Sunday, 23 November 2008

We all Rise

SSP Campsie member Pamela Page on the Obama victory...

“You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us.”

The words of Alice Walker in her open letter to Barack Obama.

“Us being the black people of the Southern United States.”

Scottish Socialists would do well to remember we are looking on at events through a prism of white privilege.

It is easy for us to dismiss the symbolic power of a black president as another mainstream Democratic victory but I would argue that this would be missing the point and a serious own goal.

On a personal level I know how I felt when Frances, Carolyn and Rosie were elected. I felt validated as a working class woman. It mobilised me to join the SSP.

I can only imagine what it must mean to African Americans to see a black man enter the Whitehouse - built by their ancestors in chains. Who Alice Walker hopes ‘knew he was coming’ because ‘ancestors have to take a very long view’ and have to live on in faith in the struggle.

The symbolic significance of the most famous black person in the world being a U.S. President and not an entertainer or a sportsperson hit me when I saw a young teenage black girl was so overwhelmed by emotion on television that she expressed through sobs that she never thought she’d live to see the day.

There is no denying it must be a moving affirmation of the significance of the horror of the black struggle and where her ancestors came from.

She must be walking tall for the very first time.

It is not abstract theory or politics, it is personal and real. Real people’s experiences are tangled up in this. People have heard their families talk of slavery. Lynchings are in living memory.

It is personal and emotional. Perhaps that is why poetry has expressed it’s significance better than political discourse.

Poetry in motion – Part of the relay race…

More recently, Katrina embodies how much African Americans have borne the brunt of the last reactionary eight years. Subsequently the symbolic power of a black president cannot be dismissed as worthless.

African Americans do not need anyone to tell them - least of all white leftists- that their struggle is not over or that Obama is not their Messiah but a mainstream Democrat who may well end up reactionary.

This does not diminish their achievement. The torch has been passed – that is all.

The struggle continues…

Nevertheless, a black presidency has captured the imaginations of people all over the world and Scottish Socialists dismiss this at our peril. Consciousness is changing. We can easily sniff at it in our ivory towers, but to do so would be to abandon those progressive voices of struggle to cynicism, and apathy. We must ask ourselves- if we are honest - where is the left’s alternative?

I for one realise that no president of the United States is likely to be a standard bearer for the left. Obama himself is of little interest to me as a Socialist. Yet I understand it is remarkable that a grassroots organisation has galvanised so many for the forces for progress in America.

It may not be the Socialist Revolution I would want but we have to address the reality as it is not what we would like it to be. Otherwise we are abdicating our historic duty to seize the day.

We need to admit that the left has never been weaker. The U.S. left in particular has been decimated in the past 30 years. I would argue that we only have an opportunity to rebuild it by engaging with these newly mobilised groups in a long and difficult process. This is much more productive than dismissing them as misguided.

We need to stop congratulating ourselves on our correct analysis and reach out to what is actually happening around us if we are to stop being an irrelevant sect in the U.S. but also in Scotland.

Obama’s symbolic victory has the potential to be truly consciousness changing. Rather than dismissively arguing that the victory means more of the same ole same ole we must recognise it as an historic opportunity for previously dispossessed groups to engage and really put the pressure on. We can use Obama’s rhetoric as well as the new technologies he has used to great effect during the campaign against him to organise. For the white left to do otherwise would be to abandon any future hope of real change in America.

One of Barack’s supposed mentors is Saul Alinksy, who said that ‘a good tactic was one that your people enjoy’. People are enjoying this small victory. We should stop being churlish and join the party! They do not need to be told of the white Marxist alternative. Black activists already know this and will continue to protest. They do not look to anyone else to solve their problems.

We will win or lose by struggling together.

In the words of the campaign slogan” We are the people we have been waiting for!”

Branch Meeting!

Next Campsie meeting - Milton of Campsie Village Hall - Wednesday night (26th November) at 7.30pm. Meeting should be finished by 9pm. If you are interested in coming along - please do! Contact us on

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Good luck Ann!

Ann Kaniuk, a fantastic comrade, is leaving Scotland to go and live with her family in California. Yesterday the Campsie branch met in the wonderful Taormina Restaurant in Kirkintilloch for a farewell lunch. Comrades from other branches who appreciate the work Ann has done for the party over the years also came to say goodbye. Others who could not make it sent cards and best wishes.

