Mar 282013
 

Last  week marked the 242nd anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871. The Commune was one of the most important examples in history of people taking control of their own lives and reorganising their society. In the second part of Simon Gall’s two-part analysis of the Commune through the eyes of some important progressive scholars, we examine its destruction by the French government in May 1871, but learn how its legacy lives on and how it has influenced and inspired the generations since.

The Downfall of the Commune

On 21 May, Versailles troops entered Paris and spent seven days massacring “defenceless Men, Women and Children”.

They were “cut to pieces” and “shot down in hundreds by mitrailleuse fire”.

There were random street executions and accounts of people being buried alive after the firing squads had failed to do their jobs properly.

Marx wrote, “Even the atrocities of the bourgeois in June, 1848, vanish before the ineffable infamy of 1871” and continued, “the great problem…(was) how to get rid of the heaps of corpses…after the battle was over. About 30,000 Parisians were shot down by the bestial soldiery, and about 45,000 were arrested, many of whom were afterwards executed, while thousands were transported or exiled.”

Opinions on the Commune

The Communards were endlessly praised by socialist writers the world over for their determination and bravery in attempting to bring about a new society, but many also offered their own analysis of what went wrong. All realised that the cards were stacked against the Commune from the beginning.

Indeed the situation led Peter Kropotkin to write, “The Commune of 1871 could be nothing but a first attempt. Beginning at the close of a great war, hemmed in between two armies ready to join hands and crush the people.” Nevertheless, scholars gave their opinions on the movement.

Peter Kropotkin was both heartened and disheartened by the Commune.

He saw traces of Anarchism in its governance, “By proclaiming the free Commune, the people of Paris proclaimed an essential anarchist principle, which was the breakdown of the State” and recognised its historical importance when he stated that with the movement of the “Commune of Paris a new idea was born”, and that it was “to become the starting point for future revolutions.”

In the months following the fall of the Commune, the luxury of hindsight meant that he was able to ponder calmly what he felt went wrong.

The first problem he noted was, “It neither boldly declared itself socialist nor proceeded to the expropriation of capital nor the organisation of labour. It did not even take stock of the general resources of the city….nor did it break with (in practice) the tradition of the State, of representative government…..they let themselves get carried away by the fetish worship of governments and set one up of their own.”

He felt that the Commune went some way towards realising the vision of a stateless society

He felt that this led to elected representatives falling out of touch with the electorate. He proposed that they had lost the “inspiration which only comes from continual contact with the masses” and had become “paralyzed by their separation from the people” and that “they themselves (had) paralyzed the popular initiative.”

In 1892, he continued his observations on the Commune, noting that the hunger that plagued Paris had been instrumental in the downfall of the revolution, the “Commune perished for lack of combatants. It had taken for the separation of Church and State, but it neglected, alas, until too late, to take measures for providing the people with bread.”

Mikhail Bakunin joyously claimed that, “Revolutionary Socialism (Anarchism) has just attempted its first striking and practical demonstration in the Paris Commune.” He felt that the Commune went some way towards realising the vision of a stateless society. Federated Communes, delegates bound by the imperative mandate, and the concept of instant recall were concepts which Bakunin had been discussing since around 1848.

He continued, “I am a supporter (of the Commune), above all, because of it was a bold, clearly formulated negation of the State.”

Whilst being careful to never lay blame at any Communard door he observed, “The proletariat of the great cities of France, and even of Paris, still cling to many Jacobin (radical bourgeois) prejudices, and to many dictatorial and governmental concepts. The cult of authority – the fatal result of religious education, that historic source of all evils, deprivations, and servitude – has not yet been completely eradicated in them.”

To him, the influence of the Jacobins “was the great misfortune for the Commune” because “they were paralyzed, and they paralyzed the Commune….they lacked the time and even the capacity to overcome and subdue many of their own bourgeois prejudices which were contrary to their newly acquired socialism.”

Karl Marx wrote one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Paris Commune, praising the revolution with the best of words, “Working mens’ Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators’ history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.”

launching a resolute offensive against Versailles would have crowned its victory in Paris

He was immensely proud of what the Commune had achieved, despite being unconvinced about it at its inception. When he heard of the plan to overthrow the Government, he called the plan “a folly of despair.”

He changed his tune and began watching in awe as the proletariat of Paris took the reins. The movement had such a profound effect on their thinking that in 1872 he and Friedrich Engels edited the Communist Manifesto stating that, it was, in places out of date and declared “that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”

Later, Marx would call the Commune “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.” After Marx’s death in 1883, Engels wrote in March 1891, “Look at the Paris Commune.That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” using the Commune to prove their thinking.

In a letter to Dr. Kugelmann, Marx pointed to two mistakes the Communards made.

The first was that “They did not want to start the Civil War”. This point was pondered by Lenin years later. He felt that the Communards should have marched on Versailles because “launching a resolute offensive against Versailles would have crowned its victory in Paris”. He wrote that the hesitation “gave the Versailles Government time to gather dark forces and prepare for the blood-soaked week of May.”

He felt that the Commune aimed to achieve something very important – anti-parliamentarianism

The second mistake in Marx’s eyes was that the Central Committee of the National Guard “surrendered its power too soon, to make way for the Commune.” Presumably Marx thought that the Central Committee should have kept things under tighter control for longer, or perhaps decreed more reforms before resigning.

Lenin too paid tribute to the people of the Commune.

He wrote that the events and their actions were “unprecedented in history. Up to that time power had, as a rule, been in the hands of landowners and capitalists, ie the hands of their trusted agents who made up the so-called government.” He noted its importance as a grassroots movement by stating that “no one consciously prepared it in an organised way.”

He felt that the Commune aimed to achieve something very important – anti-parliamentarianism. It was to be “a working body” that sought to combine the work of the executive and legislative branches of government into one.

This was vital for Lenin as it stopped Parliament from becoming just a talking shop for “the parliamentarians must themselves work, must themselves execute their own laws, must themselves verify their results in actual life, must themselves be directly responsible to their electorate.”

