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Life isn’t worth living (a review)

In C.Spiby, Reviews, Uncategorized on July 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Hermit_ionescoA review by C. Spiby of the novel ‘The Hermit’ by Eugene Ionesco

One of the most famous philosophical maxims is ‘The unexamined life is not worth living (1)’. Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco’s only novel ‘The Hermit’ (1973) (2) is the absolute embodiment of this aphorism, albeit the conclusion presented being that, actually, life isn’t worth living examined or not.

An anonymous clerk inherits a small fortune which permits him to quit his meaningless office job where he is at most distracted to derision by the romances and mini-dramas that play out before him at work. On his last day, the clerk and his colleagues retire to the local restaurant for drinks – more out of social duty than actual like of one another. And this is where Ionesco excels: a complete affinity for the everyday interactions of ordinary people, most notably their subtexts and suspicions masked by social airs and conformities. It’s what makes ‘The Hermit’ an interesting study of late 20th century man without being particularly kind about him.

And yet somehow we readers warm to the rich hermit who has now moved to the suburbs of France albeit still within reach of the all-important restaurant where he can gorge himself whilst watching the world go by; satisfy his suspicions of the people that pass in the street or spy on him behind net curtains. His outlook tempts our sympathies for the hermit to begin to wain as he descends deeper and deeper into paranoiac excursions compelled by his own loneliness. Imagine a French bourgeois Charles Bukowski where, like Buk, there’s plenty of drink and little work, but where male chauvinism is replaced with a seething disdain for fellow man writ large and even existence itself.

Temporarily distracted by a brief and dour affair with a waitress, her leaving triggers a full-on descent into darkness. His fall coincides with the onset of events which feel a bit like Paris 1968 and the social unease surrounding it. He’s immersed in a fantasy of urban revolt and revolution akin to the civil spark possible from ’68. Except soon, though, there’s blood in the streets and shootings, which reminded me more of the fall of Yugoslavia but happening just a few streets away. Rather than engage in the uprising, our protagonist for the most part sets himself as observer whilst workers drink up their wine, revolvers in their pockets and rifles at their side waiting to return to the barricades. The hermit questions the point of revolution, makes no distinction between left and right but nor can he seem to distinguish between love and hate, participation and non-participation even as violence erupts around him, on the periphery. We’re never told what’s happening and why, just like the hermit we experience the outcome, and for the first time we fully feel the way he does about life in general: as an outsider. It’s quite a feat of writing.

Later still the revolution is now just a mess of reactionary forces and even worse just factions of the same side in some areas (a nod to the example of the anarchists and communists during the Spanish Civil War, perhaps?): now though everything is questioned and assessed for its value and meaning albeit without consequence or engagement. At one point the hermit muses that he wishes he’d study philosophy more, to be able to understand the meaningless of the universe as he sees it and perhaps therefore find some kind of purpose.

Best known for his absurdist plays like ‘The Chairs’, ‘Rhinoceros’ and ‘The Lesson’, Ionesco spent most of his life in France and help establish the theatre of the absurd in the 1950’s. And yet this novel is at its best when it observes our ordinariness, in my opinion.

Ultimately ‘The Hermit’ is a downbeat analysis of humanity not least since the absurdity of life being meaningless is, in this instance, not providing us with freedom from restrained opportunity or social structures like the church and such like as the existentialists argued. Only love hints at the possibility of meaning but the sad fact is that the hermit in question, despite all his fair riches, just isn’t very good at it.

At one point a waitress observes of him: ‘You keep to yourself too much, Monsieur.’ To which he replies – summing up the book entirely – ‘I’m surrounded by people. I’m surrounded by the crowd. By the crowd or by nothing.’

The Hermit’ is indeed a gloomy book but engaging until the end even as it becomes more and more fantastical. In that absurdity it becomes more satirical, almost a different book. And yet somehow its pace which takes you from the banal to the absurd works – it makes the essence of the absurd all the more believable.

I don’t know why Ionesco never wrote another novel, returning to plays and literary criticism. This might be a shame, as the tension of an impending insurrection is palpable in the second half and the descent into loneliness compelling in the first – and because of this the scope of this possibly allegorical sweep of humanity and the universe of emotion and reality means the work takes on a wider importance than its easy-to-read style would suggest.

It’s moments of cynical humour show Ionesco as a master of timing and it is his ability to make an unappealing protagonist a figure of our continued interest is, in my opinion, always the mark of a good writer. Worth reading. Worth living.

  1. Spoken by Socrates through Plato’s Apology
  2. I was reading the 1983 English translation published by Calder – looks like it’s currently out of print, but second-hand copies are available online
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TRIDENT: Not fit for purpose

In A.Graham, C.Spiby on April 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

We offer no apologies for returning to the topic of the Trident missile system – and its questionable role in our so-called defence system.

It seems that technically it is no longer fit for purpose. It has outlived its effectiveness (if it ever had any), and should now either be scrapped or at the very least phased out.

According to the latest issue of The Spokesman (the quarterly journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation),  the Trident system has now completed 26 years of deployment, and has now  “reached its original design life goal” – as the US Department of Defence puts it.

HUSHED UP:

The failed test highlighted in the last issue of the Clarion was hushed up by the Americans, though Theresa May was informed. She chose not to pass on the news to Parliament. It was only revealed through a US press leak.

WHAT ABOUT “DE-COMMISSIONING”?

