Jeremy Corbyn: Quantitative Easing for the People

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To begin with, the press pretty much ignored Jeremy Corbyn, regarding his prospects of selection as Labour’s next leader as remote. The surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn has astounded everyone; now we listen to the right-wing press, and New Labour as Hard Left. Jeremy Corbyn is in no way  “hard”; he is compassionate, caring. and honest. He has integrity, and is true to principles. In fact, it is exactly that which has inspired so many people, ordinary working class people, previously disinterested in the politics to back him. His politics are certainly not extreme. They are socially desirable and popular.

He is, in fact, an excellent role model for politicians. Let’s hope we see more like him. Chris Stone writes on Jeremy Corbyn, Socialism, and the Labour Party.

From CJ Stone, Previously Published here

Jeremy Corbyn: Quantitative Easing for the People

I’ve been wanting to write these words for a long time. If democracy is rule by the majority, and monarchy is rule by an individual, then what is capitalism? It is rule by those with capital, of course. Rule by the rich. That’s such an obvious statement that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone saying it before.

We all know that our monarchy is just for show. The Queen makes a dazzling display on the state opening of Parliament, wearing the crown and the royal robe, shimmering in all her jewellery under the TV spotlights, while summoning the commons to attend, as if she had any real power.

QueenieWe enjoy the theatre of it while knowing that it is purely ceremonial. We listen to her words, aware they have been composed by someone else. We know her speech isn’t her own.

No one argues with this. It is the measure of our sophistication as consumers that we understand these ceremonial forms for what they are: symbolic gestures carried out in the grand theatre of Parliament. So what of our democracy? Is this, too, an empty ceremonial form covering a deficit of real power?

Of course it is.

We all know this too, secretly, deep down. We know that we elect governments not to rule, but to administer. We know that governments themselves are ruled. That’s why we never believe the promises that they make.

Politicians even admit it, but in a subtle way. They are always telling us that we have to obey the market, that “Market Forces” dictate this, that, or the other policy, but without telling us – what they know, and we don’t – that “the market” is the mechanism by which the rich rule over us.

Governments throughout the world are mere administrators for the financial oligarchs who control the market.

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Market rules

This has been the case for more than thirty years, since the Thatcher revolution overthrew the post-war consensus, and instituted a return to rule by market forces in this country, but now we know the Thatcherite experiment has failed.

What she told us was that by allowing the financial markets free rein while simultaneously subjecting Trade Unions to all the rigours of the Law (by regulating the one and deregulating the other) that the rich would grow very rich, and that their wealth would trickle down to the rest of us. She referred to the rich as wealth creators, and suggested that it was they who had generated the wealth. She was lying to us, of course, but some of us believed her.

So we mopped up shares in the newly privatised industries and took out mortgages for our own council houses. We became a nation of speculators. What happened next? The rich grew very rich, as promised, but they kept their wealth for themselves.

Surprise, surprise!

The only way it trickled down was by turning the young into their zero-hour contracted, minimum-wage servants, and allowing us the crumbs that had fallen from their table.

All the pride and the intelligence of the post-war generation was squandered – all that accumulated skill, which had taken centuries to develop – to be replaced by a generation of smiling automatons, enslaved by their own indebtedness.

But this was not always the case. Sometimes things can change.

1945_industry_must_serveLabour Party, for public ownership

Throughout the 20s and 30s the Labour Party was the parliamentary wing of a wider political movement. We called it “The Labour Movement” and we understood what that meant. It consisted of working people, the people who voted Labour, plus their financial backers in the Trade Unions. The Labour Party was wedded to the Trade Unions, just as the Conservative Party was (and still is) wedded to the Business Elites.

If the Labour Party does not represent the views of the Trade Unions and their members, then what is its purpose? We already have one Business party, why would we need another?

When the Labour Party won in 1945, it was as a representative of this wider movement, and it enacted policies which were approved of and were understood by the vast majority of people in the UK.

Our grandparents knew what they were voting for. We called it socialism then, and we can call it socialism again, right now.

What that government did – despite the extreme austerity to which the nation was subjected by the war – was to enact policies of economic stimulation. It did not cut the economy: it grew the economy. It created the NHS. It took into public ownership large swathes of British industry. It invested in infrastructure, in rail and road, in energy, in telecommunications, in the postal network. It built homes. It built schools. It replaced the devastated landscape of our major cities, bombed-out in the war, and built anew on the rubble of the past.

What followed was more than thirty years of prosperity for the British people. As Harold Macmillan said, we’d never had it so good.

Jeremy Corbyn: Quantitative Easing for the people

These are precisely the policies that Jeremy Corbyn is proposing now: Quantitative Easing for the people. Growth, not austerity. Work not slavery. Give the people a share of the wealth, everyone will spend, and that will make the economy grow.

Quantitative Easing is creating money. What successive governments have been doing since the crash of 2008 is creating money and then giving it to the banks, in the hope that they will lend it to the public.

It is our money. Giving it to the banks is giving it away. It is handing our money over to speculators. They will only spend it on what will enrich themselves. We already see speculative bubbles forming. Property prices are rising, not because property prices are an indication of what is happening in the wider economy, but because it is a way for the Business Elites to store and expand their wealth.

It was speculation of this sort that lead to the financial crash of 2008. Why would we imagine that it wouldn’t have the same effect this time round? Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If individual insanity manifests itself through personal breakdown, so economic insanity manifests itself through the breakdown of the financial system. Expect another crash quite soon unless we change the policy.

This is all that Corbyn is proposing: the people’s money for the people, for economic stimulation, for investment, for infrastructure, for schools and hospitals, for all the things that we want and need, just as the Labour government of 1945 did.

  • He is talking about a National Education System: an NHS for our minds. A lifetime of learning instead of a lifetime of work.

  • He is talking about renationalising the rail: putting public subsidy, currently paid out to speculators, back into improving the service and reducing fares.

  • He is talking about renationalising the Big Six energy companies, and investing in green energy.

  • He is talking about participatory democracy, of us all becoming a movement again, of us taking back the Labour Party, which was our own creation, and making it work for us again, instead of for the Business Elites as it currently does.

So when the media tells you that Jeremy Corbyn is a hard-left extremist, remember this: he is only as much of an extremist as the Labour government of 1945.

Faith, Hope and Charity – Contemplating Contradictions

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Contemplating the Contradictions of Charity within Socialism

Concerns about the rights and wrongs of charity often stimulate debate. Is there a difference between the natural desire to help others and organised, impersonal charities? Think Left’s recent blog about philanthropy and democracy addressed this.

Sue Fairweather, a socialist and a Christian ponders whether there is a congruency or conflict between these with regard to “charity”. She shares her thoughts here.

Thinking more about these justifiable concerns about ‘charity’ when this video appeared on my Community page.

A training weekend for the Volunteer Action for Peace organisation. https://vimeo.com/131963750

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Every year for more than 40 years we have had VAPs from all over the world working in our Community for a period of two to three weeks. Othona, is  a charity,  which welcomes different charitable workers from afar. Without doubt ‘we’ are very glad to welcome the ‘administration’. Would I, or ‘we’, hold out the same hand of friendship to let’s say the Bill Gates Foundation?

I am reminded of a documentary discussion where a member Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) challenged a CEO of the aforementioned BGF as to their philanthropic works in the early days of conflict in war torn Libya. The doctor had two objections; the formation of a ‘safe corridor’ for the fleeing refugees of war which in fact left them as easy targets; that the ‘aid’ provided, despite being ample for much humanitarian need, was selective (some would say in the manipulators’ hands) and should be directed to, and more importantly, by the ‘troops’ on the ground like the MSF.

There is a difference in the perspectives of these two organisations. I would suggest that the ‘wealth’ of MSF’s difference comes with their direct humanitarian aid to the people from the people of all nations. Where the Bill Gates’ Foundation functional aid worth millions of dollars goes to is unclear. It comes from ‘on high’ (not quite ‘high’ enough for a spiritual sounding me) and appears to run a manipulative path. I have no time for an entrepreneur, Bill Gates, who openly lectures that he can reduce (present tense) the world population by his inoculation programmes and health programmes. There are children in many developing nations who are left disabled, sometimes dying, having been the recipients of such ‘charity’.

Building a world where worth and not wealth is the primary function of society can be the only way forward. Work is a natural by-product of that aim…more about that much later. I have mentioned earlier my faith and political grounding for anything I write (somewhat reluctantly for it is difficult for me to marry my brain as holistically as my being) which leads me to the two JCs.

JC1 gives us ‘the greatest of all is Love’.

JC2, Jeremy Corbyn, busier as us humans are, says this in answer to a question of where his optimism is based, “In the fundamental good in people, and [a belief] that you can create a society where people do feel valued, do feel involved and can make a contribution”.

It was with joy that our discussions led me through ‘war and peace’ to a closer definition of Charity, albeit a necessary biblical definition for me. Wrongly I gave three WW2 Spitfires as bearing the nicknames of Faith, Hope and Charity’…the names were right but the plane was wrong. You cannot imagine how I feel presently that these craft were in fact three Gloster Gladiators that were unpacked and assembled as the only original air defence in the bombardment of the home of my youth, Malta. My cup runneth over. The use of the word Charity has inbuilt memories of benevolence and malevolent situations. Nothing changes, or does it?

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Yesterday I consulted more than one bible in my search for the meaning of that elusive word ‘charity’. I knew the exact text where it was coupled with faith and hope. My surprise came that my usual modern version gave faith, hope and…Love. I’m rather saddened, being a conceptual dinosaur, that the loving name of charity has been left behind with King James!

Now to stretch between the spiritual and the political. A wise councillor once told me of the limitations of our language. Greeks, and we must all spare another moments thought for them here, had several different words for love. If I remember correctly the anglicised three were Eros (well we know where that one’s going!), Charisma (of the Spirit), and Agape...the most important perhaps for our purpose…the love between all people. Using the same procedure Greeks had a second set for that simple item, the chair. The first you could see, the second you could measure, the third, the one where both my faith and my politics reside, is the one that ‘we know you can sit in’ and bear your weight! The chair will support you, the choice is yours when you’re doing the window shopping of ‘looking and measuring’.

Mine is assured by both JCs but so that I’m not ‘too heavenly minded to be of no earthly good’ (a favourite concern for a Christian) my vote is to be cast for Jeremy Corbyn and no other on the voting slip.

Tony Benn – an inspiration to the end – and beyond. An interview with Tony Benn.

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An Inspiration to the end

Karl Marx (died 14th March 1883.)  Tony Benn ( died 14th March 2014)

Both were inspirations for humanity. So many of us feel Tony Benn was a hero in our lifetime. CJ Stone’s interview with Tony Benn certainly provides us with food for thought. The media will no doubt seek to demonise him yet again  as they seek to preserve a world where the few benefit at the expense of the many. His legacy will not be forgotten.

An Interview with Tony Benn by C J Stone

The following interview was recorded on the 9th October 2000 at Tony Benn’s house in Notting Hill. It was for a book I was planning to write at the time, called The Lords of Misrule about the protest movement, which had recently scored such a high-profile victory by closing down the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999. The interview was published in  Red Pepper and on the LabourNet website. I put in up here today as a tribute to Tony Benn, one of the few honest politicians, who died on the 14th March 2014. An inspiration to the end. 

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Tony Benn: I’ll just mark this. It is now the ninth of October the year 2000. I’m with Chris Stone who was coming to see me about protest but might be something else. OK, I’m with you.

Chris Stone: Really it’s about the current globalisation project. So. There’s a whole range of things I want to ask you really. First of all, what do you understand by the term “globalisation”?

TB: It’s the free movement of capital, but not the free movement of labour. It’s imperialism under a new form: only the agents of imperialism are companies rather than countries. But of course the companies are supported by countries. So America backs up its oil companies by going to war where there’s an oil interest, as we did in the Falklands, because the Falklands was an oil war, there’s more oil around the Falklands than there is around the United Kingdom, and that’s what that was about. And of course some companies are now bigger than nation states. Ford is bigger than South Africa. Toyota is bigger than Norway. And some of these big guys come and dominate the world, bring pressure to bear on governments, and to make sure they then buy both parties in Britain and America, and then expect to pay off which ever one wins. And imperialism of course is coming back now. And it really is, I think, a direct counter attack on democracy. The franchise was only extended to one person one vote in 1948 in Britain, and at the age of 18 later even than that, and at that moment the guys at the top got really frightened that the poor could use the vote not just to buy political power, but economic power. So they decided to prevent it. They couldn’t prevent it during the period of the Soviet Union, because the existence of an anti-capitalist superpower frightened the life out of the establishment. And so they had to let the colonies go, in case they went communist, concede the welfare state in case western Europe went socialist. Only America is now the dominant power and not Britain, and we’re piggy-backing on the back of American military power. . . .

CS: And we’re doing their dirty work for them. . .

TB: Exactly. And now we can be a superpower but not a super state. . . . like saying I’ll have a banana but not a banana split. Ludicrous. But it’s an indication that the urge for domination is the urge that’s put forward by governments. . . But then they’re all in the pay, or under the control, of corporate finance. I mean it’s really, in a sense it’s a very alarming development. But as long as people understand it, and don’t look for scapegoats like asylum seekers, we might make some progress.

CS: Carrying on from that, about the recent protests in Prague against the World Bank and the IMF: as I understand it, the WB/IMF were originally conceived as humanitarian institutions, that is, to aid development. . .

TB: Well I’ve no doubt they were presented as world development. . .

CS: I suppose the questions is: it’s your insights into how such institutions, which at least put forward a humanitarian front. . .

TB: Everything is humanitarian. I mean, the war, when we used depleted uranium and cluster bombs in Kosovo. And funnily enough, because I was thinking of this word “humanitarian”, I looked up the killing of 11, 000 Sudanese at Omdurman 102 years ago – it happened to be the centenary of the bombing of the factory by the Americans – and I looked up what was said at the time, and Lord Salisbury the prime minister – of course he didn’t comment on it for six months because it took so long for the news to get back – and then he described it as a humanitarian thing. He said, “the Africans will have grounds to thank us for having restored law and order. ” And remember, imperialism is always presented as humanitarian: the white man’s burden, the cross going round the world, the poor benighted natives, the sun never sets. . . So you have to be very careful about humanitarianism. The latest example of it is don’t give money to beggars. That would be humanitarian. You saw that in the paper? Jack Straw is spending a quarter of a million pounds telling people not to give money to beggars.

CS: That’s quite interesting. We were told on Victoria station the other day not to give money to beggars. And immediately you think, yes I want to go and give money. I immediately went and looked for a beggar.

TB: The Good Samaritan would have been arrested, given a fine on the spot, taken to the nearest cash point. . .

CS: OK, I’m puzzled about these terms. You spoke about humanitarianism and how a term such as this is used as a front for something else. . .

TB: The word is used to cover things. I don’t say that it’s always in that sense, but they do describe the bombing of Iraq as humanitarian, to protect the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South. I mean: “peacekeeping”. I’m interested in language. We used to call it the War Office. Then it became the Ministry of Defence. We used to talk about the hydrogen bomb, now we talk about a deterrent. And the language is very cleverly constructed to give the impression that it’s not what it is. Humanitarian Intervention. World Peace. Chomsky said the other day that whenever you hear the words “Peace Process” remember, this is what American national interest is about. You don’t want to be cynical, but you do have to understand language.

