Above: the reptile and its master
The very idea of Peter Mandelson complaining about “cabals” within Labour “trying to exert influence” is simply laughable. The reptilian Mandelson was central to New Labour’s 1990′s takeover of the Labour Party, when he and his Blairite cronies systematically undermined Party democracy, imposing ex-Tories and SDP’ers as parliamentary candidates while excluding long-standing, loyal members.
So Mandelson’s extraordinary bleating about the efforts of Unite in supporting working class people as parliamentary candidates, and in particular, the nomination of Unite member Katie Murphy for Falkirk, deserves to be treated with one bloody great horse-laugh. Unite’s alleged “manipulation” involves encouraging its members to join the Party and subsidising their first year’s membership. This is done quite openly and is entirely within Party rules. The support given to Blairite would-be candidates by Mandelson’s ‘Progress’ group, funded by multi-millionaire Lord Sainsbury, is much more secretive and conspiratorial. Yet Mandelson has the audacity to accuse Unite of “manipulation”!
Len McCluskey puts Mandelson in his place in an article in today’s Graun. Lenny’s a bit more polite than I would be, mind:
Peter Mandelson’s selection argument is about politics not procedure
Opposition to union-backed MPs is driven by a desire to keep New Labour the preserve of a socially restricted elite
You report that Peter Mandelson is accusing my union, Unite, of “manipulating selection procedures” in the Labour party, which “stores up danger for a future Labour government” (Labour warned on selection panel procedures, 13 May).
This does no service to Labour democracy or the facts. I have no axe to grind with Lord Mandelson. His second stint at the business department under the Labour government was marked by fresh thinking about industrial policy, which I wish he had had the opportunity to develop; and he seems more willing than some to acknowledge that the pre-2008 economic model was flawed.
But now he appears rattled that Blairite true believers are not winning every Labour nomination. Your report does not have him alleging any breach of party rules or procedural abuses, perhaps because there are none. Unite’s aim is simple – to recruit members to the party (welcome, I would have thought) and then encourage them to endorse union-supported candidates in one member-one vote selections. A sinister construction is put on this – “selections are being run by a cabal of union members”, according to your report. This is, to say the least, an irony. Many serving Labour MPs were parachuted into constituencies at the request of leading members of the last Labour cabinet, including Mandelson himself.
Dishing out seats on the basis of personal connections bears a closer resemblance to the rotten borough system before 1832 than it does to modern democratic procedures, and it also helps keep politics as the preserve of a socially restricted elite. Mandelson also appears untroubled that Lord Sainsbury’s vast wealth, channelled through the Progress organisation, has been used to give particular candidates, invariably on the right, an advantage in Labour selections.
Mandelson argues, correctly, that it is “wrong to conflate trade unionists and the working classes”, although the overlap is hard to miss. I don’t conceal that I want to see more Labour MPs supporting the sort of policies developed by Unite and other trade unions, regardless of their personal backgrounds. But Labour MPs look less and less like the people they seek to represent. The big strides made in securing more women Labour MPs have also, unfortunately, been paralleled by a decline in those from working-class backgrounds. Mandelson has no proposals to address this.
This is really an argument about politics, not procedure. Mandelson is probably intensely relaxed about cutting democratic corners if it means more “New Labour” special advisers and the like on the green benches, but utterly opposed to the normal workings of Labour democracy if it means leftwing or trade union candidates being chosen.
Let’s have the political debate instead. I am confident that most potential Labour voters want to see both a more diverse Labour party in parliament, and also a Labour government radically different from the last one.
Finally, I object strongly to his insinuation that union-backed MPs might be loyal not “to the party as a whole”, but “a section of it”. Trade unionists have always been Labour loyalists. Rightwing MPs, not unions, split Labour in 1931 and 1981, just as it was New Labour parliamentarians who fuelled the debilitating Blair-Brown factionalism that so weakened the most recent Labour government, as Mandelson surely knows.
We’ve argued many times here at Shiraz, that the mainstream hard-left’s traditional hostility to the EU (and its predecessors) has been ignorant, short-sighted and counter-productive. It is based upon a fundamental misconception: that British workers’ difficulties stem from Brussels rather than from capitalism itself, and that getting out of the EU would somehow, magically, remove – or, even, lessen- capitalist exploitation.
