Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
The Orwell Prize gets Hitched posted by Richard SeymourI wrote this for The Guardian in response to the late Hitchens receiving a memorial award from the Orwell Prize:
Go read the whole thing. You'll lol....Yet in his final years, Hitchens resembled nothing so much as the wretched apostate assayed by William Hazlitt – haunted by "the phantoms of his altered principles", driven "to loathe and execrate them", offering "all his thoughts, hopes, wishes, from youth upwards… at the shrine of matured servility", becoming, at last, "one vile antithesis, a living and ignominious satire on himself". And it is a sorry thing, but I suspect it is that Hitchens who has been posthumously honoured by the Orwell prize.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
American Insurgents reviewed posted by Richard SeymourZnet has what I think is the first review of American Insurgents:
American Insurgents is a fantastic synthesis of a rich but often-neglected history. It offers inspiring stories of past US anti-imperialists as well as important advice for present-day organizers. At a time when the US government and ruling class remain committed to global domination and roguishly disdainful of international law and opinion, the book merits close attention from readers living in the belly of the imperial beast.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Nick Clegg, a "communist". Vince Cable, a "socialist". This is the euphonious sound of the Tory right on the warpath – and with every marble intact. Dismiss such invective as mere boilerplate if you will, but the increasing tendency to reach for the S word as a polemical armament against the most humble proposals for reform from pro-business centrists has a lineage, which it would be a mistake to miss.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
- The shift toward Syriza in the core working class vote. Syriza got 27% of the public sector workers and 21% of the private sector workers. The bulk of its electorate is in generations 35 to 65.
- The rise of the radical Left throughout the whole working class. The radical Left (Syriza-KKE-Antarsya) got 55% of the blue-collar vote in the public sector and 45% in the private. The 'lower' down the working class, the higher their vote. The radical Left increased its representation among all age demographics except those over 65.
- The dissolution of PASOK in the working class. Only 10.6% of traditionally strongly PASOK public sector employees votes for the party this time, while only 7% of private sector workers did. Less than 7% of professionals, lone traders and small to medium bourgeois voted for the party, another demographic which PASOK has historically done much better out of. Their worst result was among young voters (18-24), from whom they received just over 2% of the vote. Their highest vote was among pensioners, with 23%.
- The crisis of the traditional/liberal Right. Only the peasantry (self-employed farmers) remained to a certain extent faithful to their traditional representation on the Right, with over a quarter voting for the New Democracy.
- The fragmentation of the petty bourgeois vote, and the displacement of far right votes. Most of the Nazi vote is petty-bourgeois, and is formed by dissaffected rightwing and far-right (LAOS) voters. The Golden Dawn received 19.2% of the petty bourgeois vote, the Independent Greeks 13%, and the New Democracy 9.6%.
The flurry of constitutional wrangling to one side - and today's financial and political panics over a Eurozone exit will undoubtedly be used to pressure DIMAR into commiting suicide by throwing itself into a coalition with the austerity parties - is entirely short-term, intended to buy time for the bourgeois parties, the state bureaucracy and the troika to cobble together some solution viable for capital. But their ability to do so for any length of time depends on their holding the initiative, which they won't if the struggles - strikes, occupations, protests - continue. Meanwhile, the forms of political representation emerging are profoundly strengthening the Left in ways that could only be reversed by means of a shattering defeat of the working class.
Friday, May 11, 2012
American Insurgents excerpt posted by Richard SeymourYou can read and download an excerpt from my latest, a brief history of anti-imperialism in the U.S., here.
Monday, May 07, 2012
France: Sarkozy's defeat is our victory, but there are bigger battles to come posted by Richard SeymourGuest post by John Mullen
Hundreds of thousands were on the streets of Paris on the night of Sunday 6th May to celebrate the fall of the monster, and they had every reason to be happy about Sarkozy’s defeat. Champion of tax cuts for the rich and public service cuts for the rest of us, his election campaign moved further right every day in the desperate hope of attracting the votes which went to the fascists in the first round. On the first of May he bussed in supporters from all over France to be filmed in front of the Eiffel tower while he demanded of trade unions “Put down your red flag, and serve France instead.”
So Sarkozy’s sacking is excellent news. If he had been re-elected, his plans for cuts and other attacks would have been accelerated many times over. He has already raised the retirement age and savaged our schools. It would have been open season on Trade union rights and workers’ conditions in general, and privatizations of pared-down public services would have been the order of the day.
