Posts Tagged ‘socialist worker’

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Democracy, revolutionary organisation, and the internet

December 8, 2013

This was originally written for the Socialist Workers Party’s (increasingly ill-named) ‘Internal Bulletin’, ahead of conference in early 2010, and shortly after I was suspended as a member, as detailed below. I was, as the piece makes clear, somewhat irked at the time by these spurious disciplinary proceedings, although in light of events over subsequent years it’s really very small beer indeed. Originally written from the viewpoint that the SWP could in some sense be reformed, it’s now painfully clear that this would be a hopeless task. It cannot be reformed, and nor should it be rebuilt. New organisations, not exercises in nostalgia, are now required.

I’m republishing the article here because the more interesting parts of the essay weren’t printed at the time. These are the first and last sections, on how the internet and communications technology changes the possibilities for political organisation. It was a mistake not to submit them for publication back then, but I think the issues raised (and the solutions suggested) are still of immediate relevance – perhaps more so now.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Peering into the gloom

January 25, 2010

Alex Callinicos has provided a brief summary of the state of the world economy, as revealed in recent statistics:

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) released its estimate for Britain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It noted, “GDP fell by 4.8 percent in 2009. This is a bigger fall than in any year of the Great Depression and is Britain’s biggest contraction since 1921…

“The broader picture of the depression is that output fell sharply for 12 months until March and has not changed very much since then, although evidence of a recovery is starting to emerge.”

In other words, the British economy shrank more last year than it did in any one year of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Callinicos also notes, however, that the future courses of the British and world economies are ‘shrouded in obscurity’.

He’s right to point out the uncertainties. What has happened in the recent past is, by itself, no guide to the future – as Gordon ‘no return to boom and bust’ Brown has discovered. The red faces in the economics mainstream tell their own story.

Nonetheless, stepping back from the statistical picture, it is possible to discern some shapes.

The most obvious is the pressure on the British economy from the vast costs of bailing out the financial system. Any attempt to substantially repay this borrowing within either the four years that Alastair Darling has offered, or the shorter timescale favoured by the Tories, will drag down the rest of the economy.

It represents a huge transfer from those spending money – either us as taxpayers, or the government through services – to those who save money: from those keeping the economy moving, to those hoarding cash.

Both the main parties are committed to repayment, squeezing workers and public services to please the financial markets. But repaying the debt does not necessarily benefit British capitalism in general. Other sections of capital need a robust domestic market to sell their products to – especially if markets overseas remain depressed, and competitive. Most UK companies do not export. If their domestic market is squashed by rising taxes or public spending cuts, they are in trouble.

So whilst all sections of British capital have a belief in the general necessity of keeping the financial markets sweet, the rate at which that debt should be repaid is a different matter.

Too fast, and domestic demand is squashed. Too slow, and the financial markets get jumpy. No-one can know for sure the best rate. And the different sections of British capital all have their own idea.

As the crisis revealed, no major part of British capitalism is prepared to countenance radical steps to overcome this dilemma – Adair Turner’s remarks notwithstanding. When the City of London was on its knees, the priority on all sides was to help it to its feet, through bailouts. No effort was made to seize the economic reins from the City.

Because the banks and the financial institutions were bailed out, and because there has been no real international agreement on how to discipline them in the future, they are liable to behave in exactly the same way as before: taking risks that could undermine the whole economy.

Combine this with the uncertain rate of debt repayment, and you have the potential for major instability. That’s even before considering the potential for resistance to major cuts. Whichever government is in place could run into a brick wall of opposition.

There is a way out of this bind. But it would mean posing a serious economic alternative to the domination of the City. It would mean building a movement able to do this.

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‘Chris Harman: a life in struggle’

January 9, 2010

Ian Birchall has penned a tribute to Chris Harman, longstanding editor of Socialist Worker and, latterly, International Socialism Journal, who died late last year. Here’s a sample:

Just after his remarkable appearance before a committee of the US Senate in 2005, George Galloway addressed a packed rally in the Friends Meeting House in London where he was, quite justifiably, greeted with enormous enthusiasm. In the course of his account Galloway mentioned that while waiting to appear he had smoked a Cuban cigar. This produced a spontaneous wave of applause. I felt no obligation to endorse Fidel Castro’s export trade; glancing around the hall I saw that Chris too was sitting with his hands calmly folded. A principled gesture or a reversion to the sectarian habits of our 1960s youth?

Revolutionaries have a double duty: to encourage the maximum possible unity in struggle and to seek the greatest possible clarity in understanding the situation. Did Chris always achieve the correct balance? Perhaps not. But he had absolutely nothing in common with those whose only response to new initiatives is to stand back and predict failure—the ultimate soft option. Right up to his death Chris remained an indispensable figure in the SWP leadership.

(Birchall’s forthcoming biography of Tony Cliff is awaited with bated breath.) Largely as a result of Harman’s untimely death, I’d gone back to have a read of his excellent 1991 essay The State and capitalism today. It’s one of his best single papers. Its power comes from Harman’s nuanced consideration of globalisation as a phenomenon of the state, as much as of the market.

Rather than globalisation occurring through a simple state-market opposition, the latter ‘rolling back the former’ – as the ideologues of globalisation would have us believe occurs – the two are fused in new and innovative ways, transforming both. By viewing the process in this way, Harman indicates with great clarity the twin errors open to other analysts of global capitalism: of either privileging the market above the state, or seeing the state as largely unchanged and still superior to the market.

It’s a better essay, for my money, than his more explicit 1996 paper on Globalisation: a critique of the new orthodoxy, which tends – as some of his later work did also – towards too much of a view that the state remains largely unchanged in a globalised world, able to intervene in much the same and with much the same form as it always did. Nonetheless, the paper repays reading as a corrective to the more loopy flat-earth views out there. (If I get the time, I’ll return to Harman’s treatment of globalisation at greater length.)