Posts Tagged ‘Mikhail Gorbachev’

Lobster Review of Book Revealing Very Different View of the Crisis in the Ukraine

March 6, 2019

Lobster has posted a very interesting review by their long-term contributor, Scott Newton, of Richard Sakwa’s book on the current geopolitical tensions over Ukraine, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris). Sakwa is the professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent.  In this book, he tackles and refutes the story peddled to us by the mainstream media that the current confrontation between NATO and Russia and the civil war in Ukraine are due to Russian imperialism under Putin.

Sakwa is under no illusions how brutal and corrupt Putin’s regime is, but the book argues that in this instance, Russia is the victim. He argues that at the heart of the crisis is a conflict between two forms of Ukrainian nationalism. One wants a strong, united Ukraine centred firmly on Kiev, with Ukrainian as the sole official language, looking to the EU and the West, with its economy based on free trade and private industry. This form of Ukrainian nationalism is hostile to Russia, which is particularly resents because of the Holodomor, the horrific artificial famine created by Soviet collectivisation in the 1930s. The government is roughly liberal, but includes Fascists. The second form of Ukrainian nationalism is popular in the south and east, which are predominantly Russian-speaking, whose families and businesses have links with Russia, and which is dominated by heavy industry and reliant on trade with Russia. This wants a federal Ukraine, with both Ukrainian and Russian as the official languages.

The review discusses the origins of the Maidan Revolution, directed against the corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych, who had just signed a trade agreement with Russia. The nationalist regime which replaced him, led by Petro Poroshenko, was of the first, pro-western, anti-Russian type, was strongly influence by the Far Right, whose squads massacred anti-Maidan demonstrators. This regime set about demolishing Soviet-era monuments, establishing Ukrainian as the country’s only official language, and repudiating the agreement allowing Russia to station its ships in Sebastopol until 2042. As a result, Russia seized the Crimea, which had been Russian until 1954 and the Russian-speaking areas in the south and east seceded and split into different autonomous republics. Kiev responded by sending in troops, but this has led to a stalemate so far. The West supports Kiev, seeing Putin’s support of the Ukrainian separatists as the Russian president’s attempt to undermine the political order which emerged after the collapse of Communist in 1991.

Sakwa instead views Putin as reacting purely to preserve Russia from possible NATO aggression. This is the based on the original agreement with former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand into eastern Europe. Gorby also hoped to create a new international system in which the world would not be dominated by a single superpower, but there would be a number of different leading states, whose cultures and economic and political systems would differ. These difference would be respected, and they would all work together for international peace. This has been violated by the West, which has expanded eastward into Ukraine, which has also signed the Lisbon agreement with the EU. Putin’s response, which you don’t hear about, is to call for a federal, pluralist, non-aligned Ukraine, which cooperates with both Brussels and Moscow, and whose security is guaranteed by both sides.

There is also an economic dimension to this. The West wishes to promote laissez-faire capitalism. But this didn’t work when it was introduced into Russia by Yeltsin. This type of capitalism has been rejected, and 51 per cent of the Russian economy is owned by the state. Sakwa also notes that Putin has been active building up an alternative political and economic system across the globe, in eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Syria, and Cuba and Venezuela, as well as a system of alliances with the BRICS economies, as well as a Eurasian Economic Union with the former Soviet republics of central Asia. It is also cooperating with the China on the new silk road. The result has been that Russia has created a ‘second world alliance’ system with its own financial institutions and systems of international government.

Newton says of the book that

Sakwa’s argument that the Ukrainian crisis results from the destabilization of the country by forces committed to militantly anti-Russian nationalism, egged on by former Soviet bloc countries and external interference by the United States and the European Union, propelled by a dogmatic and triumphalist liberal universalism, is highly persuasive. 

This is how it appears to me, from reading previous discussions of events in Ukraine from Lobster and other, alternative news sources. As well as the fact that if Putin really did want to conquer all of Ukraine, he surely would have been able to do so, and not stopped with Crimea and the east.

Newton also wonders why we haven’t seen Sakwa, with his impressive command of Russian and eastern European history, in the media.

There can be very few academics now operating who possess Richard Sakwa’s expertise in modern Russian (including Soviet and post-Soviet) international history. Why, then, do we not seen more of him in the mainstream media, both broadcasting and print? He has been on RT, discussing the Skripal poisonings amongst other things (no doubt leading 
some to suspect him of being an apologist for Putin, which he certainly is not). But I have never seen him on (for example) BBC or Channel 4 (this does not of course mean he has never been interviewed there but it does suggest that any appearances have been somewhat limited). Why? Is this an accidental oversight, or are his opinions deemed by news and current affairs editors to be ‘unhelpful’?

That’s a very good question. My guess, given how the anti-Putin view is just about the only one accepted and promoted by the media, including Private Eye, is that current affairs editors really do see him as ‘unhelpful’. And this amounts, as Newton discusses at the beginning of his review, to fake news and fake history. 

For more information, go to:

https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster77/lob77-frontline-ukraine.pdf

 

 

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Putin and Trump, and Bill Clinton’s Interference in Russian Elections for Yeltsin

February 14, 2017

There’s increasing concern and speculation that Putin really does have some kind of ‘dirty’ dossier on Trump, featuring some rather unsavory things that the Orange Generalissimo may have done with prostitutes during business trips there.

But America also has a very long and deeply unpleasant history of interfering in the elections of independent states around the world. At its most extreme this takes the form of coups, but the US has also exerted its influence through more subtle means, like the financing of opposition candidates and parties, covert propaganda, threats to withhold aid and so on.

William Blum has a entire chapter on the US ‘Perverting Democracy’ in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. And it includes a very, very long list of mostly developing nations, whose democratic processes the US government has attempted to suborn.

