General Election 2017: Who are the DUP?

Theresa May’s proposed ‘Conservative – Unionist’ coalition with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists is set to face Parliament. Concern across the UK has hinged on the anti-abortion and homophobic nature of the DUP, concern for Northern Ireland’s power sharing government and the likelihood of a hard Brexit. In light of this, Maev McDaid and Brian Christopher seek to answer the important questions: What are the historical circumstances from which the DUP were formed? What will this coalition mean for Tory policy? What does it mean for power-sharing in Northern Ireland? How will the UK’s only EU border fare?

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Background:

The cold reality of modern British imperialism was exposed by the recent Brexit vote, which had no inbuilt safeguards for Ireland. Britain partitioned the island in 1922 to suit its interests and risks doing so again. The EU border will now run along the British imposed border around the six counties still claimed by Westminster.

Ireland once represented a weak ‘back door’ to England’s enemies and was a security obsession. Today it’s often an afterthought. But when Theresa May announced her government today she included the word “unionist” in the name of the Conservative Party. Suddenly, England had remembered its quaint back garden. There it found ten Unionist MPs, fresh from a surge that has arisen from the latest phase of polarisation in the North of Ireland.

Who they are:

The BBC’s lowdown on the DUP tells us they are Eurosceptic, concerned with terrorism and looking for some low tax economic policies – a hugely sanitised version of who they really are. The DUP grew out of the virulently anti-Catholic congregation of Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church.  Many of its leaders have been associated with ian paisleyterrorism. And not just paramilitary loyalist terrorism, but also state-sponsored targeting of innocent Catholic civilians, and the assassination of lawyers and other civilian leaders.  Its former leader Peter Robinson was arrested and convicted of leading a loyalist mob across the Irish border and attacking an unarmed Garda station in 1986.

Moreover, the DUPs early leadership took anti-Catholic prejudice to heights unseen by the traditional Protestant establishment – borrowing far right anti-trade unionist tactics to destroy class struggle.

Stance today:

To really grasp who the DUP are requires a brief glance at their social policies. The party claims it is protecting ‘family values’ by opposing the extension of equal marriage to Northern Ireland. More than that they claim homosexuality is an abomination, but can nonetheless be cured.

Sammy Wilson, a senior figure, called climate change a “con”, on the basis that it was an inconvenient obstacle to agriculture. The DUP also promote the teaching of creationism and that the world is flat. Anti-abortion, too, has been a consistent policy of the DUP – mostly: ‘don’t have them’ or ‘die’ or ‘go to prison trying’.

One could easily group the DUP with UKIP or the BNP or Donald Trump. They are not new to us – Irish people have had to put up with their prejudice and corruption for years. They deny that the Irish language is anything more than a set of IRA code words. They practically bankrupted the Northern Irish assembly with a renewable heat energy scandal that benefited their own families and donors.

peter robinsonThe DUP rhetoric on political violence is pure deflection. Only days before they joined government with Martin McGuinness, they were using the term “Sinn Fein – IRA” and have always condemned terrorism, as the party leader Arlene Foster made clear in her speech. On the other hand, the party is linked closely to the UDA, which is widely seen as it’s preferred paramilitary. As recently as last year the party was channelling £5 million of public money to a UDA slush fund. If you can imagine rural Tories with a soft spot for Combat 18 you might start getting the right idea.

Why are they popular?

The Good Friday Agreement of 1997 was a landmark in challenging the deeply unfair setup in the six counties. Years of unionist domination, British military occupation, draconian anti-terror laws, overbearing security apparatus and state-sanctioned discrimination could finally be challenged and eliminated. In simple terms, it’s a three way compromise. Unionists got a commitment from nationalists that reunification of Ireland would be consensual; Irish nationalists got a more regulated relationships with British institutions, but also cross border co-operation, with both sides agreeing to disarm and share power.