CS: There’s a lot of euphemisms used, isn’t there? I mean, Free Trade: it actually means protectionism in the United States. Globalisation actually means the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. The International Community means the elites within the G7. . .

TB: I know half of the International Community myself. It’s a tremendous achievement. I mean, I’ve actually met Robin Cook. (Laughs). I think that a little bit of gentle mockery is not a bad thing really. Because the odious hypocrisy of the language that they use. . . And I mean, the guys in Prague are troublemakers and thank god the police are dealing with them, but the demonstrators in Belgrade are. . . the police mustn’t fire at them. The miners in Yugoslavia striking against Milosivec are heroes, the miners in Britain striking to keep their jobs are revolutionaries. I mean the whole thing has got to the point now where unless you address the language you can’t explain to people what’s happening.

CS: The notion of Capitalism gives off this idea that we have a free market, and various institutions struggling between themselves to lower prices. I know this isn’t true. One of the things Chomsky points out is that the state is more often used to funnel public money into private hands. I was just wondering, given your wide experience of actually being in government and watching government if. . .

TB: Well Thatcher said she’d run down the state. Actually what she did was to transfer the power of the state in protecting people to protecting business against people. And the state is more powerful than it’s ever been, but it’s on the wrong side. And this theory. . . I’m doing a broadcast tomorrow actually (10th October) about a book called The Commanding Heights, which is written by two academics, celebrating the victory of what they call market forces over the state. But it’s actually a victory of market forces and the state over people. I mean, if you take the railways – I looked it up the other day – I got the House of Commons library to tell me what are the profits of the private railway companies and what are the subsidies and many of them pay the dividends out of the subsidies and run the railways at a loss. And that’s called Private Enterprise, Public Private Partnership. It’s very easy to expose now, and what I do find is that now communism is gone and people aren’t terrified that they’re going to be invaded by the Red Army tomorrow, they’re now having a chance to look at capitalism and they don’t really like it very much. Most people would like publicly owned railways, they’d like the schools to be run by elected people, don’t want private companies taking over schools, would like the Health Service to be free of PFI (Private Finance Initiative) and all that, so I feel at the moment that the tide is coming in, not in an explicit socialist way, but it a very, very powerful anti-capitalist way. Very easy to make the case against capital and people respond, they’re insecure, they’re worried, they don’t feel happy, they don’t know what it is, and that’s the duty of explanation, that’s why Chomsky is so important because he explains things so clearly.

CS: Following on from that, and talking about government, you will presumably know most of the people who are currently in government, or at least have watched some of them coming up through the ranks. . .

TB: Well I’ve only once been introduced to Gordon Brown at a New Statesman party three years ago. I know Beckett very well and I know Blair a bit and I know Mowlam, she used to work down in this basement thirty years ago as a research assistant. Jack Straw I know from way back. Who else? I don’t really know Mandelson very well except he was a press officer for the Labour Party in Walworth Road. Gordon Brown is the only one I don’t really know at all.

CS: The puzzle I have here is, what happens to people when they enter government? This is where I’m asking for your experience. The example I’d give is Peter Hain who, not so long ago was head of the anti-apartheid movement, apparently radical, who now appears to justify the bombing of Iraq. I’m not interested in individuals. The process if you like. . .

TB: Actually Peter Hain used to come and see me once a month for a year when I persuaded him to come and join the Labour Party. He was a Liberal. Well, when you get there a lot of things happen. First of all you feel you are entering a place controlled by the people and you’re sort of glad to be there. Then the Permanent Secretary says good morning Secretary of State, and then later you get on to first name terms: I know Sir John, I have a word with Sir Alan. But of course the civil service believe in a continuity of policy, and they treat you a little bit as a Maitre D’Hotel. . . . (Conversation interrupted by a phone call during which Claire Short was mentioned. ) I forget where we were now.

CS: A similar thing in a way. I was talking about what happens to people when they get into power, Claire Short being another example of someone I used think was. . . I don’t want you to speak about the person. . .

TB: Some of these people I can’t say I was altogether surprised. But then you realise they have a continuity policy, they just want you to. . . The Permanent Secretary will do a deal with you. If you do what we want you to do, we will put out to the press that you are an incredibly able Minister, and The Economist will say that people have been amazed at Mr. Jones’ ability to handle a difficult. . . That all comes from the Permanent Secretary. If you don’t do that than they’ll put out that you’re a troublesome Minister, you’re causing trouble; they’ll go straight to your department in No. 10 and tell the Prime Minister that the Secretary of State is being very difficult. And they undermine you. It’s partly ambition. They want to get on, it’s very understandable. And partly, of course, the so-called collective cabinet responsibility, where if you’re a cabinet minister you’re responsible for everything everyone does even if you didn’t know about it. So you’re sucked in that way. And I found ways of getting round this. One way of getting round collective cabinet responsibility is to make a speech saying, a lot of people are saying to me it’s time the government looked again at the question of this or that. Well they can’t complain about that because that was reported – reportage – but of course you were really building up support. Or: Looking further ahead beyond this to the fourth Labour Cabinet, we will have to consider this. . . . And it made them very, very angry. But they want you when you are there to abandon your responsibilities, your beliefs, your constituency, your party, and simply become what’s now called “on-message”. And if you step out of line – and the media particularly – they just assassinate you. The media – it’s a long time ago now – but they used to sit in the garden and ring the front door bell, there were twenty film crews and when my kids went to school they used to swear and hope they’d swear back. And really, media harassment amounts almost to political assassination. Very, very unpleasant. And that’s another factor because if you want a good press you’ve got to do what the editor of the Guardian wants, or the editor of the Independent or the Times. So there are a lot of pressures. And to stand up to them. . . . I mean I was radicalised by being a minister. That’s when I saw how the system really worked. And that is not a very usual process, but it certainly happened to me: it gave me a lot more experience, it helped me to understand where power really lay, develop strategies for undermining or changing it, and so on. But that isn’t the norm. Mr Gladstone moved to the left as he got older, and one or two other people have, but normally you swing the other way.

CS: So why would that be? Why would they normally swing the other way when faced with the realities of power?

TB: Well because the establishment rewards you, don’t they? Very, very richly. I mean if you take the four members of the SDP – Jenkins, Owen, Williams and Rogers – they all became members of the House of Lords. I mean, that really is something isn’t it? I mean if you’re a trade unionist who goes along with the government, you become Lord Murray, Lord Chappell, and a lot more weighty. Patronage is a very powerful force. (Conversation interrupted by another phone call. )

CS: I’m still puzzled. . .

TB: About why people shift?

CS: Yeah.

TB: Well I mean it’s a variety of things. First of all you start with ideas, and you’re young, you have less experience than when you’re old, you say, it’s wrong to hunt animals, or it’s wrong that people should be thrown out of work. Then you get there, they say, half a minute, if you try to tackle that you’d have this. So you face the. . . what you might call from protest to management. Now I found that very interesting and satisfying, because at least I had a little bit of power. Whereas if you’re an ordinary MP and the factory workers are made redundant, there’s nothing you can do but protest. But if you’re a minister. . . I’d say, right, I’ll do this, I’ll do that, I’ll do the other, so you could help a little bit. But of course all the pressures from the department, and from your colleagues, broadly was, oh well, that’s inevitable, it’s globalisation, you’re causing trouble, there’s nothing could be done, they’re not very representative, they don’t matter, we’ve got a lead in the polls. And then the sort of hint that if you’re a good boy you’ll get promoted and you’ll end up as Lord So-and-so. I mean, I’m putting it very crudely, but I think that is what it is. And then the media say, right, marvellous article Lord Jenkins whatever he is, in another masterly address to the nation said. . . Mr Benn in a typical article shouted. . . I mean they give government health warnings to explain who they want you to listen to. And all these pressures become very great. And also I think a lot of people are a bit overawed by civil servants. “Come and have dinner, we’ll discuss it. . . . ” The quickest way to get to the top in society probably is to be a Blair Babe now. And then all of a sudden you find you’re invited to parties. I don’t want to be cynical, because I’m not. But I’ve seen it happen to so many people who move from the left to the right so damn quickly. The number of Trots who are now Blairites. I mean, Aleister Darling was a Trot, I believe Steven Byers was a Trot, Alan Millburn was a Trot. And the Comms (Communists) shift because funnily enough the Comms identify in New Labour the very Democratic Centralism they admired in Russia. They sort of recognise it. That’s an ideological phenomenon.

CS: New Labour is a Democratically Centrally organised party these days?

TB: Absolutely the same.

CS: Going back to the globalisation thing. There’s a Zapatista slogan, “a thousand yeses and one no!” We know what’s wrong. It’s what we do about it.

TB: Oh I agree. But then that’s what you have to think about. I mean, for example, I was the Energy Minister when we were developing the North Sea. So I suddenly found myself dealing at the very top level with Esso, Amoco, Texaco, Conoco, with BP, the bloody lot. And I recognised they were bigger than Britain as companies, so I treated them like foreign powers. I’d say, we have a common interest in getting oil out of the North Sea. You’re looking after your shareholders, I’m looking after my electors. If it’s a conflict between your shareholders and my electors, I’m going to win. And one of them, the Esso guy, said, I can’t negotiate with you. I said, why not? Well, he said, your political philosophy is different to mine. So I said, right, OK, thank you very much. And you could see his own people quivering ‘cos they wanted the bloody oil. So they went away. And then a year later they asked me to lunch. So I talked him about his golf, his wife, but I wouldn’t discuss oil with him. And of course they capitulated, because they wanted the oil. I’ll give you another occasion when we discovered – at the time the Balance of Payments was a big problem – that by transfer pricing, you know what I mean. . .

CS: I don’t.

TB: Well within a company you can arrange to make a profit in one country and not in another. Well I knew that Phillip’s of Eindhoven were running a Balance of Payments deficit on Mullards and all the factories they owned here. So I got in a helicopter, went to Eindhoven, said to Mr. Phillips, if you don’t change that, I’ll tell you that the Minister of Defence will never buy another Mullard valve off you. And a year later my official came and said, by the way, Secretary of State, we’ve discovered they’ve now shifted it. So they aren’t making a Balance of Payments deficit. So that was just bullying them. And they spend millions of pounds on publicity, there’s a tiger in your tank, all this stuff, because they want good will with the host country, with the host government. So we’re much more powerful than we think. Mind you, if you annoy them, they’ve got all sorts of ways of getting at you. But this idea that we’re at the mercy of them. . . They’re very powerful. I sent you that thing on the World Trade Organisation? They’re very powerful. But we elect MPs in this system to protect you, not to administer the world on their behalf where you’re just a spectator.

CS: But isn’t this the problem, that given that Ministers tend to move to the right, that we can no longer depend on government, and given that the corporations are so closely tied in with the current administration, that those of us who aren’t ministers, who are just blokes on the street. . .

TB: If we’d have been talking about apartheid forty years ago, you’d have said the same to me about apartheid. . . The police are controlled by the whites, the media are controlled by the whites, the army’s controlled by the whites, what hope is there for change? It changes from underneath.

CS: So you would promote protest?

TB: Well I don’t like the word protest. I know what you mean of course. But I don’t regard it as protest. I regard it as the first stage of political campaigning. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard my sequence of events. When somebody comes up with a progressive idea, to begin with, you’re mad, bonkers. Then if you go on, you’re dangerous. Then there’s a pause. Then you can’t find anyone who can say they thought of it in the first place. That’s how progress is made. This is why I do believe in the vote. In the end, all these people who’ve been tempted to the right realise the warning lights in their constituency are brighter than the bright lights from No. 10 offering them things. And then they begin listening. The Poll Tax was an example. And the fuel thing is interesting, because although the people who were running it were anti-government, the support was very general. Because the fuel tax is too high. And I think now, after Prague and Seattle, maybe Belgrade even, you’re going to find a lot more of this. I mean, how did women get the vote? Mr. Asquith, the prime minister, said that if women got the vote it would undermine parliamentary democracy. How did they win? How did the Tolpuddle Martyrs get trade unionised? It’s self-organisation. That’s why the word protest is too negative. You’ve got to be in favour of something. Ban the Bomb, Votes for Women, Jobs for All, those are sound bites that mean something. They are the rallying cry, but not on a sectarian basis, I’m more socialist than you are, that is absolute dead duck sectarian politics, but issue based politics. . . The Miner’s strike attracted people from the whole political spectrum.

CS: Going back to protest. It’s the same root as the word Protestant you realise?

TB: Yes it’s very interesting isn’t it.

CS: And from Protestantism, which is protest against the Catholic Church. . .

TB: The priesthood of all believers, you see. I was brought up to believe you don’t need a bishop or a cardinal. Were you brought up in a religious home?

CS: No I wasn’t personally. But I’ve looked a lot, especially at that period, the Diggers and the Levellers, Gerard Winstanley. . .

TB: Oh yeah. I’ve got a picture on the wall over there of Daniel in the lion’s den. Have you heard that story? In the bible there’s a man called Daniel, and he went into a lion’s den. They said, you’ll be eaten up. He wasn’t. And my Dad used to say to me, dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, dare to let it known. An old testament story. And I found that picture in the YMCA in Nagasaki, and I took out my camera and I photographed it. So you see, there is, all the political battles we fight now were fought in the name of religion in the past. That’s why it’s so important to study religion. Martin Luther against the Pope was the same as the Campaign Group against New Labour (laughs). I didn’t know that Protestantism came from protest, because that entirely marries in with my understanding of what you’re doing. You’re challenging unaccountable power.

CS: Of course, those of us who only have the vote, that’s as far as it goes in terms of our political influence, have tended to take other means of direct action. Have you got any views on that?

TB: I’ll give you some very good examples of direct action. Monsanto. WTO. IMF. Brussels. All extra-parliamentary. Only they’re not called that. None of them were elected. And when Ford closes Dagenham, that’s direct action. So you’ve got to be clear in your mind, that governments are driven by direct action from capital. That’s discussed as “the real world”. So when they face direct action in the streets of Prague. . . Oh my god, this is a revolution. And they always try and make protest movements out to be violent. Just as Thatcher called Mandela a terrorist. Which he was I suppose. At his trial he said, we tried peacefully, then by non violent activity, and then we took to the gun. He was a terrorist. And then he wins the world peace prize and becomes president of South Africa. That’s how it happens. It’s very important not to differentiate protest from the democratic process. Because the ballot box is so important. There’s people on the left who say, the ballot box is a waste of time. Forget them. When Mandela voted for the first time at the age of 76 there was a lot of grown men, including me, wept buckets. That was what it was about. It doesn’t solve things, but it gives you the mechanism to hold to account the people with power.

CS: You spoke of sectarian problems on the left. There’s a huge history of this. This is one of the problems we encounter. If we really are to overcome the powers of capitalism then we need some sort of unity. . .

TB: Yes, but you can’t actually get it on the basis of ideology. It has to be on the issue. On the Miner’s strike, all these left groups supported it. On Seattle, they probably all supported it. On pensions. . . So I’ve long ago given up the idea that there’s a better party, with Scargill’s party: not that I ever had it, you know, I’m a Labour Party person myself. But it’s a phenomenon, a self-weakening phenomenon, self-indulgence of a kind. Although what they write is very brilliant. I mean, I read all the left press. Far from being mindless militants, they’re the most formidable intellectuals. I was talking to an Anarchist yesterday. He’s a waiter in a restaurant. He’s always been very friendly to me. He said, I was imprisoned by Franco because I was an Anarchist, and I’ve come here. He’s a good lefty, and he knew of Portillo’s father. We had a lovely talk. And Anarcho-Syndicalism is a very important strand of thought, and it’s always dismissed as just a lot of. . . Like the Luddites and the Ranters. The Ranters were actually quite sensible people, going round, teaching people. And the Luddites didn’t want to destroy the machines, they wanted to control the machines, so they destroyed the machines in order to get control. And all that’s always done. Even the word “silly”. Silly means religious. It’s either silly or daft, I forget which. . . .

