Author Archives: nineteensixtyseven

‘Free speech’ and Willetts: Thoughts on the student movement

Almost a week ago, Cambridge Defend Education activists disrupted a lecture by the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, on ‘The Idea of the University.’  In doing so they provoked a wave of liberal hand-wringing and opprobrium from academics, all sections of  campus establishment politics and their own student union.

I admit that I was surprised by the myopically misplaced direction of energy towards condemning fellow students at a time when Willetts’s White Paper poses such an existential threat to Higher Education as we know it.  I know now that perhaps I shouldn’t have been.  The reaction provoked a lot of fundamental questions for me about the nature of the student movement as a political force; about ‘the student’ as a social category; and about the relationship between these two related phenomena and wider society.   The lay of the land has been thrown into sharp relief and that is immeasurably valuable.

One thing which struck me was the banal uniformity of the response from detractors.  It was almost as if everyone had internalised the bland Aaron Porter-style condemnation-speak which is itself a regular feature of political life.  The culture of condemnation is deeply-rooted; we saw it at Millbank and during last summer’s London riots, to give only two recent examples.  It is a form of collective ritual through which liberal bourgeois society attempts to reinforce its normative values, and seek assurance that its hegemony over public discourse remains in place.  By doing so it marginalises dissent through self-righteous hectoring and vapid moralizing, both of which were in large supply in Cambridge throughout the past week.  When that doesn’t work, out come the plastic bullets.

Not only was much of the criticism predictable but it lacked any self-awareness of the terms in which it conducted itself.  Rare were discursive and critical analyses of terms such as ‘free speech’ or any attempts to contextualise Cambridge Defend Education’s actions within the broader power-relations of the society we live in.  The basic equation was thus: a man was speaking, he was interrupted, ergo his right of free speech was transgressed.  Orwell once quipped that ‘there are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them’ and no more so than in this case.

To explain we must first situate the arena of speech and the speaker himself in a social-historical context.  A lecture, in the University of Cambridge, by a government minister, on the ‘Idea of the University.’  Once upon a time this would have been undoubtedly an impeccably progressive arena and there could be little justification for interfering with the free exchange of ideas within it.  One can almost imagine the priggish dons reaching for their copies of Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and using it to eulogise about the merits of the University as a space for free and critical debate.  This romanticised vision typical of the period bourgeois ascendancy is implicit in many of  the wasted column inches from the student epigones of broadsheet opinion-formers.  Sadly, these hopeful ink-slingers for the ruling class have only imbibed the opening chapters of Habermas’s paradigmatic tome.  They can’t deal with the rest.

Willetts, as a government minister in charge of Higher Education, backed with the state’s coercive and ideological apparatus, with immeasurable influence on and access to the print and visual media, is not just one of many voices striving to be heard on the idealised level playing field of the public sphere.  Behind him stood the lines of riot police who so brutally attempted to cow the student protests of the past year.  From his mouth spoke the legions of professional propagandists in the Conservative Party press department who are in no small part responsible for the euphemistic and dishonest defences of the Higher Education White Paper to be found in the Tory Press.

This is because what capitalist society built up in promoting purely formal conceptions of individual rights and citizenship against the ramshackle privileges of the ancien régime, it undermined through the creation and reproduction of a new division of labour, wealth and power, denying in practice much of what it promised in theory.  Thus, the liberal political sphere, theoretically status-blind and inclusive, has in reality become a question of access to print media and the appeasement of advertisers; of the exercise of public or private power.  The debate on the future of education, so effectively closed down by a government which has consistently ignored the voices of students, academics and the several universities who have passed votes of no confidence in the minister in charge, has been replaced by a false substitute, a crude caricature, a laughably inadequate simulacrum; a university lecture series open only to a privileged few.  To argue that its disruption was a grievous transgression of free speech, tantamount to spitting on intercepted samizdat,  is almost offensive.  We did not disrupt free speech; we smashed the representational phantom which was posing as the real thing.