In reality, this has meant the entrenchment of sectarianism in government. The need for “cross-community” consensus in both the executive and legislative assembly means members have to designate themselves as “unionist” or “nationalist”, enshrining the artificial rivalries that the British state created into constitutional law. The ‘zero-sum’ game of politics therefore continued and, without the need for the compromising skills of the SDLP or Ulster Unionists, the electorate was easily tempted by more sectarianism. Socialist class politics were squeezed out in the slow-burning carnival of nationalist reaction that followed.

Worst of all, the DUP’s eagerness for a hard Brexit and a far-right British government means it now finds itself as the powerbroker at the heart of Westminster. But this comes at a time when devolution has shifted devolved power from Belfast to de-facto “direct rule” from London. That puts the party in an unforeseen juncture where it may benefit the unionists to squander the opportunity to restore power sharing in favour of back-room dealings with Theresa May.

What it means for you:

This minority government is therefore intolerable to the electorate in Britain who cannot hold the DUP accountable and an affront to the people of Ireland whose fragile constitutional settlement has now been infiltrated by an explosive Trojan horse.  It is ian paisley arlene fosclear that the DUP are ready to give backing to Theresa May on a confidence agreement basis, if not a formal coalition. The Tories and their Ulster mutation share enough common ground to allow for a fairly easy relationship to exist. This means we should not rest any hope on the irreconcilability of one reactionary party with another. But neither should we underestimate the rigidity of the DUP – Paisley was famous for saying “No” and “Never” to every UK Prime Minister he met. One sticky issue could be a weakness the left could exploit. And the DUP’s dominance mean that they are charged with representing every unionist in Northern Ireland – a large working class base that will suffer disproportionately from austerity and the Tory attacks. Massive pressure needs to be placed on this weak and wobbly coalition.

There is also a strange reversal of fortunes now. Loyalism and Orangeism in Ireland were created to divide and rule the Irish working class. Now, the orange elite are lending their mandates to Tories to attack the working people in Britain. This is a strange and vulnerable situation for both coalition partners as it will lead to people raising questions about how the United Kingdom fails as a constitutional project to reflect the needs of ordinary people, whilst giving endless flexibility to our exploiters. These are questions we must raise as we hit the streets demanding a government that represents us all.

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Brian Christopher is a teacher in London and Maev McDaid is a PhD student in Sheffield, both are originally from Derry.

‘Voting for Closure’ Potent Whisper reflects on the election

The championing of ‘third way’ neoliberal policies under Blair, the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan marked, among other things, a turn against the Labour party for many people in the UK. Protest votes and abstention have long been a practice of the British Left, but Jeremy Corbyn looks set to change that. This blog, by rapper, Spoken Word artist and activist Potent Whisper, narrates this sea-change; describing his longstanding activism against the structural violence enacted by Labour and Tory governments and the hope for a progressive future that Corbyn’s leadership offers.

Watch Potent Whisper’s Rhyming Guide to Voting below.

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My name is Potent Whisper. I co-lead the ‘Save Brixton Arches’ campaign and foundedPotent Whisper Press Shot (New Radical) the anti-gentrification community group ‘Our Brixton’ which fuses art with direct action to support local housing campaigns. I have spent the past two years doing what I can to try and defend my community against the violence that Lambeth Council – a Labour council – inflicts relentlessly on its residents and those who work in the area. I have fought not only on estates, in the streets and at council meetings but I have witnessed also the suffering of friends and neighbours behind closed doors, in their most vulnerable moments.

So when it came time to inform a friend that I would plan to vote for the Party that is threatening to make her homeless under the guise of “estate regeneration” I could not do so without feeling some degree of shame. Not only could this decision potentially compromise my place in my community, but also my place in the hearts of people I love and respect. Making this decision to vote and campaign for Labour has been extremely difficult and one that I have not taken lightly.

I’d like to share my reasons for making this decision, and the thought process that led me here. Before I do though, I want to say – very clearly – that none of what I am about to write seeks to deny any of the violence that Labour councils have been carrying out, or the suffering that has come about because of them. To deny this would be to deny the truth and everything I have been campaigning against for years. Further, I want to make it clear that I will continue to campaign against Lambeth Council for the entirety of the election period – Labour or not.