However, he criticised the Commune for not “expropriating the expropriators”. He noted that large organisations, such as the Bank of France had not been targeted. The Communards could have made use of the capital. Also, he wrote that there was “no workers’ party, the working class had not gone through a long school of struggle and was unprepared.”

Despite his criticisms, Lenin diligently noted that “the chief thing which the Commune lacked was time – an opportunity to take stock of the situation and to embark upon the fulfilment of its programme…The Commune had to concentrate primarily on self-defence…it had no time to think seriously of anything else.”

Conclusion

The Commune is held up as proof by both anarchists and socialists of how their ideas and theories work in practice. The anarchists saw it as a negation of the state and the socialists saw it as the functioning Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

It is still the subject of much analysis and discussion in academia and among activists and trade unionists around the world. It has been examined on numerous occasions by the arts.  La Commune Film is one example.

It has inspired and continues to inspire people in search of alternative ways of living.

References and further reading

M Bakunin        The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

F Engels          Introduction to The Civil War in France

F Engels          Reflection in Introduction

P Kropotkin      The Conquest of Bread

P Kropotkin      The Commune of Paris

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 – Marx’s Analysis

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Lessons from the Commune

V Lenin             In Memory of the Commune

K Marx               The Civil War in France

K Marx               Letters to Dr.Kugelmann on the Paris Commune

Mar 212013
 

This week marks the 242nd anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871. The Commune was one of the most important examples in history of people taking control of their own lives and reorganising their society. In the first part of Simon Gall’s two-part examination of the Commune through the eyes of some important progressive scholars, we take a look at how the Commune came about, its short history and its structure.

The experiment ended in May 1871 when it was destroyed by the French government, but its legacy lives on and it continues to inspire. The Commune was the subject matter of the Socialist and Anarchist anthem, “L’Internationale”

The Commune and its importance.

“Working men’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators’ history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.” - K MarxThe Civil War in France

“Paris inflicting a mortal blow upon the political traditions of the bourgeois radicalism and giving a real basis to revolutionary socialism (anarchism) against the reactionaries of France and Europe….Paris destroying nationalism and erecting the religion of humanity upon its ruins; Paris proclaiming herself humanitarian and atheist, and replacing divine fictions with the great realities of social life and faith in science.” - M BakuninThe Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

“It was an event unprecedented in history. Up to that time power had, as a rule, been in the hands of landowners and capitalists, ie the hands of their trusted agents who made up the so-called government.” V Lenin – Lenin on the Commune – 3 - In Memory of the Commune

The direct antithesis of the Empire was the Commune.” - K MarxThe Civil War in France

 “The political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.” - K MarxThe Civil War in France

Overview

In 1871, the citizens of Paris took control of their own destinies and sought to break with the idea of bourgeois government, by seizing Paris and moulding it into something new.

On 18 March, they proclaimed the Commune and began dismantling the old Bonapartist structures of government.

People grew excited at the prospect of being masters of their own lives as the Commune began promulgating revolutionary decrees. However, after only 72 days, the rebellion was ferociously crushed by Government troops in a seven-day massacre.

Tens of thousands lost their lives but the idea lived, and still lives on. The experience of Communards changed political thinking forever and provided a sort of blueprint, or the beginnings of a blueprint, for future revolutions.

Lenin wrote of the Commune,

“The significance of the Commune, furthermore, lies in the fact that it endeavoured to crush, to smash to its very foundations, the bourgeois state apparatus, the bureaucratic, judicial, military and police machine, and to replace it by a self-governing, mass worker’s organisation in which there was no division between legislative and executive power.”  - Lenin on the Commune – 6. Bourgeois Democracy

Who what when where why?

In July 1870, French Emperor Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon III) declares war on Prussia. However, only three months later, he and his General, MacMahon, are captured along with more than 80000 soldiers at the Battle of Sedan. On hearing the news, the workers of Paris storm the Palais Bourbon and force the legislative body to proclaim the fall of the Second Empire.

By evening, the provisional Government of National Defence (GND) is formed, “All Parisians capable of bearing arms had enrolled in the National Guard and were armed” and the Third Republic is proclaimed.

In the next few weeks, Bonaparte’s forces surrender and, by October 31, the GND is ready to begin negotiations with the Prussians, but the Parisian workers rebel. The enemy reaches Paris but is only allowed a small corner of the capital by the Parisians. The Prussians disarm the city’s Mobile Guard but permit the National Guard to keep their weapons.

The revolutionary sections of the National Guard form the Central Committee to coordinate matters inside Paris and the newly-formed government of Adolphe Theirs flees to Versailles in March.

On the 18 March, Theirs sends government troops to disarm Paris but the soldiers refuse to carry out their orders and instead turn their guns on their Generals Claude Martin Lecomte and Jacques Leonard Clement Thomas. Some soldiers join the Commune. Thiers is outraged and the Civil War begins.

The Paris Commune was elected through universal suffrage on the 26 March 1871.

The Structure of the Commune

The Paris Commune

made use of two infallible means. In the first place, it filled all posts – administration, judicial and educational – by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And, in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers.” The maximum wage was set at 6000 francs, providing “an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism…even apart from the binding mandate to delegates to representative bodies.”

The Commune was to spread across France. It was to be the structure of even the smallest hamlets.

“Rural Communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates (with the imperative mandate) in the central town” and was to be a “working body, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.”

Marx noted that the Municipal Councillors were “naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class.”

Decrees and Actions of the Commune

28 March

The Central Committee of the National Guard dissolves itself after decreeing the abolition of the Police.

30 March

The Commune abolishes conscription and the Army and declares the National Guard, comprising everyone who can bear arms, to be the sole armed force.

The Commune remits all payments of rent for dwelling houses from October 1870 until April 1871, with the amounts already paid to be used as future rent payments.

