Monday, 28 September 2015

David Lindsay Interviews Andrew Jordan

Andrew Jordan recently resigned as President of the Socialist Labour Party that was founded by Arthur Scargill in 1996, and joined the Labour Party. David Lindsay is the Editor of The Lanchester Review.

DL: You joined the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) at 17. What motivated you to join? 

AJ: Having grown up in County Durham I understood at an early age that there was only one political party that could represent the interests and concerns of the vast majority of people.

I could also see the extent to which the support of local people at that time was being taken for granted, not withstanding of course that the then Prime Minister was a County Durham MP.

By the time I was 17 the Iraq War had taken place and young ambitious people who wanted to achieve were about to see a big increase in tuition fees, a real barrier to any social mobility and self improvement, especially in areas like the area I grew up in.

I felt that the only basis for challenge was from the left of those policies and therefore I joined the SLP.

Did you ever think about joining the Labour Party in the past? If not, what was it that prevented you from considering Labour?

No because I never saw a Labour Leadership that was bold enough to tackle the sorts of issues I have already mentioned and implement a truly socialist manifesto.

Prior to your decision to join the Labour Party, what was your view of that party?

I have always had a great deal of respect for the Labour Party members and activists that I know. Nevertheless, until now it has been my view that the Labour Party was unlikely to be the best mechanism to achieve implementation of the policies and principles that I support and that the vast majority of Labour Party members believe in.

Please outline your recent decision to join the Labour Paty. What was it that persuaded you to leave the SLP? Was it a tough decision? What did you have to take into consideration?

It was a tough decision and I have a great deal of affection and respect for SLP members, but I do not believe division between smaller parties is the way to take the trade union and labour movement as well as country forward any longer.

I believe we have a real opportunity for change and a real opportunity to build a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party.

Do you consider the Left to be too fractured at present with parties such as Left Unity, TUSC, the Socialist Party, Respect, the SWP, and so on, splintering the Left vote? How do you think that this situation can be rectified?

Yes. After more than ten years of being an SLP member and more than four years of being President, I have decided to step aside from it.

I hope that my example will encourage many from across the left to leave their baggage at the door and to constructively engage in unity by joining the Labour Party.

It is perhaps easier to be sentimental or to stay in your own personal comfort zone in a smaller party, but that really is no longer the best way forward and will be of no help to communities and people across Britain that need help today and hope for tomorrow.

Many on the Left are describing the rise in the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn as a 'once in a generation' chance for the Left after decades of varying forms of Thatcherism. Would you agree?

Yes, absolutely.

Have you been inspired by the surge in support for a figure of the Left? How did you feel watching Corbyn's success from the viewpoint of membership of another political party?

I think that Jeremy Corbyn's election brings new hope and an opportunity for the Left. That also means other parties of the Left should, in my opinion, react as I intend to do personally.

We need to bring down the old barriers to unity within the movement and as individuals constructively engage in the policy debates that will now take place within the Labour Party.

What do you think the future holds for the Labour Party with Corbyn as its Leader?

I think it will be a challenging journey but there is a real desire for new approaches and solutions to bring about social change and improvement.

It is my hope that a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party will have the strength to meet these challenges.

Do you hope to play an active role in your new Party?

I do very much hope so. I hope to put the skills I have developed over the years, both in my political and trade union capacities, to good use to whatever extent I am able to do within the Labour Party.

What would you say to those people in other Left parties who may feel tempted to leave and join Labour?

I have set out my thinking and if other people can identify with it then I hope that they will reach the same conclusion and act upon it.

How do you respond to Labour Party members who might be suspicious of those who were now joining from smaller Left parties and from other Left activism?

I can only make it clear that from in my own case I am leaving my baggage at the door prior to joining the Labour Party. I hope that my example will encourage many from across the left to leave their baggage at the door and to constructively engage in unity by joining the Labour Party.

I think that whether people are long-term Labour Party members or, like me, are new to the party, what we should all be striving for is a strong, inclusive and more representative Labour Party.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

French Police Destroy Refugee Camps In Calais, by Thomas Bailey

Police brutality in Calais serves as a harsh reminder of the plight of refugees.

