Posts Tagged ‘Syndicalism’

Credo! Pat Mills on 40 Years of Thrillpower!

September 14, 2017

Pat Mills is one of the great creators of the British comics industry. In this video from 2000 AD on YouTube, he talks to host Tony Esmond about his career in the comics industry, politics and his determination to give readers working class heroes. The interview was at the 40 Years of Thrillpower convention earlier this year (2017).

Mills is best known as one of the creative forces who seriously upset the establishment with Action before going on to reoffend with 2000AD. Before then he started off writing for the 1970s children’s comics, like Corr! The experience of writing for them was not happy for him. He states that the people behind them had no particular interest in them and very much had a production-line mentality to their creation. He describes how one writer once asked him how many stories he could write in a day. When he said about one every two or three days, the other writer boasted that he wrote three in a day. And then went on to say, probably quite truthfully, that he was making more money than the prime minister. Mills states that the writers at IPC were able to do this because they wrote very much to a formula. He preferred the stories their competitors at DC Thompson produced. Although their comics were also stuck in the past, the stories were better crafted. He describes one strip about a man going around the country having adventures with a horse. As a concept, he says it wasn’t even at the level of afternoon television. But it was well done. The IPC comics, on the other hand, were soulless. It depressed him so much, that, when he and John Wagner, who also later went on to become one of the founders of 2000AD, were writing in a garden shed, he wrote all his scripts on a roll of wallpaper so they formed a continuous strip and he wouldn’t have to go back and read them all again.

British comics in this period were very much stuck in the past, even as British society changed. This was a time when the German experience of the war was appearing in the books of Sven Hassel, reflected in Action’s strip, Hellmann of Hammer Force. But yet Mills found it impossible to launch a strip whose hero was Black. This was to be a strip about a Black boxer. He was told that it wouldn’t work. People would not accept a Black hero. They’d accept a Black supporting character or friend. But as the central character, never. He also thought of introducing one about a Black football player, and that would have been even more controversial. There was a Black football player in one of the London clubs at the time, and he had been treated with racist abuse from the balconies.

Politics and satire have always been an important element of Mills’ work. He says that at one point he became dissatisfied writing for 2000AD, as the management were trying to shift the comic away from its traditional satirical stance, and this very much went against Mills’ own nature. He and Esmond discuss at one point Mills’ memory that, when they launched 2000AD, the management told him that they should imagine a future that they would actually live in. And now, he states, they’re living in it with Donald Trump’s presidency of the US, which Mills compares to the infamous Judge Cal. Cal was the mad Chief Judge in Judge Dredd, modelled on Caligula, who appointed his pet fish as a judge, called in the alien Kleggs to suppress any opposition in Mega City 1, and had another judge pickled. Perhaps we need to be very glad that NASA hasn’t made contact with intelligent aliens yet.

Mills remarks on how very many of the heroes of British literature, from Sherlock Holmes to John Buchan’s Hannay, have been members of the upper and upper middle classes. There are too many of them, and too few working class heroes. He’s been actively trying to redress this imbalance in his strips. It’s why Marshal Law, in his alter ego, used to be unemployed, but is now a hospital orderly. He’s not even a nurse.

He states that as he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he read many the authors that were around then, like Dennis Wheatley and John Buchan, all of whom were members of the upper classes. And with some of them, it was actually quite sinister. Buchan was a major propagandist for the First World War, in return for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada. And he did it very well. Later on in the video, in response to a question from the audience he remarks on how there is a very definite campaign in this country to suppress anything with an anti-war message. He was asked what the research was for his story in Charley’s War about the British invasion of Russia in 1918-19. He states that there were only two books he was able to get hold of at the time, but since then he got hold of a very good book, which is a much fuller description. This describes how the British officers sent in to overturn the Russian Revolution behaved like absolute animals. This episode has largely been airbrushed from British history. He contrasts with the British media’s refusal to publicise anti-war stories with that of our cousins across le manche. Attitudes there are much different, and Charley’s War, which ran in Battle and was about the experiences of a working-class Tommy in the First World War, is more popular in France even than Britain. This bias against anti-war stories is why you didn’t see Blackadder Goes Forth repeated in the centenary year of the War’s outbreak.

Mills is also critical of the way the indigenous mythology and legend of the British Isles has been suppressed in favour of myths from further south – Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt. Mills’ background, like Kevin O’Neill, was Irish, and his family were very patriotic. He grew up knowing all about Michael Collins, and his middle name is Eamon after the first president of Eire, Eamon de Valera. Yet it wasn’t until he started researching the Irish, as well as the Scots and Welsh legends, that he learned about any of those stories, and was shocked. Why didn’t he know about the warpspasm – the ultra-berserker rage that transforms the Celtic hero Slaine as he goes into battle? He also talks about how, in legend, London was founded by the Trojans as New Troy, and briefly mentions his treatment of this in the story he is or was currently writing for the Slaine strip. He states he wanted to produce a barbarian strip that was set in this country, complete with its grey skies and rain.

Mills has a deep admiration for these Celtic legends, but remarks on how they differ considerably from the other mythological tales. They don’t share their structure. If you read the Norse tales or Beowulf, there’s a structure there. But the Irish – which he uses to include also the Scots and Welsh stories – read like they’re on acid. He’s particularly impressed with the Tain, otherwise known as the Tain Bo Cualnge, or in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recommends the translation by Kinsella. He’s also particularly interested in finding the bits that were suppressed by the Christian clergy who wrote them down in the Middle Ages. He gleefully quotes one clerical writer, who says that the stories contain much that is true, much that is false, some lies, and some devilish invention, and some which is only fit to be read by idiots. Yeah! he shouts, that’s me!

He has the same mischievous joy when telling how he came to be persuaded to write the Invasion strip, in which Britain was invaded by a thinly disguised Soviet Russia. The management asked him if he wanted to write it. He said he couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. They urged him to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. So he worked his way as best he could through that. He still wasn’t enthusiastic. Then they asked him if he’d like to write a scene with Maggie Thatcher being shot by the Russians on the steps of St. Paul’s. His response: Yeahhh!

He also talks about how the brutal education he received at a school run by the De Lazare order inspired him to write the Nemesis the Warlock strip. The Terminators, and to a lesser extent Judge Dredd, were modelled on them. They were fanatical, and were quite sinister. He remarks that if you go on the internet you can find all sorts of tales about them.