CS: So do you see yourself as a religious man?

TB: I was brought up on the bible. But I’m not practicing. First of all I think that the moral basis of the teachings of Jesus – Love thy neighbour – is the basis of it all. Am I my brother’s keeper? An injury to others is an injury to all, you do not cross a picket line; and that comes from the book of Genesis and not the Kremlin. And my mother brought me up on the Old Testament, in the conflict between the Kings and the Prophets, the Kings who had power, and the Prophets who preach righteousness, and I was taught to believe in the Prophets and not the Kings. I mean, my cultural roots of Dissent and Protestantism and Non-Conformity all come from there. But it doesn’t mean I’m trying to impose my religion on anyone else, or that any of the mysteries – the virgin birth or the ascension – interest me in any way. But I think if you are going to relate to a society with arguments that make sense, you have to relate to your common cultural background. And if I say, when Cain killed Abel in the garden of Eden – am I my Brother’s keeper? – and that’s really why we don’t cross a picket line, people register. Whereas if I say, in my particular socialist sect it makes it clear that it’s a treachery to the working class to cross a picket line, they might say, oh hell, there he is, he’s at it again. So it’s partly presentational. It’s a cultural, historical, traditional presentation of that.

CS: I’ve been reading a bit of Liberation Theology recently. .

TB: Oh that’s very interesting. I’m very interested in Liberation Theology, when the priests are Marxist and the Marxists are Christians. You weren’t brought up in any religion at all?

CS: I wasn’t. Well, born in the 50s, brought up in the 60s. It was a secular state by then. I did go to a Baptist church but I didn’t much like it.

TB: Some of them are pretty restrictive in their view.

CS: Yes, I must admit, I’m not religious really. But, like you, I like the use of symbolism and imagery. I think the problem on the left is this pretence that we have a scientific world view, when in fact it’s not really scientific, it’s humanitarian. . .

TB: There was a conflict – I only learned this recently – between William Blake, who was a non-denominational Christian, and Tom Paine, who was an atheist. And Blake’s analysis, Blake believed that the origin of reason was the devil, and that faith was what mattered. Therefore he played no part whatever in political activities. He was a visionary, a prophetic voice. Whereas Paine was involved in everything. And the idea that reason owes its role to the devil: it’s totally unscientific, but there’s something in it.

CS: I think you need both, faith and reason. Which is maybe where I’m not a Christian, because Christians have faith in something that I can’t see or feel or that I don’t know much about. However, I can believe in the possibility of something, that by putting my energy into that possibility I can make it happen. That to me is belief on a concrete level. That you can believe in – say – reforming an institution, doing something about something, and actually then make it happen. I still think you need reason down the line. I think if you lose reason. . .

TB: Well you see, Christians believe that God created man, and humanists believe that man invented God. But whichever way you look at it, we’re brothers and sisters. Either we’re brothers and sisters because we’re children of God, or because we’ve banded together to invent God. So the ethics of the humanist and the ethics of some Christians are very similar. And we don’t want to create divisions between humanists and Liberation Theologians, and more than we want between the New Worker and the Trots. It’s not helpful.

CS: I’m not sure how much longer I’ve got.

TB: I find these discussions very interesting. Tell you what, I want to know all about you. How old are you?

CS: 47. I’ve been a single parent. My son’s now 20. He’s now got himself a flat on his own. He’s left me.

TB: What have you done all your life?

CS: Bits and pieces, really. Bit of a drifter, I suppose. I’ve done lots and lots of jobs. Active in the Labour Party for a while. Briefly. I left the Labour Party over the Poll Tax, because they said we had to pay the Poll Tax and that then they’d get in and repeal it. But if we hadn’t actively fought against the Poll Tax, the Poll Tax would still be here wouldn’t it?

TB: Well Kinnock was furious with me. I didn’t pay the Poll Tax till the abolition was announced. I wouldn’t tell anyone else not to pay because they would be taking a risk I wasn’t taking. Yes, the Poll Tax was very important. The other fairly non-political example was when Hamilton killed those kids in Dunblane. Public opinion was so strong even Michael Howard had to ban handguns. The last thing he ever thought of. But he had to do it. And public opinion: protest formulates public opinion, and Parliament is the last place to get the message. At the moment it’s so totally out of touch, I’m not sure it’s getting any messages at all. As we approach polling day one or two messages will be conveyed, through MPs who’ve got to fight their seats. And it’s very interesting to see how the process works. And I think to understand how the democratic process works is the most important thing, so people don’t get frightened by it, and get put off, and give up. But being in the Labour Party is a very minor matter in that sense. You can do all that you want to without being in the Labour Party. And I’m giving up because I want to spend more time on politics.

CS: yes, I’ve heard this quote. What did you mean by this?

TB: I meant I don’t want to stand night after night on a three-line whip about cutting benefits for lone parents, putting in tuition fees, ending jury service, broadening (the definition of) terrorism, fining yobs at the nearest cash-point, going to war with Kosovo. I don’t want to do it. And I’m free. I’m a free man now. It’s lovely to be old. I’ve got age, experience and zero personal ambition. No body could corrupt me by anything: possibly a job in the government, a peerage, a quango, I don’t want any of it.

CS: So how do you see the next few years then?

TB: Well come back on my hundredth birthday and I’ll tell you. But it’s the beginning, I think, of a very exciting period of political work. Maybe. . . I mean you do need the media to get your case across. I can’t complain because I get lots of opportunities. Maybe when I’m not in parliament they won’t, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter what happens to me, but I would like to have access to the public and at the moment I’m very, very lucky. I had a business man this morning, from the London Business Magazine come to interview me. And you come and talk to me, and the BBC come and ask me questions. I really am a sort of wholly untrained guru who sits at home and meets people and tries to answer their questions. Very, very enjoyable.

CS: Talking about political parties, since the rise of New Labour I have felt disenfranchised. There is no longer a party that represents me and my views. I’ve heard you refer to New Labour as a coup d’etat on the Labour Party. . .

TB: Yes, it’s s new political party. I’m not a member of it. It’s probably the smallest political party in the history of British Politics, but they’re all in the cabinet so it makes it quite powerful. They’ve captured the MillbankTower. They would really like a coalition, I think. If you talk privately, they’d like Ken Clark and Charles Kennedy in the coalition and have a one-party state. All the guys at the top huddling together to see that people like you never have any influence. I think that’s what they’re really about. And then Scargill made the same mistake in setting up the Socialist Labour Party. When I saw Blair a few months ago I said, you and Scargill have made the same mistake, you’ve set up a new political party. He looked a bit sort of quizzical. But they have.

CS: Except that Blair has power and Scargill doesn’t.

TB: Yes, but I mean, they both left the Labour Party. And yet he needs the Labour Party. As we get near polling day you wait and see. Even the Brighton Conference had a touch of old Labour about it. And the unions beat him on pensions: a very important victory.

CS: And following on from that, Ken Livingstone’s victory in London: it wasn’t just because everybody liked Ken, it’s because he was opposing the privatisation of the tube. Opposed to the PFI (Private Finance Initiative).

TB: And also proved to people you don’t have to be Tony Blair to win. That was the really important point. Because Blair had been saying, well drop me if you like, but you’ll lose. And Ken said, sorry, you can throw me out, but I’ll win. And he did.

CS: But then you see the anti-democratic tendencies of New Labour. That despite the fact that this was really a referendum on PFI , they still continue with PFI. That is, they are ignoring the will of the people.

TB: Yes but you have to take a moving picture in politics, not snapshots. I think of all the things I’ve campaigned on in my life, years and years ago. Gay rights. I introduced a bill in 1989 for an equal age of consent. It was laughed at. Now law. I campaigned for the end of apartheid. Everybody said it will never happen. I’m not saying I did it. You anticipated it. And the PFI will go down the pan because the unions won’t have it. And the unions are beginning to feel their muscle again. They wanted Labour to win, quite rightly after the Tories, they want Labour to win again, quite rightly, and there are a few peerages hovering over the heads of the General Secretaries. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the principle General Secretaries don’t take up with Mr. Blair’s reformed House of Lords. There are a lot of factors at work. But underneath, where people are people, it’s not going to quite be like that.

CS: So you remain an optimist then?

TB: Oh yeah. 

Related Posts

Words, Words, and the Meaning of Socialism

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Words, Words, and the Meaning of Socialism

During Thatcher years, the word socialism was blackened by the press, and it became a dirty word in Britain, and in the US. That is how the propaganda machine works. Indeed the meaning of the word has evolved since its inception.

Socialism’s meaning can be said to go back to early religious sects of the ancient world and was taken up by religious dissidents in mediaeval times. Words attributed to John Ball during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 capture its meaning very well: “My friends, things cannot go well in England, nor ever, until everything shall be held in common, when there shall be neither vassal nor lord and all distinctions levelled, when lords shall be no more masters than ourselves.” (Socialist Party, Words)

Words are unhelpful if they are ambiguous. What is important is building a fairer society in which people  hold the power and make decisions, share in the wealth derived from their labour and not governments who represent ruling classes. The confusion and  misinformation and miscommunication which is caused by focusing on an ambiguous word to describe our philosophy and our aims, holds back progress as emphasised in Words, from “Socialism or your money back“. While it  inspires unity and solidarity for some of us, others are turned away. So,  ironically, the words socialism and solidarity are dividing us, yet our philosophies are much the same.

In winning the argument – leading to the defeat of  capitalism, and building a better society, clear unambiguous terms, and a shared vocabulary are necessary, as Julijuxtaposed points out in the article, Take Socialism., full article here. Juli emphasises the priority is to transform society, and is appalled that differing vocabularies prevent this.

“.. Few have ever moved away from the emotional knee-jerkery of old, pre-conceived, received and doggedly fixed propaganda. It’s of no more practical help than it ever was, unless you like popping human nature into simple boxes.

Take Socialism. This is described as Anarchism, Communism, Libertarian, Democratic, Marxist, Religious, etc, etc. (Not forgetting, of course, that Anarchy, Libertarianism and Religion function equally well under fascistic systems.) Socialism is touted as a 19th Century concept – by virtue of a bloke adding ism to a previously perfectly understood word. Social: from Middle English which is from Old French, which is from the Latin:socialis, meaning ‘allied’ and socius, meaning ‘friend’. We all know what it means to be ‘social’ – to engage, participate, accommodate, include, share… It is a concept which is at once, both commonly understood and subjectively experienced.”

Opponents to socialism are rabidly irrational in their disdain: to even the most benign and rational form, they having nothing but sneers and smears. They have strongly seeded notions of a totalitarian community in which every one stays at the same level of banality and that the price for this is the sacrifice of a person’s individuality. This is amusing when you think of how the last few decades have shown that socialism is not the culprit in this – unless, of course you count the welfare of self-preservation in the upper tiers but that is a satirical distraction from the world of the masses in spite of its ironic reality. Rabid advocates of markets (free or manipulated) and private money as the answer to all our ills hold the idea of ‘big’ government in contempt and yet, has any government ever been so nannying, moralising and prescriptive as this one? This is something they conveniently overlook as they insult our intelligence.”

The State is us – why the bloody hell should shrinking it be part of the equation? Necessity, efficiency and competency are the instruments by which it should be measured.

When I think of socialism, I don’t assume authoritarianism, race to the bottom, death of innovation. Hell, I don’t even think death to the markets. What I envisage is a place where the State is the People; where the people are beneficiaries in common; where the land that should be, infrastructure, public services and resources are of the people, by the people and for the people as much as is practically possible. That’s it. It doesn’t have to negate a free market, private wealth, personal assets, creativity, entrepreneurialism, innovation, culture, progress or individuality. And it certainly doesn’t destroy liberty. On the contrary: it frees us. I can be both an individual and a citizen participant in a socially conscious country and world just as easily as I can be English, British and European. Personally, though I have a big problem with profiteering, I’ve no issue with the profit-seeking private sector, so long as it is incapable of undermining the collectively common and basic good. Both private and public serve a social purpose and so both have their economic places. What we have now, however, is a form of anarchy; economic and social nihilism, even. The consensus is growing that we should collectively own, control and maintain the essentials upon which we all depend, as a matter of economic and social common sense. Let the rest (the capitalist/private sphere) purchase its place in the gaps if it is sufficiently viable to do so. And it will. For that, we need a State which serves our best and vested interests not vested interests which serve themselves best and leave us in a state. Whether this view has a label or even ten labels; whether it is called Socialism or something else, I really do not care.

Yet for some, it remains, though, a word worth fighting for, for its history, for its associations of co-operation and mutuality, and because it describes something positive, a situation to be aimed for – a just state of society. Socialism remains a good word to put our arguments across. Because of our different understanding of it, people are surprised by our answers and perspectives, and become genuinely interested, broken out of the stale old left-wing right-wing arguments. And just as words such as “queer” have been wrested from negative senses to have positive meanings, thus can socialism , with all its history and associations be wrested back as well. (Words) .

It suits the ruling classes that the people remain divided, whether it is by words, by fear, or suspicion of one another. Consider the term “working class”. Many are proud of a working class heritage, while others need to separate from the memories and association. In the 1990s many accepted  idea of New Labour, as they were weary from successive Tory governments, and failure General Elections. The Tory press had won the day, and Margaret Thatcher claimed it as her great success. Ironically,  was nothing “new” or “Labour”  about New Labour, and now stands as an example of how the misuse of words leads to confusion. In the aftermath of New Labour, many “socialists” left the party, to look for alternatives. Some looked to the LibeDems, only to find them support a Tory Coalition. Others looked to the Green Party. Undoubtedly, environmental issues are a global priority – or should be – yet the Greens are being torn apart by political polarisation within their ranks.

For the future, we must put aside terms which divide us. We  must not be afraid of change. Where coal was our heritage, green is our future. Coal miners  may have helped  built the Labour movement, but a return to coal mining is not going to save the planet. And we must progress together, as we are ineffectual divided by party titles, and misunderstood words.

Tony Benn describes himself as a socialist, and remained within the Labour Party while many did not. 

In Labour Governments we did our best to make capitalism work in a civilised way. And we failed. It never can work. It will always exploit and oppress the people.’ ‘Whether you win or lose in a campaign is not the point. Were you there? Did you join the fight for justice? Those are the questions to ask.’ ‘Looking to the future, we have to choose between socialism and barbarism. I’ve made my choice.’ ‘My job is to give people hope. Without hope they’ll give up.”

More than once he said, ‘When Margaret Thatcher was asked what her greatest achievement was she answered “New Labour.” Nevertheless, “we should stick with the Labour Party: it’s the only instrument we have for making the world a better place.” No – we should not be disillusioned about parliament: “if we convince the people, the MPs will have to listen.”   