In recent years it has seemed increasingly apparent to me that we need true political revolution in this country. For decades the British public have been sold dreams by politicians, only to be betrayed and abandoned by the people who were supposed to represent them. I can not think of one Party leader in recent decades who has represented the people before their own personal interests. For this reason, millions of people have sought change and their approach has typically been to attempt to use the system, to beat the system. They invest their time and energy into “playing the game” i.e. engaging with mainstream politics, joining a Party or attempting to get elected themselves; in the hope that they may – one day – get into a position of power and make the change we need. My view is that this approach is ineffective – at least to the degree that we require. The tragic truth is that the political system in itself seems designed – on all levels – to prevent any real change or true democracy from taking place.

On a national scale, this is evidenced when looking the voting system, disproportionate representation, the power held by unelected officials, or one of the thousand other examples I could give. Then on a local level, the virtual impossibility of making change by way of “proper”/ systematic process is evidenced every day, not least on housing estates across London. Look at estate regeneration/ estate demolition:

To start with, the official process of community consultation will be carried out after the decision to demolish an estate. When finally consulted, residents will vote overwhelmingly not to demolish. They will attend an official council meeting where only two residents will be given the opportunity to speak, for two minutes each. This is compared to the five minutes each, allowed for every councillor. The residents’ opposition to the demolition goes completely ignored by the council, and so they pursue a judicial review. The judge rightly rules in favour of residents, but the council challenges the decision – with their expensive legal team – and wins. Residents continue to organise, in a desperate attempt to save their homes, only to then be demonised by the council – who use their friends at the press to paint their victims as aggressors. This is just one of a hundred examples I could give of the system fighting those it should be working for.

Any attempt to achieve change within the current system seems simply futile. This is the reason I have only voted once before in my life, and the reason I have always opted to put my energies into direct action and organising in my community. Despite this, I have always had a voice at the back of my mind, almost tormenting me, asking me whether I am definitely taking the right approach to what I believe will be a lifetime of struggle.

Now, however, it seems that I have the opportunity to determine – once and for all – whether meaningful change can or cannot be achieved within this current system. This General Election, and Jeremy Corbyn, surely offers us the ultimate opportunity to determine whether controlled/ systematic methods of resistance can ever work, whether you can “play the game” and win, or whether we in fact need a revolution and nothing but a revolution.

Though Corbyn may not be a revolutionary, his “new kind of politics” is certainly radical in this political climate. He is proposing truly socialist policies/ ideas that serve the common person and completely oppose Tory/ New Labour ideology. If put into practice, they are policies that would directly better the everyday lives of millions of people across the UK. It has been noted that historically, Corbyn’s words have – more often that not – been accompanied by action. Despite the criticisms that some may have of him, the fact remains that he has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of those in his community and has knowingly risked his own personal liberty in the process.

I do not believe that we have ever had a British politician with such progressive views, who has been this close to getting into power. I don’t imagine that we ever will. Surely then this is the ideal opportunity to put the age old argument between “outright revolution” and “internal systemic reform” to the ultimate test. If Corbyn is successful in delivering what he promises as prime minister, then the majority of us will enjoy a better quality of life. If he fails, we will know once and for all that the system can’t be beaten. Surely?

It would not matter how Corbyn may fail; whether he loses the election outright or whether he wins and is then overthrown by New Labour MP’s. It would not matter that “the media was biased” or that “May didn’t give him enough notice before the election” or that “the whole establishment was against him”. If he were to fail, we would know then that this system – and all of its arms – does not/ can never work for ordinary people.

If Corbyn were to fail – despite the fact that he’s won every election he ever stood in – perhaps it would not be the end of the Left, but the beginning of real effective resistance. Perhaps it would bring new possibilities and spark an interest in exploring new/ more effective/ direct approaches to making change. Perhaps then I would be able to move forward with the certain knowledge that I am acting as effectively and efficiently as possible, based on what I would then know does not work – the current system.

Corbyn is the best chance at change that we have/ will have – within this system. I’m voting for Corbyn’s Labour because I want to know whether he can/ will deliver his promises as Prime Minister, to get some closure, to find out whether this system could have ever worked, or whether the majority of the Left have been betting on a horse that was born without legs.