But one of the nations whose elections the Americans tried to influence was rather more important on the world state. In 1996 Bill Clinton and his team intervened in the Russian elections to secure the victory of neoliberal privatisers and booze-sozzled corrupt drunk, Boris Yeltsin. Blum writes

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Although the Americans were working independently, President Clinton’s political guru, Dick Morris, acted as their middleman to the administration, and Clinton himself told Yeltsin in May that he wanted to “make sure everything the United States did would have a positive impact” on the Russians electoral campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the final goal line. The American’s scripted a Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting in April to allow the Russian to “stand up to the West”, to match what the Russian Communist party-Yeltsin’s main opponent-was insisting they would do if they won.

The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing etc., urged more systematic domination of the state-owned media, and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. With a virtual media blackout against them, the Communists were extremely hard pressed to respond to the attacks or to shout the Russian equivalent of “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It is impossible to measure the value of the American consultants’ contribution to the Yeltsin campaign, for there’s no knowing which of their tactics the Russians would have employed anyhow if left to their own devices, how well they would have applied them, or how things would have turned out. But we do know that before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favoured by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent. “Democracy” declared Time magazine, “triumphed”. (pp. 230-1).

Putin is a murderous thug, who has had journalists and members of the opposition beaten and killed. And the Communist party was responsible for horrific repression. Gorbachev’s reforms, if allowed to continue, may have created something positive, and established Communist Russia as a true ‘workers’ state’, where working people had real power, both in elections and over their boss and his decisions at work. But he was overthrown by the hardliners before he could complete it.

As for Yeltsin, his rushed privatisation of anything that wasn’t nailed down resulted in economic meltdown. Millions of ordinary Russians found themselves thrown out of work, in a country that did not have any unemployment benefit schemes, because the state had always provided work. So too did massive inflation wipe out ordinary Russians’ pensions and savings. It’s partly as a reaction to that chaos that Putin was elected. He’s a thug and a strongman, but he offers his people stability and prosperity.

It’s grossly hypocritical for American politicos to whine about Putin interfering in their democratic process, when America has been doing just that all over the world, including Russia, since World War Two. The latest victim of American interference was Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution, far from being a spontaneous display of democracy, was carefully orchestrated by various American state NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy.

So as far as this issue is concerned, I’m sure that there are now many people in Russia and abroad who feel this way: ‘Payback’s a b*tch’.

Comics and Political Satire: Diceman’s ‘You Are Ronald Reagan’

October 13, 2016

diceman-reagan-cover

I’ve written a several pieces about comics and political satire and comment. The 1960s counterculture produced underground comics, which dealt with taboo subjects. These included sex, and issues of sexual orientation, such as homosexuality, as well as explicit political commentary and satire. These continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. Over here, adult strips with a strong political content included Crisis, many of the Knockabout stable of comics, and Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man. Mainstream comics, such as 2000 AD, also contained elements of satire and political comment, particularly in the strips created and written by veteran recidivist and script droid Pat Mills.

Way back in the 1980s, 2000 AD also launched a spin-off, aimed at the RPG crowd. This followed adventure game books, like the Wizard of Firetop Mountain, in which the reader also played the central character in the adventure, and their decisions reading the book/game determined how it ended for them. 2000 AD’s Diceman was similar, but the games were in comic strip form, rather than simple, unillustrated text. Most of the games were straightforward strips using 2000 AD characters like Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock and Rogue Trooper. There was also the ‘Diceman’ strip of the title, which was about a 1930s occult private eye in America, hunting down weirdness and assorted monsters and human villains assisted by his own occult monster, Astragal, the demon of the dice. The strip was set amongst the grim tenements of Depression era New York, though it could go further afield into Nazi Germany, and so also had more than a little similarity to the Indian Jones films then playing in cinemas. It was based on the writings and life of Charles Hoy Fort, the writer and researcher of the bizarre and weird, such as falls of frogs and other strange events. Fort was the inspiration for the magazine The Fortean Times, which continued Fort’s work of documenting the bizarre and the scientifically ‘damned’. The Fortean inspiration behind Diceman probably came from the fact that many of those involved in the British comics scene, like the late Steve Moore, were also contributors to the FT.

Most of the strips seem to have been written by Pat Mills, and the readership seems to have been somewhat more mature than that of the parent magazine, 2000 AD. So in a couple of them, Pat Mills let rip and dealt explicitly with two of the politicos then running amok on the world stage. These were Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Illustrated by the great underground comic artist, Hunt Emerson, these were ‘Maggie Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game’, and ‘You Are Ronald Reagan’. I found the issue with the latter yesterday looking through a pile of old magazines. Published in issue 5 of the magazine in 1986, the game had the reader take over the brain of the American president and journey back in time to avert an impending nuclear war. During the game you were faced with such tasks as deciding whether to send the troops into Nicaragua, negotiating arms reductions with the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, researching your family tree to boost your popularity with the American electorate, and trying to prevent a full scale nuclear war with Russia. While also trying to sort out what to do about Britain and Maggie’s plea to turn it into America’s 51st State. The reader also had to successfully maintain the illusion that they were indeed the real Ronald Reagan. If they didn’t, they were fried in the electric chair as a Commie infiltrator. Along with Maggie and various aides, one of the whom looked like an American eagle, was Reagan’s buddy, Bonzo the Superchimp, named after Reagan’s co-star in the film Bedtime for Bonzo.

Some idea of the style – both visual and narrative – of the strip can be seen in the sample page below.

diceman-reagan-1

The strip mostly has a light touch, even when Reagan fails to avert World War 3 and civilisation is ended in a nuclear holocaust. But it dealt with extremely serious issues. For example, nearly all of the options for solving the crisis in Nicaragua involved military force to a greater or lesser extent, and all of them would result in misery for the people of that nation. Which were illustrated with the same depiction of starving peasants and crying children for all of the choices. As with many of Mills’ strips, it was based on solid research, with some of the books consulted listed at the end of the strip, along with the terrifying real incidents where the world had come close to nuclear war through mistakes and stupidity.