There are other concerns about the Trident system, apart from the effectiveness of this ageing system. How do we get rid of nuclear submarines when we no longer need them?  The Spokesman reports that HMS Tireless has now joined eighteen other nuclear submarines awaiting dismantling.  “With Dreadnought rusting in Rosyth since 1980, the cost of maintaining them is rising and space running out as the Ministry of Defence struggles to find an environmentally safe and cost effective means of disposal. “

As Laurel and Hardy may well have said, “A fine mess you’ve got us into!”  Yes, Trident should be phased out. As “a defence system” it was never fit for purpose. But even if we do scrap this over-priced system our worries are far from over.  How do we safely and securely scrap our redundant nuclear submarines?  It could be a problem that remains with us for decades – if not longer.

Below is web-only edition of the Clarion bonus material…


 

THE HISTORY OF ‘PROTECT AND SURVIVE’

Professor John Preston will be hosting a discussion on the infamous 1970’s pif ‘Protect and Survive’ on June 29th at the University of East London. Click here for more details on the FREE event (limited numbers so you will need to book).

In Prof. Preston’s own words:

In this workshop we will consider the origins, nature, reception and fate of the 1980s UK government civil defence campagn “Protect and Survive”. We will discuss the following issues:-

  • What were the origins of Protect and Survive? How did the original plans arise and how were they realised? How exactly did it arrive in the public domain?
  • What was the nature of Protect and Survive? Was it a campaign / public information ‘package’? How would it have been used in practice? What types of media would it have used?
  • How was Protect and Survive recieved? How was it portrayed in the media, popular culture, government and internationally?
  • What happened to Protect and Survive? Did it become ‘civil protection’? Does it still exist in some form?

This is a workshop rather than an academic seminar. The format will be to spend one hour (approx.) on each of the four issues (with a tea break at some point) and for perhaps one person to ‘lead’ each area (if anyone would like to volunteer to lead a particular area that woudl be great) by giving a five minute introduction to that topic.

The conference is open to anyone: academics, historians, collectors, policy makers, practitioners and anyone who is interested in “Protect and Survive”

Lunch is not included but you will get a cup of tea / coffee and a biscuit or two. At the end of the workshop you are welcome to join us for a drink.

Incidentally, a seminal BBC Panorama has found its way on to YouTube (available at the time of this posting, at least), which looks into the role of Civil Defence in Britain in 1980, at a time when ‘Protect and Survive’ was still secret and intended for viewing only in the event of impending nuclear war.

Watching this again (I remember seeing it when I was only 9 years old first time around) – this programme has lost none of its potency. If anything it acts as an important reminder of the futility of nuclear war – no less relevant today – but also just how far we’ve come in terms of documentary film-making. An hour long and in-depth this is a far cry from today’s glossy but often light handling of topic on mainstream tv. Panorama on BBC used to occupy the 8pm or 9.25pm slot on BBC1 (just after the 9 o’clock News with Angela Rippon or Kenneth Baker!)

END

JOURNEY TO SADNESS: looking for the GDR in 2015

In C.Spiby on December 22, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Where Conrad journeyed into a Heart of Darkness, in September a friend and I took an excursion into sadness. Together we embarked on a foray into what might have been and what was betrayed: we went looking for the GDR/DDR in modern Berlin.

The GDR could have been an example of socialism but became instead a state racked by paranoia, a state of 90,000 Stasi agents and 175,000 Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (informers).

But I still believed in the possibility. That, at an everyday level there were elements of East German socialism which hinted at socialism as it might have been. After all, it is a fine line between Ostalgie (nostalgia for the East) and gawping at the worst of Totalitarianism. Was the GDR a workers paradise or a Stasi Hell?

Like many such binary questions, the answer is probably somewhere in between, a plurality of truths and realities. And that certainly was my experience. Nowhere was this more apparent than standing on the platform of the Wall Documentation Centre on Bernauer Strasse.

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This free memorial gives an overview in words and pictures of the construction and division created by the Wall but, most strikingly, it allows you to climb to a platform to overlook a snapshot of the wall, death-strip and watch-tower exactly as it was. Un-touched, graffiti-free this living memorial is a stark symbol of the worst of the GDR’s predicament. A symbol of a state struggling with losing its workforce to the West, paranoid in its inability to keep control of its own citizens’ faith in socialism, all set against the best as in the background towers over all of Berlin the remarkable landmark of the East – the incredible Fernsehturm – or TV Tower as it is known in the West. Nearly all my guides placed the TV Tower as the most important thing to visit when in Berlin, but it is one of the very few symbols of the former East.

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Too bad then, that it is now little more than a London Eye-style novelty. Constructed in the mid-to-late 1960’s it was the beacon of socialist achievement. Its lift doors open at bar and restaurant level to look out along the avenue of in front of the Brandenburg Tor (gate) – the Strasse Des 17 Juni – the symbolic avenue from the West to the centre of Berlin. And there’s nothing in the Western skyline that comes even close to matching the achievement of the TV Tower: socialism reigns supreme. And yet as I drank a Berliner Wasse with the traditional cherry juice I felt this wasn’t the East Germany as the workers knew it. Moreover today, despite its setting in Alexanderplatz the TV Towers feels almost disconnected from the GDR. And what’s more, the tourists around me didn’t seem to care about its history – the old symbol was now just a spectacle.

