Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Civil War’

Can We Reclaim Democracy?

In Guest Feature, O. Adams on March 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

DEAR Socialism, I don’t want you to be a dirty word for so many, too many, any more. You are needed and we all need to embrace you.

I had been wary about putting my cards on the table for all to see: but Government and Parliament have provoked me into doing so. I feel it’s time to stand up and be counted.

“This government – a government with a flimsy, pathetic excuse of a mandate – is intolerable, and it must be stopped in its tracks. No more silent simmering with rage.”

Owen Jones says it better than I could, in his editorial for The Independent, January 9, 2013.

“Take to the streets. Strike, and support those who do. Learn from this country’s proud history of peaceful civil disobedience…” “Sounds too radical, too extreme, or too much like hard work?” he continues.

“In the years to come, you will be asked what you did to stop this horror show. And if you need another incentive, picture again those baying Tories, jeering as they mugged the poor.”

As the New Labour project was on its last legs, having stuffed banks’ black holes with £1.3 trillion public cash, the stand-up comic/activist Mark Thomas told the 2009 Put People First rally in London:

“We have to build a movement that will fight… to reclaim democracy, to reclaim our lives from capitalism… WE are the alternative… We must start today.”

Occupy made waves internationally last winter, putting into practice a form of direct democracy through general assemblies, consensus when making decisions, and calling for the 99% to overpower the 1%. Occupy is loath to label itself as an –ist movement, and I’ve heard campaigners reject the old left/right-wing definitions.

But I’m holding five cards in a leftwing, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian pack, which I feel correspond with Occupy, plus the Tony Benn-fronted, TUC-aligned Coalition of Resistance, and a massive groundswell of autonomous individuals not part of any organisation but fired up by the spread of information outside the traditional mainstream media, their personal deprivation, disenfranchisement and victimization by a clutch of nasty, cruel, inhumane millionaire powerbrokers. All of us want an end to exploitation and oppression, all want to strike back against the bullies, and all want to be part of a united movement, I would hope, to achieve those goals.

I’d hope that even if many folks and their organizations only share one or two of these five cards I hold in my heart, it won’t deter us towards solidarity, co-operation, and organizing in a broad resistance movement.

First on the table is Socialism, my Ace of Hearts (no kings and queens in this pack!). I’d think I’d share that card with anyone who supports The Clarion.

The second is Democracy – I believe the Chartists and Suffragettes got so far, but a vote proscribed and regulated by the bourgeoisie every four years for a nominal change of guard with no option to end capitalism, is not real democracy.

I lay my third, Pacifism, face-up, as I believe freedom for all, something I strive for, cannot include the freedom to punch another person in the face, or blow them up. It might seem the Cold-War spectre of the mushroom cloud, of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) went out with Perestroika and Reagan. But we’re surrounded by nuclear facilities, the arms trade is flourishing, and so is war. There are innumerable ways of sorting disputes that do not involve violence: many anthropologists, many civil rights and civil disobedience advocates, including Gandhi, can vouch for that.

Cue now a thundering theme tune (by Motorhead, perhaps?). My fourth card is… the Ace of Spades… Anarchism.

The revealing of this card might possibly provoke a confused or hostile response based on misconception. To borrow the 1920s words of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists are seen as “the black cats, the terrors of many, of all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors. Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented, misunderstood and persecuted of all.”

You’d be hard pushed to find a universal definition of what anarchism is, but in my view, and that of so many of its thinkers past and present, from Peter Kropotkin to Noam Chomsky, anarchism is a type of socialism, just as Marxism, syndicalism or Fabianism are. The 19th-century American Jo Labadie explains it well: “It is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake. Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic.”

The living Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie provides a wonderful definition:

“Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian … Anarchism began – and remains – a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation.”

Although Marxists and anarchists often don’t see eye-to-eye (with the exception of the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, whose peaceful and highly successful peasants’ movement, is anarchist-based but whose spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, leans towards Marxism), their histories have been intertwined from the start.