Benn says the  most revolutionary idea is democracy. If you have power, you use it to meet the needs of your community. As Tony Benn explains here  ”People who are poor, demoralised and frightened are easy to control.” This is how the very rich exert control – ensuring people are so downtrodden, so much ridden by debt, misery and pessimism, they have no desire to vote. “If the poor were to turn out and vote for people who represented their interests, that would be a real, democratic revolution.

Revolution is the word of the day,  but  not a violent, bloody destructive change, but organisation of the opponents to neo-liberalist system. Capitalism is clearly flawed, and accepted as such. An organised opposition, non violent civil disobedience and protests, a united Labour Party – it’s time to take  parliament back to the people. This is about a real democracy, about  people governing themselves, leading to a real social democracy, where the land and resources are owned by us, the people and where wealth, opportunities and participation are shared – that is what socialism is to me. 

The Case for Socialism

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It has been said so many times , that it has become a cliche, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” But this is the truth which holds back freedom and justice. The simplest truth is that growth and development – and the success of the human species depends on the labour, skills and knowledge of working people. As a species, our success was due to the ability to divide labour, to specialise and to deepen and widen knowledge for the benefit of the whole. This is living in a society, rather than struggling as individuals. It is this which is the basis of the divide between socialism and capitalism. Since the article “The Case for Socialism was written”, the argument in the West for Capitalism is wearing thin, as the financial crash of 2007 , labelled as a crisis, has clearly demonstrated the flaws of capitalism. If we remember the obvious fundamental truth that wealth is derived from people , not electronic digits in “Clouds” in the sky , we cannot believe politicians such as Cameron and Osborne, spouting ridiculous statements justifying an austerity based on a structural deficit. Money has no ultimate worth. It is simply a token by which the rich exert power. Our society is endangered by a rampant parasite – the scrounging, idle rich, fuelled by greed, which is devouring its host at such a rate that the whole of humanity now faces the real crisis. We will fall , and fail, unless we can rebuild a society which works. We can only do that by unity. There are more of us.

solidarity

The Case for Socialism

By Alan Maas, Editor Socialist Worker

previously published by the

International Socialist Organisation

Human need, not corporate greed

Socialism is based on the idea that we should use the vast resources of society to meet people’s needs.

It seems so obvious–if people are hungry, they should be fed; if people are homeless, we should build homes for them; if people are sick, the best medical care should be available to them. A socialist society would take the immense wealth of the rich and use it to meet the basic needs of all society. The money wasted on weapons could be used to end poverty, homelessness, and all other forms of scarcity.

There’s no blueprint for what a socialist society will look like. That will be determined by the generations to come who are living in one. But it seems obvious that such a society would guarantee every person enough to eat and a sturdy roof over their heads. The education system would be made free–and reorganized so that every child’s ability is encouraged. Health care would be made free and accessible to all, as would all utilities like gas and electricity. Public transportation would also be made free–and more practical and efficient. All of these basic needs would become top priorities.

A socialist society would not only take away the existing wealth of the ruling class, but also its economic control over the world. The means of production–the factories, offices, mines, and so on–would be owned by all of society. Under the current system, important economic decisions are left to the chaos of the free market and to the blind competition of capitalists scrambling for profits. Under socialism, the majority of people would plan democratically what to do and how do it.

Not surprisingly, socialist ideas bring loud complaints from defenders of the capitalist system. Most come down to the same thing: Public ownership and planning would involve a bunch of bureaucrats ordering people around and telling them what they should want.

It’s a ridiculous accusation when you consider that the majority of people under capitalism have no meaningful choices about the things that matter the most in their lives–what they do at work and how they do it, what they can buy, how they spend the bulk of their time. These decisions are made in the corporate boardrooms, in the Oval Office, in the judges’ chambers–without anyone’s input.

Socialist planning would involve the exact opposite of this: the widest possible debate and discussion about what’s needed in society and how to achieve it. Instead of leaving decisions about what gets produced and how to a handful of executives, all workers would have a voice in what they do at their workplace. And larger bodies of democratically elected representatives would be able to fully discuss overall social priorities.

If a socialist society mistakenly produced too much of one product, the extra could be given away and resources shifted into making something else. When capitalists make this kind of mistake, factories are shut down, workers are thrown onto the street, food is destroyed to push up prices, and so on. Socialism would put an end to this absurd waste.

In order for planning to work, a socialist society must be democratic–much more so than the current system. Democracy and capitalism don’t really go hand in hand. In fact, repressive dictatorships run many so-called models of the free market in less developed countries. Even in countries that brag about how democratic they are, democracy is limited to electing representatives to government every two or four years.

Unfortunately, the record of the former USSR, China, and other so-called socialist countries has created the impression that socialism is a top-down society run by party bosses. This has nothing to do with genuine socialism–or, for that matter, with the whole experience of working-class struggle. Socialism will be democratic in a more fundamental way.

There were many revolutionary upheavals during the twentieth century–Russia in 1917, Spain in the 1930s, Iran in 1979, to mention only a few–and each one created a similar system for the majority in society to make decisions about the organization and priorities of the struggle. Each time, democracy revolved around a system of workers’ councils–representative bodies elected from workplaces. All of the different examples of workers’ councils over the years have shared common features: the ability of workers to immediately recall elected representatives; wages for representatives no higher than those of the people they represent; elections at mass meetings rather than in isolated voting booths.

We can’t predict the exact form of workers’ councils in a socialist society. What is important is the democratic principle that these bodies have represented in past struggles. The basic principle common to all revolutions is that representatives must be held accountable to those they represent. This can only be accomplished if discussion and argument thrive in every corner of society–and if representatives are responsible to the outcomes of those discussions. Such a system would be many times more democratic than what currently exists.

The heart of socialism is equality. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels summed up its aim with a simple slogan: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

This basic concept infuriates the bosses and their ideologues. They reject the idea of a society without power and privilege for a small group. They complain that under socialism, everyone would be paid the same amount. This is true. Roughly speaking, people would receive the same thing–there’s no reason for it to work any other way.

“Aha!” comes the response. “You’d pay a brain surgeon the same as you’d pay a truck driver! Then no one would put in the work to become a brain surgeon.”

Such a statement is telling about the priorities of capitalist society–that the only reason people would try to heal the sick is for money. Without financial incentive, the logic goes, no one will pursue work that requires a lot of education, training, and skill.

What a travesty! Socialism would be about giving people the opportunity to do what they really want. It would encourage them to become doctors, scientists, artists, or anything else they might desire–unlike now, where people’s access to education is limited by their access to cash.

Capitalism actually stifles people’s creativity. Only a minority of people are asked to put their minds to the running of society–and most of them do it for the purpose of making themselves richer, not for achieving any common good.

We would use our technological knowledge to eliminate boring or dangerous jobs as much as possible–and share out equally the tasks we couldn’t automate. The goal would be to free all people to do the work they love–and to give them the leisure time to enjoy the wonders of the world around them.

Imagine what society would be like if it mattered what ordinary people thought–if it mattered what an assembly line worker thought about the pace of work and whether it was necessary or what a hospital worker thought about the availability of medical resources and how to use those resources. That’s a world where people would become fully alive in a way they never will under capitalism.

Can the system be fixed?

The basic idea of socialism–that the resources of society should be used to meet people’s needs–seems like the simplest of proposals. The more difficult question is how to achieve it. How can society be transformed?

In high school civics class, the textbooks explain that political change takes place “through the system.” The U.S. government represents the “will of the people,” we’re taught, and people who want to “make a difference” should use the democratic process–by working for political candidates they like and maybe even running for office themselves.

But to judge from the 2000 election, the chances of “making a difference” aren’t too good. The main qualification for a serious candidate for president, for example, had nothing to do with “political vision” or any of the overblown phrases thrown around in the media. Instead, it was the candidate’s ability to raise outrageous sums of money from wealthy donors. George W. Bush got the jump on the other candidates. By the beginning of 2000, almost a year before the election, he had raked in $67 million–three times the existing record set by Bill Clinton in 1996.Republicans have always been better than Democrats at getting money from rich donors, but the Democrats regularly rake in big bucks from corporations. And there are plenty of players who give money to both sides. During the 1992 election, for instance, Atlantic Richfield, Archer Daniels Midland, RJR Nabisco, Philip Morris, and the Tobacco Institute all gave more than $100,000 to both parties.

During the 1998 election campaign, contributions to the major parties hit a record $1.6 billion. Business gave 63 percent of the cash–compared to less than 3 percent from unions, which are regularly denounced by Republicans as trying to control Washington. Election 2000 was no different: From the presidential race on down, the important contests were all but decided by a special class of voters–the millionaires who voted with their checkbooks.

Big business doesn’t give away all that money for the hell of it. They expect something in return. A few years ago, Republican House leaders were caught allowing business lobbyists to actually write the legislation that gutted environmental regulations. Within months of taking office, George W. Bush was in hot water for letting his oil industry pals set energy policy for the nation. Even if most politicians aren’t so brazen, this is basically how things are done in Washington.

Of course, money aside, a politician can’t win an election without the votes of ordinary people. This is why candidates campaign on how they’ll improve people’s lives. But this is a fraud. Politicians under capitalism are the public face of a system set up for the rich. Their job is to say one thing to the majority of the population, then to do another for those they really serve. You don’t need to look any further than Bill Clinton’s presidency for a prime example of this.

After 12 years of Ronald Reagan in the White House, Bill Clinton was a breath of fresh air to millions of people. He promised “change.” He promised to “put people first.” He promised universal health care. He promised to fight discrimination against gays and lesbians, to fight racism, and to defend a woman’s right to choose. He also promised labor unions that he would ban the permanent replacement of striking workers.

But Clinton began to break his promises even before taking office. Within months, most of his promised agenda had disappeared. We ended up with “don’t ask, don’t tell” for gays in the military, for instance, and he didn’t lift a finger as legislation to ban the use of scabs during strikes went down to defeat in the Senate–which was controlled at the time by the Democrats. He took two years to screw up health care reform, compromising on one provision after another in the hope of staying on the good side of the health care bosses. And this was only the beginning.

Clinton signed into law legislation that Ronald Reagan or George Bush could only dream of. In 1995, Clinton agreed to a proposal to balance the federal budget that required across-the-board spending cuts. Departments like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency suffered the consequences. And the next year, Clinton signed the Republican Party’s version of welfare “reform.” Clinton promised to pursue bipartisanship–a code word for more “lite” versions of Republican proposals.

Politicians like Bill Clinton are a dime a dozen. The only characteristic that distinguishes Clinton is the skill with which he talked out of both sides of his mouth.

Politicians claim they’re answerable to “the people.” But they’re really answerable to the bosses who control U.S. society. President Woodrow Wilson admitted as much at the beginning of the twentieth century:

Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the big stake–the big bankers, the big manufacturers and the big masters of commerce…. The masters of the government of the United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States.

Nearly a century later, Wilson’s words ring as true as ever. Both of the main political parties in the U.S. are run in the interests of those who control the purse strings–and they, overwhelmingly, are the bosses.

Of course, Republicans and Democrats aren’t exactly alike. On any given issue, most Republicans are likely to be more conservative than most Democrats, but the differences between the two parties are minor in comparison to the fundamental similarities that unite them.

Nevertheless, these differences are important in terms of how the two parties are seen by most people. It’s been many years since anyone thought of the Republicans as anything other than the party of big business. But the Democrats have the reputation as the party of the people–the mainstream party that looks out for the interests of labor and minorities.

The truth is quite different.

The Democratic Party’s image dates back to the Great Depression of the 1930s and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms. These reforms laid the basis for many of the programs that we associate with the federal government today–like Social Security and unemployment insurance. These reforms were important victories, and it’s no wonder that workers look back on the politicians associated with them as friends of labor.

That’s now how Roosevelt thought of himself, however. “[T]hose who have property [fail] to realize that I am the best friend the profit system ever had,” Roosevelt said. In fact, Roosevelt carried out the New Deal reforms as a conscious effort to head off a social revolt sparked by the Great Depression. In return, he got labor’s votes–cementing the labor movement’s misplaced loyalty to the Democrats, which lasts to this day.

The Democrats played much the same role during the social upheavals of the 1960s. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson today have an entirely unearned reputation as antiracists because they eventually supported some civil rights reforms. But they had to be dragged into it. Kennedy did his best to ignore the growing civil rights movement in the U.S. South, and it was only after the Black struggle grew to explosive proportions that Johnson–a Southern Democrat with a long record of opposing civil rights–pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the two key pieces of 1960s civil rights legislation.

The Democrats succeeded in co-opting a number of leaders of social movements, eventually putting them in the position of managing the system. For example, in the late 1960s, the Democratic Party–once the party of Southern slavery–opened its doors to Black politicians. The number of Black elected officials shot up to more than 10,000. Most major U.S. cities have had an African American mayor for some period of time. But these politicians–elected with the hope that they would challenge racism–have carried out the same attacks. They’ve ended up imposing the cuts in social services and defending racist police.

But, in spite of their record, at every election the Democrats have been able to count on their reputation as champions of workers and the poor. Consider the fact that Bill Clinton–after all of his broken promises–had the uninterrupted support of organized labor and liberal organizations. In fact, these groups at various times disarmed opposition to Clinton’s policies. On the eve of Clinton’s signing of welfare reform legislation in August 1996, Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund, called off a planned demonstration in Washington, D.C., at the urging of the White House.

In fact, the bosses got away with welfare reform without much of a fight at all. That’s because the liberal organizations that could have organized a response insisted that it was more important to stand behind Clinton for fear of getting something worse–a Republican victory in the 1996 election.

This is a perfect example of the politics of “lesser evilism.” The argument–which emerges at every election–is that people should hold their noses and vote Democrat to avoid the greater evil of a Republican victory. The problem is that in voting for the lesser evil, you usually get the lesser and the greater evil. Bill Clinton is a case in point. He certainly talked a better game than George Bush or Bob Dole, but in office, he enacted legislation that could have come from their playbooks. So, though the “lesser evil” won in 1992 and 1996, the Republican agenda–getting “tough on crime,” enforcing “fiscal responsibility,” gutting the social safety net–took center stage.

Politicians won’t make any concessions to our side if they know we’re in their back pockets. If they think they can take the support of liberal organizations for granted, then they’ll sign laws like welfare reform without a second thought–on the assumption that they can win a few more votes in the next election by appealing to the right.

That’s why we need an independent alternative to the twin parties of capitalism.

The limits of reform

Not every country that calls itself a democracy is dominated by two political parties that stand for capitalism.

Most countries of Western Europe have mass parties associated with the labor movement–and by the late 1990s, these parties were running the governments in France, Germany, Britain, and elsewhere.

So would we come closer to socialism in the U.S. if we could vote for a political party that stood for the working class rather than the capitalist class? Such a party would certainly be an advance over what exists now, but ultimately, socialism can’t come through the ballot box.

We’re encouraged to believe that government stands above society–that it’s the negotiator between competing groups like employers and workers. But this is an illusion. Governments in capitalist societies are tools of the ruling class. One reason for this has already been shown–that the bosses have a lot bigger say in what our elected representatives decide to do–but there’s more to the question.

Governments consist of much more than elected representatives. Bureaucrats–who aren’t answerable in any way to the rest of society–make crucial decisions affecting people’s lives. Then there’s the judicial side of the U.S. government. Federal judges all the way up to the Supreme Court never face an election. And standing beyond all this are what Frederick Engels called “bodies of armed men”–the police and the army. Formally, the Pentagon may be answerable to elected politicians. But, in reality, it’s a power unto itself.

