Wednesday, 29 December 2010

New hope for socialist advance in 2011
While 2010 was a horrendous year in so many ways, 2011 presents the Left with new hopes and opportunities. We can draw succour from the fact that the time has never been better for a revival of socialist ideas and renewing our vision of a socialist society. This new opportunity is also being noted and commented on by a number of leading thinkers.

Capitalism is going through the sort of fundamental crisis that Marx and Engels predicted and which they were deeply convinced would usher in socialism. Only through a massive and unprecedented rescue of the world’s banking system could the ruling class temporarily prevent global capitalism from tipping over the brink. With outrageous impertinence they are now attempting to make working people pay for rescuing them from a catastrophe instigated by the bankers and their political helots.

2011 will undoubtedly be another difficult year, but it is also pregnant with opportunity for meaningful struggle and holds the promise of real revolutionary change. The anti-austerity demonstrations in many countries and now students taking action are merely precursors of intensified mass action in the coming year.

If the Left is to have any real input and provide leadership in this coming struggle. It should also use this time for reflection and reassessment of deeply held shibboleths in order to avoid missing opportunities, drawing false historical parallels or misinterpreting and miscalculating the forces for change.

With the virtual implosion of the financial system, here in Britain we are facing the dismantling of the welfare state, and could be forgiven for thinking we are threatened with a return to 19th century values. For the first time in the post-war period, as a population, we face a real reduction in living standards, the returning fear of job insecurity, homelessness and poverty. Globally, we face an apocalyptical environmental catastrophe with global warming, large geographical shifts of people, population growth and diminishing raw materials. As individuals we face increasing alienation in our jobs and in society, where communities have been destroyed and continuous labour mobility is demanded. On top of that, we are witnessing a tectonic shift in global economic power towards countries like China, India and Brazil which will have an even more serious impact on jobs and living standards, with unforeseeable consequences. In Britain we have enjoyed privileges based on our colonial and imperialist past. With the export of manufacturing and jobs elsewhere, those days are over, and working people now face draconian attacks that have already been flagged up by the present government..

The need for a rethink
It is perhaps, on reflection, no surprise that socialism in the Soviet Union collapsed. Marx and Engels themselves, towards the end of the 19th century, were very reluctant to recognise a revolutionary potential there and even when Engels was persuaded that there was (Marx was already dead), he was sceptical of the outcome because he knew that a highly developed capitalist system was essential before socialism could be successfully constructed.

Many of us who lived through the colonial liberation movement of the sixties onwards and witnessed the liberation of one country after another by nationalist and socialist leaders were convinced that these countries would go on to build successful socialist societies. (The consensus of the world’s communist parties then was that national liberation struggles would lead almost automatically to socialist transformation). That vision and those hopes have been thrown back in our faces. Today, particularly in Africa, we see only internecine wars, ingrained corruption on an unimaginable scale and an almost total destruction of social infrastructures.

Although Marx, and later Lenin, recognised clearly that finance capital would eventually become predominant in any capitalist system, they couldn’t have foreseen how the enormous expansion of speculative activities, at the expense of productive activities, have diminished the relative weight of real economy and seriously eroded national sovereignty. This in itself makes nation-based protest and struggle more difficult than ever.

The changing face of the proletariat
Conditions in Britain today are, of course, very different from those when Marx and Engels developed their theories. The proletariat they described as the revolutionary force that would usher in socialism exists no longer – it has shifted to China, India and other industrially previously under-developed countries. We no longer have a large and recognisable middle class either. Apart from the few very wealthy, 90% of us earn a wage, experience job insecurity and a degree of workplace alienation. Of course some earn very good wages and some are poorly paid, but all of us in this group are subject to the same mechanisms of the system. We won’t all think of ourselves as ‘workers’ but that’s what we are. That is why even traditional ‘white collar’ sections and higher status professionals in society find themselves taking strike action, picketing and fighting to protect their working conditions and jobs. This has led to a gradual ‘quasi-proletarianisation’ of increasing numbers of wage- and salary-earners. As a consequence of these changes, the 19th century concepts of working class and middle class, in a British context, are no longer particularly useful as differentiating factors, or in helping us understand how society works. Even the strong cultural differences that separated and identified these classes in the past have now largely disappeared. Across the class divides people watch X-factor and Strictly Come Dancing; young people go to the same discos and clubs, listen to the same popular music and buy clothing from the same chains; social differences are now mainly ones relating to income differentials.

In the absence of real industrial communities, very often, today, ‘working class’ is used to refer to those marginalised by the system, the neglected and forgotten in the old industrial centres and those ghettoised on council estates. While it is important to include such people in our struggle for justice, we must realise that they are not the mainstream and are hardly potential revolutionary forces. We have to stop identifying overwhelmingly with the dispossessed, the marginalised and extremely poor. It is essential that we focus on, and try and win over, those in the mainstream, often in well-paid jobs, who are becoming aware of the increasing threats to their own lives and welfare and will be looking for trade union support and allies.

These changes need to be reflected in our thinking, our analysis of society and our proposals for progressive change. We can no longer seek ideological refuge in repeating the mantra of the revolutionary potential of the ‘working class’, without better defining what it is and what we mean by it. By continuing to over-emphasise the role of the industrial working class (now hardly existent in the UK) in this way, potential allies and supporters who don’t see themselves as proletarian become alienated and feel excluded from the struggle; and many of these people may be very progressive, active trade unionists and even socialists.

New world forces
We are also seeing the seemingly impossible and contradictory situation of China, led by a communist party, overseeing a capitalist expansion on an unprecedented scale. Something no one would have thought possible on either side of the ideological divide in the past. How do we explain that? How can we interpret it? There is nothing that I know of in mainstream Marxist theory to begin to explain such a development.
Then, in Latin America we have progressive and socialist governments attempting to build socialist societies, but on a base that was scarcely developed in terms of industrialisation or civil democracy (hopefully we won’t see a reprise there of what has already happened in Africa).

In addition to the economic challenges, we are also facing a world increasingly divided more by religion than class. The rise of fundamentalist Islam in the East and Middle-East has filled the vacuum left by the communist parties and secular national liberation movements and is seen by the masses in those impoverished and war-ravaged areas as the revolutionary force to combat western domination and the imposition of capitalist values.

The severe impoverishment of many countries as a direct result of imperialist rapacity has also led to an increase in mass migration which is destabilising many countries and seen as a potential threat to the social stability of many western capitalist nations, which are now erecting walls to keep out those seeking an escape from poverty and injustice. All this has intensified the contradictions and conflicts, with the dominant capitalist forces prepared to resort to violence and localised wars to contain the problems and suppress any forces opposed to them.
In this context, we also have to recognise that, despite all the positive potential, on the level of consciousness and ideology, this crisis also provides a fertile ground for the revival of extremism (racism, chauvinism and religious fundamentalism). There is a big potential for developing protest movements that take on anti-capitalist content, but there are also ideological and political challenges that face every effort to achieve the necessary alliances and unite the diverse strands in a coherent current that will become effective in opposing the retrogressive demands made by imperialism and take society forward to socialism.
It is the job of the Left to ensure that the right wing is prevented from capitalising on the increased fears, alienation and wider social breakdown. It can be done, but only if we are able to build and maintain a unity on the Left and develop clear and attainable goals, jettison the anachronistic ideological baggage of the past, hold on to that which is still useful and prepare to adapt our thinking and tactics to the new realities, rather than refight old battles. Let’s make 2011 the year of socialist renewal.
If He Hollers Let Him Go
By Chester Himes
Pubs. Serpent Tail Books
Pbck £7.99
Pps 259

Himes was one of the leading black writers of his generation and this, his first novel, was first published in 1945. He is, though, most famous for his series of Harlem-based detective stories. Growing up during the first half of the twentieth century he experienced the unremitting hatred and discrimination of blacks in his native country. This novel takes place over several days in the life of a young, black shipyard worker in California whose anger, outrage and a determination to take revenge on those oppressing him bursts onto the page like molten lava. Bob Jones, the hero, is a skilled ‘leaderman’ on the docks, but is slowly destroyed by the daily humiliations, degradation and even violence meted out by the whites he encounters. The claustrophobic situation makes him respond with violence too, an expression of the hatred that eats away inside him. Today the book won’t have the same shock value that it no doubt had then, but Himes’ direct and vivid, everyday language lends it a raw validity, turning it onto a compulsive read. It has the quality of a Greek tragedy in which the terrible fate of the hero is a foregone conclusion. For a black man in 40s USA there were two choices: submit to slavery or fight it head on.

As a black male, Himes would never find true recognition for his writing in the USA, In the 1950s, he emigrated and settled in France permanently, a country he liked in part due to his popularity in literary circles. There, Himes' fitted easily into the expat community that included fellow black artists like the communist political cartoonist Ollie Harrington and writer Richard Wright, as well as James Baldwin. An interesting essay is appended in which Himes calls for a Communist world revolution.
The Comrade from Milan
By Rossana Rossanda
Pubs Verso
Hdbck £29.99
400 pages

Rossana Rossanda, now in her eighties, was a leading Italian communist for over half a century. She was expelled from the party in 1969 because of her opposition to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. She went on to found the renowned Italian left newspaper Il Manifesto and has been a regular contributor to New Left Review.
Born into an impoverished lower middle class family in the 1920s on the Italian-Yugoslav border, she grew up in a protective and apolitical family and politics only entered her life during her university studies and, in 1943, she joined the underground Italian resistance to fascism. After the war she worked in many positions in the party, and rose to become a member of its central committee.