The strip was also similar to some of the computer games then being created for the new generation of home computers, like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Some of these also had a satirical slant, including one called The Tebbitt. This followed the Tolkienesque adventure game format, but you played a politician running around Whitehall trying to solve political issues. Hence the title, in which the name of one of Thatcher’s cabinet thugs, Norman Tebbitt, was substituted for The Hobbit.

Sadly, Diceman didn’t last long. There are still underground comic strips and graphic novels with a strong political content. Counterpunch a few weeks ago carried an article about one attacking the current situation in America. And two years ago Mills announced another graphic novel containing an anthology of strips to counter the establishment propaganda about the First World War. Role-Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons and various others based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos are still played, despite being overtaken by video and computer games. And Judge Dredd and 2000 AD and its other characters, like Slaine and the A.B.C. Warriors have survived into the 21st Century. Unfortunately, so have the Conservatives, Neoliberal economics, a political cult based around Reagan and Thatcher as visionary politicians, for whom it is tantamount to horrible blasphemy to criticise. And Obama and the Conservatives in this country also seem to want to pitch the world into another nuclear confrontation with Russia, this time over the Middle East.

Perhaps it’s time for a few more politically orientated satirical strips. Maybe one in which you play David Cameron, and have to avoid destroying the economy, making millions homeless and starving, and trying not to break up the UK while fighting the EU. All the while breaking trade unions, protecting the rich and powerful, and keeping the population as poor and desperate as possible. With the option of doing it all again as Theresa May.

Vox Political On Simon Jenkins Lies About Corbyn and NATO

August 24, 2016

Mike also put up an article a few days ago correcting another mendacious article about Jeremy Corbyn, penned by Simon Jenkins in the Observer. According to Jenkins, at the leadership debate in Solihull last week Corbyn had answered ‘No’ to the question of whether he would go to the defence of another NATO country if they were invaded by Russia. Other Blairites had also got the same impression, it seems. One of my friends told me that he had received an email from a Blairite friend telling him in very coarse terms that Corbyn had stated that he would submit to Putin and let the Russians rule us.

But Corbyn didn’t say that at all. He said he would go to war to defend a NATO ally, but explained at length that he would do everything he could to make sure it didn’t come to that. Mike has put up a full transcript of that part of the debate, pointing out that Jenkins’ article, and his conclusion that Corbyn wants us to leave NATO, is a lie.

As for Jenkins’ own personal politics, Mike has a photograph of him speaking at a meeting of Policy Exchange, the ‘intellectual boot camp of the Tory modernizers’. Which shows you how left-wing he is.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/22/no-simon-jenkins-its-your-lie-about-jeremy-corbyn-that-is-a-step-too-far/

In actual fact, it’s not unreasonable to ask what NATO’s real purpose is. William Blum in issue 22 of his Anti-Empire Report, has an article entitled ‘Why Does NATO Exist?’ It’s a fair question. NATO was formed to protect Europe from the threat of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the military pact formed by the countries of the eastern European Soviet bloc, with the exception of Yugoslavia. Blum points out that neither the Soviet Union nor the Warsaw pact exist any more, both having collapsed about 1991. He asks

If NATO hadn’t begun to intervene outside of Europe it would have highlighted its uselessness and lack of mission. “Out of area or out of business” it was said.

If NATO had never existed, what argument could be given today in favor of creating such an institution? Other than being a very useful handmaiden of US foreign policy and providing American arms manufacturers with billions of dollars of guaranteed sales.

See: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/22

But there are voices demanding that NATO be disbanded because of the threat it poses to peace. The New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and member of the council of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Alice Slater, two years ago published an in article in Counterpunch stating that with 16,000 of the world’s 17,000 nuclear weapons in the West and Russia, the US should not be working its way towards starting a new Cold War with Russia over events in Ukraine. Instead, she argued that it should honour the agreement it made with Gorby not to expand into the former Soviet bloc in return for his agreement not to block the reunification of Germany, and the entry of the former East Germany into NATO. She goes on to state that we should be working to disband NATO, and remove the US’ weapons from Poland, Romania and Turkey. She also states that the US should agree to the proposal to ban space weapons, made by China and Russia, reinstate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was scrapped by Dubya in 2001, and take up Russia’s offer to negotiate a treaty against cyberwarfare.

She briefly discussed the article in the Washington Post by Jack Matlock, who was the US’ ambassador to Russia under Reagan and Bush, and who described how it is NATO that is provoking Russia with its conduct in eastern Europe. She states that it is ironic that Obama is holding a third ‘Nuclear Security Summit’, without planning to cut back on America’s own huge nuclear arsenal and the $640 billion it plans to spend in the next ten years on two new nuclear bomb factories and new delivery systems – submarines, missiles and planes.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/25/time-to-disband-nato/

This is far more radical than anything Corbyn said. And Corbyn’s statement that he would work to stop a war before it got started is plain commonsense, given that such a conflict could, if not almost certainly would, lead to nuclear Armageddon.

Radical 80s Anti-War Pop: Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes

August 6, 2016

A week or so ago I put I blogged about Sting’s great anti-war song, Russians. Based on a tune by Prokofiev, and with the haunting refrain, ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’, this was Sting’s protest against the new Cold War between America and Russia in which both sides were condemned for their militarism. The video I used here was of a performance the great songster made a few years ago on Russian TV, which shows how far the world has come since I was a schoolboy in the 1980s. Then, Russia and the rest of the former eastern bloc were very much closed off to the West, although as the political climate thawed, the BBC did launch a fascinating series of films on the Soviet Union. This included an edition of antenna on Soviet TV. I was moved to put up the video as a reminder of great pop challenging the horrific spectre of nuclear war by the arms build up in the West and increasing tension between NATO and Russia. There’s been a series of manoeuvres in Estonia, Poland, Romania and the other Baltic states against the possibility of a Russian invasion, despite the fact that the Russians have said that they have no intention of doing any such thing. This follows a book by a NATO general predicting that by May next year, Russia will have invaded Latvia, and our nations will be at war. This should terrify everyone, who grew up in the 1980s and remembers the real threat of nuclear Armageddon then, along with the horrific spoutings of some generals about fighting a ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe.

