Issue 254 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
Sending a message to Blair
In the aftermath of the election campaign it is sometimes easy to forget what came before. I am talking of Blair and former education secretary David Blunkett's plan for our schools. In his plan that was unveiled a few months ago Blair set out his aims for the education of our children--increased involvement of the private sector and a return to selection. His solution to the overcrowded classrooms, poor facilities and demoralised teachers is to invite in profiteers to run schools, thus removing them from the control of the local councils and education authorities and placing them in the hands of people whose only motivation is profit.
Now, following the victory of Doctor Taylor in Wyre Forest, who campaigned against the closure of a local hospital caused by a PFI initiative, the mood of the population is clear--people are just not prepared to accept the selling off of their essential services to the fat cats.
The introduction of selection in education is even more worrying. It is perhaps a sad inevitability that whatever little cash new Labour gives out will go to richer areas, and the private companies will of course only want to go to areas where there is money. So poorer areas will be neglected and left to rot, and thus children's education will suffer from lack of resources and overcrowding.
So, of course, when it comes to selection children from the richer areas will go to the best high schools and the rest will get a 'bog standard' education. When looking at the question of education we should bear in mind the words of August Bebel who, when writing about education in the late 19th century, said, 'Attempts are being made to lower the educational level of the lower classes. The proletariat may become too clever, too knowing, might refuse to tolerate any more its state of servitude and rebel against its earthly gods. The stupider the masses, the more easily they put up with control and rule.'
Could the message be more clear? Already the Blairites have introduced tuition fees, thus putting off anyone but the rich from going to university. Now they plan to filter the rich from the poor in schools and pick out the rulers from the ruled at the earliest possible age. Equality of opportunity means more opportunities for the rich and more oppression and exploitation for everyone else. The gains made by the working class in the 1940s in the field of education are being reversed as the capitalist class seeks out total control over the education process and the right to grow fat off the back of our school system. They must be stopped. Blair claims he has a mandate to 'reform' and has signalled his intentions. We must be there ready to fight him every step of the way.
Three months ago it would have been reasonable to say that Reading was a bit of a non-starter as far as the left was concerned. However, all that began to change when at the end of March the town's first Socialist Alliance meeting was attended by more than a dozen people. Within just a week of this meeting Darren Williams, a local train driver and school governor, was selected as the Socialist Alliance candidate for Reading East, challenging Labour MP Jane Griffiths.
With just two months to run a campaign, the Socialist Alliance received huge support from dozens of local Labour supporters. For the first time, significant numbers of working class, life long Labour voters were coming up to us, telling us how great they thought our standing against Griffiths was. Meetings were regularly attracting up to 35 people, where people were enthusiastically coming up with original and exciting ideas for running the campaign. This culminated in a mass picket of one of the Gap stores in town, and a completely illegal and very vibrant march through Reading to the other Gap store.
The fact that Darren polled 394 votes was a real achievement. But what was really important was the massive level of involvement and commitment from supporters. By the time of the election we had formed a contact list for over 200 local Socialist Alliance supporters.
Reading is an example of how quickly events can be shaped in our favour. It's also an example of the possibilities that exist for socialists everywhere to start building now. The fact that we now have a foundation for the Socialist Alliance in Reading means we can now go on to form roots and profiles in workplaces, trade unions and housing estates. The chance to form a genuine mass party in opposition to Labour and the Tories is in our sights.
We welcome letters and contributions on all issues raised in Socialist Review. Please keep your contributions as short as possible, typed, double spaced if you can, and on one side of paper only.
Vic Milinkovic (June SR) makes some astounding claims in his attack on Chris Harman's article. His first point of criticism is that the Marxist ideas expressed therein are 'outdated', which is an interesting line of attack since the anarchist ideas he champions are at least as old as Marxism.
He points out that the movement opposes not just capitalism, but the concentration of political and economic power--otherwise known as class society. No Marxist could feasibly disagree with this. What unites the movement, he claims, is the recognition that the answer does not lie in the seizure of state power, but the 'development of a mass decentralised movement that will convert society from within and, crucially, from below.' That may indeed be what unites the anarchists within the movement, but what about greens, socialists and others who believe in the necessity of centralised organisation or who do not even go as far as opposing capitalism outright? They surely must count as being part of the movement?
Milinkovic also claims that many in the movement do not adhere to a specific ideology, sharing merely a common goal to create a more just and free society. Well, I think that is rather dangerous. 'A more just and free society' could cover a lot of ground, and could easily be a slogan in a Tory manifesto. The lack of any coherent idea of what is wrong with society and what needs to be done--be it green, socialist or anarchist--would leave the movement weak and capable of collapse in more hostile conditions.
There is also some confusion in Milinkovic's understanding of the revolutionary party. A vanguard party does not 'introduce a workers' state', the workers do that. Its purpose is to lead the ideological and physical struggle against state power--but it can only do that if it gains the support of the majority of workers. The idea that the Bolshevik Party was an intelligentsia that took over a genuine movement doesn't stand. They were workers, soldiers and peasants--otherwise they could not have won a majority within the soviets.
Milinkovic goes on to suggest that there is a direct line of continuity from Marx to Stalin via Lenin. Thus Marx's battles with Bakunin and his supporters in the First International become the same as the Bolsheviks' battle with the Makhnoites (a group of anarchists opposed to state power--including the workers' state) in a minority of soviets and the related crushing of the Kronstadt uprising in 1921, and this translates directly into Stalin's Five Year Plans, his demolition of workers' power, and his gulags. Remarkable logic! It turns out that Milinkovic's thinking is as disorganised and erratic as his hero Bakunin's.