This leads me to the issue of the student as a social category.  Having seen the waves of solidarity messages from students, workers and well-wishers outside Cambridge which followed the Willetts disruption last Tuesday, and having heard of the impact of the action on student activists at other universities, has reinforced the conclusion that to speak of ‘students’ as anything approaching a unified social and political constituency is dangerously misleading.  Erik Olin Wright, for instance, defines the student as a transitional category, to be defined in relation to student’s class trajectories; that is to say, his or her background and the bearing that it plus education is going to have on the student’s eventual position in the class hierarchy.  This I largely agree with, recognising the temporary specificities of the student experience (with spaces for socialisation, access to resources, relative abundance of leisure time etc but no real leverage over production in any meaningful way), as well as the impact these have on the forms of political activism.

Two main things flow from this.  One immediate conclusion is that the disruption of the Willetts talk should not be seen as a tactical error when seen as part of a totality.  When the focus is restricted to Cambridge, it may certainly seem that way, but it has helped inspire a further wave of occupations and emboldened activists and workers ahead of November 30th.  In other words, Cambridge is not a microcosm of anything besides itself so we must resist the urge to generalise purely from local experiences or be discouraged that liberals got upset.  That the barricades have been thrown up is a good thing; it shows who is serious about challenging the government and who is not.

(Admittedly I have used a tactical division to explain a social and political divergence and there will be some people who genuinely and in good faith have problems with the specific action.  That I completely understand, whilst still disagreeing with.  However, I would contend that a sizeable constituency of those condemning the action are in fact acting in bad faith, hiding behind the convenient ‘defence of free speech’ to justify their own passivity in the face of the assault on Higher Education.  The test will be who is able to set aside tactical disagreements in the spirit of unity going forward and who, on the other hand, has no interest in this at all.)

On a wider level, this analysis calls for a transcendence of the mere rhetoric of student and worker unity into realising that many students are in fact workers or are imminently going to become dependent on the wage-system.  November 30th must not, therefore, become only a show of solidarity between disparate forces but part of the process to inculcate the idea that there is an essential sociological unity between large sections of Britain’s increasingly socially representative student body and the wider working-class.  The picket lines, therefore, are not only the first line of defence against education but take on an educative role themselves in a dialectical process.

It follows that there will class antagonisms within the student body as the fight against the government intensifies.  We should not flinch from the “centrifugal tendencies of the class struggle” because we have a higher goal than the mere sectional defence of student interests.  We are engaged not only in a defensive struggle; we believe that we can unlock the potential within this movement to create a new and better society.  We shouldn’t let misplaced and myopic hysteria stand in our way.


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‘I’m in favour of capitalism, just for the record.’ *

by Liam McNulty

Ed Miliband set out his stall at the Labour Party Conference last weekend in Liverpool but behind the rhetoric about breaking from neoliberalism, Labour’s role in stabilising the capitalist system in general is all the more starkly revealed.

One of Miliband’s central messages was to divide UK companies into two categories: ‘producers’ such as Rolls Royce and other manufacturing firms, and ‘predators’ such as RBS and the riskier elements of the financial sector.  Never mind the fact that Rolls Royce is the UK’s second largest arms company, producing the military hardware to realise imperialism’s ‘predatory’ drive, this distinction is fundamentally wrong.

Firstly, the division between manufacturing and finance is by no means clear-cut.  Large manufacturing companies such as General Motors and Ford in fact make as much of their profits from financial operations, for instance in selling insurances through subsidiaries such as GMAC Financial Services, as they do selling cars.  Secondly, it was the very crisis of profitability in industrial production in parts of the advanced capitalist economies which led to the boom of cheap credit and runaway financial profits in the first place, as falling wages squeezed consumption and created a chronic demand problem.

However, what the distinction lacks in purely economic terms it arguably makes up for politically.  As the Financial Times point out, Miliband is riding a wave of anti-finance, anti-banker sentiment which has seen the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, come out in favour of a financial transaction tax.  Moreover, it has strategic importance on two counts.  Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has laid bare the Tory Party’s reliance on funding from financial capital which counts for over half their income.  Not surprisingly, Peter Hain has jumped on this as evidence of the Conservative’s subservience to the City.