In addition, some of the policies proposed by Hollande, first Socialist president for seventeen years, are very welcome - the right to vote for immigrants at local elections, immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, gay marriage, more nursery school places and a women’s rights ministry, to cite some examples. He is also proposing other modest reforms which are in the interests of workers - higher taxes for the rich (up to 75% for the filthy rich) and more social help for parents of school-age children. His programme pledges him not to continue privatization of electricity or the railways, to create 60 000 jobs in education, to limit rent rises, to defend public sector health services and to renegotiate European-wide agreements which impose ever harsher austerity policies. This week millions of immigrants are feeling that the police will be less encouraged to give free rein to their racism, and millions of workers are feeling that their pensions are less under threat. Hollande’s first decrees will reduce his own salary by thirty per cent and restore the right to retire at sixty to part of the workforce.
Reformist parties are contradictory animals: at the same time, Hollande has been wanting to reassure the more right-wing element of his electorate by insisting that there will be no more residence papers for illegal immigrants asking for them than there were under Sarkozy. And the Socialist Party, just like the right wing, has been involved in islamophobic scaremongering of late.
Expectations on Left governments are massively lower than thirty years ago. No-one thinks that the lives of the 4.3 million unemployed in France, or the standard of living of the 3.3 million minimum wage workers will radically improve because of the new president. Hollande will keep in place the neoliberal reforms of universities and public utilities and will no doubt add more of his own. This is why the Socialist Party campaign didn’t raise much popular enthusiasm, and the main thrust of Left sentiment was “at least we’ll get rid of Sarkozy”. Exactly how much the new president will do in the workers’ interest will depend on the mobilizations of the working class and its unions.
Hollande insists he can improve social justice at the same time as reducing the national debt, but, if and when the financial markets get even greedier, his priority will always be to satisfy them first. At that point, workers’ struggle is what will count, even to make Hollande keep the promises he has made. It is quite wrong to consider that reformist governments today cannot deliver reforms. They do tend to deliver ever smaller reforms in the workers’ interests and to donate ever more presents from public funds to the bosses. But they still reflect class mobilization and can be forced to hand over the goods. Ten years ago in France, a Socialist Party government introduced the thirty-five hour week, and brought in healthcare coverage for the poorest in society for the first time. Reforms are possible. This is why The Economist magazine, outspoken voice of neoliberal supporters of market dictatorship, is worried. “Mr. Hollande evinces a deep anti-business attitude”, they write, “nothing [in his past] suggests that Mr. Hollande is brave enough to rip up his manifesto and change France.” The Economist does not trust Hollande to decisively fight for the bosses. But they go on to outline what they think the future of France could be made of: “The response of the markets could be brutal.” “Do not conclude”, they squeal, “that Mr Hollande will impose tough reforms and demanding sacrifices on an unwilling public without having his own arm twisted” by the bond markets.
In a vain attempt to “reassure the markets” it has been Left governments in Spain and in Greece who have introduced vicious austerity programmes. If push comes to shove, Hollande will be prepared to do the same. This is why the key element today is the building of working class confidence, organization and consciousness.
Polarization to the Left and to the Right
The deepening social crisis has led to a political polarization which is the essential feature of French politics today and which determines what anticapitalist activists need to be doing. Four million people voted for the Left Front, headed up by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Their dynamic campaign (several meetings of over a hundred thousand) put radical class demands back in the forefront of politics, and made a priority of denouncing the fascist Front National.
Mélenchon called for the imposition of a ceiling on boss’s salaries, the return of retirement at sixty for all and a large increase in the minimum wage. “Let’s put finance back in its place” was one of the slogans, and many thousands of trade unionists and former left activists of all sorts joined in a tremendously exciting campaign. During the two weeks between the first and second round, Mélenchon and his activists pulled out all the stops to make sure that Sarkozy suffered the heaviest defeat possible. Mélenchon in his meetings called for a new June 1936 (when two million strikers won important victories, including paid holidays for all), and laughed at the idea of joining a Socialist Party government as a minister. “If the Socialist party is saying of its programme ‘take it or leave it’, we’ll leave it!” he declared. The Front de Gauche, set up as an electoral coalition between the Communist Party, the Left Party and some smaller revolutionary or Red/Green groups seems to be becoming a new activist force in its own right. This is an excellent thing, in particular if antifascist campaigning is brought to the fore in a way it hasn’t been for the last ten years.
