THIS BLOG contains progressive writing about various issues — mostly overtly political and sometimes more cultural, or about nature or many other things (but everything is political in some sense). It is the blog of people politically active for many years and who remain so but who also spend some time analysing and writing about political issues. It is also the blog of a singer and some kind of percussionist, one who has done some composing of melody and lyrics, a writer of articles, short stories, longer fiction and a little poetry.
The writing in this blog will be mostly in English but sometimes in Castillian (Spanish) or in Gaeilge (Irish).
IN OUR TIME
We live, evidently, still in the era of imperialism, outlined and explained by Lenin in his work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, as well as by others. It is an era that has led to two world wars and a huge number of smaller proxy ones, including some major ones against national liberation movements, such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There is hardly a moment when there is not a war in progress, large, medium or small, in which one or even a number of imperialist powers does not have at least a hand. In addition, people who are not even at war are being attacked, as for example with civilians in Palestine who are attacked by Israeli armed forces and in Pakistan by unmanned drones of the USA.
Imperialism clearly extended the life of capitalism, a system which in the 1800s looked ripe and ready for overthrow by communist revolution. Through the even more intensive exploitation of the labour of the people in the more underdeveloped world, that part of our planet which is often called “the Third World”, capitalism was able not only to allow its own working class to win less painful living conditions than it had previously but also to use the profits to buy off a section of the trade union and labour political leadership. These “labour aristocrats” as Lenin called them (and the term was more than a metaphor in the case of many in the British labour movement, as many of them were knighted for their service to capitalism and to “the Crown”), although they use the working class as a power base and build their careers in that way, are in reality ideologically bound to the capitalist system. As they progress through their careers, they become more practically bound to the system too, through positions in government or in private industry for which they receive remuneration. Revolution would mean disaster for these people and working class militancy, except on some occasions when it is to be used to improve their own personal bargaining position, is an irritant and a danger. Social democrats in government have ordered their police and troops out to suppress revolts in their state’s colonies and also even against the working class of their own country, often belonging to the same organisations in which these opportunists have built up their early careers. They have passed repressive legislation and ordered people resisting their aims to be murdered.
This is also the era of what is called in Europe “neo-liberal” capitalism (and in the United States “neo-conservative”). The few post-Second World War decades of Keynsian capitalism, that is of high expenditure on the public sector services which in turn generates employment and consumer spending, have gone and left but a fading echo. More and more public services, which the population were told belonged to them and which were, indeed, purchased with their taxes and insurance contributions, are being sold or virtually given away to private capitalists. Almost universally, services become less efficient and costlier to the working class consumers while wages lower and work conditions worse for those employed in those services, often with more precarious work contracts. The trade union leaders, who held out the promise of serious resistance to these inroads, have spectacularly failed to live up their promise. “Left” social-democrats find it impossible to change the drift or, in some cases stampede towards the Right of their party leaderships and middle membership and in many cases their parties when in government prove themselves as eager to privatise and squeeze the workers as were their conservative or “right” wing political alternatives (to say “opponents” would be to put it too strongly).
THE LEFT FAILS TO MEET THE CHALLENGE
The revolutionary Left meanwhile, in much of the world, has also failed to meet the challenge. This is much more than the problem of disunity and political sectarianism, although that too has played a part. It is more the case that the Left battalions, in most cases, never even gave the impression of seriously organising for revolution which left some smaller organisations, which did give that impression, seriously over-exposed to state repression. Sections of that bigger Left had been busily penetrating social democratic political and trade union structures for decades. Some of them did it so successfully that they were absorbed by the environment they sought do dominate. At the other extreme, some of them were successfully purged by their social democratic enemies. Most became soft and lost their fighting ability, including especially their ability to take on the state and, in some cases, to take on the fascists on the streets. Even when they gained strong influence in trade unions, they squandered it in cornering executive positions instead of building powerful fighting bases. Some, mostly smaller organisations, went to the other extreme and refused to do any work worth mentioning in the trade unions. It became hard to see anywhere where the Left was building revolutionary bases among the workers, teaching them their history, talking to them about their mission, leading them in battles where they could learn their strength and learn to identify and overcome their weaknesses and test their tactics.
Increasingly now we see again the emergence on to the streets in many countries of fascist gangs and they have claimed a number of victims: migrants, gays, gypsies and, in some cases, anti-fascists. In many cases the big battalions of the Left have not proved effective, neither decades ago when the threat was rising nor now that it is rising again. In most cases, it is the smaller groups, sometimes in informal and sometimes formal alliances, that beat back the threat in the 1970s and 1980s and are now rising to the challenge once more. These activities of physically confronting the fascists and denying them the run of the streets or of any public platforms, are absolutely necessary but of themselves insufficient in the long run. As long as capitalism exists, so does the threat of its fascist aspect.
Meanwhile, imperialism runs rampant throughout the world. National liberation movements still put up a heroic resistance in a number of places. But increasingly, we see that they are facing not just a decline in the national liberation “surge” which followed the Second World War and ran for decades; not only increased sophisticated weaponry of the imperialists; nor even the collusion of many regimes which in the past would have been sympathetic or resisted pressure to some degree; and not just that there is now only one superpower and it no longer has to contend with arms being supplied to its enemies by its rival.