My approach to this is quite simple: I will do whatever I can to help Corbyn get into power. If he wins and is successful in bringing the change he speaks of, then we will all be one big step closer to achieving a compassionate and prosperous society that – as he says – works for everyone. But of course we still won’t be there yet, and I will remain active. If on the other hand he loses, or if he wins but fails to implement his proposed policies for any reason, then I will again continue to remain active. Either way, the power is always with me/ us. Nobody represents me. I have no masters. I just have a vote, a bit of hope and a chance to get some fucking closure.

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Potent Whisper is a London based rapper, Spoken Word artist and community organiser. Visit his website: http://www.potentwhisper.com/

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This blog was submitted to Pluto, if you wish to send in a submission please email: florencesw@plutobooks.com

 

They cut, we bleed: Women of Colour’s Anti-Austerity Activism by Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel

The Violence of Austerity collects the voices of campaigners and academics to show that rather than stimulating economic growth, austerity policies have dismantled the social COOPER T03205systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship, exposing austerity to be a form of systematic violence.

This article, by Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel, highlights the political action undertaken by women of colour who, in spite of their adverse suffering at the hands of the Conservative government, have organised and fought against austerity policies.

In our 2017 General Election all of our books are on sale, Violence of Austerity can be yours for 50% off. Now £8.49!

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Sisters Uncut, the feminist collective fighting against budget cuts to domestic and sexual violence organisations and services in Britain, succinctly and powerfully captures the violence that austerity wreaks on women of colour with protest slogans like ‘Austerity is state violence against women’ and ‘They cut, we bleed’. Here we discuss how austerity, as both a political frame for this time of economic uncertainty and as a programme of asymmetrical and devastating cuts to social welfare provision, represents a form of epistemic violence that women of colour activists are compelled to confront and resist. By ‘epistemic violence’ we follow Kristie Dotson and refer to the ‘persistent epistemic exclusion that hinders one’s contribution to knowledge production’. We argue that this exclusion from knowledge production is a kind of violence that renders the Other, and in our case, women of colour and their experiences, invisible and inaudible to both policy-makers and ostensible social movement ‘allies’. We argue that there is little attention paid or action to combat women of colour’s poverty and inequality because there is a widespread assumption that poverty is an endemic feature of the experience of the racialised Other and can thus be ignored. Rather than treating austerity as a ‘new’ phenomenon, we argue that the concept of austerity is but the latest example of violently erasing women of colour’s persistent, institutionalised but unremarkable economic and social inequalities. What is ‘new’ under Britain’s austerity regime is the further undermining of women of colour’s economic security through the unprecedented roll back of the welfare state and its social protections. Thus, the epistemic violence of austerity represents both a discursive and material challenge to the agency and dignity of women of colour.

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Austerity and the Production of Hate by Jon Burnett

The Violence of Austerity collects the voices of campaigners and academics to show that rather than stimulating economic growth, austerity policies dismantled the social COOPER T03205systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship, exposing austerity to be a form of systematic violence.

This article, by Jon Burnett, highlights the troubling way that the government has manipulated public discourse to turn the population against some of Britain’s most vulnerable people. Burnett contends that the ‘scrounger’ and anti-migrant rhetoric espoused by politicians and their media mouthpieces is indivisible from austerity politics, helping to sustain it by obscuring its effects.

In the run up to the 2017 General Election all of our books are on sale, Violence of Austerity can be yours for 50% off. Now £8.49!

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This essay is about the ways that two forms of institutionally produced hatred – hatred targeted at migrants and hatred targeted at welfare claimants – have become closely interlinked by ‘austerity politics’. This chilling symbiosis has become apparent in a relentless barrage of headlines about migrant hordes, supposedly exploiting public services and undercutting wages, and the British benefit ‘cheats’ supposedly too idle to work and abusing the welfare state. As the Daily Express condemns the ‘millions’ of migrants grabbing ‘our jobs’, it celebrates the latest ‘blitz’ on British ‘benefit cheats’. As the Sun launches a war on benefits culture (‘leading the charge to rid Britain of a generation of scroungers’), it simultaneously issues a ‘red-line’ demand to the prime minister to ‘halt immigration from the EU’, claiming that ‘this is not racism … [i]t is a simple question of numbers’.