Not that the Left Front doesn’t have faults. Mélenchon’s calls for “a citizens’ revolution” and “a revolution through the ballot box” suffer of course from the difficulty that the world doesn’t work like that. But it is in the struggle that this can be clarified. It would be wonderful if there were millions of revolutionaries in France today, but there aren’t. What is new now is that there are millions of people who believe radical reform is possible to advance workers’ living conditions and standard of living, and who are prepared to fight for it. The Left Front is also not good on islamophobia. Mélenchon loudly denounced the NPA a few years back, when one of the NPA electoral candidates was a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. Things may be getting better - he denounced the victimisation of Muslims several times during the campaign, and another leader of the Left Front condemned the instrumentalisation of feminist ideas by islamophobes. Still, a major re-think on anti-Muslim racism is required.
There is everything to fight for in the Left Front. One of its biggest member parties, the Communist Party, has frequently been much more interested in running local and regional councils, often passing on government austerity measures, than in class struggle. And Mélenchon’s left nationalist nonsense is a problem. There is no guarantee that the class struggle current will maintain the upper hand, and there may even be pressures for the Left Front to join a Socialist Party government after the legislatives. But the rise of this dynamic movement is the best opportunity for decades to offer the radical fighting Left alternative which is so sorely needed.
The other side of the polarization is the far right. The revamped fascist National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, got 6.4 million votes in the first round, the highest score in their history. On the ground, it has not yet been able to rebuild an activist organization as strong as the one it had in the late 1990s before antifascist activity put it under so much pressure that it split in two. But it is now recruiting again and there is no time to waste: a national, very broadly based, active antifascist organization is urgently needed. In the last thirty years the biggest antiracist and antifascist organizations in France have tended to fall into one or other mistake - either very broad but purely moralistic antiracist organizations which don’t try to stop the fascists organizing, or smallish networks based on purely physical opposition to the fascists or on “red antifascism,” which you can only join in if you have read half of Trotsky’s writings.
Anticapitalists gotta relate!
The main task for revolutionaries in France today is how to relate to the activists of the Left Front. One option is to ignore them because some of their ideas are confused or involve illusions in the possibilities of constitutional action. This is a disastrous mistake. What is needed is to get stuck in alongside them, not just in individual campaigns and strikes but also in a political and electoral bloc which, independent from the Socialist Party, fights to build class combativity and consciousness. Mélenchon has said he would welcome a broadening of the Left Front to include revolutionary organizations who want to join the alliance while maintaining their autonomy.
The strongest openly revolutionary organization in France, the NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), which is always in there doing the legwork on rank and file campaigns and strikes, had a dreadful presidential campaign, concentrating on the fact that the candidate was “not a professional politician” but a manual worker, and having nothing specific to say to the millions attracted by the Left Front. When Mélenchon had over a hundred thousand at a meeting, there were no NPA leafletters or paper-sellers to be seen! But in a crisis as deep as today’s, workers under attack don’t care whether the candidate is straight from the factory or not! The NPA came over as sectarian, and out-of-touch, and its score dropped from 4% in the previous presidentials to 1.15% this time round. Once the first round results came through, the party made a call to vote against Sarkozy in the second round, and then seemed to close down for holidays.
Meanwhile the Left Front was holding mass meetings calling for the heaviest possible defeat of Sarkozy, and for the building of the resistance, reminding Hollande of some of his positive promises, and of the Left Front’s demands which have to be fought for, against Hollande if necessary. The NPA paper simply commented that the success of the Left Front “can be seen as something positive, but we must bear in mind the limits of Mélenchon’s programme.” As a result of all this, the NPA’s crisis has deepened and a sizeable minority current within it, the Gauche Anticapitaliste, will no doubt leave the NPA and join the Left Front, while maintaining political independence. This newish grouping will be heterogeneous, but promising, I think. There will be legislative elections in June which the Socialist Party is most likely to win. The new Socialist government will come under attack at once from the financial markets, and will be immediately put to the test. The Left Front will be put to the test too: we will see if it can take a major role in organizing resistance to Socialist party austerity policies. These are exciting times: revolutionaries must be in the thick of the reconstruction, fighting, organizing and explaining, and not heckling from the sidelines.
