Anti-Tory Then and Anti-Tory Now: ‘Power in the Darkness’

MAY 11, 2010 – So David Cameron is Britain’s new prime minister. His accession to 10 Downing Street is reminiscent of another May election when the smug elite organized in the Conservative Party outpolled the Labour Party. May 3, 1979, Margaret Thatcher defeated James Callaghan. She would in the 1980s, partner up with her U.S. equivalent – former B-movie Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan – the two becoming symbolic of what we now call the neo-liberal revolution. Britain in the 1970s, however, did not just give the world neo-liberalism. It also produced cultures of resistance. And as the election results rolled in May 6 and 7, the tunes from one part of that resistance kept coming to mind. Power in the Darkness, the Tom Robinson Band’s breakthrough 1978 album, contained song after song which became anthems of resistance for young activists in the Thatcher/Reagan years. There are some parallels between 2010 and 1979, some important differences, and a new relevance for a thirty-two year old album.

Both 1979 and 2010 marked the end of distinct eras for the Labour Party. In 1997, 13 years before Brown’s humiliation, “New Labour” led by Tony Blair had thrown out the hated Tories, getting the support of more than 13.5 million voters in the U.K. Thirteen years later, Gordon Brown’s vote total came in almost five million votes below that figure.[1] Thirteen years of Blairism and almost a decade of war in Central Asia and the Middle East had seen a massive haemorrhaging of Labour Party support.

In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, we can see some similarities. Harold Wilson had captured office in 1964 with just over 12 million votes, increasing that to 13 million in 1966. Labour did not rule without interruption in the coming years – there was the Ted Heath interregnum from 1970 to 1974 – but Labour was the dominant party during that 15-year period. When Labour lost to Thatcher in 1979, 1.5 million of those 1966 votes had melted away. By 1983, in Labour’s second loss to Thatcher, support for the party had disastrously collapsed to under 8.5 million – 3.5 million fewer than the 1966 peak. That terrible performance in the 1983 election was called a crisis for British social democracy. The sobering news for Labour supporters in 2010, is that Gordon Brown’s 8.6 million votes sit only marginally above the disastrous showing in 1983. It is in fact, a much worse showing, as there are 10 million more voters in Britain in 2010 than there were in the mid-1960s.

But if there has been a loss of millions from the base of the Labour Party, all is not well with its chief rival – the Tories. From Thatcher’s first election in 1979, until John Major’s victory in 1992, the Tories were always able to muster more than 13 million votes at the polls – in the 1992 election, the figure actually topped 14 million. David Cameron’s Tories, by comparison, did very poorly. In spite of the steep decline of Labour, they failed to win a majority, polling just over 10.5 million, well down from Thatcher-era Tory support. We gave that earlier era the nickname “Thatcherism.” As of this writing, David Cameron has a ways to go before he gets his name attached to the current political era in the U.K.

The combination of deep demoralization with Labour and an ideological assertion of free-market dogma made the 1980s a grim era for politics in Britain. But, while there are similarities, you cannot draw direct parallels with 2010. Labour’s policies have created demoralization, but the disaffection with New Labour’s pro-market policies and the long shadow of the Great Recession make a strong re-assertion of free-market dogmatism difficult indeed. The post-election landscape is much more nuanced. Among the elements of this landscape are an increased fragmentation, a marginal increase in interest in the “third party” (the actually very old Liberal-Democrats, who in spite of all the hype only received 900,000 more votes than in 2005), and a withdrawal by thousands from engagement with the electoral process. In every election from 1966 until 1997, turnout at the polls in British general elections was always above 70 per cent, topping out at above 78 percent in the first election of 1974 (there were two in that turbulent year). Such figures now are a distant memory. The 1997 election was a harbinger of this, with turnout coming in at just 71 percent “the lowest for 62 years.”[2] In 2001, participation fell to just 59 percent, recovering only slightly in 2005 (61 per cent) and 2010 (65 per cent). The reaction by millions to having their 1997 anti-Tory hopes dashed, has been to stay away from the polls altogether.

Another important element in the landscape is something that did not happen in the Thatcher era – the emergence in the 21st century of serious left electoral alternatives to Labour. Not surprisingly, this has been a difficult project. For millions of working people, supporting Labour has for generations been the only realistic means of challenging the party of the bosses. To indicate that another such alternative exists, and not just as a token, was always going to be a challenge. However mixed the record, it marks an important advance on the 1970s and 1980s.

