Three November reads

23 Nov
this post also features in offguardian

Is Britain’s forthcoming general election the most critical since 1945? Or just since 1979? While the Johnny Walker wisdom runs high on that, we can all agree – saving those who on principle shun the electoral process (as have I on lesser occasions) – that this is a big’un.

Then there’s Bolivia’s coup. And yesterday, as if you needed reminding, brought the fifty-sixth anniversary of an event the world watched in disbelief as the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America slumped mortally wounded at the Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.

My three reads for November.


As the most crucial UK election in living memory looms, it wouldn’t do at all not to kick off with that. John Rees, former SWP leading light and StWC luminary – I’ll hold neither against him, not for current purposes – penned his thoughts for Counterfire. Here’s the penultimate paragraph:

Policy without power is just so much hot air. And power is not, for the most part, founded in elections or in parliament.

No argument from me on that score. Noting that the realpolitik of traditional Labour voters has them considering not just policy but the likelihood of its coming to pass, Rees turns to Labour’s “woeful” response to the high court ruling on CWU’s right to campaign for a strike vote:

You can see the wheels turning in the minds of labour strategists: we can’t have an illegal strike in the middle of an election. Yet this is exactly the kind of question of class and power which is decisive for the consciousness and combativeness of working people.

… the ability of the Labour movement to face down such an all-out attack on basic trade union rights … could instil the confidence that election of a Labour government requires.

Instinctively, even unconsciously, working people will see that the labour movement incapable of defending its most basic rights today is hardly going to be a labour movement which will suddenly deliver a four day week in a dozen years time.

The class power to deliver on Labour’s promises does not lie only, or mainly, in the electoral field. It lies in the mass power of protest, demonstration, and strike action. Every working person with any familiarity of labour history knows this to be a fact.

And what does he conclude? That it matters not who wins this election? Far from it. Though free of what Marx called parliamentary cretinism – the fanciful belief that a ruling class would ever allow socialism through this route – he does not draw the sectarian conclusions others do.

Rees the revolutionary wants Labour the reformists to win, and sees timidity as perilous even on its own narrow terms. Noting its ability to mobilise door knockers, he offers this:

The mass turnout for canvassing is truly remarkable. Nothing like it has been seen in the election for generations, if ever.

Labour should turn this into a central fact of its campaign … which encourages the public to join … an army that is marching to victory, that organises voters into active supporters.

I hear Marshal McLuhan and the medium is the message – but that’s another thing I won’t hold against him. Smart thinking, Mr Rees.


My next read takes a microscope to the Bolivia ouster. Writing in The Nation, Jeeshan Aleem walks us calmly through the events – socio-economic, juridical, electoral – before and after the moment Evo Morales heeded his top general’s “suggestion” and jumped on a plane for Mexico.

This head-spinning sequence of events has produced an intricate social scientific puzzle: There are multiple factors that alone could be sufficient for explaining why Morales left La Paz. In interviews with dozens of Bolivians across the country and more than a half dozen political experts who focus on Bolivia, I found that the question of how and why Morales stepped down is far from settled. In particular, whether to characterize his departure as a coup has become a lightning rod, because defining it as such has huge implications for validating the movement that rose up against him, and the legitimacy of the current interim government.

… many factors contributed to Morales’s ouster. But ultimately, the military intervention, however gentle or brief, makes it impossible to avoid analyzing this as a coup.

I like this kind of writing. Whatever its author’s politics, and however restrained its conclusions, there’s much to be said for its empirical, get-out-there-and-talk-to-people approach.

I wouldn’t advise making this your sole read on the ouster but, alongside broader perspectives – perspectives that ignore neither the continent’s déjà vu merry-go-round of violence, nor the dark shadow cast by that rogue state to the north – this is a useful aid to understanding.


My third read was on OffGuardian a year ago, fifty-fifth anniversary of the day JFK was gunned down. Late to the gig as ever, I happened upon it on the fifty-sixth. But its approach to the event and infamies behind it persuaded me to include it all the same.

I can’t be the only one who missed it first time round.

Author Graeme MacQueen writes of a talk in November 1998 by Vincent Salandria, one of the earliest critics of official accounts. Says Salandria:

I began to sift … the myriad facts regarding the assassination which our government and the US media offered us. What I did was to examine the data in a different fashion from the approach adopted by our news media. I chose to assess how an innocent civilian-controlled US government would have reacted to those data. (Emphasis added.)

Salandria continued:

only a guilty government seeking to serve the … assassins would consistently resort to accepting one improbable conclusion after another while rejecting [more] probable conclusions

It’s an elegant approach with wider applicability than the events of November 1963. MacQueen takes just two aspects, the grassy knoll and ‘magic bullet’, again quoting Salandria:

Let us assume … all of the eyewitnesses who had concluded that shots were fired from the grassy knoll were dead wrong. But an innocent government could not and would not at that time have concluded that these good citizens were wrong [nor] immediately rushed to declare a far-fetched single assassin theory as fact.