We stayed in the OSTEL Das DDR Design Hostel just off Paris Commune Strasse in the old East, not far from the East-Side Gallery (a long strip of the wall given over to graffiti art). SS851926

No TV, no mod-cons, just a basic 1970’s-era recreation of the GDR in each room. A portrait of Cabinet Minister Horst Sindermann keeps a watchful eye as you check-in at reception, complete with a TV playing a loop of GDR speeches and news. SS851974 SS851823The furnishings and wall-papering of each room are GDR-era and it lends a space for contemplative reflection, of simplicity and scarcity, of sacrifice and suppression, of hope and ideals. The rooms are cheap and the place unique, friendly, spare but touching if you like your travel with a sense of history and place. On the day we drove out into the country in our hired Trabant, the OSTEL provided a brown paper bag lunch at only €5 adorned with their own ‘Guten Appetit!’ label.

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On the opposite side of our OSTEL’s citrus-fruit coloured building is the Volksammer (Das Design Restaurant), with the familiar GDR emblem emblazoned everywhere. A huge painting of Der Palast der Republik (my favourite building of the GDR – sadly now demolished) nestled alongside the TV tower and red flags adorns the length of one wall, and the menu is authentic GDR era cuisine. Much of which reminded me of school dinners or the food my mum made me as a boy in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Except for more fish, more pickled vegetables and, thankfully, more beer. The restaurant was a perfect partner for the OSTEL.

Another ‘Ostalgie Resturant’ is the Käsekönig just off Alexanderplatz (on Panoramastr.1), but the service here wasn’t quite as friendly and sitting outside on the street was a mistake as the weather turned. Neither could it boast the authentic furnishings and ornaments of the Volksammer, but the menu seemed more than appropriate. If you can’t stomach the food of 3 decades ago, don’t worry, one certainly won’t go hungry in Berlin – there’s an abundance of foreign restaurants.

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With so much to do and see, more to write about than we have space here, I offer my essential things to do in Berlin if, like me, you want to sense its history, all within walking distance of each other, especially when based at the OSTEL.

SS851866(FREE) Visit the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe 2 minutes’ walk from the Brandenburg Gate, along Eberstrasse. Not only is this a moving experience (especially the poignancy of the Reichstag in view), but also it is an incredible piece of immersive sculpture. On the way you can also pay your respects to the homosexuals and gays murdered and persecuted by the Nazis (pretty much opposite), and nearer the Brandenburg Tor is the Memorial to the Sinti & Roma of Europe Murdered under the Nazi regime.SS851869SS851979

(FREE) Visit Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation centre along Bernauer Strasse; the story of Bernauer Strasse deserves an article of its own, and you can easily spend half a day immersed into the tragedy of the Wall here (do this over a visit to the East Side Gallery as that just lacks a sense of the everyday division)

SS851953Visit the Stasi Museum in the former HQ just off Ruschestrasse – highly detailed and a place of history in itself

SS851879(FREE) Visit the excellent Topography of Terror exhibition which documents the Gestapo and SS main offices, along with another intact Wall section

Stay at the OSTEL DDR Design Hostel

Eat at the Volksammer (Stasse der Paris Kommune 18b)

SS851873(FREE) Spit on the ground at the spot where Hitler spent his final hours (about 2mins walk from the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe) – his bunker will be under your feet (deservedly just a parking lot, a small green space where dogs fittingly defecate)

(FREE) Marvel at the scale of the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten, and the two Soviet T34 tanks and consider their victory over Nazism

SS851859If you can afford it, book dinner (at least 2 months reservation necessary) with a window seat at the TV Tower, otherwise settle for the bar and try a Berliner Wasse

Hire a Trabant and drive into the countryside of the former East (good luck!)

But avoid the Western view of the Wall: Checkpoint Charlie. You couldn’t find a less authentic experience in Berlin if you tried.

There is so much history to be seen, and so much to consider. But mostly I left saddened by all the focus on failure. The persecution and loss of life all weighs so heavy. Saddening too was the fact that there was little room for the debate that socialism might offer much, even if we agree the price of totalitarianism is not one worth paying. Only the DDR Museum offered some sense of everyday life, some redemption and only then in part, balanced as it was with Stasi exhibits.

My view is that, in the end, the world lost more than the toll of its victims. It lost the chance of a possibility.

This wasn’t a holiday. It was reflection, a memorial. Just as one might travel to WW1 war graves. Perhaps we ought to make such journeys in order to remember the danger in the states we elect and therefore in our consent we all carry in us the possibility of darkness or failure. In that darkness I hoped to find hope. I think it’s there, but it flickered dimly and fleetingly, supressed by Totalitarianism.

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{this article formed part of a much larger research project, reflecting on the GDR}

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LEFT INSIDE: welcome home. Time to leave.

In C.Spiby on October 6, 2015 at 2:03 pm

by Carl Spiby

After the defeat of Ed Miliband’s One Nation view of socialism under Labour, and despite a very progressive local manifesto (I should know, I lead the Manifesto Drafting Group who authored it, and it included all the things we so desperately need right now: a strong anti-fracking, anti-cuts and pro-public Forest stance), who would have thought that Labour would come back to its natural home?

The success of Jeremy Corbyn shows, to me, just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party was with its own grass-roots membership.

But, while supporting Tom Watson as Deputy, Forest of Dean CLP actually voted to back Andy Burnham for leader.  And now there are rumours afoot within the CLP that Corbyn’s success and the left is tearing the local branch apart. But they’re just rumours. What I’ve seen is a fractured bureaucratic CLP Exec concerned more with rules and in-fighting than changing lives and building socialism, whichever brand you support.

And that’s why this will be my last ‘Left Inside’ column for the Clarion.

The Executive Committee, in my experience, despite its aims and objectives turns out to be an inadvertent vehicle for losing members and quelling activism.