Unfortunately, that possibility has just come a step nearer after the statement on Morning Joe, an American news programme hosted by Joe Scarborough, that he had been told by a foreign policy expert that in discussing the subject with Donald Trump, the coiffured clown asked him three times why America hadn’t used nuclear weapons. As I said in my last post, this is a very good argument for keeping the pratt out of the White House, if not the society of decent humans. If you only needed one argument for not wanting to see Trump as president, regardless of the endorsement of violence, the misogyny, the racism and Islamophobia, this would be it. Trump shouldn’t be president, because he’s a threat to all life on Earth.

Sting wasn’t the only pop musician to release a piece in the 1980s against the militaristic posturing between East and West. So too did Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Frankie … were a band that managed to shock the British public with the release of their single, Relax, and the homoerotic imagery of both the song and the accompanying video. It was so shocking, that the Beeb was supposed to have banned. This, of course, had the usual effect of making it massively popular, and it shot to Number 1 in the charts. The band’s frontman, Holly Johnson was gay, as was I think, one of the other band members, but most of them were straight. Bands like Frankie…, and other gay pop stars like Marc Almond, Jimmy Summerville and Boy George helped to challenge the popular prejudice and real hatred there was for gays there still was then, over a decade after gay sex in private between consenting adults had been legalised.

Two Tribes continued their trend of edgy music by presenting the confrontation between East and West as a bare knuckle boxing match between someone, who looked very much like Ronald Reagan, and an opponent, who was clearly based on one of the Russian presidents of the time. I can’t work out quite who the Russia is based on, as he looks a bit like Brezhnev, but not quite, and I can’t remember who Andropov and Chernenko, the last two Soviet presidents before Mikhail Gorbachev, looked like. To my mind, he looks more like Boris Yeltsin, the former mayor of Moscow, who succeeded Gorby as president of Russia. Unlike Gorby, Yeltsin wasn’t a Communist, but a capitalist-in-waiting, who sold off just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. The result was that Russian economy went into meltdown, millions across the former USSR were thrown out of work without any of the welfare safety nets in place in Europe or America, while rampant inflation wiped out people’s savings. Despite his generally pro-Western, pro-capitalist stance, he could also be belligerent. Sometime in his presidency, a Norwegian sounding rocket went off course, and landed somewhere in Russia. Yeltsin appeared on TV pounding his desk and declaring that he had been quite prepared to respond with nukes, if such an event seemed to be an attack on Russia. He was also, like many of the Russia politicos, including Brezhnev, massively corrupt. A lot of the state enterprises he privatised mysteriously ended up in the hands of his cronies, and people, who were prepared to fork over a lot of roubles. He was also a figure of western media amusement, as he appeared to be permanently smashed, unlike his predecessor, who appeared far more temperate and had launched a strong anti-drink campaign. The mass privatisation of the Soviet Economy had a devastating effect on its citizens’ health, which Basu and Stuckler discuss in their book, the Body Economic, on how economic austerity harms people’s physical health. Putin, with his promise of economic stability and national pride, is very much a response to the chaos of the Yeltsin regime. I’ve got a feeling Yeltsin might be dead now, but if anyone needed a good drubbing, it was him, though by the Russian people, who had a better reason to hate him than Ronald Reagan.

Frankie’s Two Tribes shows the violence in the ring escalating, until the audience of other international dignitaries begin fighting amongst themselves, to the consternation of the ringside commentator. The video ends with the Earth itself being blown up, a graphic comment on the real danger of the conflict. The song’s title, Two Tribes, also gives a very cynical take on the conflict. This isn’t about politics, human rights or the effectiveness and justice of economic systems. This is just pure tribalism, the primitive, nationalistic aggression that has haunted humanity since the Stone Age. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and just about everyone I know is repulsed and disturbed by the Relax video. But Two Tribes is a classic piece of ’80s pop with a very relevant political message, and one that deserves to be given another hearing. Before Trump gets anywhere near the White house, and starts ranting and threatening like Reagan.

Counterpunch on the Putin’s Non-Existent Threat to the Baltic States

July 14, 2016

Anti-Nato Headline

Russian anti-US Cartoon

Anti-Nato Headline (top) and cartoon against escalating American militarism (bottom). Both from the Russian political magazine, Novoe Vremya, for 17th December 1982.

Last week, NATO began sending reinforcements into Poland and Estonia, and began a series of manoeuvres close to the Russian border. The supposed reason for this is to send a warning to Putin against a possible invasion of those countries. The Russians have been attempting to fly military planes over Estonia. Actually, this isn’t anything particularly new. They’ve been trying to do it to us every week since the beginning of the Cold War. Usually what happens is that we send a couple of our jets up to intercept them just as they’re approaching Scotland. The Russian flyboys then take the hint, and fly off back to the former USSR. It clearly ain’t a friendly gesture, but it’s been going on so long, that’s it not sign of an imminent invasion either. It’s just business as usual.

Except that the build up of NATO troops in eastern Europe clearly isn’t business as usual. It looks very much like a return to the Cold War of the early 80s, when Thatcher and Reagan ranted about the USSR being ‘the evil empire’, and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. There were at least three occasions before the Fall of Communism, when the world really was almost a hair’s breadth away from nuclear war. Nearly three generations of people grew up in it’s shadow. I can remember the way it terrified my age group, when we were at school at the time. Hence the two illustrations at the top of the page, taken from a Russian language magazine at the time. One’s a headline for an article attacking NATO, the other’s a cartoon against advancing American militarism.