In Scotland, it was the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) which first gathered international attention. In 2001 it was a factor in all 72 constituencies in Scotland, averaging over 1,000 votes in each. In 2005 it did less well, but still could poll 43,514 votes in 58 constituencies – an average of 750 per candidate.

In the U.K. as a whole, the 2001 election saw the emergence of the Socialist Alliance. It stood candidates in 98 constituencies in 2001, and garnered 57,553 votes, an average of 587 per constituency. In 2005, the place of the Alliance was taken by Respect, a party deeply rooted in the mass anti-war movement of 2003 and 2004. George Galloway – exiled from New Labour because of his opposition to the war in Iraq – became the standard-bearer for the new party, and his 2005 election as a Respect candidate in the London constituency Bethnal Green and Bow was a defining moment. His 15,800 votes gave him a narrow victory over Labour – and gave the anti-war movement a voice in the House of Commons. This left-wing anti-war vote was not simply a vote for one prominent individual. Salma Yaqoob came second in her Birmingham constituency with over 10,000 votes. In total, in 26 constituencies, Respect received 68,094 votes, or an average of 2,619 per constituency.

Lost in the coverage of the 2010 election is the fact that the electoral response to these left-of-Labour forces – though fragmented into different components – was comparable to the response in 2005. The best result was achieved by Caroline Lucas, a left-wing member of the Green Party, who became that party’s first sitting MP gathering over 16,000 votes in the constituency of Brighton Pavilion. Respect was able to stand candidates in eleven constituencies winning 33,251 votes in total, averaging 3,023 votes per candidate. Galloway came third with over 8,000 votes in the London constituency of Poplar and Limehouse; Abol Miah also polled above 8,000 coming third in Galloway’s old constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow; and Yaqoob actually won 2,000 votes more than in 2005, coming in second in Birmingham Hall Green. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood candidates in 42 constituencies, winning 12,275 votes – an average of 292 per constituency. The SSP, while much reduced from years past, still managed to field 10 candidates, each receiving an average of 316 votes.

The attempt to build a left-of-Labour alternative takes on heightened importance when we shift our gaze to the right of the political spectrum. There is a far-right section of the British political landscape that has been steadily and stealthily making headway in the shape of the British National Party – this decade’s organizational hiding place for the racist right in the U.K.

It is true that the BNP failed to make the breakthrough for which its more naive supporters had hoped. In the London seat of Barking, BNP leader Nick Griffin received a humiliating 18,000 fewer votes than victorious Labour Party candidate Margaret Hodge. Hodge claimed to “have not just beaten” Nick Griffin but to “have smashed the extreme right.”[3] Excellent as it is that Hodge humiliated Griffin, her analysis has to be challenged.

The BNP cannot be smashed solely through an accumulation of votes for a party which ruled in the manner Blair/Brown New Labour. As a cabinet minister in both Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s cabinets, Hodge was complicit in the Blairist New Labour project. She was reported to have distanced herself from Blair’s war on Iraq in 2006, but instead of embracing that criticism and making herself part of the anti-Blair left, she insisted she had been misquoted.[4] It is impossible to “smash” the BNP while refusing to break openly from the wars which have fuelled Islamophobia – the anti-Arab racism that has made all forms of racism – and with it the BNP – a more legitimate factor in British politics.

What Hodge has to confront is that even though the BNP did not make its hoped for breakthrough, it was a visible presence across the country, winning more than half a million votes – an average of more than 2,000 per candidate – and representing by far the highest vote total achieved by the racist right in Britain in modern history. The BNP’s 2010 results are considerably up from its 192,745 votes in 2005 and 47,129 in 2001 – and higher than anything the noxious National Front (the 1970s version of the BNP) was able to achieve, the NF’s greatest success coming in 1979 when it captured 191,719 votes. Labour Party supporters need to soberly assess the fact that the high water mark for both of these far-right parties came after years of rule by Labour. The mass demoralization and fragmentation that arises from social-democratic attacks on its own base is the seed bed on which such politics can grow.

The last and most important issue in the comparison between the two eras is inherently the most difficult properly to assess – the level of class struggle. Whereas electoral politics can be mapped through the ebbs and flows of voting results and electoral turnouts, class struggle has no such precise indicators. There is a complex relationship between ideas, organization, confidence and economic conditions which go into what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels called the motor force of history – the struggle between classes.