Her autobiography is a history of those turbulent times in Italy, a vivid portrayal; of the communist movement and at the same time, but more importantly, an interrogation of her own past in the context of that wider historical tapestry. However she doesn’t use a broad brush but filters this process through her own personal experience. As a convinced communist she is understandably more concerned with the mistakes and weaknesses of the movement than dealing with the machinations and political tactics of the movement’s opponents. Thus many sentences are questions, rather than answers.

The Italian party tried to steer its own course. As the largest western communist party it was on the threshold of power for over 40 years; only the machinations of the Catholic Church and USA prevented the party forming a government. The party’s powereful position and strength made it almost part of the establishment and this, in the end, led to a certain complacency and accommodation with the status quo. The party also refused to submit to Moscow’s centralised control and hegemony, albeit behind the scenes. She underlines how the Italian Communist Party was undoubtedly a strong democratising force in post-war Italy, and was also instrumental in drawing up the new post-fascist constitution.

Rossana addresses issues that every politically-engaged person has to face: how far am I responsible for what happens in my lifetime? ‘The dividing line between what we are and what we are made into,’ she writes, ‘is very thin.’
She asks herself how she could have been ignorant of or ignored what was happening in the Soviet Union under Stalin, the Czech show trials and the Hungarian uprising.

During the fascist period and throughout the whole latter half of the twentieth century, life was messy, not black and white, there were few genuine heroes – factors undoubtedly true for any historical period. But, she writes, at that time the communists stood out: ‘Being a communist meant belonging to the most resolute party’.

She says, of her decision to join and stay with the communists: ‘They were the only ones who rejected the inevitability of inhuman behaviour’. Her own humanity and genuine identifiaction with working people shimmers through this honest account. It is an informative, provocative and fascinating read, as well as a valuabel contribution to the hsitory of the communist movement. The translation, too, is excellent, although there are instances of mis-translation and sloppy editing which can sometimes lead to confusion.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Letter to Guardian on misuse of langauge by USA (not published)
20 December 2010

Dear Sir

So, ‘WikLeaks founder is high-tech terrorist,’ says Biden (Guardian 20 December). Even by the most elastic definition, ‘terrorism’ involves the imposition of extreme fear on a person or population, through the threat of dire consequences and violence. By no stretch of the imagination can the release of confidential diplomatic exchanges be construed in this way. Biden’s comments are another irresponsible attempt by the US to conceal its anti-humanitarian policies, along with its use of other Orwellian terms like ‘extraordinary rendition’ for illegal kidnapping, ‘coercive counterintelligency’ for torture and ‘humanitarian intervention’ for the invasion of other countries etc. Bernard Shaw memorably said that the USA and Britain were two nations divided by a common language, and that has never been truer. But, what is even more serious is that we are now divided by our concepts of morality.
Unpublished letter to Guardian after its attack on Unite Gen Sec Len McCluskey

Dear Sir

The Guardian leader (Leading Nowhere 20 Dec. 2010) compares Unite’s newly elected General Secretary, Len McClusky with being ‘like the Bourbons who have learned nothing and forgotten everything’. A more appropriate historical comparison would be of the leader writer with Neville Chamberlain who thought he could appease a determined, ideologically-motivated dictator. How does the Guardian propose that trade unions and the many ordinary people should fight the present draconian cuts that were singularly absent in the coalition parties’ manifestos? With a trade union movement more shackled by restrictive legislation than any other in the western world, outside the USA and the immediate threat of thousands losing their jobs, a roof over their head and many other financial blows, a wait-and-see attitude by the trade unions would be to to submit.

In McClusky Britain has a trade union leader prepared to work with others to seriously challenge government policies that have not been approved by the electorate and if fully implemented threaten to destroy what is left of the social fabric of this country after Thatcher’s onslaught.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

WikiLeaks – champion of the truth
The release of 251, 287 United States embassy cables by WikiLeaks is the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The documents are giving people around the world an unprecedented insight into the policies and activities abroad of the US government. WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. The cables, which date from 1966 up until the end of February this year, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington.
Unbelievably a lone, lowly-ranked US soldier - Private First Class Bradley Manning – pretended to sing along to Lady Gaga songs while downloading thousands of classified documents from military computers. He was then able to pass these on to WikiLeaks. He was an intelligence analyst, and had access to an amazing amount of sensitive data.
According to friends, Manning was frustrated because of a career that he perceived was in a rut as well as with his personal life. Manning—who grew up in Oklahoma and then moved to Wales as a teenager — reportedly was teased and bullied at school because of his sexuality. However, his prime motivation seems to have been altruistic; he asked for no financial reward for the information. After reading some of these documents he felt so strongly that they should be in the public domain and so decided to leak them.
Despite the incandescent rage in Washington, the documents don’t reveal anything that could really endanger people’s lives or national security. What they do, though, is to show up the duplicity and cynical subterfuge of leading politicians and governments. The fact that Putin’s Russia is largely run by a business mafia or that there is widespread worry about Pakistan’s nuclear programme and that the country’s security services have close links to the Taliban are hardly revelatory. The documents also reveal that the spineless British government bowed to US pressure to let it keep its cluster bombs on British territory despite an Act of Parliamentary banning them. And it reveals the political interference of Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, despite his supposed political neutrality. OK, not earth-shattering titbits; in fact only items of high-level gossip, but highly damaging nevertheless to the ruling elites.
WikiLeaks’ founder, the Australian Julian Assange, has now been put on Interpol’s ‘most wanted’ list as a result of his publishing these documents. Coincidentally, he is also wanted in Sweden on a probably trumped up charge of rape. Freedom of information is clearly not meant to be taken seriously, particularly, in the USA, the land of freedom, where the WikiLeaks site, hosted by Amazon, has now been removed from the web as a result of pressure from the administration. But Amazon now faces a backlash from free speech campaigners, who say it should be punished with a boycott at what is its busiest trading period of the year. There is also a demand by backwoodsmen in the Republican Party for Assange to be executed for treason.
Only a short while ago WikiLeaks was lauded as a beacon of freedom. It won a number of awards, including the 2008 Economist New Media Award In June 2009, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange won an Amnesty International’s UK Media Award for its 2008 publication, Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances, about police killings in Kenya. In May this year, the New York Daily News listed WikiLeaks first in a ranking of ‘websites that could totally change the news’, and it’s certainly done that.
In April 2010, WikiLeaks posted video of an incident in 2007 in which Iraqi civilians were killed by US forces. In July of the same year, it released Afghan War Diary, a compilation of more than 76,900 documents about the war there. In October, the group released a package of almost 400,000 documents called ‘Iraq War Logs’ in coordination with major media organisations. It is no wonder the US government is after his scalp.
Julian Assange is now in hiding in Britain and the demands by the USA for his extradition should be vehemently rejected. Far from being a criminal, he should be celebrated as a most courageous journalist and publisher, more deserving of a Nobel Prize than being put in jail. He has done more to disclose the obsessive secretivity of governments and the blatant distortion of the truth by mainstream media. It is essential for everyone who values truth and openness to defend Assange and WikiLeaks from the bloodhounds now salivating for the kill.
Contribution to Compass/New Statesman debate on the way forward
This is a very useful contribution to the ongoing debate about the way out of the crisis. But I feel, in suggesting solutions, it falls short of what is needed. The term socialism, like communism, has been so degraded and misused during the last and present centuries, that even adding the prefix ‘New’ (also a term that has been thoroughly eroded) can hardly save it. Socialism does need a redefinition, but Harris and Lawson seem to be using it as a synonym for ‘Social Democracy’. If it has to have meaning at all it has to be defined in contradistinction to capitalism not as capitalism with a human face. Any attempt to ‘manage’ or ‘regulate’ capitalism is doomed to failure as past experience has clearly shown, even if amelioration of the system’s raw brutality can be achieved, it is always only temporary.
Capitalism in its present guise is supra- and trans-national and involves interests more powerful than the world has ever experienced. These powerful interests are able to buy up governments and corrupt peoples with ease. Only by neutralising these powerful individuals and companies and restoring some form of national autonomy, will we be able to begin rebuilding our societies along more just, egalitarian and sustainable lines.
As the recent upsurge of opposition to the cuts has shown, there are many people out there, including the ‘self-centred and solipsistic’ youth, who are willing to actively oppose government cuts.
The Labour Party is impotent at present because its policies were and are only slightly less draconian than those of the Con-Dems. What is not being addressed is the deeper underlying reasons for the present chronic illness of capitalism because, as the authors say, there is also a lack of intellectual debate and an understanding of the mechanisms of economics and social change.
I completely agree with the two authors that any idea of a rerun of a party-imposed or top-down form of socialism is a non-starter. I also feel that any idea of the state playing a leading role in any transformation is misguided, although it will have to play a contributory role in the interim.
I welcome this debate, but it needs to be widened to involve left intellectuals, trade unions and other Left and Green parties.

See my recent interview with Prof. Eric Swyngedouw on the idea of resuscitating the ‘hypothesis of communism’:

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Tea Party phenomenon

The recent mid-term elections in the USA were a predictable setback for the Obama administration, but what has been the most significant aspect has been the rise of the Tea Party. This supposedly grass-roots organisation has been ridiculed by the Left and a number of its leading lights lampooned as clowns, but it deserves to be taken more seriously. I know we are in a completely different historical context, but its rise, not disimilar to that of its less dangerous UKIP counterpart here, has resonances with the rise of Hitler ad the fascists in Germany.
Hitler and his nutters were also seen as extremist outsiders to begin with, but with a deepening economic crisis and a bankrupt political system, the ruling elite soon tunred to the nazis as saviours.

Today we are in a similar situation. The world capitalist economy is in total disarray and the future highly uncertain. The general public has lost faith in traditional parties. However, rather than directing their ire at the capitalist system itself, the business-owned media has cleverly manipulated opinion and diverted blame to individuals and governments. So we blame Brown or Obama and ‘big government’. This lets the real cuplrits – the banks and multi-national conglomerates – off the hook.