Such campaigns are organised separately. But they feed off and into each other. And they are replicated day after day to the point where they have become a routine aspect of popular culture. Both are voyeuristically treated inbenefits street television programmes like Benefits Street and Immigration Street. Those programmes stem from the same ideological enterprise: to reduce their subjects to objects of ridicule and contempt, turning human struggles into a sneering form of entertainment.

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2017 General Election Reading List – All books 50% off!

It is 2017 and for radicals we are finally seeing a candidate that we could vote for. Within our reach is the end of austerity, the restoration of the NHS, the improvement of the lives of underprivileged people and Britain that is not governed by Old Etonians, City boys and tax-dodgers. Vote, and Vote Corbyn! And, in case you needed convincing, here’s our selection of some of the best Pluto books on British politics.

Ahead of the 2017 General Election, all of our books are 50% off! Follow bit.ly/ELECTIONREADING to apply your discount code.

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The Violence of Austerity edited by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte

Was: £16.99 Now: £8.49

Austerity, a response to the aftermath of the financial crisis, continues to devastate contemporary Britain. Unless we vote for a change in government, it’ll continue; austerity is over in name only. COOPER T03205

In The Violence of Austerity, Vickie Cooper and David Whyte bring together the voices of campaigners and academics, including Danny Dorling, Mary O’Hara and Rizwaan Sabir, to show that rather than stimulating economic growth, austerity policies have led to a dismantling of the social systems that operated as a buffer against economic hardship, exposing austerity to be a form of systematic violence. Austerity is a class project, disproportionately targeting underprivileged and vulnerable people.

Covering a range of famous cases of institutional violence in Britain, the book argues that police attacks on the homeless, violent evictions in the rented sector, the risks faced by people on workfare schemes, community violence in Northern Ireland and cuts to the regulation of social protection, are all being driven by reductions in public sector funding. The result is a shocking exposé of the myriad ways in which austerity policies harm people in Britain.

 

Do I Belong? Reflections from Europe edited by Antony Lerman

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Was: £14.99  Now: £7.49

With a general election defined by party policies on immigration and Brexit, the notion of ‘belonging’, as both a political project and a human emotion, has never been more important. Since its foundation in 1957, the European Union has encouraged people across its member states to feel a sense of belonging to one united community, with mixed results. Today, faced with British departure from the EU, the fracturing impacts of the migration crisis, the threat of terrorism and rising tensions within countries, governments within and outside the EU seek to impose a different kind of belonging on their populations through policies of exclusion and bordering.

In this collection of original essays, a diverse group of novelists, journalists and academics reflect on their own individual senses of European belonging. In creative and disarming ways, they confront the challenges of nationalism, populism, racism and fundamentalism.

Do I Belong? offers fascinating insights into such questions as: Why fear growing diversity? Is there a European identity? Who determines who belongs? Is a single sense of ‘good’ belonging in Europe dangerous? This collection provides a unique commentary on an insufficiently understood but defining phenomenon of our age.

Authors include: Zia Haider Rahman, Goran Rosenberg, Isolde Charim, Hanno Loewy, Diana Pinto, Nira Yuval-Davis and Doron Rabinovici among others.

 

Voices from the ‘Jungle’: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp by the Calais Writers

Was: £14.99  Now: £7.49

Often called the ‘Jungle’, the refugee camp near Calais in Northern France epitomises for many the suffering, uncertainty and violence which characterises the situation of CalaiswritersT03221refugees in Europe today. Discussion of refugees is consumed by numbers and the media and Westminster all too often ignore the voices of the people who lived there – people who have travelled to Europe from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea: people with astounding stories, who are looking for peace and a better future.