Also, it reflects a real unease within manufacturing capital and intelligent ruling-class circles about the systemic risks posed by runaway finance.  Even George Osborne has doffed his cap to the need for some separation of savings and investments, and don’t forget that even though some fractions of capital are profiting nicely from the crisis and the subsequent bailout, it will take years at the current rate of GDP growth to reach pre-collapse levels of output.  As Larry Elliott wrote back in July: ‘The UK economy is smaller today than it was in 2006 and is crawling out of the deep pit into which it plunged in 2008 at a snail’s pace. There was a 6.4% drop in output over six quarters during 2008 and 2009, and since then gross domestic product has increased by 2.5%. You would have to go back to the 1930s to find an economic recovery so slow and so feeble.’

What does this mean for the socialist left?  With regard to the focus of agitation, it calls for a re-think of incessant targeting of finance and bankers as the root of all evil.  A disdain for finance-capital, though rational and popular, is on its own not necessarily socialist, or even left-wing.  Fascists too have historically denounced finance as a parasitical growth on the productive capacity on the nation, and now Miliband and Barroso are getting on board.  It may even be negative, shifting focus from what capitalism actually is -a form of social relations which is based on the exploitation of surplus value from wage-labour by a small minority who own the means of production as well as the means of exchange- towards a particular aspect of capitalism, finance, which can be safely isolated and held up as an anomalous problem in an otherwise sound system.

What is required now is to shift to a focus on the system as a whole; pointing out the inter-relatedness of finance and manufacturing, the exploitative nature of the wage system and the need not only for the expropriation of the banks but also the struggle against capitalism in the work-place, the engine room of capitalist production itself.  We can’t let Labour off with deliberately narrowing the terms of the debate.

* Ed Miliband to Kirsty Wark on Newsnight.  

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“Enough of this UAF triumphalism!” – How to Fight Fascism.

By Chris Page

So, in the aftermath of the much-hyped EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlet’s earlier this month, the common slogan seems to be “They did not pass!” Anyone who knows their anti-fascism history will know this as a reference to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, where the noble actions of residents, activists and trade unionist stopped Oswald Moseley’s Union of Fascists from entering Cable Street.

Let’s be clear on a few things: firstly, the EDL did, essentially, march. This is in spite of Theresa May’s reactionary attempts to prevent this from occurring. The EDL travelled as a large group across London, in a procession which essentially equated to a rowdy and noisy march, as well as back to their coaches at the end of the day. Around 1000 people attended a rally at Aldgate Station, where Tommy Robinson spoke (after making a joke of dressing up as a Rabbai. He’s totally not racist, is he?) If anything, this proves that measures from the top down will not stop an Active demonstrations of fascism, something I have written on at length elsewhere.  The UAF organised demonstration certainly did march as well (good on them for doing so) but eyewitness accounts from the ground suggested that much of the anti-fascist demo was spent listening to somewhat clichéd speeches, and then a lot of waiting around, before learning that the EDL had left.

Hooray! We stopped them! They did not pass! Sitting at home, recovering from a major depressive episode, I watched the triumphalism pour over Facebook. Yet the question that came to my mind was “How?” The anti-fascists were separated from the EDL by a small army of riot police. The closest they ever got was a distant glimpse of England flags and the far-off discordant notes of “God Save the Queen.”

But let’s look at the grander picture. What did the anti-fascists achieve? Are we a step closer to stamping out the EDL? Did we win a decisive victory, or tackle a root cause of fascism – no. In fact, the UAF demo was, for want of a better word, passive. Tommy Robinson was arrested, but this will not kill off the EDL. Indeed, it seems to have galvanised support for them, as they can now claim that they have been deprived of their freedom of speech.

 A stalemate is food for thought – it suggests that it is time to reconsider tactics and ends. UAF’s response to Tower Hamlets suggests either a total divorce from reality, or a blind triumphalism. The latter is much more worrying – if the anti-fascist movement is willing to accept a stalemate as a major triumph, then it is clutching desperately at straws, albeit with a glazed and self-congratulatory smile on its face.


In doing so, the anti-fascist movement is entering dangerous territory, by playing into the hands of the state. Let us be clear: despite the bland assurances of mainstream politicians that they oppose fascism, it is they who are upholding, and, indeed, creating a system which breeds fascism. Even if there is genuine anti-fascist sentiment in mainstream politicians, it is almost childish in its simplicity. They are “evil” or “nazis” – whilst I would agree with both, to some extent, simple name calling does little more than de-contextualise fascism as a movement from its social circumstances.