He also talks about an abortive crossover story planned for Marshal Law and Batman. Marshal Law was a bitterly satirical, extremely violent and very funny strip published in the 1990s about a superhero in the devastated San Francisco of the early 21st century, who hates other superheroes. The superheroes in the strip were created for a Vietnam-like war in South America, and have come back disillusioned and traumatized by the conflict. As a result, they form violent street gangs, and Marshal Law is recruited by the police to clean them up. It was a very dark comic that relentlessly parodied superhero comics from a left-wing, feminist perspective. When DC announced they wanted to make the crossover, Mills thought that they weren’t really serious. But they were. So he and O’Neill decided that for the cover, they’d have the Marshal standing on a pile of bodies of the different versions of Batman from all across the alternative Earths of the Multiverse. Then DC’s management changed, and their story policy did too, and the idea was dropped.

Mills also discusses the various ways comics have been launched, only to be merged with other comics. With 2000AD the comic was merged with Tornado and then Starlord. It was a very cynical policy, as from the first these comics were intended to fail, but by merging them with 2000AD and other comics, the management presented it as giving their readers something new, even though it wasn’t, and they felt it was an intrusion. He also responds to another question about which comic he felt folded before its time. The obvious answer to this was Action, which upset the establishment so much that it was banned, before being sanitized and relaunched. Mills said that they knew the comic was doomed. The new editor, who was given control of it had previously edited – and this is almost unbelievable – Bobo the Rabbit – and so didn’t know what he was doing. Mills said that before then they had skated over what was just about unacceptable and knew just how far you could go. Because this new editor hadn’t had that experience, he didn’t, and the comic folded.

The comic that he really feels shouldn’t have folded, and could still have carried on today, was Battle. As for which comic he’d now be working on instead of 2000AD, if it had proved more successful, these were the girls’ comics, like Misty. They vastly outsold the boys’ comics, but ultimately folded because ‘the boys took over the sandbox’. The video ends with his answer to the question, ‘What is his favourite strip, that he wrote for?’ He thinks for a moment, before replying Nemesis the Warlock to massive cheering.

It’s a very interesting perspective on the British comics industry by one of its masters. Regarding Slaine, Mills has said before in his introduction to the Titan book, Slaine the King: Special Edition, that the achievements of our ancestors, the Celtic peoples, has been rubbed out of history in favour of the ‘stern but fair proto-Thatcherite Romans, who built the roads and made the chariots run on time’. I think part of the problem is that the legends Mills draws on – that of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic Wales – are those of the Celtic peoples, who were defeated by the expanding Anglo-Normans, who made a concerted attempt to suppress their culture. As for the very frank admiration for the Romans, that partly comes from the classics-based education offered by the British public schools.

As for the very staid attitude of British comics in the 1970s, this was a problem. It was actually a period of crisis, when many of the comics were folding because they hadn’t moved with the times. Mills’ idea for a strip about a Black boxer is clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali, the great African-American athlete of the ring. Everyone knew Ali, and he was universally admired, even by kids like me, who didn’t understand or know much about the racial politics behind Ali’s superstardom. Ali said that he wanted to give his people a hero.

Even so, the idea of having a sympathetic Black supporting character was an improvement. Roger Sabin, in his book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, published by Phaidon, notes just how racist British comics were in the 1960s. This was very controversial, as Black people naturally objected. Sabin cites one strip, in which the White hero uses two racial slurs for Blacks, and another abusive term for Gypsies. And showing the type of strips that appeared in the 1920s, there’s an illustration which shows the Black characters from a strip in one of D.C. Thompson’s comics, either the Dandy or Beano at the time. This was The Colony N*gs. Only they don’t use an asterisk to try to disguise the term.

As for his experiences with the monks running his school, unfortunately he’s not the only one, who suffered in this way. I’ve met a number of former Roman Catholics, who were turned off religion, and in some cases became bitterly against it, because of their experience being taught by monks and nuns. Several of Britain’s most beloved broadcasters from the Emerald Isle were also turned off religion because of this. Dave Allen, who regularly poked fun at religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church, said that he became an atheist because of the cruelty and the way the priests tried to scare their young charges at his old school. And that mainstay of British radio, Terry Wogan, in a series he presented about Ireland and his life there, said exactly the same about the effect the hard attitude of the teachers at his old Roman Catholic school had on him.

The Roman Catholic church does not have the monopoly on the abuse of children, and I’ve heard some horrifying tales of the brutal behavior of some of the teaching staff – and prefects – in some of the British grammar schools. Dad has told me about the very harsh regime of some of the teachers at his old school – not Roman Catholic – in Somerset. He describes the teachers as sadists, and has a story about how one of the teachers, when one of the boys couldn’t answer a question, threw the lad out of window. Brutality seems to have been built into the British educational system, leaving mental scars and bitter memories.

I’ve very mixed feelings about the British force sent against revolutionary Russia. Perhaps if we’d succeeded, the forty million Soviet citizens butchered by Stalin would have been able to live out their lives, and the peoples of the Russian Federation free of the shadow of the KGB and gulags.

But that’s with hindsight. That’s not why British troops were sent in. The Bolsheviks were anti-democratic and determined to suppress all other parties and factions except their own, even when these were Socialist or anarchist, like the Mensheviks, the Trudoviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries the Left Communists, Anarcho-Communists and syndicalists. But we sent in troops because Britain and the rest of the capitalist world felt threatened by the emergence of a working class, aggressively socialist state. Britain had many commercial contacts with pre-Revolutionary Russia, and Lenin had argued in his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that global capitalism depended on European imperial expansion. These nations enslaved and exploited developing nations like Russia. A socialist revolution in these countries threatened international capitalism, as it was here that the capitalist system was weakest. Hence the Bolshevik slogan, ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link!’

Ordinary Russians, let alone the conquered nations of the Russian Empire, were oppressed and exploited. If you want an idea how much, and what ordinary Russians endured and struggled to overthrow, read Lionel Kochan’s book, The Russian Revolution, published by Paladin. This was the grotty system British troops were sent in to restore.

On a more positive note, one member of the audience in the video thanks Mills for encouraging him to read. The man says he was dyslexic, but it was the comics he consumed as a child that got him reading. He is now a teacher, who specializes in helping children with reading difficulties, and uses comics in his teaching.