In the USA, Fox News’s extremist anchor man, Glenn Beck recently made the same comparison, saying that the current situation is similar that of the Weimar Republic in Germany. He said he had spoken with his ‘deep throat’ in the White House and this guy told him: "Glenn, everybody I know is reading about the Weimar Republic.” He said, “the money that is being pumped in is staggering and I don't know how we'll ever pull that money back." He added, “we're all reading the Weimar Republic”.

Mark Fisher in his must-read book, 'Capitalist Realism – is there no alterntive?' explains very clearly how the ruling class has been able to shift blame from the capitalist system onto government. How it is also manipulting the war on terror and whipping up fear of outside terrorists to divert attention from the real economic terrorositrs who threaten our planet.

The Tea Party movement is known as the tea party because members compare themselves to American colonists who revolted in a tax dispute with Britain in 1773 and emptied barrels of tea from British ships into Boston Harbour rather than pay taxes on it. This is a very populist image, harking back to US founding history.
But the modern Tea Party is far removed from the popular, grass-roots uprising that it is portrayed by the media. It is a movement motivated by hate, fear and prejudice. Its racist and vitriolic hatred of a black president also underpins those feelings.

How has this ‘grass-roots’ movement grown so quickly and how is it financed? The money to support Tea party candidates, Jane Mayer (New Yorker magazine) and others report, comes through such conservative organizations as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks is a conservative group led by former House Republican leader Richard Armey. Armey’s group has its own influential network, and has supported Tea Party candidates. FreedomWorks is is a top down organization, based in Washington – hardly grass roots.

The Christian Science Monitor says: ‘The tea party movement may have all the appearance of being genuinely grassroots, but just beneath the surface are professional fund-raisers, foundations, and political action committees – some of which have been around for years – pushing a conservative-libertarian agenda.’
In the recent investigative report in the New Yorker magazine, quoted above, Jane Mayer details the links between billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and the tea party movement. She writes:
"By giving money to 'educate,' fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, 'The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who [care] about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.' With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, 'everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there – people who can provide real ideological power.' The Kochs, he said, are 'trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.'"

Another major source of tea party funding is the Tea Party Express, which poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the successful GOP primary senate campaigns of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska. The Tea Party Express is a group formed by a long-time California Republican consultant that has raised more than $5 million and financed about $2 million in advertising to help candidates. The organization is an offshoot of a political action committee created to support John McCain’s Republican presidential run in 2008. The Tea Party Express is run by Sal Russo, a Republican fund raiser and public relations guru who began his career working for Reagan. Russo is also the chief strategist for “Our Country Deserves Better,” a political action committee (PAC) formed to defeat Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

“As a pivotal player in the ‘tea party’ movement, Russo has helped drive its cause by raising millions of dollars and crafting caustic ads about its opponents,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “There's no question that Tea Party Express, the political action committee Russo runs out of his Sacramento-based firm, is the advertising muscle behind the tea party insurgency.... As the only tea party group making significant advertising buys, Tea Party Express has become one of the most potent forces in the protest movement.”

Our Country Deserves Better, another right-wing organisation backing the Tea Party, launched the first Tea Party Express bus tour last year, and raised and spent just over $1 million in the 2008 campaign year. So far in 2010, it’s raised and spent more than $5 million. Large chunks of that went to the GOP primary campaigns of tea party favorites Christine O’Donnell ($237,000) and Joe Miller (nearly $600,000).
So much political funding in the US comes from anonymous donors or is channelled through innocuous-sounding organisations. The problem for those trying to ferret out where the money comes from – and for Obama and Democrats as they seek to toughen campaign finance reporting in the wake of the Citizens United court decision – is that it’s getting harder to do so.

“Federal campaign spending by groups other than candidates and parties in this election cycle has far outpaced similar spending from the last mid-term election and could rival the 2008 presidential campaign,” the New York Times reports. “But with recent decisions by the Supreme Court and the Federal Elections Commission, it has become harder to know whose dollars they are.”

The reason the Tea Party has been even more successful in the USA than UKIP here is that the economic crisis is much deeper in the USA and the election of a progressive black president has put frighteners on the business elite and red-neck sections of the population. This elite has found it quite easy to tap into the fears and prejudices of ordinary Americans, particularly the disaffected, poor working class and small business people. The parallels with pre-Hitler Germany are alarming.
Looking For The Grave Of Garcia Lorca
release date: Oct 2010
Label: Vida
EGEA Distribution in association with Spitz Records.
Looking for the Grave of Garcia Lorca is the latest album by London-based singer-song-writer Joe Wilkes, and dedicated to the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, killed by Franco’s fascists during the Civil War in 1936. Wilkes is a great admirer of his poetry and clearly his politics too.

Wilkes is an accomplished acoustic guitar player in the Bert Jansch mould and a gravelly-voiced troubadour. As you can hear from these songs, his politics are firmly Left, but he doesn’t use them as a vehicle for propaganda or political pamphlets. They are deeply personal and his politics only emerge, through the fissures, in the odd word or phrase.

It’s difficult to categorise Wilkes’s music – part blues, a dash of Dylan, part country/folk and, in its instrumental mix, has at times a chamber music or free jazz quality, but it all bears the unmistakable stamp of Joe Wilkes himself.

The title track - Looking for the Grave of Garcia Lorca – is hauntingly evocative: ‘you can’t hide the truth; it’ll come out in the rain’.

In Settling the Score the singer contemplates the legacy of Wat Tyler’s peasant revolt after visiting Blackheath and the song has the militant refrain: ‘What happened back then we’re going to see some more and next time we’ll settle the score’

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he sticks vehemently to acoustic instrumentation and aural under- rather than over-statement. When you read the amazing mix of instruments used on this album - organ, flute, oboe, cor Anglais, violin, viola, cello, harmonica, clarinet and sax as well as guitar – you image an almighty cacophony, but the players are all extremely competent and their interweaving so well mixed that it all comes together as a smooth texture, underlining and complementing the vocals. A cracking album.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Rise of the Green Left – inside the worldwide ecosocialist movement
By Derek Wall
Pubs. Pluto Press

The term ‘ecosocialist’ is a relatively new one. Today it might seem almost unnecessary to attach the ‘eco’ prefix as hardly anyone in the socialist movement can be unaware of the urgent ecological problems facing us. However, as we know to our cost from the past, many socialists believed the new system would triumph by producing more and outperforming capitalism in terms of industrial expansion and ‘taming’ nature. Few would think that way today.

Derek Wall, as a regular Star columnist, hardly needs any introduction as a clear and fervently committed socialist as well as environmental campaigner. Here he puts forward a compelling case for socialism but with an essential ecological core. He begins by defining what he means by ecosocialism and in doing so returns to Marx and Engels. He goes on to formulate an ecosocialist manifesto and outlines the challenges both socialists and environmental activists face in a world of globalised capitalism.

He answers those who ask: ‘why can’t we just be Green?’ and shows how almost any environmental initiative is only welcome to capitalism if it promises to generate profit and this corrupts what, in a different social context, would offer genuine progress. He points out that ‘ecosocialism is to a large extent also a battle over property rights.’ Under capitalism enormous, transnational corporations dominate national economies and lifestyles, and land ownership - still in the hands of a tiny minority – mean that democracy itself has become nothing but a withered fig-leaf.

Wall doesn’t shy away from criticising those Green Parties (as in Germany and Ireland) which have joined governments only to jettison many of their cherished principles in their embrace of a share of power and capitalism. He reiterates how it is impossible to be really Green if you don’t challenge capitalism itself.

In one chapter he gives a valuable and succinct overview of ecosocialist initiatives around the world, from Venezuela to New Zealand. He examines recent experiences in Latin America and the advances made there in terms of ecosocialism. Cuba’s agricultural system, he says, offers us an excellent example of where property is held in common, and where organic methods are widely used and recycling advanced.

He concludes his book with suggestions on what action needs to be taken to ensure that ecosocialism takes hold of the public imagination and how we can go about challenging the present power structures. He also lists a whole number of organisations which are involved in environmental/political campaigning. He points out that there is even already a Green-Socialist international: the Ecosocialist International Network, launched in 2007. He avoids getting bogged down in sectarian thinking on the left and steers a clear course between the various factions and parties without being over-cautious or timorous.
This is a slim book - Wall doesn’t believe in unnecessary prolixity - he makes his points clearly and succinctly. All in all, a very useful guide to where we are at in terms of environmental and socialist advance. It underlines once more the vital need for a broad alliance of the left and the Greens if we are to move forward.
A Painter of Our Time
By John Berger

Pbck £9.99

Berger’s classic portrait of an artist was first published in 1958 and Verso is to be congratulated for re-issuing it now, along with two other of his books: A Seventh Man and Corker’s Freedom.

This novel is written in the form of a posthumously discovered diary written by the émigré artist, Janos Lavin, with additional commentary by the author himself. Although a purely fictitious portrait it is closely modelled on Berger’s friend, the Hungarian-born artist Peter Peri. Of course socio-cultural novels like this are not unaffected by the passage of time, and Berger’s portrait is very much of the immediate post-war period. Then, hopes of fundamental social change were still very much alive, despite the devastating stories emerging from Stalin’s Soviet Union and the onset of the Cold War.

Janos Lavin is a Communist and painter who was involved in the establishment of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, but later forced to flee his homeland. He eventually settles in Britain and marries a middle-class English woman who has sufficient income to keep them from starving. Although not well off, the couple live a relatively comfortable, if very modest, existence. His safe and sheltered life gives Lavin a guilty conscience, as he knows that other comrades stayed behind to continue the struggle. His best friend becomes a government official in the post-war Hungarian Socialist Republic, only to fall foul of the Stalinist clampdown on artists considered dissidents. He struggles to come to terms with what he accepts as a necessary party discipline, but at the same time deplores the bloody sacrifices it seems to demand.

