Monthly Archives: July 2013

Dreyfus

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Those unfamiliar with the basic story of the Dreyfus affair could do worse than begin with this short book review by Gareth Jenkins published in Socialist Review back in 2010. A Jewish officer in the French Army, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, was accused in 1894 of spying for Germany, convicted by a military tribunal of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. In 1896, an internal French Army investigation revealed that the original trial had been flawed and named the true spy as a Major Esterhazy. Yet Dreyfus was not released, and the author of the investigation was forced to leave France. In January 1898, the novelist Emile Zola published J’accuse, a brilliant deconstruction of the case against Dreyfus. But the army held firm. Zola was prosecuted and found guilty of libel just one month later. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England. At an 1899 retrial, Dreyfus was again convicted. He received a Presidential Pardon but this deliberately left open the question of his guilt or innocence. Only in 1906 did a further military tribunal finally clear his name.

The most basic facts about the Dreyfus affair are the weakness of the prosecution case and the extraordinary way in which the French army and politicians conspired to maintain Dreyfus’ guilt. One prominent anti-Dreyfusard, Maurice Barrès wrote, “That Dreyfus is guilty, I deduce not from the facts themselves, but from his race.” For the Right, his guilt was a point of principle: that a Jew could never be believed; and that by contrast a gentile officer of the French Army must always be telling the truth.

For another leading anti-Dreyfusard Charles Maurras what mattered was not whether Dreyfus was guilty, but the interests of the nation which always had to come first: “the specific interests of the condemned man cannot be weighed against those of the French Army.” Maurras was adamant, the army was being witch-hunted in the press. His friends, his party, the causes he supported all were more important to Maurras than a proper investigation. Indeed a fair investigation was the opposite of what he wanted; for its outcome would almost certainly have been to reveal Esterhazy and others for the rogues they were.

Those maintaining Dreyfus’ guilt did so through repeated set-backs, holding desperately to the fiction that there had been a fair investigation. For twelve whole years they maintained this lie, becoming ever less convincing the longer they argued it. The counter-argument was compelling: the proceedings were in secret, no-one was allowed to read the documents that had been put to it or to know what was said. In the last resort there was nothing more to the anti-Dreyfusard case than this: “we are people of authority, we would have no reason to get a decision wrong, you must trust us to have got it right.” It took twelve years to win the argument that it is not enough to take justice “on trust”. A fair investigation must be done and must be seen to be done.

It is hard to grasp at this distance what a wretched, unending business Dreyfus must have been for all concerned. Relationships split over it; at times the key participants must have been disgusted with their own impotence to bring it to any sort of conclusion. And all the while it was working to readjust the political landscape; bringing low those associated with deceit, replacing them with new people who had met the challenge.

After the 1906 election, Zola’s publisher Georges Clemenceau became Prime Minister of France. The French Socialists, led by another Dreyfusard, Jean Jaurès, increased their representation in Parliament from 9 to 54 seats. The attitude – of putting a cause before the truth – had caused and would continue to cause the Right immense harm. A generation of politicians staked decades of hard-won authority on establishing that Dreyfus was guilty. Afterwards, they were humbled, appeared liars, and were disgraced. For twelve years, they undermined their own supporters, tarnished their own cause.

Yet while the Dreyfus affair is usually held up as a simple victory of the French left in its capacity as principled seekers of truth; a more honest reflection would be that the issue split the French left in two. Among the Socialists, there were two substantial blocks of opinion. The “impossiblists” led by Jules Guesde took a seemingly principled position of revolutionary intransigence. At every occasion, Guesde warned of the present danger posed by the reformist route to socialism. Seeing the campaign between Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards only as a split within bourgeois liberal opinion, he concentrated his fire on those among the socialist camp who wanted to use their party’s increasing popularity to form a left’ government. Socialists can’t be neutral however when principles are tested on this scale. Merely parroting empty slogans about the need for revolution when an actual battle was underway was a vacuous and dishonest approach to a real conflict. In the language of one recent source it was “deliberate obfuscation”. Guesde’s “neutrality” was the first sign of the extraordinary passivity of even the supposed revolutionaries among French and German socialism; the first betrayal in a long series that would end with a failure to oppose the carnage of 1914.