Foreigners elected to the Commune were confirmed in office. “The flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic”

1 April

Maximum wage set for Commune at 6000 francs (£4)

2 April

The Commune decreed the separation of Church and State. It abolished all state payments for religious purposes (priests’ wages etc) and all property was to become national property.

5th April

In response to the daily shooting of Commune prisoners by Versailles troops it was decreed that NO prisoner of the Commune should be shot.

6th April

La Guillotine was brought into the street by the National Guard and publicly burned “amid great popular rejoicing.”

8th April

Religious symbols, pictures, dogmas and prayers were excluded from schools.

12th April

The Commune decides to destroy Napoleon’s victory column, made from smelted weapons captured from a fallen army, as a symbol of nationalistic chauvinism.

16th April

Review of closed factories with a view to organising worker’s control of those factories in the form of co-operatives. The co-operatives were to federate into one great co-operative union. In the end 43 factories were organised this way.

30th April

Pawnshops were closed as they were “in contradiction with the right of the workers to their instruments of labour and to credit.”

5th May

The Commune orders the razing of the Chapel of Atonement which had been built in expiation of the execution of Louis XVI

9th May

The Versailles army closes in on Paris and captures its first Parisian fort.

10th May

The Treaty of Frankfurt is signed by Bismarck, the Prussian Chancellor, and Thiers the head of the French Government. The conditions were set out mainly by Prussia as they were in the strongest position. The deal was that France would pay Prussia 5bn Francs in indemnities over a shorter period of time than first agreed and Bismarck would continue the occupation of Parisian forts until he “should feel satisfied with the state of things in France”, making him the “supreme arbiter in internal French politics”. In return, Bismarck would release the remaining “100,000 French prisoners of war to help crush revolutionary Paris.”

References and further reading

M Bakunin        The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

F Engels           Introduction to The Civil War in France

F Engels          Reflection in Introduction

P Kropotkin      The Conquest of Bread

P Kropotkin      The Commune of Paris

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 – Marx’s Analysis

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Lessons from the Commune

V Lenin             In Memory of the Commune

K Marx               The Civil War in France

K Marx               Letters to Dr.Kugelmann on the Paris Commune

In part 2 of Simon’s brief overview of the Commune, he will detail its destruction, the lessons that writers and political historians have learned from it and how its influence still permeates radical and progressive thinking nearly 250 years later.

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Jan 192012
 

We continue our serialisation of David Innes’ interview with author Maggie Craig. Her two books on the Jacobite Rebellion, the evocatively-titled ‘Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ‘45’, and ‘Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ‘45’ are critically-lauded. She explains why she looks at that fractious period of our heritage from a different angle to that usually taken by historians.

You’ve written two books on the Jacobites – where did that inspiration come from?

That came from a novel called The Flight of the Heron by DK Broster which an uncle gave to me. I loved it, and it’s my Fahrenheit 451 book, the one I’d save from the flames.

But like an awful lot of Scots, what I knew about the Jacobites is from that novel, a high romance about friendship and so on.

And although the folk songs are great, they sometimes get things a bit mixed up. Then, when it was the 250th anniversary of Culloden in 1995, I’d started to write a novel set in that period and I needed a baddie, so I went looking for a Campbell. I found a Macdonald saying, “We’ll surrender, but only to a Campbell”.

That was a light bulb moment when you think, “History’s not as simple as you’re taught it is”. Why were they prepared to surrender to a Campbell? They must have respected that guy or thought that he’d give them a better deal, so I started researching it and I got interested in the women because, well, Flora bloody Macdonald is all you’re presented with. I didn’t try to debunk her but she’s such an unacceptable kind of female, standing there while the Prince kisses her hand and I think, “Nah, there must have been women doing different things from that” so I went looking for the women first of all.

They’re attached to their men, of course, so you get a lot of stories about the men too, including the Jacobites of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. There was a huge amount of Jacobite support in this area. They called them the Lowland regiments, but there were a lot of Episcopalians in Aberdeenshire who would tend to fight for the Jacobites because they were persecuted for supporting the Stuart cause. They couldn’t meet for a proper service, only in twos or threes.

There was a lot going on around Banff and Duff House. The Duffs, of course, were on whichever side was winning as they’ve tended to be. You can’t blame those who hedged their bets. If you had a farm or an estate and you had tenants, and there would have been people who cared about their tenants, you had to be cagey because you didn’t know which way it was going to go – and the consequences of failure were horrendous.

About eighty people were hanged. A lot of Aberdeenshire was laid waste. I’ve quoted that, “the people of Strathbogie were back in their fields but they’re as inclined to rebellion as ever”. I thought “Wow”. You don’t get that impression nowadays, where people keep their heads down and don’t say much about getting involved in politics.

Although when I went to speak to kids in Ellon about ‘When The Clyde Ran Red’,  I said, “It’s harder to be a radical on a farm, isn’t it?”. When you’re working for a farmer and you don’t have your comrades about you then it’s harder to stand up and say, “I don’t think this is right”.

I think there’s a kind of hidden history of Aberdeenshire. The anniversary of the Battle of Harlaw was a huge missed opportunity to help tell it.

So you feel that Jacobitism and the Rebellion needs to be re-evaluated as a radical movement.

It’s said that history is written by the winners, but to a large extent that history has been written by the losers and the greatest losers, you could say, have been the West Highlands. That’s fair enough – the devastation, the burnings, the rapes, the murders, shooting the boys and shooting the old men and all that stuff, but I think that has skewed our vision of it. It’s dangerous, because you always see it through your own perspective.

I’m a Scottish nationalist (with a small n) and having read a lot about the Rebellion, I think a huge amount of it was about wanting to reverse the Act of Union. There was no democracy in those days and the only focus for discontent was Charlie, so he funnelled in a lot of different people.

There was a lot of criticism of him because he could be very high-handed, but he was the only way they were going to get regime change, so my take on it is that it was a kind of Rainbow Coalition. It brought in a lot of people and it was kind of before its time. We’ve got the Enlightenment in Glasgow and Edinburgh and probably Aberdeen – I don’t know and it’s something people need to research – but this was still pre-Industrial Revolution where the weavers and the like became radicalised. I think if it had happened fifty years later, things could have turned out differently.