By cleverly reproducing selected entries from his fictitious diary, Berger weaves a clear but complex portrait of a man torn between active political intervention and dedication to his art. By placing a central European Communist in a western capitalist setting, he also draws out the conflict between honest dedication to ‘artistic truth’ and the pressures of the commercial art world and gallery culture, as well as the tug of political activism.

Lavin is a dedicated painter; it is in his blood. That’s what he needs to do and what he does best, but he is also only too aware that painting canvases won’t change the world and could even be considered as a cowardly opting out of the ‘real’ struggle. The novel raises questions and issues that are still valid today, about ‘truth’ in art, about its purpose, about abstraction versus realism and about the artist’s role in society. In that sense, it is as apposite today as it was in the fifties when Berger wrote it.

Everyone recognises that Lavin’s work is supremely competent, if not highly talented, but his paintings are often monumental and figurative, whereas the post-war trend in the West was towards total abstraction. Lavin is thus seen as quaintly old-fashioned. He, his wife and his friends know that he needs to show in the galleries if he is to sell and make a proper living, but he resists this with every sinew in his body. For him it means ‘selling out’, betraying his comrades. Berger’s perceptive descriptions of the gallery scene with its wealthy patrons and obsequious art critics are, however, as accurate today as they were then.

In the end Lavin does is offered an exhibition in an up-market gallery and even sells a number of his paintings to patrons who merely wish to decorate their mansions and, he feels, have no appreciation of what his art is about. He would have preferred commissions from factories, schools or public institutions. It is all too much for him. He leaves the gallery and very soon after disappears. The novel concludes with a letter sent by him to the author, in the form of a goodbye note, informing him that he is ‘going home’ to Hungary. What happens to him there is left to the imagination of the reader, but there is a possibility that he may have been killed by his erstwhile comrades, before the big post-Stalin thaw had begun, as all trace of him is lost.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Interview with Wu Ming
Wu Ming are at the moment undertaking a tour of Britain, to introduce audiences here to their unique story-telling technique and radical take on history. They agreed to talk to the Morning Star.

They have been characterised as a ‘mysterious guerrilla group of novelists’, but the two members sitting opposite me look far from mysterious and not at all warrior-like. Wu Ming 1 and Wu Ming 4 (they reject the celebrity cult built around novelists, preferring anonymity) dismiss the ‘mysterious’ tag, but don’t allow themselves to be photographed and emphasise that they dislike the idea of them and their work being mediated by others. They feel this would take away their right to have direct contact with their readers – something vitally important to them. Simply put: they want no limit placed on their public image.

What are their aims, other than to subvert the commercialised literary world, I ask. They reply, laconically, that their aim is simply to tell stories which they love doing. Yes, but your stories are not mainstream, I counter. ‘We write stories about conflict,’ they respond, ‘we look at the key turning points in history and focus on those. We are interested in modernity and how we arrived at the place in which we now find ourselves. So we are not concerned with ancient history but in the history that defines us today’.

‘We are attempting to draw a map of where our generation came from. We try to retell history from new perspectives, from uncanny angles. Thus in our novel ‘54’ we begin with a group of nightclub dancers obsessed with Cary Grant, but the novel examines the relationship between US and European politics. Our forthcoming novel, to be published in Britain shortly, is ‘Altai’ which looks at Europe’s relationship with Islam, based during the historical period of the huge clash between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe from the 13th century onwards, but written from the point of view of the Turks.’

How far are your novels fictional and how far fact-based, I ask.
Wu Ming 1 uses a vivid metaphor. ‘If you think of history as a big piece of Gruyère cheese, where the solid cheese is the history that has been documented, and the holes are the gaps in the narrative, then we squeeze our fictional elements into those holes; we try and illuminate those dark spots.’

Writing is usually a solitary and individual undertaking, so how does the Wu Ming collective work?
‘We have no fixed method,’ Wu Ming 1 tells me, ‘but a subject or period of history is suggested and, once agreed, we discuss it and then undertake an enormous amount of research so that we gain a great deal of knowledge about the subject matter we wish to examine. We begin with what we call ‘lumps’ of narrative matter and once we have enough we develop an outline fro the story. Each of us then writes a chapter which is circulated, altered, added to and changed. The first draft is very free and each of us adopts his chosen style in complete freedom, but a more homogenous style emerges as the drafts develop and evolve.’

Wu Ming describe the process as incredibly exhilarating and emancipatory. Rather than each being stuck in their own ivory tower, ‘like a prisoner in solitary confinement, we experience the joy of writing together’, they say. ‘Being on the road together, we are like kids again, enjoying the childish naivety of making up stories, but it is also hard work. There is a lot of fun, and we learn from each other, grow together. Each novel teaches us something new’.

So what’s the downside of working collectively? ‘The fact that we only get a quarter of the royalties we would get as an individual writer,’ they reply sardonically.

What is also unusual in their methods of working is that they actively promote the use of the internet to interact with their readers. They are not interested in appearing on TV talk shows or having their work mediated by others; they say the physical shared experience of interacting with their readers is vital for them. They attend more than a hundred such events each year. On their website, through their blogs and twitter they communicate with their readers and encourage the latter to get involved in the creative process. So what does that involve? ‘We get hundreds of emails each day, readers send us ideas or their own short stories and comments, even cartoons or pieces of music which they feel could complement or accompany our stories. We have also involved readers as narrators with mixed results, but now readers are doing things by themselves, ‘they say.

Wu Ming have certainly made a deep impact on the cosy world of modern literature with their unusual hybrid brand of popular novel cum historical epic. They offer a radically new perspective on history and on the art of story-telling itself. Once can only hope that British readers are as fascinated by their books as their Italian compatriots already are.

Do they really feel that their approach to novel writing can really have an impact on the commercially-dominated literary world, characterised by celebrity culture? ‘We don’t know,’ they reply, ‘but ethically we have a duty to counter the current trivialisation of everything. We feel like tightrope walkers, constantly trying to find a balance between popular fiction and more demanding literature, and it is very difficult to maintain that equilibrium.

Who is/are Wu Ming?
Wu Ming (‘anonymous’ in English) is a collective of four left wing radical Italian authors, based in Bologna. They grew out of the Luther Blisset Project (named after a black British footballer), which was, as they explain it, a ‘cultural guerrilla’ exercise. The collective’s first novel Q, was a historical spy novel set in the period of the Reformation, and became a best-seller. It is about the Radical Reformation, asking why Müntzer has inspired radicals for almost 500 years. Their third novel Manituana focuses on the US war of independence seen through the eyes of the Iroquois nation which was almost eradicated by the colonial and imperial struggles.

Wu Ming explain that their work is an attempt to demystify authorship, to subvert the cult of the celebrity author and a consumerist attitude to literature. They are also trying to bridge the gap between popular fiction and serious literature. ‘Our books,’ they say, ‘are readable on two levels: as complex political allegories, and as pulp fiction or adventure novels.’

Wu Ming encourages a ‘communitarian’ use of the internet and their official website: provides more information about them and their novels and gives links to their other sites. It enables the worlds of their novels to be enriched and expanded, offering background information and invitations for fans to make their own contributions.

Books by Wu Ming published in English so far are: Q, 54 and Manituana, all published by Verso.


Thursday, 30 September 2010

Rethinking Communism for the 21st Century
With the increasing realisation that capitalism cannot solve the world’s problems, there has been a resurgence of interest in the concepts of justice, equality and, yes, even the taboo one of ‘communism’. With books like The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett and Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists by Daniel Dorling we are seeing more and more intellectuals questioning the basis of the present system. In 2009 over 1000 people came together in London to attend a sell-out conference on “The Idea of Communism”.
The title of Prof. Swyngedouw’s recent paper published in the radical geography magazine, Antipode, is perhaps a little off-putting: The Communist hypothesis and revolutionary capitalisms: exploring the idea of communist geographies for the twenty-first century. It is an academic paper and not intended for a wider audience. However, what is surprising and significant is that here we have a mainstream academic – a professor of geography at Manchester University - calling for a revival of the “communist idea”.