As for the “possibilists”, although Jean Jaurès rightly campaigned for Dreyfus’ innocence; his supporters would not push the politics of Dreyfus’ truth to its logical conclusion, but constantly sought to use it as a bargaining chip, hoping to accommodate the politicians of the French Right. This included in 1899 sanctioning a supposedly “Dreyfusard” ministry in which socialist ministers (chiefly Alexandre Millerand, the Minister of Labour) would be a small minority. The Minister of War in this government (i.e. the man charged with pardoning Dreyfus) was one General Gallifet, who three decades earlier had been a chief butcher of the Paris Commune. As Chris Harman has written, the compromise which was supposed to clear Dreyfus fell short of doing even that:

“By the time the government was formed, it was clear not only that Dreyfus was innocent, but also that leading army officers were guilty of lying to keep him in prison and of victimising those who spoke out in his favour. The rationale of Millerand joining the government was to ensure that those in the military who had conspired against Dreyfus were brought to justice, while his name was completely cleared. Instead the government simply pardoned Dreyfus (implying that he might have been guilty but was being let off) and by trying to draw a line under the whole affair let the military conspirators go. In other words, Jaurés’s socialist was prepared to drop the demand of full justice for Dreyfus if that was the price of staying in the government. It was not until four years later that further revelations forced a different government finally to admit the truth about the whole Dreyfus business.”

What the Left should have done is straightforward: tolerate no compromises with those who had lied on an epic scale; campaign for the most thorough investigation until the full truth was revealed; and use the history of deceit relentlessly to expose the Right.

I don’t often use this website advice to give advice to the Right, in history or the present, but they were too human and Dreyfus was (as far as they were concerned; they were a self-pitying bunch) their tragedy too. They had but one route to salvation: stop lying, tell the truth quickly, and admit everything.

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That “centre faction” …

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(With thanks to Slim Brundage)

How many years, old man! Lewisham, Genoa, years ago, that little room where we argued so fiercely all one evening; the congresses, that flawed, so flawed Respect campaign, the hotels in little towns. Their common memories came back in such a crowd that not one became dominant; all were present, but silently and unobtrusively, recreating a friendship which had never known words. The Chief sighed. Kondratiev, at the other end of the receiver, could hear the deep fatigue in his voice…

“Well, Vania, what’s the situation now, down there? Speak plainly, you know me.”

“The situation”, Kondratiev began, “The situation…”

The Chief seemed not to have heard this beginning. “You know, veterans like you, members of the old Party, must tell me the truth … the whole truth. Otherwise who will I get it from. I need it. Everything is lies and lies and lies! From top to bottom, they all lie. It’s diabolical … nauseating … I live on the summit of an edifice of lies, do you know that? Party Notes lies of course. it is the sum total of the stupidities of the full-timers at the base, the intrigues at the Centre, the imaginings, the servility … I feel like asking people why, even if they say nothing, their eyes lie. Do you know what I mean?”

Was he finding excuses for himself? He let his voice trail off

Kondratiev was pulled into speaking by the unwanted silence. Should he risk it? He raised an unemphatic, “Isn’t it  little your own fault?”

“I’d like to see you in my place – yes that’s something I’d like to see. The Party is a swamp – the farther you go, the more the ground gives, you sink in just when you least expect to … ”

“Like the end of the 70s?”

“Yes … On the surface … But without the Party, without Cliff.”

The Chief paused and Kondratiev thought he could hear the sound of the receiver being placed – on a table? – glasses being lifted from a face, hands rubbing a tired brow.

“I need you to vote the right way on Sunday.”

Kondratiev did not answer. He thought, “That is cruel.”

“We are worth that”, the Chief resumed.

Kondratiev hesitated before answering, for he had thought a great deal on the subject.

“I think”, said Kondratiev, “that you personally have been wrong to associate yourself so personally, twice, with the hearing of a complaint. You must have a sense, don’t you, of the harm the last year has done us? Why can’t we do things better this time?”

“But our plans for Sunday are so carefully crafted”, the Chief countered, “There will be no expulsions this time.”

“Suspensions and a dismissal, do you think the opposition will fall for that?”

The Chief sighed and said nothing.

“I have been so moderate. In December, I attended meeting offering to sponsor the Opposition. I have spoken to Comrade G- offering the Opposition a compromise.”

“And yet with every intervention, you make things worse. It was you who told the first conference ‘This is War'”.

“No I did not.”

“It was you who asked the second conference to treat the opposition with ‘the contempt they deserve’.”

“But I have only been holding back the tide.”

“With every step you take, the thugs and the bullies tighten their control over the organisation.”

The strain the Chief’s voice was audible, “There are three factions in the party, and mine is the Centre, the only moderates.”

“If you offered them peace, do you think anyone in the Opposition would believe a word you say?”