Without question there has been mass struggle. We have seen huge political mobilizations in Britain and around the world in the 21st century. In Britain, the most impressive of these were the mobilizations of the movement against the war in Iraq. The millions who again and again took to the streets in London, made “Hyde Park” into a verb in some quarters. To “Hyde Park” meant to oppose the war in the heart of imperialism itself.

But a demonstration is not a strike – and the beating heart of resistance to the system, which ultimately sustains all other forms of resistance, is the willingness of workers through their own organizations, to directly challenge their employers and the state. An imperfect, but indispensable, measure of this willingness, comes from the statistics on strikes and lockouts that are produced by governments everywhere. We know in North America that strike levels in the 21st century are much reduced from any of the last three decades in the 20th century. A similar situation exists in Britain.

Tom Robinson anticipated something when – in 1978 – he came out with his song “Winter of ’79.” In terms of workers involved in workplace actions or strikes, the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent resulted in 1979 being the peak of the 1970’s strike wave, with some four and a half million workers during the year being involved in some kind of workplace action.[5] In the years which preceded that confrontational winter, it was a regular occurrence for there to be one million or more workers involved in strike action during any 12 month period. Those levels of activity sustained themselves through the bitter first half of the 1980s, which culminated in the great miners’ strike of 1984-1985. But from the mid-1980s through the entirety of the 1990s, strike activity was much lower than in the preceding generation.

Charts accompanying this analysis can be found at the end of the article. The contrast captured in the first chart is striking. This century, there has been a return in some years to strike levels of the late 1980s – but nowhere near the peaks achieved in the 1970s. Throughout the entirety of the decade of the 1990s and the first eight years of the 21st century, there has not been one year where one million workers have been involved in strike activity. In many years the figure has been below 300,000; in 1998 and 2005 the figure fell below 100,000. A generation of trade unionists has grown up with much less experience on the picket line than the generation which came before.

When measured as “Days not Worked” because of workplace action (as does the second chart), the picture is even more clear. Through the 1970s and into the months of the miners’ strike, three great waves puncture the graph – with more than 20 million, and then twice between 25 and 30 million, days not worked in the course of a year because of workplace actions. However, the impact of the defeat of the miners’ strike is plain to see in the years since. Through the 1990s and into the 21st century, the number of days not worked due to workplace actions has fallen to extremely low levels when compared with the 1970s and 1980s.

The big mobilizations against the war have to be seen in this context. They were part of a magnificent political upturn by thousands who were willing to take action against traditional social democracy. But here, the analysis sketched out by the late Tony Cliff describing an earlier period, has to be taken extremely seriously. In a 1996 interview he analyzed the movement associated with Tony Benn and the Labour Party Left in the early 1980s.

The problem was, people flocked to Benn in 1981 as a political solution when the industrial struggle was going down – but you cannot have a political upturn indefinitely at a time of industrial downturn. This expressed itself in interesting ways but the long term outcome was passivity. There was struggle in the 1980s. It was not like the 1970s but there were big struggles. The Labour left never organised centrally around them. It remained basically electoral, and that meant it was passive. If you are passive, you disintegrate. That’s why today there is demoralisation and passivity.[6]

Cliff uses the language of an earlier generation – subsuming all workplace actions under the term “industrial” – but his analysis remains otherwise, strikingly relevant. We have seen, in Britain and elsewhere in the Global North, big political upturns associated with movements against war and against corporate globalization. But these movements have yet to find a sustained echo in the struggle between capital and labour, at least as reflected in strike statistics. If the struggle between capital and labour is the central struggle of the capitalist system, then when that level is at a low ebb, it is going to have an impact on every other form of resistance. If this is true, the decline of the anti-war movement from its heights in 2003 should not be seen as the failure of that movement, but rather understood as a reflection of the very low level of workplace struggle in society as a whole.

Understanding the class struggle context in which we are operating is important. Until it turns upwards, it will be difficult to sustain a big breakthrough to the left. We have seen recurring upswells in radicalization – in particular, against corporate globalization at the turn of the century and against war in the years that followed. But until such radicalizations gain traction and find a reflection in the economic struggle against capital, they will inevitably be prone to fragmentation and decline.

This is not an excuse to therefore do nothing. “If you are passive you disintegrate.” The situation in Britain will be no different in this regard, to the situation in other countries. The future left alternative to social democracy everywhere will be built from the local struggles against racism, against the cuts, against global warming, against war and imperialism – even if these struggles are happening at a lower ebb, with fewer numbers, with less generalization, and at a slower pace than we had hoped. It is in these local struggles that a new generation of anti-capitalists is finding its voice and developing capacity.