His paper begins with the words: ‘This essay starts from the presumption that “the communist hypothesis” is still a good one…’ He goes on to argue that ‘the idea of communism requires urgent rethinking in the light of both the “obscure” disaster of twentieth century really existing socialism and the specific conditions of twenty-first century capitalism.’
Like fellow iconoclastic academic, Slavoj Zizek, he argues that we need to look again at the idea of a communist society as a viable alternative to a capitalism that is intellectually as well as in practice bankrupt. He agreed to explain the ideas underlying his paper to Morning Star readers.
He says that the persistent outlawing of the name “communism” and its erasure from the pages of self-respecting journals over the past two decades has been so effective that even its utterance is looked upon with suspicion and distrust.
So why has he decided to utter it at this time?
He says that since the student rebellions of 1968 even the study of geography became radicalised and more academics realised that politics and economics also take place in specific geographical contexts and couldn’t be ignored.
‘In an age in which anything and everything can be discussed,’ he says ‘the very idea of communism as a positive injunction seems to have been censored and scripted out of both everyday and intellectual vocabularies. It is only tolerated in sensationalised accounts of the “obscure disaster” of twentieth century “really existing socialism”, or in romanticised Hollywood renditions of communist heroes like Che Guevara.’ He talks about the “obscure” disaster of 20th century communism because, he argues, the neo-liberals have only condemned it in its totality, as a dystopia, and the left hasn’t undertaken a proper critique of the experience. Although we have to learn from that experience, he is adamant that we have to completely rethink the concept of communism in the light of the profound changes that have taken place in capitalism itself and the imminent threats to our environment and indeed life itself.
What does “communism” signify for him, I want to know?
Swyngedouw sees equality and democracy as the central concepts that define communism; communism without them is a contradiction in terms. He argues that these principles can only be achieved through self-organisation and self-management. He sees no roles for a coercive state or a ‘leading’ party.
He argues, perhaps controversially, ‘that the key markers of twentieth century communist politics – state, party and proletariat – require a radical reworking. I would insist,’ he says, ‘that neither state nor the party are any longer of use to think the communist hypothesis.’ He doesn’t deny that the state and political parties have roles to play, but they cannot be the main actors or means to achieving communism he insists.
‘The idea of communism retains a subversive edge,’ he notes, ‘and in spite of the failed experiments it still evokes the idea that a different world is not only imaginable but is also practically possible. But it must be a communism that is egalitarian and allows the self-development of each, and then it will retain its great mobilising potential. To work towards such a goal, political organisation needs to be rethought.’
So how can we rethink communism for the twenty-first century, I ask?
‘The communist idea is nothing,’ he says, ‘without the will to do something new, without the will to become political subject ie as an individual acting upon and transforming our environment. The majority of people,’ he argues, ‘are unhappy with the present situation and want change, but are not sure how to go about achieving the changes they desire, because they are told over and over again that capitalist neo-liberalism is the only option.’
‘While we need to come to terms with the disaster of twentieth century communism, it is also necessary,’ he emphasises, ‘to undertake a critique of the repressive state capitalism in “the West”. Capitalism,’ he says, ‘reinvented itself in the seventies and recaptured the imagination of the majority – capitalism could deliver material wealth and well-being. Many lost hope; there was no political controversy and neo-liberalism appeared to be the only show in town. Conservative restraint was replaced by the imperative to enjoy. Liberation was experienced as the search for surplus value as well as surplus enjoyment. Political equality faded as a central concern; demands for equality became defined as the equality of difference, and justice became the right to enjoy one’s own individual freedom. Democracy itself became synonymous with the freedom to exercise individual choice, and consuming became the highest freedom; market equality replacing political equality.’
He maintains that neo-liberalism also ‘wiped out working class politics’. The triumph of neo-liberalism represented ruling class victory. This victory has also been accompanied by the tactics of de-politicisation of the people with the media now so concentrated and providing a basic fare of triviality and non-political gossip alongside the cultivation of fear.
He quotes Marx on the domination of capitalism by the financial sector and argues that capitalism’s resurgence is closely connected with the geographical transfer of basic exploitation to regions like SE Asia, but also the privatisation of the environment, water, gene pools, minerals and intellectual property. However, with the recent collapse of the banking system the whole edifice of capitalism was threatened with collapse. Only unprecedented state intervention, characterised by Newsweek as: ‘we are all socialists now’ has temporarily saved it.
‘In the final decades of the twentieth century industrial labour lost its hegemony in the “North” and,’ he says, ‘in its stead “immaterial labour” emerged, ie labour that creates immaterial “wares” like knowledge, information software, communication resources etc. Industrial labour has been transferred elsewhere, and it is there where new industrial (class) struggles are emerging and will intensify. In the global “North” new forms of struggle will and are emerging which do not revolve around ownership of the means of production but directly around the ownership of the products of this immaterial labour, as we have seen in the battles over free downloads and access to internet resources.’
He doesn’t see democracy – as so often narrowly defined in the West, as a set of political institutions and their associated political procedures, such as ‘free’ elections – as the solution, but argues that it must be a democracy that involves everyone participating in society on an equal basis. Equality, he stresses, is the very premise on which a democratic politics has to be based. However, he stresses, political democracy is not about expressing demands to an elite to rectify injustice, but in conquering freedom and equality for ourselves. For Swyngedouw this means that the ‘place of power is kept structurally vacant’ ie power remains with the people and is not vested in or ‘handed over’ to some representative body or individual. He envisions a situation where the state is replaced by self-organisation and self-management. He says the very name of communism invokes the egalitarian concept of ‘being in common’ and this includes the idea of the ‘commons’ ie that all natural resources, including land, and indeed life itself, belongs to us collectively and should be collectively stewarded. We need to think beyond resistance towards transformation. He sees the communist idea as a transformation of the commons. This, of course, raises vital questions of property relations in respect to common resources.
‘The key task,’ he finally underlines ‘is to rethink communism again and this will require serious debate about what an equal, free and self-organising being-in-common for the twenty-first century might be all about. It will, he argues, ‘require a restoration of trust in our theories, a courageous engagement with painful histories and geographies, and, above all, abandoning the fear of failing again…There is no alternative!’, he stresses adamantly.
Prof. Swyngedouw’s essay is also available in the book: The Point is to Change It, edited by Castree N., Chatterton P., Heynen N., Larner W. and Wright M.W. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Secret Affairs – Britain’s collusion with radical Islam
by Mark Curtis
Pubs. Profile Books Ltd
Pbck. £12.99

Mark Curtis’s book should be on the book list of every educational institution’s history curriculum. In this detailed historical journey, he charts Britain’s intimate involvement in the promotion of Muslim individuals and Islamic states as tools for its own imperial ambitions. It used Islam in a blatant divide and rule tactic, from the time of the Raj onwards. Curtis amply demonstrates a continuous and intimate marriage of convenience between Britain and various Islamic forces over three centuries.

After Britain’s long-time support of the Ottoman Empire, as a bulwark against Tsarist Russia and to protect its East Indian trade routes, it soon sought alternative allies once the Turks had unexpectedly entered the First World War on the side of Germany. Britain then proceeded to find a suitable and subservient proxy from among the tribal groups of central Arabia. In the 1920s it found Ibn Saud as an ideal candidate for leadership and gave him sole control over Saudi Arabia which he proceeded to assert in one of the most bloody repressions the region had experienced, killing over 40,000 Arab tribesmen and women and amputating the limbs of 350,000 more. This led to the complete domination by the Saud family in the region to this day. It assured Britain of a steady flow of oil and the Saudi family complete support from Britain in the maintenance of its brutal ad obscurantist regime. It also led to the spread of the divisive and backward-looking faction of Islam called Wahabism (the founding ideology of modern jihad).

Throughout the region Britain has always propped up elements of the ruling classes against the democratic and nationalist aspirations of the people. Curtis provides a long list of such tactics from Egypt, Afghanistan and Persia to Turkmenistan. This history is little known and rarely discussed in historical circles. It will come as a surprise to many to see how Britain has meddled in Islamic affairs over such a long and continuous period. And, although it would be silly to blame Britain solely for the present resurgence of Islamic extremism or terrorism, it’s certainly not the innocent bystander it paints itself.

Britain has continuously covert support to Muslim guerrilla forces to counteract the spread of Soviet influence in Persia, Turkey and Afghanistan to Kosovo (does that sound like more recent history?).

Curtis concludes with the present day chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, showing how Britain and the USA are very much to blame for what unravelled there even before they chose to invade. He names those ‘heroic Afghani guerrilla leaders’ who fought Soviet forces, who were backed and armed by Britain and the USA, only to then set up the Taliban regime and become ‘the enemy’. Pakistan was also given massive military and financial support over many years as a bulwark against Soviet influence in the region and to counteract India – seen as pro-Soviet and unreliable. This policy and Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan has also contributed to the present political instability and violence there.

A fascinating, well written and researched book – a must read for anyone who wishes to better understand the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and Britain’s key role.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