Konradtiev flinched as words exploded from the Chief: “Everyone lies and lies and lies!”

“There is so much servility everywhere, a lack of oxygen”, the Chief continued, “How are we supposed to build the party without oxygen?”

“I could always accuse them of wanting to join Counterfire…”

Here they began, within them and between them, a secret dialogue, which they both followed by divination, distinctly. “Why don’t you leave?”, Kondratiev suggested. “A two, three year sabbatical? It would do you so much good.”

“I never wanted this role”, the Chief countered. “But I am the only one left of the Old Guard. I’m still needed. ”

They spoke none of these words; they heard them, uttered them, only in a double tete-a-tete.

“I pity you, you are the most captive of us all.”

“I don’t want to be pitied. I forbid you to pity me. I have chosen my path and I will live by it.”

Learning to live with your inner posh person

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When I joined the SWP one of the things which intrigued me was how few of the leading members seemed happy under their own skins. Tony Cliff and Chris Harman were painfully shy; Chris Bambery would tell anyone who’d listen how little he liked most of the people in the party. Lindsey German and John Rees had the true politicans’ skills at working a room (you enter; you approach the people you know, one by one, whispering malice about whoever you are smearing). The only time I ever remember Lindsey actually smiling was in the afternoons at the centre, with a chocolate biscuit in hand. Sugar deprivation may play its part too in the legendary grumpiness of our Professor. Certainly, his former PhD students describe keeping an unopened pack of polo mints on permanent standby. This was not for halitosis, but simply to dispel the Professor’s frequent sugar lows.

Now, as most readers will be aware, there are many stories about the Professor ranging from the best recollection of the person who used to have to collect Ruskin’s supply of Socialist Worker from his room in Oxford (“he was a bumptious little toad”), to various allegations that he is the poshest socialist in the history of Western Marxism – a title I am sometimes said to contest with him. It is a smear of course, his family were Aristocracy, mine mere Gentry. But even to raise the uncomfortable subject of how many current or ex-members of the SWP CC went to public school is to ask: can people from ruling class backgrounds ever do anything useful in the workers’ movement?

There is a model of course, but an equivocal one. The founder of Britain’s first Socialist party, the Democratic Federation (later Social Democratic Federation, or SDF) was HM Hyndman, an old Etonian, cricketer, explorer, barrister and Oxford graduate, who had made his way into Marxism via an interview with the ageing Tory grandee Lord Disraeli, who was disappointingly uninterested in a Tory-Radical pact (attempting to dissuade Hyndman: “private property … and vested interests … have a great many to speak up for them still”).

Here is Caroline Benn, the biographer of Keir Hardie (the first Labour MP, i.e. Hyndman’s rival) on the personality of Britain’s first Marxist leader: “Hyndman’s approach to audiences was to speak in the tall silk hat and frock coat of the upper-class gentleman he was, thanking his working-class audience for supporting him and his kind, and belittling them for their gullibility in accepting the yoke of capitalism. Even Hyndman’s most loyal supporters always had a ‘chill sinking of heart’ at his stockbroker appearance and continual harping on his upper-class origins…”

Hyndman was an intensely divisive figure; meeting Marx in 1880, when the far more talented German revolutionary was 24 years his senior, Hyndman insisted on lecturing the older man. Later, he published a largely-plagiarised manifesto England for All, in which Marx went unnamed. The manifesto also contains long passages praising the Colonial system as the special heritage of the British workers.

During an election campaign in 1885 he accepted a donation that came ultimately from a Tory agent (causing the SDF to be tarred for years with an association with “Tory Gold”). And in the same year, the most talented and best figures from the SDF (William Morris, Eleanor Marx) split from the Federation in rejection of Hyndman, setting the tone for the fissiparous 130 year history of British Marxism.

When I read Hyndman’s memoirs, even now, they make my head shake:

“My father, John Beckles Hyndman, was an Eton and Trinity Cambridge man, at which college, being then possessed of a very large income, he was a Fellow-Commoner…

“My mother, Caroline Seyliard Mayers, was a good mathematician, a good classical scholar, and generally a woman of great ability and accomplishments, numbering the well-known Mary Somerville among her intimate friends. In those days really well-educated women were rarer than they are to-day…”

“My forbears, whose name was Hyndeman, which means the headman of the hynde or hundred, lived in the North Country for many generations. They landed there as freebooters and homicides, and remained as farmers and raiders. When they got too thick upon the ground some of these Hyndemans of the Border thought it was high time to follow the example of their ancestors, and taking ship after the manner of their ancient progenitors they proceeded to remove from active life people in an adjacent island, whose farms and freeholds formed thereafter a convenient property for themselves…”

(Sorry, HM, but whoever Socialism was for; it wasn’t people like you…)

On becoming a socialist, William Morris had resigned on his Directorships and sat on his top hat, never to wear one again. Hyndman retained his, and it features in almost ever published story about him, including in the memoirs of Tom Mann, pioneering strike leader, syndicalist, and later founding father of British Communism.