It was a very emotional occasion, but a fitting farewell to a hard working comrade and wonderful friend.

Ron played "Auld Lang Syne" on the Sax, and Willie Telfer composed a special poem for the occasion (see below).

Campsie Branch would like to wish Ann all the best - and hopefully we will all be over in Los Angeles manning a stall in the near future!

Ann's Wee Bag o' Nuts by Willie Telfer

(on the occasion of Ann Kaniuk leaving for California)

Ann's been there aw' the time

through Triumph loss and gain

Through MSP's and victories

And many long campaigns

On Hospitals, Village Halls

And all they Council cuts

Oor Ann was always there with her “wee bag of nuts.”

At conference time in Glasgow, Perth and sometimes in Dundee

Delegates sent Anne and Mark, Ron, Mary and me.

With motions up amendments made

Debates they did ensue

And never once did we give away

Campsie had no clue

Arguments of yes and no

And all time ifs and buts,

The weekend was great for Ann

And her “wee bag o' nuts.”

In all the time I've never seen

Cause for Ann to lose her cool

Until the “Orange One” began

To act like a crazy fool.

I had to go one day

Doon tae her wee hoose

This was the first time

I had ever seen her temper on the loose.

“Whats all this Tommy's doing?

He's surely lost the plot?

Everything we have ever done

We're gonna lose the lot.”

“He's mad!,” she said,

“Calling us all scabs

And Aw' they wummin sluts!”

“Calm doon,” I said,

“Ann, have yer wee bag o' nuts!”

Now on yer way,

We wish you aw' the best

We assure you that back here

Our work will never rest.

But in the sunshine,

Yer kids be fine

And the ones on the way

And may all yer nuts be coconuts

In our minds you'll always stay.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Cuba Solidarity Morning

Campsie SSP would like to thank our Scottish Cuba Solidarity friends who came along to Kirkintilloch Leisure Centre today. We would also like to extend our thanks to those who came along to our Saturday information mornings for the first time.

The film on the Miami 5 was heartbreaking - this injustice must be pursued by our elected representatives. Information on the 5 and how YOU can help HERE.

Kath gave an extremely informative talk and the discussion afterwards was lively and interesting with people present adding to the information Cuba Solidarity provided.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Dutch Diary

Lenzie SSP member Thomas Swann explains the Dutch Squatters movement...

Nijmegen, situated on the river Waal only 5 km from the German border, has a rich history of squatting (Kraaken in Dutch) stretching back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Despite various changes in local and national legislation in the Netherlands, occupations of unused buildings is still occurring in Nijmegen. In contrast to Scotland, where squatting is illegal and squatters can face immediate eviction from a property, Dutch law in effect entitles individuals to squat a building if it is left unoccupied for a period of twelve months, though it does not mention squatting directly. This article will chart briefly the development of the squatters movement in Nijmegen, highlighting the factors which have contributed to its prominence in the city, while also focussing on one event in the history of squatting which was a landmark not only in Nijmegen but across the Netherlands.

First, how does the law in the Netherlands in relation to squatting differ from that in Scotland? While in England and Wales squatting is more practical and so also more common (there are an estimated fifteen thousand squatters in England and Wales), Scots law imposes a fine or even imprisonment on anyone found to be occupying a property for which they do not possess ownership. In the Netherlands, the law is more sympathetic to squatting than even in England and Wales. In order to legally squat a building, an individual needs only to access the building without forcing entry, and live in it with a bed, a table and a chair, as well as a working lock which the squatter can use. These conditions define a home in the Dutch legal system, and since it is prohibited for the authorities to interfere in the private home of an individual, they are also prohibited from invading a squatted building, in so far as it meets the criteria required for it to be legally a home. This would be true of any dwelling, but is also true of a building which has been left unoccupied for twelve months. An individual can be evicted for non-payment of rent, but as squatters have no rent contract, this does not apply. In this way, squatters can occupy certain buildings and, provided they register the squat with the police, not face harassment.