On social media I touted the idea of a Red Labour campaigning group, but there just isn’t the support for that locally. Nationally, however, new members joined in their thousands following Corbyn’s success, but locally they’ll be (rightly) directed to the CLP first. But our CLP is, to me, little more than an extension of the District Council Labour Group, not an independent campaigning and organising committee for the success of the next Labour MP in the Dean, working to win a socialist sitting in Parliament for the Dean among other socialists in a majority Labour government.

Besides, in the meantime, we need to build support for the Dean anti-fracking campaign. Then there’s TTIP. Instead our CLP is bent on a long-running internal investigation on the appropriate use of members’ e-mail lists. A process so painful that even the incumbent acting Secretary won’t be seeking re-election in that role, after only a matter of months in the post.

As Agent for Steve Parry-Hearn (your Labour candidate in the last General Election), I continue to meet with Steve and his Campaign Manager, the hard-working Roger Gilson. All three of us welcomed Corbyn’s success. But I for one don’t feel that our current CLP is the vehicle to locally show that support let alone build on it. I will vote and continue to support Corbyn’s Labour but I no longer feel I am the ‘left inside’ in the local LP. Hopefully there are others, new faces which will re-purpose the CLP Executive.

For me, for now, thanks for the ride.

C. Spiby is a member of Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party and was on its Executive Committee. He was nominated the lead in the 2015 General Election FoD Labour Party manifesto drafting group for the District Council (which we also laid out our Parliamentary Candidate’s priorities) and was Social Media Officer for the CLP on the Executive, and finally the Electoral Agent for our Parliamentary Candidate. He remains a Labour party member but has resigned from the local CLP Executive and handed over Social Media duties for FoD CLP.

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RED LOVE: The story of an East German family

In C.Spiby, Reviews on September 2, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Maxim Leo’s book ‘Red Love’ is so much more than the story of a family from the GDR; it is the story of WW2 anti-fascist heroes, the relationship between parents and their children, and a state and its people. Clarion subscribers will find it a truly fascinating read.

With the unique perspective of author Maxim turning 19 as the Wall comes dored_love_coverwn, and his father, Wolf being 19 when the Wall went up, this family history traces three generations of German socialism.

But as each generation comes of age, there is a lessening of the cause, a lessening of the hope of socialism.

Under Walter Ulbricht and the Soviet Union this road to socialism is replaced at first by a paranoiac state and then by the 1980’s, by a generation who have become so remote from the cause and the possibilities of socialism that the freedom they seek seems indistinguishable from the freedom to be just like those in the West. In the end Maxim feels that “Society isn’t the main subject of my life. I am.” A view probably shared by his entire generation.

Their story is the story of their state. Maxim writes “Our family was like a miniature GDR…where ideology collided with life.”

While his father, Wolf, was not a Party member, it was not because of his opposition to socialism, but his opposition to that particular kind of socialism which destroyed the people’s trust in their own state, the son stating at one point “He sometimes laughs at me for needing so many things to be happy.”

What clearly started as an exercise in family history has become so much more. Its topics range from

  • history (Werner, one of Maxim’s grandfathers shifts from almost ambivalent Nazi supporter to Communist Party member, expressing with real authenticity the experience of life in WW2 and post WW2 Germany)
  • politics (“Others became Communists because they felt drawn to the world of ideas. For Gerhard it’s a matter of experience, of feeling, of friendship.”
  • philosophy (“Man is different from the animals primarily because he deliberately applies laws and thus creates a just coexistence.”)
  • socialism and humanism (the disgrace with himself that Maxim feels when he is interrogated by Stasi and capitulates immediately, giving them the information they seek in a moment while recalling Gerhard, his grandfather who resisted days of torture by the SS for his role in partisan activities is among one of many touching moments – this time of pride and shame).

‘Red Love’ is great journalism: it’s engaging and informative, revealing authentic experiences of real people through hope and trauma. But just as the example of the GDR saddens me, so too does Maxim’s underlying conclusion.

The “GDR was the result of the struggle, the reward. The point of life. He {Gerhard} couldn’t get out of it without losing himself. ‘That was my country,’ he said in that interview. And it sounded sad, but also a bit proud. And I reflected that it couldn’t be my country for precisely that reason. But I said nothing.”

For me the GDR is not something consigned to history. It is a tragedy of what could have been.

From it we can still learn much; of how far it swerved on the road to socialism, how it can warn us, but also that it was not an utter failure. In ‘Red Love’ we are introduced to people who believed in something greater. Totalitarianism and the end of the Cold War never killed that.

‘Red Love’ is published by the Pushkin Press (2014 paperback, English translation).

CLARION ONLINE SPECIAL – LABOUR LEADERSHIP: the Corbyn Question

In A.Graham, C. Mickleson, C.Spiby, Editorial, O. Adams, T. Chinnick on June 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm

The appearance of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the Leadership of the Labour Party has caused quite a stir. Even our own Editorial Committee at the Clarion cannot agree on a single line of support. But Corbyn presents a unique opportunity at a unique juncture in the history of the modern Labour Party.

Alistair Graham, Editor-in-Chief at the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion offered the opening shot with his report:

“Suddenly, the contest for the Labour leadership has become more interesting.  With other contenders for the position staking out their positions to the right of centre (even Andy Burnham, it would seem!), we now have a genuine left-wing candidate for leadership. Jeremy Corbyn.

