Issue 269 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
After Florence: from resistance to revolution
The fallout from the European Social Forum (November SR) is huge. The organisers of the ESF estimated that attendance would be around 20,000 for the forum and 150,000 for the demonstration. In fact 57,000 signed up for the first European Social Forum, and 1 million marched against capitalism and war.
The anti-capitalist movement has shown incredible resistance and strength despite many of the pessimistic words and thoughts of those on the left. Only a year and a half after the violent repression suffered in Genoa, the movement has responded in the most spectacular fashion.
As we marched through the residential areas of Florence one would have to be made of stone not to feel, as Walden Bello said in the final assembly, that 'not only is the movement winning now, but we will win'. As the march entered these districts, we saw banners reading 'Peace', 'Welcome' and 'Thank you'. The ordinary people of Florence lined the sides of the march for kilometres, applauding, smiling and crying. This is popular resistance. At that moment the idea of popular revolution became so much easier to fathom.
The movement is attracting the mass of people because of its diversity, plurality and openness to debate, but most importantly its message and aim--that another world without war, famine and oppression is possible.
Florence now gives a new lease of life to discussions about the movement. It is the new reference point. No elite groups of protesters like the Black Block or White Overalls, no police brutality, just an unbelievably huge united demonstration.
This is important if we are to make the 'other world' possible. We have to deepen and extend this movement, to take it from mass protests to seriously challenging the system. Central to this has to be bringing it into the places where people congregate on a daily basis, and feel most angry and willing to fight--that is, in the workplaces. To oppose war and capitalism, not just in whatever way possible but also in the most effective way possible, through mass workplace stoppages, university occupations, strikes and walkouts, we must build the links between the workers' movement and the anti-capitalist movement.
It is likely that Florence will go down in history as one of the great gatherings of the European left. A real sense of collective excitement gripped the tens of thousands of activists who attended. That the left across Europe has been able to regroup on such a scale is testimony to all those who have built the movements against war and globalisation.
Everyone I know who went to Florence considered it to be a massive success and step forward for the movement. People came to Florence because of a whole number of issues. I went largely on the basis of the inspiration I have felt through involvement with the Stop the War Coalition, both on 28 September and on the 31 October day of action, when hundreds of us occupied the LSE.
Another world is possible, but how do we get there? Much of the forum was characterised by the debate between reform and revolution. Can we look to the EU as a counterweight to US imperialism, or do we insist on the centrality of war to capitalism and therefore stress the necessity of revolution in order to create a peaceful world? Susan George wrote last month (November SR) that she feared the forum may become 'politically speaking, a tragic waste of time, energy and resources'. In order to avoid this she recommended we all try and focus on one particular issue. However, it seems the level of politics in the movement is simply too high to prevent people from generalising against the system as a whole and seeking its replacement with 'something nicer'!
It is clear that our movement, its successes or failures, hold the key to the future of humanity. The alternative is the barbarism we see Bush and Blair prepared to unleash. Revolution is back on the agenda and it is possible to win whole new generations of people to the ideas of revolutionary socialism.
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As a member of the CWU I can say what a massive difference it has been to have had Billy Hayes as our general secretary. It's a big step forward for getting things through at union meetings. I'm extremely pleased that he's been so prominent in support of anti-war activity and the European Social Forum. The piece in last month's Socialist Review was an excellent summing up of where we are and where we want to be.
We'll debate while we struggle how we get there. The big priority is building and maintaining strong union organisation. In the Post Office that means beating back the management offensive that is called 'The Way Forward'. In BT many chances to take the fight to management have been missed. For workers with both these employers the union has been seen as too ready to follow the bosses' agenda.
We're not all in it together--it's us versus them. There is a clear divide between management interests and workers' interests. Our side must resist the whole idea that we have some common interest.
You can't be a good union militant without good, outward looking politics. By the same token you can't be a really serious political activist without involving yourself 'up to your elbows' in building and maintaining basic workplace union organisation.