The present issue of Solidarity (paper of the AWL, the one far-left group with a consistent record of talking sense on this question), lambasts the attempts of idiots like Bob Crow, to delude our movement into imagining that there is a “left-wing” case for agitating against EU membership:
“Britain already has harsher anti-union laws and weaker social provision in most areas than the main EU states. It has resisted the Social Charter, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers’ Directive. Given free rein, British governments would reverse their limited implementation of those EU provisions, and scrap other limited measures of worker protection such as TUPE.
“In the meantime, the workers’ movement would have been weakened by the nationalist demagogy accompanying EU exit – the nonsensical claims that British workers’ difficulties are due not to our capitalist bosses but to this or that official in Brussels – the replacement of worker-versus-boss agitation by Britain-versus-Brussels.
“Crow claims to set out a ‘left-wing, pro-worker case’. But when Crow, with the Socialist Party, ran a ‘No2EU’ slate in the 2009 euro-election, that slate denounced ‘the so-called freedom of movement of labour’ in the EU – in fact, the real, and welcome, freedom for workers in the EU to work and live where they wish.
“Another phrase it used to denounce EU migrant workers was ‘the social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain’. It was only a phraseological variant of the right-wing Ukip’s rants against Bulgarian and Rumanian workers”… (read the full article here).
But now the argument within the labour movement and Labour Party isn’t only about principles (crucial as they are): it’s also about tactics and pragmatism. With the Tories tearing themselves apart over Europe, Cameron aides denouncing the grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons” and Geoffrey Howe saying the Europe debate has reduced the party to “a new, almost farcical, low”, Miliband and Labour would have to be mad to come to the aid of the Tories by endorsing the call for a referendum on Europe.
Miliband would be well advised to say little on the subject, and watch the Tories self-destruct.
The EU, despite the unrelenting propaganda of the right wing press, is by no means as unpopular as the Tory-Ukip hard-right likes to make out. And even amongst those voters who express hostility to it, the EU ranks about 10th in their list of priorities.
So leave the swivel-eyed Tory-Ukip fanatics to it, Ed, and concentrate on jobs, housing and economic growth.
As for the fake-”democratic” argument (as touted by the Tory right, Ukip and -on the “left”- the likes of Crow and Seumas Milne) for a referendum: what’s wrong with offering all those who want to get out of Europe a real democratic choice: to vote for Ukip or the Tories at the next general election?
The fascists of the Taliban, and their appeasers like Imran Khan, have been defied and (hopefully) defeated by the people of Pakistan, led by the women. Those sections of the decadent western “left” (notably the SWP) who support such fascists in the sub-continent, should be ashamed.
Millions of voters turned out to cast their ballots in Pakistan’s historic election Saturday despite Taliban threats and a series of attacks in a few volatile areas. The poll marks Pakistan’s first-ever transition of civilian governments.
Braving Taliban threats and attacks, millions of Pakistanis turned out to vote today in a landmark election marking the first transition between civilian governments in the country’s 66-year history.
Polls opened amid tight security across Pakistan with voters lining up at polling stations in some of the main cities despite the searing heat and the omnipresent fear of attacks.
By midday, the country’s election commission said the voter turnout was 30% – an indication that the total turnout looked set to cross the 44% mark of the last general election in 2008. Voting was extended by an extra hour nationwide to allow people queuing at polling centers to cast their ballot, according to the AFP. In Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, polling was extended by three hours in some constituencies because voting started late.
A series of gunfights and bomb attacks targeted party offices and polling stations in some of the volatile parts of this South Asian nation, killing at least 17 people.
In the tinderbox port city of Karachi, a bomb attack on the office of the (ANP) Awami National Party killed 11 people and wounded around 40 others. At least three other attacks – including gunfights – were reported across the city.
Gunmen killed two people outside a polling station in Baluchistan, the southwestern province where separatists oppose the election, and in the northwestern city of Peshawar, a bomb explosion killed at least one person and wounded 10 others, according to local police officials.
