Friday, February 04, 2005

Years of the Locusts

I haven't looked at the usual weblogs for a while. So, starting here, ...John Harris's. 'So Now Who Do We Vote For?', extracts in The Guardian, on the Vardy Foundation and the (City) Academies.   Billy Bragg reviews   John Harris's look at the alternatives to voting Labour.

My instincts remain to be 'bearish' on the prospects for Labour at the election: two interesting sites here and here.

Update (10 Feb): I forgot to mention this from marcmulholland, with comments by some very illustrious people - in the blog world, that is. My favourite was siaw, responding to dsquared: ' if you really believe that “the Vietnamese managed to kill as many Cambodians as Pol Pot did”, you’ll believe anything.'

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SIAW rightly draws attention to the UK going along with French and German plans to lift the arms embargo on China, with not a murmur of protest.

On Shostakovich’s Opus 103, if I'm thinking of the same piece, as BBC Radio 3 pointed out, it commemorates the events in St Petersburg 100 years ago (on 21 Jan), but also, written in 1957, had in mind the events in Budapest the previous year.
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From Jim Higgins' 'More Years for the Locust', extracts here, and scroll down.

The last chapter of the book (chapter 14) opens with a description of how religious groups 'developed doctrinal differences which necessitated them breaking away to form their own church.' Then there is 'the ever-growing proliferation of sects, sectlets and insects claiming direct descent from the master.'

That is not the only way in which some of the Left is similar. There is the same constant examination of and appeal to the sacred texts, in this case Lenin and Trotsky:  'quote chapter and verse', somebody is challenged during one dispute. Like Christians waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah,  one looks to the ever-imminent crisis of capitalism, leading to the triumph of the revolution. This, from the 1970s: 'The SW Perspective article appears to say that there is really not much we can do until the prediction eventually comes true, so it follows that clarity about the present period is not all that important.' (App6) Sometimes, though, it is possible for the organised Left to give a helping hand to try to push capitalism over the edge. See for example the fight at ENV in the 1960s against the employers who 'were continuously attempting to steal a march by the introduction of new machines and practices.' (Ch7)

It all started in a promising way, with a group, that was small but open to debate.
In these days of harsh "Leninist" orthodoxy, it is hard to recall the atmosphere at the cusp of the Socialist Review Group and the International Socialism Group [1960]. The regime was relaxed and activity was directed by persuasion and moral pressure rather than the threat of sanctions. It did not require the mindless uniformity that characterises both Stalinism and graveyards, nor did it suffer from the delusions of grandeur that afflicted orthodox Trotskyism and Baron Munchausen. (Ch6)
By March 1974, the Group (International Socialists and its antecedents) had grown 'to thousands, rather than the hundreds it had been a few years before, and the tens it had been a few years before that'. (Ch11) Things rapidly went downhill from this point. One particularly instructive episode  was in Birmingham. Activists were getting a toehold in the AUEW by realising they had to 'live in a real world'. Central leadership, however, was determined to impose its own views.  
Disagreement was disloyal, arguing was disloyal, marginal doubt was disloyal, even the inability to keep up with the chameleon-like speed with which the line changed was disloyal and disloyalty had to be extirpated with the utmost dispatch and never mind the constitutional niceties. Mick Rice [one of the union activists, wrote]: "IS is more, much more than a command structure, with an immaculate leadership uniquely gifted with the authority of decision. Marxism is about mutual development, of interaction and synthesis. The Marxist party should enshrine the principles of free discussion not from bourgeois ethics but because without it there can be no serious practice and no party."
Things now proceeded in the normal Stalinist manner:
The shadows were definitely lengthening on the IS Opposition. In November 1975, representatives of the ISO were called before the Control Commission ... if its members were not expelled they left in sympathy with those that were. ... The dynamics of the sect had won again. Many of the tormentors of that time became sooner or later the tormented.(Ch13)
In the sixties, there is a mention of 'the Labour government dedication to incomes policy and strike breaking at home (and grovelling support for America's war in Vietnam)'.

By 1974-5, where the book effectively ends, the infighting has consumed everything to such an extent that I don't think the main part of the book even mentions that another Labour government has come to power. In the document setting out the platform of the IS Opposition (Appendix 6), however, we do get this: 'We agree that the phenomenon of ‘Bennery’ is not an expression of a left wing; we would go further and say that it is an expression of state capitalism as a model for reviving British capitalism.' (For the arcane disputes going back to the 1930's and 40's about 'state capitalism' versus 'the workers' state' , which led to factional - and party - splits, you need to read the early chapters.) Benn, nonetheless, did favour nationalisation and workers control. It was the 'without compensation' bit in the IS programme that he would not have gone along with.

Of course, since then such things have become distant dreams, and Tony B has been left with nothing but anti-American rhetoric. As for the IS, 'The promise now was for the Socialist Workers Party in 1976.' (Ch13)

It's a very sad story.

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