John Mullen John Mullen is a member of the NPA in the Paris area. His blog is here: http://johnmullenagen.blogspot.fr/
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Syriza! posted by Richard SeymourIn recent days, the signs have been accumulating to suggest that the radical left coalition SYRIZA would perform some sort of remarkable upset in the Greek elections. Well, stow your cynicism because the exit polls say they're in second place in this election. In the actual vote, poll experts say they may even come first, though I hasten to say that we need make no such assumption in order to appreciate that this is a tremendous victory for the Left.
At present, SYRIZA appears to have 16-18% of the vote, with New Democracy first on about 19-20%, PASOK third on 16%, Independent Greece (right-wing anti-austerity) fourth on 10%, Communist KKE fifth on 9%, the neo-Nazis of the Goldan Dawn (note, actual hard-core neo-Nazis) on 7-8%, with other left parties and the Greens taking up the remainder. The distribution of the seats will probably favour a coalition of the capitalist austerity parties, with New Democracy and PASOK forming a government. But make no mistake: this is a cataclysm for the Greek and by extension European political establishment. It signals a fundamental realignment of Greek politics, to an extent that wouldn't have been predictable even weeks ago.
Importantly, SYRIZA have taken the lead in all of the major cities of Greece, meaning that they have made real in-roads into the core working class constituencies resisting the cuts. This party had less than 5% of the vote at the last election, which PASOK won. SYRIZA have now pushed the winners of the last general election into third place, and have become the leading left party. This is not only important because of the rejection of austerity politics that it signals (and the austerity parties are in a minority), not only because of the new possibilities for resistance that will now become apparent, but also because of the crisis and re-thinking it will create within the anti-austerity Left. For example, the KKE's consistently sectarian approach of staging separate marches, rallies and events from the rest of the Left, their refusal to countenance unity with forces to their own left, will come under scrutiny from the section of the working class which it still leads. Those workers who support the KKE will want to be united with, or at least open to, those workers who support SYRIZA. The argument that they can't do so because of the ambivalent attitude of some SYRIZA leaders to PASOK was always dangerously Third Period, and is unlikely to be persuasive now. That too will create new possibilities for unity in the workers' movement.
The neo-Nazis should not be ignored. Their emergence, almost out of nowhere, as a mass fascist organisation with actual Third Reich-style paraphernalia, shows how perilous the terrain is, and how much danger awaits Greece's most vulnerable communities. Recently, the state has been stoking up racism toward immigrants and planning a crackdown on the grounds that they 'spread diseases'. In this toxic, unpredictable climate, any gains made by the radical Left are likely to be subject to new tests on a routine basis. Any serious defeat for the Left amid continued austerity and the ongoing stalemate of the parliamentary system would certainly give the far right their best chance since the dictatorship. Already, they stand poised with their legions of voters and their parliamentary delegates and their marching squads of thugs to wreak havoc. Do not underestimate them.
But for now, the radical Left has siezed the initiative, upended the electoral system, and torn apart the austerity script so painstakingly drafted by the ECB, the presidency and the finance ministers. And in this context, the defeat of Sarkozy assumes a new significance. The mandarins of the EU are worried, as they should be, by the failure of the austerity formula to permit resumed dynamism even in the core European states. From rattled heads of state to the head of the ECB, they have started to wonder if there might not be a case for emphasising growth policies, stimulus rather than austerity. This is all very timid, and it is by no means intended to benefit the working class. But EU elites are also aware that they face an even graver climacteric than two quarters of negative growth if they cannot appear to offer some material inducement to the working class to acquiesce in the politics of austerity. In that situation, the deposal of PASOK as the main party of the workers in the weakest link of a weakened chain of national states, gives the EU leadership all the more incentive to rethink what they have been doing. And that means a more divided and uncertain ruling class than we have hitherto seen.
Saturday, May 05, 2012
The anti- vote. posted by Richard Seymour
Friday, May 04, 2012
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
May Day posted by Richard SeymourMy latest in The Guardian is a brief history of international workers' day:
If you see a history of May Day in the newspapers this year, it is most likely to recount the mystical, medieval origins of a pagan fertility festival. And though you may never have seen a maypole in your life, you will be assured that a ribboned piece of birchwood is the sign and sanction of May Day.Yet this has little to do with the reason that 1 May is celebrated in Britain, or why it is an international holiday, or why the Occupy movement is planning "global disruption" today. May Day is international workers day. As such, it is – in the words of Eric Hobsbawm – "the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar". And its past is more rowdy than is suggested by the imagery of Morris dancers serenely waving hankies and bells around...