This is really inspiring. Martin Barks in Comics, Ideology and Power, discusses how comics have always been regarded with suspicion and contempt by the establishment. They were regarded as rubbish, at best. At worst they were seen as positively subversive. I can remember how one of the text books we used in English at school included a piece of journalism roundly condemning comics as rubbish literature with bad artwork. And this was reprinted in the 1980s! My mother, on the other hand, was in favour of comics because they did get children reading, and used to encourage the parents of the children she taught to buy them when they asked her advice on how they could get their children to read if they wouldn’t read books. This shows how far comics have come, so that they are now respectable and admired.

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Reichwing Watch on Libertarian Anarcho-Fascism

July 20, 2017

At first glance, Anarcho-Fascism should be a contradiction in terms. Anarchism stresses the absolute autonomy of the individual, while Fascism glorifies the state, and subordinates the individual to the collective. In the case of Italian Fascism, this was the nation and the state. As Mussolini said, ‘Nothing outside the state, nothing against the state, everything for the state’. It was also il Duce who coined the term, totalitarianism, when he talked about ‘the total state’. For Hitler and the Nazis, the individual should be subordinated to the volk, the racial group. He once declared that the individual should never be left alone, even in a skat club.

I’ve put up a couple of posts recently commenting on the way Libertarianism, which has previously described itself as Anarcho-Capitalism or Anarcho-Individualism, is morphing into what its own supporters are calling Anarcho-Fascism. I’ve already posted up a video from Reichwing Watch about the way Libertarianism is becoming a front for Fascism. In this video Reichwing Watch goes on to show how the Anarcho-Capitalists themselves are formulating Anarcho-Fascism.

The video features a series of Libertarian ideologues, politicians and bloggers, including That Guy T, Rand and Ron Paul, Ayn Rand and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as well as clips from a documentary on Italian Fascism, Noam Chomsky and Adolf Hitler himself.

The Libertarians, including That Guy T, the Pauls and Hoppe make it clear that Libertarianism is compatible with Fascism because it is about preserving personal rights and individual liberty against democracy and the masses. It rejects rights for minorities and the poor, and, like Fascism, is firmly opposed to the organized working class and Socialism. That Guy T and Hoppe talk openly of forcibly removing Socialists and others, including, for Hoppe, democrats, who fail to recognize individual autonomy and wish to foist their views on the collective. Libertarianism is firmly in favour of private industry, as was Hitler. There’s also a clip of the Nazi leader rhetorically asking by what right the working class demands a role in government and to manage industry. Noam Chomsky also explains how modern industry is anti-democratic, as you have a small number of the owners of industry at the top, who give the orders to the mass of workers at the bottom. And the clips from the documentary on Fascist Italy serve to make clear just how brutal Mussolini’s thugs were in dealing with Socialists, democrats, and anyone else, who was a threat to the state.

There’s also a piece from a Vox documentary explaining that Trump supporters rate highly on the scale psychologists use to measure authoritarianism. The presenter states that these questions are posed very delicately. They don’t directly ask for views on race, which people are likely to avoid or disguise, but as them more general questions, such as whether they prize liberty or discipline in rearing children. On some issues, such as crime, authoritarians are indistinguishable from everyone else. However, they are much more afraid of foreign threats, and favour curtailing civil liberties to counter them, to the point where it can be used to predict just who supports the orange buffoon in the White House.

An older gentleman speaking in the video, who clearly had been a Libertarian, talks about the Social Darwinism in Libertarianism, and how they sneer at and attack the poor in order to reward the rich. He cites Ron Paul’s tax policy, which was aimed at penalizing the poor to subsidise the rich, as an example. There’s a clip from an interview with Ayn Rand, in which the founder of Objectivism rejects humanitarianism, and reproaches humanity as a ‘sacrificial species’. The older gent goes on to explain how Mussolini himself overcame the apparent contradiction between Fascist statism and Libertarian individualism when he subsidized the publication in Italy of her books, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. These glorify the wealthy, intellectual, Nietzschean superman against the mass of the uncreative poor, who are vilified as ‘feeders’. As for tax policies which benefit the rich over the poor, there’s another clip from one of Hitler’s speeches, showing that he also shared this Social Darwinist view.

The Fascistic nature of Libertarianism and its organisations and supports has been around for decades. I remember how, way back in the 1988 or ’89, there was a controversy when it was discovered that one of the Libertarian organisations in Britain had links to one of the Fascist regimes and its death squads in Central America. I think it might have been Guatemala. And Lobster has published articles showing that the Freedom Foundation in Britain, previously the National Association For Freedom, or NAFF, was violently opposed to Socialism and trade unions.

One of the aspects of this video, which is particularly shocking, is that one of the speakers advocating Anarcho-Fascism, That Guy T, is Black. ‘T’ is clearly educated and intelligent, so it’s astonishing that he’s all-out in favour of a movement that particularly despises ethnic minorities, including Blacks, to the point of active persecution. Mainstream Conservatives, whose views ‘T’ seems to have picked up, see the poverty, alienation and disenfranchisement of Black Americans as their fault. As they see it, Blacks lack the individualism, discipline and entrepreneurial spirit to improve themselves and lift themselves out of poverty. Instead, they condemn themselves to low achievement and dependence on state welfare programmes.

This is nonsense, of course. Black poverty is caused by the same social and economic causes as White poverty, as well as pressure from a social and political system that, even after the abolition of slavery, was explicitly established to keep them in an inferior status through segregation and Jim Crow. A system whose legacy is still very evident today, and which may become worse yet due to the Right’s hatred of the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s.

But if you want to see how Fascism – genuine Fascism – views Blacks, you only have to look at the Klan, the bitter hatred of White supremacist groups and neo-Nazi movements like the American Nazi Party and the BNP, NF and their ilk over on this side of the Pond.

As for the links between Fascism and Anarchism, Italian Fascism and the corporate state had its origins partly in a section of the Anarcho-Syndicalist movement, that decided what they were opposed to wasn’t capitalism and the state, but laissez-faire individualism. They revised syndicalism so that the new industrial organisations – the Fascist corporations – not only comprised trade unions, but also the employers’ organisations. The latter were left largely intact and retained their influence after Mussolini set about smashing the old working class trade unions in order to render them powerless.