For most of us on the Clarion, Corbyn seems to tick the right boxes. For the record, he’s been MP for Islington North since 1983. He’s a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and is an active supporter of CND. He also supports animal rights and was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner. He’s been an active trade unionist – and in his favour, too, is the fact that he’s got the record for submitting the lowest expenses of any MP.

So, what’s not to support?  Well, there’s that hoary old chestnut, the argument that he can’t win the leadership anyway.  A vote for Corbyn would be a wasted vote. Another argument claims that if he did win, it would make Labour “unelectable”. The Socialist message, it seems, does not attract the electorate.  So we have to compromise our own commitments and “play it safe”.  There are also those on the left, but not in the Labour Party, who might argue that it’s all irrelevant anyway.  We need a broad-based, anti-austerity, anti-Tory, coalition to build a campaign to oppose the atrocities committed by the Cameron-Osborne government.

Certainly we need such a campaign, and hopefully the Clarion would be part of it. But wouldn’t it have more impact if it was also backed by the Labour Party and its leader? After all, at the end of the day, if we’re to defeat the Tories it will be at the ballot box. And the only alternative Government under our present voting system would be Labour. Surely we need a government that can phase out “austerity”, re-build the fractured NHS, give us the kind of education that our children (and their parents) deserve, as well as boosting welfare to the levels where it can serve society adequately. If so, we need a Labour government that can act with conviction.

A final thought – those who see themselves as on the left wing of Labour should back their convictions. A sizeable vote for Corbyn would send a message through the Party that the membership wants change. And if Labour has a future in serving the people, change may well be necessary.”

But Forest Anarchist and HOOF secretary, Owen Adams disagrees:

“…while Corbyn might be the nicest, soundest person in the world, he is a lone voice in a party that as a machine supports neoliberalism, refuses to acknowledge or apologise for unleashing massive instability and mass murder on the world from its Iraq misadventure, and is ultimately concerned with “winning” in a rigged parliamentary system no matter what it has to do. I’ve already heard people saying “Oh Corbyn would make Labour unelectable” – which to me sums up why Labour is redundant as a force for positive social change and anything approaching socialism.

All this is a major diversion for what should be going on – mass direct action using whatever means necessary against this massive theft of our public resources by the ruling class. We’re wasting far too much energy looking for a figurehead and flogging the dead horse that is Labour and parliamentary (so-called but not) democracy.

Some people in Cheltenham and Gloucester have formed a non-politically affiliated group called Anti-Austerity Gloucestershire and we’re trying to get off the ground a fighting fund so we can print leaflets – the leaflets will include a hotline number for anyone immediately facing eviction, and the idea is that there is also a telephone tree for people to turn up to block bailiffs. That’s the kind of activity that I would rather focus my energy on, not pursue a long-faded dream of a party that cares a jot about the working class. Of course, I hope Corbynites will also participate!”

Labour member and activist from Monmouth, Tyler Chinnick argues…

“My view is the one derided and mischaracterised by Owen.  I won’t bother refuting the nonsense about Iraq or neo-liberalism but I will say that our ideals are worth absolutely nothing if we are not in a position to implement policy.  For that reason I do not support Jeremy Corbyn because although he is closest to my own views he has no chance of winning.  Labour is redundant as a force for ‘positive social change’ if it is not in power.  Winning elections and becoming the government is what political parties are for.  (According to Owen the very raison d’etre of all political parties makes them illegitimate.)  Also the fact that we have an electoral system Owen disproves of does not make it ‘rigged’.  Our best option in terms of parliamentary politics is to support a candidate who combines left values with the level of pragmatism necessary to win.  So far the candidate who best fulfils this brief is Andy Burnham.

It makes sense that The Clarion should back Corbyn since his politics are closest to our mission statement.  It’s clear though that mine and Owen’s positions are irreconcilable so perhaps the editorial line should reflect the fact that we all share his politics, feel kindly disposed towards him personally and are glad he is on the ballot but that we differ on whether he should be supported or not.”

Clarion Left Inside columnist and the Agent for the Forest’s own Parliamentary candidate for Labour (Steve Parry-Hearn), Carl Spiby added:

“Clarion readers will have read in my column previously that I was of the opinion that Labour had more chance under Andy Burnham than Ed Miliband. But now, since our defeat, Burnham has wandered rightwards chasing votes for the win whatever the cost to Labour principles. I will vote for Corbyn as he is the articulation of everything the Clarion has stood for; of everything we tried to achieve in Steve Parry-Hearn’s campaign; and he stands for what most of the Labour members I know joined Labour for.

But I have also argued that compromise is important too. And it is. That view is still a valid one. And yet here is an opportunity to really see if socialism in our time can win in modern Britain. I doubt if we’ll get another chance – not for a generation at least.”

The Clarion welcomes your views, either via e-mail or on our Facebook page. We even still enjoy a good letter on paper.

OTHER REPORTAGE

HEALTH WATCH: OPEN ALL HOURS?

Cameron’s latest wheeze to try to persuade us that he really cares about the NHS is a scheme to get surgeries throughout England to provide a seven-day a week service for their patients.

Local surgeries are usually the first port of call for those suffering from health problems. They are in the front line, and it’s vital that they can function efficiently.

With surgeries already over-stretched and GPs over-worked, it’s difficult to see how Cameron’s plan can be achieved. It has all the signs of having been scribbled hurriedly on the back of an envelope. Or perhaps thought up in the shower? But Cameron thinks he has the answer. He’s going to recruit 5,000 new doctors to plug the gap.  Or so he claims.