Of the thesis that a single bullet passed through Kennedy to wound Governor Connally, a feat necessitating a mid flight change of direction, Salandria noted tersely that:

our Cold War government in the context of the assassination had declared a moratorium on the science of physics.

All fascinating stuff. But what interests MacQueen – and me – is the generalisability of Vincent Salandria’s method: how an innocent government would have reacted to those data.

So how would it? MacQueen draws parallels with 9/11 and the NIST Report but we’re spoiled for choice. How would an honest Washington have responded to alleged chemical attacks at Douma last year? Or to those events leading to the death of Jeffrey Epstein this summer?

You get the idea, I’m sure. You’re smart too.

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2 Replies to “Three November reads

  1. “Policy without power is just so much hot air.”

    Two immediate observations occur.

    Firstly, as with most such pithy statements the reverse is also true.

    Which raises the second observation that this was the core argument of the LP under Blair and remains that factions core belief.

    Whilst it is an easy point to make that this approach did not turn out well – and there were those around at the time who were predicting that outcome (though as usual they were not listened to) – an objective observer would point out in all fairness that Blair’s honest statement about ‘being elected as New Labour and Governing as New Labour’ was up front and those who chose to deceive themselves by ignoring this have no one to blame but themselves for their subsequent disappointment.

    Whatever valid criticisms there were (and there were many) about the Party under Blair there can be no argument that on those terms he, unfortunately, did what he said on the tin.

    This time around the policies are certainly there in writing. Whether a divided citizenry (over Brexit/EU, Scottish Independence, United Ireland, Britain’s place as a former Empire, economic competancy, Security/defence and a lot more) are going to choose those policies is only one question amongst many other pertinent ones. Not least of which is whether the British Establishment – and this includes it’s personnel ensconced in the LP*- are going to allow that to happen?

    However, probably the most pressing question is whether or not this time around the Party will do what it says on the tin? The concerns expressed about the stance over the CWU strike ballot are only one case in point. It was hard enough for us getting the members to vote for strike action and stay out for nineteen days back in 1987 under Thatcher and a rabid right wing NCU Executive under GS John Golding MP. Having managed such an emphatic ballot vote this time around is no mean feat under a much harsher economic context. It is stretching credulity to even hope that this can be repeated post election however the dice fall.

    The point being that the CWU membership are not the only case of people associated with the Party, who should be not just it’s natural voters but also campaigning foot soldiers from the left, who are being thrown under a bus right now for the sake of convenience.

    The self appointed “Left” (company number 09654873, known as Momentum have, for example, lost no time mimicking what it rightly condemned it’s mirror image from the Blair wing were doing in terms of imposing pre-selected candidates through a controlled and gerrymanderd process.

    The Sally Gimson (regardless of the fact she is a Progress member) stitch up in Bassetlaw being only the tip of the iceberg in terms of a deliberately inconsistent application of the Party’s own rule book and discipline process which has seen some duly selected candidates/agents summarily deselected over social media posts (one example being Edinburgh SW) whilst members at selection hustings had information about similar transgressions (Rother Valley) and far worse (Angela Smith’s Constituency) deliberately withheld in order to ensure the success of Momentum pre- selected candidates, many of whom have demonstrated their unsuitability for such roles.

    The point being that the average voter is fully entitled to raise the valid question of whether what it says on the tin is what is actually inside? Along with posing the equally salient question that when the Party is conveniently ignoring its own rules and values in a way which blatently denies its own members protection under those rules it is likely to have no qualms, should it prove convenient, in taking a similar stance towards the average voter.

    Momentum have clearly learned nothing from the Jarad O’Mara debacle in Hallam and are set to repeat the same mistakes to the detriment of not only the Party and its members but also to the electorate.

    * It is often convenient to simplistically ascribe such personnel to being on the “right” of the Party – whatever that and its opposite mean these days? However, this is not always necessarily the case as detailed long ago by Robin Ramsy, of Lobster Magazine infamy.

    • Thanks Dave. As ever, much to mull over. I’ve yet to read the Ramsy piece in full (I’ve slightly edited your link so that it opens in a new window) but note its first paragraph:

      “In the official theory of British politics the state in general and the intelligence services in particular have no role. This is what I think of as the Disney version of politics; and this is the one that is still largely taught in British universities and regurgitated by the mass media. In the Disney version, the state is neutral. Interests in society align with political parties; and the parties contest elections. The election winners form governments whose policies are then implemented by the state. “

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