Furthermore, it wasn’t the anti-fascists who prevented the EDL from entering Tower Hamlets, but the small army of riot police. On the surface, bravo! But on closer analysis, we see a worrying attitude by the state. Yes, the police kept the fascists out, but they allowed them to hold a large, static demo. The police, it would seem, played to role of a parent, trying to keep two feuding children apart. Credible eyewitness accounts suggest that the police were actually helping the EDL get to their demo, by giving them the monopoly over Tube travel to Tower Hamlets. When an EDL coach was targeted after driving into Tower Hamlets (not supposed to do that, are they?) the police launched a heavy crackdown in Mile End.

Can this really be called a demonstration, or simply a tame celebration of state power?


A potential counter argument comes to the mind: what, exactly, am I advocating? Am I simply annoyed that there wasn’t a good old fist-fight between Red and Nazis? Not at all.

It is important that we draw a distinction between so called “classical fascism” and the EDL. Broadly speaking, there are similarities – the racism, obviously, and the strongly nationalistic world view. That said, the EDL has more been more effective at masquerading its views as those of the workers. The EDL taps into, and claims to respond to, an Islamaphobic cultural hegemony, and claim to be the voice of the “ordinary” British person against a threat to the lifestyle of the British worker, an idealised lifestyle situated within the framework of extreme nationalism. “Classical Fascism” is exclusively nationalistic; that is to say it vehemently opposes class based internationalist ideologies (socialism, communism, anarchism). It may be verbally anti-capitalist but, in practice, destroys working-class organisations and leaves capitalist power relatively unscathed. The EDL give more a primacy to ideas of race, rather than economics. But, by the very fact that they are a fascistic movement, they stand for the same things as classical fascism.

What I am saying is this: EDL fascism masquerades as a working class ideology, when it is clearly not. It attempts to appeal towards the working class by offering simple solutions to their wage slavery and alienation. As Hal Draper writes, fascism often thrives on a lack of education – a burden the working class will feel more than ever in a country which is savagely cutting funding to education. James Cannon in Fascism and the Workers Movement (1954), writes that it is workers who must force a counter-movement to fascism because of fascism’s middle class appeal:

“The workers are the strongest power in modern society. If they show a resolute will to take hold of the situation and effect the necessary revolutionary change, the millions of desperate middle-class people—impoverished farmers, bankrupt small businessmen and white-collar elements—who have no independent power of their own, will follow the workers and support them in their struggle for power. This was demonstrated in the Russian Revolution of November 1917.

On the other hand, if the workers, as a result of inadequate or pusillanimous leadership, falter before their historical task, the allegiance of the middle-classes will rapidly shift to the support of the fascists and lift them into power. This alternative outcome of the social crisis was demonstrated in Italy and Germany.”


Let us sum up briefly: Fascism, including the form offered by the EDL, is not a working class ideology. Fascism opposes internationalist workers unity, and it substitutes class based politics for the politics of race, and nationalism. The origins of fascism are found in capitalist system, a product of the bourgeoisie, the ultimate reactionary movement when faced with the crisis of capitalism.

The sober lesson of history shows us that where the workers do not take action, fascism flourishes. In his essay “For a Workers United Front Against Fascism” Trotsky pinpoints a similar problem with the German left’s reaction to Nazism.

“If you place a ball on top of a pyramid, the slightest impact can cause it to roll down either to the left or to the right. That is the situation approaching with every hour in Germany today. There are forces which would like the ball to roll down towards the right and break the back of the working class. There are forces which would like the ball to remain at the top…The Communists want the ball to roll down toward the left and break the back of capitalism. But it is not enough to want; one must know how.”

The tragic flaw of the German left was the belief that a) the victory of fascism was certain but that b) the ball would roll to the left and fascism would be little more than the death throws of capitalism. Whilst the modern left does not see the victory of fascism as inevitable, it is drawing a similarly conclusion to the Stalinists of the 1930s though complacently claiming victory where none can be found. We may not be under threat of a immediate fascist dystopia, but we are ignoring the reality of the situation if we claim victory where there isn’t one.