This was one of the three factors which laid the legal and social/political foundations for the squatting movement. The second was the acute shortage of housing which had plagued the Netherlands since the Second World War. This was common to most Western European states, where the number of households was increasing at the same time as a decrease in residential construction in the post-War years. The population shot up following the war from 10 million in 1949 to around 13 million in 1970. Now, the population stands at over 16.5 million. While the birth rate has decreased dramatically since the 1970s (later than other European countries), immigration has contributed to a net rise in the population, and recent projections predict that the population will continue to climb gradually. While the government invested heavily in the third quarter of the twentieth century in social housing (resulting in the Netherlands to this day having a high proportion of social housing: 35 percent), the shortage was not eliminated and still remains an issue.

The third contributing factor was the Western sexual revolution of the 1960s. In addition to liberating individuals from sexual tradition through making available female contraceptions, it liberated people also from other social hierarchies including that of the parent-child dynamic. Generational antagonism fed a demand on the part of the new youth to live independently from their parents at a younger age than had previously been the norm. This, coupled with the New Left outlook of this social group, resulted in an active movement to take over formerly private space and turn it over to a wider public use. It was youth and social workers then who first began squatting buildings in order to provide homes for those who could ill afford to buy or rent their own, or for whom there was simply such a lack of housing that no other option was available. In addition, there was an increasing number of vacant private buildings as the wealthy were more inclined to invest in real estate than in the stock market following the recession of the 1970s.

These factors then contributed to the squatting movement all across the Netherlands as a social need for housing was met through the activities of the youth, made possible by the legal recognition of squatters' rights. This was especially true of Nijmegen because of its large student population, generating a significant number of individuals willing to occupy buildings in order that they could be used to provide housing for those who needed it. This would seem to suggest that squatting was a relatively peaceful affair, with no real antagonism between squatters and the state, whose laws facilitated the occupations. However, to paint such a rosy picture would be to ignore some of the significant events which marked the response to squatting by local and national authorities. One such event in Nijmegen occurred in Piersonstraat in 1981.

Piersonstraat was the site of a housing block which was scheduled for demolition by the local government, to be replaced by a multi-story car park, a solution to the problem caused by increasing car ownership in the city. The occupants of the building, which was being used as social housing, were opposed to the council's plans, as were many in the neighbourhood, which had existed in an incredibly close-knit form for generations. When it came time to finally hand over the keys for the properties to officials from the council, the residents reportedly relinquished their keys outside the front door, while squatters working with their support entered the building through the back. The squatters carried with them folding chairs, tables and beds, to attempt to work within the law and stop the authorities from destroying the homes. While this threw up an instant conflict between the new occupants and the local government, the local population showed a remarkable and uncommon solidarity and provided the squatters with food and other supplies.

As was required by law, the council applied to the courts for a warrant to forcibly remove the squatters. However, the day before the court was due to rule on the issue, the 16th of February, barricades were erected in the streets surrounding the building. The squatters had managed to construct the obstacles behind the backs of the police, by staging a fake demonstration in the middle of the night against the planned demolition. While the authorities were engaged in policing this demonstration in another part of town, the barricades went up. One can imagine the surprise of the first policeman at the scene the following morning, who apparently stood gobsmacked at the sight of the defences. The squatters found support from unusual corners, the break with political and social normality resonating with many. Pirate radio broadcasters decided to cooperate in sending the signal from the squatters' radio station across the country, bouncing it from one small antenna to the next. Taxi drivers used their cars reinforce the barricades and block entrances to the streets.

On the 23rd of February, the police moved in with unimaginable force. In addition to one thousand, two hundred policemen and seven hundred and fifty soldiers from the Dutch army, they were backed up by two hundred riot vans, three Leopard tanks, three armoured personnel carriers and a helicopter. Even with their barricades and support from the local population, the squatters were powerless to resist such an effort. With the area being flooded with Tear-gas and CS gas, those resisting the police and army were left with no choice but to flee. The houses on Piersonstraat were torn down. However, the parking garage was never built. The council instead used the space to build new social housing. Despite this victory, in the mid 1980's, squatting laws were changed which made it much easier for the police to remove squatters from buildings. These changes included the stipulation that a building had to be left unoccupied for twelve months prior to being squatted.