The American left-wing magazine, Counterpunch the other day published an article attacking the supposed rationale for the NATO manoeuvres. These aren’t just in Poland, but also include Lithuania and Romania. According to the article ‘Putin’s “Threats” to the Baltic: A Myth to Promote NATO Unity’, by Gary Leupp, the manoeuvres are a response to the book, 2017: War with Russia, by the deputy commander of NATO, Sir Alexander Shirreff. Shirreff predicts that by May next year, Russia will invade the eastern Ukraine and Latvia. Leupp argues that the prediction of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states, with Latvia singled out as a particular target, comes from Putin describing the collapse of the USSR as a ‘catastrophe’ and tensions between the Russians and the now independent Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Putin, so it is believed, is a new Stalin aiming at the revival of the USSR. The also point to the Russian war with Georgia in 2008, and events in Ukraine two years ago in 2014, to show that the threat from Russia is real.

Leupp’s article argues that it is nothing of the sort. The Russians have denounced NATO expansion up to their borders and held manoeuvres of their own, but have also continued with offers of co-operation and referred to the NATO nations as ‘our partners’. He argues that the tensions with Russia in the Baltic states are due to the stripping of the Russian minority in these countries of their rights as an ethnic minority, and increased anti-Russian nationalism, after the states gained their independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Russia certainly sees itself as the protector of ethnic Russians elsewhere, including the Baltic and Ukraine, but points out that this does not mean that it is planning an invasion. It is also much smaller and weaker, militarily, than NATO. NATO forces comprise nearly 3 1/2 million squaddies, compared to Russia, which has just under 800,000. NATO spends nearly $900 billon on defence, while Russia spends $70 billion.

He also argues that the war between Russia and Georgia wasn’t a simple case of Russian aggression either. They went into defend South Ossetia and Abkhazia, small countries that had been forcibly incorporated in Georgia, and which wished to break away. He compares it to the NATO dismantling of Serbia, when Kosovo was taken out of Serbian control. This was against international law, but justified by Condoleeza Rice against protests from Spain, Greece and Romania.

He also states that the support the Russians have given to their ethnic fellows in the Donbass region in Ukraine, against the Fascist-backed Ukrainian government, hardly represents an invasion.

He also argues that the existence of NATO, and its supposed necessity is never discussed or questioned, with the exception of a recent piece in the Boston Globe by Stephen Kinzer, a senior academic at Brown University. He didn’t argue that NATO was unnecessary, only that we needed less of it. This was followed by a piece by Nicholas Burns, a member of George W. Bush’s administration, and now a lecturers in diplomacy at Harvard. Burns states that NATO is necessary for four reasons: defence against Russian aggression; the fragmentation of the EU following Britain’s decision to leave; violence from North Africa and the Israel-Syria region spreading into Europe, and to counter the lack of confident leadership in responding to these issues from Europe and America.

Burns and General Jim Jones, a military advisor to Obama, believe that NATO should station permanent troops in the Baltic, the Black Sea region, the Arctic and Poland, and be ready to send American forces in to help the Poles defend themselves. Burns also argues that NATO is needed because of the growing threat of isolationist forces – meaning Trump – in the US. He finally concludes that it seems to be an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who has, in contrast to Trump, been very keen to bomb Libya, support the invasion of Iraq, and now wants to bomb Syria.

See the article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/12/putins-threats-to-the-baltics-a-myth-to-promote-nato-unity/

Meanwhile, the prospect of a real, lasting peace between the West and Russia, which began with the thaw between Reagan and Gorbachev, is now threatened by a new generation of militarists, including the hawkish Shrillary. It’s another reason, apart from her bloody legacy when she was in charge of Obama’s foreign policy, why she should not get in the White House any more than Trump should.

The Political Abuse of Anti-Semitism Accusations: Jeremy Corbyn, and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia

July 3, 2016

I’ve put up a whole series of article attacking and debunking the accusations of anti-Semitism, which have been directed against the Labour party, and more specifically its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. As I’ve shown, these are all false, gross distortions of history and offensive personal smears of decent men and women. Ken Livingstone, for example, was entirely correct when he said that Hitler favoured at one time the emigration of Jews to Israel. He did. The Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, one of the most notorious of those responsible for the Holocaust, aided people smugglers in getting Jews into Palestine, then under the British Mandate. They also supplied arms to the Haganah, the clandestine Jewish military organisation in Palestine, so that it could aid the British in suppressing the Arab rebellion against British rule – the First Intifada. This is documented in the work of the Jewish historian and passionate Zionist, David Cesarani, on the Holocaust and the origins of the Israel. Naz Shah, one of the others, who have been accused, has the support of her local synagogue. This surely provided good testimony that whatever faults she may have, anti-Semitism isn’t one of them. As for Jackie Smith, one of the others slandered with this accusation, she is a veteran anti-racism campaigner. Her mother was Black British civil rights activist, who was deported from America for her activism by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Her father was a Russian Jew, and her partner is also Jewish.

The source of these allegations lie in the Blairite wing of the Labour party, who are desperate to use any tactic to cling on to power, and the Israel lobby. These latter are determined to smear anybody and everybody, who objects to their oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians, as an anti-Semite, even when these are other Jews, such as the head of Bernie Sander’s Jewish outreach department in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I’ve also been struck by the way the anti-Semitism allegations recall earlier attempts to discredit left-wing political leaders, in fact and fiction. David English, the editor of the Daily Mail, believed Ken Livingstone was an anti-Semite, and continued to press the issue for about a year in the early 1980s. There was also a piece on the Going Underground news programme on RT, hosted by Afshin Rattansi, which compared the anti-Semitism smears with the plot of the 1980s novel and Channel 4 series, A Very British Coup, in which the media and opposition politicians manufacture false accusations of anti-Semitism to discredit a genuinely popular left-wing Labour Prime Minister.

And the Soviet Union under Brezhnev also used accusations of anti-Semitism in its campaign against the proposed democratisation of Communist Czechoslovakia under its leader, Anton Dubcek, in 1968. Dubcek wished to free his country from the rigid control of the Soviet Union. While remaining very much a Communist, he also planned on introducing platform of reforms aimed at liberalising the country, while retaining the Communist party’s privileged position as the country’s leading political authority. He was going to allow a certain degree of political freedom, in allowing non-Communist groups and voluntary societies to be formed. Inside the Communist party, the policy of ‘democratic centralism’ was to be replaced by democracy and the free discussion of ideas. The security services was to be made responsible solely for defending the Czechoslovakian nation, and not for protecting the Communist parties. The command economy was going to be weakened, to allow greater consumer choice. State enterprises were not going to be privatised, but were going to be freed from the constraints of following the plan, and allowed to manage their own affairs. He was also in favour of something like workers’ control, and the democratic election by the workers of the management committees. In many ways, it prefigures much of Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union during Perestroika.