Trotsky takes his analysis of “anti-fascism” further, in his later essay “Once Again on the Causes of the Defeat in Spain” (1939):

“The very concept of “anti-fascism” and “anti-fascist” are fiction and lies. Marxism approaches all pheneomena form a class standpoint. Azana is anti-fascist only to the extent that fascism hinders bourgeoisie intellectuals from carving out parliamentary or other careers. Confronted with the necessity of choosing between fascism and the proliterian revolution. Azana will always prove to be on the side of the fascists. His entire policy during the seven years of revolution proves this.”

Trotsky’s point here is the fascism is a threat to the working class, because it is anti-revolutionary. Despite having an anti-capitalist veneer, fascism can win the support of the bourgeoisie. In this case, Manuel Azana, the republican president of the Second Spanish Republic, was seen as an ally of the communist and socialist movements when the majority of the bourgeoisie supported Franco. Trotsky bemoans this as a tactical error; not only did this allow the bourgeoisie to set a limit on the workers revolutionary movement, but actively played into the hands of the bourgeoisie. In a world where the choice is socialism and fascism, Azana and other aspects of the bourgeoisie would, and did, choose to oppose socialism, which meant that they played into the hands of the Fascists. When Trotsky says that “anti-fascism” is “fiction and lies” he does not, of course, mean the ideology itself – but that, on its own, it is not enough. If you are anti-fascist, you must be for something; for a workers revolutionary movement, a true alternative to reactionary fascism.

I do not oppose UAF at all – I merely oppose seeing a victory where there isn’t one. They are, like the SWP and SP, comrades, and we have a common ground in our battle against fascism. I would not discourage anyone from going on a UAF demo – of course we must turn out against the EDL. Indeed, I would advocate a greater involvement in the UAF, so that (*hat of optimism placed on head*) we might change the organisation and methods of UAF. We must take advantage of the structures which are already in places to fight fascism, even though they are not, at the present time, perfect.

What is victory for the anti-fascist movement? We are we aiming for? If “victory” means standing behind a line of riot police until the EDL get bored and go home, then perhaps I’m in the wrong movement. I am not satisfied with a ban on marches, or the brief prison time of Tommy Robinson. Surely, “victory” would mean the EDL and other fascist organisations withering away. This cannot be accomplished by passive measures, but by countering fascist hatred with a genuine alternative, a workers movement committed to socialism.

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Ban the EDL?

By Chris Page

Recent events have thrust the ugly face of the European far right back into the mainstream view. Since it emerged that that Anders Breivik had links to the UK far right, particularly the English Defence League, mainstream debate has erupted on how we should now view and deal with the EDL and similar groups. For socialists, who have steadfastly taken to the streets against the EDL and BNP time and time again while the rest of the world obsessed over the spectre of radical Islam, such a debate is long overdue. However, my fear is that such a debate is inclined towards reactionary measures.

Take, for example, the suggestion that has recently been tabled, that we should consider banning the EDL or classing it as a terrorist organisation. On the one hand, there is something to be said for this approach. Banning this repulsive group would instantly prevent them from marching in our streets and attempting to spread their racist poison. It would supposedly mean that no more Muslims and activists would suffer violence at the hands of bigoted thugs (let us not forget the violent assaults carried out by EDL members); and it would, apparently, mean that the far right has lost another one of its teeth.

Having said all that, banning the EDL or classing it as a terrorist organisation is a very reactionary move akin to trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Consider the implications – politicians, in a rush to be seen to have tough measures on the far right after Norway, instantly crack down on the movement: it is a ‘progressive’ move, but from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. The EDL might be banned, but this will NOT prevent its members and sympathisers for continuing in their actions – “Yes, we have been banned”, the EDL would react, “but if anything that proves our point. It proves that the mainstream is sympathetic to the radical Islam we have worked hard to fight; it proves that the left-wingers and the Marxists are the ones who pull the strings; it proves, in the end, that we are right.”