In the prison industrial complex
Most of those even vaguely familiar with the size, scope and character of the US mass imprisonment scheme know that the US leads the world in incarceration, both in sheer numbers and per capita.
They know too that the US, with 6 per cent of the world's population, holds nearly a quarter - 24 per cent - of all the prisoners on earth.
As stunning and perhaps shocking as these figures are, they fail to adequately paint the full picture of what this project means in the lifescapes and hopes of millions of people in US ghettos where black and brown people dwell.
Indeed, truth be told, most black folks aren't even aware of this thing, because it is rarely discussed in public and rarely addressed in the corporate press.
With the recent publication of the work of a young black scholar, law professor Michelle Alexander, that may be changing.
Alexander's new book is ground-breaking in several respects - first in that she addresses the plague of mass incarceration and second in how she analyses the social and political ramifications of such a project.
In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colour-blindness (The New Press), Alexander places the present mass incarceration binge in its historical context, comparing it to the infamous post-civil war period, after the brief span known as reconstruction.
This era saw the rise of racist terrorism against blacks by such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, who were often composed of former Confederate troops, the denial of black voting rights and the institutionalisation of the black codes - laws which targeted blacks for behaviour such as insolence which were not criminal if committed by whites.
The creation of the convict lease system allowed the economic and political elites to exploit "free" black labour again - in essence to establish slavery in everything but name, with the blessing of the national government.
Alexander recounts that historical period to provide insight into the present, while over one million black men and women are imprisoned and millions more live cribbed, encumbered half-lives because they have a criminal conviction on their records.
What such a record means is that a person, even when "free," may not vote, can't live in public housing, can't receive a government grant for college studies and is barred from a growing range of the professions. In other words, as in the past, "free" doesn't mean free.
And as federal government grants to states in fields like education, transport and housing is driven by population, and most US prisons are situated in distant, rural and predominantly white districts, those areas acquire the benefits of their large black prison populations counted in the US census as "residents" of these regions, and urban districts lose such federal resources respectively.
Thus ghettos are not just depopulated but they are concomitantly deprived of resources to help make communities whole and healthy.
As discussed above, criminal convictions in most US states work to disqualify millions of people from voting for life.
What does such a disqualification mean in reality? In the pivotal US presidential election of 2000, George W Bush reportedly won Florida by fewer than 500 votes.
Without a win in Florida, Bush would've lost the presidential election. At least some 50,000 former felons in Florida were disqualified from voting and, as many of them were African-American, it's certainly a safe assumption that the vast majority of them, if able to vote, would have voted for the Democratic candidate.
If so, US history would've been dramatically transformed, and perhaps world history as well. Prof Alexander, writing of the impact of the mass incarceration project on black communities, notes: "The collapse of inner-city economies coincided with a conservative backlash against the civil rights movement, resulting in the perfect storm.
"Almost overnight, black men found themselves unnecessary to the American economy and demonised by the mainstream media.
"No longer needed to pick cotton in the fields or labour in factories, lower-class black men were hauled off to prison in droves. They were vilified in the media and condemned for their condition as part of a well-orchestrated political campaign to build a new white, Republican majority in the south.
"Decades later, curious onlookers in the grips of denial would wonder aloud: 'Where have all the Black men gone'?
"The prison industrial complex was the capitalisation of the incarceration nation. It marked the continuation of the grim era known as Jim Crow."
This article was written by Mumia Abu-Jamal exclusively for the German socialist youth paper Junge Welt and is reproduced here by its kind permission and that of the originating reporter Jurgen Heiser.
About Mumia Abu-Jamal
He was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. His trial was a farce and he was clearly framed because of his political activities. He has been described as "perhaps the best-known death row prisoner in the world" and his sentence is one of the most debated today.
Before his arrest he was a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP), an activist, part-time cab driver, journalist and broadcaster and became president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
Since his conviction, his case has received international attention and he has become a controversial cultural icon. During his imprisonment he has published several books and other commentaries, notably Live From Death Row.
In his own writings, Abu-Jamal describes his adolescent experience of being "kicked ... into the Black Panther Party" after suffering a beating from "white racists" and a policeman for his efforts to disrupt a 1968 presidential campaign rally for segregationist George Wallace.
Abu-Jamal lived in New York City and in Oakland, living and working with his BPP comrades. He was subject to FBI Contelpro surveillance during the '70s.
After leaving the Panthers he returned to his old high school, but he was suspended for distributing literature calling for "black revolutionary student power."
He also led protests to change the school name to Malcolm X High.
In 1999 Arnold Beverly claimed that he and an unnamed assailant, not Abu-Jamal, had shot Daniel Faulkner as part of a contract killing because Faulkner had been interfering with graft and pay-offs to corrupt police.
While in prison Abu-Jamal was engaged by National Public Radio to deliver a series of monthly three-minute commentaries on crime and punishment. The broadcast plans were cancelled following condemnations from the police force and right-wing senators. The commentaries later appeared in print in May 1995 as part of Live From Death Row.
With occasional interruptions due to prison disciplinary actions, Abu-Jamal has for many years been a regular commentator on an online broadcast, sponsored by Prison Radio, as well as a regular columnist for the German youth socialist paper Junge Welt.
In litigation before the US Court of Appeals in 1998 he successfully established his right to write for financial gain in prison. The same litigation also established that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections had illegally opened his mail in an attempt to establish whether he was writing for financial gain. When, for a brief time in August 1999, he began delivering his radio commentaries live on the Pacifica network's Democracy Now! weekday radio news magazine, prison staff severed the connecting wires of his telephone from their mounting in mid-performance.
His publications include Death Blossoms: Reflections From A Prisoner Of Conscience, in which he explores religious themes, All Things Censored, a political critique examining issues of crime and punishment, and We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party, which is a history of the Black Panthers drawing on autobiographical material.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Dias Lourenço –legendary leader of the anti-fascist struggle in Portugal

António Dias Lourenço the legendary Portuguese communist leader and editor the party’s paper, Avante!, died on 7 August in Lisbon at the age of 95.
He was born in the village of Vila Franca in 1915 and became a lathe operator, joining the party as a 17 year-old in 1932. Portugal was at the time suffering under the iron fist of fascist dictator Salazar – which would become the longest surviving fascist dictatorship in the World. Dias Lourenço was responsible for the illegal publication of the party paper Avante! from 1957 until 1962, under the dictatorship, and became its editor from the day of its first legal issue in 1974 until 1991.

He was imprisoned twice under Salazar in 1949 and in 1962 and spent 17 years in fascist prisons. He made a spectacular escape from the notorious prison fortress of Peniche in 1954. This damp and formidable medieval fortress, on the western coast, is lashed by the sea and from which it was believed impossible to escape. But Dias Lourenco managed to hide in the prison, before jumping off the high wall into the freezing Atlantic waters and swimming to safety. While in prison he was viciously tortured to reveal party secrets, but kept silent.

When I was filming in Portugal only a few months after the momentous 1974 April revolution, we made a portrait of Dias Lourenço for GDR television. We accompanied him to Peniche prison where he related his story. While filming in his old cell, now holding former fascist guards (in very liberal conditions I might add), he rushed out, feeling nauseous. We wondered what had happened and he told us that one of those guards was had been his torturer during his own incarceration.
He took an active part in the reorganisation of the party in 1940/41 in the area of the Baixo Ribatejo and was elected to the regional committee. From then on he led a life of clandestine political activity, responsible for party publications and their distribution. Together with the party’s general secretary, Alvaro Cuñhal and others, he was able to forge close links between the country’s progressive intellectuals and workers, thus building the party’s unique standing throughout the country and giving the anti-fascist struggle a broader base.
He was elected to the central committee in 1943 and remained until 1996. He was one of the chief organisers of the mass strikes of July and August in 1943 and in May of 1944. He also led the struggle for the eight-hour working day for agricultural workers.
António Dias Lourenço was elected a member of parliament after the revolution 1975-87. He also wrote several books about his experiences under fascism and in the party.
He was a man of incredible courage, passion and commitment. With an unassuming modesty and love for his country and its working people. He will be sorely missed by progressives in Portugal and internationally.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Injustice – why social inequality persists
By Daniel Dorling
Policy Press
Hdbck. £19.99

This book is a must read for all those looking for an evidence-based demolition of free-market capitalism. It is a fine complement to The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Wilkinson and Pickett. It is a combination of passion, compassion and astute factual argument.

Dorling, who is Professor of Human Geography at Sheffield University, argues that there are five tenets underpinning injustice in our society: elitism is efficient, exclusion is necessary, prejudice is natural, greed is good and despair inevitable. He amasses a whole gamut of compelling facts and statistics to make his case. These tenets were central to the Blairite agenda and Con-Dem agenda. Dorling provides us with one of the most incisive analysis of society’s ills to be published for a long time.

He argues that in affluent countries ‘social injustices are now being recreated, renewed and supported by new sets of beliefs which need confronting’. His central thesis is that inequalities in our society are more rampant than ever, despite our living in an era of labour saving technology, abundance and wealth. This fact, he says, demands a complete change in the thinking we all to some extent hold.

‘Greater equality is easily possible,’ he writes, ‘even in the US. In 1951 the communist-hating soon-to-be consumer society and nuclear-powered USA taxed the rich at 51.6% on earnings.’ Today the rate is between 10-30%, although Obama has recently undertaken a redistributive budget in an attempt to haul the country out of recession – only a year earlier an unimaginable step for a US government. Here in Britain, on the contrary, our government is doing the opposite.

Incredibly, ‘in countries like Britain people last lived lives as unequal as today, measured by wage inequality, in 1854 when Charles Dickens was writing Hard Times,’ he says. Inequality is plastered over by having more police to enforce state power, building more prisons and prescribing more drugs. Interestingly, too, the most unequal of rich countries were the most willing to go to war since 1939. That’s another way of taking people’s focus away from inequality and injustice at home.

Dorling, though, is adamant that injustice and inequality can be successfully fought, but it requires rethinking and concerted action by the supposedly powerless. Almost every time there has been a victory for humanity against greed, he writes, it has been the result of millions of small actions mostly undertaken by people not in government. ‘Resistance has always been most effective when exercised by those taught that they were the most powerless.’

He is in no doubt that ‘the human condition is fundamentally social and the modern preoccupation with individuality is really just a fantasy, a form of self-delusion.’

In conclusion, Dorling makes no attempt to offer facile solutions or utopian vistas, but says we can change this system if we all take some responsibility and don’t leave it up to others. In other words those in power can only continue to hold and abuse that power because we let them. He also illustrates how easy it would be to redistribute wealth, given the will to do so.

In this book he combines his skills as a human geographer with a sound understanding of economics and sociology. He has an easy, informal, yet authoritative style – essential reading for everyone concerned with social justice.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Time to celebrate our own revolution?