There is a final reason for taking seriously the level of class struggle. If we know that the reason we are having difficulties is not because of the personal failings of this or that individual, this or that organization, but because of the complicated circumstances in which we operate – then we will develop the patience to minimize differences and maximize unity. That unity is not an optional extra. In Britain, the wreckage left behind by 13 years of Labour in office makes plain, again, that social democracy is no alternative to capitalism. The danger of disunity is starkly revealed by the insidious presence of forces like the BNP.

TRB looked out at the landscape of the late 1970s – at the racism of the NF, at the betrayals of Labour, at the threat of the Tories, at bigotry, sexism and anti-gay politics – and sang out “We ain’t gonna take it.” It’s not a full program of resistance. It wasn’t meant to be. But it was a pretty good song, a pretty good place to start in that era, and a timely reminder of what we face today.

Prejudice poison
Polluting this land
I’m a middle-class kiddie
But I know where I stand
We got brothers in Brixton
Backs to the wall
Bigots on the backlash
Divided we fall

Women with children
Have to carry the can
Till they lose them in divorce courts
To some pig of a man
We got Benyon and Whitehouse
Trying to get us stitched
Cos abortion and a gay scene
Only meant for the rich

Sisters and brothers
What have we done
We’re fighting each other
Instead of the Front
Better get it together
Big trouble to come
And the odds are against us
About twenty to one

But we ain’t gonna take it
Ain’t gonna take it
They’re keeping us under
But we ain’t gonna take it no more

Ain’t Gonna Take it

Glad to be Gay

Don’t Take No for an Answer

Up Against the Wall

Grey Cortina

2 4 6 8 Motorway

Charts referenced in the article

© 2010 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article was published as Anti-Tory then and Anti-Tory now.” The Bullet, 14 May


[1] Voting, participation and other election statistics cited in this article are compiled from: “Election 2010: National Results”; The Electoral Commission, “Election 2005: constituencies, candidates and results,” March 2006 and “Election 2001: The Official Results,” (London: Politico’s Publishing, 2001): “1997 General Election Result,” “General Election, 9th April 1992,” “General Election, 11th June 1987,” “General election, 9th June 1983,” and “General Election Results 1885-1979,” www.
[2] “The 1997 General Election,”
[3] Cited in Matthew Taylor, “BNP setbacks put Nick Griffin under pressure,”, May 7, 2010
[4] “Minister ‘attacks Iraq mistake,”, Nov. 17, 2006
[5] Labour dispute statistics taken from International Labour Organization, “LABORSTA Labour Statistics Database,”; and Office for National Statistics, “Labour Market Statistics: Labour Disputes: Summary,”
[6] Tony Cliff, “Labour’s crisis and the revolutionary alternative,” Socialist Review 202, November 1996
[7] Tom Robinson Band, “Ain’t Gonna Take It,” Power In The Darkness, 1978

‘Progressive’ Europe’s Reactionary Stew

The bailout of the debt-ridden Greek government seems finally to be complete. The European Union (EU) – most centrally the French and German treasuries – along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will provide €110-billion ($150-billion) in emergency loans. The price for these loans will be high. Along with steep tax increases and cuts in spending, the loans are conditional on a public sector wage freeze being extended through to 2014.[1] This is in reality a wage cut, as there will be drastic changes to the so-called “bonuses” – holiday pay that has become an essential part of the income package of low-paid public sector workers. The anger at these cuts is everywhere in Greek society. Giorgos Papadapoulos is a 28-year-old policeman who normally confronts demonstrators. But in March he put aside his riot shield and joined the mass protests which have become a regular part of life in Greece. “It’s a different feeling for me,” he told journalists while he was on the demonstration. “But this is important. It hurts me and my family.”[2] However, the crisis in Greece has revealed not just a shift to the left in Europe. It has also brought to the surface a seamy reactionary underside to politics in the EU portion of the Eurasian landmass.

The April 29 front page of the mass circulation German daily Bild screamed out “The Greeks want even more billions from us!”[3] The echoes of a half-forgotten German nationalism gave shivers to those with an historic memory. One who has such a memory – Greece’s deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos – reminded Greek voters of the horrors of World War II. “They [the Germans] took away the gold that was in the Bank of Greece,” he said. “They took away Greek money, and they never gave it back.”[4] It was a thinly-disguised attempt to divert attention from a crisis over which his party (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement or PASOK) has helped create. These kinds of reactionary nationalisms were supposed to have been superseded by the progressive cosmopolitanism of the EU.