At around 8 a.m. on Monday morning, International World Peace Day, a large group of Gendarmes, Police Nationale and BAC armed with batons and pepper-spray destroyed a Syrian refugee camp situated in central Calais, France.

With no warning, vans pulled up and rushed up to 300 refugees off to the so-called ‘Jungle’, a large refugee camp 2.5 miles from the town.

We offered to drive the families with little children, but the police continually refused, leaving them to trudge down the busy road minutes after being violently awoken.

Tents were destroyed, possessions were lost, and the place that these people called home was turned into a deserted wasteland.

Grown men wept and screamed as the police brutally forced them away, blinding them with pepper-spray and preventing them from collecting their money, their passports, and their immigration papers.

Photos and details of dead or missing family members, along with other possessions, were thrown into trucks for the municipal dump.

Despite the attempts of volunteers to salvage important belongings, the majority was lost, and all efforts to negotiate were met with stony glares from the antagonistic and intimidating men in riot gear.

Two similar evictions were carried out later that morning, with police marching refugees into the cramped and flooded Jungle.

Meanwhile, authorities pushed back the boundaries of the main camp using rubber bullets and bulldozers, making the small amount of land, on which approximately 4,000 people live, all the more crowded with tents and insufficient shelter.

They also blocked the roads, preventing volunteers from giving vital aid to those displaced.

The brutality of the police evictions came as a shock to everyone – although the camps were set up illegally, this by no means justifies the cruel and inhuman behaviour exercised in moving the camps.

It was because of this brutality that hundreds of refugees are now sleeping without shelter, and that, ironically, those who lost their documents could be stranded in Northern France for even longer, precisely what the government was trying to avoid.

If the refugees had been given some warning, or if volunteers had been told in advance so that they could help to transfer belongings into a designated area within the Jungle, then much of this hardship could have been avoided.

All diplomatic process was circumvented.

“Wherever we go,” one man told me with tears in his eyes, “we Syrians suffer. In Syria we are suffering, in Europe we are suffering, and now here we are suffering…”

These men and women have fled a civil war and the brutality of Assad’s rule, only to be exposed to more and more inhumane persecution and injuries.

There is no solace for these people – wherever they go, there is nothing but anguish.

Every few days we hear stories of men dying while attempting to reach the UK; even within the camp, men and women are dying from hunger, cold, and despair.

Many have lost their families, and now they are losing their friends.

This is what we must remember. It doesn’t matter whether these people are refugees or economic migrants (as many in Calais are) – call them what you will, you can never deny the fact that these people are human, just like you and me.

They deserve respect, care, support, and most importantly, humanity. No one should suffer like they have suffered: perilous journeys across the Mediterranean, nights in prison cells or sleeping rough, and months without contacting family members to tell them they are alive.

They have rights too, and those rights were put in jeopardy yesterday morning, as they have been for a long, long time.

“The Jungle is not a place to live. This is not a life,” said one man, reflecting the sentiments of all those in the camp. No one should live like they are forced to, sleeping in puddles and surrounded by discarded rubbish.

It will take time and it will take perseverance, but one day we will realise that, no matter where someone comes from, no matter what the colour of their skin, we are all equal – the French government seems to have forgotten the importance of libert√©, egalit√©, fraternit√© in their democracy.

Only then will these people be treated with the respect they deserve, and only then will we understand the power of their dreams and ambitions.

These are doctors, lawyers, scientists and civil engineers, many of whom have University degrees and once lived affluent lives.

In a sense, they are all refugees, fleeing not just war, but also shackles for their hopes. To suggest that they are all scroungers, a myth perpetuated by the right-wing press, is simply false.

An open border policy would be impractical (as has been shown by Germany’s introduction of border controls), but the least we could do is to treat these people with love in our hearts – that is all they need.

“I don’t want anything, only your good will,” one Syrian man told me a few days before his camp was ransacked.

They have suffered enough, and they may suffer in the future – refugees and migrants always have been the victims of persecution and cruelty, wherever they go.

But let’s learn a lesson from the violence of the past few days: it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s make sure it never happens again.