All this was too much for Brezhnev’s USSR, which invaded. One of the reasons for the Soviet Union’s hostility to the reforms, according Hugh Lunghi, in his introduction to the book, Dubcek’s Blueprint for Freedom (London: William Kimber 1968) was the fear that the USSR’s covert operations manipulating and dominating its satellites would be revealed by Dubcek’s de-Stalinisation campaign. Dubcek was determined to go ahead with the investigation of Stalin’s terror and the rehabilitation of the old thug’s victims. This would almost certain produce evidence of the activities of the Soviet Union and its secret police in destroying the opposition to the imposition of Communism and those countries’ direct control by Moscow.

Dubcek was, however, genuinely popular amongst the peoples of Czechoslovakia. Surprisingly, he also had the backing of the Czechoslovak secret police. When the KGB tried to infiltrate the country disguised as Czechoslovak secret agents, their passports and documents were in such awful Czech that the country’s real agents had no trouble recognising them and rounding them up. They were then delivered to the Russian embassy with the explanation that their Czech was so terrible, they must obviously be American spies.

Unable to find anyone willing to collaborate with them in a puppet government to replace Dubcek and his supporters, the Soviet authorities tried instead to grind him down by stalling his reforms and trying discredit Dubcek and his supporters. One of the ways they tried to do this was through entirely spurious accusations of anti-Semitism. Lunghi writes:

About a month later, on October 11th, Dubcek repeated [not to introduce a secret police terror campaign] in a major speech in which he explained why the Czechoslovak leadership had refused to authorise a programme of unjustified arrests and dismissals which “some Communists” (he did not specify in which country) demanded for anti-Semitic and other reasons. “Some individuals,” said Dubcek, “think this is now the time to move towards excesses similar to those of the ‘fifties, that this is a time to return to the deformities of sectarian non-Leninist methods.” Communists should understand, continued Dubcek, that “”socialist thought in our country is not deformed, for example, by anti-Semitism…” (p. 29, emphasis Lunghi’s). Several of those forced out of office on the orders of the Russians were the victims of anti-Semitism. These included Dr. Frantisek Kriegel, who was accused of being a ‘Zionist’. (p. 30). Which sort of prefigures the accusations of anti-Semitism against Jackie Smith, who’s half-Jewish, has a Jewish partner, and is a dedicated campaigner against racism. Or against Rhea Wolfson, who, despite being Jewish, was dropped as a candidate for the NEC by her constituency party on the advice of Jim Murphy, because she was connected with Momentum, which was an anti-Semitic organisation.

It seems the Blairites and their allies are following a very old pattern of using allegations of anti-Semitism to smear left-wing opponents. Well, the joke in Private Eye about Gordon Brown had him as a Stalinist apparatchik, issuing diktats, decrees and party purges like the thug himself.

Book Review: G.D.H. Cole’s A Century of Co-Operation

July 2, 2016

Cooperative Cole

(George Allen & Unwin Ltd. for the Co-operative Union Ltd 1944).

Many of us of a certain age still remember the Co-op before it became a regular supermarket chain. It was a store in which regular shoppers – the co-op’s members, were also it’s owners, and entitled to receive a share of the profits. This meant that you were paid a dividend. This was later issued in the form of ‘Green Shield’ stamps, which could be used to buy further goods in the stores. The co-operative movement was founded way back in the 1840s by the Rochdale Pioneers, former members of Robert Owen’s socialist movement. After this had collapsed, the Pioneers then went on to apply his socialist principles to running retail stores. The movement rapidly caught on and expanded, not least because, unlike ordinary shops, the co-ops sold pure food without the poisonous substances added elsewhere. For example, many bakers added arsenic to their bread to make it whiter, and more attractive to the purchaser. The co-ops didn’t, and so their food and goods was healthier, and thus more popular. Unlike their competitors, you could be fairly sure that what you bought from the co-op wouldn’t kill you in the name of making it appear more tasty. By 1942 there were 1,058 co-operative retail societies, with a total membership of 8,925,000 – just shy of 9 million people.

I found this book on the history of the movement in one of the charity bookshops in Bristol. It’s by the great socialist and writer, G.D.H. Cole, who was one of the leading members of Guild Socialism, a British form of syndicalism, which recommended the abolition of the state and its replacement with a system of guilds – trade unions, which would include all the workers in an industry, and which would run industry and the economy. Instead of parliament, there would be something like the TUC, which would also have administrative organs to protect the consumer.

The book’s chapters include:
I: “The Hungry ‘Forties'”,
II: Co-operation before the Pioneers
II. Rochdale.
IV. The Rochdale Pioneers Begin.
V. The Rochdale Pioneers to 1874.
VI Christian Socialists, Redemptionists, and Trade Unions
VII. Co-operation and the Law.
VIII. The Origins of the Co-Operative Wholesale Society
IX. Co-operative Growth in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies.
X. The Second Revolution.
XI. The ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
XII. The Women’s Guild.
XIII. Co-operators and Education.
XIV. Co-operation in Agriculture – Ireland: The Beginning of International Co-operation.
XV. Co-operation before and during the First World War.
XVI. From War to War.
XVII. Guild Socialism and the Building Guilds
XVIII. Co-operative Development between the Wars.
XIX. Co-operators in Politics.
XX. Co-operative Employment.
XXI. International Co-operation.
XXII Co-operation Today and Tomorrow
I. the Growth of Co-operation.
ii. The Development of Co-operative Trade.
iii. Large and Small Societies.
iv. Democratic Control.
v. Regional Strength and Weakness.
vi. Co-operative Education.
vii. The producers’ Societies.
viii. The Wholesales and Production.
ix. The Next Steps.