Tom Mann was of course in every respect a greater person than Hyndman, a better reflection of the sort of left that every breathing socialist would like us to be.

Much of my way into the left was through reading its history and in my teens and early 20s I could think of no worse figure in its story than Hyndman. Yet the older I have become, I have grown to feel paradoxically a little fonder of him.

At the age of 35 I became a barrister. The primary qualification for the job remains education, and when I retrained I found myself surrounded by the sorts of former acquaintances that I had spent nearly twenty years avoiding. “Look, it’s Deh-vid!”, I heard, the first time I entered a Crown Court robing room. And my heart sank.

But there was a compensation; strangers’ assumptions about me changed too. It is easier being a socialist and a barrister – no-one is surprised to discover that you went to this or that school – no-one feels that you are deceiving them.

Of all the many former public school boys who I have met in the SWP, only one would talk openly about it (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/jul/25/1). He was the happiest of all us. When he spoke from a public platform, he spoke freely, and he made more socialists than anyone I know.

What was Hyndman supposed to do? He could have pretended to be a worker. He might have retrained as a teacher (leading socialists in this profession currently include at least one son of a Court of Appeal judge). But it wouldn’t have washed. It would have felt like he was “slumming it”, pretending to be something he was not.

The thing about Hyndman is that he never pretended to be anyone different from what he was. He never acquired a mock-cockney accent. Rather than being embarrassed about Guardian revelations that he went to public school (I’m thinking of a one-time leader of the SWP and Globalise Resistance, see the comments here: http://splinteredsunrise.wordpress.com/2008/09/20/these-dudes-are-wack/) he would have cheered out loud at being labelled posh and asked: “so what?”

I can’t help but feel that some of the grumpiness emanating from the Vauxhall bunker these past six months would be dispelled if the other Poshadists and Toffskyists presently in the leadership of my party would only out themselves, rethink their student clothing, and admit their privileged selves…

Come on comrades: it’s warm out here.

You might even learn how to smile.

Socialism from Below

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Many thanks to the good folks of the Association of Musical Marxists for bringing out this book in time for Marxism. It will be on sale – definitely – at the AMM stall, in Marxism, albeit on the Saturday only. I hope it will also be on sale at Bookmarks throughout the event, and, if you can’t see it on display there, it couldn’t hurt, could it, to ask?

It’s a pity having to do this but before anyone pretends to you that I think factional intrigue is far more important than building working class resistance to austerity, this has been my day so far. In court all morning; speaking to Tithi Bhattacharya’s MA students from the US this afternoon on the Battle of Cable Street and how to fight fascism; and this evening, a meeting for a Unite branch on what to do about the small hell which is the Tribunal’s employment law changes. It really is this simple. You can be passionate about democracy in the movement *and* fighting the cuts. In fact, if you aren’t passionate about the former, the truth is, you’re probably not going to be doing the latter very well either (if at all).

A last thought. When Mark Thomas told the NC on Sunday; “the faction have given up on Socialism from Below”, I don’t know think he was expecting this quick an answer… We haven’t.

First published here

Thinking aloud about democratic centralism

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After new members have joined the SWP, they are informed in due course that the party embodies democratic centralism, a simple and attractive formula along the following lines. “When an important decision needs to be taken about how the party relates to changing events in the outside world, we practise the maximum internal democracy. We discuss the question exhaustively with the maximum openness, and then, having taken our decision, we expect all members to argue for it, including those who disagreed with it. Only if we work together can we maximise our impact.”

When those same new members ask what that means in practice, they may get something like the list set out in Pat Stack’s recent post on the RS blog: “a three month pre-conference discussion period, with factions tolerated; a Central Committee (CC) elected by a slate system, majority votes taken at an annual conference end the matter, regardless of how close the votes were; no permanent factions; and the party’s strategy settled for nine months of the year, unless changed by the CC”. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/152158848/Pat-Stack-The-evolution-of-democratic-centralism-in-the-SWP)

It used to be the case that the new recruits would also learn that this system of democratic centralism had 1) marked the SWP since its outset, having been acquired by Tony Cliff (like Moses receiving the tablets on Mount Sinai) from Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who 2) had always practise the slate system, etc, and whose victory in the 1917 revolution proved the success in practice of this method.