The Paris Commune of 1871 and its failure resulted in Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” theory, and then, the following year, Marx and his followers getting anarchists expelled from the (socialist) First International.

But Anarchists took part alongside the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. But, as Marx had, Trotsky and Stalin each went out of their way to violently crush anarchists in power struggles – Stalin’s influence split the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, giving Franco victory; Trotsky responded to calls for democratic rights and freedom of expression for sailors and peasants in the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921 with a 60,000-strong Red Army; while the Makhnovist anarchists’ Free Territory in Ukraine (1918-21) alliance with the Bolsheviks to defeat the Tsarist White Army, was undermined by Trotsky who seized the area for the USSR.

Many people, including those who label themselves anarchists, will have a different idea of what anarchism is (as I emphatically believe that a capitalist cannot also be an anarchist, despite the erroneous claim of so-called right-wing ‘libertarians’ and laissez-faire free-market extremists, few Marxists would embrace Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge or China’s current one-party neoliberal model).

So many people refuse to consider the concept of anarchy in much other than pre-Enlightenment, Hobbesian, terms. In 1651, Hobbes defined anarchy as a state of nature, a naturally depraved selfish free-for-all; an authoritarian state, monarchy or dictatorship, he argued, was essential to protect people from themselves. And this belief still upholds even the most vicious authority.

Anarchism does not mean chaos and disorder, as it is commonly claimed, but the opposite. Almost every school of anarchism speaks of order from the bottom up. Perhaps a good example of an anarchist achievement is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; or it could be something as prosaic as the internet or world postal system arrangements, not coerced and controlled by an authority but the result of friendly agreements and mutual aid (incidentally the author of the key text Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution was the anarchist Kropotkin).

The fifth and final card I am laying down I’m not sure how to define precisely: it could be compromise, consensus, responsibility to others, community tolerance – it could also be viewed as realism, hypocrisy or prostitution… it’s about give and take, it means I would vote Labour if there was an election tomorrow although I consider just about all politicians in the rebranded One Nation party charlatans and turncoats. It means that although I detest supermarkets, I will do my shopping there as I can’t afford to buy more ethically.

It also means that while arguing about anarchism – and confirming it as a form of socialism – until the cows come home, I will join together in solidarity, and seek common cause, with others fighting the good fight against the Tories and capitalism! Being involved with the HOOF campaign has shown me that people of all political persuasions, religious and non-religious, of all classes, backgrounds and ages, can come together to defeat the authorities, with their beliefs and individual freedoms staying intact and respected. THEY want the left to be split, THEY want us divided. Let’s show them otherwise… Unity is strength, and so are diversity and openness. And I’d like to see both Socialism and Anarchist given the prominence, respect and attention they deserve, for people to say it loud, that they’re red (and black!) and they’re proud.

OWEN ADAMS (Forest of Dean Anarchists)

Forest of Dean Anarchists is a new affinity group formed for anyone with an interest in anarchism: for discussion, agitation and grassroots organisation. It meets informally every other Tuesday evening (from January 15) at the Severn View Inn at the top of Primrose Hill, Lydney. See http://fodanarchists.wordpress.com/news/ and www.facebook.com/fodanarchists

Further reading: Iain McKay (ed): An Anarchist FAQ (2007) is a detailed reference book. Available online at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Anarchist_FAQ or in book form from AK Press ISBN 978-190259390-6 Stuart Christie: My Granny Made Me An Anarchist is an engaging and entertaining autobiography. See also www.christiebooks.com

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The ILP: preparing for an anniversary

In A.Graham on June 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm

In January 1893, the Independent Labour Party (the ILP) was formed at a conference held in Bradford. It chose its name deliberately, to distinguish itself from those who’d sought political representation through an alliance with the Liberals. Such MPs were commonly known as “Lib Lab”.

Thus the ILP proclaimed itself as the party of Independent Labour. Its first MP was Keir Hardie, who had won a seat in the Commons in 1892. and he became the ILP’s first president.