If not ban the EDL, then what? This brings up the wider question of how we kill a movement. The answer, I think, is very simple, and it most certainly does not come from the reactionary measures of Parliament. What is needed is to tackle the Islamaphobic, anti-immigrant cultural hegemony that seems to dominate much of life in the UK. The EDL and other far-right organisations leech off the fact that it is quasi-legitimate to view the idea of multiculturalism with a deep suspicion, and to easily characterise Muslims as the threatening Other figure, much in the same way as Jews were characterised by the Nazis.  What is needed is a fundamental shift in the way in which people on the streets perceive these issues, and this is best accomplished through educating people. For example, around the time of the EDL demonstration in Cambridge, the Mosque held a fascinating and enlightening open day, which drew in many of the townsfolk and showed that Muslims are not the threatening Other, but a simply a different aspect of the Self, the Self we call “British”. Community education, organised autonomously against the anti-immigrant rhetoric of our government and right-wing press, will accomplish in the battle against fascism because it takes away the reason that they give us to fear.

​How will this kill the EDL? The best analogy I can think of is the short-lived pro-austerity movement, focusing around Rally Against Debt, earlier this year. The event was hyped up in the media as the start of Britain’s own Tea Party movement. Its organiser, Toby Young (a man who, despite being against public spending, wants government money to set up his own school. Tosser) portrayed it as a reasonable and sober alternative to the ‘anarchy’ of the student demos and TUC march of 26th March. My initial thoughts were of the irony of a group called the TaxPayers Alliance – 90% of whose members probably don’t pay much tax – but my more pessimistic side speculated that this could be quite terrible for the anti-cuts movement. What if thousands turned out? What if it seemed to the world that the people of this country were not unified against savage cuts? What if it did start a UK Tea Party?

The result? Around 200 people turned up to listen to Nigel Farage waffle about bailouts and the EU. It was so pathetic that instead of celebrating the start of a UK Tea Party, it celebrated its abortion.  A good summary of the events can be found here.

The “pro cuts” movement died because the people of this country didn’t want to join it. Granted, some of this would be to do with apathy, but also to do with scorn. People have seen through the rhetoric of “We’re all in this together” and have shouted back “No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts!” and, most importantly, they voted with their feet. This brings me back to the EDL – imagine what it would be like if the EDL called a demo, and five balding overweight football hooligans turned up, slurped Strongbow dejectedly in the rain for a bit and then slunk away. Now imagine if this were the case on every EDL demo. The EDL would wither away and quickly as a sprung up, not because it was banned, but because the people, the great masses of this country, voted with their feet and said “We don’t want you here.” That, if anything, is a much more powerful symbol of a multicultural and united UK.


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Some thoughts on the Norwegian Tragedy

by Liam McNulty

I thought I would break the relative silence which has prevailed on this blog since tragedy afflicted us and exam schedules interfered with the normal running of things by jotting down some thoughts on what happened in Norway.

What happened in Norway was not the work of a lone individual, or even a narrow group of individuals.  Breivik may have pulled the trigger but a much wider array of people bear a level of responsibility for what happened. The far-right ideas espoused by this man are extreme and repulsive, but they are only the acute expression of a more widespread discourse of division and intolerance which is sweeping Europe. The epochal construction known as the ‘War on Terror’ has established a discourse based on a binary opposition between Islam and the ‘West’ which has been the legitimation for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. An auxiliary product has been the demonization of Muslim people in Europe as a community and a narrative of Islamic ‘colonisation’ of the continent.  In Norwegian circumstances, with a long-ruling Labour Party and a traditionally small far-right, these ideas have been unable to gain popular traction so it was not unforeseeable that someone expressing them would turn to one of few alternatives- individual terrorism.

Some elements of the media have been keen to pathologise Breveik but this serves to confine the explanations for what happened to the realm of an individual psychosis. It ignores the deep reservoir of noxious far-right ideas circulating in particular networks and on the more right-wing fringes of the mainstream media. If one has any doubt about this, merely witness the reaction of the right-wing press and political establishment who rushed to pin this attack on Islamic extremism without a shred of evidence. Moreover, Breivik cited Melanie Philips of the Daily Mail in the 1,500-word rant that served as ideological justification for the attacks. Breivik did not exist in a vacuum and, in a twisted way, his actions were grounded in a certain political rationality, drawing from existing discourses which overlap worryingly with some quite widely-propagated ideas.

