Sunday, 21 October 2012

A company of heroes...

'A company of heroes......' Familiar with the Christy Moore song? Northamptonshire Libraries have invited me to launch my book 'Geordie's Story-the Life of Jack Brent'in the Carnegie Room at the Central Library in Abington Street on Sunday November 4th at 2pm. The small book is about my uncle Geordie,who was born in 1912 and died ,aged 39 in 1951. He was brought up in a wee village in South West Scotland, ran away to join the army,ran away from that,drifted through the depression in the 1930's and was wounded badly in a military engagement. Not a lot different from thousands of younf men, well that's true except he was wounded by a machine gunner in February 1937 in the defence of Madrid in Spain. Geordie was just one of many thousands from all over the world that volunteered to fight in the International Brigade in the defence of the elected Spanish government against the fascist insurgents led by General Franco. He was what we now call a premature anti-fascist. It is likely that the machine gunner was a German or an Italian, practising skills that they would later use all over Europe. It was during the Spanish Civil war that the fascists perfected the tactics that they would later use all over Europe.From the blitzkrieg to saturation bombing of civilian towns. Franco had no hesitation in calling on his fascist allies as well as his mercenaries from North Africa to destroy the Spanish Republic and it's legally elected Socialist government. Geordie was an ordinary working class guy, with little formal education but a clear understanding that fascism was the greatest threat to mankind. I'm not naive enough to believe that World war two could have been stopped outside Madrid, but what is clear is that had the west not believed that non-intervention and appeasement was the route then the fascists could have been delayed, and the world might have been better equipped to confront the fascist tide. The men and women who went to Spain went with no illusions, they didn't go for money or power or even glory.They went in solidarity with the people of Spain.It was a simple act of solidarity and internationalism. There were of course weaknesses within the progressive forces, the internecine conflicts between the Communists,the Trotskyists and the Anarchists did hinder the anti-fascist struggle. Yet they fought with astonishing bravery and showed a unity of purpose undimmed after seventyfive years. Geordie when he returned struggled with enormous pain for the rest of his short life.Yet despite endless hospitalisation he managed to be a Communist Party activist,managed or organise Londoners to occupy the tube stations during the blitz and as the General Secretary of the International Brigade Association campaign to free Brigaders in internment camps all over occupied Europe,save the lives of many imprisoned comrades and ensure that the British Government used the skills and experience of former Brigaders in the British army. Times have changed, and the possibility of such interventions are not really relevant any more.I remember many years ago when as an ardent young communist I was part of a group who wanted to go and fight alongside the National Liberation Front in Vietnam.We met a delightful representative of the NLF who thanked us very gently but pointed out that the Vietnamese people could really manage without us,but extra medical aid would be appreciated! Some might argue that the young jihadists who volunteer to fight in the Middle East are part of that tradition. I think not,whilst it is right to get rid of autocratic dictatorships it is not a progressive move to replace them with theocratic dictatorships.To attempt to kill a child because she wants to go to school just about sums up the monstrousness. Internationalism is no longer a question of armed struggle,but never has the world needed an internationalism more. The capitalist system is the most organised and systematic international power ever created.Capital can move its resources and power at a whim with the press of a button. We need to be able to do the same,when the powerful cabal decide to close a factory here and open one elsewhere we need to be able to mobilise,not just the workers in one factory-but worldwide and simultaneously. Effective communication is now possible, and international solidarity is essential.I have been impressed by the growth and resilience of the worldwide Occupy Movement. That is the new internationalism,that is the lesson we must try and take forward from the struggle back then. And perhaps to give more hope, what was the slogan thosebrave young women wore in Moscow when challenging Putin and the theocracy? No Paseran! Look forward to continuing this discussion on the 4th of November-its free!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

One nation Labour?

                                                           One Nation Labour?

Am I the only person who finds it odd that the newest slogan that Ed Miliband can dredge up for the'Not the New Labour Party' is the 'One nation' idea first coined by a Tory Prime Minister over 140 years ago!
Disraeli first played with the idea in his virtually unreadable novel 'Sybil' and it has hung around in various guises ever since.
But then Tories have quite frequently wrung their hands and whimpered about the conditions of the poor.Why even that absurd apology for a caring Prince-Edward, Mrs Simpson's paramour visited the destitute Welsh vallies in the thirties and bleated about the need to do something.
Fat chance!

Of course there is something that Labour could advocate that would indeed start to build one nation,or rather demolish once and for all the gross inequalities that exist.How about a real land tax,indeed what's wrong with going the whole hog and promising land nationalisation of the 70% of the land owned by 0.28% of the population.
In a sense the Lib-Dems are ion the right track with their mansion tax, but frankly that only scratches the surface.
The real crime and dreadful inequality is that 42 million acres in this country are designated 'agricultural' and get between £3.5-5 billion in subsidies.On the other-hand domestic land use accounts for 5% (3 million acres) and pays £33.2 billion in land taxes.
Now if I thought that this vast dollop of subsidies were going to dear old Archer-style farmers, strimming their mangel wurzels and the like and growing produce for all of us-no problem-I'd even doff my plebeian cloth cap in their direction.
But of course it's not.
For instance in 2011 the hard pressed House of Windsor copped £730,628 in subsidies,
Chas Windsor £127,868
Prince Bander of Saudi Arabia a mere £273,905
The Vestey Family a stonking £1,069,731
and so it goes on, the Duke of Buccleuch,the Earl of Plymouth,the Duke of Devonshire,the Duke of Atholl...
Not to mention large multi-nationals,water companies and even Eton College.