During the Spanish Civil War, the Fascists tried to win over the Anarcho-Syndicalists on the grounds that both movements praised dynamism, rejected parliamentary democracy, and the corporative state partly realized the Syndicalists’ ideal of a state based on industrial associations. The Anarchists and Syndicalists weren’t impressed, however, and very definitely rejected such an attempt to stifle genuine working class autonomy.

They were right. And this new, permutation of Fascism, in the guise of Libertarianism, also needs to be strong rejected and fought.

Schools Display and Document Folder on the 1920s General Strike

March 13, 2017

The General Strike: Jackdaw No.l05, compiled by Richard Tames (London, New York and Toronto: Jackdaw Publications Ltd, Grossman Publishers Inc., and Clarke, Irwin and Company 1972)

I picked this up about 20 years ago in one of the bargain bookshops in Bristol’s Park Street. Jackdaw published a series of folders containing reproduction historical texts and explanatory posters and leaflets on variety of historical topics and events, including the Battle of Trafalgar, the slave trade, the voyages of Captain Cook, Joan of Arc, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise of Napoleon, Ned Kelley and Wordsworth. They also published another series of document folders on specifically Canadian themes, such as the Indians of Canada, the Fenians, Louis Riel, Cartier of Saint Malo, the 1867 confederation of Canada, the vote in Canada from 1791 to 1891, the Great Depression, Laurier, and Canada and the Civil War.

This particular folder is on the 1926 general strike, called by the TUC when the Samuel Commission, set up to report into the state of the mining industry, published its report. This recommended that the mines should be reorganised, but not nationalised, and although the miners were to get better working conditions and fringe benefits, they would have to take a pay cut. The folder included a poster giving a timeline of the strike and the events leading up to it, and photos of scenes from it, including volunteer constables practising self-defence, office girls travelling to work by lorry, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and buses and train signal boxes staffed by volunteers. There’s also a Punch cartoon commenting on the end of the Strike. It also contains a leaflet explaining the various documents in the folder, along suggested projects about the issue and a short bibliography.

Poster and timeline of the Strike

Leaflet explaining the documents

The facsimile documents include

1. A leaflet arguing the Miner’s case.

2. Telegram from the Transport and General Workers’ Union to a local shop steward, calling for preparations for the strike.

3. Pages from the Daily Worker, the official paper of the T.U.C. during the Strike.

4. Notice from the Met calling for special constables.

5. Communist Party leaflet supporting the Strike.

6. Handbill giving the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of the Free Churches for an end to the Strike.

7. Handbill denouncing the strike as ‘The Great ‘Hold-Up’.
The accompanying pamphlet states that this was very far from the truth, and that it was a government lie that the T.U.C. were aiming at a revolution.

8. Emergency edition of the Daily Express.

9. Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin’s guarantee of employment to strike-breakers.

10. Contemporary Analysis of the causes of the Strike’s failure, from the Public Opinion.

11. The British Gazette, the government’s official paper, edited by Winston Churchill.

12. Anonymous letter from a striker recommending that the T.U.C. shut off the electricity.

13. Appeal for aid to Miner’s wives and dependents.

14. Protest leaflet against Baldwin’s ‘Blacklegs’ Charter’.

The General Strike was one of the great events of 20th century labour history, and its collapse was a terrible defeat that effectively ended revolutionary syndicalism and guild socialism as a major force in the labour movement. It left a legacy of bitterness that still persists in certain areas today.

The jackdaw seems to do a good job of presenting all sides of the issue, and the final section of the explanatory leaflet urges children to think for themselves about it. And one of the folder’s features that led me to buy it was the fact that it contained facsimile reproductions of some of the papers, flyers, letters and telegrams produced by the strikers arguing their case.

Looking through the folder’s contents it struck me that the strike and the issues it raised are still very much relevant in the 21 century, now almost a century after it broke it. It shows how much the Tories and the rich industrialists were determined to break the power of the unions, as well as the sheer hostility of the press. The Daily Express has always been a terrible right-wing rag, and was solidly Thatcherite and anti-union, anti-Labour in the 1980s. Since it was bought by Richard Desmond, apparently it’s become even more virulently right-wing and anti-immigrant – or just plain racist – than the Daily Heil.

The same determination to break their unions, and the miners in particular, was shown by Thatcher during the Miner’s Strike in the 1980s, again with the solid complicity of the media, including extremely biased and even falsified reporting from the BBC. It was her hostility to the miners and their power which partly led Thatcher to privatise and decimate the mining industry, along with the rest of Britain’s manufacturing sector. And these attitudes have persisted into the governments of Cameron and May, and have influenced Tony Blair and ‘Progress’ in the Labour party, who also bitterly hate the unions and anything that smacks of real working class socialism.

Solidarity Pamphlet on Bolsheviks’ Destruction of Workers’ Control in Russian Revolution

September 24, 2016

bolsheviks-workers-control

Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control/ 1917-1921/ The State and Counter-Revolution (London: Solidarity 1970).

I picked this short book – 89 pages – in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. Solidarity were a libertarian Communist group that believed that the workers should operate and manage the means of production. In their statement of beliefs at the back of the book, they state in point 9 ‘We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness.’ (p. 89). This is a direct contradiction of Lenin’s belief, firmly expressed in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done?, that the workers could only achieve trade union consciousness, and needed to be led to Socialism by a group of dedicated revolutionaries. The book itself states that it is a work of history, which intends to show how the Bolsheviks betrayed the revolution of 1917 by suppressing the movement for workers’ control in the factories and the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Revolution had begun when Russia’s working people rose up against Tsarism and the Kerensky government that replaced it. They formed factory committees which took over the management of the factories to various degrees in industry, and formed the soviets – councils – of working people across Russia, which formed a parallel system of popular government to that of the duma, the Russian parliament. Communist historiography has presented Lenin as fully behind these developments. He passed a decree stating that ‘workers’ control is established in the factories’ and praised the soviets, proclaiming the slogan, ‘All Power to the Workers’ Soviets’. The conventional historical view states that the workers were in fact unable to run industry, and so the government was forced to reintroduce the entrepreneurs, managers and technicians that the workers had previously turfed out of the factory gates in wheelbarrows.