That Breivik attacked the youth camp of the Norwegian Labour Party, a gathering of young socialists and social democrats, should come as no surprise to any with the most basic knowledge of the history of fascism.  In Italy, Germany and Spain it was the working-class movment that was first to suffer after the institutionalisation of fascist violence. Breveik, however, was contemptuous of the traditional neo-Nazi strain of fascism and appears to be a part of a new far-right mutation oriented around an essentialist view of national ‘culture’ which decries multiculturalism and ‘cultural Marxism’- a right-wing inversion of bastardized Gramacianism.  In this country, the EDL best articulate this strain and the phenomenon as a whole is arguably a strategic repositioning of the far-right to capitalise on growing Islamophobia as well as a more spontaneous movement of declassé and alienated groups.

It is also a reaction against the failure of the traditional right, as yet, to seriously unsettle the political consensus. As such, it may be the case that it is confined to countries without large and electorally successful existing far-right formations (the UK, Norway) rather than states such as France where parties such as the Front Nationale have a degree of social weight and can act as a pole of attraction. The Progress Party in Norway was unable to accommodate Breivik and the EDL has little truck with the crisis-struck BNP. On the flipside, the eschewal of electoral tactics will inevitably lead to an increasing stress on provocative street marches and, predictably, violence.

  Of note, too, is the manner in which Norwegians have reacted to the recent tragedy, with an outpouring of national mourning and revulsion against this most heinous of acts.  It is an unthinking commonplace on the Left that all ‘nationalisms’ are bad.  In most cases this is true, but the ‘nation’, stripped of its ‘national’ (ethnic, linguistic etc) connotations, and reduced to the level of a collectivity of people is a potentially progressive force; much more so than the isolation and dispersal characteristic of the neoliberal vision, in any case, and especially when united in opposition to fascism. Therein could lie the roots of a progressive political project, based on a defense of a secular, democratic and multi-cultural Norway and fastened strongly to the labour movement.

  The far-right has now exploded into the public spotlight and more people are aware of the threat it poses. We on the Left, of course, have always been aware of this. The challenge now is to confront that threat.


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An analysis of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections

by Liam McNulty

In many ways last week’s election in Northern Ireland cemented several trends which have been under way for years.  Most obviously, the dominance of the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, continues.  Despite the Robinson affair at the beginning of last year, the DUP added two seats to their total, bringing them up to 38 on a similar vote share to 2007.  Sinn Féin, too, increased their representation on a slightly higher vote share.  Both the UUP and the SDLP lost 2 seats and will be wondering if they can ever close the gap on their Executive rivals.

A more recent trend has been the growth of the Alliance Party, adding 2.5% and 1 seat to its 2007 total.  This can be in part attributed to the higher profile of both Naomi Long and Justice Minister David Ford, as well as the relative stability of the power-sharing institutions which clearly favours a party more concerned with building on the status quo than raising the constitutional issue.  Although they have cemented their base in the east coast of the North, the challenge now will be for Alliance to spread out into constituencies such as East Derry or Upper Bann.

Although the SDLP also lost support, its situation is arguably not yet as critical as that of the UUP.  Despite the 1% drop in support from 2007, the SDLP still has a solid base in South Down and Derry, it polled strongly in Newry & Armagh and has 3 MPs at Westminster.  Moreover, it remains at least reasonably competitive in Strangford and should have added a seat in South Down.  However, it is certainly a much diminished force and questions have to be asked about its current leadership.  More fundamentally, it risks further marginalisation to pockets of support in the north-west and south-east of Northern Ireland, and perpetual relegation to second place in the Nationalist camp.  Nevertheless, with better leadership and a more professional apparatus it is not inconceivable that the party could pick up some seats or at least stem its slow decline- that is, if it doesn’t rip itself apart over the next period in post-election recriminations.

The same cannot be said of the Ulster Unionists.  It is difficult to identify any major Ulster Unionist strongholds left in Northern Ireland, a situation reflected in last year’s Westminster election wipe-out conducted under First Past the Post without the benefit of DUP transfers.  Tellingly, the only three constituencies where UUP got candidates elected on the first count (Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Newry & Armagh and Lagan Valley) are home either to ministers or party leadership candidates.  A few relatively high profile figures, transfers from other Unionist parties and a diminishing reserve of voters averse to supporting the DUP rabble does not a secure base for a party make…

