Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

British PM Cameron’s response to the Woolwich killing:

“In Britain, we have had these sorts of attacks before. We never buckle. The terrorists will never win because they can never beat the values that we hold dear.”

What values is Cameron talking about? Are they the values that the British Army brought to Iraq and Afghanistan? Those are the values of torture chambers and death squads. They are the values of death dealt on innocents from above at the click of a button. They are the values of those who destroy entire societies and kill hundreds of thousands based on conscious lies.

These are values that Cameron and most of the British political establishment do indeed seem to hold dear. And Cameron is entirely correct when he says that Islamic terrorists can “never beat” these values. Two lads with machetes, with a few camera-phones trained on them, versus the British and American military terror-machines with budgets in the billions – it’s no contest.

Imperialism creates Islamist terrorists when it blows up innocent people or occupies their countries.  ( Islamist terrorists help imperialism when they commit acts of terrorism in the imperialist countries. (For evidence, see any mainstream or far-right reporting on the Woolwich attack.) Military terror and individual terror reinforce each other in an endless cycle of death. David Cameron is, for once, telling the truth: British imperialism will not buckle. The English Defence League were on the streets in the blink of an eye. Individuals attacked mosques.

These two killers wanted to strike a blow against imperialism. “The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day… You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.” This is all true. But a lot of the other things they said stank of putrid theocracy, which nobody in Britain wants, even most Muslims.

The British people are capable of removing their government, fighting Imperialism and building a world free of racism and chauvinism. But a terrorist attack like this strengthens all elements and tendencies in British society that militate AGAINST any progressive development.

Revolutions are not made by handfuls of angry people conspiring and then striking violently out of the blue. Revolutions are made by the organised, democratic action of the masses, no matter what their colour or background. The terrorist fears the people, and strikes at the people murderously. At best the terrorist kills cops, soldiers and politicians for reasons that are not as immediately clear to the people as the immediate clarity of the horror of violence and the natural human sympathy this arouses.

This is especially true when the attack is reported on by a millionaire-owned media which ignores the killings of thousands in other countries by the British armed forces, and treats only one death with the sorrow and anger merited by every death. Nor is there any recognition from the media that British soldiers sign up knowing there is a risk of death and a likelihood that they will kill in an equally savage way. And killing in a deluded attempt to hurt the butchers of Iraq and Afghanistan is obviously less disgusting than killing for oil and imperialist pissing contests. I won’t write any eulogies for the dead soldier, not because I lack human sympathy but because I didn’t write any damn eulogies for any individual dead Talibs, insurgents or innocent civilians either.

The media might touch upon some of this context, although the politicians definitely won’t. Even the trick of shouting slogans into people’s phone-cameras won’t manage to convey any anti-imperialist message. Rather a bastardized, simplified version of what motivated these terrorists will be forever associated with, and discredited by, the horror of the individual death and the use of machetes. This is what the media will emphasize and this is what people will remember.

The values that Cameron and the likes of Cameron hold dear – the rule of the rich, imperialism, chauvinism – will withstand this attack, unbroken, unbowed, in fact strengthened.

The imperialists kill off-duty jihadis with drones (along with villages full of innocents). The jihadis kill off-duty imperialist troops with machetes.

The imperialists proclaim their reasons for killing through massive PR machines and media empires in print, on TV, online and in Hollywood. The jihadis have to ask passers-by to film them making statements with bloody machetes in their hands and a dead body in the background.

I have no desire to support either side in their campaigns of blood and destruction. The greatest threat right now is not that more British people will be blown up or hacked to pieces by terrorists, but that working people will be divided along colour, religious and ethnic lines, and fear and racism will fester. And those in power will puff out their chests as champions of some abstraction called “Britain”, and laugh all the way to the bank.


There’s a report that’s seen a lot of coverage in the British media that tries to outline a “new model” of social class in the UK. It’s very interesting to read and provides some useful facts and analysis.

At the same time it’s got massive problems that make its conclusions border on raving nonsense.

It identifies seven classes in society, ranging from the “elite” to the “precariat”. This is based on economic capital, but also cultural and social capital. These last two are foggy and uncertain concepts but still worthy of studying. Basically they mean, respectively, how much “high culture” does the person enjoy and how many rich friends do they have.