This article originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the author’s request.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Radical Politics of Anachronism, by Matthew Cooper

Last month, the Washington Examiner upbraided two Democratic contenders for the Presidency, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, for wanting to ‘turn back the clock’[i].

It would seem a rather strange assertion to make, Democrats tending to think of themselves as ‘progressive’; the proposal for which they’d earned the charge of being backward-looking was, in fact, the reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act aimed at reregulating the banking system and possibly undoing the poisonous effects of those ‘too big to fail’.

Shortly afterward, Jeremy Corbyn – the left-leaning, anti-war MP currently running for the Labour leadership – has been accused of trying to ‘cling to the past’[ii] by his own party-mates and competitors for the leadership.

Again, the reactionary proposal which earned him such scorn was not anything which can remotely be regarded as in any sense right-leaning: the anachronism of which he stands accused is that of reaffirming public ownership of, among other things, the Royal Mail, the railway system and Britain’s energy infrastructure[iii].

It would appear a strange charge coming from conservatives that they would attempt to attack those to their left – O’Malley, Sanders and Corbyn – as being reactionary in some way.

However, it is interesting to note that these candidates (in an American context, at least) are appealing, albeit rather haphazardly and from within institutions where their views are marginal, to an idiosyncratically conservative set of perspectives and policy priorities, in a language that may indeed seem out-of-step with the times.

The fact is that they are appealing to at least that much: the language at least, if not the substance, of a movement belonging to a bygone age.

The 1890s saw, in the rural America which is now thought of as the Republican heartland, one of the most sweeping and most radical movements in our history was taking place: the agrarian revolt which found expression in the People’s Party.

This agrarian revolt, reacting to an inhumane crop-lien system which placed hundreds of thousands of farmers, white and black, into permanent and degrading economic dependence on ‘furnishing merchants’ (that is to say, loan sharks), issued a resounding call for: currency reform to broaden access to credit for the ‘industrial millions’; a graduated income tax; the establishment of a public postal savings banking system; and public ownership of – what else? – the railways, telecommunications infrastructure and postal system[iv].

This agrarian movement, the Farmers’ Alliance, was based on both the idea and the practice of collective self-help: farmers involved in the revolt gradually found that they had to organise marketing cooperatives to get decent prices on their crops and fair terms on shipment and taxation, as well as consumer cooperatives to bargain collectively for the capital they needed to grow them.

However, they soon found that merchants and financiers were conspiring to undermine their cooperative efforts, and that these efforts themselves were on shaky ground thanks to the hard-money currency system favoured by large banks.

Under gold-standard induced currency contraction throughout the 1870s and 1880s, farmers found their crops decreasing in value and their mortgages getting harder to bear under rising rates.

The educational trial-and-error experiences of the farmers involved in these cooperatives convinced them that a wholesale overhaul of the nation’s financial system in favour of the indebted masses, and a nationalisation scheme to forestall speculation and abusive tolls on the new shipping infrastructure, were necessary to relieve the farmers’ debt burden.

But even at the time they were most active, they were derided and ignored as backwards, as economic illiterates, as people who wanted to ‘turn back the clock’ rather than progress boldly into the future.

‘Populists in their own time derived their most incisive power’, Duke historian Lawrence Goodwyn writes, ‘from the simple fact that they declined to participate in a central element of the emerging American faith. In an age of progress and forward motion, they had come to suspect that Horatio Alger was not real.’

Tragically, the Populists were thwarted by the triangulations of their own elected officials. The gold standard was, for some while, retained.

A system of popular credit which would distribute the ownership and productive power of the nation’s agriculture and industry into as many private hands as possible was never so much as considered.

Instead, the Federal Reserve was created to shield from view the activities of the shakers and movers of the Gilded Age, the consolidating financiers. And the future into which a forward-looking, progressive, Republican-led nation boldly strode, beginning with the election of 1896, was one of penury, humiliation and crushing debt for millions of rural Southern farmers, spanning three full generations[v].

But still deeper among the tragedies of the Populists, according to Goodwyn, is that their defeat presaged a new society and a new set of cultural expectations which were entirely structured according to the interests of the financial elites.

These corporate and financial elites did not, of course, object to ‘progressive’ reforms, as long as they were carefully stage-managed from within the political class they controlled, and as long as they were approached in timid, incremental terms which left these same elites unthreatened.