Appendix: Who Were the Pioneers?

Cole notes that some forms of what became known as co-operation existed in various trades and businesses before the Rochdale Pioneers. Some of the capital used to set up businesses in the early 19th century, came from the workers. They tended to invest in other businesses’ than their employers, so that if their wages were cut during a recession or dip in trade, the dividends they would receive from their shares would not also suffer. Although not remarked on in the book, you could say that this shows how the working class has been disinherited. In many cases, they contributed their savings and money to the development of capitalism, but despite the existence in some firms of profit-sharing schemes, they have been and are being excluded from the profits of the modern, industrial economy.

From industry, co-operation also entered politics, with the establishment of a Co-operative Party, which is now part of the Labour party. The movement spread across Europe, to Germany and as far as Russia. Lenin was greatly impressed by the value of the co-operatives as a form of socialism. According to Aganbegyan, Gorbachev’s chief economist for perestroika, before 1950 47 per cent of all industries, including farms in the USSR were co-ops. Industrial democracy and co-operatives were a central plank of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Unfortunately, Gorby’s attempts to revive Communism failed, and Yeltsin turned them into bog-standard capitalist companies through the voucher system. Other thinkers and politicians in other countries saw co-operation as the solution to their countries’ social and economic problems. One of these was the Bulgarian Stambolisky, the leader of a peasant’s party before the First World War. He wished to organise the peasant farms into a system of co-operation, which would modernise the country by allowing them to acquire electricity and improve production and conditions. More recently, the Mondragon co-operatives, set up in Spain by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950s, has become an industrial giant, involved in just about all areas of the Spanish economy.

Cole’s book understandably concentrates on the history of the co-operative movement from its emergence to the middle of the Second World War, and is an immensely detailed and thorough work of scholarship. Although not as prominent as they once were, co-operative businesses still exist in Britain. They were supported in the 1970s and ’80s by politicos like the great Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, and may once again become a major force in British society and the economy.

Aganbegyan on Perestroika and Workers’ Control

June 29, 2016

Earlier this week I put up a translation of an Austrian governmental pamphlet from the 1980s on the system of factory councils and workers’ representation in industry. Over the in Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet Communist president, advocated a system of workers’ control and the transformation of state enterprises into co-operatives, in order to reform and invigorate the moribund Soviet economy and political system. It was also intended as part of a wider series of measures, like free speech and elections, which were to transform the USSR into a Socialist democracy. I’ve posted up pieces from Gorbachev himself in his book, Perestroika, about the new thinking, and from Ken Livingstone, who was deeply impressed with this aspect of the Soviet experiment. Gorbachev’s chief economist, Abel Aganbegyan, also discusses the importance of industrial democracy in his The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: CenturyHutchinson 1988).

Aganbegyan states that the importance of co-operatives in the Soviet economy was recognised by Lenin, and that Gorbachev was returning to this earlier Soviet ideal. He wrote:

The development of cooperatives and self-employment is not a departure from Socialist principles of economic management. In Soviet conditions a cooperative is a socialist form of economic management, foreseen by Lenin in one of his last articles “On Co-operatives”. As is well known, Lenin’s last articles were dictated by him. He was extremely ill and sensed his imminent death; these articles are rightly seen as his last will. It is symbolic that among the various questions to which Lenin wished to draw society’s attention, was the question of cooperatives as an important form of socialist economic management. Lenin fully understood that a socialist society could not be developed solely on enthusiasm and on the application of administrative measures. He wrote about the need to employ the principles of material self-interest, self-financing, financial accountability (Khozraschet) and material responsibility. The cooperative form of economic management is indeed a form which ensures greater material incentive in work, more responsibility and the ability to pay one’s way. At the same time it is a democratic form since it is voluntary. Lenin attached fundamental importance to the voluntary nature of the cooperative. Cooperatives are self-managing organisations, where the collective itself decides everything and things are not fixed from above by an official. Thus the potential advantages of cooperatives within our society are far from exhausted. And we know from economic history, no economic form will disappear if it contains within it potential for self-development. The development of self-employment has also to be approached as a way of strengthening the material interest of individuals in creative labour.

The aim of socialist development in the final analysis lies in meeting the needs of all members of society more fully. Cooperatives and self-employment contribute to this end and therefore reinforce our socialist principles. They completely correspond to Gorbachev’s slogan for prestroika, ‘Give us more socialism!’ (p. 30).

The Cooperatives and Democratisation

Aganbegyan also makes it very clear in the book that the creation of the co-operatives was part of the wider process of democratising the USSR.

Democratisation of the whole of our society including the development of glasnost is an important aspect of perestroika. As it applies to the economy, debate is proceeding on an increased role in workers’ collectives in the resolution of economic questions, and in the transition to self-management. In the Law on Socialist Enterprises, workers’ collectives have been granted extensive rights in framing the plan of economic development for their enterprise, deciding on the way incentives should be offered, on work conditions and salaries, and the social development of their collective.

Of particular significance is the right of workers’ collectives choose their economic leaders, at brigade, enterprise and association level. Earlier, under the administrative system, directives on the conduct of the plan, even the smallest details, were handed down from above. Now, with full economic independence and self-accounting, the welfare of the collective depends above all on work organisation and levels of productivity. Its leader, as head of the working collective, must take the lead in striving for higher efficiency and productivity. (P. 31).

The Workers’ Democracy in Action

Aganbegyan also describes the new system of industrial democracy at work, and how it was introduced by a number of firms, so that managers had to compete for their positions. As a result of this, 8 per cent of the most inefficient were weeded out.

In the new system of economic management the rights of working collectives have been greatly expanded by the Law on Social Enterprises passed in June 1987. The working collective now determines the development policy of the enterprise. It also establishes the plan of development for its enterprise, including the plan for the five-year period. Plans set by the collective are final and are not subject to the approval of any higher authorities. The collective determines the way the enterprise uses the self-accounting income which it has earned. it scrutinises particularly the way the enterprise’s funds are used in the technological research and development fund, the social development fund and the financial incentives fund.