That many have clung to a hope that the EU contains within it the seeds of a progressive capitalism, is not in itself news. Antonio Negri, co-author of Empire, supported a call for a “yes” vote on the European Constitution in 2004-2005. His rationale was explained very well by Salvatore Cannavò, then deputy editor of Liberazione, the daily paper of Italy’s Rifondazionie Comunista.

Empire, for Negri, is the new globalized, capitalistic society. He thinks of Europe as being a “brake on the ideology of economic unilateralism which is capitalist, conservative and reactionary. So Europe can become a counterweight against US unilateralism.”[5]

Another with faith in the EU was Christopher Hitchens, who describes himself as “one of the few on the Left to advocate enlargement of the European Union and to identify it with the progressive element in politics.”[6] But really, Hitchens needn’t describe himself as being so alone. In their hope that the EU represents a “nicer” capitalism than that in the United States, the very radical Negri and the ex-left gadfly Hitchens are actually trailing behind the very mainstream “social liberal” politics of very traditional European Social Democratic parties, still by far the principal force in the workers’ movement and the left in Europe. Hitchens’ and Negri’s pro-EU stances place them within the hegemonic project of European capitalism, mediated – as is so often the case – by European social democracy.

This hope for a progressive EU has been sorely tested by the most recent slump in the capitalist economy – the so-called “Great Recession” of 2008-9 – the trigger for the debt problems in Greece and elsewhere. November 2009, 57 per cent of the 53 per cent who participated in a referendum in Switzerland, voted to ban the building of minarets in that country. This reactionary trend is not restricted to Switzerland. In April we learned that the home affairs committee of the Brussels federal parliament in Belgium voted unanimously to ban Muslim women from veiling their face in public. “Support for the ban … transcended party lines, ranging from the Greens to the far right.” Similar restrictions are being contemplated elsewhere in Europe, including in France and the Netherlands. That this reflected a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism is revealed by the fact that “only four modest sized or small minarets exist in Switzerland,”[7] and that in Belgium “very few women wear the full veil, and there has been little public debate about the need to ban it.”[8]

It needs little analysis to see what is at work here. The deep crisis of 2008 and 2009 triggered huge government-spending programs across the continent. That spending worked to stem the crisis, but left governments saddled with unsustainable debts. Every government is now preparing to address this debt crisis by slashing government spending. The anti-Arab racism is a deeply reactionary, very old-fashioned and very predictable way for ruling elites to try and “change the channel” and make working people and the poor look at scapegoats, rather than at the deep attacks on social services and public sector workers that are around the corner throughout the continent. The anti-Greek nationalism in Germany – which threatens to derail a bailout sorely needed by German as well as Greek capital – reflects this politics of scapegoating getting out of the hands of German capital, and opening the door to populist far-right forces, an increasingly sombre menace on the fringes of the European political landscape.

This shift right is not a big step for politics in the EU. The EU could present itself as a force for progress, given the barbaric history of European civilization. A collection of nations – whose continent had, in a century and a half, witnessed the bloodiest wars ever seen in human history – had found a way to unite and partially reduce their divisions. Holders of an EU passport could travel easily from one country to the next – and more importantly work in any country of the Union. The emergence of a common currency for some of the EU states seemed to indicate an even greater reduction in tensions in a continent comprised of historic rivals.

But this progressive surface appearance masked another aspect of the barbarism that has been European civilization. Its roots are not just in the 150 years of intra-European rivalry which resulted in the Napoleonic Wars, World Wars I and II. Those roots are even more in the 500 years of colonial conquest of the Global South, which resulted in the depopulation of whole sections of Latin America and the Caribbean, the horrors of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the long humiliation and plunder of three of the four most populated regions in the world – China, the Indian sub-continent, and the Indonesian archipelago. If the creation of the EU muted intra-European rivalries, it did not lessen European pressure on the Global South. If anything, it led to an intensification of European imperialism abroad. European corporations, from Latin America to Africa to Asia, have been as much a part of the story of imperialism in the late 20th and early 21st century as has been the much more recognizable hand of the United States. In fact, an argument could be made that the very reluctant decision to embark on the process of European integration was spurred not so much by a desire to create a progressive Europe, but rather by the recognition that another round of wars between the European states would make all of Europe incapable of participating with the United States in the ongoing plunder of the great riches in the Global South. It was either all-in or not at all – and the EU was the result.