As a consequence, a person with an OK amount of money but who doesn’t have much cultural or social capital gets put in a separate class. Sure, it’s significant how many rich friends you have, though this is likely to be a reflection of your own wealth ninety-nine times out of a hundred; is it significant what type of culture people have access to and enjoy, significant enough that you have to make up a whole class?

How the classes relate to one another and through their interactions make up the society we live in; I’d have thought that was a really important matter, but the survey isn’t really interested in it.

The survey poses itself as against a “traditional” view of classes. Now I hold to what they might call a traditional view, that there’s a working class (a class that gives labour for wages), a capitalist class (a class that gives wages for labour) and intermediate layers of professionals, small businesspeople, etc. Imagine if the breakdown was as follows:

Capitalist class – 6%

Working class – 63%

Intermediate layers – 31%


As it happens, these figures are not from my imagination, they’re from the Great British Class Survey. Only that survey imposes artificial divisions. It pretends there are seven classes, rather than essentially two:


Elite – 6%

Established Middle Class – 25%

Technical Middle Class – 6%

New affluent workers – 15%

Traditional working class – 14%

Emergent service workers – 19%

Precariat – 15%


So the biggest group are the Established Middle Class! The report says that the “Traditional working class” is over-represented in old industrial areas and “traditional working-class occupations” are over-represented in it.

“It is for these reasons that we might see this class as a residue of earlier historical periods, and embodying characteristics of the “traditional working class”. We might see it as a “throwback” to an earlier phase in Britain’s social history, as part of an earlier generational formation.”

We’ll come back to that.

But why are four categories of workers divided into separate classes? The only significant difference between “traditional working class” and “emergent service workers” that the survey notes is that “traditional working class” people seem to have “reasonable house price” while “emergent service workers” earn about £8,000 more per year. “New affluent workers”, meanwhile, earn only about £7,000 more than “Emergent service workers.” The “Precariat”, meanwhile, have very low income as well as cultural and social capital.

Do these differences signify separate classes? Do these layers have distinctly separate interests? Do they have clearly differentiated roles in society?

No, of course not.

If you chop the working class into four and stick the words “emergent” and “new” onto two of the categories, is that enough to convince me that there are seven classes?

No, of course not.

The working class makes up the majority in society, in Britain around 63%. Some are poorer than others and some know a bit more about opera. But we haven’t entered a classless world just because they’ve closed the pits and the mills.

What is the Working Class?

The authors of this report seem to think that Working Class is a historical stereotype, a vague memory, a ghost haunting the present rather than a living social force.

I was once handing out leaflets on a street when a man stopped to challenge me on the use of the word “working class” in the leaflet. He was only interested in needling me, the way some people are, so the discussion wasn’t fruitful. However from that conversation and many other sources I’ve built up some of the general ideas that people seem to associate with the phrase “working class”:

Living in a city, working in a factory (or sometimes a mine), the working-class person wears overalls and a flat cap and is probably racist. Another variety of working-class person is one who lives in a council housing estate and is unemployed, improvident, substance-abusing and sexually irresponsible.

These are historically-originated and politically-loaded stereotypes, the latter enjoying little existence outside the Daily Mail. They are not scientific designations of class.

Society under capitalism is fundamentally divided in two. On the one hand a small class controls credit and most of the wealth in society, and its members invest that wealth as they please. This is the capitalist class. On the other hand the majority use their physical abilities to create the goods and provide the services to keep society running. Each individual in this class must find a capitalist to hire them, or they will not have access to wealth.

This is the key distinction in capitalist society. Not how many rich friends you have or whether you can play the piano. The question is: do you work or do you own? Which side of the equation “labour + capital = product or service” are you on?

There are nuances of course. What about farmers? What about students? What about small businesses? What about academics? These are subordinate questions.

To state that society is divided into labour and capital is not to paint the final portrait of capitalism; it is to draw the first faint lines on the canvas which will be entirely invisible when the painting is completed, but which determine the position of every major feature of the picture. All minor details are dependent on, necessary adjuncts to, or irrelevant deviations from it.

Logically, the position that there are no classes anymore, or just shades of middle class, is nonsense. How could Capitalism function without a working majority to create the products and provide the services?