This pamphlet shows that the opposite was true. From initially supporting them as a bulwark against the return of capitalism, and a necessary precondition for the nationalisation of industry, Lenin turned to active dislike and opposition, but was forced to support them for reasons of expediency. Lenin, Trotsky and their faction in the Bolsheviks really wanted Russian industry to be managed by a state bureaucracy, with a single person in command of individual factories and enterprises. Lenin adopted the slogan to present himself and his faction as fully behind the soviet revolution, while doing everything he could behind the scenes to reduce this to a mere slogan. Their practical strategy for destroying the factory committees involved incorporating them into the trade unions. These had always been under political control in Russia, partly through necessity as for most of the time they were illegal. The Bolsheviks in turn transformed these from popular organisations to campaign for better wages and conditions, to instruments of the Bolshevik party to discipline and organise Russian labour, so that it obeyed the state and the managers. It was the trade unions that set wages and determined working conditions. At the same time as they were being absorbed by the unions, the committees were gradually stripped over their powers until they were finally dissolved following the Kronstadt rebellion, which was intended to restore democracy to the Revolution by overthrowing Bolshevik rule. The Bolsheviks were also actively destroying democracy throughout the system of government and industrial management by gradually removing elections and replacing them with political appointments. As part of this, the trade unions could elect their members to the various Bolshevik political organs, but this became subject to the party’s veto. Candidates elected by the unions not approved by Lenin and his faction could be blocked.

This resulted in the construction of the totalitarian, monolithic Soviet state, while industry saw the removal of workers’ power and the return of the very industrialists and entrepreneurs, who had been overthrown. Indeed, after the failure of authoritarian ‘war communism’, with its forced requisitions of food from the peasantry during the Civil War, 1921 saw the limited return of capitalism itself in the establishment of a private sector as part of the New Economic Policy.

Not all of the Bolsheviks were in favour of this policy, and Lenin, Trotsky and their faction faced bitter opposition from a series of groups and individuals within the party, including Preobrazhensky, Osinsky, Bukharin and Alexandra Kollontai, in the ‘Democratic Centralists’ and ‘Left Communists’. Despite their efforts, theirs was a losing battle and in the end they were fighting a series of rearguard actions to preserve the last vestiges of the factory committees and the autonomy of the trade unions.

Outside the party, the Bolsheviks also faced opposition from anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, who also wished to preserve the factory committees from attacks from the party and the trade unions. The booklet discusses the increasing mass arrests of these, and the closure of a range of anarchist newspapers and magazines, such as Burevestnik, Anarkhia and Golos Truda (Workers’ Voice). The final demands of the Left Communists for trade union autonomy and its management of industry was also denounced by Lenin as ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’.

Apart from its description of the way the Bolsheviks overturned the founding principles of the revolution, supplanting control and management by the workers themselves, with a system of control and management by the party, its functionaries, and returned capitalist businessmen in the name of the workers, the pamphlet’s also interesting for discussing the various literature produced by the revolutionaries and their plans for instituting practical system of workers’ control. For example, the Exploratory Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd War Industries, convened on April 2nd, 1917, issued the proclamations that

From the Factory Committee should emanate all instructions concerning internal factory organisation (i.e. instructions concerning such mattes as hours of work, wages, hiring and firing, holidays, etc.) The factory manager to be kept notified…

The whole administrative personnel (management at all levels and technicians) is taken on with the consent of the Factory Committee which has to notify the workers of its decisions at mass meetings of the whole factory or through shop committees…

The Factory committee controls managerial activity in the administrative, economic and technical fields … representatives of the Factory Committee must be provided, for information, with all official documents of the management, production budgets and details of all times entering or leaving the factory … (p.2).

The Kharkov Conference of Factory Committees, held on May 29th that same year, declared that the committees should become

organs of the Revolution… aiming at consolidating its victories. The Factory Committees must take over production, protect it, develop it. They must fix wages, look after hygiene, control the technical quality of products, decree all internal factory regulations and determine solutions all conflicts. (p.4).

The Second Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd, held at the Smolny Institute from the 7th-12th August, also stipulated that

‘All decrees of Factory Committees’ were compulsory ‘for the factory administration as well as for the workers and employees – until such time as those decrees were abolished by the Committee itself, or by the Central Soviet of Factory Committees’. The pamphlet states that

the committees were to meet regularly during working working hours. Meetings were to be held on days designated by the Committees themselves. Members of the Committees were to receive full pay – from the employers – while on Committee business. Notice to the appropriate administrative personnel was to be deemed sufficient to free a member of the Factory Committee from work so that he might fulfil his obligations to the Committee. In the periods between meetings, selected members of the Factory Committees were to occupy premises, within the factory, at which they could receive information from the workers and employees. Factory administrations were to provide funds ‘for the maintenance of the Committees and the conduct of their affairs’. Factory Committees were to have ‘control over the composition of the administration and the right to dismiss all those who could not guarantee normal relations with the workers or who were incompetent for other reasons’. ‘All administrative factory personnel can only into service with the consent of the Factory Committee, which must declare its (sic!) hirings at a General Meeting of all the factory or through departmental or workshop committees. The ‘internal organisation’ of the factory (working time, wages, holidays, etc.) was also to be determined by the Factory Committees. Factory Committees were to have their own press and were ‘to inform the workers and employees of the enterprise concerning their resolutions by posting an announcement in conspicuous place’. (pp. 8-9).

The Wikipedia entry on Solidarity states that the group was always small, but played a disproportionately large role in the industrial disputes of the 1970s and the campaign for workers’ control and management in industry. The system of complete workers’ control set up during the Russian Revolution is far too extreme to be popular in Britain, at least at present and the foreseeable future. Worker’s involvement in management has still been put back on the agenda, even if in a half-hearted way by Theresa May, no doubt as a calculated deception. The pamphlet itself remains a fascinating description of this optimistic movement in Russian revolutionary history, and its betrayal by the Communist party, and is an important corrective to the standard view that workers’ control was fully supported by them.