Because of this, even politicians with every intention of “making a difference” find that rather than pulling the levers of power, the levers of power pull them. They end up managing the system they expected to change.

Suppose that you were elected president and were determined to impose a tax on the rich to pay for a system of universal health care. Within minutes of taking office, you would get a visit from your appointed treasury secretary and the chair of the government’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, whom you didn’t pick. They would tell you that Wall Street wanted nothing to do with your plan unless you compromised. If you persisted, the bosses would take further action–perhaps sending their money out of the country so it couldn’t be taxed and causing turbulence on the financial markets until you cried “uncle.”

The “realistic” response of politicians is to make concessions–to try to find some arrangement that’s acceptable to all sides. But when this becomes the priority, politics turns into the art of compromise instead of a campaign to accomplish something. And pressure to compromise shapes the plans and outlook of the people trying to make change in a system rigged against them.

Beyond all of these considerations, many of the most important decisions about people’s lives have nothing to do with decisions made by elected officials or government bureaucrats. For example, no politician voted for the tens of thousands of layoffs happening around the U.S. The only people who had a say in that decision are company executives–answerable, if at all, to the tiny handful of people rich enough to own a significant chunk of the company’s stock.

This is why the system can’t be reformed. Elected representatives are only one part of government under capitalism. And in a number of tragic examples in countries around the world, they’ve turned out to be a dispensable part–when sections of the ruling class have decided to ditch democracy and rule by brute force.

Chile provides the most famous example of this. The socialist Salvador Allende was elected president in 1970 on a fairly mild program of reform that included nationalizing parts of the economy. Many people took this as a sign that socialism could be voted into existence. But for the next three years, Chile’s bosses–and their international partners, especially in the U.S.–did everything they could to sabotage Allende. They succeeded in forcing him to compromise, but even this wasn’t good enough. When the time was ripe, Chile’s generals made their move–launching a bloody coup that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Chilean workers.

The truth is that even if they aren’t bought off, politicians don’t have the power to make the kind of change that would really transform society. Instead of trying to elect well-intentioned politicians to make what changes they can, we need to overturn the whole system. That is what a revolution is all about: taking away the power of the people at the top of society to make unaccountable decisions that affect our lives; getting rid of a state machine that is organized to preserve this power; and organizing a completely different and more democratic system of workers’ councils to decide how society should be run.

This doesn’t mean that socialists don’t care about reforms. In fact, outside of revolutionary upheavals, socialists spend most of their efforts mobilizing pressure to win changes in the existing system. Reforms make workers lives easier and increase their power in the here and now. And they make people more confident in the struggle to win further change. As the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg wrote:

Can we counterpose the social revolution, the transformation of the existing social order, our final goal, to social reforms?

Certainly not. The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to [socialists] the only means of engaging in the proletarian class war and working in the direction of the final goal–the conquest of political power and the suppression of wage labor. Between social reforms and revolution there exists…an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim.

Socialists fight for reforms, but reforms by themselves aren’t enough. They can always be taken back if the movement retreats. We need revolution because capitalist society can’t be permanently changed in any other way.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress”

Socialists who talk about the need for a revolution in order to fundamentally change society are often accused of being unrealistic and utopian. The argument starts in different ways–people are bought off by the system, they’re made stupid by television and popular culture, the U.S. government is too powerful to challenge. But it always ends with the question: How can a revolution ever take place in the U.S.?

Actually, the question isn’t whether a revolution can take place in the United States. The question is whether another revolution can take place.

In a little more than two centuries, the U.S. has had two revolutions. The first, in 1776, overthrew colonial rule by Britain’s monarchy. That struggle spread to every corner of society and produced a new nation organized around a representative government and perhaps the widest system of democracy known to the world at that point. There were gaping holes–the terrible crime of slavery was left untouched, for example–but the new United States was an advance over what existed before.

The U.S. experienced another social revolution 90 years later: the Civil War of 1861-65, which destroyed the Southern system of slavery. Today, credit for “freeing the slaves” usually goes to Abraham Lincoln and perhaps a few army generals. But the North never would have won the war against slavery without the active participation of masses of people. Black slaves themselves played a crucial role in sparking the struggle, as did the agitators of the abolitionist movement in the North. And it was the courage and sacrifice of soldiers in the Northern army–many of whom started without a clear idea of the war’s aim, but became convinced over time of the need to abolish slavery–that transformed U.S. society.

The Revolutionary War and the Civil War weren’t socialist revolutions. They were revolutions against national oppression and slavery that left the economic setup of capitalism intact. Nevertheless, these struggles fundamentally shaped U.S. society–and they disprove the picture of a country that’s always been stable and quiet.

What’s more, the years since have produced other uprisings that have shaken U.S. society to its foundations–the struggle for the eight-hour day during the 1880s; the “great red year” of 1919, when one in five U.S. workers was on strike; the 1930s movements, including the battle to win mass unionization; and the 1960s, which opened with the civil rights movement in the South and closed with struggles that questioned everything about U.S. society, from the brutal war in Vietnam to the oppression of women and gays and lesbians.

This way of looking at the past is very different from what passes for history in school. To begin with, the way history is usually taught–remembering the names of famous people and the dates when they did something important–is upside down. The course of history depends, first and foremost, not on what a few “great men” did or thought but on the struggles of huge numbers of people, especially during the times when they organized themselves in rebellions and revolutions. It’s not that figures like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are unimportant. But what they did and what they’re remembered for today was shaped by the actions of masses of people who aren’t remembered at all.

Something else flows from a socialist view of history. We’re encouraged to believe that political and social change, if it happens at all, takes place at a safe, gradual pace. Let any group of people organize to show their opposition to an injustice, and they’re certain to be told to be patient–to let the system work as it has in the past. But this goes against the whole history of the struggle for justice and equality. For example, in the first half of the nineteenth century, virtually every U.S. politician, North and South, believed that the enslavement of Blacks would die out eventually if the Southern slave system was left alone. Yet, the power of slavery only grew. It took a civil war to put an end to this horror.

The U.S. is supposed to be the most stable of countries. But revolutions and social upheavals are a constant theme. And most of the reforms that workers take for granted today are a product of those upheavals. For example, unemployment insurance was introduced as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program of the 1930s. Roosevelt didn’t come up with the idea. He was forced by the crisis of the Great Depression and by massive social pressure to adopt an idea put forward by workers.

Of course, political leaders like Roosevelt always end up with the credit in history textbooks for the reforms they were forced to carry out. But this doesn’t change the fact that they were forced to act–regardless of their political affiliation. Consider this: Republican president Richard Nixon launched more antidiscrimination and affirmative action programs than Democratic president Bill Clinton. That’s not because Nixon was more liberal–on the contrary, he was a miserable right-winger. But Nixon was under pressure to act from the mass social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s–something Clinton didn’t face.

The great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass made all this plain with these words:

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle…. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

A power greater than their hoarded gold

For hundreds if not thousands of years, most societies around the world have been divided between exploiters and exploited–between a ruling class of people that runs society in its own interest and much larger exploited classes whose labor is the source of their rulers’ wealth and power. Under each system, the biggest conflicts have been between these classes–over who rules, who gets ruled over, and how. As Marx and Engels put it inThe Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight.

In all of these societies, the oppressed have dreamed of a future world of equality and justice where their oppression would end. And they have fought for it–from the slave rebellion against the Roman Empire led by Spartacus to the peasant uprisings in Europe, among others. So the ideals of socialism aren’t new. But the possibility of achieving them is the product of only the last few centuries–in most parts of the world, of just the last 100 years.

Why? Because socialism can’t be organized on the basis of scarcity. Unless there’s enough to go around, there’s certain to be a scramble over who gets what. That scramble is bound to produce a class society–a society in which one group of people organizes the system to make sure they get enough, even if others go without. Only under capitalism has human knowledge and technology been raised to the point where we can feed every person on the planet, clothe them, put roofs over their heads, and so on.

So, under capitalism, there’s no longer any natural reason for poverty to exist. But abolishing poverty means getting rid of the system that causes it–and that requires a social force capable of overthrowing it. Marx and Engels argued that, in the process of its development, capitalism produced “its own gravediggers”–the working class, with the power to overthrow the system and establish a new society not divided between rulers and ruled.

Why did Marx and Engels talk about the working class? Not because workers suffer the most under capitalism or because they’re morally superior to any other group. Socialists focus on the position that workers occupy in the capitalist economy. Their labor produces the profits that make the system tick. The working class as a whole has a special power to paralyze the system–to bring the profit system to a halt by not working.

You can see this power in situations that fall well short of revolution. In March 1996, General Motors provoked a strike of 3,200 autoworkers at two Dayton, Ohio, factories that made brake parts for most GM vehicles. It was a huge blunder. Within a week, the walkout had crippled GM’s production across North America. All but two of the company’s assembly plants had to close. GM lost about $1 billion in profits in 15 days. Management gave in.

By the same token, a general strike by workers throughout the economy can paralyze a whole country–and bring a government to its knees. That’s what happened in Poland in 1980 with the revolt of the Solidarnosc trade union. The upheaval began with a strike by shipyard workers in Gdansk, but it soon spread to involve 10 million workers across the country. Within weeks, democratically organized workers’ committees sprang up to organize the strike and to make decisions about how to provide essential services. The so-called socialist government–a dictatorial regime with a long record of vicious repression–was powerless to restore order for more than a year. Before the strike, Polish workers would never have guessed that they could rock a seemingly all-powerful police state. But they cut off the lifeblood of the system: the wealth they created by their labor.

Of course, other groups in capitalist society can, and do, fight back. For example, during the 1960s, the biggest upheavals in the U.S. involved African Americans fighting for civil rights and against racism. These were magnificent struggles that won real and lasting changes. And they inspired other parts of society to fight. But, by themselves, Blacks didn’t have the power to transform the whole system. First, they were a minority of the population. And, organized as a community, African Americans had the moral power to embarrass and persuade–but not the kind of economic power to hit the bosses where it hurts.

Struggles organized on the basis of class have the potential of uniting the working majority in society. They hold out the promise of overcoming divisions among the have-nots–and of uniting people to fight on a common basis, not only for the demands they share, but also for the demands of specific groups. What’s more, workers’ struggles represent a direct threat to the wealth of the ruling class–the source of their power over society.

But workers only have power if they’re united. “Labor in white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in Black skin,” Marx wrote about slavery in the United States. His point can be extended to every form of bigotry and discrimination. That’s why it’s crucial for socialists to champion all fights against oppression. These struggles are just in their own right. But they’re also critical in building working-class unity.

Unity has to be fought for. But there’s something about the nature of work under capitalism that pushes workers to fight–and to organize that fight in a collective way. First of all, the whole dynamic of capitalism is for the bosses to try to increase their wealth by squeezing more profits out of workers. That means trying to get workers to work harder for the same or less pay. This drive for profit puts the bosses on a collision course with workers.

Moreover, capitalism forces workers to cooperate with one another at work–and that goes for resistance as well. Individuals can stand up for their rights at work, but only to a certain point. It’s too easy to get rid of troublemakers if they stand alone. Solidarity is necessary to win the bigger fights.

Because capitalism brings workers together in large numbers, it’s easier for workers to discuss and debate the way forward and to make collective decisions about what needs to be done. And the cooperative arrangements of work lay the basis for organizing a future society based on collective control. Workers can’t divide up a workplace–with one taking the drill press, another a computer terminal, another a Xerox machine. They have to work together to make use of the resources around them.

“Solidarity forever” and “An injury to one is an injury to all” are old slogans of the labor movement. But they’re more than good ideas. They are absolutely necessary for workers to win.

When Marx and Engels were writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, the working class was tiny–perhaps two or three million people, concentrated in Britain, a few countries in northwestern Europe, and along the northeastern coast of the United States. Today, there are more workers in South Korea than there were around the world in Marx and Engels’ time.

Everywhere across the globe, people’s lives are shaped by the fact that they have to work for a boss to survive. But the flip side of this reality is that workers have enormous power. They have shown that power in struggles in every corner of the world. The final words of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto are more relevant today than ever before: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Can workers change society?

If we were to judge only from what we see around us, it might be hard to have confidence that the majority of people can organize to win fundamental change. After all, most working people aren’t revolutionaries. Most of the time, they accept a number of ideas that justify the status quo–from the old cliché that you can’t fight city hall to the belief that people at the top of society are somehow specially qualified to run it.

This is partly because we’re continually exposed to different institutions that are in the business of reinforcing these prejudices. The mass media are one example. Watch the local television news, and you’ll see sensationalized stories about crime and violence–while discussions about the real issues that affect people’s lives get shortchanged. The poor are stereotyped and scapegoated, while the wealth and power of the rich are celebrated. Even shows meant as entertainment tend to reinforce the conventional wisdom.

Likewise, it’s easy to see how the education system encourages conformity. Except for the minority of students being trained to rule society, the experience of school is usually alienating. Students are taught to compete against each other–and ultimately to accept the conditions they see around them.

With all the selfish and mean-spirited ideas actively promoted by these voices of authority, it’s a wonder that any sense of solidarity survives under capitalism. But it plainly does. This is most obvious in the outpourings of charity in cases of social crisis, like a famine or an earthquake–even when they take place halfway around the world. The kindness and generosity of ordinary people is boundless. But even on a day-to-day basis, society simply couldn’t function without a basic sense of cooperation and sacrifice among ordinary people–within families, among coworkers, and so on.

Capitalist society obscures this basic decency–because the system is organized around greed. Obviously, those in charge get ahead by being as greedy as possible. But working people are forced–whether they like it or not–to participate in a rat race that they have no control over. They’re pitted against one another and required to compete just to keep their job or maintain their standard of living–much less get ahead.

As a result, the idea of people uniting for social change can seem distant and unrealistic. For most people, the experience of their lives teaches them that they don’t have any power over what happens in the world–and that they don’t know enough to have an opinion about it anyway. Powerlessness produces what appears to be apathy among people, about their own future and the future of society.

This is why it isn’t enough for socialists to talk about why socialism will make an excellent alternative to capitalism. It’s also necessary to talk about the struggle to get there-because struggle transforms people and gives them confidence in their own power. As Marx put it:

Revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fit to found society anew.

The act of fighting back is the first step in challenging the prejudices learned from living in the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism. This can be seen in even the smallest strike. Strikes almost always start over a specific workplace issue–for instance, the demand for higher wages or better conditions. But whatever the original grievance, striking workers who may have thought of themselves as law-abiding citizens are acting in a way that goes against what society teaches them.

Fighting back also requires unity. Striking workers are often forced to question the divisions built up in their ranks–between Black and white, men and women, native born and immigrant. As a strike goes on, feelings of solidarity and a sense of the wider issues at stake start to become as important as the original issues.

The changes that take place can be profound. Take the “War Zone” labor struggles in Illinois in the mid-1990s. The center of the War Zone was Decatur, Illinois, a small industrial city where workers were on strike or locked out at three companies–the food processor A. E. Staley, the heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, and the tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone.

Several months into the struggles, activists organized a multiracial march to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday–in a town where the Ku Klux Klan had organized, both before and since. The War Zone workers were drawing on King’s statements about the fight for civil rights to explain what their struggles were about–and to show that they had come to see that their fight for justice in the workplace was linked to other fights in society.

