Thursday, November 19, 2009

Keeping socialism alive in the House

The annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London last Saturday focused on next year’s general election and the need not only to keep the Tories out but to maximise the number of socialist Labour MPs in the House of Commons – as opposed to New Labour who are barely distinguishable from the Tories.
The meeting began with Tony Benn, former MP and still a very active campaigner, giving a brief history of the Labour Party from its creation by the original Labour Representation Committee to be a voice for the organised working class – the trade unions – in a Parliament dominated by capitalists and landowners.
LRC secretary Simeon Andrews pointed out that the LRC is a meeting point for different trends within the labour movement – those who want to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class and those who see the party now as a part of the capitalist state and the enemy of the workers.
And he said the interaction of the two trends is what gives the LRC its dialectical vigour, quoting William Blake’s The marriage of Heaven and Hell:
Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.

Mick Shaw of the Fire Brigades Union gave an account of his union’s struggles against cuts in local fire services and against Yorkshire Fire Service’s attempt to sack all its firefighters and offer them their jobs back on reduced pay and conditions.
Though firefighters, and the rest of the public sector, are having a tough time under New Labour, the Liberal Democrats want a public sector pay freeze and the Tories want to ban public sector strikes. John McDonnell MP read the LRC national committee statement. “People want real Labour,” he said, “that’s plain. They don’t want the Tories or the Lib Dems or New Labour. We are a beacon of light in the darkness.
“Our job is to put forward that platform; a platform for change that meets the needs of the people.”
He called for strategic support for socialist MPs to ensure that after the next general election, no matter who won, there would be strong voices for socialism and working class interests in the House. He warned that the Campaign Group of MPs now has just 25 members and half of them are planning to retire at the next election and they need to be replaced.
“After the next election, whether it’s New Labour or whether it’s the Tories, we will have to fight anti-working class policies.
“We have no alternative but to build the resistance,” he said. And he called on LRC members and supporters to campaign on the ground, on the doorsteps and on picket lines. “It’s about action in solidarity with those in struggle.”
There followed debate on a number of resolutions, most of which were passed unopposed. These included a motion from the New Communist Party on the threat to welfare benefits.
One motion that did spark contention was the support for the “People’s Charter”. Though it was carried some delegates found it bland and ineffectual. But supporters argued that its formulation would draw the widest possible support and pointed out that it did call for the nationalisation of the banks and had won the support of the TUC.
In the afternoon Cristian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino workers gave a rousing speech of the history of his movement “the poorest of the poor” and “the most humble Bolivian people”. They rose up and struggled and marched for a better future and they succeeded in sweeping away the colonial puppets who had ruled Bolivia for the benefit of the imperialists who plundered its natural wealth.
“Some people died on that march; babies were born on that march,” he said.
The struggle ended with the election of Evo Morales, a native from the oppressed working classes, with 53 per cent of the vote.
“They went on to defeat a recall referendum, which ended up endorsing Morales further and on 10th January this year 67 per cent voted in favour of the new constitution, despite strong opposition from the right-wing and fascists.
Dominguez stressed that the struggle of the Bolivian workers is the struggles of all oppressed people all around the world. “It is the struggle of the citizens of the whole world; we have a responsibility to take care of our world for our children and grandchildren.”
It was a day of debate,and a blend of old and new traditions that will hopefully revive Labour’s fortunes next year. It ended, naturally, with a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.
photo: Cristian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino workers.

Cuba: Treasured Island

ALEJANDRO Gortazar is a Cuban photographer who has worked for the past 10 years in the fashion industry and the commercial sector on the island. But he’s best known as a nature photographer who visited protected nature reserves and explored the most inaccessible parts of the island to capture a wild and beautiful environment through the lens of his camera. For him Cuba is a "bastion of struggle, sacrifice, culture, nature and love" and we can now, for the first time, see a selection of some of his finest shots at exhibitions in London and Northampton. Last week Andy Brooks talked to him about his work.

Andy Brooks: Why did you choose to come to London?

Alejandro Gortazar: Well, I met my wife, who is Spanish, in Cuba. But my wife works in London so I felt it was time to spread my wings. I came to London in June and now we plan to spend our time partly in London and partly in Havana.

AB: Why do you focus on the natural world?

AG: My grandfather was a cartoonist and a landscape painter at the time of the revolution. He painted the people and the fields in which they worked. I wanted to follow in his footsteps but I was no good at painting. I soon realised that I didn’t have a natural talent for painting so I took up the camera to do the same thing with the lens and my eye. I don’t really have any limits when it comes to photography but what dominates my eye is light especially at sunrise and sunset. When I see something I want to shoot I’m very particular about technique and timing. I’m trying to show something that is not really there by enhancing the beauty of the image.

AB: What do you want people to see?