Voices from the ‘Jungle’ is a collection of these stories. Through its pages, the refugees speak to us in powerful, vivid language. They reveal their childhood dreams and struggles for education; the wars and persecution that drove them from their homes; their terror and strength during their extraordinary journeys. They expose the reality of living in the camp; tell of their lives after the ‘Jungle’ and their hopes for the future. Through their stories, the refugees paint a picture of a different kind of ‘Jungle’: one with a powerful sense of community despite evictions and attacks, and of a solidarity which crosses national and religious boundaries.

Illustrated with photographs and drawings by the writers, and interspersed with poems. In the midst of an election obsessed by immigration, this book must be read by everyone seeking to understand the human consequences of this world crisis.

 

Against Austerity: How we Can Fix the Crisis they Made by Richard Seymour

Was: £14.99  Now: £7.49Seymour T02680

Why are the rich still getting away with it? Why is protest so ephemeral? Why does the left appear to be marginal to political life? In Against Austerity, author of Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, Richard Seymour challenges our understanding of capitalism, class and ideology, showing how ‘austerity’ is just one part of a wider elite plan to radically re-engineer society and everyday life in the interests of profit, consumerism and speculative finance.

But Against Austerity is not a gospel of despair. Seymour argues that once we turn to face the headwinds of this new reality, dispensing with reassuring dogmas, we can forge new collective resistance and alternatives to the current system.

 

Cut Out: Living Without Welfare by Jeremy SeabrookSeabrook T03123

Was: £12.99 Now: £6.49

Britain’s welfare state, one of the greatest achievements of our post-war reconstruction, was regarded as the cornerstone of modern society. Today, that cornerstone is wilfully being dismantled by a succession of governments, with horrifying consequences. The establishment paints pictures of so-called ‘benefit scroungers’; the disabled, the sickly and the old.

In Cut Out: Living Without Welfare, Jeremy Seabrook speaks to people whose support from the state – for whatever reason – is now being withdrawn, rendering their lives unsustainable. In turns disturbing, eye-opening, and ultimately humanistic, these accounts reveal the reality behind the headlines, and the true nature of British politics today.

Published in partnership with the Left Book Club.

 

How Corrupt is Britain? edited by David Whyte

Was: £16.99 Now: £8.49

A game-changing book. It should be read by everyone – George Monbiot Whyte T02913.jpg

Banks accused of rate-fixing. Members of Parliament cooking the books. Major defence contractors investigated over suspect arms deals. Police accused of being paid off by tabloids. The headlines are unrelenting these days. Perhaps it’s high time we ask: just exactly how corrupt is Britain?

David Whyte brings together a wide range of leading commentators and campaigners, offering a series of troubling answers. Unflinchingly facing the corruption in British public life, they show that it is no longer tenable to assume that corruption is something that happens elsewhere; corrupt practices are revealed across a wide range of venerated institutions, from local government to big business. These powerful exposés shine a light on the corruption fundamentally embedded in the current UK politics, police and finance.

 

 

The Rent Trap: How we Fell into It and How We Get Out of It by Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj

Was: £12.99 Now: £6.49

Deregulation, revenge evictions, parliamentary corruption and day-to-day instability: Walker T03066these are the realities for the eleven million people currently renting privately in the UK. At the same time, house prices are skyrocketing and the generational promise of home ownership is now an impossible dream for many. This is the rent-trap: an inescapable consequence of Tory-led market-induced inequality.

Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj offer the first critical account of what is really going on in the private rented sector and expose the powers conspiring to oppose regulation. A quarter of British MPs are landlords, rent strike is almost impossible and snap evictions are growing, but in the light of these hurdles The Rent Trap shows how to fight back.

Drawing on inspiration from movements in the UK, Europe and further afield, The Rent Trap coheres current experiences of those fighting the financial burdens, health risks and vicious behaviour of landlords in an attempt to put an end to the dominant narratives that normalise rent extraction and undermine our fundamental rights.

Published in partnership with the Left Book Club.

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All books are available from Pluto Press and are currently 50% off RRP!

The Meaning of October by Neil Faulkner

 

Neil Faulkner’s A People’s History of the Russian Revolution argues that the Russian Revolution was an explosion of democracy and creativity, in which the the Russian people are the heroes. In this essay for the Pluto blog, Faulkner, working from historian Georges Lefebvre’s scholarship on the French Revolution, writes that in order to fully understand the vodka, blood, and gunpowder of the Russian Revolution, we must see it as a process, with October as its ‘supreme moment’.

