyal Labourites such as Mary Rosser.

While I fully support Mike’s case, it is clear that his group of allies needs broadening beyond the CPB. If open meetings to discuss the library’s future were to be held among interested parties (to which the management committee could also be invited to put their case), this would certainly undercut the allegation that Mike is merely plotting on behalf of the CPB. It could also unleash enough energy to democratise the library, something that would benefit everybody.


Badge of honour

The passing of Ted Grant is sad news. Of the three Trotskyite leaders in post-war Britain, Grant and his Militant Tendency arguably had the most impact on mainstream politics, compared to his rivals, Cliff and Healy.

When it comes to studying British hard-left organisations in the second half of the last century, only Grant’s Militant and the CPGB are likely to figure in bourgeois political histories. That is a badge of honour for comrade Grant, despite his path not being one that saw the red flag flying over Buckingham Palace.

Badge of honour

Right to refuse

It is now clear that the Israelis are using cluster bombs in Lebanese civilian areas, which are designed to kill and maim indiscriminately. In addition, it is reported that the US has delivered at least 100 ‘bunker-buster’ bombs containing depleted uranium warheads.

In the face of such immense suffering on all sides why has Tony Blair followed George W Bush in refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire? If this is a joint US-UK strategy of allowing Israel sufficient time to invade south Lebanon, wipe out Hezbollah and extend its border to annex a buffer zone, it will both fail and prove highly counterproductive in the long term by breeding further hatred and future terrorist activity.

The US and UK must join the rest of the world in calling for an immediate ceasefire. Israel will not be able to withstand pressure from its major backer and arms supplier, the US. This will also enable the creation of a united front with the Arab world in pressurising Hezbollah to enter into serious peace negotiations, including the exchange of prisoners.

Tony Blair must now refuse the Bush regime the right to transport these weapons through our country and airspace. If he refuses I believe that any workers associated with this transport activity have every right to refuse to assist in transporting these weapons on the grounds that they are being used in a way that is contrary to international law.

Right to refuse
Right to refuse

Majority position

Guy Maddox’s letter on Tony Greenstein’s view of the Zionist project and the left’s response to it is dishonest.

The notion that Tony is against a “two-state solution because Blair, Bush and Olmert support it” is absurd and unprovable. The reasons have been given by Tony over the whole series of articles he has done for the Weekly Worker.

Anti-Zionists start from the prospective of the oppressed nation and what their demands are, not a schema projected from afar, such as the Zionist ‘two-state’ solution.

The demand, historically, of the Palestinians was for a democratic and secular Palestine. Period. As Tony points out, the CPGB’s own variant of the Zionist solution is the worst of both worlds: it is both religiously exclusive and undemocratic precisely because it rests on a supposed ethno/religious exclusion, which is what Zionism is all about.

A truly democratic solution can only be based on Arab/Palestinian majority rule. It can only be based on the right of return of all Palestinians to their ancestral homes. It can only be based on a single unitary state that excludes no one based on religious origin. Ergo the end of the Zionist project or, to put in more blunt terms, the destruction of the state of Israel.

The issue of self-defined ‘Israelis’, Jews born there or the large Hebrew-speaking majority of the current Zionist state can only be solved within the above democratic framework, rejected by the CPGB. CPGB heavyweight Jack Conrad can write reams of paper on why Scotland is not a nation, but, without a second thought, automatically ascribes this to Jews and thus their rights to a ‘homeland’.

Majority position
Majority position

No challenge

Rarely has it been my misfortune to waste time reading such an ill-constructed critique, totally lacking in cohesion and substance, as Jack Conrad’s latest ‘contribution’ on the Scottish national question (‘Nationalist myths are not Marxism’, July 27). Given that this is far from the first time I have encountered Conrad’s outpourings on this matter, this is quite a bold statement to make!

Needless to say, I take a diametrically opposed view on this question, but am always willing to be subjected to writers trying to challenge my views, as it is only through such contributions that a dialectical understanding of history can be achieved.

With that in mind I found some interest from Jack’s bold assertion that he was going to subject the claim that Scotland was ever an independent nation-state to “serious examination” by “interrogating claims of medieval Scottish nationhood”.

Unfortunately what we found was nothing of the sort. The piece focused entirely on the wars of independence, when in fact they dealt with anything relating to the question at hand. Some important questions such as the 1707 union, Jacobinism or language can, we are told, be “dealt with” at some later date, while others such as the reformation or clanship are not mentioned at all, which seems kind of strange, given Jack’s chosen subject matter.

So, having chosen to prove how a Scottish nation has never existed through “examination” of the wars of independence, could we at least expect some conclusive testimony to come from the pen of our mighty sage? Sadly not.