But the attacks failed to deter people from the polls as millions of Pakistanis, buoyed by a prospect of change and keenly aware of the historic nature of Saturday’s vote, cast their ballots to elect representatives to the National Assembly – or lower house – as well as provincial assemblies.
“This election is very significant,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. “Yes, there are many problems, but we should not dismiss this election – it’s a chance for Pakistan to deepen its democratic process and also for citizens to demonstrate they won’t be intimidated by groups like the Taliban into not exercising their right to choose their government.”
Violence has been a key problem in the run-up to Saturday’s vote, with the Taliban targeting three secular parties – including outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP (Pakistan Peoples’ Party).
Security was tight across Pakistan, with the military deploying troops and additional security personnel at polling stations and counting centres amid Taliban threats to disrupt the vote.
In the most populous province of Punjab alone, 300,000 security officials – including 32,000 troops – have been deployed. Another 96,000 security forces have been posted in the Taliban stronghold regions in northwestern Pakistan.
Saturday’s vote came just days after former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son, Ali Haider Gilani – a provincial assembly candidate – was kidnapped during an election rally in the central Pakistani city of Multan.
The kidnapping highlighted the relentless levels of violence in a country that’s no stranger to election-related bloodshed.
“It’s been a very, very brutal and very bloody campaign,” said FRANCE 24’s Rezaul Hasan, reporting from Islamabad days before the historic vote. “There are widespread reports that there could be attacks during the polling and the army has deployed hundreds of thousands of security personnel. But it still remains to be seen whether polling will be peaceful because the militants – the Taliban – have shown their ability to strike despite all the security measures that have been put in place.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press, Budapest
Sandor Racz (above), a labor activist and leading figure during Hungary’s anti-Soviet Revolution of 1956, died Tuesday at age 80.
The World Federation of Hungarians, of which Racz was honorary president, confirmed that he died while receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness at the National Institute of Oncology in Budapest.
The 1956 uprising broke out on Oct. 23 and was crushed by the Soviet army in early November. But as president of the Budapest central workers’ council, Racz and other labor leaders pressed ahead with the objectives of the movement for several more weeks, negotiating with pro-Soviet Prime Minister Janos Kadar and top Soviet military officers.
“For me, the revolution was so unambiguous, that I could not even imagine a Hungarian who does not feel that the Hungarian people are 1,000 percent right when they want to free themselves from an unacceptable foreign, murderous and pillaging system,” Racz wrote in memoirs published in 2005.
Even as the crackdown on those who took part in the revolution was under way — at least 225 people would be executed by 1958— the workers’ councils held two nationwide strikes in November and December.
Racz, then a 23-year-old a tool maker at an electronics factory, was arrested on Dec. 11, 1956, after being lured to Parliament with the excuse of holding talks with Kadar, who ruled Hungary until a few years before the end of the communist regime in 1990. Racz was sentenced to life in prison in 1958 but released under a 1963 general amnesty.
After his release, he returned to work as a tool maker and participated in secret meetings with students, telling them about the events of 1956. He retired due to poor health in 1987 and spent the rest of his life keeping alive the memory of the 1956 events.
“The workers’ councils were very important but they tend to be forgotten because most of the attention is given to the armed aspects of the revolution,” said British writer Bob Dent, author of a book about the revolution. “The councils were unofficial trade unions representing workers during and after the uprising.”
Racz was born on March 17, 1933 near the city of Hodmezovasarhely in southeast Hungary. He is survived by his wife, Aniko Damasdi, and two children.
Above: it’s about them – or at least it should be
Ballot papers for the Unite general secretary election are going out now. If any member hasn’t received one by Wednesday 5 April, they should contact the Unite ballot enquiry service.
The first thing that will strike many members is that in their election addresses, both candidates make personal attacks on each other – something that has hitherto been considered very bad form in Unite elections. The challenger Jerry Hicks accuses the incumbent Len McCluskey of holding an unnecessary election in order to hang on to power, and of being a bureaucrat who’s never led a real fight. McCluskey describes Hicks as someone who’s played no role in the union in recent years, as a “political opportunist” without a clear agenda and who is backed by “the discredited Socialist Workers Party.”