In the course of any struggle, activists committed to the fight around a particular issue have to grapple with questions about their aims. What kind of change do they want, and how do they achieve it? Their answers evolve with their experiences.

Think of the Black college students who joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In 1960, one member of the newly formed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) could tell a reporter that she was motivated by traditional American values. If only Blacks were given educational opportunities, she said, “maybe someday a Negro will invent one of our [nuclear] missiles.” A few years later, many SNCC members considered themselves revolutionaries. They had experienced the Freedom Rides to desegregate interstate bus lines, the murder of civil rights workers during the Freedom Summer voter-registration project in 1964, and the Democratic Party’s betrayal of civil rights delegates at its 1964 national convention. These experiences convinced them that the struggle against racial injustice could only be won by linking it to the fight against other injustices–and for a different kind of society altogether.

This transformation was repeated throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. White college students who had volunteered for Freedom Summer used the skills they learned from the civil rights movement to organize the struggle against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Veterans of the anti-war movement in turn launched the struggle for women’s rights, including the right to choose abortion. The modern gay and lesbian movement was born in 1969 with the formation of the Gay Liberation Front–an organization named after the liberation army in Vietnam.

Though the media love to dismiss them today, the struggles of the 1960s are proof that ideas can change with enormous speed. In periods of social upheaval, millions upon millions of people who focused their energy on all sorts of things suddenly turn their attention to the question of transforming society. The biggest struggles of all–revolutions that overturn the existing social order–produce the most extraordinary changes in people. What’s most striking about the history of revolutions is the way that ordinary people, who are trained all their lives to be docile and obedient, suddenly find their voices.

The caricature of revolution passed off by many historians is of a small group of heavily armed fanatics seizing control of the government–and running it to enrich themselves. But this has nothing to do with genuine socialism. A minority–not even a minority that genuinely wants to improve the lives of the majority–can’t carry out a socialist revolution. That’s because the heart of socialism is mass participation. As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky put it:

The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events. In ordinary times, the state–be it monarchical or democratic–elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business–kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime…. The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.

The right-wing writers who pass judgement on revolutions also tend to focus on the toppling of governments–the armed insurrection to seize political control. But this is only the final act of a revolution. It’s the climax of a much longer period of struggle in which the rulers of society face a growing crisis–at the same time as workers become more confident of their own power.

At the beginning of the process, the goals for change can be modest–a few reforms in the way the system operates. But the struggle to change this or that aspect of society raises deeper questions. People begin to see the connections between the struggles they’re involved in and other issues–and the nature of the system itself. Each of these struggles gives workers a further sense of their ability to run society for themselves. The act of taking over political power is the final step of a revolution that has already been felt in every workplace, in every neighborhood, and in every corner of society.

A revolutionary socialist party

Ideas can change very quickly in struggle. But they don’t change all at once. In every battle, there are arguments over what to do next. Some people will see the need to step up the struggle and to make links to other political issues. Other people will argue that militant action makes matters worse. The outcome of the arguments shapes the outcome of the struggle.

This is where the intervention of socialists–who can express the experience of past struggles and suggest a way forward–is crucial. An organization of socialists can unite people so they can share their experiences and hammer out an understanding of how to fight back from day to day–in a workplace or community or at a school. The strength of such an organization is in the range of experiences and political understanding of all of its members.

None of this would be of much use to a political party like the Democrats. The Democratic Party exists for one reason: to get Democrats elected to office. For that, it needs its supporters once or twice every couple of years to turn out to vote.

Socialists have very different goals, so our political party will have to look very different. We need socialists in every workplace to agitate around fightbacks on the shop floor. We need socialists in every neighborhood to take up the questions of housing, police violence, health care, and everything else that comes up. We need students to agitate on college campuses. We need socialists in every corner of society inhabited by working people, and we need these socialists working nonstop–organizing struggle and carrying on political discussions.

This commitment to struggle is part of our socialist tradition. Socialists have always been at the forefront of the fight for a better world. They have been leaders in the union movement, in the movement against racism, in the fight against war, and in many others.

To achieve its aims, a revolutionary socialist organization has to be more democratic than other political organizations under capitalism. We need to bring together the experiences of every socialist–and to make those experiences part of the common basis on which we all organize.

But a socialist organization has to be centralized. Why the need for a centralized organization? Because the other side is organized. The basis of their power is the profit they make at workplaces–highly organized systems built around exploiting workers. Their side organizes political propaganda through the media. Their side responds to resistance with a highly organized and disciplined police force and army.

We need an organization for our side–one that can coordinate actions not just in one workplace or even one city but around the country. We need an organization that can put forward a common set of ideas–using its own newspapers, magazines, and books. Socialists have to be able to fight around the same program, whether they’re teachers, autoworkers, or college students, and whether they live in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles–and, ultimately, in Seoul, London, or Johannesburg.

The bigger the struggle, the more complex and urgent the political questions. In the Russian Revolution of 1917, the hated Tsar was toppled in a matter of a few days. That part of the revolution was almost completely spontaneous. No socialist organization picked the date for the demonstrations that snowballed into a mass movement. The accumulated hatred for the Tsar and his regime was all that was necessary.

But the issue of what came next raised questions that couldn’t be answered with spontaneous action. The government that came to power after the Tsar included people who called themselves socialists–and who claimed that the revolution had to be demobilized in order to consolidate the people’s victories. Were they right? What should be done to make sure the Tsar never came to power again? How could democracy and justice be spread even further?

These questions were hotly debated throughout Russian society. The reason they were ultimately given socialist answers is because a tried-and-tested revolutionary socialist organization existed to make its case. On the basis of its past experience and its roots among workers across Russia, the Bolshevik Party was able to recognize and make sense of the situation in all its complexity–and to express the aims of socialism that workers favored.

Sadly, the need for socialist organization has been proven many times since–but in the negative. Too many times, mass mobilizations of workers have thrown the status quo into question–only to allow it back in because socialists weren’t in a position to make the case on how to go forward. Such an organization doesn’t form overnight. It spends decades preparing itself to be a voice at the crucial time.

This, then, is the case for why you should be a socialist. As individuals on our own, we can’t accomplish much–not even with the best grasp of what’s wrong with the world and how it could be different. But as part of an organization, we can make a difference.

This isn’t an abstract question. There are towns in the Midwest where Ku Klux Klan members no longer parade around because socialists took the initiative to shut them down. There are former death row prisoners alive today because socialists, along with others, drew attention to their cases and helped to show why they shouldn’t be executed, in many cases because they were innocent. There are workplaces where supervisors can’t get away with murder because individual socialists have stood up to them. Socialists can, and do, make a difference right now.

We need to make more of a difference. We need socialists in every workplace, on every campus, in every neighborhood–involved in every struggle throughout society.

But there’s a further task. Socialists need to show how the current day-to-day fights are part of a long-term fight for bigger political changes. As Marx and Engels put it more than 150 years ago:

The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.

Socialists are among the best fighters in the struggles of today. But we’re also involved in the struggle for the future–ultimately, for a different kind of society where exploitation and oppression are never known again. That is the vision of a society that we put forward–and the struggle to make that vision open to larger numbers of people is the way that socialists put the best of themselves forward.

We live in a rotten and barbaric world. For millions of people, just surviving each day is intolerably difficult. For the rest of the vast majority, the struggle to get by leaves almost no time for leisure–much less for putting our minds to making the world a better place to live. Capitalism has produced poverty, famine, environmental catastrophe, and bloody war.

To hear defenders of the system explain it, these horrors are inevitable. It may not be a perfect world, we’re told, but it’s the best we can do.

What a sick society it is that tells us that 6 million children dead of malnutrition each year is the best we can do. Or that more than 1.5 million Iraqis killed by economic sanctions is the best we can do. Or that a world threatened by ecological devastation is the best we can do.

We know that we can do better. The resources exist to eliminate all of these horrors–and to build a socialist society free of poverty and oppression where we all have control over our lives.

That is a world worth fighting for.

Adapted from Alan Maass, Why You Should Be a Socialist(Chicago, International Socialist Organization, 2000).

Building a Movement from Below: The People’s Assembly

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The People’s Assembly: Building from Below:

  • What does this really mean?
  • What are the Implications?
  • Where does Labour Stand?

By Luke Cooper on this Saturday’s People’s Assembly Against Austerity previously published here:

The People’s Assembly

The People’s Assembly has resulted in a considerable bout of energetic debate on the British left, ranging from the super-supportive, to the cynically-critical, and those, on the money perhaps, who are supportively critical. But no one is seriously downplaying the size or scope of the event. With over 3,500 people set to converge on Westminster Central Hall it is clearly going to be the biggest ever gathering against austerity in Britain. It would be foolish to not see this as a big step forward in its own right. Bringing together a grand coalition of trade unionists, grassroots campaigners, socialists, Greens, pensioners, disability rights activists, and maybe a fair few regular people who want to turn their anger into action, is a big step forward for the left and shouldn’t be sniffed at.

This is a particular achievement seen in the context of divisions that have blighted the anti-cuts movement since the Tories came to power. Those of you who have not yet experienced the fractured socialist left, will be shocked to hear that campaigners against austerity have had not one, not two, but three competing anti-cuts campaigns, none of which can seriously claim to have a strong, organic relationship to grassroots organisations.

Life-of-Brian-300x168

It’s an all too familiar example of the infamous Life of Brian sketch that satirically depicts the infighting of the left. What makes that scene so farcical isn’t that people are arguing. The farce lies in how the myriad of groupuscules all have ostensibly the same ideas. In much the same way there has been barely a rizla paper to separate the competing anti-cuts campaigns politically. The People’s Assembly does create the possibility of unity, but it also poses sharply a question of how to unite in a way that maximises democracy and participation.

To kick off an argument about how to do this doesn’t mean doing yet another Life of Brian rendition. It’s not about ‘splitting’ for no good reason, or having huge rows over nothing, because debate is what the People’s Assembly should be about.

There is no shortage of things to discuss and there have been too many left wing conferences over the years when everyone says the same thing, no one dares disagree with one another, and the audience is left bored. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other constructive critics, here are three things that deserve some critical attention. The last one is the most important – what comes next and how it’s organised to maximise democratic participation – because it’s here that the opportunity to build a really powerful anti-austerity movement might be lost.

1. Unions

First off, there’s the unions. It’s excellent that the People’s Assembly has won the backing of the major public sector unions. They are an essential part of the fight against austerity. But there is no getting round the fact their existing leaderships have failed to deliver the action we need to start to the turn the tide on austerity.

When millions went on strike in November 2011 it testified to the enduring power of organised labour. But hopes that this might be a new dawn for workplace radicalism were soon dashed. The strikes were called off. And many of the union leaders who will grace the platforms of the People’s Assembly were central to delivering a rotten pension deal when there was still all to play for. The People’s Assembly will have failed the very people it is seeking to represent, if it doesn’t provide a platform for trade unionists that feel let down by leaders whose pay packets far exceed those of ordinary members and who, for this reason, don’t feel the pain of austerity.

Unison, as the biggest public sector union, has big questions to answer. Not only did it lead the retreat from the pensions fight, but, worse still, its leadership have for many years witch hunted activists out of the union on trumped up charges, with bullying, intimidation and bureaucratic measures becoming the norm. It’s a classic example of an entrenched bureaucracy not wanting an activist union and doing everything in their power to keep the membership atomised and passive.

And this at a time when the Tories are on the offensiveAs Labour MP John McDonnell has put it in admirably undiplomatic terms:

“… In order for free market policies to flourish, for wages to be held back, for privatisation to continue unopposed and for workers to be made to pay for the crisis in the economy then it is equally necessary for the organisations of the workers, our parties, our trade unions, to be made impotent. One way to do that is to clear out fighters and militants. That is what this is. Unison’s leadership are doing the bosses a favour.”

It is little wonder that many Unison activists find their blood boiling when their leaders talk the talk, as they no doubt will at the People’s Assembly, only to the very next day carrying on doing nothing to fight back. It’s right that the unions are involved, but there needs to be be a voice for the grassroots in the hall too.

2. Labour 

Secondly, the major union leaderships all have a strategy: to do everything in their power to ensure Labour wins the next election. If Labour were presenting a powerful and coherent alternative to austerity, this strategy might well look appealing. But what if – as is obviously the case – Labour have no intention of turning back the cuts and, in a stream of recent announcements, have even expressed their commitment to many of the Tory spending and welfare policies.

It’s tempting to see recent policy announcements on welfare as falling into line with Tony Blair, who back in April took a swipe at Miliband’s leadership and warned against Labour becoming a ‘party of protest’. But these announcements have been long prepared for. Labour are happy to vote against the government today, but everyday make it crystal clear they stand for austerity-lite tomorrow.

These facts pose big questions to all of us who want to see a real alternative to austerity. And its one recognised by many Labour Party supporters of the People’s Assembly. Independent columnist Owen Jones, who has gone up and down the country rallying support for Saturday’s meeting, is the first to admit that Labour has offered no alternative. He sees the Assembly as ‘giving Labour some real competition’ because ‘finally, the left is entering the ring’. Jones might sound convincing, but think it through for a moment and the logic starts to unravel.

The People’s Assembly might, hopefully, become a powerful social movement (more on which in a moment). But the Labour Party has long been unresponsive to those – remember the Iraq War when millions marched to say no to Bush and Blair’s crusade? Despite funding the party to the tune of millions, even the unions have no say over policy. But Labour is not entirely immune from pressure. Ultimately it is accountable to a working class electorate that it arrogantly takes for granted. What would start to shift Miliband and co is a party to the left of Labour eating away at their electoral support: a party doing the same to Labour as UKIP is doing to the Tories.

A debate has to take place at the assembly about Labour and the possibility of alternatives. Its one the unions aren’t keen on because it challenges the very heart of their strategy: to sit on their hands, wait for 2015 and hope for a Labour return. To go away from the Assembly having not talked about Labour, and having not had the opportunity to subject its leadership to trenchant criticism for not putting up an alternative, would be a terrible waste. This is especially so when an exciting call has been put out by filmmaker Ken Loach for a new party of the left, one that has already been signed by over 8,000 people. So, Labour has to be at the centre of the discussion. Loach, who is speaking at the Assembly, can use the platform to inspire a debate on a political alternative to the pro-austerity parties. There is far too much at stake for it to be otherwise.

3. Unity

Finally, there is the democratic deficit in how the People’s Assembly is organised that others have highlighted. A statement will be put to the Assembly that neatly side steps the first two big issues – Labour and the union leaders – and can’t be amended by conference participants.

This might seem reasonable. After all, with over 3,500 people set to turn out what if they allwanted to amend the statement? Chaos would indeed ensue.

Benefit-Justice-Campaign-BrumBut it’s not as simple as that. Imagine if the local people’s assemblies that took place all over the country had discussed the statement. Imagine too if they had been able to submit amendments that could then have been composited into the main debating points. Even then perhaps not all of them could have been taken but the most popular amendments could then have been put to a vote. The base at the bottom would have then had a genuine say about the outcome at the top.

Unfortunately, this isn’t set to happen – the statement will only be amendable by local people’s assemblies in the run up to a conference in… 2014. Not only that but it doesn’t appear that the organising group will be elected at the conference either. Despite the many workshops on excellent subjects – a refreshing difference from the day-long-rally-conference – the People’s Assembly risks being a top-down affair, when the movement we need has to be a bottom-up one.