The French are proud of their bourgeois revolution and celebrate it. Why do we pretend we never had one and why do we vilify the man who led it?
Today, on 3 September, 352 years ago Oliver Cromwell died. Despite being the leader of the English bourgeois revolution – the first in the world - which transformed Britain’s historical trajectory, he is someone we appear to want to disavow like a disreputable relative. British historians still insist on calling our revolution the ‘Civil War’(1642-51). Every year the French celebrate Bastille Day - the anniversary of the symbolic storming of the Parisian citadel on 14 July 1789; the rallying call of that revolution was adopted as their national anthem. They are proud of that legacy and celebrate it, despite the fact that it unleashed unprecedented violence and the bloodbath of the ‘Terror’. We are ashamed of our revolution so we prefer the euphemism ‘civil war’, which bowdlerises that momentous event. Novels and most historical narratives written about the period since glorify the Cavaliers and romanticise the aristocracy while denigrating the ‘vulgar and brutal’ Roundheads and the ugly and ‘tyrannical’ figure of Cromwell. The old ruling classes, despite their defeat, were able to impose their interpretation on the narrative. There are only two statues or monuments to his memory (one in front of Parliament and one in Manchester) and none, as far as I am aware, to the revolution in the whole of Britain.
Few leaders and no revolutions are pure, ideal or completely virtuous; what matters is their historical significance and the role they have played in changing society for the better. Cromwell we know was certainly no paragon in this respect. His suppression of the really radical elements within the revolution and his, later, brutal oppression of Catholic Ireland sullied the ideals and aspirations of the revolution. He also became increasingly reactionary in power and turned on the more progressive elements in the New Model Army, extirpating any attempts to build a truly more just and egalitarian country. All that, though, should not blind us to the extraordinary changes he did usher in and the role the revolution played in releasing those bourgeois forces which later made possible Britain’s industrial expansion, transforming it into the ‘factory of the world’. He was the founder of the Republican Commonwealth – England’s first Republic. He was certainly no dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary, even from the outset, nor was he a leader of the oppressed, but he did have a strong sense of the injustice prevailing in the country. As late as 1650 he said, ‘the law as it is now constituted serves only to maintain the lawyers and to encourage the rich to oppress the poor.’ We perhaps also need to remember, as another positive example of Cromwell’s rule, that in 1656 he was responsible for re-admitting Jews into England for the first time since they were expelled in 1290 under Edward I.
In order for the merchants, traders and gentry to push through the radical changes they desired, they had to enlist the support of the general populace if they were to achieve success, but it was an uneasy alliance. Well before 1642 piecemeal enclosures had forced thousands off the land, excessive taxation and exploitation had also played their parts in driving people from the countryside into the cities. These were people full of anger, frustration and class hatred who readily embraced the Cromwellian revolution as a means of getting even with their oppressors and ushering in a more just political system. They formed a sort of masterless, anarchic army of the poor with no roots and nothing to lose. Cromwell’s New Model Army was the most democratic army the world had seen, with ‘agitators’ appointed to regiments (comparable with the Commissars in the Bolshevik Forces). The army became a university for the soldiers – there were avid debates, radical political groupings and fiery preachers. Officers were obliged to win the respect of their men if they didn’t wish to be demoted or removed.

As the historian Christopher Hill points out, there were actually two revolutions taking place during the sixteen forties - a revolution within the revolution. From around 1645 to 1653 ‘there was an overturning, questioning and revaluing of everything in England,’ he says.

Cromwell was the man who created the conditions that allowed the common people to express their own ideas for social change. The revolution provided the space and opportunity for the expression and development of radical and truly revolutionary ideas. Ideas which had been fermenting among the people for decades before Cromwell’s rule now began frothing in earnest. Groups like the Levellers, Diggers and Ranters attempted to impose their own solutions on the problems of their time. The fact that Cromwell led a successful revolt against the corrupt and privileged feudal aristocracy and wrested power from the king, demonstrated to the people that radical change was possible. With each Parliamentary victory, the people saw that their oppressors and even the monarchy itself could be defeated; the world could be ‘turned upside down’.

Although the Parliamentary Army was made up of officers largely from the bourgeoisie, many of the foot soldiers were ordinary men who were fighting for other things - justice and equality and a better quality of life for their class. It could be said that this army was more representative of a cross section of the population than any other national body before or since.

The revoloutionary period of the 1640s was also a time of unprecedented religious debate. The church, whose hierarchy identified with the king, was as hated as the aristocracy itself. It was corrupt, autocratic and levied its own taxes through the tithe system. Already before Cromwell, there was a strong tradition of fiery anti-clericalism and the revolution only provided it with more oxygen.

It was a period, as Hill describes it, ‘of glorious flux and intellectual excitement’, when everything must have seemed possible. The brief years of the revolution ushered in the most extensive liberty of the press, more than had been experienced before or would be afterwards. It brought with it a complete breakdown of censorship and the demise of the hated church courts. Judges no longer went on circuit for fear of their lives. This anti-clericalism and explosion of radical thinking laid the foundations for the ideas of revolutionaries like Tom Paine and the Chartists, generations later.

Despite his maltreatment by history, Cromwell was voted one of the ‘top ten Britons of all time’ in a 2002 BBC poll. However, he and the English Revolution need to resume a place of honour in our history books and their achievements given due prominence.

In a couple of decades we will be coming up to the 400th anniversary, so surely now is the time to renew the campaign to have England’s Civil War renamed as the English Revolution and ensure that it is celebrated as something for us all to be proud of – the precursor of our present day freedoms and parliamentary democracy and as a needful reminder that we once lived in a republic and perhaps now is the time to reignite the campaign for a new one!
Crack Capitalism
By John Holloway
Pluto Press
Pbck £17.99
Since the ideas of socialism were first debated there has been conflict between reformist and revolutionary advocates; those who feel justice and equality can be achieved through piecemeal reform and those who argue that only a single momentous revolution can accomplish that goal. Holloway tries to bridge this apparent contradiction. He maintains that we need to create pockets of resistance, islands of alternative life styles or, as he prefers to put it, create ‘cracks’ in the system. In a sense he is also advocating what has been termed the ‘second culture’, ie a culture in opposition to and alongside the hegemonic capitalist one.
He offers 13 theses in what he hopes is a clear and accessible guide to moving beyond capitalism by creating mini-revolutions in our own individual lives, in our localities and communities. He argues that the dangers facing humanity are so urgent that we can’t wait (do revolutionaries wait?) for the revolution but must work to undermine the system where we are. He says ‘…the idea of a future revolution has become the enemy of emancipation.’ The practice of the left has been ‘to repeatedly commit suicide …by ignoring or destroying lines of continuity [between small victories and the chief goal]; by condemning reformism, by using language that only the initiated understand, by the use of violence in a way that alienates many people.’ While that may be partially correct, it is certainly not the whole picture; most revolutionaries I know fight actively for local and partial victories, but these don’t lead irreversibly or smoothly to the overthrow of the system.
We have to think the world through our ‘misfitting’, he argues. We must see capitalism not as something solid, as dominant, but in terms of its cracks, its crises, contradictions and weaknesses. Of course we have to protest against the system, he says, but if we only protest, we allow the powerful to set the agenda.
The long section on abstract labour is unfortunately very complex and highly theoretical and will have little relevance for the reader looking for concrete ways forward. Although it is a valid discussion, it seems that Holloway is advocating opting out of the labour process altogether as the only real means of challenging and overcoming capitalism. In today’s complex society in which we rely on sophisticated commodities this may seem utopian. It could be better discussed in terms of alienation, I feel.
This book is an attempt to answer the question: what can we do? We know taking state power is not an option at the present time. We cannot hope for the great revolution, we have to start creating something different here and now. Moving from capitalism to socialism is qualitatively different from that of feudalism to capitalism. Socialism cannot arise within the interstices of capitalism but only when the world of capitalism is overthrown. It seems, however, that Holloway is arguing for building the new system within the interstices or cracks in the system. A challenging and useful book, but does it offer a solution?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

No time to sit and wait - countering the Tories
It is no exaggeration to state that working people and the trade union movement under this government are facing the most ferocious onslaught in recent history. However, while the Tory-Lib coalition unleashes its Blitzkrieg with incredible ferocity, the public appears to be mesmerized like rabbits caught in car headlights. Of course, that’s not entirely true. There are those who saw this coming and who are now desperately sounding the reveille, but the government has stolen a march on us.

How has this Eton crowd been allowed to get away with diverting the widespread public outrage at their banking friends for dragging us into the present financial mess? All of a sudden the solution to the crisis, they say, is to be found in attacking public sector pay and pensions, welfare and benefits. While the previous Labour government was complicit, it was the finance capitalists who engineered the crisis, but the Tories are managing to make Labour the scapegoat. So, how can we mount an effective resistance against their attacks?

There is a widespread awareness that old methods of struggle either on an individual workplace or single union basis will not be sufficient to withstand this rogue wave of Tory policies that threatens to engulf us.

Despite the transformed social and political tapestry, trade unions, by and large, are still dependent on the same well-worn last resort method to fight their corner: the strike. While these can still be effective, they lost much of their clout once sympathy and solidarity action was outlawed under Thatcher’s anti-union legislation. The other downside is that – particularly those strikes involving the public sector – they can very often become counter-productive, as they involve inconveniencing ordinary citizens, causing anger and irritation. Methods of struggle need a thorough rethink in the present climate. We can’t afford to alienate large sections of the general public – our potential allies. We may also have to face even more restrictive anti-union legislation if the Tory right-wing gets its way.

A transport strike or one by local government workers hit the general public hardest; they impinge on their daily commute to work, their holiday plans or mean their benefits are not paid etc. Even if there is initial sympathy with the striking workers, this can soon wear thin, the more the public’s lives are affected and the longer time the media have to implement their insidious work.

Can we try subtler methods? During a recent rail strike in France workers chose to let people travel but refused to collect ticket money or check passengers’ tickets. This was very popular with the public and very effective in bringing the employer back to the negotiating table. Could such action be taken here?

One thing is certain, and a number of union leaders have realised this and are already taking action, that in trying to reverse the devastating attack on the welfare state and our other social achievements, action by individual unions alone will not be effective. There needs to be much more widespread and better co-ordination of action against Tory policies, despite the trammel of anti-union legislation. There is an urgent need for a unifying strategic programme in the form of a pro-active defence. We are, though, still somewhat hamstrung by a legacy of inter-union rivalries and, on the left, a clash of personalities and sectarianism that renders us effectively leaderless. The TUC should be playing the central role here, but don’t hold your breath. Trade Councils, too, can play unifying and co-ordinating roles.

