Wrong party

It is not often that I am moved to offer praise. More usually my letters are of a more critical nature. But I must give Laurie McCauley plaudits for the concluding paragraphs of his manifesto address (‘Radical politics of Marxism’, February 26).

Indeed, as Laurie writes, “Communism is the end of classes, nations and money through the flourishing of democracy and conscious self-control, where production and distribution are based on the principle of human need and not on profit for the sake of profit.”

Now, the only difference with the Socialist Party of Great Britain is the not small matter of how to achieve what is our agreed objective.

Yes, again, I can wholly agree with Laurie that “if our class is to run society it must train itself in political discussion, and practise in its own organisations the democracy it wishes to see in the world.”

The question Laurie must ask himself is: has he chosen to support the correct political party that reflects these aims? I contend that it can only be the SPGB.

Wrong party
Wrong party


Lawrence Parker makes the assertion in his review of the life of Edward Upward (‘Principled political artist’, February 26) that what I had written in my blog (An Unrepentant Communist unrepentantcommunist.blogspot.com) was “a significant misreading” when I suggested that much of the criticism levelled at Upward’s writing was politically motivated.

What I in fact wrote was: “I ... believe that much of the negative criticism of his literature was in fact a literary and critical form of political opposition to his chosen form of creativity, and, of course, a dismissal - and a contemptuous dismissal at that - of any attempt to employ the socialist realist or written documentary form. A dismissal that was primarily political in its motivation, in reaction, of course, to the profoundly political issues raised by his writings and his aesthetic sensibilities themselves.”

I think therefore it is Lawrence Parker who has been doing the misreading. I did not suggest that Upward’s writing was exclusively in the socialist realist style. Indeed I was merely observing the fact that, having employed it at one brief stage in his literary career, it thus provided a stick to beat him with for long after he abandoned it. Furthermore, since I knew Upward, I was fully aware of his views on the limitations of this approach.

The point I was making, which I know to be true from a number of conversations that I had with the late author, was that he believed it was his political convictions which had provided a convenient narrative for unsympathetic critics to explain the more complex creative difficulties he encountered at various stages in his life. This conventional narrative was, and still is, that political commitment, especially of an ideologically leftist persuasion, inevitably stifles artistic creativity - better therefore for the ‘true artist’ to observe the world ‘indifferently paring his nails’, to paraphrase Joyce. Upward often reiterated on the contrary that his involvement with the (real) CPGB had saved him from a sense of powerlessness which could so easily, he knew, slump into depression.

Parker then goes on to make the utterly groundless assertion: “No doubt the ‘official communist’ author would prefer that Upward had been a servant of this style.” This is also incorrect. On the contrary, I am more than happy that Edward Upward evolved the writing style that he did, utterly regardless of which stylistic pigeon-hole you wish to place it in.

I am certain that his reputation will continue to grow in the decades to come, and I strongly recommend readers of this publication to lobby for the republication of The spiral ascent, Upward’s dialectical triad of novels, by contacting Quartet Books (info@quartetbooks.co.uk) and requesting this, preferably as one volume.


Police racism

Barbara Yusuf-Porter’s son, Lee, died following a stabbing in South Shields on March 2 2006.

Recently, it emerged that tissue samples had been taken by police from Lee’s body without his mother’s consent, in breach of usual procedures, and held for two years, as opposed to the six months it is normal to allow opportunity for appeals by the convicted killer. Despite the police previously stating on public radio that they would not return the remains without the killer’s consent, they arrived at Barbara’s house on October 16 saying they had something for her. When she refused to speak to them, an officer said, “We’ll leave it on your doorstep then” and left behind a box containing the samples from Lee’s body. This ignored arrangements Barbara made with the hospital for the remains to be transferred to the undertaker once police released them.

The deposit of Lee’s remains on her doorstep came the day before a well publicised protest by Barbara and supporters outside Northumbria police’s headquarters in Ponteland, and supporters allege it was intended to terrorise Barbara into backing out of the protest. Barbara is extremely distressed by these events, and has had to rebury her son.

Together with his mother, who has Somali roots, Lee was an active campaigner against racism. In 2003, he was badly cut and bruised after chasing and trying to photograph a group who had been shouting racist insults and doing Nazi salutes outside their home. Prior to Lee’s murder, in 2005 and 2006, the aunt and mother of the convicted killer, Scott Nichols, had no further action taken against them despite threats to Barbara’s family.

