Solidarity 260, 10 October 2012

Organise to recue the NHS!MatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:58

At the start of October, on the initiative of the NHS Liaison Network, Labour Party conference voted to prioritise the NHS for debate and then passed a resolution calling for the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act, opposing the cuts, and demanding the rebuilding of the NHS, paid for by taxing the rich.

Within hours of conference passing the resolution, Labour leader Ed Miliband told Channel 4 news he could not promise not make cuts in the NHS.

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March on 20 OctoberMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:56

The TUC’s “A future that works” demonstration on Saturday 20 October (assembling at Embankment at 11 a.m.) will be an important opportunity to send a message of defiance to the government.

The bigger and more belligerent the demonstration, the more galvanised and emboldened people will feel going into the fights ahead.

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Protests grow in Spain and ItalyMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:52

Anti-austerity protests in Spain are continuing to grow, with many cities witnessing near-daily protests.

There were marches in 56 different cities on Sunday 7 October, mobilising tens of thousands of people. Around 60,000 people marched in Madrid.

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My City is a Hard FemmeMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:48

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a Toronto-based writer and activist.

Much of both her writing and activist work focuses on the struggles of LGBTQ people, particularly queer and trans people of colour.

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Industrial news in briefMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:44

Street cleaners in the richest borough in London will vote on whether to strike, with action likely to take place on 29 October if the strike vote wins a majority.

The workers, who are employed by contractor SITA in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, are paid £7.85 an hour — less than the £8.30 that even Boris Johnson admits is the minimum amount necessary to live a decent life in the capital. Their pay is also significantly lower than other workers working for contractors in London Boroughs; street sweepers in the City of London earn £8.30 an hour.

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Fighting low pay in retailMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:39

The GMB union has been conducting a campaign of demonstrations outside Next stores to highlight the issue of low pay at the high-street clothing retailer.

The union is demanding a pay increase for all staff, who are currently paid at the national minimum wage of £6.19 (for workers aged 21 and over). GMB wants workers to be paid at least £7.20 an hour, the “living wage” for workers outside London.

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Teachers' action escalates to strikeMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:35

Teachers at Bishop Challoner school in East London have voted to strike against increasing inspections and observations after their headteacher threatened to hold a mock OFSTED inspection.

NUT and NASUWT members already voted unanimously not to cooperate with any mock inspection, as part of their unions’ industrial action against excessive workload.

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The paradox of Hobsbawm

Submitted by Matthew on 10 October, 2012 - 11:32

The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm died on 1 October at the age of 95.

I will personally remember how, when I was a new undergraduate history student, Hobsbawm kindly replied to my precocious letter about the world financial crisis in 2008. That said, Hobsbawm was a political figure and deserves to be appraised politically.


Submitted by AWL on Tue, 16/10/2012 - 11:48

I haven't read that much of Eric Hobsbawm's writing and not for years, so I can't really say whether he had a "pre-occupation with party over class". For sure he rated the existence and line of the Stalinist Communist Parties over any living working-class struggle. But to explain why Hobsbawm and other Eurocommunists backed Kinnock over the Labour left as "party over class" seems to me off-beam.

I don't think this is his view, but Liam's phrasing implies that Marxists should prioritise "class over party". While in a 'first principles' sense this has an element of truth - because we put the goal of working-class self-emancipation higher than allegiance to any organisation as such - in practical terms it is misleading.

As Trotsky put it in 'What next? Vital questions for the German proletariat' (1932):

"When... Seydewitz [leader of the SAP, a left split from the Social Democrats] assures us that so far as he is concerned, "the interests of the class come before the interests of the party," [he falls] into political sentimentalism or, what is worse, behind this sentimental phraseology... screen[s] the interests of [his] own party. This method is no good... The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself. This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious. To say that "the class stands higher than the party," is to assert that the class in the raw stands higher than the class which is on the road to class consciousness.

"The progress of a class toward class consciousness, that is, the building of a revolutionary party which leads the proletariat, is a complex and a contradictory process. The class itself is not homogeneous. Its different sections arrive at class consciousness by different paths and at different times. The bourgeoisie participates actively in this process. Within the working class, it creates its own institutions, or utilizes those already existing, in order to oppose certain strata of workers to others. Within the proletariat several parties are active at the same time. Therefore, for the greater part of its historical journey, it remains split politically."

This was not said in order to justify the bureaucratic twists and turns of the German Communist Party. In fact 'What Next?' is in large part devoted to the idea that the Communist Party is betraying the interests of the working class. But of the idea that "the interests of the class come before the interests of the party", Trotsky says: "there isn’t the slightest need for this... theory in order to establish the necessity for a [workers'] united front [against the the Nazis, which the Stalinists opposed, or in general]."

I'm not convinced there is any need for it to explain Hobsbawm's support for Kinnock either. I think that rallying must have had more to do with the Popular Front, anti-class struggle politics which - as Liam explains - Hobsbawm had grown up politically with and then developed. Building on this tradition, the Eurocommunist current around Marxism Today had concluded by the early 1980s that working-class struggle had no prospects because the Thatcherites had 'hegemonised' such a big swathe of workers, and that the only alternative was a 'broad popular alliance' stretching from the Labour right to the Liberals and even Tory 'wets'. That included opposition to left struggles, however limited, for democracy and working-class policies in the Labour Party.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by LM on Tue, 16/10/2012 - 15:37

I agree with the thrust of what Sacha has said. I could have been more precise with my phrasing because in the article I unintentionally conflated the debate about party and class in Marxism with Hobsbawm's support for the Labour Party machine in the 1980s.

With reference to Hobsbawm and the 1980s I meant that in his autobiography where he justifies his support for Kinnock, Hobsbawm was overly concerned with the continuing integrity of the Labour Party, as against the prospect of it splitting up in the course of left-wing struggle. Sacha is correct in saying that the deeper roots of why Hobsbawm thought this were more to do his political Popular Frontism than it does any understanding of the nature of the proletarian vanguard- not least because the right-wards moving Labour Party was clearly central to any sort of 'broad popular alliance' in the absence of a sizeable CP.

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Continuing and renewing the traditionMatthewWed, 10/10/2012 - 11:25

In Solidarity 242 (18 April 2012), we began series of recollections and reflections from activists who had been involved with the “third camp” left in the USA — those “unorthodox” Trotskyists who broke from the SWP USA in 1939/40 to form the Workers Party, and the tradition they built (the Independent Socialist League, and later the Independent Socialists and International Socialists). Here, we reprint an extract from a speech by Phyllis Jacobson given at the “Oral History of the American Left Conference”, organised by the Tamiment Library in New York from May 6-7, 1983.

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