Squatting still plays an important role in political life in Nijmegen, but as a radical act of social resistance it no longer occupies the position it once did. With a Left-wing local government composed of the Socialist Party, the Green Left and the Labour Party, the council takes a contradictory approach to squatting. Recently, some of the oldest squats in the city have been legalised, while at the same time a squat situated in an old post office was evicted. However, Right-wingers in the national government are determined to use squatting as a scapegoat and attempts are being made to ban it outright, which have been resisted in the parliament by, among others, the Socialist Party. The struggle not only to maintain individual squats but to preserve the practice itself is under way not only in Nijmegen but across the Netherlands. Following a recent eviction from a squat in Nijmegen, activists revived the old squatters slogan: 'You cannot evict an idea.'

For further information on squatting in the Netherlands and elsewhere, visit or

Or click HERE to see Dutch squatting in action.

Thomas has also written a piece for LENZIE ONLINE

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Invitation to...

THE CAMPSIE BRANCH SSP have invited Cuba Solidarity to Kirkintilloch to facilitate a session on the Miami 5, and to talk about Cuba.

About Scottish Cuba Solidarity

Despite the 40 year old illegal blockade and ongoing aggression the lives of all Cubans have been transformed since the revolution. Outstanding achievements in education, healthcare and other social improvements have been made. Education is free to the highest level. Medical care is also free.

SCSC call for the immediate release of the Miami Five, five Cuban patriots imprisoned in the US since 2001. Imprisoned on trumped up conspiracy charges the five were trying to prevent acts of terrorism being carried out against Cuba. We support the international campaign to free the five.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

African Socialism

by Campsie SSP member, Bill Newman

A more appropriate heading for these notes could well be Whatever Happened to African Socialism? The progressive arrival of independence for sub-Saharan African colonies following Ghana's independence in 1957 saw the overt embrace of socialism by the continent's new leaders from Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Sekou Toure in Guinea (Conakry), Mobido Keita in Mali, Julius Nyerere in Tanganyika, Patrice Lumumba in Congo (Kinshasa) and, later, though he was assassinated shortly before independence, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau, among others. Their formative influences were diverse, but included anti-colonialists and Marxists such as Marcus Garvey, W E B du Bois and C L R James among the British colonies, Aime Cesaire and Franz Fanon among the French colonies and Alvaro Cunhal in the Portuguese colonies. None of the new African leaders could be said to have been orthodox Marxists, though a number had spent time in the Soviet Union and the GDR, but they all believed, in varying ways, that Pan-African Socialism, in its different interpretations, represented the future for Africa. Indeed, the ideal seen by many was a united Africa and with this in mind, Kwame Nkrumah was largely instrumental in creating the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, though a group led by Leopold Senghor of Senegal (the Monrovia Group) was much more cautious concerning African unification.

On a more realistic scale, various attempts have been made to build regional federations, all of which, like the grandiose hopes of many in the early OAU, have failed. The catalogue is depressing. The entirely logical federation of Senegal with The Gambia never developed as a fully functioning body before collapsing. The East African Community of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, established in 1967, showed more hope of development before collapsing in 1977, though the merger of Tanganyika and Zanzibar has proved durable. However, fragmentation, feared by African leaders, has been at least as prevalent. The breakaway of Eritrea from Ethiopia and the establishment of the still unrecognised Somaliland (the former British Somaliland Protectorate) in response to the anarchy prevailing in Somalia illustrate this fragmentation. With some justification, the tensions in Africa have been blamed on the arbitrary borders created by European colonialists, but subsequent tribal and clan conflicts illustrate the difficulties in creating homogenous functioning democracies. The fragmentation of Nigeria into 36 states from an original three represents the tribalism still present in Africa's largest state, though increased opportunities for wealth creation for the corrupt elite as well as attempts to weaken regional power vis-a-vis the central government also have played their part. Indeed, the slow growth of truly national political parties can be, at least in part, attributed to ingrained tribalism as can be seen, for example in the Ndebele/Shona divide in Zimbabwe and the Hutu/Tutsi divisions in Rwanda and Burundi, though in the latter case Belgian colonialism in favouring the Tutsi populations can be held partly to blame. Worse, in some failed states, tribalism has fragmented into clan warfare, as in Somalia. Yet there are some glimmers of hope for regional co-operation as in the more modest remit of the Southern African Development Community and, hopefully, in the more ambitious East African Federation.