Also worrying for the UUP is its virtual disappearance from Belfast.  With the loss of Fred Cobain, the party has just 2 of the capital’s 24 seats and even the Health Minister, Michael Gimpsey, only got elected on the 5th count. As Splinty has noted, this reflects the decline of the old ex-Vanguard urban unionism of Trimble and Empey.  Now in control of the party is the rural Border Unionism of Tom Elliott and his busload of pensioners and farmers who arrived at the Waterfront Hall to place him in the leadership.  One could almost hear the ghost of Harry West in Elliott’s ill-advised attack on ‘Sinn Féin scum’, an outburst which must have made hairs bristle in the boutiques of the Lisburn Road and it will no doubt hinder attempts to woo back the Independent former UUP MLA David McClarty.  This sits uneasily with the moderates such as Basil McCrea and Mike Nesbitt, which perhaps explains the contradictory and unfocused nature of the UUP in recent years; on the one hand, presenting itself as a party of non-sectarian civic unionism, and on the other trying to out-bigot the TUV.

The DUP and the Alliance Party have been the main beneficiaries of UUP decline, fulfilling their respective historic missions to rip the populist and liberal wings off the once dominant Unionist Party.  One year on from Irisgate, the DUP looks almost unstoppable in its eclipse of the other Unionist parties.  It managed to win seats all across Northern Ireland, and approaching the hegemonic status of the pre-Troubles Unionist Party, cutting across class and geographical boundaries.  The collapse of the PUP perhaps represents the final nail in the coffin for the populist Unionism of Tommy Henderson and David Ervine, but the declining turnout in working-class Protestant areas is a cause for alarm.

The results for the left were mixed.  Eamonn McCann was the left’s only viable candidate, and even then a victory for People Before Profit in Foyle would have been an upset.  Nevertheless, Eamonn increased his share of the vote from 2010 to a respectable 8%.  Gerry Carroll, also of People Before Profit, scored a commendable 4.8%, which exceeded the combined vote of the far-left in West Belfast in 2007.   A single far-left candidate, perhaps on the model of the United Left Alliance, could on a good day hope for around 8% in that constituency but instead the vote was divided between PBP, the Socialist Party, the Workers’ Party and Socialist Democracy (the Irish section of the Mandelite Fourth International).  Elsewhere, however, prospects are dim although the lower turnout suggests there is a growing amount of people dissatisfied with the current political system.  Whether the support of those people can be tapped is another question.

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We Are London Met Occupiers Evicted

by Liam McNulty

We have just received word that the London Met occupation has been evicted.  The occupation started on Wednesday in response to Vice Chancellor Malcolm Gillies decision to make 70% cuts to courses including Performing Arts, Philosophy and History.  In a statement released by the occupiers, it was noted that:

None of the university teaching staff was consulted about the cuts. A majority of the excellent, dedicated tutors are under imminent threat of losing their jobs. Students already enrolled on the courses face an uncertain future. There have been rumours about transfers to other universities with which WE DO NOT AGREE. This statement is our call for help to save our university, our future and our dreams: to keep London Metropolitan University open to everyone, regardless of their social class, wealth and chosen subject of study

Those who occupied the Graduate Centre of the Holloway Road campus were mainly first-year performing arts students who have been given no guarantees that their course will still exist by the time it comes for them to graduate.  The University is being ripped apart by a Vice Chancellor who wants to turn it into a much reduced institution, orientated towards the market and interested in nothing but turning a profit.

What is happening in London Met is a microcosm of the government’s wider national strategy.  However, writing in a personal capacity for Solidarity last week, LMU Student Union President Claire Locke pointed out the brazen class nature of the attacks on London Met: ‘The people who will be affected by these cuts are students from working-class backgrounds, parents, people who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come to university if it wasn’t for London Met.’

From the London Met Facebook page and blog it appears that police officers gained access to the occupation and, together with bailiffs and outsourced security guards, evicted the occupiers under threat of arrest.  In a statement posted tonight, the occupiers say:

The fight for our futures is now hanging in the balance. Please join us for a mass lobby of the Board of Governors on Wednesday at 4.30pm in Moorgate, to make a public protest to save London Met, and call for the resignation of Malcolm Gillies. This is disgraceful behaviour and such actions by Management should not be acceptable in a University environment.

This blog extends its solidarity to the campaign to save London Met.  The outcome of their fight is of the utmost importance to the wider struggle against the government and let it go forward, to victory.

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