The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System

September 16, 2016

I’ve already put up several pieces about how a wave of strikes are spreading across the American prison system by convicts fed up of being used as cheap, slave labour for big business. In this short piece by The Young Turks’ Hassan Piker, he begins with a quotation from Dostoevsky that a country’s state of civilisation can be gauged from its prisons. And Dostoevsky had personal experience of which he spoke. He was sent to a Siberian prison in which he was bound hand and foot. Piker gives the statistics on the immense size of the American prison population, and how the number of convicts on work programmes for outside corporations. Those companies involved include McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret and Walmart. Defenders of the programme say it teaches the cons valuable skills. But Piker points out that they have no union representation, and are paid 23 cents a day, much less than the minimum wage. Piker points out that the prisoner making shirts for McDonald’s is making even less than the person wearing it. Freedom for Alabama, one of the groups involved in the protests, states that this is a form of slavery, as defined and protected in the American Constitution. This outlaws slavery and forced labour, except for the convicted of a crime. Despite the abolition of slavery, this still effectively exists in American prisons, with inmates subjected to various degrading and painful punishments, including the investigation of their bodies ‘as if we are animals’. He points out that the whip has been replaced by pepper spray, but apart from that nothing has changed. The strikes are taking place nearly 35 years after a similar strike by prison workers in 1971. The strikers are aiming not just to improve their conditions, but also to bring down the entire corporate system that has massive boosted the American prison system. Piker comes down firmly on the side of the strikers, but states that many people may not listen to them because of who they are.

The size of the corporate prison system and its corruption of American justice is a major problem over there, and is also an increasing problem on this side of the Atlantic. At the heart of it is the private management of prisons. The companies running them frequently have contacts with politicians and judges in their states. They donate to politicians’ election funds, and put pressure on them to pass harsher legislation on crime. At the same time, the may also have judges on their payroll, whom they also persuade to pass tougher sentences on criminals to send them to prison. Where they can be used as cheap labour for the corporate profit of the prison and the contracting outside company. Michael Moore, the Capped Crusader, in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, covers the case of a young girl, who was given a custodial sentence to an adult prison for truanting from school. The presiding judge in her case was on the payroll of the local prison company.

Private prisons have been introduced over here. I think they might have been introduced under John Major’s Conservative administration. They certainly were under Tony Blair’s, who was very cosy with Wackenhut, one of the leading American private prison firms. Mike ran an article a few weeks ago pointing out that British prisons were also using convicts as slave labour for their firms’ profits, and that this was perverting British justice in exactly the same way the system was over the other side of the Pond. The strikes are led by the syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, and have spread to 40 prisons in 25 states. The incarcerated workers have a point, despite the crimes for they personally have been committed. The system should be stopped, both in America and over here.

I.W.W. Issue Nationwide Call for Prison Strike in America

September 10, 2016

Yesterday, Counterpunch published the call from the I.W.W. Incarcerated Workers’ Organisation Committee calling for a nationwide strike in American prisons against slavery. This is the use of prisoners as unpaid labourers for private companies. The I.W.W. is the syndicalist trade unions, nicknamed the ‘Wobblies’, which was at the forefront of American working class radicalism in the early 20th century. It still exists to day, and has a branch in Bristol, which meets at one of the radical bookshops in Bristol’s Old Market. The call begins

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

In the 1970s the US prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, people were standing up, fighting and taking ownership of their lives and bodies back from the plantation prisons. For the last six years we have remembered and renewed that struggle. In the interim, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

The prisoners go on to state that they need popular support on the outside. They describe the impact the slave system in American prisons has on the wider community. Ordinary citizens are arrested and sentenced to prison for the specific purpose of providing unfree labour for these private companies. They also talk about the ‘extra-judicial executions’ of Black Americans, naming a few of the victims. This is related to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which protests against the complete disregard some members of the American police have for the value of human life in shooting Blacks, regardless of the severity of the crime, or even if there is any crime at all. Several of the victims have been innocent.

To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

I’m quite aware that criminals in the prison system are hardly innocent victims, and that many are guilty of the most vile offences. But in this case, they have a point: they are being used as slave labour for private profit, and this is affecting the wider community. In America, the private prison corporations donate money to the political parties and for the election of judges, so that they will run on a platform of being tough on crime. The local political candidates are effectively bribed to pass laws introducing harsher penalties, and judges are effectively bribed to pass longer sentences. There’s a case in one of Michael Moore’s films, Capitalism: A Love Story, we he discusses the case of a teenage schoolgirl sent to jail for truancy, because the beak was connected to the local prison company, which wanted more slave labour.

Nor is this iniquitous system confined to America. Mike put up a piece several weeks ago, discussing the highly exploitative conditions in private prisons, in which prisoners are used as unfree labour for British companies. Mike made the point that we cannot close our eyes to such exploitation in this country, and claim that it doesn’t happen here. It does. Of course criminals should be punished, but it’s one of the fundamental cornerstones of the concept of justice that the punishment should fit the crime. The exploitation of prisoners as unpaid workers goes directly against this. As a punishment, it’s only an excuse for their exploitation for the profit of big business.

The strike has spread to something like 24 states and 40 prisons all over America, according to a report on Democracy Now! Over on this side of the pond, we need to start thinking about how we can stop the exploitation of prisoners for corporate profit over here.

Let’s Get Fascist with Neoliberal Corporatism

August 1, 2016

By which I certainly don’t mean supporting racism, xenophobia, genocide and the destruction of democracy, or vile, strutting dictators.

British and American politics are now dominated to an overwhelming extent by the interests of corporations and big business. Corporations in America sponsor and donate handsomely to the campaign funding of congressmen and -women, who return the favour, passing legislation and blocking other acts to the benefit of their corporate sponsors. I put up a piece a little while ago from the radical internet news service, Democracy Now!, reporting on how funding by the Koch brothers has resulted in policies that massively favour the oil industry, against the Green movement and efforts to combat climate change. Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, is also part of this corrupt web. She sits a number of leading American companies, and was paid something like a quarter of a million dollars for speeches she made to Wall Street. This has had a demonstrable effect on her policies, which strongly favour big business and, naturally, the financial sector. This corruption of American democracy ultimately goes back to the 1970s, when a court ruled that sponsorship by a corporation constituted free speech under the law, thus undermining the legislation that had existed for over 150 years against it. After about forty years of corporate encroachment on the res publica, the result is that America is no longer a democracy. A recent report by Harvard University concluded that the nation had become an oligarchy. This is reflected by the low rating of Congress in polls of the American public. These have shown that only about 14% of Americans are happy that their parliament represents them.

This situation is no different over here, although the corruption has been going on for much longer. ‘Gracchus’, the pseudonymous author of the 1944 book, Your MP, detailed the various Tory MPs who were the owners or managers of companies. Earlier this evening I posted piece about the recent publication of a book, Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics, which revealed that British MPs have about 2,800 directorships in 2,450 companies. It’s blurb states that MPs are not working for the general public. They are working for these companies. Nearly a decade or so ago, George Monbiot said pretty much the same in his book, Corporate State, as he investigated the way outsourcing, privatisation and the Private Finance Initiative meant that the state was increasingly in retreat before the encroachment of corporate power, which was now taking over its functions, and official policies were designed to support and promote this expansion. This has meant, for example, that local councils have supported the construction of supermarkets for the great chains, like Sainsbury’s, despite the wishes of their communities, and the destructive effects this has on local traders, shopkeepers and farmers.