How could it work with a majority that was idle, or who were significant property owners? Academics, administrators, salespeople etc all play an important role. But how could a society function that was made up entirely or mostly of people working these kinds of jobs? What would they have to administer, and what would they eat, and what would they wear? How would they get to work and who would have built their houses? Where would their energy supplies come from?

Such a society could not exist.

How then can you possibly say that there is no working class, or only a very small, dwindling one that belongs to another age?

The confusion arises to a large extent because of the international, globalised nature of capitalism today. The workers who make most of my consumer goods live thousands of miles away. Their factories collapse and burn and I hear about them on the news, and that and the t-shirt touching my skin are the only individual connection we have.


Those who say that Ireland (or indeed Britain) has no working class are forgetting not only that without workers, no society can function. They’re forgetting that the Bangladeshi, Chinese and Saudi working classes (and those of many other countries) play a very serious role in the Irish economy.


The scarcity of the stereotype of the industrial worker in many advanced capitalist countries is not therefore a sign that “we are all middle class now”.

We have reached a level of technological sophistication in which a complex machine is assembled in several different places; we have reached a level of organisational sophistication and market lunacy in which products are flown all over the world chasing the cheapest labour and the most profitable consumers; we have reached a level of financial sophistication (and again, lunacy) in which unviable capitalist economies can be propped up for years by a gambling capitalist class.


But we have not reached a stage in history where consumer goods and machinery fall from the sky. We have not moved beyond class or towards “A New Model of Social Class”. To slice up the working class into four separate classes is nonsense.

I’m going to start this post with a pretty long quote. It’s shocking and scary and makes me very angry but also very resolute.

A CEO of a major agri-business corporation said the following to author Andrew Harvey in the early 1990s. You can find this quote on Progressive Commentary Hour podcasts or in Harvey’s book “The Hope” which is on Google books.

Rio [climate change summit] will accomplish absolutely nothing because you do-gooders are so naive about the real world. Most of you that I have met truly believe that if the CEOs – like me for instance – really knew what harm their corporate policies were doing, they would rend their Armani suits, fling out their Rolex-wreathed arms, burst into tears and change. This is madness, it shows how little you dare to know about what is really going on. And how can you even begin to be effective until you understand what you’re up against?

Let me tell you what you’re up against. You’re up against people like me. I know exactly what my company is doing, and what devastation it is causing to thousands of lives. I should know, I’m running it. I know and I do not care. I’ve decided I want a grand, gold-plated lifestyle and the perks and jets and houses that go with it, and I will do anything – bend the law, have people removed, bribe local government officials, you name it, to get what I want. I know, too, that none of my shareholders care a rat’s ass what I do or how I do it, providing I keep them swimming in cash.


The [left-wing activists] that I meet are frankly bliss-bunnies, about as useful in the real world as a rubber ball would be in a war.”


This blissful bunnyhood of seekers and the offensive self-righteousness of activists make it very easy for people like me to control the world. I know too, by the way, that the dark forces I play with are also playing with me. […] I’m willing to pay that price in return for the pleasure of being able to afford this restaurant. In return for being able to ring up the President of the United States on my personal phone in front of houseguests just to impress them. Am I getting through to you?


I’ve done a couple of posts on how billionaires justify having more wealth than they could possibly ever use. It’s important to argue hard and refute this nonsense because it goes out into the world backed up by a lot of resources and it convinces a hell of a lot of people.

But now and then, as above, the wealthy and powerful let their guard down and are totally frank about what’s going on in the world and what role they play. Our arguments against capitalism are not directed at the capitalists themselves because there is a general tendency among groups of people to believe what it suits them to believe.

The Problems

The human race faces environmental destruction that could lead to extinction. The vast majority of us as a species suffer poverty and exploitation. Almost a billion are hungry. Imperialist wars plague the world. The most highly-developed parts of the world are in an economic crisis which seems absolutely intractable. As a species we have the material and intellectual means to solve all of these problems. However, we live in a society where the rich control the lion’s share of the wealth and invest only on the basis of profit. A state which is supposed to lessen the bad effects of this in fact more often helps the rich.

This rich class is, in general, aware of its crimes and is indifferent.

The Solution

We need to work towards imposing the democratic control of workers over the land, factories, banks, transport systems, natural resources and governments. If we fail to do this and then to plan the economy toward ecologically friendly ends, nothing resembling civilisation is likely to survive the 21st century.