Individual unions are of course already mounting their own campaigns but these will necessarily remain limited in their effectiveness. In this connection our trade union movement could learn something from our brothers and sisters in the USA who have had to fight even more draconian anti-union legislation than we have over many decades. They were forced to look at methods of struggle other than strike action. They have actively sought support and solidarity in their communities and from the general public which has usually worked. If you can get the public on your side, half the battle is won. Without the widest possible alliances, an effective riposte to the Tory coalition government will be impossible. Allies can be found in the churches, among activist groups, the left in the Labour Party, the Greens and even those leftists among the Liberals as well as progressive celebrities as long as we are prepared to accept difference as something not necessarily negative, and reject sectarianism and vanguardist ambitions; we cannot afford to be exclusive. The miners’ strike in 1984/85 demonstrated how communities and individuals could be mobilised across an enormously wide spectrum to support what was clearly seen as a monstrous injustice.
Unite’s Health B4 Profit Campaign is aimed at educating and empowering local health sector activists to challenge the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS. The union says: ‘The NHS ‘should not be carved up for the benefit of private profit and this must be the time for us to fight for our Health Service and ensure that people come before profit. We want NHS staff, service users and the wider community to work together to challenge the policies that will lead to large amounts of public money being siphoned off into private company profits, rather than on delivering health care.’
UNISON’s library workers are defending their jobs and library provision by recruiting support from their local communities and readers, rather than closing the libraries with strike action. UNISON has its own campaign. ‘Everyone needs libraries for facts, for fun and for the future,’ it says. ‘A good public library service is at the heart of the community.’ It has won well-known writers like Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Alan Gibbons and Roger McGough to sign up to its campaign.
Unite has joined forces with PCS, and other unions and political organisations to call on the government to urgently rethink its welfare reform plans. It also has ongoing campaigns on house building and similar issues. The RMT is campaigning for rail renationalisation. Other unions are doing similar things, but they are mostly one-offs, not part of an overall and co-ordinated strategy, often by single unions. Outside the confines of a small activists’ circle they are often unknown.
Unions also need to utilise the media more effectively. It is no use simply putting out press releases and hoping newspapers will print them or offering sound bites to TV interviewers. The need is to be pro-active and win over the public before the establishment can put over its case and queer the pitch. The case for defending jobs, pay and public services needs to be communicated clearly and effectively, addressing public concerns and emphasising trade unionists sense of social responsibility. Campaigns need to be imaginative and events need to be eye-catching and headline-grabbing. There have been some very effective advertising campaigns in the past, particularly by UNISON, in defence of public services, but we should have more of these. They can be expensive to mount, but their impact is significant. More use could also be made of sympathetic celebrities, musicians and artists.

Above all, though, union activists have to ensure that they achieve or maintain a strong density of membership in all workplaces, but particularly in the public services. Without high union membership densities the government and employers will not listen as readily. Now is an ideal time to recruit when jobs, wages and conditions are under serious threat. That should become the number one priority for all union members.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Re BBC News on One Friday 9 July.

I wish to complain about your news coverage on Friday 9 July BBC1 10.00pm news. You had only three items: the main one (which took up almost a qare of an hour – half the time) being a report on the hunt for Raoul Moat. The second item was on the football world cup and the third on the London Olympic Village. That is, two items on sport and one on the hunt for a lone gunman – hardly ‘news’ in the real sense of the word, whether world or British.

The fact that the police hunt for a lone gunman in Rothbury was given almost half of the total news coverage is pandering to tabloid-type sensationalism and demonstrates a gratuitous infatuation with crime. It may have deserved a mention but surely not more coverage than a major world catastrophe would normally receive. The police were clearly keeping all outsiders away from the focus of their hunt and were divulging few details of what was happening, but such a lack of genuine information did not stop you milking the story even though it was dry. Your journalists talked of being ‘only 100 yards from the scene’ as if this is of relevance to their story. They interviewed ‘experts’ about ‘what might have been happening’ (because no one knew apart from the police officers involved). This is not news but empty speculation and imparts no information or understanding to the viewer.

The fact that a lone gunman on the run after killing one person was now being hunted by a heavily armed police force in an operation almost unprecedented in peacetime outside Northern Ireland or in connection with serious terrorist offences, elicits no interrogation by you is incredible. You don’t question the use of such force; you don’t question the use of draconian powers to close off civilian areas and impose a curfew on ordinary citizens – actions of doubtful legality or legitimacy. Now tht would be proper investigative journalism!

BBC News has become increasingly obsessed with individual acts of crime, giving gratuitous coverage of little informational or educational value. This is ‘bread and circuses’ of the worst kind and not the sort of intelligent news coverage one expects from the BBC with its mandate to inform, educate and entertain.
Let us have real news please!

Monday, 28 June 2010

It is a total nonsense to demand that people move where jobs are. This destroys families, communities, local solidarity and friendships. In a rational world, jobs should move to where people are, not vice versa. This is what happened under socialism and should happen here. Of course, as society progresses, industries and jobs disappear or change but they should be replaced by other jobs. It is up to governments to regulate and organise such processes and to provide retraining where necessary. Moving people and families to where jobs are is disruptive, cruel and counter-productive, as people may have to move again and again as jobs vanish, particularly in recesssions. Economics needs to serve people not vice versa. We have been cajoled and brainwashed to accept that we are servants to economic forces. That attitude only serves the wealthy elite who are protected. Duncan Smith's post Tebbit demands must be resisted.
John Green

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Football - opium of the people

I remember at my secondary school we weren’t allowed to play football. The headmaster had illusions of grandeur and he followed slavishly the examples of the big public schools: one played rugby and cricket - football was a working class sport not suitable for young gentlemen! Yes, in those days football was primarily a working class sport, played and watched by working people. The teams – even at the top of the league – were made up largely of men from the locality and their wages were little better than a well-paid manual worker. The game was followed avidly but not with the fanaticism and obsessional fervour of today.
The pundits invariably resort to the terminology of world war and national destiny, whipping up xenophobia and confirming national stereotypes. The Sun writes about ‘Krauts’ and features Nazi helmets when discussing German teams – beloved targets. Even Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s manager, responded to United’s elimination from the Champions League by branding Bayern Munich’s players as "typical Germans" for what he saw as deliberate attempts to injure Wayne Rooney.
Football today has nothing in common with the game of those days apart from it being a game where eleven men kick a ball around. It has been hijacked by big business and turned into a money-spinner as well as a convenient soporific for the masses. It is today what ‘bread and circuses’ were for the Romans: a refuge from life’s problems, from serious discussion and real politics. It substitutes for clan, community and national spirit. Even presidents and prime ministers are obliged to acknowledge its hold on the masses and worship at its shrine. Football has become Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World ‘happiness drug’. It rules many men’s lives (yes, it is invariably men), can give them their orgasms, their highs and lows and transport them out of their mundane lives onto the fairy-tale world of the soccer pitch.

The excessively rewarded top stars have nothing to do with the teams they play for or the places in which they are based. They too are in it for the money and will go where they are highest paid. Clubs once firmly rooted in their localities and supported by small businesses and individual fans are now the play-things of the super wealthy. Two of our top teams are now owned by US businessmen who have been deprived of such opportunities in soccer-starved USA. The Glazer brothers own Manchester United and Gillet and Hicks own Liverpool.

Most of the cash used by Glazers to purchase Manchester United came in the form of loans, secured against the club's assets, incurring interest payments of over £60 million per annum. The remainder came in the form of loans, which were later sold to hedge funds. The club has a gross debt of £520 million with £45 million in annual interest payments. It is argued that they are milking the club and will leave it heavily indebted and in a parlous state.
Gillet and Hicks acquired Liverpool in 2007. The deal valued the club and its outstanding debts at £218.9 million. There have been rumours since that a Dubai company was also interested in buying it. Kenneth Huang, a former Wall Street broker, is at the head of a group who also want to buy the club for around £500m. In May, accounts were released showing the club to be £350 million in debt with losses of £55m and its auditor warning 'This fact indicates the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt upon the club’s ability to continue as a going concern.' Belatedly, greedy individuals and companies are now vying with each other to tap into this incredibly lucrative global money-maker.
In April 2008, Forbes business magazine ranked Liverpool as the fourth most valuable football team in the world, after Manchester United, Real Madrid and Arsenal. The club was valued at £605m, excluding debt.
The concentration of wealth among the few top teams in the world is distorting and in fact ruining the game as a truly national sport. Money is being siphoned off in dividends and inflated pay for players, leaving the smaller and less renowned clubs struggling to survive. Money for the training of new generations of players and for essential sports facilities where young people can train and enjoy playing as amateurs is almost impossible to come by. In South Africa we can see magnificent new stadiums and a country celebrating its selection as World Cup venue, but afterwards the kids from the townships will still be barefoot, kicking around a ragged ball on a dry strip of township land. The wealth generated by the spectacle will not filter down to them.
This year’s World Cup again underlines the psychosis gripping the nation. It was calculated that, at its peak, over 20 million people watched England’s first game on ITV – an unprecedented audience for any programme. On big game nights the cities and streets throughout the country become dead as if the population had been wiped out. Pennants fly from every second car and flags hang from windows, as if we really were at war, as if the destiny of our country depended on the outcome of the world cup. When England’s goalkeeper fumbles the ball it is front page news in almost every paper and football pitches of newsprint and hours of television time are devoted to the game – the real world ceases to exist. Everyone is sucked into this hyped-up hysteria. Conversations revolve around little else.
Football is a great game, but it is only a game for god’s sake! Its links to the working class are, today, as close as those of Tesco to a community corner shop. How aficionados can maintain interest and loyalty to teams divorced from their communities and in the face of the game’s clear manipulation by a wealthy capitalist elite is beyond me.