They get subsidies simply for owning land, .it's part ofv the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and there is no requirement on the 'farmers'to grow any crops or indeed any other agricultural product.And the beauty of this little scam is the more land you have-productive or not-the more you get in subsidy and of course the less you pay in tax.

Now Comrade Miliband, in the week that Eric Hobsbawn died,perhaps it is time to restart the forward march of Labour.
Instead of piffling about with the one nation rhetoric and getting drooling admiration in Manchester, maybe it's time to consider some of the ideas thatb started the forward march of Labour in the first place.

What's so wrong about ridding this country of the parasitic land owners ?
How about adopting the slogan:
"Free the People's Grouse!".

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

CONFERENCES-Busy doing nothing....

On Sunday last BBC Radio 4 did the nation a great service.It presented a new version of that 1968 classic play by Alan Plater 'Close the coal-house door'  with music by  Alex Glasgow.
It was the story in words and music of the Durham miners, and featured the song 'the Socialist ABC'
If you are unfamiliar with it, find it on the BBC or just google it, I promise you it will be worth it if you have the slightest twinge of socialist ideology left in your battered social democratic body!
For those that remember it, I give you the final verse:
"W's for all willing workers,
And that's where the memory fades,
For X,Y,and Zed,'my dear daddy said,
Will be written on the street barricades.'
Now that I'm not a little tiny boy,
My daddy says to me,
Please try and forget those things that I said,
Especially the ABC.'
For daddy is no longer a union man,
And he's had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.

Thyev song reminded me what instinctively I always knew, and just publishing the biography of my uncle who fought with the Internationals in Spain has reinforced the ideology that I have always held.
When in 1972 Marie and I came to Northampton it seemed a political wilderness after the heady times of Hackney and Islington.
In Hackney we had co-edited the 'Stoke Newington Peoples Paper', we were founder members of Islington CARD(Campaign against racial discrimination) we had be courted by the International  Socialists and were members of a tiny group called Theoretical Practice(based on the work of Althusser)
Northampton had no revolutionary ferment and we were getting older.The only game in town was the LabourPparty, and our neighbour then was the widow of a castle Ward Labour Councillor and the doyen of the local party branch.
We decided to give it a whirl,but set ourselves five years to change the party or escape to indolence.
That was of course the early 70's, within a year i was a castle Ward Councillor and the Labour party was in ferment.Of course we acknowledged that it would never be a full blooded socialist party,but there seemed then the possibility of a thriving social-democratic party that would create some change,some progress.

Of course time passed and we got seduced by the comfort zone that the Labour Party provided, small incremental gains seems possible, and there was always the challenge of debate and discussion, and battles aplenty at GMC,District party, regional and national level.

Being a Labour Party member in the difficult 80's was no picnic,but we battled on with a growing anger that how much longer would people put up with Thatcher and the accursed free market ideology.
Come 1997 we were all so tired of banging our heads against the obdurate brick wall of reaction that the merest possibility of a change in government allowed us to be seduced by the siren voice of Blair and New Labour.
We should have known, they stopped calling it a party and talked about 'the project', they cut the party loose from it's history-no clause 4,no ending the Tory proscriptions of Trade unions,and the willing continuation for two years of the Tory financial programmes!
We should have known then that it would all end in tears, we should have known that Trident would float on undisturbed and cruel tragedies like Iraq would happen.
the signs were all there, we just allowed the euphoria of winning to blind ourselves to the fact that the Labour Party was not even a social democratic party any more.
What exists now is a hollowed out shell, a vote gathering machine that really does not understand what its gathering votes for.In a Times editorial last week it was pointed out that in many parties fifty people can select amongst themselves 20 or 30 councillors.Instead of selection conferences in each ward,the process is self selecting.There are often more seats around than candidates-such is the poverty of experience.
Worse still MP's can be selected by aggregate meetings often of less than a hundred! So any old retread,even one with a dodgy dossier of fiddling expenses can get back.
That is of course true of all the parties,but the problems appears to be at its worst in the Labour party,where in the absence of political theory,the machinery of 'democratic centralism' appears to be order of the day.

Fifty odd years ago I was expelled from the Youg Communist league because I found myself at odds with the democratic centralist model.One of the reasons I remained for so long in the Labour Party apart from inertia)  was the sense that real debate happened in Charles Street and progress could be made.

We all looked forward to conference and fought hard,ward by ward,union branch bty union branch to get our resolution,first through the GMC and then to conference.
How many resolutions were discussed at Northampton South this year?
How did the mandating meeting for the delegate go? Was Northampton South following the National Executive line or opposing the centre?