When you read about the eighteenth century, you always hear about the power of the mob which would gather together in whatever town. I think that’s radicalism, but they’re always presented as a bunch of drunken yobs. If you look at the 1730s Porteous Riot about the Malt Tax, people are asking, “Why is London taxing us and why are they taxing us so severely?” After the ’45 they didn’t try any of the leaders in Scotland because they didn’t think a Scottish jury would convict. I think because the whole North British project took off after that.

 people say that it’s sentimentality. It’s not. It’s love. It’s death and feeling.

There couldn’t be a rocking of the boat in North Britain and some Scots became very successful. I see someone like Andrew Marr as being very like an eighteenth century Scot – he’s gone to London and sort of sold out, hasn’t he? I like his programmes, but he’s sold out his Scottishness.

We can get caught both ways. If you say that the Scots have always had a great sense of justice you’re told that you’re just being sentimental, or that you’re looking at the world through rose-coloured spectacles, but then there’s the ‘Jock Tamson’s bairns’ thing which does unite us. I think there’s almost a natural democracy, a collective “That’s no fair, you’ve got to do something about it” attitude that unites us, and it’s not a bad battle cry!

My daughter and I came back from Switzerland via Paris a couple of weeks ago and there were eight London lawyers, all about 40, on the Eurostar. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a wee refreshment but they got more and more offensive about the working classes who “couldn’t get up off their arses and do anything” and they said, “Let’s get some fizz” and bought three bottles of champagne and they got worse and worse. Of course the rest of us just sat and did nothing, but they were such a stereotype of that ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude. One said, “Why should we care about healthcare for poor people?”

We Scots can be our own worst enemies, though. We’ve got someone like Robert Burns, who’s world class and who unites the North East and Ayrshire, but people say that it’s sentimentality. It’s not. It’s love. It’s death and feeling.

A local Rotary Club thought it was being radical when I was the first woman to propose the Immortal Memory at their Burns Supper. I said that Burns slept around and that if I’d been married to him I’d have slapped him into the middle of next week. Even saying that raised a few eyebrows. I wasn’t saying anything that isn’t known and I still admire him for his humanity. We need to reclaim him for the radical he was.

I looked briefly at Thomas Muir of Huntershill, a radical. We don’t look back to the friends of the people. In the 1790s these men and girls were totally admirable and put their lives on the line to say that workers ought to have rights. There’s so much of our history that we aren’t taught.

I was delighted to see that Red Clydeside is now in the Higher curriculum but in history classes the ’45 is viewed as a crowd of misguided romantic people. That’s a very narrow point of view and it’s time we opened it up. Sometimes the way they treat Red Clydeside is as dry as dust. The history’s got to be about the people and those people were fallible, they made mistakes – and sometimes you point out that someone regarded as a hero was rotten to his wife.

That’s where we leave this part of the interview, but of course this led to discussion of the current political situation, which we’ll carry in the next issue.

Those of you who want to meet Maggie and hear a bit more about her influences have the opportunity on Saturday 21 January when she and fellow writer Kenneth Steven will be at The Central Library, Aberdeen at 11.00 to talk about their love of books.

 

 

 

Dec 012011
 

By Bob Smith.

Here comes the Retail Festival
Cooched in glossy Christmas cheer
Spen spen spen the shops cry oot
Their merchandisin moves up a gear

Maun we owerspen at Christmas
On presents aat leave us skint?
Mony fowk are left in debt
So aat shops can mak a mint

Christmas time itsel a fear
His lost it’s freenly glow
Fowk tryin to see faa can hae
The dearest presents on show

A sma present ti faimly members
There is nae hairm in iss
Bit keepin up wi the Joneses
Is some fowks idea o bliss

Hunners o poonds they are spent
On presents fer aa yer freens
Kids yammerin fer the latest
Toy or game shown on TV screens

Hotels an restaurants filled ti the brim
Yet their prices are ower the tap
Faan wull aa iss madness eyn
An prices wull stairt ti drap

Faimly Christmases used ti be
A time ti visit an hae a blether
Yet ti sit aroon the table
Nooadays fowk they dinna bither

The festivities noo a fear
Hiv naething ti dee wi the 25th
It’s aa ti dee wi consumerism
Spenin dosh on expeensive gifts

In case ye think a’m a scrooge
Tak time ti stop an think
Fit’s the purpose o aa iss spenin
Ither than bringin ye ti debt’s brink

It’s time fer a revolution
A time ti say stuff yer stuff
Resist the aa empowerin persuasion
Pit the retailers in a huff

Celebrate Christmas? Of coorse we shud
Yet think fit shud be deen
Raither than buy a material gift
Jist present yersel as a freen

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”
Image Credit: © Sergey Sundikov | Dreamstime.com

Nov 242011
 

Deliberately resisting the attraction of the undoubtedly arcane and twisted plots of this year’s Broons annual, David Innes evaluates Maggie Craig’s take on exciting revolutionary times on Clydeside a century ago.

When Lenin appointed John MacLean, perhaps Red Clydeside’s most-revered socialist son, Soviet Consul for Scotland in 1918, the reputation of Glasgow and its industrial satellite towns as the most likely crucible of any UK workers’ revolution was sealed.

In the aftermath of Bloody Friday in January 1919, the militia, backed up by tanks was in George Square, the Riot Act had been read to an assembly of tens of thousands of working people and Scotland’s own socialist revolution seemed inevitable.

When The Clyde Ran Red faithfully documents these tumultuous events which took place in what must have been life-enhancing times, but Maggie Craig achieves much more than re-documenting tales and phenomena well-known to historians and socialists.

In what might be regarded as a primer for the more in-depth and heavy duty histories and biographies listed in her book’s bibliography, she chronicles forty years of the people’s history through the experiences of those closely involved and those affected by events which showed that change was possible if the determination of the people was present and stout, resolute leadership given.