It is one small boon of the recent faction fight that nobody, not even the most devoted follower of the leadership, could still pretend either that the old, libertarian IS accepted these limits, or that they have anything to do with “Bolshevism”.

It is the case that there is an enormous gulf between the abstract vision of democratic centralism and its supposed concrete expression, and Pat should be applauded for having explained very clearly how historically Cliff adopted, and the party accepted, the present model. I won’t repeat the good points he makes.

Here, I just wanted to ask rather, what is the authentic component of democracy which democratic centralism is intended to embody?

You see when other people (maybe even, potential members of the SWP) think about democracy, they may give the world all sorts of meanings. It could just mean “elections” (i.e. the principle that representatives are elected, whether to Parliament or the CC). Of course, the classic Marxist critique of elections under capitalism is that they are too occasional, there is not generally a power of recall (see Marx on the Paris Commune), and that there are insufficient countervailing mechanisms, in all circumstances short of a revolution, to overcome the ruling-class’s domination of the means of production (ownership and control of newspapers, etc).

But I think that in a revolutionary party, everyone, even the most fanatical supporter of a leadership faction, would accept that democracy means a little more than just the leadership stands for election once a year. After all, in the abstract concept of democratic centralism, the very justification for centralism is that it follows an intense period of debate. “Democracy” in other words, has to mean something about who takes part in that discussion, and how carefully it is handled.

Democracy could mean the principle that majorities rule, and that minority who dissent from majorities have to be broken. (The Dave Hayes conception) But this hardly does justice to abstract vision of democratic centralism to which I have just alluded. A vote, after inadequate discussion, would be a vote which would be functionally inadequate. Not identifying with the process (25 minute speeches for one side, 6 minutes for the other…), people wouldn’t accept the outcome. And if they didn’t actively support the outcome – if they hadn’t been persuaded during the course of the debate – you simply wouldn’t get the intended combined activity towards a single goal, which democratic centralism is supposed to unleash.

Other questions occur to me.

How compatible is abstract democratic centralism with delegate democracy? On its most positive expression it seems to involve active participation not merely in the debate but in the final vote. How much damage then is done to democratic centralism by a party culture in which elections are used to send inactive members of the organisation to a conference (everyone knowing that many of them will never attend), in order to “block” an “anti-leadership” vote, over those who have been active in the organisation but would vote the “wrong way”? Doesn’t their deliberate exclusion from the final vote do some damage to the concept of a majority using democracy to bind the minority into joint activity?

How far can/should the election of delegates devolve responsibility for a decision if only the delegates are given a certain piece of information? (I’m thinking particularly of the January special conference, where the atmosphere in the hall, for those attended, was in every way different from the 30 second report back that many non-attendees were given: “a complaint was made by some people, I can’t tell you who they were or what the complaint was, only that, fortunately, conference voted to vindicate the person who had been subject to the complaint.”

Can you have democracy where a group of decision makers (the CC) is to a significant extent able to control who becomes a delegate?

And if you can have democracy in deciding a question of political perspective; can you have democracy as to a question of fact?

If you look back to the simple model of democratic centralism with which I opened, I described it as “When an important decision needs to be taken about how the party relates to changing events in the outside world”.

By a “question of fact” I mean votes about something like the following:

1 whether cheese is pink

2 whether the sun goes round the earth or vice versa

3 whether an internal disputes process was fair or not

None of these would satisfy the “intervention” criterion of democratic centralism. None of them would be votes about changing events in the outside world.

But, even more crudely still, they fail a further essential requirement of democratic centralism. They are votes about whether something happened or not, they are not votes that respond to Lenin’s question: “and what is to be done about it?”

You can’t “test ideas in practice” about the colour of cheese or the direction of movement between the earth or the sun.

Democratic centralism works in certain circumstances, eg assuming the Tories are weak, and the unions strong, should we be campaigning for a general strike to being them down?

It’s not appropriate for questions which are perfectly factual.

The reasons it doesn’t work are as follows:

1) Question of fact have a different verification mechanism (not activism by your membership), one which you don’t control. If it was a party line that dinosaurs hadn’t existed or that Lenin was born in 4004 BC, we wouldn’t control the dinosaur fossils, Lenin’s mausoleum, etc.