How We Get There

Many have already realized the need for socialism. But among them there are many that say that the “old” ideas of “Vanguardism” are

A poster for Syriza, the Greek anti-capitalist broad coalition party

A poster for Syriza, the Greek broad anti-capitalist alliance

outdated, failed examples of “Toy Bolshevism”, and that we need alternative structures for socialist organisations. It is an interesting debate and worth engaging with. Syriza, a broad coalition of left-wing forces that has gathered huge support in Greece, is often held up as a model.

Broad “pluralistic”, “meeting-place-of-ideas” kind of parties are nothing new, nothing objectionable to anybody on the left, and – most importantly – nothing you can summon up on the spot! This side of the argument, that there should be a broad mass left workers’ party that may not have the perfect programme, but embraces lots of workers and young people, is not part of any argument. Practically everyone accepts that these things should exist and would be beneficial.

The other side of the argument is the part I want to dispute. This is the assertion that relatively small, centralized, highly-organised and politically homogeneous revolutionary parties should not exist.

There is a variance of positions on this ranging from objection to certain features of revolutionary parties ( to total exasperation at those parties and a barely-expressed wish that they would dissolve, pool their members and resources, and form a Syriza that everyone can enjoy.

In Ireland this question is particularly keen because the only two discernibly socialist and significantly-sized parties ( see themselves as revolutionary vanguard parties in the Leninist sense. To others on the left this is a constant source of irritation…

…because they have no organisation of their own and unfortunately enjoy very little success in trying to build one. Which is of course not really the fault of the Socialist Party or Socialist Workers’ Party!

The Socialist Workers’ Party in Britain

The result of all this is that, particularly after the fragmentation of the British Socialist Workers’ Party, a lot of people are giving a lot of stick to the idea of a revolutionary party. “Why,” I’ve heard them ask, “Would you organise a party along the lines of an organisation set up a hundred years ago in a semi-feudal autocracy?”

As if the reason for the SWP’s downfall was too much Bolshevism! Most of its members are very admirable but the fact is the SWP has always had a consistently poor analysis and an inability to admit its own mistakes. Its strategy and tactics have always been dishonest and sectarian, with a proliferation of false banners (People Before Profit, Right to Work, Students Against Fascism, €nough!, Unite the Resistance in the last few years in Ireland alone). The Comrade Delta affair was disgusting in its own right but was a lightning-rod for members’ grievances on many other issues and with the party generally. (

Given a long period of Capitalist stability and the constant pressure toward opportunism, sometimes overcompensated for by a cosmetic ultra-left turn, you can see why organisations go bad. In the case of the Healyites, you can see why they go spectacularly bad.  None of this is specific to a revolutionary party.

“Toy Bolshevism”

What are the essential elements of the criticism of the revolutionary party sometimes expressed with the term “Toy Bolshevism”?

  1. A fear of centralisation leading to authoritarianism, in the vein of the right-wing historians who would, if they could, examine Lenin’s shite for the seeds of Stalinism.
  2. A view that revolutionary parties have been impotent and unsuccessful in achieving any significant victory for workers. Apart from Russia of course. And, closer to home, the poll tax. And, even closer, the water charges. And Gama. And the household tax…
  3. A view that the activity of revolutionary parties seems pointless. That instead of the incremental bread-and-butter work of politicising, fundraising, supporting campaigns and strikes, demonstrations, stall and paper sales, there should be… Here falls a strange silence. Or else plans about productive enterprises to finance a mass workers’ party and a “left media” to spread its message. Which of course would be wonderful.
  4. The idea that the members of a revolutionary party have a grandiose sense of their own importance, that they imagine themselves storming Leinster House in the short term, that they count on “an insurrectionary movement from Mars” falling into
    Communist insurrection on Mars? I think there's a videogame where that happens

    Revolution on Mars? I think there’s a videogame where that happens

    their laps. In fact such parties are aware of their own weaknesses organisationally and numerically and in terms of their influence on the class. They are nowhere near the finished product, anymore than society as a whole is ripe for insurrection. But they are in the process of fashioning the necessary party and see it as a very urgent task. This is why they recruit, sell papers, educate, maintain their independence, defend their programme and participate in other forms of what independent lefts often judge to be “sectarian” activity.