None of this is very seemly, but is probably inevitable when there are just two candidates, both claiming to be on the left and with no major policy differences between them. It should also be noted that Hicks and his supporters have been making highly personal attacks on McCluskey both verbally and in print, ever since the election was announced.
As regular readers will have already worked out, I’ll be voting for McCluskey. That’s despite the fact that on two questions (whether this election is really necessary and the Gen Sec being on the average wage of the members) I agree with Hicks.
So why vote for McCluskey? Firstly, in my opinion, he’s been an effective General Secretary who has developed and begun to implement a serious strategy for reversing the decline of the union. He has supported members in struggle (no dispute has been repudiated under his leadership), is radically restructuring the union with an emphasis upon workplace branches where possible (something Hicks seems to oppose – but more on that shortly) and has begun to implement a new political strategy that involves fighting for the union’s policies within the Labour Party rather than writing out a blank cheque (and again, Hicks is completely unclear on the Labour link).
In my view, questions like branch re-organisation and (re)building a functioning industrial and political structure for the union, are far more important than the General Secretary’s salary, or indeed, the election of officials (accountability of officials is the real issue in Unite at the moment, it seems to me).
In fact, if you examine Hick’s election address, it’s little more than a not very coherent wish-list of often quite vague demands and aspirations, together with whinging about things like “Emails/letters go(ing) unanswered“(!)
Let’s take some specifics. In his address, Hicks says this about the branch reorganisation: “Workplace branches are logical, but member will agree changes not be told.” What exactly does that mean? Is Hicks actually in favour of the branch reorganisation, or not? I ask this question because not so very long ago, Hicks was saying something slightly different, viz: “ No member will be re-allocated to a Branch without their prior agreement.” If taken literally, that can only mean that an individual member would have the right and ability to veto branch re-organisation – an extraordinary position to take in a democratic, collective organisation!
Or take this, from Hicks’ address: “Confront the anti union laws and support unofficial action where necessary.” EITHER that wording really means campaigning for the repeal of the laws and from time to time, taking a decision to push them to the limit… OR it means a commitment to confront the law on every occasion. If it’s the former, then it’s no different to McCluskey’s position (eg during the London bus dispute last year). If the latter, it’s a recipe for bankrupting the union.
But underlying these specifics is a fundamental misjudgement on the part of Hicks and his supporters, about the present state of the class struggle and about what’s happening in Unite.
Jim Kelly, in his very detailed article, has made many of the points that need to be made, and I look forward to reading a serious reply from Hicks and/or his supporters. In the meanwhile, I’d like to make some further observations:
Underlying much of what Hicks and his supporters say is the assumption that McCluskey and the “bureaucracy” are afraid of militant action by the membership, or are simply so useless that they inevitably sell it out. Now I think the Kelly article deals with this, but let me pose a more general question: why would McCluskey want to sell out strikes? From his own, “bureaucratic” point of view, why would he do it? His position depends ultimately upon his industrial muscle, and he surely knows that. McCluskey has been accused of many things, but being a fool is not usually one of them.
There is a further point to be made here: when unions take industrial action there is no guarantee of winning and the reasons for defeat are not always simply betrayal by the bureaucracy. Some disputes turn out to be practically unwinnable, despite the best efforts of members and bureaucrats alike. It is often very difficult, when you’re not directly involved, to make a judgement as to whether a given dispute could have been won if different, more militant, tactics had been employed. Hicks and his people like to blame every defeat (and, indeed, some partial victories they call “defeats”) on the “bureaucracy” in general and McCluskey in particular. This criticism, if made in good faith, demonstrates an incredible ignorance of how Unite actually operates. It assumes that the General Secretary micro-manages every aspect of union activity, and industrial disputes in particular. This is a fantasy. What the Gen Sec certainly can and should do is set the political direction and overall approach of the union. McCluskey has dome this by, for instance, closing down the mechanism within the union for repudiating disputes.