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october revolution

When Georges Lefebvre wrote his history of the French Revolution, he covered the entire period from 1789 to 1799 – that is, from the Storming of the Bastille to Napoleon Bonaparte’s 18th Brumaire coup. The chronology might, in fact, be extended further, until 1814/15, since, in a very real sense, Napoleon represented the defence and the spread of the bourgeois revolution by military means. The revolutionary epoch only came to a definitive close at Waterloo.

Three distinct periods can be identified. The revolution was in the ascendant until ‘Year II’ and the establishment of the Jacobin dictatorship (1793-94). It was in retreat following the overthrow of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety in the 9th Thermidor coup and the subsequent establishment of the Directory (1795-99). It was then ‘fossilised’ under the rule of a military strongman – the original ‘Bonapartist’ – from 1799 to 1814/15.

Something similar might be said of the English Revolution. Its period of ascent culminated in Pride’s Purge, the trial and execution of Charles I, and the establishment of Army rule in the crisis of winter 1648/49. It then descended following the smashing of Leveller mutinies in spring 1649, and, when attempts to re-establish Parliamentary rule proved abortive, the strongman stepped in, with Cromwell becoming ‘Lord Protector of the Commonwealth’ in 1653. The revolutionary epoch, which had opened in 1640, did not really conclude until 1660.

In both of these great bourgeois revolutions, the experience of war was seminal. Counter-revolutionary war radicalised France in 1792-94 and England in 1648. Both the Jacobins and the Cromwellians were forced to reject compromise, mobilise popular forces, and enact emergency measures. The protracted and convoluted history of both revolutions was interwoven with the experience of war and a perception of mortal danger.

At first sight, the Russian Revolution october revvyappears quite different. In traditional accounts, the entire revolutionary process plays out in just eight months – between February and October 1917. Trotsky’s classic history has chiselled this framework into stone. A three-volume masterpiece, it divides the revolution into three phases: the February Revolution and the overthrow of Tsarism; the attempted counter-revolution of July/August 1917; and the October Revolution.

October becomes the earth-shaking climax of an immense eruption of elemental social forces from Russia’s depths. Red October becomes a sacred historical consummation. That which follows cannot but be anti-climax.

 

The contradictions of October

But in fact the revolutionary process had barely begun. And the grim truth is this: the workers state established by October – the most advanced political form in the world at the time – was resting on socio-economic foundations which made it an unsustainable aberration.

Lenin and Trotsky, the two principal leaders of the revolution, knew this. They knew that Russia’s small working class could maintain power only with the support of the people as a whole, that is, with the peasantry. And they knew that, because of Russia’s extreme economic backwardness, because of the poverty of Russian society, the workers state could endure, and the transition to socialism be made, only on the condition that the revolution spread to the advanced centres of European capitalism.

But the alliance with the peasants began to break down immediately. The economy had been pole-axed by Russia’s three years of war and revolution between 1914 and 1917. It was pole-axed again by a further three years of war against counter-revolutionary and foreign-interventionist armies (1918-21). By one estimate, Russian industrial output was down to about 15% of its 1914 level by the end of the Civil War.

This meant the towns had nothing to trade with the countryside. Not only was far less produced, but everything was needed for revolutionary defence – as the Red Army swelled to a force millions-strong. The peasants had supported the Bolsheviks because they wanted the land. Once they had it, they resisted the forced requisitioning of both the Red and the White armies, and when the Civil War ended, they hoarded their grain and concealed their stock, desperately clinging to the little they had, making nonsense of heady visions of ‘socialist transformation’.

octrevThe towns, starved of food and raw materials, struggled to recover. Economic growth, even after 1921, was painfully slow. The wider context, of course, was the failure of the world revolution, which had surged from 1917 until 1920, and then crashed back in a succession of defeats and finally ebbed away by the end of 1923. Isolated and impoverished, the revolutionary regime was transformed by the experience of civil war, economic collapse, peasant resistance, and the crushing deadweight of Russia’s chronic backwardness.