2) Parties which try to control questions of fact are demanding for themselves a degree of control over their members’ conscience (i.e. an insistence that they actively say things which might make themselves look ridiculous) which no other comparable organisation demands. They look totalitarian. And in an epoch in which the most important knockdown argument against socialism remains “Lenin led to Stalinism” (ie that Marxism has been tested in practice and produced cruel and indefensible systems of political rule), being seen to imitate the democratic culture of high Stalinism is an effective way of losing a party friends and influence.

3) A very specific reason, related to our recent crisis: if the effect of your “democratic centralism about a question of fact” is to make it look like the SWP stands for the very precise antithesis of what it claims to stand for (i.e. in support of men who rape, in solidarity with employers who victimise workers…) then it is absolutely inevitable that a number of people are going to say, in practice, like Shanice McBean has also done recently. “Sorry, I prefer the old SWP that opposed oppression and I won’t defend the indefensible” (http://somcbean.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/short-response-to-callinicos-oppression.html)

Let me end with an unkind question:

Q: What was the last political organisation to insist that questions of fact were appropriate for democratic centralism?

A: The Catholic Church in threatening Galileo…

That worked well for the Church, didn’t it?

“Lives running” reviewed

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Race aware
Lives Running by David Renton
Zero books ISBN 978-1-78099-235-8
reviewed by John Hobson

After a year in which sport had been hugely prominent, most obviously through the London Olympics, Lives Running is an unusual book which provides a deeply personal narrative of the author’s experience sof running both competitively and recreationally.

The descriptions of early expectations of – and indeed realised – success in middle distance running at school bring the reader into a private world where the joys of acheivement and pain of injury impact heavily in a context where great emphasis is placed on sporting prowess, through peer and family culture.

The author however interjects interesting facts and analysis of a sport for which he remains clearly passionate, most significantly of the oft-forgotten rivalry in middle-distance running between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe that developed in the late 1970s and which reached its peak at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Fascinating detail is provided about these two individuals’ backgrounds and experiences and which in particular furthers a degree of insight into Coe’s trajectory from ungracious loser to Ovett in the 800m Olympic final, to Tory MP and then ultimately to crowned glory as the Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympics and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and beyond.

As the currently shallow discussions about the “legacy” of the London Olympics proceed, it is refreshing to read an account of sport by someone who was active in the important critique and attendant activism surrounding the Games.

The contributions of such individuals, as people passionate about sport but also about real accessibility and participation will be essential as the memories of London 2012 fade, the corporate Olympic juggernaut moves on and cuts in public funding for leisure services translate.

In essence however Lives; Running is a memoir of one individual’s relationship to sport and the power of the same to ultimately provide straight forward entertainment, far from the madding crowd or otherwise.

This article was first published in the June 2013 edition of Socialist Lawyer magazine. The magazine is sent to all members of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. Details of how to subscribe can be found here.

Egypt: in place of an analysis

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The relationship between revolution and counter-revolution remains finely balanced. SCAF’s capacity to make meaningful decisions will be tightly constrained. Dozens if not hundreds of workplaces have ousted senior managers who were appointed under the Mubarak regime. Let alone the protests involving tens of millions of people, there are more strikes taking place weekly in Egypt right now than there are yearly in Britain. The army’s instincts are as neo-liberal as the Brotherhood’s – unlike the Brotherhood, its senior personnel still own important chunks of the economy as their own private wealth. But they face a turbulent people who will not accept privatisation, the loss of state subsidies of food, etc and have fought – and won.

On the other hand, the army has acquired in the last few weeks a degree of popular legitimacy which it had lost. Part of the mobilisations has been by felul – they are the group who have most to gain from the coup. Even just in London you could see the reappearance of the Gucci crusaders, the Armani mafia, and I don’t doubt for a second that the same dynamics can be traced in the differing responses of different areas of Cairo to the news of the coup.

In the next round of protests, the revolutionary left (ie the youth groups, Rebel, RS, etc) will be unable and unwilling to repeat the trick that it pulled off in 2011-2 – of using younger MB cadres as an ally to weaken the dictatorship.

I don’t think comrades here talking blithely of a “second revolution” grasp the risk that what we have just seen is in fact the start of the counter-revolution. Under 5 decades of military rule in Egypt, there was never a public, visible left in that country. Such lefts as there were, suffered, jail and torture on a mass scale. The army’s instincts have not changed one bit.

This may help to explain the tetchiness with which the best comrades in Egypt are responding to advice from activists here: they grasp far better than we do what is at stake for them personally.

We owe them our love and solidarity, they, right now, are the ones who carry our dreams.