Unite has some 600 officers working for 10 Regional Secretaries (not the Gen Sec). Not all those officials are in agreement with McCluskey’s “fighting-back union” strategy. Industrial disputes are controlled by the internal structures and committees of the union, not directly by the Gen Sec. Of course, on the big political disputes and campaigns the Gen Sec will have a major say, but he cannot simply close down a dispute or set the “line” or determine strategy or tactics. In Unite, disputes and campaigns really are run by officers and senior reps/stewards. A classic case in point is the public sector pensions dispute last year. Hicks, in his election address, says: “Len McCluskey talks big but failed to back the co-ordinated public sector strike last March. A big mistake!” What Hicks fails to mention is that McCluskey and the Executive of the union gave full backing to the call for strike action in March. It was the lay members and reps in health, local authorities and the MoD who voted (after UNISON and the GMB pulled out) not to strike. But to admit that wouldn’t fit in with the Hicks world-view.
The often craven end result of such a simplistic way of looking at the world was well illustrated at the last AGM of the so-called ‘Grassroots Left’, the group that Hicks formed to back his leadership ambitions. One of the platform speakers was bemoaning the fact that the factory where he works (a major Midlands car plant) had just voted to accept a very poor pay deal. He started to blame this on McCluskey’s “lack of leadership” before momentarily hesitating as a thought seemed to strike him in mid-flow: “well, actually us on the Joint Shop Stewards Committee voted to accept, but only because we felt we had no alternative.” That about sums it up, I think.
The truth is that Hicks and his supporters are not fit and proper people to be running Unite. Those of us who’ll be voting for Len McCluskey are doing so with varying degrees of criticism, but we all recognise that his leadership has been generally positive and that his strategy for reversing decline and building a “fighting-back union” is the only coherent way forward on offer in this election.
I sent this letter to the Morning Star back in January. They published it, albeit in a slightly edited form. It produced some truly Jesuitical responses, attempting to explain why the Falklanders do not have the right to self-detemination. Extraordinary, isn’t it, how sections of the “left” are so ready to tie themselves up in knots in order to justify the denial of basic democracy to ordinary people..?
Adapted by JD from Workers Liberty/Solidarity (editorial)
Ukip has seen its support surge, most recently in the 28 February Eastleigh by-election where it won 11,571 votes — 27.8%, an increase of 24%, and enough to beat the Tories into third place. A recent opinion poll puts them on 17% – well ahead of the Lib Dems and exactly 10% behind the Tories..
They have also just won a local council seat in the North West.
Last year, in the Croydon North by-election, Ukip polled 1,400 votes, an increase of 4%. In Rotherham, it won 4,648 votes (21.67%), coming second. In Middlesbrough, it also finished second with 1,990 votes (11.8%).
The trends suggest that Ukip stands a good chance of gaining the most votes of any party at next year’s European Parliament elections.
A great deal of debate has taken place in the mainstream press about whether Ukip’s recent electoral gains were just “protest votes”, rather than indicators of the party consolidating a longer-term, loyal base. If the vote was an expression of “protest”, the questions are: who was doing the protesting, what were they protesting about, and in the name of what alternative?
A study into Ukip’s vote at the 2009 European elections, where they came second to Labour and won 16.1% of the vote, argued that Ukip’s “core supporters” are “a poorer, more working-class, and more deeply discontented group who closely resemble supporters of the BNP and European radical right parties.”
The BNP would sometimes pitch “to the left”; leader Nick Griffin claimed in 2002 that his party was “the only socialist party in Britain”, and the BNP’s local work often has an explicitly “working-class” edge and includes opposition to cuts to local services. Ukip’s pitch is different.
Where the BNP might demagogically and disingenuously attack Labour for abandoning white workers, Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage focuses on attacking David Cameron for not being conservative enough. The Tories failed in Eastleigh, Farage said, because “traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and ask themselves: is he a Conservative? And they conclude, no, he is not. He is talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, he wants Turkey to join the EU.” The Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens described Ukip as “the Thatcherite Tory Party in exile”. Ukip wants compulsory “workfare” schemes for anyone on benefits, greater privatisation in education, and a part-privatised “national health insurance” model to replace the NHS.