 

Revolution in retreat

This played out in a succession of crises and debates inside the revolutionary regime. The contradictions eventually destroyed it. In the ascendant from February 1917 to the winter of 1917/18, perhaps even to the summer of 1918, the revolution thereafter was in retreat, becoming more centralised, more bureaucratic, more authoritarian.

The milestones on this road – the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the breakdown of the revolutionary coalition with the Left SRs, the establishment of the Cheka (the security police), the banning of factions inside the party, the suppression of the Kronstadt revolt, the elevation of the party secretariat, and so on – are as much a part of the revolutionary process as the great events of 1917.

But note a critical contrast with the experience of the French and the English Revolutions. The Civil War, instead of radicalising the revolution, had the opposite effect. The Bolsheviks, already in power, were struggling against the odds to maintain a functioning workers state based on mass participatory assemblies (‘soviets’) as the essential socio-economic foundations for this disintegrated beneath them.

Lenin had, of course, foreseen it. Again and again he had argued that the Russian working class was one contingent in the world army of socialist revolution. At the Finland Station in April 1917, in his first speech to the Petrograd workers upon his return to Russia, he had hailed ‘the victorious Russian revolution’ but concluded:

Any day, if not today or tomorrow, the crash of the whole of European imperialism may come. The Russian Revolution, made by you, has begun it and opened a new epoch. Hail the world-wide socialist revolution. 

He returned to this theme repeatedly. ‘The final victory of socialism in a single country is … impossible,’ he told the Third Soviet Congress in January 1918. ‘Our contingent of workers and peasants which is upholding Soviet power is one of the contingents of the great world army.’ Two months later, he put the matter more starkly: ‘It is the absolute truth that without a German revolution, we are doomed.’

October was the supreme moment in a revolutionary process which opened in February 1917 and closed in the winter of 1927/28, when the Stalinist party-state bureaucracy destroyed Trotsky’s Left Opposition group to establish an unchallenged counter-revolutionary dictatorship.

To understand the Russian Revolution properly, we need to think of it as a ten-year process, just as Lefebvre conceived the French Revolution.

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A People’s History of the Russian Revolution by Neil Faulkner is published by Pluto Press and the Left Book Club, it is available to buy from Pluto.

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Neil Faulkner is a leading Marxist historian. A Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, he is the author of numerous books, including A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals (Pluto, 2013) and Lawrence of Arabia’s War (Yale, 2016). He appears regularly on TV and was a lead consultant on Sky Atlantic’s The British series.

High Culture in a ‘Bare Art’ World: The Politics of Direct Art Activism

Capitalist crisis does not begin within art, but art can reflect and amplify its effects, to positive and negative ends. Gregory Sholette, author of the new book Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism, examines the disjunct between declarations of art’s virtue and high moralism, with the political economy of the cultural sector, whilst outlining his term ‘Bare Art’: a denuding of art’s entanglement with capitalism.

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Image: The Illuminator and Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF) confronts the Guggenheim’s planned future museum in the autocratic kingdom of Abu Dhabi, UAE, where migrant labour exploitation has been condemned by human rights groups.

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‘Art is not a luxury, not an adornment of civilization. It is a necessity. It is one of the central purposes of civilization.’ Thus begins a recent article by David Rothkopf in the online edition of Foreign Policy magazine, a liberal-leaning policy organ of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of which Rothkopf is both the editor and CEO.  The op-ed goes on to explain that, ‘Artists lead in ways politicians, chief executives, or generals cannot. They enable us to explore the mysterious — deep within us and all around us,’ adding that ‘diplomats have found art and culture to be invaluable tools.’ But he also cautions the profound power of art is useful for political conquests including terrorist campaigns:

‘The Taliban blew up the ancient art of Afghanistan. The Islamic State did the same in Palmyra and across Syria and Iraq. Statues are toppled during revolutions. Art and artifacts that have become symbols of nations are seized or claimed almost as talismans that bring with them legitimacy or connections.’

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