The ILP still exists today – though now as “Independent Labour Publications”. It no longer sees itself as an electoral body, but it continues to campaign for the principled Socialist beliefs shared by its members through the Labour Party (which it helped to found in 1900). And it’s preparing to celebrate its 120th anniversary at the beginning of next year.

PHASES:

In many ways, the ILP is a very different organisation from that of 1893. Then it sought working class representation through a political party that would fight for the interests of labour. In 1900, together with other Socialist bodies and the trade unions, it helped to found the Labour Representation Committee, that went on to become the Labour Party.

During those early years it was effectively the organisational backbone of the Labour movement. Members flocked to join. It fought for trade union rights, and backed the campaign for votes for women. It embraced the Clarion movement – and when the First World War enveloped Europe and beyond in carnage it took an anti-war stand.

In many ways these were the years of growth, and of optimism that the ideals of Socialism would triumph. To quote the words of Edward Thompson, “The ILP grew from the bottom up: its birthplaces were those shadowy parts known as the provinces…. When the two-party political system began to crack, a third party with a distinctly socialist character emerged…. amongst the mills, brickyards and gasworks of the West Riding.”

DISAFFILIATION:

But by the beginning of the 1930s, much had changed. The Labour government elected in 1929 collapsed, and the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, had joined the Tories and Liberals to form a “National” government.

The Labour Party went in to opposition – but faced with the divisions caused by MacDonald’s defection, it insisted that all its MPs (including those elected under the ILP banner) should be subject to the Labour whip. The ILP resisted – and finally under the leadership of Jimmy Maxton, it took the decision to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and go its own way.

The ILP’s Parliamentary representation shrank significantly. Many of its MPs were defeated in the ensuing election as the Labour Party put up candidates against them. Others decided to stay with the Labour Party anyway. But though in retrospect these were years of declining influence for the ILP, its principles remained and it continued to campaign vigorously for its Socialist ideals.

It joined the campaign against Mosley’s Blackshirts, and its members were active in the “Battle of Cable Street” in East London. Members of the ILP fought for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, joining the POUM militia. And it supported the hunger marches in the bleak depression years of the 1930s.

Two attempts were made to re-affiliate to the Labour Party – in 1938 and again in 1946. These came to nought, and as the ILP lost its representation in Parliament, it also seemed to lose its relevance. But old comrades soldiered on, keeping the ILP flag flying – though often it seemed as though it was at half mast. A trickle of new members joined, and the organisation trundled on.

THE FINAL CHAPTER??

Until, in 1975, the decision was taken to “re-brand” and re-position the ILP. It changed its constitution to become Independent Labour Publications (thus keeping its initials ILP). A few months later, the Labour Party agreed that those in the ILP could once again join. And thus ended a rift that had lasted over 40 years. Today, the ILP is a much smaller body than it once was, but it still maintains the same principles and ideals on which it was founded.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

DOUBLE TAKE: More than one Road #1

In C.Spiby, Reviews on June 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm

REVIEW #1

I Believed: The Autobiography of a former British Communist
by Douglas Hyde (Heinemann, 1951)

As a former British Communist myself, I greeted with interest the invitation to read and review a copy of Douglas Hyde’s reflection on his life in and out of the CPGB and its paper, the Daily Worker. The reading, for me, proved personally significant and incredibly arresting. At times I was incensed, at others engrossed.

Brought up in Bristol, Hyde found his way into organised politics via the International Class War Prisoners Aid while still living with his liberal parents, which he openly refers to as ‘petty-bourgeois’. But not before he considered a life of the cloth.

The holy path, however, was diverted by his doubts. His reading of The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man challenged his theological learning. His feelings that arose from the apparent abandonment of the WWI wounded or the poverty of Welsh miners just across the Severn drove him to anger. And it was society’s mute response to these issues which informed his growing sense of intolerance of the injustices of the world and the way it was ordered which finally pushed him toward socialism and inexorably away from the church.