This is intended as an entirely constructive criticism. Because at the very least it’s worth reflecting upon how this new People’s Assembly Movement – which I certainly hope is here to stay – can be organised democratically after Saturday.

A big problem with how the left in Britain does things can be summarised as ‘the cult of the next big thing’. The huge spectacle of the grand conference. The next major protest and demonstration. It is all too easy for activists on the left to jump from one thing to the next without laying down proper roots in communities.

If the People’s Assembly is to play the role that Owen Jones clearly wants it to play – a mass social movement, rooted in localities and built from the bottom up, promoting an alternative to austerity – then it needs to develop a democratic structure that grassroots groups can relate to.

There is no great mystery in how this might be organised. If the wide variety of local and national campaign groups and unions that will all be there on Saturday are able to affiliate to a People’s Assembly Movement, then they can send delegates to a conference to represent their views. The organising group can be elected by and accountable to this delegate conference. Delegation sizes can be suitably weighted from different organisations to make it appropriately democratic. Local People’s Assemblies can be convened to channel proposals into the next huge conference – which should should aim to be 10,000 strong. The People’s Assembly, with this structure, would soon be transformed from a meeting into a real movement.

It’s good that ‘building from below’ is becoming a new mantra on the left. It’s a sign of a cultural change in thinking we are only slowly coming to terms with. But it’s equally important that we start to take it more seriously. That we don’t just let it become a phrase divorced of all meaning. If the People’s Assembly kicks off a debate on what ‘building from below’ looks like in practice – as material prescriptions, and not just vague aspirations, then that will be really welcome. The People’s Assembly is already a success as a conference. The question is what comes next?

Beppe Grillo – A salutary reminder of the price of freedom.

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The Grillismo won 25% of the vote in the recent Italian elections.  This clearly caused consternation amongst the political/financial elite and was widely welcomed as an example of the people ‘fighting back’… evidence that a popular movement can quickly be established to overthrow the status quo.

Read the quotes (and if you have time watch the video clip of Grillo’s engaging, sub-titled stand-up routine).

“Whom does the money belong to?  Who does its ownership belong to?  To the State fine…then to us, we are the State. You know that the State doesn’t exist, it is only a legal entity.  WE are the state, then the money is ours…fine.  Then let me know one thing.  If the money belongs to us…Why…do they lend it to us??”

– Beppe Grillo in 1998

Beppe Grillo about money – stand up show 1998 – English / Deutsch

Published on Feb 27, 2013

First uploaded and translated to English by /user/d574.http://www.youtube.com/user/d574
– put both parts together and added German subtitles.
Our media calls Beppe Grillo a clown or a maniac. This view is very prejudiced. Grillo gives the Italians hope. He is supported by nobel price winners and professors. Grillo wants a better democracy. With more participation. Not less.

Hat-tip Zero hedge

Great stuff for the left to hear, isn’t it?

Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg blog, writes:

If you really want to know why Beppe Grillo is causing Central Planners throughout the European continent to wet themselves, this video will show you.  There’s a real revolution happening in Italy.

This guy is the real deal and he understands the heart of the whole issue plaguing the world.  All I can say is:  WOW.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-03-10/why-central-planners-are-so-scared-italys-beppe-grillo

Then read what the Wu Ming Foundation (Wu Ming is a collective of authors based in Bologna, Italy) have to say.

(They describe themselves – “We are the Wu Ming Foundation. We are a collective of novelists based in Italy, a country that’s living its darkest period since the old days of fascist dictatorship (1922-1945).”)

Grillismo: Yet another right-wing cult coming from Italy

Written on March 8, 2013 at 1:02 am by 

Beppe Grillo
[A week ago a prestigious British magazine asked us for a long piece on Grillismo. We wrote it and submitted it, but there was some misunderstanding, and they edited it too heavily for our own taste. We clarified the matter with them, but at that point we were way beyond the deadline and the issue went to print without our contribution. Too bad, but no grudge held. The piece was too long – almost 5,000 words – to submit it to any other mag or newspaper, let them do all the editing all over again and have it published in a reasonable lapse of time. Over here the situation is very bad, and people abroad are completely disinformed about it. Every day we read nonsense and bullshit on Grillo by people who completely ignore the reactionary, authoritarian nature of his movement. A harsh reality is biting our arses and we need to send a message in a bottle right now. In the end, having no other possibility, we decided to publish the piece on this ugly, obsolete, long neglected blog, which is in bad need of complete reconstruction and a new start, but even in its present form is better than nothing. Of course it isn’t as authoritative as that London magazine, and potential circulation is ludicrous in comparison, but what else can we do? Please feel free to copy our analysis and republish it wherever you want. Thanks.]

«Marriage is a bond between a man and a woman. How can you institute marriage between two persons of the same sex? Why not marriage between three persons then? Why not marriage between you and your animal? Some people have a strong relationship with their animal, would you allow them to marry it?»
(Francesco Perra, 5SM candidate at the recent national election, 8 June 2012 )

There is much confusion in other countries about what has been taking place in Italy in the past five years – the era of Late Berlusconism – and what is going on after the latest national election. At the time of writing, nobody knows what government Italy will have. No stable government can be formed without the vote of confidence of the Five Star Movement, the political organisation led by former stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo and web marketing guru Gianroberto Casaleggio. The 5SM, which stood for national election for the first time, gained 25.5% of votes for the Chamber of Deputies and 23.8% for the Senate.

Dario FoDario Fo

Several Left-wing and progressive commentators tend to look with a certain sympathy to the Five Star Movement. They heard that even Dario Fo, a famously leftist Nobel Prize Winner, endorsed Grillo during the campaign. They think that Grillo’s fiery, pied-piperesque speeches are just a bit of theatre – he used to be a comedian after all.
Indeed, news from Italy is as baffling as usual, but in the end, many have the impression that the 5SM is a populist movement oscillating between the progressive and radical quarters of the political spectrum. A movement having features in common with other anti-austerity movements and mobilisations across southern Europe (Portugal, Greece, Spain, Slovenia).
People who make that assumption should – literally – know better.
Trouble is, many Italians should know better too.

Simone Di Stefano: «Are you an antifascist?»
Beppe Grillo: «This question doesn’t concern me. 5SM is an ecumenical movement.»
(Conversation between Grillo and one of the top leaders of neofascist party CasaPound, 11 January 2013 )

Some of you may have Italian friends who used to place themselves to the Left and recently chose to vote for the 5SM, or even become 5SM activists. We bet they didn’t tell you about the more right-wing aspects of the movement, because you’d certainly ask them: «I beg your pardon? You’re doing political work side by side with fascists? You’ve joined a movement that rejects the very notion of antifascism? A movement that wants to abolish trade unions?! You voted for a guy who praises Ron Paul and US-style ‘libertarianism’? Mate, what’s wrong with you?», and they’d have to scramble for self-justifications.

«Before it degenerated, fascism had a sense of national community (which it took directly from socialism), the highest respect for the state and a will to protect the [institution of] family.»
(Roberta Lombardi, 5SM member of Parliament, 21 January 2013 )

Your friends are probably aware of those aspects, but either underestimate them or instantly remove them, because they’re too disquieting. Such is the disgust toward «the old political system» that criticising a «new» movement is deemed as a manifestation of pedantry and intellectual luxury: «First of all, let’s give a shoulder push to the rotten political establishment, then we’ll talk about Grillo’s faults. We can’t afford that now!»
To us, this is a very dangerous approach.

1. How rancour towards «The Caste» helped prevent social conflict

La castaMany factors can explain Grillo’s success. The Zero years were a decade of social devastation, in which social movements encountered thundering defeats, while Late Berlusconism was fostering cultural and moral bankruptcy with the complicity of the long-discredited «centre-left».
Then, at the beginning of the new decade, the Euro crisis hit us between the eyes.
During the summer of 2011, the capitalist class and the European Central Bank decided that Berlusconi’s government was completely dysfunctional and unfit to enforce the «necessary» austerity measures. Despite a vast majority in both branches of Parliament, with a sort of legal coup the «centre-right» government was replaced with a «technical» government led by Mario Monti, a neoliberal economist long associated with Goldman Sachs and the Trilateral Commission.

Monti’s government was supported, albeit grudgingly, by both the centre-right and the centre-left. To tell the truth, the centre-left gave the impression of supporting Monti less grudgingly than the centre-right. In the end, the Democratic Party appeared more responsible than Berlusconi for the aggressive austerity measures which worsened the condition of the working class and the lower middle class in 2012. Something similar happened in Greece, where Papandreou’s Socialist Party was more strictly associated with cuts than the right-wing party New Democracy was.
The difference is that Greece witnessed mass demonstrations and general strikes against austerity, the IMF, the European Central Bank and so on, whereas in Italy social discontent was channelled toward a different target: the so-called «Caste».

«The Caste vs. the Honest People» is the most powerful conceptual frame in today’s Italy.
The Caste: How Italian politicians became untouchable is the title of a best-selling book written by two journalists, Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo. It was published in 2007 and covered the ways in which national and local politicians used taxpayers’ money to become parasitic oligarchs. The book’s title provided the perfect metaphor to frame the debate on politics into a new version of a classic right-wing dichotomy: «ordinary people» are «clean», whereas «politicians» are «dirty». Indeed, they are not only dirty, they’re the biggest problem in the country. Let’s get rid of politicians, and everything will be ok!
The fact that politicians are in office precisely because the good ordinary people repeatedly voted for them is rarely mentioned.

Flavio BriatoreFlavio Briatore

«The Caste vs. the Honest People» proved to be the perfect diversionary narrative. Anger and frustration were channelled toward members of parliament, their salaries, public funding to political parties etc., all of which are real but lesser problems of the system. Meanwhile, austerity measures and eurocratic neoliberal policies were ravaging society, encountering no opposition. Unlike in Greece, Spain and Portugual, there was no mass movement fighting back.
It goes without saying that the real «caste» – the caste of millionaires, top CEOs, financial speculators and the likes – didn’t pay any price for the situation they had created. We even heard such tycoons as Flavio Briatore making anti-Caste statements, slagging off politicians and so on.

To name but one concrete consequence of the «Caste vs. the People» frame, this depoliticising narrative made the idea of a «technical» government acceptable, indeed, even desirable. Public opinion was brought to believe that a government with no politicians would be better than any traditional government. That’s why Mario Monti took advantage of an extended «honeymoon period» and was able to pass draconian acts that impoverished the majority of the population.

The «Caste vs. People» frame was activated in the political debate slightly before the 5SM came into existence, and paved the highway for it.
What Grillo and Casaleggio did on their own was extending the concept of «Caste» to include almost all civil servants, whom the 5SM rhetoric turns into mere parasites. In one of his most infamous blog posts, Grillo demanded that «tens of thousand of public employees [be] laid off». As Rossana Dettori – a leader of CGIL trade union – correctly pointed out, behind the phrases that Grillo uses in an abstract way (eg «public employees») there are hospitals and emergency rooms, firefighters, schools and kindergartens, social services for the elderly and the gravely ill, «as well as democratic institutions which ensure that such services keep working».

Truth is, Italy’s public sector has the highest rate of union enrollment and activity. 78.79% of public employees take part to the election of their workplace union representatives (RSU). Therefore, the real targets of Grillo’s invective against public employees are trade unions. He called for the utter «elimination» of trade unions more than once.

2. Mock «anti-austerity», mock radicalism

Not that Grillo doesn’t mention capitalism, the faults of bankers etc. He does it. However, there’s no peculiarity in that part of his discourse, he simply revives all the cliches of European right-wing populisms. The issue is framed in a simplistic neo-nationalist way: «real» capitalism (ie productive capitalism) is described as good because it is rooted in the territory, whereas financial economy is degenerate because it’s in the hands of evil transnational cliques and lobbie groups. Since the Euro is the main cause of the present crisis, if Italy leaves the Eurozone and gets rid of politicians and kicks «tens of thousands» of (unionised) employees out of the public sector, then we’ll have the conditions for entering a new golden age.

Gad LernerGad Lerner

We all know that there’s often an antisemitic streak underlying this kind of talk about «nationless» enemies. Is it a coincidence that antisemitic tirades and insults are frequent in the below-the-line section of Grillo’s blog? In November 2012 a guest-blogger on beppegrillo.it attacked Gad Lerner, a Jewish journalist who dared criticise Grillo, by calling him «Gad Vermer». Verme is italian for «worm», a classic insult in the antisemitic repertoire.

The most important thing to say about Grillo’s «anti-austerity» and anti-financial stance is that it’s just a façade. It’s a joke. At the end of the day Grillo is a multi-millionaire, for Christ’s sake!
Whenever a conservative populist movement is voted in office or takes over, their «anticapitalist», anti-finance rhetoric evaporates very soon and they end up administering the present state of things, financial capitalism included.

Maybe that’s why Jim O’Neill, the retiring chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, recently wrote:

«I find the [Italian Election] outcome quite exciting because it seems to me for a country whose GDP has basically not changed since EMU started in 1999, something big needs to change. Maybe this election outcome and the peculiar mass appeal of the Five Star movement could signal the start of something new?»

Did we say «Goldman Sachs»? A few days ago, Grillo stated that the 5SM parliamentary groups were willing to vote for a new «technical» government including no politicians, because they would never vote confidence in any political government. They were even willing to support a «Monti Bis», a second Monti government, albeit with a limited mandate and strictly controlled by the new parliament. After months spent calling the premier «Rigor Montis», Grillo implicitly said that the former international advisor for Goldman Sachs is the «lesser evil» compared to political parties.
It was just a fleeting glimpse of naked truth, then the former comedian changed position one more time. Now he’s saying that he wants to conquer «100% of parliament» so «citizens become the state» and the movement «will no longer need to exist», which of course doesn’t mean anything but is good for causing a sensation.

[N.B. The last political leader to conquer 100% of Italian parliament and overlap his movement with the state ended up hanging upside down in a Milan square. It happened twenty-six years too late, but nowadays things happen faster, you know, there’s the Internet and so on. Jokes apart, Grillo should study the history of his country before making such provocative statements, they aren’t known to bring good luck to anyone.]

In case you still cling to your prior impression that Grillo’s movement is anti-austerity and radical, or at least a force for concrete change, why not take a look at what 5SM has been doing in the towns and cities they administer? For example, let’s look at what mayor Federico Pizzarotti did in Parma.
The key point of Pizzarotti’s campaign was opposition to the construction of a big incinerator whose impact on the environment and the health of citizens was considered catastrophic. In June 2012 Grillo himself stated: «They will never build that incinerator, if they want to build it they will have to step on the mayor’s dead body!». When journalist Marco Travaglio asked Grillo about the penalties the city would have to pay to contractors and subcontractors, he gave this answer: «Let’s not be silly: If paying the penalties is obligatory, we’ll find a way to pay them.» Well, the incinerator was turned on on 3 March 2013. The city couldn’t pay the penalties. Nobody had to step on Pizzarotti’s corpse.

During his campaign, Pizzarotti also promised that he wouldn’t raise the house tax and the boarding charge for public kindergartens. After he was elected, he raised both and explained: «We couldn’t do anything else». Like any other politician.
Now he’s planning to cut the salaries of city employees.