Not only are the iconic heroes of the struggle – Maxton, Muirhead, Kirkwood, Shinwell, Johnston and others – celebrated for their unstinting efforts as leaders in the battle for liberty, equality and fraternity, the lesser-known local heroes of rent strikes and trade disputes are also lauded. The little victories against oppression and exploitation, the author illustrates, are just as vital in changing lives as headline-grabbing larger scale changes.

There is obvious pride in her own Clydeside roots as Craig relates the day-to-day realities of struggles, defeats and wins for working people, describing the Singer dispute, the building, moth-balling and eventual launch of Cunard’s Queen Mary and the Nazis’ terrifying and murderous Clydebank Blitz in 1941.

Whilst these histories are well-known, the author brings new life to their re-telling from the perspective of residents, citizens and workers directly involved and affected.

Craig’s previous form as a novelist, with seven previous publications in this genre, is obvious and welcome as When The Clyde Ran Red is an immensely-readable social history of headily-exciting times and fiery, determined human spirit.

When The Clyde Ran Red
Maggie Craig
Mainstream Publishing
http://www.rbooks.co.uk/product.aspx?id=1845967356

Nov 082011
 

By Jonathan Hamilton Russell.

This is my third article on Libya over the seven month period of the ‘revolution’.

The reason that I have written these articles is the general silence and passive acceptance that has taken place on developments in Libya as they have unfolded, and my wish to raise awareness.

I am also greatly concerned in a period when we should have learnt from world wars and numerous conflicts across the world that war is not the solution and leads to untold misery.

Yet war has become our most favoured form of foreign intervention. My intention had been to leave writing a further article until a new government was formed however the atrocities that have taken place at the end revolution have led me to writing the present article. I  realise much of what I  report goes against what many people have come to believe, but feel it essential to report on what I  have read.

My previous arguments have been that rather than relying solely on military intervention, negotiations should have taken place with the prerequisite that elections were held under the auspices of the United Nations. Everyone could have had a say regarding the future of Libya: including those who supported Qaddafi’s green movement who have been effectively disenfranchised.

The African Union and Venezuela offered to broker negotiations and Qaddafi and the then Libyan government on frequent occasions wanted to have a cease fire and negotiations. I also argued that all those responsible for torture and war crimes whether Qaddafi’s regime, NATO or the revolutionary militias should be put before an international court for their crimes.

On the 4th February following International pressure the International Criminal Court have stated that they will be investigating war crimes perpetuated by Qaddafi Loyalists, the National Transitional Government and NATO. Interestingly this has not been reported in the British media but is whatever a significant step forward in terms of justice

If you do nothing else please watch the following video.

Journalist Lizzie Phelan was in Tripoli before during and after its fall. She explains the support for Qaddafi including a 1.7 million demonstration in Tripoli in support of Qaddafi  in July, of an entire population of around five million in Libya.

She also reports on how the media was falsely reporting, the democratic nature of Qaddafi’s regime, how many women took up arms and of mass murder by NATO. Have a look on You Tube and compare footage of the numbers demonstrating for Qaddafi and those for the revolutionary fighters.

Seamus Milne in the Guardian has argued that intervention by the West rather than saving public lives has in fact increased deaths at least tenfold. Off course we can never know what might have happened if the then Libyan Government tanks had reached Benghazi. What we do know is that in towns that Qaddafi’s troops did retake, reprisals if any were minimal.

We also know that that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that there have been considerable reprisals by the Revolutionary militias as well as the deaths inflicted by NATO bombing. Estimates of those killed range from 10,000 to 50,00 with  many more injured in a population of around five million.

Amnesty International has evidence of mass abduction and detention, beating and routine torture, killings and atrocities carried out by the revolutionary militias. Human rights watch have identified a number of mass graves and discovered 53 bodies with hands tied of Qaddafi fighter’s, some who had clearly been in hospital, near to the hotel used by Qaddafi loyalists just before he was he was murdered. In Sirte over 500 fighters and civilians were killed in the last ten days

There was knowledge by the revolutionary militia and NATO, as evidenced by militia fighters speaking on the BBC that Qaddafi was in Sirte in the last few days of fighting.

Two weeks after the death of Qaddafi the British Government is already planning to send a delegation to Libya to sell arms.

The statement by NATO that they did not now that Gaddafi was in the 80 strong convoy that was bombed while trying to escape Sirte was almost certainly untrue, as was the assertion that the bombings and drone attacks was done to protect civilians as they were fleeing not attacking anyone.

A reporter on the BBC said the carnage was horrific.

What I believe has happened has been a concerted attempt by the revolutionary militias and NATO to destroy Qaddafi’s Green movement supporters in Libya so that they cannot become a force in a future Libya. Mustafa Abdel Jalil the National Transitional Council Chairman and previously Qaddafi’s Justice Minister tried to put the blame of Qaddafi’s death onto Qaddafi’s own snipers despite the horrendous mobile footage that was published on the net all over the world.

Peter Boukaret the head of Human Rights Watch in Libya has seen revolutionary militias burning homes in Tawerga where the majority of people were black Libyans who were seen as supporters of the Qaddafi regime, so that they can never return to their home town.

Under International law combatants should be released at the end of a civil war but the Washington Post has reported that 1,000 Qaddafi loyalists are packed in dingy jails and have faced abuse and even torture. Amnesty International have criticised the EU for leaving 5,000 Sub-Saharan refugees camped in appalling conditions on Libya’s border

Will Self on the BBC has pointed out that arms are still being sold to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco who have equally poor human rights records. He also pointed out that arms on both sides of the Libyan conflict were supplied by Britain.  Two weeks after the death of Qaddafi the British Government is already planning to send a delegation to Libya to sell arms.

It could be suggested that it was in the interests of Western Leaders for Qaddafi not to live as at any court hearing he could have informed the world of the arms and human rights deals brokered with the likes of Sarkozy and Blair.