Hyde writes in a straight-forward manner which is accessible if rather bland and, on occasion, dry. Nonetheless he comes across as a very diligent but not entirely exciting journalist. Somehow though, the bare facts and the passion still rise through this dry prose. And this story is all about passion of one sort of another. After all, what else drives a person into the Communist Party?

It is clear to me that the life quest of Douglas Hyde is all about belief systems. Indeed, you begin to get the impression that the man can see no difference between a belief in Marxism and a theological belief even though he himself fails to make this connection. Marx and Stalin are as good as Gods to him. Only this can explain why he moves from a theological future to a socialist one and then back again. His journey is a spiritual one. He’s a man in search of a home, a purpose and a soul. And this soul exists on a keen sense of social justice.

Taking us through the Spanish Civil War and into the Second World War, I Believed has many such tests of justice and parity not just for Hyde, but the Party and the paper he eventually writes for, let alone the West. It is steeped in events of the period and its authenticity is undoubted.

Later in the book Hyde describes Marxists as evil and represents Party members as one might today refer to the Moonies: a cultish, insular sect bending easily-influence minds. This too is in keeping with his almost religious understanding of atheistic socialism but it is not an all an aspect I recognise in the Party I joined in the mid 1990’s. In fact, he is out rightly ominous at some turns…

…even though we knew quite well what we would do with freedom of the Press and democracy when the revolution came.

Of course, today we should read I Believed as part of the cannon against Stalinism and not as an indictment of socialism or communism per se, which is what Hyde thought he was writing. He can be forgiven for thinking so too: when Hyde was writing Stalin’s reach was long in length and lasting, much to the disgrace of more progressive and humane communists such as the British Party.

It seems the lying had become pandemic among the Party hierarchy. For example, Hyde cites one again that following the lifting of the ban on the Daily Worker, and with a policy of strong Government support of the Red Army against the Nazis, the Government of the day actually paid for a lot of Daily Worker advertising space. So much so that the paper actually began to make money. A decision had to be made on whether the wind up the paper’s fighting fund which had previously pleaded poverty to its readers in hope of them delving into their often threadbare pockets. The outcome was to lie and continue with the pleading. This money paid for a new HQ and then surplus was passed directly to the Party. Arguing that this was all good for the cause just sickens me.

Of course, we only have Hyde’s side of the story here and it wasn’t long before those brief fortunes were once again reversed but the point remains. For my part, even when I belonged to the Party, I have never subscribed to the cause over the truth – does that make me a bad Marxist?

Also, when it is convenient for his argument against communism, Hyde tends to forget the intention of the socialist internationalism. And that is the desire to look beyond nationhood and into and for the brotherhood and sisterhood of our fellow working class the world over. In the early section of the book this is one of the attractions of communism but by the time we see Hyde’s dissatisfaction with the Party take hold, this internationalism is likened to being agents of the Soviet Union.

Russia has forty thousand such potential spies in Britain in the ranks of the Communist Party, and millions more throughout the world.

Which shows the later Hyde speaking, but this is followed, by a section looking back at Hyde the Communist…

At no point did the question of its being unpatriotic enter into our thoughts. We were, after all, agreed that a communist Britain would be a better Britain… The conventional attitude [among communists] to patriotism and love of country was easily dismissed with the question: ‘Whose country- theirs or ours?’

…To the seasoned Marxist the axiom that ‘the workers have no country’ is sufficiently well absorbed for such considerations not to enter into his conscious reasoning at all.

As an argument against communism, this to-ing (supporting internationalism) and fro-ing (accusations of acting as spies) weakens both sides of the debate without actually being balanced at all. This is a bit of an enigma, but I see the word ‘spies’ used in its negative connotation: a clandestine vanguard against Britain. In reality, communism might often have been secretive and subversive, some of which is in its nature in a capitalist society, but, as Hyde says, for whose Britain is this struggle for?