The 'loony left' tag had some resonance among many loyal trade unionists because, after the failure to stand firm over ratecapping, left-Labour councils didn't have the resources to make some policies, which would have been excellent when fully funded, anything other than empty tokens. We mustn't repeat the mistake.
Like many reviewers, Lee Billingham uses a music column (October SR) to write about the lyrics of songs rather than about the music itself. However, music communicates feelings and experiences at a very profound level. At its best, it can capture the emotional state of a movement, its confidence and its political direction. It is for these reasons that ruling classes suppress musical traditions for their musical content, rather than the explicit political content of the lyrics. It is also one of the reasons why music is coded, and the political purposes of the musicians do not necessarily coincide with the political sentiments expressed in the lyrics.
Unfortunately, Ben Watson's reply (Letters, November SR) is not very helpful, as he seems to be searching for music that has somehow escaped the commodification process. It is easy to forget that not a note of Beethoven's music was played without musicians on wages playing their instruments, leading Beethoven to develop relations with his orchestras not too dissimilar to those later developed by jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and film directors like Ken Loach, and previously by the playwright William Shakespeare. Today the vast majority of the world's music is produced under these circumstances, whether on big labels or on small, whether on computers or by live musicians. Individuals have to struggle just as much against rapacious petty capitalists as against mega-corporations. And whereas the market tries to isolate one tradition from another at the point of consumption, at the point of production traditions are brought together on a daily basis through the musicians paid to perform them. In these circumstances, political and economic struggles are at the heart of all music.
It would be nice to see all this reflected in a really uplifting column that both celebrated the sheer joy of music and made connections between musical forms, political consciousness and political organisation. After all, it is precisely because music is a commodity that producing it is such a struggle.
The problem I had with Lee Billingham's article on music (October SR) and Muhammad Salleh's letter (November SR) is that both of them said, 'Buy this band, they're political.' When so much chart music is so shallow, you can understand where they're coming from. But music isn't meant to be journalism with sounds added on afterwards. Interesting art follows different rules.
It would be nice to have some music reviews which talked about the sounds of bands, the relationship between words and music. One of my favourite songs of the 1990s was Babybird's 'You're Gorgeous'. A huge, saccharine pop hit, it sounded so sweet and idyllic that people played it at their weddings. But listen to the words, and the society it described was one where sex was a commodity and people's lives were cheapened.
Another song of the 1990s, Pulp's 'Common People', talked about class and class values. Just as the song built up to a crescendo, though, the words died out, and only the band remained. For me that said something about Pulp's musical politics--they didn't have the words to tell people what the revolution would feel like, but they did have the sound.
The Malaysian constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to establish a society or party, and freedom to associate. However, on 27 January 1999 and again on 15 September 1999, applications by the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) to become a registered society were turned down by the Ministry of Home Affairs. In August 1999 Azmi Khalid, then a senior minister in the Ministry of Home Affairs, stated that the decision to decline PSM's registration was taken because PSM were regarded as a 'threat to national security'.
On 26 October 1999 PSM became the first party in Malaysian history to drag the government, and specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs, to court. In March 2001 the Malaysian High Court gave PSM leave to put aside previous failed registrations, and asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to cease hiding behind false accusations and explicitly state that the people of Malaysia should be free to decide the fate of PSM, not the government. In the year since then little has changed, and PSM have again been in court in November 2002.
A 'Register PSM Campaign' was launched on 31 October, and PSM are appealing for international help in the struggle. Please express your disgust with the behaviour of the Minister of Home Affairs and his ministry by writing to Dato' Abdullah Badawi, Ministry of Home Affairs (Malaysia), Blok D1, Parcel D, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62546 Putrajaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Alternatively, phone the Registry of Societies on +60 3 441 1577 or send faxes to +60 3 442 5529. Messages of support can be sent to Parti Sosialis Malaysia, 72B, Taman Sri Langat, Jalan Reko, 43000 Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia, or by e-mailing email@example.com
Registered or not, the struggle will continue.