When I read the description of Edward Longshanks as a “revolutionary centraliser”, I was immediately reminded of Tory attempts to describe Thatcher as a political “radical”. Such use of language, while technically arguable, only serves to devoid it of any real meaning.

We would be as well describing George W Bush as a revolutionary centraliser in today’s world. Indeed for Fallujah 2004, those with any knowledge of Scottish history can easily look back to Berwick 1296, for comparisons of brutality and oppression under the heel of expansionist plunder.

But, hell, why not just call a spade a spade? While the imperialism of today bears no resemblance to that of the pre-capitalist world, its essential, underlying philosophy has changed little for millennia. Plunder, oppression, military occupation, murder, corruption - all done for the benefit of the contemporary ruling class.

While Edward Longshanks may not have possessed a share portfolio, there can be no doubt in the minds of any objective reading of history that his actions in Scotland, not to mention Ireland and Wales, stink of imperialist grandeur. A ‘communist’ acting as imperialist apologist - well, let’s face it, Jack would hardly be the first from the massed ranks of the oh-so British left to fall into this trap.

What makes it worse though is that Jack is so blinded by his hatred of Scottish nationalism that it jaundices his whole take on this period. Furthermore when that is mixed up with a straightjacket strictness of dogmatic Marxian economism, it leaves Jack with little choice but to look for any argument, no matter how futile or petty, against the liberation movement led by Wallace.

So let’s make a “serious examination” of just one aspect of Jack’s critique. It is important to draw distinctions between the rebellion of Wallace and Moray, and the later victory at Bannockburn. Important, because the character of the resistance to English feudal colonialism changed markedly through these years, from a mass popular basis among largely those of no property, to one which did have the support of the majority of the Scottish nobility, thus cementing some form of Scottish national consciousness, although nobody would argue that Scottishness then was anything like Scottishness now, as Jack attempts to claim.

Not once in his “serious examination” does Jack compare those foot soldiers fighting on opposing sides at Stirling Bridge. What forces brought them to the field of battle? While Edward’s feudal host needs no explanation, those fighting on the other side were of a qualitatively different character, and to understand what brought them there would require an understanding of the class war that had raged across Scotland since the arrival of the Norman land-grabbers.

Unfortunately, Jack does not see fit to mention this phenomenon, which is disappointing, because without it, it is hard to understand what brought together this force of the dispossessed, the landless, clansmen and freemen from the burghs. It certainly wasn’t due to any feudal obligation to the ridiculed ‘Toom Tabard’ despite the fact history tells us it was carried out in his name. Given the fact that the Scottish nobility had pledged their allegiance to Edward and signed the infamous ‘Ragman’s Roll’, just what was it that brought these forces together to take the field against what was probably the most powerful army in the world at the time?

Jack cannot begin to contemplate this question because it would require a far deeper understanding than that presented as a war between two feudal armies in which the downtrodden masses were mere tools of the barons.

It is my contention that this first phase of the ‘wars of independence’ was the renewal of hostilities in the longer class war. The dispossessed rose up against Edward not at the command of feudal lords, but against the express demands of these same lords, most of whom took the field with Edward. It was a war fought largely not by schiltroms, although they played their part, but by the guerrilla tactics still favoured by resistance movements across the world. It was a war that brought together the lowest sectors of society in Scotland largely as volunteers, to rid the country of this benign “revolutionary centraliser”.

Of course, there has long been an antidote to this view from inside Scotland, that of the ruling class. The one where Wallace’s background as laird and knight is played up, where his loyalty to the throne is paramount, and which makes no mention of the continued betrayal of the people’s struggle by the nobility, nor the eventual treachery when Wallace was handed over to the English authorities. It is a view that portrays Bruce as the major figure, with Wallace just setting the scene for him. It was in opposition to this view that Blind Harry wrote the epic Wallace, a ‘bestseller’ for centuries, despite Jack bravely telling us that its story was largely a 19th century invention.

This should come as no shock because it is the same the world over. Ruling class interpretations of history rule the roost in every society: this is why it is important that we as working class socialists fight to recover our own suppressed history. It is sad, although not the least bit surprising, that Conrad adopts this ruling class analysis of history and attempts to give it some sort of left face.

No challenge

Union turn

Rob Bennett mocks Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty for suggesting that Scottish trade unionists in the Scottish Socialist Party organising alongside those in UK-wide unions would undermine the nationalism of the SSP.

But why would such organisation on issues such as the rank and file, establishing and implementing good union policy, particularly around UK-wide strikes, not do so? I don’t think Martin Thomas was arguing that it was the only way to combat separatism and nationalism, but an important part of the way.

Union turn
Union turn