The future of Libya is most certainly in the balance. Abel Hakim Belhaj kidnapped by MI6 and tortured in Libya is threatening legal action against the UK Government, and who is the leader of the militias in Tripoli, has already warned that they will not be taking orders from the National Transitional Council.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil Chairperson of the National Transitional council’s attempts to mollify the Islamic militias is to say that a future state will be based in Shariah law and that polygamy not allowed previously in Libya would be allowed.

The intervention in Libya was never about saving civilians.

This in itself would suggest that women’s role in Libya will take a considerable backward step. Kevin Rudd the Australian Foreign minister has warned that Libya could become another Iraq. There could well be further conflict before any elections take place.

What I would conjecture is that though there will be on-going violence, it is more likely that what will happen is that elections will eventually take place and the winners will be those that are sympathetic to the west. However as corruption increases as in Afghanistan and many people’s living standards fall,  that within ten years the Islamic parties as the only alternative will gain electoral or even military victory.

One factor not reported in our media is that Qaddafi through the African Union and with other Middle Eastern states had been pushing for a new currency – the Gold Dinar.  This would have been a threat to the Euro and the Dollar. This would have soon come into effect and would have enriched African countries and had a negative effect on western countries. This in itself was a major reason as to why they wanted to get rid of Qaddafi as he had large stocks of gold.

Britain’s new defence secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC:

 “I would expect British Companies to be packing their suitcases for Libya”

UK trade and Investment a British Government body has estimated that oil, gas and reconstruction works will be worth over 320 billion dollars over the next ten years.

Daniel Kaczynski a conservative MP and Chair of the parliamentary Libyan committee who has written extensively on Qaddafi  and who has been a major influence on British Policy on Libya has suggested that Libya pay back the costs of British military intervention. Previous to the revolution the majority of contracts were going to Russia and China.

There are already significant land and property claims being made by Libyans who lost their property under Qaddafi this will have a significant knock on effect pushing those who have lived in the property and land into poverty

The intervention in Libya was never about saving civilians. It has been about regime change and a grab for lucrative resources and ending Qaddafi’s nearly met aim of creating a Gold Dinar as an alternative currency to threaten the Euro and the Dollar. 

In carrying out this policy the revolutionary militias aided extensively by NATO have carried out and continue to carry out genocide of ideological nature against those many Libyans who continued to support Qaddafi.

Sep 012011
 

By Jonathan Hamilton Russell.

In June of this year I  wrote an article on the situation in Libya called ‘Libya another Brutal Conflict’.
In it I suggested a way forward would have been via negotiations, which would include the expectation for fair elections run by the United Nations, the withdrawal of NATO and the use of UN peacekeepers.

Qaddafi would have been forced to face his opposition but in a non-bloody way. Only if such negotiations failed would military action be considered.

The mantra regarding the war on Iraq was ‘weapons of mass destruction’; this proved to be a lie. The mantra in relation t oLibya has been ‘the defence of innocent civilians’. This, as the conflict has escalated, has proved clearly not to be the real objective. Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a UN commission headed by the legal scholar Cheri Bassioni found there was no evidence of the atrocity stories which were given as the reasons for NATO action.

Yet this was not listened to by our politicians and was not widely reported by the media. What has clearly happened is a mission of regime change which went far beyond the UN mandate. Such developments were opposed by the US Congress and never properly debated in our own Parliament.

Rather than protecting civilians, NATO weapons have inevitably killed them.

Their targets increasingly widened from attacking tanks that were moving towards Benghazi, to attacking all Libyan Military installations, to attacking any building that was seen as supporting the Gaddafi administration.

Inevitably there were civilian casualties. On the day of the rebel attack on Tripoli, more bombs were dropped than on any other day in NATO’s history. The rebels were also being supported and trained by troops from NATO countries, and as evidenced by the Sunday Times, some were Libyan exiles living in the UK. This has led to an even more bitter war between the ‘rebels and Kaddafi loyalists with disastrous human consequences.

The hospitals are not coping and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are reporting human rights violations on all sides. Human Rights Watch consider that the evidence suggests that the old governments Khamis Brigade killed 45 detainees. The horrors of what happened to Kaddafi troops and the disappearance of all the medical staff at Abu- Salim hospital is just unfolding as are other atrocities, but these are only the most heavily reported incidents.

We never seem to learn the lesson of the horrors that war can bring.

Richard Seymour in the Guardian reported on Peter Bouckaert from Human Rights Watch findings that he had not identified one mercenary among scores of men being arrested and falsely labelled as such by journalists. Many Libyans are black but have been labelled as black mercenaries from Africa and led to racist incidents.

Qaddafi’s regime became increasingly oppressive over time

On top of this, much of the country’s infra-structure has been destroyed. The Libyan Transitional Council estimate it will take ten years to repair the damage done to the country’s infrastructure.

So what is the future for Libya? It is almost certain that Qaddafi will be eventually defeated, but how long that takes and at what continuing human cost is still to be seen. Worryingly, anyone supporting Qaddafi will not be seen as a civilian but as a supporter of a mad and dangerous dictator. The rebels are not a united force. The National Transitional Council has been recognised by over 40 foreign states; however, has it been recognised by the militias on the ground?

Abul Fatah Younes, the leader of the  Rebel army, was murdered by one of the Islamic militias and this in turn led to the sacking of the whole cabinet by Musta Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Government.

Will this Government be able to rule or will fighting continue between the various factions, in particular those aligned to a more Islamic agenda and those not? These groupings are now highly armed and as our policies did in Afghanistan, they could easily come back to bite western interests. Atiyha Abdl al Rahman, the deputy leader of Al-Qaida who was killed by US drones in Pakistan, was Libyan.

Qaddafi’s regime became increasingly oppressive over time. In his early years as a revolutionary leader, he was involved in pulling down prisons.  Being active himself over the years led to the atrocities that more recently took place of Islamists in Libyan prisons. Hopefully human rights will improve, but that has yet to be seen, and Libya was far from being the only country which has tortured and killed the more extreme Islamists.