Why, then, have the early hopes of Pan-African Socialism failed and why have hopes of sustained socialist development in individual states failed to materialise. First of all, it is a sad truth that power corrupts and absolute power currupts absolutely. The transition from hopeful moderniser to intolerant kleptomaniac dictator can be seen in more than one state. Sadly, Zimbabwe is not unique. Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Spain in 1968 with Francisco Nguema as president. Under his notorious rule, a third of the population either fled or were killed. A ghastly example of his homicidal rule was the public execution of 150 political opponents to the playing of Mary Hopkins singing Those were the Days. One would hope that the UN, and developed nations, not least the USA, would react to such monstrosities, yet silence was complete. His overthrow by his reputed nephew, Obiang Nguema, gave hopes for the future, but although less vicious than his predecessor, the impoverished population has seen little, if any, improvement to their lives while their President salts away vast sums of oil wealth. It is almost possible to imagine that the plot allegedly financed by Sir(!) Mark Thatcher and Edy Calil, could not, if successful, have made the condition of the population worse. Their motives, however, were to grab the nation's oil wealth for themselves and their pliant allies. Obiang Nguema has now offered the British Government a deal: he will return Simon Mann to the UK to complete his sentence if the British authorities will deliver Thatcher and Calil to Equatorial Guinea for trial. A tempting offer!

Nkrumah is rightly held up as a model leader, but it should be remembered that for all his idealism, his democratic principals were far from perfect and as early as 1958 he banned all strikes. In 1966, he was overthrown and retreated to Guinea where in 1978 Sekou Toure renounced Marxism. Disillusionment with the willingness of populations to modify their life styles and disappointment at the lack of material growth after independence led to mutual frustration and the ability of armies to carry out coups, partly out of a desire for positive change but more often out of an opportunity to enrich themselves. Some countries have painfully pulled themselves out of lengthy periods of military misrule and, for example, Ghana is now a relatively stable democracy (though socialism has not been espoused by recent governments). Others are still suffering under corrupt kleptocracies.

The West, of course, is also complicit in poisoning the early shoots of socialism in Africa. The apparent murder of such promising leaders as Patrice Lumumba and Samora Machel, the support of anti-democratic armed forces as in Angola and the support of corrupt one-man fiefdoms as in the Zaire of Mobutu all weakened fatally any emerging democratic, socialist forces. It should also be said that the West's insistence on totally inappropriate free market 'reforms' before aid is provided gives almost no scope for socialist solutions to chronic economic problems.

But what about South Africa upon which so much hope had been heaped? After all, the tripartite association of the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) promised much, not just in healing the wounds of apartheid, but in striving for a more egalitarian society. Under Mandela, much seemed to have been achieved, but social progress has been depressingly slow in recent years. And now we see ominous signs of fratricidal warfare in the ranks of all three tripartite members. The departure from the ANC of the former Defence Minister, Masioua Lekota and former premier of the Province of Gauteng, Mbhazima Shilowa seems to herald the birth of a new party (the South African National Congress/Convention). This in itself may not be an unwelcome development but the extreme reaction of the established ANC, COSATU and SACP gives considerable cause for concern. Calls at an inaugural rally of this new group by organised opposition that Lekota and Shilowa should be killed, though, hopefully, hyperbolic, do not augur well for the future. Already there are signs of revived tribalism as many isiXhosa speakers and isiZulu speakers line up on opposite sides. It is to be hoped that the SACP will encourage politicians back to the real needs of the working class, but recent utterings, notably at an address to the miners' union, have not been reassuring.

The future for socialism, even democracy, in Africa looks sombre, but there are hopeful signs. Some nations have established a progressive record and in this respect, Mozambique, Botswana, Sao Tome, Ghana and, at last, Liberia are among those with positive records. Moreover, the refusal of dockers in South Africa and Mozambique to unload arms from China bound for Zimbabwe shows that the power of the working class can still be marshalled. Perhaps it is necessary to go back to the vision of the early liberators of African colonies and, avoiding the straight jacket of Marxist formal terminology , encourage the growth of indigenous African Socialism. In a time when capitalism is clearly failing, socialism remains the hope for Africa just as much, it not more, as for the developed world.

Bill Newman spent most of his working life in banking, latterly as head of economics and then as Assistant General Manager of a City of London bank. For some 15 years he was also editor of and wrote for a journal on international monetary economics.

He has an interest in African matters, having been responsible for economic and political reporting on sub-Saharan Africa for Westminster Bank and writing for some years for the Europa Yearbook on Somalia and Ethiopia. More from Bill here