In America, there is a growing movement to end this. One California businessman has set up a campaign, ‘California Is Not For Sale’, demanding that Congressmen, who are sponsored by corporations, should wear sponsorship logos exactly like sportsmen. In my last blog post, I put up an interview between Jimmy Dore, a comedian with The Young Turks, and David Cobb, the Outreach Officer with Move to Amend, a campaign group with 410,000 members across America, working to remove corporate sponsorship.

As I’ve blogged before, we desperately need a similar campaign in Britain. But it would be strongly resisted. Tony Blair’s New Labour was notorious for its soft corruption, with Peter Mandelson’s notorious statement that the party was ‘extremely relaxed about getting rich’. The Tories are no better, and in many ways much worse. When this issue was raised a few years ago, a leading Tory dismissed it with the statement that the Tory party was the party of business. David Cameron pretended to tackle the problem of political lobbying, but this was intended to remove and limit political campaigning by charities, trade unions and other opposition groups, leaving the big lobbying companies and the Tories’ traditional corporate backers untouched.

This corporate domination of politics and the legislature has been termed ‘corporatism’. This also harks back to the corporate state, one of the constitutional changes introduced in Italy by the Fascists under Mussolini. This was partly developed from the Italian revolutionary syndicalist tradition. The corporations were supposed to be a modern form of the medieval guilds. They consisted of both the employer’s organisations and the trade unions for particular industries, and were responsible for setting terms and conditions. Parliament was abolished and replaced with a council of corporations. Mussolini made much of this system, arguing that it had created social peace, and that it made Fascism a new political and economic system, neither Socialist nor capitalist.

In fact, the corporate state was nothing more than ideological camouflage to hide the fact that Fascism rested on brute force and the personal dictatorship of Mussolini. The power of trade unions was strictly subordinated to the control of the industrialists and the Fascist party. The Council of Corporations had no legislative power, and was really just there to rubber stamp Musso’s decisions.

But if the Tories and big business want a corporate state, perhaps they should get a corporate state, though following the more radical ideas of Fascist theorists like Ugo Spirito. Spirito was a philosophy professor, teaching at a number of Italian universities, including Genoa, Messina, Pisa and Rome. At the Ferrara Congress on Corporative Studies, held in May 1932, he outraged the Fascist leadership and conservatives by arguing that the Corporate state had resulted in property acquiring a new meaning. In the corporations, capital and labour would eventually merge in the large corporations, and their ownership would similarly pass from the shareholders to the producers, who manage it based on their industrial expertise. It was attacked as ‘Bolshevik’, and Spirito himself later described it as ‘Communist’. Despite the denunciations, it was popular among university students, who wanted the Fascist party to return to its radical Left programme of 1919.

If we are to have a corporate state with industrialists represented in parliament, as so promoted by neoliberal politicians, we should also include the workers and employees in those industries. For every company director elected to parliament, there should be one or more employees elected by the trade unions to represent the workforce. And as another Fascist, Augusto Turati argued, there should be more employee representatives elected than those of the employers because there are more workers than managers.

And as the outsourcing companies are performing the functions of the state, and those captains of industry elected to parliament are also representatives of their companies, these enterprises should be subject to the same public oversight as state industries. Their accounts and the minutes of their meetings should be a matter of public record and inspection. Considerations of commercial secrecy should not apply, because of the immense responsibility they have and the importance of their duties to the public, particularly as it affects the administration of the welfare state, the health service, and the prison and immigration system.

On the other hand, if this is too ‘Socialist’, then industry should get out of parliament and stop perverting democracy for its own ends and inflicting poverty and hardship of the rest of us.

Vox Political on the Labourist Owen Smith on Newsnight

July 27, 2016

Mike the other day also put up a piece on Owen Smith’s performance on BBC’s Newsnight. Mike and a number of other opponents of Blairite neoliberalism found it a cheering experience. It wasn’t quite a car crash, but, according to Mike, there were still some heavy swerves. He also observed that although Smudger mostly managed to control himself over Corbyn, he still felt constrained to sneer at him for his perceived lack of patriotism, and claimed that Corbyn had only had just over half the votes in the election, far underestimating the amount of support Corbyn had and has.

What I found particularly telling was the way Smiffy refused to use the word ‘Socialism’. He instead used the term ‘Labourism’ instead, to the manifest incredulity of the interviewer. In actual fact, historians of the Labour party and political scientists have for a long time made a distinction between ‘socialism’ and ‘labourism’. Socialism means the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. It can take many different forms, from co-operatives through to state ownership, or collective ownership by trade unions, as in Syndicalism. It may also involve different degrees, from complete nationalism, as in the former Soviet Union, to a mixed economy, as in Britain and most other western European countries before Thatcher and the Neoliberal devastation of our public life.

Labourism, on the other hand, simply means anything that benefits organised labour. For a couple of decades after its foundation, there was a tension in the Labour party between the trade unions, or some of the elements in the trade unions, and the various Socialist bodies. Some of the trade union members wanted the Labour party to concentrate on protecting union rights, such as the right to strike and picket, and fighting to obtain better wages for working people. Furthermore, under Lloyd George’s introduction of the first, preliminary foundations of the welfare state, trade unions could serve as the official bodies for the administration of the social security and healthcare schemes, along with private insurance companies. This has been described as a ‘labourist’ policy, as it was designed to help working people, but was not a socialist measure in that it did not involve the state or collective ownership.

I was also told by a friend last week that the Labour party has removed the term ‘Socialism’ from its constitution. I’m not surprised. Blair was not a Socialist by any stretch of the imagination. He got rid of Clause 4, the clause in the Labour party’s constitution that pledged the party to nationalisation and collective ownership. I’m not surprised that New Labour, in order to endear itself to all those darling swing voters and the aspirant middle classes, as well as rich donors, dropped the ‘socialist’ label as well.