The working collective carries out its f8unctions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, fore example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working collective council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of actions and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise.

The idea of appointing managers by election has already been taken up by many working collectives. Even before the official acceptance of the Law on Enterprises these elections were being organised independently in many places. Interesting events occurred for example at the Riga Car Factory. This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to then was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear-boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even hundreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but where competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development of the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, the democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8% of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. IN this way the quality of managers has been improved.(Pp. 197-9).

Unfortunately, this experiment was abandoned. The cooperatives throughout the eastern bloc were transformed into bog-standard capitalist enterprises through the voucher system. Yeltsin recklessly privatised everything he could lay his hands on, with the result that the Russian economy went into meltdown. And the end result of this has been the rise of Putin and the oligarchs. It is a great pity, as if this experiment had succeeded, Russia could have been the first and greatest genuinely democratic, socialist country, and undoubtedly the benefits this gave its working people would have been taken up and copied around the world.

Ken Livingstone on Perestroika and Industrial Democracy

May 31, 2016

This morning I put up a piece about how Mikhail Gorbachev, the very last president of the Soviet Union, attempted to regenerate Soviet Communism by introducing industrial democracy and strengthening trade unions as part of Perestroika. Ken Livingstone devotes an entire chapter of his book, Livingstone’s Labour, on Perestroika, including a few paragraphs on worker’s control. He writes

So far the reformers around Gorbachev such as Aganbegyan have stressed that as the economy is modernised the workers must be protected from cuts in their standard of living. that is why he emphasises the strengthening of social provision such as housing, health and education. He has also spelt out the intention to keep rents low and to ensure that when price reform comes there must be compensation to protect living standards. He argues that there must be increased investment in new technology but makes the following innovative condition:

The distinctive feature of this reform is industrial democracy moving towards self-management … this will involved [workers] in determining the enterprise plan, the allocation of resources and the election of managers. It is a revolutionary programme. There will be much opposition, especially from management… This can only be overcome because the … driving force is political openness and democratisation.

It is not only academic economists who talk like this. I was struck by the enthusiasm and pleasure with which Vadim Zagladin, the Head of the International Department of the Central Committee, described how a Siberian shoe factory, which had been facing closure, had been taken over by the workers. The products of the factory were notorious for falling apart within days of purchase but the Central Committee had agreed to give the workers a last chance to improve their shoes before closure. Once the workers took control their first act was to sack the incompetent managers. They then turned the business into a dramatic success within two years. Now the factory is expanding and their shoes are in demand all over the USSR. Even more innovative is the workers’ proposal to issue ‘shares’ in factory-not to investors, but to their customers who would then be in a position to exercise real consumer power. (Pp. 205-6).

Livingstone also explains that the Perestroika movement was divided into two camps, with a right-wing that favoured something like Thatcherism, and a left, which included Gorby himself, that wanted to protect the workers as much as possible. He stated

In the first place, the perestroika movement is split into two quite distinct camps (it is the failure to understand this which has led so many We3stern observers to talk so inaccurately about the reintroduction of capitalism). there are those like Nikolai Shmelev and the technocrats Lisichkin and Popov whose arguments are similar to those of Thatcher that the economy can be reformed by the creation of a poll of unemployment which will act as a spur to increase productivity. They argue that Soviet society must be led by an elite and that the welfare state is a ‘survival of feudalism’.

The other faction inside the perestroika movement is that of the democratisers. Typified by the economists Aganbegyan and Zaslavskaya, this faction believes that the economy can only be modernised by democratising Soviet society from the grass roots upwards. Most important of all, they see the way to improve the economic performance of the USSR is by introducing democratic rights at work so that the workers elect their managers. At every stage Gorbachev has thrown his weight behind the democratisers and against the elitists. As he wrote in his book Perestroika (1987)’There was opinion…that we ought to give up planned economy and sanction unemployment. We cannot permit this… since we aim to strengthen socialism, not replace it with a different system … Furthermore, a work collective must have the right to elect its manager.’ (P. 204).

Livingstone was aware how radical Gorbachev’s reforms were, and that there were many who wished them to fail so that they could introduce unemployment:

The excitement with which progressive Central Committee members like Zagladin recount each successful experiment in workers democracy is an indication of just how much is riding on the hopes of the reformers that democracy from below will be the key to the modernisation of the Soviet economy. If they fail the conservatives will be waiting in the wings to try the ‘spur’ of unemployment.(p. 206).

By ‘Conservatives’, Livingstone means the traditional managerial class of party functionaries and civil servants.

This passage is interesting, as it shows how well-informed Red Ken was about the Soviet Union and perestroika. He was well aware, for example, that the restructuring of the Soviet economy would result in 16 million jobs being lost, and acknowledged that this would present a serious problem. In the event, Gorbachev’s radical proposal to transform Soviet industry into co-operatives was abandoned, and they were transformed through the voucher system into straightforward capitalist enterprises. The result was chaos and the complete meltdown of the country’s economy under Boris Yeltsin, a drunk, corrupt incompetent, who was useful as a stooge to the Neo-Cons and Neo-Libs then in the White House and Downing Street.

This also explains one of the quotes the Scum attributed to Red Ken in their campaign against Labour in the 1987 general election. The rag produced a page of photos of various Labour MPs and activists, with a radical quote from each underneath the photo to scare people. Under Diane Abbott they placed the words, ‘All White people are racist’. With Red Ken they placed a line about how he wasn’t in favour of the army, but a corps of soldiers to defend the factories. Looking back now, it seems quite unlikely that those quotes were even true, especially Ken’s, except perhaps at a time in his early career when he, like many left-wingers, was far more radical. But his interest in perestroika, and the reintroduction of industrial democracy, also showed how much of a threat he was to Thatcher and her programme of grinding the workers down any way she could.