For all his rage against authoritarian power, he seems ready to plump for a political programme that leaves state power intact, neither smashing it nor replacing it. And, for all the fine rhetoric of 'resistance to hierarchy'--who genuinely wants a hierarchy?-- he seems quite happy for individuals to act in an unaccountable and undemocratic fashion during demonstrations. And while they may add to 'diversity and independence of development', aren't such acts themselves unaccountably authoritarian?
We need a broad movement, based on cooperation rather than competition, with a shared strategy as far as that is possible, and a measured debate as to the future possibilities for the movement. Sadly, Milinkovic's sectarian sniping does little to contribute to this debate.
The Walrus (June SR) offers one, although by no means the only, explanation of what has happened to British Telecom. What concerns me, however, is the poverty of ambition suggested by the conclusion. Yes, job security is important, and the recent action by London Underground workers suggests a way forward here. But as socialists shouldn't we be demanding renationalisation of BT? A recent ICM poll for the Guardian showed 40 percent in favour of this. Not bad considering the fact that there isn't a public campaign for it at the moment. Perhaps there should be.
We are deeply concerned about the erosion of human rights in Mauritius, and in particular about the way in which the government is failing in its duty to prevent police brutality and torture. We are aware that the Public Security Act, which constitutes a permanent state of emergency in Mauritius, has not, in fact, been repealed, and is thus an ongoing threat against fundamental human rights. We are also aware of the erosion of democratic rights that has begun with the constitutional amendment denying detainees the right to counsel and the authorisation of holding 'suspects' incommunicado. We call for this constitutional amendment to be scrapped and the sections of the Dangerous Drugs Act that erode human rights not to be proclaimed. The failure to repeal outright such laws is clearly being interpreted by certain police officers as a licence to torture.
Write a letter or fax our prime minister directly on 230 211 7907 to repeal the Public Security Act and scrap the constitutional amendment that allows the incommunicado rule for the Dangerous Drugs Act, and to invite the UN special rapporteur on torture to come to Mauritius. If appropriate, put pressure on your government to do the same.
Lindsey Collen, Ashok Subron, Rajni Lallah, Alain Ah-Vee, Ram Seegobin, Veena Dholah, Rada Kistnasamy
We all know that everywhere there is a legitimate socialist movement the US tries to crush it with the help of Britain. Right now there is a war being waged in Colombia, where more than 15,000 people have died, among them trade unionists, students and indigenous people.
Most of the paramilitary groups in Colombia are graduates of the School of the Americas in Georgia in the US. There has been a blackout by the major US media corporations that Clinton gave Colombia $120 million in aid.
The truth of the matter is that most cocaine manufacturing labs are in the US. Drugs from Peru, Bolivia and Colombia enter the US through Panama. We don't hear about the fallen victims of this dirty war, or the lies that the US is spreading that the Farc (the Columbian guerilla organisation) get their weapons through the drugs trade. We all know the US used the drug money to wage war in Central America, and it is linked to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), where it deploys the military to protect the vested interests of multinational corporations. Spraying the poppy fields will harm flora and fauna, and indigenous people in the Amazon region, therefore creating a bigger problem. The militarisation of the whole region means killing for profits by the capitalists and imperialist regime of the US government.
The Farc, and the MRTA in Peru, are legitimate revolutionary movements. The other side of this war is that at night indigenous people have uprooted dozens of plants, but they are the ones suffering the worst repression. It only benefits companies in Canada and the US which are weapons manufacturers. How many people have to die in this secret dirty war created by the US imperialists?
In 1969 David Oluwale became the first black person to die in police custody. That was 30 years ago and hundreds of people have died in custody since then. Many of these incidents have been suspicious, yet none of the police officers involved have ever been convicted. Even when unlawful killing verdicts are returned at inquests, charges against the police never follow. We have lost confidence in the ability of the system to deliver real justice.
The United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) has been set up to challenge this system and stop the killings of black and white people in custody. It includes the families and friends of Roger Sylvester, Christopher Alder, Brian Douglas, Joy Gardner and Harry Stanley, to name a few. Together we are building a network for collective action. The manner of deaths of our relatives have been brutal.
The current pattern of institutionalised racist killings is an affront to a society that seeks to be a civilised democracy. The UFFC's aims and objectives are to ensure that such basic human rights be upheld and stop deaths within custody. The custodial institutions must be made accountable to the communities that they serve, and criminal charges brought against those officers responsible. UFFC was formed in early 1997. Since then our consistent challenges to the Police Complaints Authority, the Crown Prosecution Service and the government have made an impact and changes have been promised--but it is far from enough.
Nothing less than the prosecution of the killers of our family members will do. On a number of occasions we have asked the government to hold an inquiry into these deaths but they have refused. We have decided therefore to hold our own inquiry. 'The People's Tribunal on Deaths in Custody' will put the government on trial for these human rights abuses. The tribunal will hear the testimonies of various victims' families and friends. These will form the overwhelming evidence that supports our demands.
The findings of the tribunal will be presented to international bodies, urging them to intervene and support us in our struggles for justice. The tribunal will take place on 11 and 12 of July in London. If you want to attend or to offer practical support call us on 07770 432 439.