It appears to me that sometimes Hyde’s memoir sets out to be sensational in order to heighten the anti-Communist stance. If so this just adds to my case against his poor reasoning. Remember, I see Hyde as, essentially, a good Communist, and I can see why he left. Really, his reasoning should have left him to fight the socialist cause against the Stalinisation of the Party from within or elsewhere. To choose God instead seems, to me as a communist atheist, to be a weird solution. He even touches on this when he says…

For years I had dreamed of what we would do when we had set up our Worker’s State as the Russians had done. It would be different from their, no doubt, for our traditions and even temperament were different.

So this betrayal of Hyde’s own thinking is saddening. But I think we should blame Stalin, not Hyde himself – it is Stalin who sets Hyde back up the churchyard path. Let me give you another aspect of that sensationalism. Is it really true that all Communist Party of Britain members in the 30’s-50’s were sex-mad out-of-wedlock people lusting after constant free-for-all intercourse with scant regard for women’s rights inasmuch as an abortion was treated like a contraception? That is the sensational impression one gets from certain passages of the book, and I don’t buy it. Later he calls female Party members “so utterly unbedworthy”.

For sure, modern Communists need to be clear on the works of Engels and the family and where they stand on it today. After all, we do have another 100 years of human learning as well as social anthropology, sociology and psychology to take into account. Hyde’s book just puts these aspects too simply, sending a message that to be a communist is a bit like belonging to a religious cult in terms of relationships. Even though he is equally sure to point out that many took advantage of the sex but really lusted after a stable, almost Christian, family life. But why should we believe his opinion on that either?

This is, after all, the man who says…

It is difficult, I suppose, for anyone who has never been a Marxist, to understand how people who pursue immoral policies can in most cases nonetheless be likeable, intelligent and… well-intentioned…

…but this is Hyde, the Christian. The question arises as why is it valid to measure Marxists by Christian morality at all? Where I do agree with Hyde is in his more incisive analysis of the problems of communism, which is, in my view, entirely Marxist…

There is a great deal in communism which clashes with human nature.

The is a welcome point gladly accepted in John Foster’s 2006 publication for the Communist Party of Britain The Case for Communism. And communist shouldn’t shy away from such analyses.

It is sad to see that Hyde appears now to have been forgotten by the Party. Despite being News Editor at the Daily Worker and leading the British antifascist campaign for the paper at the time, his legacy does not warrant even a mention in the 2001 publication Is That Damned Paper Still Coming Out? (a celebration of ‘the very the best of the Daily Worker and Morning Star). This was when the Daily Worker was being read by an estimated half a million readers (counting the number of hands it was passing through from the original purchaser – 5 at the time).

For my part it was suggested that I leave the Party and while having done I have since felt somewhat rudderless. Unlike Hyde, I did not have an alternative faith to fall back on. The same pang which drives an intolerance of the manifold injustices of our time has not lessened. I still consider myself a communist.

This book reawakened some of that passion for the Party, although we can be sure that this was not Hyde’s intention. I respect his book and his opinion. Indeed, I believe it is time for his rehabilitation into the Party’s British history for I believe in an open communism. The same kind of openness, no less, which Marx, Engels and Lenin called for when they challenged communists to be the most robust critics of themselves. This is what progressive politics really meant. Hyde had inadvertently written a memoir which highlights this fact. Though he didn’t know it he did indeed get to the kernel of his misunderstanding of Marxism when he said…

I was a trained Marxist and so spoke and thought as a Marxist without any conscious act of will

That is not what I understand as Communism. Just as we could be a ‘community of nations’ with all our differences in culture and plurality of heritage, desires and makeup we could be individuals fighting for all. Not drones fighting for some over-centralised and paranoid Party hierarchy.