PIE IN THE SKY:

But those in the profession believe that this is just pie in the sky. Dr Chaand Nagpaul is the GP committee chairman of the British Medical Association, and he’s pointed out that the number of doctors working in surgeries is about to plummet as GPs seek to retire – or even look for more congenial work overseas. According to a recent BMA survey, one in three general practitioners intend on leaving within the next five years.

He’s claimed that the Tories are likely to “fail dismally” to fulfil their pledge to recruit 5,000 new doctors – which would have to be over and above those planning to quit the NHS.  “It’s absolutely pointless promising five thousand extra GPs within this Parliament if we lose 10,000 retiring in the same period,” he declared.

Other critics of the Cameron plan have also pointed to the folly of trying to foist it on an NHS that’s been starved of staff and resources.

FRAGMENTATION:

Meanwhile, the carve-up of the NHS continues. There’s been the continuing privatisation of services, and the announcement that Greater Manchester would gain control of its own health budget, under the supervision of an elected mayor – a move described by campaigner John Lister as “the balkanisation of the Service”. There was, of course, no consultation with the public, or those working within the NHS in Manchester. And they’re not exactly happy about it.

Meanwhile, there are siren voices who’ve come up with even more crazy ideas. Francis Maude, for example, would like to see hospitals “opt out” of the NHS and go it alone. Even worse, the US boss of NHS England is a great fan  of the American-style health insurance scheme, which is cash limited – thus leaving the patient  to  top it  up out of his/her own pocket if the cost of the treatment is greater than the insurance cover allows for.

With friends like that in the wings, what chance would the NHS have?

AG

HOW TO DEFEAT THE TORIES

In C.Spiby on May 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm

THE LEFT INSIDE COLUMN by Forest of Dean Labour member Carl Spiby

There are many reasons to vote Labour come the General Election. Some might argue there is also reason not to.

I’ve written before in the Clarion about compromise, but some still feel a vote for the Greens is still the best way to deliver a left-wing agenda in Parliament.

The Greens offer much, but what can they actually deliver? The stark answer to this question is: very little without any MP’s – even Caroline Lucas will struggle to retain the Green’s only seat in Parliament. Recently though, the Greens do offer a leader to rival Labour’s own in terms of unpopularity – but that’s shallow thinking. The kind of which the media is so obsessed with.

Locally, James Greenwood – a prominent organiser for S.T.A.N.D. (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) – is a passionate and skilled public speaker and a good Green candidate, but his party’s support is, as our own Clarion Comment editorial states in this issue, starting from virtually square one.

So we turn to Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn. How might he fare?

On core local Green Party issues he pretty much cleans up. Steve’s pledge card lays it down clearly: Parry-Hearn is against new nuclear power at Oldbury, against fracking in the Dean and against Trident renewal. All these policies are cornerstone reasons to vote Green. But you can get them locally and for real by voting Labour.

Furthermore, Steve Parry-Hearn is also a strong supporter of the NHS, apprenticeships and green industry but is equally passionate about scrapping the bedroom tax. The difference is, Labour can win here – the Greens will not.

Voting Green means the Tory will retain the seat (or possibly worse, what with UKIP having made the Forest a target seat). Either way, anything but a Labour win will mean your next MP will support Trident renewal, support back-door privatisation of the NHS and will be pro-nuclear.

Meanwhile Labour’s Parry-Hearn takes a risk with his position on these topics of nuclear power, fracking and nuclear weapons as Steve is running contrary to current party policy on all three issues. That’s good news for Clarion readers as it finally means we’ve got a candidate who is a strong independent voice in Labour. A man of conviction built from a bedrock of core Labour principles. What Clarion readers might recognise as one of their own.

But many will call this tactical voting. I call it pragmatic voting. It is all very well having a strong view on an issue, but to trade that passion for an unwillingness to compromise is a self-defeating way to hand victory to those supporting the exact opposite of one’s own view.

When I started writing for the Clarion many years ago I was politically adrift. Back then in 2003 I was secretary of our local Stop the War movement but I belonged to no Party. I had left the Communist Party of Britain because it could never win an MP in my lifetime. At that time I couldn’t join Labour because New Labour supported Bush’s war. So the Lib Dems temporarily won my vote but like many I was let down.

Now I support Labour which is post-New Labour. I do so firstly because of my desire to retain the NHS as Labour built it; but I am also in the Labour Party because Ed Miliband was the choice of the trades union movement – the voice of the working class; and I am proud to support Forest Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn precisely because of his position on the topics mentioned above. All this would be for nought if a Labour victory didn’t represent the only realistic opportunity of keeping the right out of power in the Dean and in our Parliament.

Please join me in defeating the Tories.

OBITUARY: JOAN LEVINE: thinker, campaigner and activist.

In C.Spiby, Obiturary on January 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

One of the universal symbols of peace is the white dove.

When I met Joan Levine she seemed to me an ordinary little old lady, a tiny sparrow of a woman.

But I soon realised that Joan was a formidable thinker, an immensely important local campaigner and a tireless activist. And she had for much of her adult life been active in the Communist Party.

cpb_flagThroughout her life she fought continuously for justice and human rights in the name of the voiceless and the poor of the world.

FACTS AND EVIDENCE:

I discovered that her world view was built on the meticulous gathering of facts and evidence. File after file organised by topic – “campaign against the arms trade”, “Palestine”, “nuclear power”, “Yugoslavia”, “Trident submarines”, “Iraq”, and so on. Together they represented a register of the many concerns which shaped her life.