But Smudger isn’t a labourist, either. Blair and New Labour hated and distrusted the trade unions, and have done everything they can to deny them any effective power to oppose the increasingly punitive and exploitative employment legislation. Legislation introduced not just by the Tories, but by the Labour right. Blair and Brown talked rubbish about the need to support flexible labour market policies as well as social justice. In practice, the Warmonger and his grumpy sidekick jettisoned social justice, as again, swing voters, the aspirant middle class, and the media barons, like Murdoch, all had the vapours when faced with it.

So Smiff isn’t a Socialist, nor proper labour. He didn’t oppose the Tory welfare cuts, and I doubt very much that he wants to anything about the employment legislation that is driving people in this country into poverty – the zero hours and short employment contracts, the proliferation of unpaid internships, workfare and all the rest of the vile schemes designed to make working people as poor and as desperate as possible.

He and the rest of New Labour – Progress, Saving Labour and the rest, are bog-standard Tories, and nothing else. They should leave the party and cross the floor to their true political home.

Useful Book: Socialisms: Theory and Practices, by Antony Wright

July 2, 2016

Socialisms Cover

(Oxford: Oxford University Press 1987)

I was asked a few weeks ago by some of the commenters here what the difference between Socialism and Communism was. In fact, apart from democratic Socialism, which most people understand as Socialism, there is a bewildering variety of difference types of Socialism, and socialists have often strongly disagreed with each other about what it means and how it should be carried out, while advocating the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Anthony Wright was the lecturer in political studies at the Department of Extramural Studies at Birmingham University. His book, published nearly three decades ago, has the subtitle on its front cover ‘Why Socialists disagree – and what they disagree about’. It discusses the different forms of Socialism, and the disagreements between them.

The blurb states:

One third of the world’s population now lives under a regime which describes itself as socialist. But what precisely is socialism? Marxists claim that they are the only true socialists, but this is hotly denied by Trotksyists, Anarchists, Fabians, Collectivists, Syndicalists, Social Democrats and members of the many other ‘socialist’ movements.

In this lucid and unintimidating introduction to the subject Anthony Wright argues that the contradictions, rivalries, and antagonisms within socialism arise from the absence of a single socialist tradition. The very word ‘socialism’ has (as R.H. Tawney put it) ‘radiant ambiguities’.

Socialisms develops this theme throughout a wide-ranging analysis of socialist theories and practices, and concludes, provocatively, with a look at the future prospects of contemporary socialisms.

As you can see, the book was written before the collapse of Communism, and neoliberal economics had infected the western socialist parties with different forms of the ‘Third Way’. It’s quite short at 137 pages, with different chapters on ‘traditions’, ‘arguments’, ‘doctrines’, ‘methods’, ‘actors’ and ‘futures’. In his conclusion, Wright looked forward to the rigid divisions between the different varieties of socialism breaking down, so that socialists of different persuasions can learn, and profitably borrow from each other.

The Reason the Press Hated Livingstone: His Support for Worker’s Control

June 6, 2016

Right at the beginning of the chapter on the press’ vicious campaign against Ken Livingstone and the GLC in Mark Hollingworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, there’s a snippet of dialogue between Livingstone one of the gentlemen of the press, in which ‘Red’ Ken – actually never a Marxist, despite the press’ claims – expressed his opinion that factories should be run by their workers, and schools by parents and teachers. This idea was simply rubbished by the interviewer. Hollingworth considers that this shows the fundamental reason why the press hated Livingstone with such bitterness. They really didn’t like the idea that ordinary people could or should run things. Hollingworth writes

During an interview with Terry Coleman, the former Daily Mail columnist who writes for the Guardian, Ken Livingstone remarked that he believed every factory should be run by its workers and each school by the parents and teachers.
‘Chaos’, replied Coleman.
‘No, no, no,’ said the GLC leader. ‘Concentrations of power produce chaos.’
‘But surely few people could run anything,’ responded Coleman. Livingstone then said that everyone was capable, given a chance, and that there was, for instance, nothing special about him.
‘Rot,’ replied Coleman.
‘No, seriously,’ said Livingstone, ‘that potential is there in everybody’.

That conversation revealed as much about Fleet Street as it did about the politics of Livingstone and the Labour group he led on the Greater London Council. It showed that one of the key factors behind the press hostility to the labour movement was their intense opposition to syndicalism – whether political, industrial or cultural. That in the eyes of editorial management, groups of ordinary people were incapable of running their own affairs. And it was neither practical nor desirable.

This attitude came into direct conflict with what the Labour group of GLC councillors were trying to do between 1981 and 1985. Their view was that people did have the potential for self-management – from tenants’ associations on council estates to workers in factories. Also that the GLC would be a political and financial peg on which a whole range of groups in London – Blacks, workers, Irish, women, gays – could hang their grievances, fulfill their capabilities and combat discrimination.

This may sound highly utopian and idealistic, but it was what the GLC administration tried to do on a local government level. ‘Socialism,’ said Livingstone in December 1983, ‘means people having day-to-day control over their own lives.’

It’s probably no surprise that this put Leninspart in conflict with the right-wing press. Thatcher talked a lot of waffle about liberating people – all that stuff about how ‘there is no such thing as society, only people’ – but the only people she wanted liberated were the owners of capital – financiers and businessmen. The workers were simply there to work, and respectfully take their orders and their beating from an increasingly macho management style. When Ken talked about liberating people, he meant it for the working class and other, traditionally excluded and marginalised groups. And that terrified the editors of the Express, Mail, Scum and the others. I can remember Ken appearing on a page of photographs of supposedly dangerous subversives published in the Sun, which one of the right-wing students at College had stuck to the wall outside his room. Under Ken’s photo was a quote, in which the scourge of the Thatcherites declared that he didn’t believe in the army, but wanted the workers to be armed to defend the factories.

Lenin introduced worker’s control in the factories for a short time during the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but quickly reversed the policy as it didn’t work. On the other hand, the experience of the Spanish anarchists and Syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War shows that workers could run industry, though some political scientists have suggested that this would probably break down in the large scale industries now common in the developed world. Nevertheless, that aspect of the anarchist experiment in Spain was successful, and it does provide some support for Ken’s views. Which is enough reason for the press to hate and fear him.

And just how much the Tories hated him is shown in one of the more bizarre stories in that chapter. Apparently one of Livingstone’s Conservative opponents woke up an hour earlier every morning so that he could give himself another hour in which to hate Livingstone. We are dealing with some seriously deranged right-wingers.