Today, the Communist Party of Britain believes the Labour Party and Labour Movement is best saved from within rather than building new divisive endeavours like ‘Respect’. Hyde’s book shows us how the same tactic should have been adopted by the CPGB for its own party under the shadow of Stalinist Russia which, just to be clear, was never a communist state. It was a dictatorship parading under communist slogans. Now we know that, communists need to move on and believe in ourselves and in the power of self-checking that proper Marxist self-criticism offers.

I look forward to your views on the matter in the letters and e-mails to The Clarion.

CS

Not Just Orwell

In A.Graham, Reviews on February 18, 2010 at 9:01 am

REVIEW: “A Quiet Sector of a Quiet Front”

The Independent Labour Party Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War.
by Christopher Hall

The Spanish Civil War, which raged between 1936 and 1939, was a bloody, bitter conflict that divided not only the country but also those who rallied to defend the Republic.

It all began with an attempted military coup against the elected left-wing republican government in July 1936. The rising by the insurgent generals met fierce resistance in many centres where support for the government was strong – particularly in Madrid and Barcelona – and the ensuing struggle was to drag on until March 1939.

General Franco, who emerged as leader of the Nationalist insurgents, gained support from both Germany and Italy. Hitler, indeed, was to practise his military strategies in Spain – particularly with the bombing of Guernica. As for the beleaguered Republic, it received little support from governments that adopted a policy of strict “neutrality”. Only the USSR gave active backing.

But hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women did flock to Spain to give their support to the Republic. Most of them joined the International Brigade; but there was a significant minority who instead joined the militia forces – those from POUM or the Anarchist battalions (mainly based in Barcelona).

This book by Christopher Hall looks at the part played by volunteers from the Independent Labour Party (the ILP) in the fight against Fascism in Spain. Most joined the POUM (“Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista”) militia. POUM was a left-Socialist party based largely in Catalonia, with whom the ILP had links.

THE ILP:

Christopher Hall includes an outline of the history of the ILP, which by the time the Spanish conflict broke out had disaffiliated from the Labour Party and was reduced to a mere four MPs in Parliament and a membership of a few thousand. But it was still capable of punching above its weight. It gave full support to its fellow Socialist party in Spain and was able to muster a hundred volunteers to fight for the cause (including, of course, George Orwell). Its first direct involvement was to equip and send an ambulance to Spain. It attempted to organise a food ship to the beleagured population of Bilbao, and also housed some forty Basque refugee children in a home in Street, Somerset, provided by the Clark family, who owned the nearby shoe factory.

But the bulk of the book is concerned with those who fought alongside their POUM comrades in what became the 29th Division on the Aragon front – until the early summer in 1937 when POUM was suppressed.

The Aragon front was described by poet John Cornford as “a quiet sector of a quiet front”. The number of international volunteers who served there could be counted in hundreds, as compared to the tens of thousands who served in the International Brigade in the defence of Madrid – but their contribution should not be underestimated. They held the line, and even made some small gains in inhospitable terrain.

Some commentators saw Spain as a “rehearsal” for the Second World War – and indeed it was international politics that sealed the fate of Spain. And for decades afterwards the ILP was condemned and belittled by many (not least by those in the Communist party) for its role in Spain. Now, thankfully the part that it played (along with POUM) has been recognised – and Christopher Hall’s book is a welcome part of its rehabilitation. It is painstakingly researched, despite the difficulty he had in tracing what happened to many of the volunteers.

STAFF COTTMAN:

Incidentally, Ken Loach’s graphic film, “Land and Freedom”, tells the story of a British volunteer who joins the POUM militia on the Aragaon front. Loach had become friendly with Staff Cottman who, at the age of 18, became part of the ILP contingent. It’s been suggested that the film was, at least in part, inspired by conversations between the two.

I was privileged to get to know Staff and his wife Stella. Both of them read the Clarion and when Staff died ten years ago we were able to include an obituary.

For me, this book is not just an important addition to the many works produced on the Spanish conflict, but also recognition of the part played by those like Staff Cottman who fought against fascism and for a social revolution in war-torn Spain.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

http://www.warrenandpellpublishing.co.uk