Often, however, the objections seem to point to a longing for a more laid-back kind of party. One that is less centralized and which demands less challenging activity of its members, and which would be more broadly appealing politically. One which could be all this but still make a massive difference to the situation now if not sooner!

Problems of a “less revolutionary” revolutionary party

In many countries worker militancy has been sapped, traditional organisations such as trade unions and labour parties destroyed or won over by the right. The only forces to survive the onslaught of capitalist triumphalism in the ‘90s and ‘00s were the revolutionary parties. This tells us two things.

Firstly, it illustrates the weaknesses of more broad-left parties, which are useful in an upswing of labour struggle but which change not just in size but in substance in periods of demoralisation. This if nothing else is an argument for a solid, organised revolutionary party.

Secondly, it explains why people on the left have such strong objections to revolutionary parties. The difficulty of building new mass workers’ parties, which the so-called “Toy Bolsheviks” have always given their all to, has provoked a certain sourness. “Here we are five years into the crisis, and still no significant left alternative!”

People often fail to see that this is a consequence of matters such as the smashing of the British trade unions under Thatcher in the UK, and twenty years of social partnership in Ireland. There being no serious avenues of struggle and a defeatist leadership, demoralisation has been a strong element of the mood in Ireland. But a misdiagnosis of the problem sees people on the Irish left claim that if the Trots loosened up a little and did X, Y and Z, they would grow massively. But hang on. Making your politics more chilled-out and becoming more flaky, disorganised and unable to act in a concerted manner – how would this help to further the cause of workers?

An old-school analogy

The ancient Greek generals knew that a small number of soldiers organised and trained to fight in a phalanx, a tight formation of spears and shields, could see off an enemy many times its size. It was an unstoppable collective machine. Its power was in its organisation, training and weaponry. If a general could somehow gather unstoppably huge numbers of people, in some exceptional circumstance, of course he could win battles without the need for training or strong organisation. But such an army, once panicked and routed, is hard to rally, will be cut down by the enemy in an everyone-for-themselves rout, and leave only traumatised and depressed survivors and many who surrender. A phalanx suffers during a rout but is on the whole solid, and is prepared to weather adversity, withdraw tactically, and remain intact for the next advance.

Basically what we need is a couple of syntagmas in Syntagma Square

Basically what we need is a couple of syntagmas in Syntagma Square

In the same way a centralised, revolutionary party is capable of punching above its weight in society. It makes its decisions democratically with full freedom of debate, but once the decision is made it works in a united fashion to achieve its goals. It has a full-time apparatus to allow it to intervene effectively. I don’t pretend that there are any revolutionary parties in the world today that function in such a well-organised fashion but parties that aspire to the Leninist idea of the revolutionary party have strong elements of the phalanx about them and are constantly trying their hardest to grow in numbers and to improve in organisation.


Remember the quote I posted at the start of this article. “Am I getting through to you?” asks the CEO. He certainly got through to me. Faced with the horrors wrought on the world by capitalism and the extremely powerful interests that keep it that way, military analogies such as the above are absolutely appropriate and are in no way grandiose.

A party which has a flaky approach to politics and organisation will not impress the working class or give the impression that it cares or understands keenly enough. Such a party is not up to the everyday challenges of the class struggle because it cannot intervene effectively. Nor is it up to the task of challenging the likes of our CEO who simply laugh at ineffectual “bliss-bunnies”.

The key task for anyone who wants to change the world is to build organisations – thinking machines with maximum discussion on all subjects from everyday campaigning to philosophy, and at the same time fighting machines to advance the power and confidence of ordinary people and to provide leadership at crucial moments. We are of no use on our own, each of us. The benchmark for your success as a socialist activist should be how well you build, qualitatively and quantitatively, a revolutionary organisation.


The danger of “bureaucratisation” is constantly hyped by the critics of the revolutionary party and grossly inappropriate references to Stalinism are frequently made. But even if this danger were to begin with historically relevant and then magnified a thousand times greater than they paint it, it would not be as great a danger as the danger that every one of us might someday die without having dispossessed and humiliated that CEO and fixed the horrors he and his class are responsible for. Read over the quote again. It might almost have been fabricated by some frustrated activist who wanted to provoke complacent leftists into action. “Am I getting through to you?”