Any new government will still have to find ways of dealing with Islamic groups and could end up being equally oppressive.

The Qaddafi regime was oppressive to its enemies, they did however have the highest social indicators in the Third World with better housing, health care and standards of living than in other Middle East and third world countries. As with Iraq these social strengths and the resulting effects on the countries well-being are sure to decline particularly if conflict continues.

Libya was not a country in debt, but it is now, and like us it will have to become beholden to the banks for money borrowed to rebuild the country. Who will own the huge reserves held in foreign banks which were there in part to deal with Libya’s future when the oil stocks have gone?

This has caused considerable indignation on the African continent.

Libya has historically produced 1.5 to 2 million barrels of oil a day. Qaddafi was hated by the west for nationalising Libyan oil and though he has more recently been co-operating with Western firms he has still been directing considerable investment into the economy and saving for its future.

Any new government will, unless clearly Islamic, be beholden to the West, and as such oil is almost certain to be obtained by the West more cheaply; the cost of oil on the markets has already gone down. Libya will also likely have military NATO bases for any future developments in the Middle East.

The poorer Libyans will, I suspect, be those who will be the most badly affected but others will gain and disparities in wealth will increase to the overall detriment of the country. Hopefully human rights will improve, but that has yet to be seen. Qaddafi was supportive of women’s involvement in society and was one of the reasons that he opposed so strongly the more extreme tenants of Islam and its supporters in Libya.

The future for women could go either way, but is certain to cause tension in the new Libya.

Qaddafi was instrumental in setting up the African Union and financially supported African infrastructure projects. The West, unless replaced by Chinese interests, will now have greater control over the African continent. However despite for instance South Africa supporting Resolution 1973 which led to intervention in Libya, their and other African countries attempts through the African Union to set up peace talks were knocked back. This has caused considerable indignation on the African continent.

overall spending on wars leads to fewer resources to be spent on other areas

Due to the way that NATO overstepped the UN resolution, there is now reluctance by many countries to do anything in Syria or the other Middle East countries. Damage has been done to International relations and the workings of the United Nations due to NATO’s actions.

Why have we, and why are we continuing to arm dictatorships in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, etc.  which are oppressive to their people? In fact, why are we arming any country? All armaments have the potential for use both between warring countries and on countries own citizens. Yet selling more arms is a key target of the present UK Government.

The selling of arms does lead to profit and work for those involved and money for Government. However overall spending on wars leads to fewer resources to be spent on other areas and in the United Kingdom, France and the United States it will lead to increased cuts in public services which will affect us all, but in particular the more vulnerable people in our society.

The United Nations was set up to try and stop wars between countries. Libya had not invaded another country.

The intervention was, however, based around the doctrine of  ‘the responsibility to protect’ following The Rwandan genocide. The way NATO has acted by clearly taking sides in Libya has brought this doctrine into disrespect. The press in the UK have in the main been heralding the success of the Libyan intervention, but if you dig deeper this can only be questioned.

The United Nations needs itself to have increased power to stop the manipulation that has clearly taken place around the Libyan conflict.

So what can we do?

  • We can protest. Stop the War and CND are holding an anti-war rally on October 8th to mark 10  years of  military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. The demonstrations against the Iraq war may not have stopped the war but they did shake the establishment and led in part to the downfall of Tony Blair
  • We can support the United Nations associations to help make this a stronger organisation that gets back to its original basis for existing
  • We can protest against our pension funds being invested in the arms trade as is in the case of Aberdeen City Councils pension fund.
  • Campaign Against the Arms Trade ( CAAT  ) will be holding their yearly demonstration on September 13th in London. ‘ Cut the Arms Trade not public services’. Please see:  Stop the War  or CAAT website.
Jun 102011
 

By  Jonathan Hamilton Russell.

The situation in Libya is complex and an understanding requires a historical perspective and the realisation that Libya is a tribal society which has many tribal and political interests. Gaddafi when he took power in Libya in 1969, in a bloodless coup, nationalised the oil and took it away from Western Control.

He used the money gained to invest in the social structure, i.e. health, education and social housing in Libya.

Gaddafi became involved in supporting’ Liberation’ wars in Africa and Ireland  and this along with the Lockerbie tragedy led to sanctions and to initial bombings by the US in 1986. Sanctions led to a decline in the wealth of Libya and In the late 90’s Gaddafi changed his policy to the West due to the effects of  these sanctions  and  to his even greater dislike of fundamentalist Islam in the form of Al Qaida and the Taliban. Libya was returned into the international fold and welcomed warmly by our own Prime Minister at the time Tony Blair.

Gaddafi admits that he has carried out human rights violations and torture on his opposition in particular to those linked to Al Qaida, to whom he is strongly opposed and for this he should, like any other abuser of human rights, be prosecuted. Al Qaida has had a strong following in Libya and Libyans were the largest grouping of fighters within Al Qaida in Iraq.

Gaddafi says he got his lead on the use of torture from the United States and if he is to be tried for human rights and war crimes so should lots of other national leaders and all those affiliated to NATO.

Gaddafi was instrumental in setting up the African Union and has helped in the development of infrastructure projects in Africa. According to the United Nations, Libya until the present conflict had the best social indicators in the Third World.  Gaddafi has promoted the equality of women and is opposed to the backward attitude of most of the Arab world in relation to their attitudes towards women. Gaddafi did instigate his own form of democracy very similar to Soviet Style Workers committees and had no formal position as head of state. In reality he has been at the head of the country and has increasingly been concerned about hanging on to power.

Gaddafi is a complex man who has done both good and bad but the media portrayal of an evil dictator is to say the least over simplistic This does not mean that his desire to hold onto power has not led to an over controlling and oppressive state but it does mean that our response to him should be more balanced particularly when you compare Libya to other regimes in the Middle East which are equally repressive but also have greater disparities in wealth. There have been reports of Gaddafi’s troops having been involved with rape in Misrata a common occurrence in war which is barbaric and unacceptable.