I want people to understand light, to really capture light. You can capture that with a lens and through the use of technique you can transform knowledge into an art. In my work I am representing Cuba and in this exhibition I want to show British people that there is more to Cuba than they might imagine.
Cuba is a land of absolute beauty and unforgettable landscapes – an island you would never want to leave in your life. I want to show people the wonderful wildlife of the island. This display includes a photo of the bee hummingbird which only lives in Cuba. It is only 5cm long and it’s the smallest bird in the world. I spent over two hours waiting to capture the moment of that bird in flight. I want to show how all life, like that bird, can be so attractive when humankind is good to nature.

AB: Just nature…

AG: Oh no. I don’t ignore people. In fact I’ve got a forthcoming exhibition of shots of Cuban people – 50 images for the 50th anniversary of the Cuba Revolution – as part of a project with Cuba Solidarity which will tour the UK and then go on to France and Spain.

AB: How far does the landscape mould the Cuban character?

AG: People who live in towns focus their lives on everything that urban life represents, like consumerism and technology. But when people are outside, living with nature, they realise they don’t need that many things to live a happy life. They see that nature gives them a lot. They get up early with the sun, work the land and receive its fruit, smell the air and see the sun set. You can see examples here of really proud people whose lives may be simple but who are, nevertheless, really happy…

AB: So you’re aiming at the Cuban audience as well as the world…

AG: Yes, many Cubans who live in Havana and the other towns take the countryside and the nature reserves for granted while many people in the rest of the world just have a tourist image of the island – you know the clich├ęs – beaches, cigars, the crumbling buildings of Old Havana, shoeless children and vintage cars on the streets of Havana… I want to show a hidden Cuba to the Cubans and my first photo exhibition of Cuban landscapes in 1999 proved really popular at home. It was packed out and it continued in that gallery in Havana for two years. I wanted to show the most remote areas of the island to the Cuban people. Now I want to take this hidden Cuba to the world and this is what I’m trying to do with this selection of my work here today.
I had a chance to talk about this at the opening of this exhibition in London last week. There were about 50 people there and many of them came up to me afterwards to tell me they wanted to go to Cuba to see what I had seen with their own eyes.

AB: Will your photos be published for a wider audience…

AG: I hope so and the Opus Gallery is considering producing a coffee-table book of this collection here in the near future. This exhibition is going to Northampton and Dublin and some of my works are going to Paris and Chicago. I want everyone to see this other Cuba.

AB: I guess you’re also exploring Britain…

AG: Yes indeed. I can’t spend even one day without taking photos.

Cuba, Treasured Island an exhibition by Cuban photographer Alejandro Gortazar is on at the Opus Gallery until 23rd November. Admission is free and the gallery is at 10-13 King Street, London WC2E 8HN. It then moves to the Lavata Galleria, 228 Wellingborough Road, Northampton NN! 4EJ for a Christmas season from 3rd to 31st December.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Red Salute for Red October

THE GREAT October Russian Revolution is commemorated by communists all over the world and comrades and friends gathered at the NCP Centre on 7th November for the Party’s traditional celebrations of the greatest event of the 20th century. Our old print shop doubled up as the bar and buffet largely prepared by our own comrades. In the main meeting room the lessons of Red October and its meaning for communists in the 21st century was highlighted by our friends during the formal part of the celebrations opened as usual by Party Chairman Alex Kempshall. Comrade Cabinda from the RCPB (ML), John Callow, the Secretary of the Marx Memorial Library and NCP leader Andy Brooks all spoke about the immense achievements of the Soviet Union in war and peace and all were confident that we will see sweeping changes in the 21st century across the world and millions upon millions join in the struggle for national liberation, peace and socialism.
That was also stressed in a message from young communists from Siberia to the NCP. The youth movement of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in Novosibirsk said the first victorious socialist revolution had “accelerated the progress of revolutionary and liberation struggle” and “shown the world a way to the socialist future of other countries and nations…on the anniversary of that glorious day, we wish you every success in achieving a splendid triumph of communist ideas in the whole world!”Perhaps the most traditional part of an NCP social is the collection and Dolly Shaer made a rousing call to keep our new colour presses going and comrades responded by raising £600 for the New Worker fighting fund. Friends slowly departed for the last trains but thanks to the night buses the bar chalked up a new record by staying open till 2.00 am!
photo: at the bar

Pride and Remembrance

THE SOVIET Memorial Trust marked Remembrance Sunday with a moving ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in south London last Sunday.
As usual the event was attended by the Mayor of Southwark, local MP Simon Hughes and the ambassadors of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and many other former Soviet states, along with the representatives of many different organisations.
Pride of place among these, as always, went to the veterans of the Second World War, and especially to the veterans of the Arctic Convoy Club, whose numbers are now sadly dwindling.
There were speeches and the Russian ambassador emphasised the importance of resisting attempts from some quarters to rewrite the history of the the Great Patriotic War against Nazism.
After that wreathes were laid by the veterans, local dignitaries, the ambassadors and representatives of other organisations, including the New Communist Party, the Marx Memorial Library and the Communist Party of Britain.
photo: Daphne Liddle from the Central Committee lays flowers on behalf of the NCPB

Don't Burn It -- a major new contribution to war cinema

by Theo Russell

DON’T BURN IT, a remarkable new film about the Vietnam War, was shown recently during the Vietnam Festival Of Culture 2009 in London. It is based on the diary of a young woman doctor, Dang Thuy Tram, at a field hospital in Quang Ngai province, a National Liberation Front stronghold during the war.