In other words, there has always been a reactionary side to the EU project. Internal migration for holders of EU passports was wonderful for the workers of Europe. But for those outside the EU, what it meant was “Fortress Europe” – a wall of anti-immigrant rules and regulations from Italy to Spain to Germany. And while it was one thing to push forward with a unity project so long as each country in the project was in its majority white and Christian – when the project faced up to its next task, expanding to include the largely Islamic country of Turkey – a sudden reluctance showed its hand, a reluctance which could only with difficulty conceal its xenophobia and racism.

There is another aspect to the imperialist roots of the project of European Union – the unequal relations between states inside the Union. Doug Saunders, writing in The Globe and Mail, is going too far when he calls Greece, Portugal and Spain “economic colonies” of Germany. But he is highlighting something important about the unequal structure which is the EU. There is an inner core of dominant countries – on the continent, Germany and France in particular – and an outer layer of countries which has a very unequal relationship with that core.

Germany is the world’s second-largest exporter, ahead of the United States and exceeded only by China, and its largest markets are its European neighbours. These countries are net importers … These importing countries have more money flowing out of their borders than they have coming in – for Greece, an amount equivalent to a tenth of the entire economy – and Germany has a surplus, with piles of it stacking up. Money cannot sit still, and nature abhors a vacuum, so German banks disposed of those heaps of surplus export-payment cash by lending it to companies, especially property developers, in those same countries at low interest rates. And they lent it to their governments, too, to fill their need for missing cash, which would in turn be spent on more German goods and services.[9]

This is the toxic brew which is now bubbling over as the EU finalizes details on its bailout of the debt in Greece. The fact, outlined by Saunders above, that much of this debt is held by German banks, means that there is every reason for German capitalism to support such a bailout – but the terms that are being demanded are very severe, and it is Greek workers who are being asked to pay the price.

These conditions also run counter to the lessons learned so painfully in 2007 and 2008. The biggest lesson of the Great Recession was that it is neo-liberal folly to cut government spending when economies are shrinking. Such cuts make economic decline even worse. In fact what is needed is an increase in government spending, so that government demand can compensate for declining private sector demand. But if Germany has returned to economic growth and can now contemplate cuts to government spending, Greece has not. It is estimated that the Greek economy – after contracting through all of 2009 – will shrink by a further 4% in 2010 and another 2% in 2011.[10] The cuts being demanded by the EU and the IMF will make a bad situation worse in the coming weeks and months.

There is hope in the situation – the evolving resistance emerging in Greece. One poll indicated that “more than half of Greeks say they will take to the streets if the government agrees to new austerity measures.”[11] The growing mass movement and opening to the left underway in Greece, is extremely encouraging. It is with that movement that hopes ultimately lie for the emergence of a really progressive Europe.

But we should temper these hopes with a sober assessment of the reality of the situation. Social Democracy – and the union bureaucracies on which it stands – is deeply implicated in the construction of the structures which are today being used to orchestrate an attack, across the continent, on social services and the working class. Social Democracy remains the leading force in the workers’ movement, and we can have no illusions in its capacity to lead a serious fightback. In Greece the movement has necessarily broken in part with PASOK, as it is a PASOK-led government which is implementing the attacks. But in Greece as throughout Europe, social democracy is only a reflection of the problem. The material foundation of social democracy is comprised of the union bureaucracies entrenched in the workers’ movements in Europe and throughout the Global North. Ultimately the task facing the workers’ movement and the left is not just a political break from social democracy, but organizational independence from these union bureaucracies.

Winning that independence will be bound up with creating a counter-hegemonic project whose horizons are not just the internal politics of Europe, but the fact of Europe’s implication in the imperialism which oppresses the majority of the world’s population. Our counter-hegemonic project, in other words, cannot simply focus on economic issues. A counter-hegemonic project in Europe – as in North America – has to simultaneously involve a break from chauvinism and racism.