Barbara reports incidents of institutional racism and mishandling of the investigation of Lee’s murder by police. Paramedics who attended the scene on the night of Lee’s murder report being chased away from the body by police, and Lee was never certified dead. Police initially claimed that blood found near the scene was animal blood, and it was only found to be Lee’s after independent tests commissioned by Barbara herself. One of the officers assigned to investigate the case for the first three weeks after the murder was related to the convicted killer and to two others who had been involved with the convicted killer in a campaign of racist harassment against Barbara’s family prior to the murder, which included graffitiing their names on the wall of the family’s home.

On the day after Lee’s murder, the police raided Barbara’s home. Footage from CCTV cameras installed by Barbara in 1999 to gather evidence of the racist abuse being experienced by the family were seized, together with a computer hard drive, which was returned damaged, whilst the CCTV tapes had been wiped. Barbara said: “The police took away CCTV videos with these incidents on and gave us blank videos in return, but they always said they could not identify the people on the tapes, even though the same tapes were played on national TV, where the people were shown very clearly and detailed the abuse we received.”

The full Independent Police Complaints Commission report, which was not made public but has been obtained by Barbara through solicitors, admits to numerous instances of mishandling of the case and poor conduct by police investigating the murder, yet no action has been taken against any officer. Barbara has posted a copy of the report for sale on eBay to publicise the case. The IPCC report also included substantial evidence against Barbara’s character from her ex-husband, who she left following abuse testified to by the family’s doctor.

The Northern Alliance for Police Accountability, who have been supporting Barbara’s campaign, commented: “The combination of the raid on Barbara’s home following Lee’s murder and the weight given by the IPCC investigation to the testimony of Barbara’s abusive and estranged husband suggests a criminalisation of the victim, which is a well-established form of institutional racism.”

Police racism
Police racism


February 23 saw prominent American Jewish political scientist Norman Finkelstein, author of the highly controversial The holocaust industry, speak at King’s College London. I think readers of the Weekly Worker will find what he said of interest, if only because of its limitations.

Finkelstein’s talk was well attended and well received. Although it was entitled ‘The misuse of anti-semitism and the abuse of history’, Finkelstein announced he intended to discuss the recent events in Gaza. Given Finkelstein’s background as a vocal critic of Israel and the Zionist project, this was hardly a surprising departure.

Finkelstein went on to assess the motives for Israeli intervention. Unquestionably the claim of simple retaliation to Hamas rocket fire was unfounded. It was Israel that initially breached the ceasefire agreement. The elections too were a secondary factor. Finkelstein drew out the two factors he considered predominant in motivating the Israeli massacre of Gaza.

Firstly, the restoration of deterrence capacity: essentially capacity to inspire fear amongst its enemies in the Middle East. This was struck a clear blow by embarrassment in the 2006 Lebanon war, and the American rebuttal of a desired attack on Iran in early to mid-2008. The disproportionate violence of the recent events exemplifies how Israeli military strategy was designed to fulfil this political objective. Even the unsuccessful 2006 Lebanon campaign saw the specific targeting of civilians and infrastructure, despite no evidence that Hezbollah had indeed embedded itself in the Lebanese population.

Secondly, Finkelstein proposed that the Palestinian opposition had become too willing to settle the conflict: the “moderate” Hamas desiring a settlement on the 1967 borders. In my view it is mistaken to see such demands for a deal as rooted in moderacy.

In a situation of such disproportionate force, and international leverage it is hardly surprising many Palestinians would settle for all that seems conceivably achievable in our current climate. However, for communists this two-state ‘solution’ cannot be viewed as such.

Whilst Finkelstein’s justification for its application is its overwhelming majority support amongst the “den of thieves”, he fails to address what a two-state Israel/Palestine would look like if achieved. Instead it is treated as a magic leveller.

The traditional one-state v two-state debate, unquestioningly adopted by the left, itself must be assessed. Within the framework of Israel/Palestine alone neither provide a solution - tending toward either a reversal of the current poles of oppression or the establishment of an independent Palestine, impoverished in relation to its Israeli neighbour. Palestine’s history as a colonial creation also makes it more difficult to disentangle the current conflict from the broader region. In this context a pan-Arab movement provides the hope for an end to the Israeli persecution in Palestine.