The diary’s discovery by a South Vietnamese Army soldier and his American officer begins a process which changes their lives and reverberates to the present day.
In the tradition of socialist war films, the focus of Don’t Burn It is on the effects of war on those caught up in it, rather than the actual fighting. It shows not only the horror and suffering, but the heroism of those defending their homeland and the mental anguish of the occupiers.

Many viewers will be surprised at its portrayal of the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, who from the outset are shown as thinking human beings rather than evil barbarians.

Quang, the officer who finds the diary, is transfixed when he starts reading it, and hands it to the US captain, Fred, saying “don’t burn it, it already has fire inside it”. As they start translating the diary, Fred begins to understand his Vietnamese enemies for the first time, changing his life forever.

Written in a traditional Vietnamese style, the diary combines daily events with stirring poetry, which greatly increases its impact. Ho Chi Minh famously kept a similar “diary” while imprisoned by the Chinese nationalists as a spy in 1943.

Many years after the war, at the urging of his mother back in North Carolina, Fred (in real life lawyer Fred Whitehurst) hands the diary to scholars at the University of Texas. Eventually it is published, causing a sensation in Vietnam, and a search begins to find Dr Tram’s family in Hanoi.
During the film scenes of Dr Tram living and working in the midst of war alternate with moving memories of her family life in Hanoi. One of the most interesting sequences shows a researcher travelling around present-day Hanoi by moped in search of her family.

Don’t Burn It is without doubt a major contribution to war cinema. It combines a hatred of war with admiration for the Vietnamese people’s heroic struggle and culture, and the humanity of which ordinary Americans are capable – a powerful message of peace and friendship.

(Don’t Burn It, directed by Dang Nhat Minh, was released in April 2009. The original book, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: An Extraordinary Diary of Courage from the Vietnam War, is available in paperback.)

Monday, November 02, 2009

No choice but to march!

by Caroline Colebrook

LANCE Corporal Joe Glenton of the Royal Logistic Corps last Saturday led a march of thousands of anti-war protesters through London, even though he faces a court martial for doing so.
Glenton is refusing to return to Afghanistan and is calling on Britain to withdraw all troops from the country.
He told a rally, at the end of the march in Trafalgar Square: “It is distressing to disobey orders but when Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world’s poorest countries, I feel I have no choice.
“Politicians have abused the trust of the army and the soldiers who serve. That’s why I am compelled and proud to march with the Stop the War Coalition.”
He added: “I am marching to send a message to Gordon Brown. Instead of sending more troops, he must bring them all home. He cannot sit on his hands and wait while more and more of my comrades are killed.”
So far 223 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since Nato forces invaded the country in 2001 on the premise that Afghanistan was somehow responsible for the 11th September attacks in the United States in 2001.
A recent poll commissioned by Channel Four News found that 84 per cent of people in Britain believe that British and American troops are currently losing the war in Afghanistan.
Almost half of the public in this country believe that military victory in Afghanistan is impossible and significant majorities think British troops are not winning the war and should be withdrawn either immediately or within the next year, according to a poll published today.
The poll suggests that the public mood is at odds with government policy that Britain and its Nato allies should see through their mission in Afghanistan and keep troops in the country until responsibility for its security can be handed over to home-grown forces in a process known as Afghanisation.
Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was ready to send a further 500 troops, so long as they could be properly equipped and form part of a Nato-wide reinforcement with each ally bearing its “fair share”.
Joe Glenton was joined on the march by former colleagues and bereaved military families. They included Peter Brierly, whose son Lance Corporal Shaun Brierly was killed in Iraq in 2003. At a recent memorial service in St Paul’s’ cathedral in London Brierly refused to shake the hand of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, telling Blair that he had blood on his hands and would one day have to answer for what he had done.
“They are not doing any good while they are over there. They need to leave the country to sort itself out,” he said. “While British troops are there they are actually attracting more insurgents who are coming in to fight.”
Also on the march was 104-year-old Hetty Bowyer. She told the crowd in Trafalgar Square: “I march because I can see no reason for further killing. I have walked on every march against us going to war. At my age there is not very much I can do but while my legs can carry me I am going to march.”
Jeremy Corbyn MP, vice-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “The war in Afghanistan has no clear war aims, is clearly escalating and spinning out of control and can only impact on Pakistan and the whole of South Asia.
“Nato forces have been in Afghanistan for eight years and the result appears to be increased drug production, high levels of corruption and terrible losses of life on all sides, civilian and military.
“Now is the time to change policy and bring the troops home to prevent Nato involving itself in a Vietnam-style quagmire.”