3. Right-wing influences on the Five Star Movement

Guglielmo GianniniGuglielmo Giannini

Grillo’s rhetoric is chock-full of elements that can be traced back to different right-wing traditions, which he and Casaleggio meddle into a toxic jumble.
The most recognizable tradition is that of European conservative populism. In France this approach is known as poujadisme, after its main 20th century promoter Pierre Poujade. In Italy, we usually call it qualunquismo [which we could translate as ‘anyoneism’], after a mass petty bourgeiois movement founded by playwright Guglielmo Giannini in 1946.
Another tradition is US «libertarianism» / «anarcho-capitalism»: Ayn RandRon Paul, that kind of stuff. This influence is detectable in several parts of the 5SM programme. One of the movement’s most known representatives, Vittorio Bertola, explicitly stated «I like Ron Paul».
Of course, in Grillo’s rants we can also find the usual set of Thatcherite tropes and cliches which have become commonplace all over the West.
All these traditions have some basic features in common, one of which is hatred for trade unions and, generally, for the workers’ collective organisation and conquests, like national contracts etc. This hostility permeates all of Grillo’s speeches.

The reason why it is such an ungrateful task to expose the right-wing elements of Grillo’s rhetoric, is that confusionism is an intentional strategy. Grillo repeatedly screams that «there are no Left and Right anymore!». Meanwhile, he and Casaleggio skillfully intersperse the right-wing elements with left-wing ones, reproposing buzzwords, concepts and claims they hijacked from the previous social movements. These concepts are reprocessed, they receive a treatment that strips all articulations and leaves them void of all content. The most striking example is «direct democracy».

4. Direct democracy, Führerprinzip and character assassination

Despite all the talk about direct democracy or online liquid feedback, the 5SM is a top-down organisation with no intermediate bodies between Grillo and Casaleggio and the populace of fans/activists. Every major decision is taken by those two wealthy sixty-somethings, and «direct democracy» only amounts to calling on the base to approve it in a tele-plebiscitarian way.

In the 2011-2012 period, the 5SM of Emilia-Romagna (the region whose capital is Bologna, the city in which we live) was stormed by a wave of expulsions. «Dissidents» like Giovanni FaviaValentino TavolazziFederica Salsi and many others dared question the absence of internal democracy. As a consequence, they were kicked out and exposed to angry online mobs. Expulsions were decided by Grillo and Casaleggio and communicated to the world by short posts on beppegrillo.it.
Local activists expressed solidarity with the expelled and organised meetings in which the majority voted in favour of readmission, but their vote was completely overruled by the two bosses.
The final step was the use of the Internet to slander the expelled in all possible ways. «Loyal» grillini devoted their time and efforts to disrupting all online conversations in which anyone defended the «traitors» and criticised Grillo and Casaleggio for their clearly autocratic behaviour.

Federica SalsiFederica Salsi

5SM local leaders seem to have no hesitation in using «lynching» as a positive concept. On 2 March 2013 Andrea Defranceschi, 5SM representative at the Emilia-Romagna council, stated: «If some of us betray the movement, the Internet will lynch them.»
By «lynching», of course, Defranceschi means the character assassination of dissidents. If anyone dares disagree with Grillo and Casaleggio, their reputation must be destroyed, and this destruction shall continue long after the expulsion. These people cannot be simply left alone, their blog or Facebook page must be bombarded with derogatory comments every day. In a matter of few months, local councillor Giovanni Favia shifted from being revered as the very incarnation of 5SM values to being described as the vilest traitor. And if the dissident is a woman, sexist insults will rain on her: «whore», «bitch» and the rest of the repertoire. That’s what happened to Federica Salsi.
This is a clear manifestation of cult mentality and, in fact, the 5SM is often described as a cult. It is often compared to Scientology. Scientology rejected the comparison.

You may ask: how can Grillo and Casaleggio get away with all that?
Well, it’s all written in the movement’s  «Non-Statute».
The «Non-Statute» is a very short text which, for years, has been the only written document regulating the movement’s internal life. It mainly says that the 5SM’s name and logo are the sole property of Beppe Grillo and that the movement’s «headquarters» are located on Grillo’s weblog, beppegrillo.it.

If you already think that the 5SM notion of «online direct democracy» is bizarre to say the least, well, wait, you haven’t seen anything yet! We suggest you to watch a sort of video-manifesto which Casaleggio authored and produced in 2007. It’s entitled Gaia: The Future of Politics. «Creepy» is the right adjective for the anarcho-capitalist future Casaleggio enthusiastically envisions.

How do pro-Grillo leftists or former leftists react when someone points out these serious problems?

5. Fascists in Grillo’s (and Berlusconi’s) Fatherland

Before answering that question, it is necessary to make clear that the vast majority of both 5SM activists and sympathisers do not come from the radical Left. Most of them are quite young and have no previous political experience (or even position);  others come from the right and even the radical right.

In several areas of the country, the backbone of consent for the 5SM is formed by people who previously supported Berlusconi, the xenophobic Northern League, and in some cases utterly neofascist parties such as New Force and Tricolour Flame. In 2012, when the 5SM won the election in Parma and managed to elect Federico Pizzarotti as mayor of the city, the biggest chunk of votes (25.9%) came from people who had previously chosen the Northern League.
After all, Grillo’s and the 5SM position on immigration and minorities is very close to that of the NL. We quote from one of his blog posts , its title was «The Desacred Borders» and was published on beppegrillo.it in october 2007:

«A country cannot PASS THE BUCK TO ITS CITIZENS in dealing with the problems caused by tens of thousands of Roma gypsies coming to Italy from Romania. Prodi’s objection is always the same: Romania is in Europe. But what does ‘Europe’ means? SAVAGE MIGRATIONS of jobless persons from one country to another? Without knowing the language, with nowhere to put them up? Every day I receive hundreds of letters on Roma gypsies, it’s a volcano, A TIME BOMB, and it must be defused… What is a government that doesn’t guarantee the safety of its citizens good for?… The borders of the fatherland used to be sacred, politicians have desacred them.»

Last but not least, Casaleggio himself is a former sympathiser of the Northern League.

According to attorney Vincenzo Forte – an ex-leader of the neofascist Italian Social Movement and now a supporter of Grillo – three of the new 5SM MPs and one 5SM senator (all four elected in Lombardy) have a radical neofascist background. Forte didn’t reveal their names but added:

«These are not isolated cases, it’s a much more vast, deep-rooted phenonemon, a carefully organised strategy to penetrate Grillo’s movement. This strategy is being carried out with maximum discretion by local neofascist groups. »

The 5SM has no ethical or theoretical defence against this, because Grillo and Casaleggio have staunchly refused to adopt antifascism as a differentiating value. Grillo wants the movement to be «ecumenical» and antifascism «doesn’t concern him».

Silvio Berlusconi after too many facelifts.

It is far from incomprehensible that many fascists, berluscones and leghisti are now looking to Grillo. Not only they like many of the things he says, but he also embodies their idealtype of the Strong Man mesmering enthusiastic crowds. To these people, Berlusconi and Bossi were no longer strong/fascinating enough, for they became too compromised with «old politics« and «the Caste». That’s why these angry petty bourgeois are making an emotional investment on someone they see as a new leader.
Moreover, there are deep similarities between Berlusconi and Grillo. They are both living testimonies of how the 1980s entertainment and television industry reshaped Italy’s national life. Journalist Giuliano Santoro wrote a very interesting book about this, it is entitled Un Grillo qualunque: Il populismo digitale nella crisi dei partiti italiani [A Grillo whatsoever: Digital populism in the crisis of Italian parties].
As a matter of fact, one cannot fully understand Grillo if s/he didn’t understand Berlusconi. Three years ago, in a piece for the London Review of Books, we easily predicted that after the fall of Berlusconi there would be a Berlusconism-without-Berlusconi. Nowadays things are even worse, because Berlusconi «fell» but is still around and 29.1% of voters have chosen him for the umpteenth time. As a result, we have both old, classic berlusconism-with-Berlusconi, and a new kind of berlusconism without him. Giuliano Santoro wrote that «Grillo is the continuation of Berlusconi by other means.»

6. TINA, TITA and the 5SM’ «neitherism»

Now let’s focus on those leftists and ex-leftists who are – critically or uncritically – giving their trust to 5SM. We want to focus on them for two reasons:
First, it is important to understand what consequences the Left’s absence or bankruptcy can have during a crisis like the current one;
Secondly, we have noticed that the representation of Grillo’s movement among radicals and progressives abroad is more or less a synthesis of the two typical discourses uttered by Italian pro-Grillo radicals – only with much less information available.
We call these discourses «5SM TINA» and «5SM TITA».

These days, each time we talk with veterans of yesterday’s struggles who voted for the 5SM, and try to reason with them, the most likely words we manage to extract from their mouths is:

«Yes, I do know it’s an ambiguous movement. I’m not at ease with everything they say and do. Yeees, yes, their agenda is partly neoliberal. Their statements on migrants are unacceptable. I don’t like the blend of populism and corporate jargon either. I’m suspicious of the personality cult surrounding Grillo, and the role played by Casaleggio isn’t clear. I agree with you, there’s more than a little bit of fanaticism within the movement. I did see pro-5SM trolls in action on the Internet. I agree with you, those mass expulsions make me think of 1937 stalinist purges. Do you think I’m blind? Of course I see that fascists are also joining… And yet some of the 5SM claims and proposals are exactly the same that we’ve been making for years! Their program includes the «citizens’ income», the defence of commons, ecology… I know many decent people who’ve become 5SM activists. Maybe we can tactically use the 5SM in order to smash the old political system, they’re doing that, aren’t they? Nobody managed to do that before. Why not try and see what happens after the shoulder push? There Is No Alternative anyway. The left is dead.»

This is what we call the Five-Starred Leftist «There Is No Alternative» Discourse. It is based on a classical Yes/But device: people say they agree on all the critical issues, which are many, then they say something like «but» or «and yet», and even if the adversative is sustained only by wishful thinking, it wipes out everything they just acknowledged.

In short: they understand that the 5SM is a confusionist movement with a dominant right-wing approach to many key issues, but the movement’s success and the fact that some proposals have Left-wing origins make them hope this is a good opportunity to «do something».
To us, «doing something» is not necessarily a good line of conduct. It depends on what you do. Sometimes it’s better not to do anything than doing something stupid. Mistaking a right-wing movement for a left-leaning one is definitely stupid.

Other former leftists are buying whatever story Grillo and the 5SM tell them. They utter another discourse, the Five-Starred Ex-Leftist «This Is The Alternative» Discourse:

«What you’re saying is false. You believed the vicious lies that the Caste spreads around. There are certainly some racists, because the movement is open to everyone, but they’re minorities. The majority are people like you and me who want to fight the system. We’ll keep racists in check. Those who were kicked out of the movement were opportunists and infiltrators sent by the old parties. They violated the Non-Statute. Grillo is not a leader, he’s nothing other than a megaphone. The fact that he legally owns the movement’s name and logo is only a guarantee that local sections will respect the Non-Statute. I trust him. When the movement is strong enough, Grillo will step aside. Casaleggio only suggests communication strategies, there’s nothing dark or ambiguous about that. This Is The Alternative, at last! I’ve been waiting for something like this for years, don’t ruin everything with your usual criticism!»

Notice the classic faith in a «two-stage» process: in the current situation Grillo has necessarily to play a major role; later on, he will surely step aside.
In the history of communist movements, all personality cults were invariably described as merely «transitional».
In 1958 Mao Zedong famously argued that there is nothing wrong in personality cult in and of itself. It depends whether that personality represents revolutionary truth or not.
Eighty-seven year old Dario Fo, to mention but one name, was very close to maoism during the 1970s.
This mindset facilitated the conversion of former communists to Grillismo. In this way, we think they ended up on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
When did such a thing happen last time?
It happened in the early Twenties.

Programma di San Sepolcro, 1919

Exactly.
The 5SM’s catch-all programme cannot but remind us of early fascism’s Programme of San Sepolcro (1919). In those days, fascism was still a «neitherist» movement («neither left nor right») launching «revolutionary» slogans in every direction.
In 2011, when we started citing that historical precedent, many people sneered at us. Then, on 5 March 2013, Roberta Lombardi – fresh president of the 5SM group at the Chamber of Deputies – made an explicitly positive reference to the Programme of San Sepolcro in order to explain the unacceptable statement we used as one of the epigraphs of this article.

Are we arguing that, when all is said and done, the 5SM is a fascist movement?
The answer is: no.
For sure there are fascists in there, and certainly the right-wing elements of the programme are more relevant than the left-wing ones. However, the 5SM is indebted with different right-wing traditions, a part of its constituency is still on the left, and labelling the movement as merely fascist would be too simplistic.
What we’re trying to say is that, especially in Italy, confusionist «neitherism» always thrives on economic and political crisis, and a part of the Left is tempted to listen to that siren song. Those who don’t resist the temptation invariably end up on the Right, be they aware of it or not.

7. Now what?

Why aren’t foreign correspondents living in Italy saying these things? They write about Grillo every day, but they rarely provide insights on the movement’s inner contradictions. Maybe these contradictions are less visibile if one doesn’t have a deep knowledge of our national history? And yet racist, homophobic or aynrandesque statements should be recognizable in all contexts. We don’t have a clear answer for such questions.

Gianroberto CasaleggioGianroberto Casaleggio, co-leader and media guru of 5SM.

What’s going to happen now?
As far as «change» (that empty word) is concerned, probably much less than everyone expects. As we tried to demonstrate above, the 5SM is far from being a radical force and its programme is full of «solutions» that are actually part of the problem. Even on the very day of the election, while many commentators were jumping on Grillo’s bandwagon, we wrote that, despite its incendiary slogans, the 5SM acts as a diversionary movement and prevents social conflict from erupting. Grillo says that himself, although of course he calls conflict «violence»: «If violence doesn’t start here, it’s because of the movement».
As often happens with populist movements, Grillo’s movement will apparently destabilise national politics, but it will only ripple the surface, and in doing so it will stabilise the system. That’s why pro-Grillo excitement can be found in such an unlikely place as Goldman Sachs.

We hope that progressives and radicals who joined the 5SM, or sympathise with 5SM, or at least voted for it, understand that the tiresome «neither left nor right» stance can no longer hide all the contradictions we highlighted.
We recently wrote that «we’ll side with rebellion inside the 5SM». What does that mean?
It means that we expect these contradictions to get ever sharper, to intensify until they explode. The movement’s «Left» must overcome TINA and TITA, manifest itself in a clear way and reject both the agenda of the «Right» and Grillo’s blank, confusionist rhetoric. Internal conflict is not an implausible outcome of this phase. We must look at that process with great attention, and be there when some of the energies that Grillo and Casaleggio captured will manage to get free from that grip. Those energies can be invested into a more consistent, unambiguous, radical movement. That’s why we tifiamo rivolta , we «cheer for a riot» inside the 5SM.

Bologna, 4-8 March 2013

In the UK, we should need no reminder that there was another group in the recent past, geographically closer than Italy, who also took bits from the left and the right.  They were also anti-semitic, anti-unions, anti-homosexuals and anti-gypsies ..a populist movement that had a reactionary and authoritarian nature.  I will not say more for fear of invoking cries of Godwin but they were also called socialists of a sort!

As Gramsci said (more or less) – we need to try and see the world as it really is, not as we want or fear it to be.  The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

http://www.newstatesman.com/austerity-and-its-discontents/2013/03/beppe-grillo-leads-yet-another-right-wing-cult-italy

http://www.wumingfoundation.com/english/wumingblog/?p=1950