The United Nations staff, on the ground in Libya say there is no hard evidence of this. However a spokesperson from the International Court on war crimes say they have evidence that systematic rape is being used by the Gaddaffi regime. This clearly needs further investigation before any firm conclusion can be reached.

Libya is a tribal society and the West of the country has benefited more than the East.

The bombings were aimed at stopping a humanitarian disaster yet where has the outcry been about those supporters of Gaddafi tortured and killed

Gaddafi clearly has his opponents but these are a mixture of Western sympathisers including those who want more democracy and those who follow Al Qaida. The majority of leadership of the Rebels in Banghazi is presently made up of ex Libyan Government ministers who previously had no interest in Western Democracy but are defecting as they see the imminent collapse of the regime.

A significant number of the more experienced of those fighting for the revolution gained their military skills fighting for Al Qaida in Iraq and are to be feared by many of those who support Gaddafi. Getting rid of Gaddafi is not likely to lead to a peaceful democratic Libya but is much more likely to lead to greater internal division and continued violence.

The oil is to be found in the East of the country.

The eastern leaders have already agreed to give oil contracts to the West. The bombings were aimed at stopping a humanitarian disaster yet where has the outcry been about those supporters of Gaddafi tortured and killed, the killings and general plight of African Workers and to the casualties of NATO bombings? Why has Libya been selected for this type of intervention when the evidence is that equally bad oppression is taking place in other Middle Eastern countries.

Libya compared with most countries had only a small army and arms sales to Saudi Arabia  – an equally oppressive state – are far greater. From 2008 until the last quarter of 2010 arms sales to Saudi Arabia from the UK were three times  less than those to Libya.

War is always brutal and people always suffer on all sides, yet it appears to have become the norm to intervene in this way rather than to find ways forward via negotiation. This policy of military intervention has been used to disastrous effect in Iraq, Afghanistan Pakistan and Palestine.

The only beneficiaries of these conflicts are the arms companies burgeoning profits. Ordinary people on the ground pay for war by the murder or mutilation of their loved ones. Why were the attempts by the African Union and Venezuela to act as an intermediary for negotiations in the Libyan conflict so easily turned down?  Nor any other attempts to broker negotiations put in place? Surely all forms of negotiation should have tried before the policy of protecting civilians turned into a  military intervention aimed at regime change at any cost.

The cost of this action and the resulting likely cries for more military spending will lead to even greater cuts in our own social spending

NATO  has moved from a position of ‘protecting civilians’ to regime change and is in effect putting many civilian lives in jeopardy.

This policy has never been sanctioned by our own Parliament and does not fit with the United Nations own charter as Libya has not invaded another country.

Our own Prime Minister, who was caught promoting the sale of arms to Middle East dictators at the beginning of the Middle East uprisings, has with his ally President Sarkozy of France been the main instigators of this military Intervention in Libya and have in many ways replaced Bush and Blair as the main instigators  of military intervention in other states. President Obama initially hesitated but – as has sadly become his style – eventually taken a hawkish position in Foreign policy.

The results of these actions have lead to more civilian casualties and to the destruction of buildings and infrastructure and to the loss  of social gains.  The cost of this action and the resulting likely cries for more military spending will lead to even greater cuts in our own social spending. The United States spent over £750 million on the conflict in its first few weeks. In the UK the corresponding figure currently stands at around £300 million and it is forecasted that this will rise to one billion by September.

One factor that has got lost is that when Libya’s Foreign Secretary  Moussa Koussa was interviewed by the Scottish police in relation to the Lockerbie bombings,  yet we have heard nothing of these interviews.

Surely if he had  evidence of Libya’s involvement this would have been given huge publicity and given as a justification for military action. Dr Jim Swire has warned against any evidence from defectors being taken seriously as they have interests of self-preservation. There is still significant concern about the correctness of the present verdict regarding the Lockerbie bombing

We appear to have become numb to the use of brutal military action by our own Government and have fallen for the media’s over-simplistic justification of getting rid of a mad and brutal dictator. NATO has extended it’s timescale for operations and calls from South Africa are going unheeded. Al Jazeera has shown footage of Western troops West of Misrata yet one of the main points of the UN Security Council was to exclude foreign involvement on the ground.

I  believe that a negotiated settlement should be sought with the clear aim of setting up elections. It would then be up to all the Libyan people to decide on their future. All bombings by NATO should stop while negotiations take place. One of the main demands of the UN Security council resolution was for a cease fire. Given any ceasefire it should be United Nations Peacekeeping forces that should be put on the ground not NATO troops that are on the ground.

All those responsible for war crimes and torture should be tried at the International War Crimes court.

Feb 112011
 

By Patrick V Neville.

In Aberdeen on February 5th 2011, around 100 people participated in a peaceful demonstration against the over-stayed presidency of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak.

Amongst the flags and banners were images of the violence, which has left numerous people dead, and phrases such as -

“30 years of oppression is enough”

“We are all Egyptians today”

“We all need freedom and justice”

“British media: Stop calling a revolution a crisis” and

“No Mubarak any more”

Mubarak has stayed in power for 30 years against the wishes of the majority of the Egyptian population.

His regime has been described by many as corrupt and in the interest of maintaining power and money. This has been at the expense of the Egyptian people, who are extremely tired of the regime’s favouritism towards corporate entities, whether they are local or foreign.

This discontent arose from Egypt’s natural resources such as gas being sold abroad for less than the true value, jobs in Egypt moving to factories abroad and as a Mubarak cabinet member bought hazardous agricultural fertilizers from Israel without later charge, this names a few of the crimes committed by the Mubarak regime. Poverty in Egypt has also risen dramatically due to rising prices.

This type of leadership in combination with an ever-growing divide between the rich and poor was a time bomb waiting to go off.

I would like to say thank you to all the people in Aberdeen who attended the demonstration, which was held on St Nicholas Street, Aberdeen, for showing that we do not stand for exploitation of a nation’s people.