Not, however, the pan-Arab movement Finkelstein puts his hope in when he declares the result of the Arab League vote as 22-0 in favour of an independent Palestine. The inadequacy of the current Arab regimes to develop any degree of solidarity with the struggling people of Palestine has been patently exemplified by recent events. We must not look to Arab states or international law to help achieve a solution.

Both are tied up in the global system of capital, for which Israel plays an important role in the Middle East, and will therefore be, at best, inconsistent and fleeting allies of the Palestinian people. Instead the focus must be on bringing about change from below. Only in a mass, working class movement united behind a project of socialism, can a solution be found.

But what of the politics of the movement against the attacks on Gaza? For Finkelstein emphasis is put on keeping it simple and broad. It must base itself on the concept of justice, not issues of wealth redistribution, or other more contentious points, he said at one point. But that would tend toward disarming and taming political impact. For Finkelstein, though, if such simple “truths” are proclaimed, pro-Israeli opinion can be convinced of its errors.

However, the clear dichotomy of class interest must continually be reasserted. It is not a question of lobbying figures within the bourgeois establishment to support the call for an independent Palestine. Even if a majority of such figures could be won to such a case, the likely product would be a weak Palestine at the gates of a still dominant Israel able to continue its role as an imperialist partner in the region. Whatever slight advances this may mean for Palestinians, it is no solution.

For that we must look beyond capitalism and to a movement of the working classes from below, not a prescriptive remedy from the international law courts, or national bourgeoisie. The former being merely a product of collusion on the part of the latter anyway.

Whilst Finkelstein’s analysis offered some interesting insights, his reliance on international law as a motor for change exemplifies his inability to offer any constructive ideas on solutions to the conflict.


Coal error

I believe that Dave Douglass’s response (Letters, February 26) to Jim Moody’s article on the climate debate (‘Blowing smoke or clean coal’, February 5) was a heartfelt and sincere letter in defence of burning coal. I think he also makes some errors or exaggerations, which I’d like to address.

Currently, there is no clean-coal technology. The phrase itself was a marketing term originating in the United States from the Bituminous Coal Association’s PR department, who were desperate to combat the rising awareness of climate change, in which burning coal is the single biggest stationary source of greenhouse gases. To be fair, it is also true that the ever-shrinking United Mine Workers of America has latched onto this in a labour-management cooperation scheme to push more coal, or defend what is used for 50% of all US electricity production (albeit a shrinking figure, as natural gas is biting off huge chunks of this percentage and nuclear is due to take an even bigger bite over the next 10 years).

The technology Dave talks about is in the experimental research and development stage. I actually support continued funding of this both in the US and in the UK. But it’s a mirage right now and little is done to actually implement it. So other forms of energy that produce no CO2 and particulate are being implemented.

It would be worth looking at the biggest coal disaster in the world today: China. They know it kills 400,000 of their people a year. They know it is the biggest source of mercury and heavy metals in the environment. But they need the energy, so they use it anyway. They too are looking into clean-coal technology. But they have a correct policy of reducing their reliance on coal by building alternative, non-carbon sources of generation, most notably hydro and nuclear.

For every nuclear plant the Chinese build (they have plans for 100 new ones up to 2030, and maybe triple that), it means a coal plant that doesn’t have to be built. Better yet, it means they can phase out coal. There is absolutely no reason why the rest of the world can’t do this as well (and in fact, the rest of the world is doing everything it can to get away from fossil fuel electrical generation).

What Dave didn’t mention is that all clean-coal technology is based on forced oxygen injection into the fluidised coal. Nothing wrong with this (it also helps reduce NOx pollution). But what is less widely known, and why the BCA is so hot on this, is that the amount of coal then burned per megawatt of power produced goes up from 10% to 20%.

What does this mean? It means that more CO2 has to be dealt with and disposed of (no solutions there yet, by the way). It means that more particulate (the big killer everywhere) and more coal ash (radioactive, enough for the Chinese to put money into mining it for uranium) out in the environment.

We simply don’t need to do this. It’s a political decision to build and implement non-carbon electrical production. As socialists, we have an obligation to integrate remaining workforces that are involved in current carbon production (coalminers, power plant workers) into a new non-carbon infrastructure - nuclear plants, wind, tidal or whatever - and defend all this against privatisation. But coal has got to go, and it can go, if we battle against reactionary ways of thinking - ‘Small is beautiful’, ‘Back to the land; we should all be peasants’ - of some green currents out there.

Coal error
Coal error