The files held clippings with references and notes, sections highlighted, paragraphs under-scored. There was endlesss campaign correspondence, newsletters and briefings. Most revealing were letters of frustrated replies from successive MPs. From Paul Marland and Diana Organ to our current MP, Mark Harper. How dare this little old lady from Coleford hold us to account with her endless facts and sound moral reasoning?

Joan’s husband, Maurice, fought in the Spanish Civil War. She spoke of her husband’s commitment with quiet pride, yet would only do so when invited. To her it seemed the most natural thing in the world.  To Joan a life of holding the powerful to account, of fighting for the rights of the many, was just as natural.

DEBATE WITH ACTIVISM:

I remember that Joan was often the last to speak during meetings. It was then that her formidable mind revealed itself.  Her incisive views always made our wandering debate seem like mere waffling, but she was never condescending.  Instead her logic enabled the rest of us to catch up, while she moved on to propose an action. To her, all debate was pointless without action and, in her heart, Joan was all about activism.

So together we stood in the rain. We marched around US military bases under grey skies and paraded past the Houses of Parliament in the largest march in British history. Joan and the late Ralph Anstis got themselves thrown out of the Co-op collecting signatures for a petition against the invasion of Iraq. And, with the late Wendy Corum, Joan was a key part of Forest of Dean CND. She campaigned for pensioners’ rights. But more than anything she was against war.

iraqbadgeCND:

I am sure that you all know the purpose of CND. Joan’s archives reveal that this campaign is the one she saw as the most pressing. And rightly so, in my view. While the Cold War may be over, Joan was acutely aware that the world still has more than 15,000 nuclear missiles. What could be more despicable than the targeted killing of millions of innocent civilians in nuclear war?

Joan remained an activist for as long as she was able. This little sparrow may have flown. But her legacy is the sum of all the good she did in her own time, and the new generations she inspired, of which I am proud to have been but one.

CARL SPIBY
a version of this was read by Diana Gash at Joan’s funeral

LEFT INSIDE: Labour Wobble

In C.Spiby on November 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

An early un-edited edition of my next Clarion article (in print in the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 edition, if not pulled before then!)

It’s time for One Nation Labour to set out its electoral stall for real now. Scotland has force the point, chased hotly by doubts over Ed Miliband’s ability to lead our party or being a suitable Prime Minister.

Scotland – and in particular the huge turnout of the Independence referendum – has given Westminster-based politics the kick up the arse voters knew it desperately needed.

Now there’s a leadership contest there and it proves to be shaping what Scottish Labour ought to look like and represent. Is it just a branch of Parliamentary Labour or something distinct in the Labour movement in Scotland?

Clarion readers will probably agree that the latter might also prove the kick up the arse our Parliamentary Labour Party needs to become meaningful for the electorate.

Given a meaningful choice on Independence, the voters demonstrated they are hungry to engage in proper change. Indeed, I doubt whether a remote branch in Scotland was what John Robertson and Jim Sillars had in mind when they first set-up the breakaway the Scottish Labour Party back in 1976. Instead they sought to be a voice distinct from Westminster.

I believe there’s appetite for more of that kind of independent thinking within Labour, and furthermore we can have that without having to abandon our Party. In fact, I’d wage it might be a way to electoral success.

I certainly witnessed this desire for local distinction among some of our number in the 2015 District Council Forest of Dean CLP Manifesto Drafting Group which I had the honour to lead. But this doesn’t have to be a binary thing: you can follow Labour Party principles and rules and still have a distinctive voice in local politics. In fact, I rather think it’s what the electorate expect of us.

Difference and choice are vital to voters. I am reminded of what George Monbiot once told me in an interview…

“Its mainstream parliamentary party politics we’re all pissed off with. You can choose between the party of big business and bombing, or the party of big business and bombing.”

It’s in looking for new choices that some have been persuaded by the shadowy repulsiveness of UKIP. We need to demonstrate that our Party and our local candidate, and indeed local and country councillors offer the electorate meaningful choice, not just more of the same.

The defence for the leadership of Milliband is mostly characterised by the principle of having to stick with the choice made a couple of years ago at the Leadership Election. But by that logic we would allow Ed Miliband to do virtually anything to destroy our movement before we’d kicked him into touch. Although I’m not saying he has or will destroy Labour, I’m just questioning the principled stand of permissiveness just for the sake of a principled stand. To me that’s not much of a defence.

The argument also goes that ‘we’re only 6 months away from an election!’ Agreed, not a desirable time to switch leadership. But again, says who? Based on what? If there’s evidence that the leader is not polling well when actually he should be at his strongest (into the final term of opposition) then that is an argument for decisive change not capitulation. If total unity isn’t the current, it won’t appear just because we’re running out of time. What you’ll get instead is internal maneuvering for the post-defeat Labour Party. Put another way, sticking with an unelectable leader just because we’re running out of time is not a good reason to stick with an unelectable leader.

The final argument appears to be that there’s no willing or able candidate to replace Miliband. Is the shadow cabinet really so moribund to not one capable shadow minister willing to stand up for our movement? I don’t think it is. So that too is a false defence.

If the NHS is the one binding element of our campaign which universally moves British people of voting age, then clearly the robust, capable and comparatively natural leader is the person leading that part of campaign: Andy Burnham. I’d support that move in a second, and I think the British people would too.

Voters would see a Labour Party willing to listen to the public (in their dislike of Miliband) and make meaningful change. If Burnham is seen as the saviour of the NHS in austerity, then he might just save our movement and the legacy of Labour. It should also guarantee us success at the next election.