Such a recognition has practical implications. Greece’s small role in Europe’s noxious imperialism has been a series of chauvinistic rows over Macedonia and Cyprus, and its irresponsible and long-running feud with neighbouring Turkey. This has translated into an inflated military budget, keeping “Greek military spending well above that of other EU members, reaching €14-billion, or 6 percent of GDP, in 2007 and 2009.”[12] In other words, fully half of the deficit problem – which stands at between 13 and 14 percent of GDP – is caused by inflated spending on war preparation. Breaking from chauvinism and militarism opens the door to a simple demand which can be a modest, but necessary part of the counter-hegemonic project – cut spending on war, not spending on welfare.

© 2010 Paul Kellogg


[1] Eric Reguly (Rome), “Greece swallows tough medicine in bailout,” The Globe and Mail. May 3, 2010, p. B1. Accessed May 3, 2010.
[2] Nicole Itano (Athens), “Why the Greeks are protesting,” March 11, 2010. Accessed May 3, 2010.
[3] Tony Paterson (Berlin), “As size of Greek bailout soars, supply of German sympathy runs short,” Independent – London. Apr. 30, 2010, p. 16. eLibrary. Accessed May 2, 2010.
[4] Cited in Timothy Garton Ash, “The agonies of the eurozone reflect a far more significant hidden deficit,” The Guardian. Feb. 25, 2010, p. 31. Accessed May 2, 1020.
[5] Salvatore Cannavò, “Toni Negri in favour of free-market constitution,” International Viewpoint 377, April 2006. Accessed May 2, 2010.
[6] Christopher Hitchens, “What now for the European Dream?” Australian, Apr. 28, 2010, p. 8. eLibrary. Accessed May 2, 2010.
[7] Charles Bremner, “Swiss back right-wing minaret ban [Eire Region],” Times of London. Nov. 30, 2009, p. 3. elibrary. Accessed May 2, 2010.
[8] Ian Traynor, “Belgium to introduce first European ban on burqa and niqab,” The Guardian, April 1, 2010, p. 21. eLibrary. Accessed May 2, 2010.
[9] Doug Saunders (London), “Life in the German empire,” The Globe and Mail, May 1, 2010, p. A23. Accessed May 2, 2010.
[10] Global Economics Research, “Greece GDP Growth Rate,” TradingEconomics. Accessed May 3, 2010. “Greek Stocks Decline Amid Recession Concerns,”, May 3, 2010.
[11] Jason Subler, “Greek austerity measures will work: deputy PM,” Reuters, May 1, 2010. Accessed May 3, 2010.
[12] Eric Reguly and Brian Milner, “The bigger fear behind Greece: contagion,” The Globe and Mail, May 1, 2010, p. B7. Accessed May 2, 2010.

The Gutter Press and the ‘War on Terror’

Letter to the Editor submitted to The Globe and Mail June 26, 2008 • George Bush is white. Stephen Harper is white. Tony Blair is white. So, I will now write about white terrorism as a plague covering the planet, given that several hundred thousand in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a result of the military actions of these white men, are dead, maimed and/or traumatized. I will use the term “honky.” Were I to do this, of course, and submitted it as an article to the very respected The Globe and Mail, it would be rejected as being inflammatory, crude and, well, just a little too “gutter”. The language of the tavern is not appropriate for Canada’s national newspaper. However, when Christie Blatchford applies the same technique to people from Pakistan, not only is her article accepted – it is featured on the front page.[1]

But I urge you not to stop at the front page. Read the article in its entirety. She goes on to write about a man whose mother was in the World Trade Centre September 11, 2001, but who managed to survive. But the son, to Blatchford’s surprise, does not sign up to fight for the United States but is “inspired to go to Afghanistan not to fight the guys who nearly killed his mummy, but to fight the dirty kuffar, or infidels.”

She then compares him to an elephant, likens Manhattan to “civilization,” Central Asia to “the jungle” and says that the fellow left Manhattan for “the wilds of northern Pakistan, and wanted all the more to blow civilization to smithereens.”

Rudyard Kipling would be delighted. Blatchford has “taken up the white man’s burden” complete with racializing the enemy (Kipling disgustingly called his era’s enemy “new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child”) all to prosecute our era’s “savage wars of peace.”[2]

It is a shame that 109 years after Kipling’s hymn to racism and imperialism, there are some who have not discovered a better hymnal. It is a shame that seven years after the launch of the “War on Terror,” Canada’s national newspaper could give pride of place to something as poorly written and racially provocative as this article by Blatchford.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Christie Blatchford, “ ‘Down with the J,’ and out of their senses,” The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2008, p. A.1.
[2] Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden,” Literature Network, Rudyard Kipling,