But it was progress that came at a cost.

In Goodwyn’s words, by the twentieth century, ‘a consensus thus came to be silently ratified: reform politics need not concern itself with structural alteration of the economic customs of the society. This conclusion… had the effect of removing from mainstream reform politics the idea of people in an industrial society gaining significant degrees of autonomy in the structure of their own lives.’

Even nowadays, as both the Sanders campaign in America and the Corbyn campaign in Britain show, challenging certain prevailing ‘economic customs’ of the neoliberal corporate society is a remarkably easy way of being branded as out-of-step with the times.

It is worthwhile to note, though, that the candidates who are using populistic language and appealing to a populistic worldview in the United States, are not doing so in the organised way that the Alliance and Populist statesmen of 125 years ago did.

To be fair to him, Sanders (along with sympathetic libertarians like Ron Paul[vi]) has raised the issue of auditing the Federal Reserve in the past[vii], and indeed has followed up on it some with, for example, the aforementioned proposal to break up the ‘too big to fail’ banks[viii].

And Corbyn is tapping into a common set of cultural complaints among particularly the disaffected youth of Britain.

But proposals like theirs come from the top down and require a specialised knowledge of policy, the likes of which the original Farmers’ Alliance and the Populist movement inculcated in all of its members through the experience of the cooperatives.

As Goodwyn points out quite astutely, such proposals cannot become the basis for a broad-based movement (and indeed, will often fall prey to other, divisive and sectarian, forms of symbolic politics along the way) unless they are accompanied by an equally broad-based collective experience of the logic of the credit market.

The sophisticated critiques of credit which they adapted from the Yankee greenbackers would in some important ways presage the slightly-later critiques of British thinkers like Gilbert Chesterton, Arthur Penty and especially Alfred Orage and Cecil Douglas – whose ideas, like those of the Alliancemen, were also adapted into various cooperative and social-credit movements in Britain and Canada[ix].

But the Alliancemen of Texas, Georgia, Kansas and Arkansas showed, perhaps, a distinctively North American faith in the democratic idea, and they followed it as far as it would lead.

In their own day, that faith was downtrodden by the forces of progress – particularly as they coopted the democratic language and used it to justify a culture which severed the lives and livelihoods of the plain folk from the knowledge of the systems that governed them.

But if Sanders and Corbyn are indeed facing backwards on a Populist-light platform, they would do well to take heed while they have full view: the history of the original Populists would seem to suggest that, for better or for worse, the question which governs their success or failure will in all likelihood lie in the educative potential of the grassroots.




[i]     Lawler, Joseph. ‘Progressives try to turn back the clock’, Washington Examiner, 20 July 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/progressives-try-to-turn-back-the-clock/article/2568394 (accessed 25 August 2015).
[ii]    The Telegraph. ‘Jeremy Corbyn accused of turning back clock to 1970s over Clause IV’, 9 August 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11793177/Jeremy-Corbyn-accused-of-turning-back-clock-to-1970s-over-Clause-IV.html (accessed 22 August 2015).
[iii]   BBC News. ‘Jeremy Corbyn backs greater public ownership for Labour’, 11 August 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-33839819 (accessed 22 August 2015).
[iv]   George Mason University. ‘The Omaha Platform: launching the Populist Party’. Hyperlink: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5361/ (accessed 22 August 2015).
[v]    Goodwyn, Lawrence. Democratic promise: the Populist moment in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
[vi]   Paul, Ronald E. ‘Audit the Federal Reserve’, last updated June 2010. Hyperlink: http://www.ronpaul.com/audit-the-federal-reserve-hr-1207/ (accessed 30 August 2015).
[vii]  Sanders, Bernard. ‘The Fed audit’, 21 July 2011. Hyperlink: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/the-fed-audit (accessed 30 August 2015).
[viii] Sanders, Bernard. ‘Sanders files bill to break up big banks’, 6 May 2015. Hyperlink: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-files-bill-to-break-up-big-banks (accessed 30 August 2015).
[ix]   MacPherson, Crawford B. Democracy in Alberta: the theory and practice of a quasi-party system. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1953.