Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Solidarity on Israel-Palestine

In her reply to David Kirk’s criticism of the Solidarity 3/128 editorial on Israel/Palestine, Cathy Nugent comments on the idea that we should not put demands on bourgeois governments:

“… socialists have always made such “calls” and made demands on bourgeois governments, and in many dreadful circumstances — in order to organise movements of opposition, to cohere groups of people who share our basic politics, because these demands/calls have the potential to create mass movements, or because under pressure bourgeois governments do act.”

This is correct when it refers to the necessity of making demands for agitational purposes. If the workers’ movement raises slogans for Palestinian self-determination, it can become a rallying point for working class forces, who can hegemonise the democratic and national question and thus build a third camp independent of the Israeli state and the Palestinian leadership. Socialists must argue (i) for working-class unity and independence from other class forces and (ii) for the workers’ movement to take the lead in posing democratic demands against the Israeli and Palestinian ruling classes.

However, it is does not follow that a simple expression of the sentiment ‘The Israeli state really ought to allow the Palestinians to have their own state’ is necessarily ‘third camp’ in character. The ‘third camp’ is the organised working class taking the lead in struggle, not just the idea of a ‘two state solution’ in itself. After all, Fatah, Ehud Olmert, sections of Hamas and George Bush all want a ‘two state solution’, but their projects are not similar to our hope for a joint Arab-Jewish workers’ struggle for self-determination for all peoples in the region. The fact that we do not just shout “down with negotiations” or “down with diplomatic deals” when they happen does not mean that we do not have our own politics to push forward as well.

Yet the editorial in question made not a single reference to workers’ struggle, the working class or even trade unions, either in the abstract or in the concrete. It did not at any point mention the class struggle in the region nor how national oppression and democratic struggles relate to it. It read not like an article in a Trotskyist paper but like an Independent comment piece which patronisingly “exposes” the Israeli government’s “lack of proportion”. There was not one word in the editorial which would have been out of place in any liberal bourgeois daily.

This was the problem with the way the editorial posed demands on the Israeli government. Rather than stressing the importance of working-class struggle to force these demands to be fulfilled, it suggested that it would be the Kadima government which gifted Palestinian self-determination. As “one of the most democratic societies in existence”, Israel “should be correspondingly humane and enlightened” and use its power to grant justice to the Palestinians. No other agency of change was mentioned, with the article appealing to the Israeli √©lite to live up to their own democratic credentials!

That is not an agitational demand. In front of whom does the hypocrisy of Ehud Olmert and the IDF need to be “exposed”? I doubt that anyone who would buy our – revolutionary socialist - paper, nor for that matter the Palestinian workers and unemployed masses, would have been too impressed. We need to make the case for a ‘third camp’ in Israel-Palestine, not waste paper with liberal musings about “disproportionate” levels of violence.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Fourth International in Britain

Last Saturday I wandered outside the University of London Union building, only to find the pompous Stuart Richardson laying into our comrade Sofie Buckland.

Stuart, a leading member of the International Socialist Group (British section of the “Fourth International”), had the Respect Renewal newspaper on him, which led me to assume that he was having a go at Iranian gay people, or perhaps substantiating his leader’s claim that embryo research “blasphemes against the very idea of God”.

After all, since the ISG joined up with George Galloway and disbanded its own newspaper in favour of the RR organ, it has not written a single word in criticism of the Stalino-Catholic MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, and its members have somersaulted through all sorts of logical contortions to justify Galloway’s bigotry.

But no, Stuart was telling Sofie about her alleged support for a US attack against Iran. Funny, she’s never said or written anything to that effect, and plenty to the contrary. Not a very interesting argument.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen Stuart for a while, and I always enjoy a chat with him, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his theft of over £400 from the bank account of North Birmingham Socialist Alliance four years ago. Stuart was defensive about this ‘Mariam Appeal moment’ – after pretending for a while that the allegation that he had taken money from the SA was simply untrue, he then said that he hadn’t done it for personal gain. Rather confirming my initial claim that he wanted to transfer the funds to Respect.

Of course, I wouldn’t dream of casting aspersions on the financing of Respect Renewal – I’m sure that Galloway’s massive salary and expenses are quite enough to keep them going, and the Iranian regime probably doesn’t even need to pay Galloway to be their useful idiot. It is the politics of the ISG comrades which are disappointing – is this really the continuation of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International?

For what the ISG were getting up to inside ULU was even worse than the arguments they made on the steps. Having written nothing in response to two articles in Respect by Galloway calling for a first preference vote for Ken Livingstone, not even on their own website, the ISG decided to make an independent stand at their conference. A stand which, I might add, has only been publicised via an eight-line “article” on the blog of ISG fellow traveller Liam MacUaid.

The stance they took, amazingly, was to call for a first-preference vote for the Green Party candidate Sian Berry in the London Mayoral Election. Seems funny, given that the social base of the Green Party is the petty-bourgeoisie and they have not one union affiliation. Seems funny given that Jenny Jones – one of their two London Assembly members – voted against the sacking of police chief Ian Blair.

Of course, we all know that the reason is the ISG’s shift to “eco-socialism” - largely characterised by cosying up to the leaders of the Campaign Against Climate Change and having nothing to say about the working class or transitional demands – and presumably they think that they can tap into the wishy-washy liberal Green vote if they boycott their own politics. This closely parallels their reason for immersing themselves in Respect Renewal – namely that the ISG has nothing to say and no reason to exist, and after tailing the SWP for a while has found a niche for itself by licking the boots of Galloway, now that the rest of the left wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole.

We might recall that the first line of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, cornerstone of the Fourth International, reads “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat”. This was always a bit of a red herring (even in 1938 it was hardly the case that the proletariat was chomping at the bit but constantly sold out by reformists), although that’s hardly cause to give up on the working class altogether.

I’m sure that Sian Berry is sincere and probably quite left wing. But that’s the answer to the wrong question. How does backing the Greens (I’m sure it will be essentially uncritical support) serve the cause of working-class political representation? How will it help the ISG relate to workers disaffected with New Labour? What does it do to further the cause of left unity?

The ISG doesn’t care. They are only interested in surfing on the wave of popularity for the not-so-great-and-good, like Galloway and the Green liberals. They have dismantled their own public presence. They mask their own existence. They abandon all of their own analysis, ideas and understanding of the world. They try and find a niche in bourgeois politics. They become a pisspoor impression of Socialist Action.

Saturday, April 5, 2008