The new weapon is an ideological one — the “peace process”. These processes of pacification through suborning, splitting and isolation of continued resistance have been around for a long time — at least since the Roman Empire — but it can be said that we have a new rash of them. They seem to make their appearance wherever armed resistance to imperialism has been persistent over decades, which implies a certain effectiveness on the part of the guerilla organisations themselves but also a certain determination on the part of the populations giving rise to those organisations. Examples of these population areas in comparatively recent times have been the Six Counties of Ireland (“Northern Ireland”), Palestine, the Basque Country, Kurdistan, Philippines, Peru, Colombia, part of India and Sri Lanka. To that list we should add, although not high on the register of armed resistance, South Africa, whose African, Asian and Coloured populations were dominated by a tiny white settler regime, excluding the majority from any positions of power, and where the African poor were rising up in militant protest in such numbers that even with all the weaponry at the disposal of the white minority regime, they looked in great danger of toppling their oppressors.
A CONTAGION OF PACIFICATION
The first to be hit with the current “peace process” virus was Al Fatah, which caught it in Oslo 2o years ago. The ANC and the CPSA caught it from them very soon after and both of them gave it to the Provisionals. They in turn seem determined to export it to the Basque Country, the Philippines, Colombia, Kurdistan … In Sri Lanka, the state wiped out the Tamil Tiger resistance by quite simply surrounding their area and bombarding it, regardless of huge civilian loss of life, then going in and finishing off most of those still left alive. The fact that the leaders of so many national liberation movements have actually held out their hands to be taken into these processes seems to expose the inability of the petty bourgeoisie to lead a national liberation struggle to successful conclusion. The revolutionary Irish socialist James Connolly at the start of the last century was already saying that in the case of Ireland, where he was certainly proved right. The acquiescence to such processes by leaders of national liberation struggles has also affected morale in other sectors of struggle, spreading a cynicism, a feeling of fatalism, that all struggles will inevitably be compromised ….
Again, the Big Left has been disappointing in its response to these processes. That the imperialist leaders should laud the national liberation movement leaders when they espouse these processes of course fills us with no surprise. Nor are we surprised when social democrats start lauding them or at least their decision to “finally see sense’. But when those who put on the coat of anti-imperialism and revolution begin to behave likewise, albeit with a “Left” justification ….! The widespread respect expressed by many in the revolutionary and radical Left for Mandela after his very recent death was a sobering indication of how far the sector has to go to acquire a revolutionary perspective.
A common feature of these processes has been their being led by a leader with a long history in the struggle and often much charisma. Then leader in such situations must not be or at least becomes very difficult to challenge. Those who challenge are ostracised, isolated, marginalised and sometimes removed physically or punished. The state also takes a hand in repressing them, a much easier task now that the major part of the opposition has been neutralised, pacified. As usual the mass media but now also the media of the previous resistance, will now play their part in the isolation and demonisation of those who continue to resist or even to seriously challenge the leadership. From this we should learn the dangers of ever trusting any leadership unquestioningly and the importance of tolerating critics and criticism, even when we find them irritating.
Finally, the Superpower, the USA, along with its partners in NATO, attacks sovereign states in a series of bombardments, invasions and occupations, along with fomenting internal insurrections and feeding the insurgents arms and mercenaries. So far Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have fallen to direct invasions, while the Syrian government fights a foreign-sponsored and supplied insurgency. Iran has been threatened so many times already that sometimes it is easy to feel that invasion is only days away. However, Syria has proven hard to chew already and Iran, dissidents or no, will prove to have even more gristle.
In the arena of internationalist solidarity against imperialism, the battalions of the Left in many countries of the West failed again, veering from outright support for insurgents in Libya, for example, to equivocation in the case of Syria. Against this, some smaller groups have insisted on uncritical support for the regimes in question. This seems to me crazy, since it involves endorsing the murder and/ or jailing of our comrades in those countries by the bourgeoisie there. Certainly we should mobilise public opinion against imperialist intervention and their schemes in the area, but not at the cost of pretending that there is nothing to be criticised about the regimes, as though the repression of our comrades was ok or at least should be quietly forgotten. In terms of general mobilisation against imperialist war, many socialist organisations walked away from some issues and shamelessly exploited others to build their own organisations at the cost of the movement. In the end they got little long-term expansion of their organisations and the movement shrank to nearly nothing.
In the midst of all this, what is it that we can do, those of us who genuinely want to see a socialist revolution and are prepared to work for it? It seems to me that we must carry out the analyses and learn the lessons, putting these on record and passing them on. We criticise in a principled manner and work for unity in action. Of course, we are called to fight for this or for that, against this or that other, and our duty lies in those struggles too. But we must build bases of long-term resistance and where we are, for whatever reason, unable to do so, at least extract and enunciate the lessons which others may use in future to build those bases. Of course, should the opportunity at some point come to rise …..