True, a Burnham Labour won’t take us back to the manifesto of Michael Foot in 1983, but it wouldn’t be New Labour either.

Those who agree with my general argument might also take heart that when asked during the local Parliamentary candidate hustings as which member of the current shadow cabinet did he/she most admire or ally themselves with, our chosen candidate – Steve Parry-Hearn – cited Andy Burnham.

Andy BurnhamNOTE: The views expressed in this column are the personal views of C. Spiby and not the Forest of Dean Labour Party or Steve Parry-Hearn.

The LEFT INSIDE column: “Fundamentally Left-wing”

In C.Spiby on September 3, 2014 at 9:33 pm

{web exclusive: from the next Clarion, an un-edited edition of Carl Spiby‘s ‘Left Inside’ column in which he gives us his view  as a communist within the Labour Party}.

To all open-minded people of the Left {see footnote}. That is, to all those who have still yet to be convinced to vote Labour in the next General Election but are swaying dangerously close to the Green Party, Left Unity or other minority party to the left of Labour.

I want to appeal to your powers of logic and reason over your rightful anxiety on many issues facing British working people today. And suggest why you must vote Labour in 2015.

Perhaps we might begin by agreeing on a few basic principles. Firstly, that we want rid of the current Government: the ConDem coalition. Secondly, that we do not wish to replace it with a Tory majority government or a Tory/UKIP coalition.

We want a government that is left of centre. In fact, we’d probably settle for a centre-left government in order to keep out an even more right-wing government than the ConDem coalition. Wouldn’t we?

Irrespective of our wont for more: we all must be able to agree on at least that. Surely?

But not all of us see politics as a compromise.

I’d go so far to say that politics without compromise is essentially fundamentalism. You can read my blog on the topic but I believe that eco-fundamentalism is the only valid fundamentalism. All other forms of fundamentalism are merely rejections of reason and flaws in humanity.

My point is that an unwillingness to vote for Labour as a compromise on one’s ideals only places principles before logic. And that’s a fundamentalist point of view.

Not entirely happy with all Labour’s policies, I am, however, not willing to tolerate a right-wing government just to satisfy those principles alone. These things have value to me, they form part of my integrity, but they are an abstract. And they won’t stop a right wing government taking power. And by their nature and philosophy they will form policies which are even more an affront to socialist principles than those of Labour which might compel some to stand up for their principles alone.

Failure to vote Labour runs the obvious risk that such a tactic results in the kind of right wing government we just agreed we collectively oppose.

But a compromise which recognises the reality of our current system, our current realistic choices does not have to be a sell-out. It’s not capitulation, it’s progressive. By building our movement within Labour both locally and nationally, you build the Party you want. And that’s just what happened at the recent National Executive Committee elections, where Labour MEMBERS voted for a left-wing Executive, defeated the Blairites soundly.

And, in Stephen Parry-Hearn, we have a local candidate who is willing to attend a vigil for Gaza, calling for peace on all sides and to halt the despicable killing of children. In Parry-Hearn we might have a voice in Parliament calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear power (see earlier Clarion interviews/articles). In Steve we’d have an MP who cares about the Forest of Dean and its heritage, who supported and supports HOOF.

Then, in Labour councillors, we have a team who really do carry Labour principles into each and every difficult debate, seeking to serve local working class people in the way they serves local jobs, welfare and livelihoods best.

Together they form a version of Labour Clarion readers must recognise as anything but Blairite and New Labour. We don’t want Harper or UKIP locally and we certainly don’t want unabated right-wing Tory rule in Britain.

Help us all by working for the Labour choice you want.

Of course, once the job is done, then campaign within. Or, hold a Labour Government to account through campaign groups or opposition parties. That is the time to fight for those points of principle you feel are an affront to our heritage and run counter to one’s own view of modern British democratic socialism. But don’t risk inviting the right through the front door, while you stand un-moving on principle out in the cold.

There are lines in the sand. I could never vote for New Labour for many reasons. Their balance sheet of inequities reduced support and made Britain ripe for the right. In doing so they disenfranchised the working people of their vote. Immoral actions such as the war in Iraq made voting New Labour an impossibility for democratic socialists. The problem was there was nowhere else to go, so many of us retreated to campaign groups. I went to Forest Stop the War and Amnesty International to try and make a difference. But politically we are thankfully in a different place today. Ed Milliband was the choice of the Unions as leader of our Party and it is his team which pledge to stop the rot in the NHS, to reverse the Bedroom Tax and so much more which we might recognise as principles they can deliver on which are akin to our own. That is why it is our party. No compromise on that.

FOOTNOTE I say ‘open-minded’ as logic and reason is unlikely to change a closed mind – the position of the fundamentalist. And that is why this article appears to those who are truly willing to challenge their own position.


POSTSCRIPT: This may be playing on your mind if you’re considering abandoning voting Labour:

 

“Chris Leslie, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, promised, like George Osborne, that the cuts would be sustained for “decades ahead”. He asserted that Labour’s purpose in government would be to “finish that task on which [the chancellor] has failed”: namely “to eradicate the deficit”. The following day the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, sought to explain why Labour had joined the political arms race on immigration. In doing so, he revealed that his party will be “radical in reforming our economy” in support of “a determinedly pro-business agenda”. They appear to believe that success depends on becoming indistinguishable from their opponents.” (summary by George Monbiot from a few months back). But surely that is reason to join The Labour Party and campaign within for a change in the Parliamentary Labour Party which reflects the wishes and hopes of its members, rather than the wishes and hopes of big business.