But despite its right-wing pitch and the fact that 60% of Ukip supporters previously voted Tory (see chart at the top), figures in the Independent show that more than 40% of Ukip supporters oppose the Tories’ cap on tax credits and benefits, 43% want increased spending on public services, and more Ukip supporters than Lib Dem supporters believe that “the government is cutting too deeply”. There is a potentially unstable contradiction between Ukip’s ultra-Tory policies and the instincts of some of its working-class supporters.
It would be patronising and complacent, though, to believe that working-class people who vote Ukip do so simply to express a vague “protest” without any real understanding of or belief in what the party stands for. It is dangerous to imagine that if some left-wing electoral vehicle can replicate Ukip’s populist pitch (but from the left), we can repeat their success.
The Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood in the Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Eastleigh by-elections on as “populist” a pitch as one could wish for — a lowest-common-denominator anti-cuts appeal. TUSC came out of the “No2EU” coalition, an attempt to tap into anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment “from the left”. TUSC polled 620 votes in total across the three by-elections, less than half of Ukip’s lowest single score. Unfortunately Ukip’s vote represents a layer of anti-migrant, anti-Europe feeling amongst working-class people — which the left needs to relate to with a serious long-term political campaign based on socialist ideas and emphasising working-class unity.
Peter Woodhouse, a Ukip-voting train driver and former Labour supporter interviewed in the Guardian, said: “One of the reasons I voted for Ukip is immigration. I’m worried about the dropping of the barrier in January. I fully expect 2-4 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come over. What’s it going to be like? We’re a small island.” Sarah Holt, a shopworker, said: “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”
Although senior Tories like Kenneth Clarke have warned against a rightwards lurch in response to Ukip’s success, a cabinet committee met on 5 March to examine “wide-ranging plans” to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britain without breaching EU law.
But, critically, where is the Labour Party, the wider labour movement, and the left? Eastleigh was a dismal showing for Labour, finishing fourth in a by-election while in opposition for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper unveiled Labour’s new immigration policy last week, and while it is focusing on “crackdowns” on employers who exploit migrants, previous “crackdowns” have been used as cover to deport migrant workers rather than level up their conditions.
The far-left is politically hamstrung on the issue, having been desperately attempting to give a progressive gloss to anti-EU sentiment for years. The “No2EU” coalition and the (closely-related) Campaign Against Euro Federalism have even attacked “the so-called ‘free movement of labour’”, and “the social dumping of migrant labour”. A speech by the then-RMT President Alex Gordon to a 2011 conference of the “People’s Movement” (an Irish anti-EU coalition) argued for restrictions on immigration on the basis that continued “mass migration” would “feed the poison of racism and fascism”.
The left needs more than a change of approach or tactics; it needs a change of politics. Attempting to convince Ukip-supporting workers that their anti-migrant and anti-EU feeling would be better and more progressively expressed by voting for some supposedly “left” electoral formation (Respect, No2EU, TUSC, etc) than for Ukip is a dead-end.
We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas: that the enemy is not “Europe” but capitalist austerity, and that the answer to fears about increased migration putting a strain on jobs, wages, and services is not to restrict migration but to organise all workers — British-born and migrant — to fight for the levelling up of conditions to provide living wages, decent jobs, housing, and public services for all. The labour movement needs an emergency plan that can unite workers across Europe to fight for working-class policies against the policies of austerity.
• Sign this statement — “Equal rights for migrant workers!”
With the rise of “anti-establishment”/”anti-politics” movements across Europe* (including UKIP in the UK and Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy), it’s probably a good idea to have a look at an earlier manifestation of this kind of populism: Pierre Poujade’s movement in 1950′s France. Note that as in the present case of Grillo, sections of the left were foolish enough to regard Poujardism as somehow progressive. These movements are, by their very nature, heterodox, incoherent and ideologically eclectic. But they are invariably economically protectionist, politically isolationist and racist to at least some degree. And whilst some workers may get involved, their core support is bourgeois and petty bourgeois. In Britain, the most prominent mainstream commentator to have come out in support of these movements is the Tory isolationist (often quoted with approval by the Stop The War Coalition) Simon Jenkins.
* The US Tea Party movement has many similarities, but is of course part of a mainstream bourgeois party.
The case-history of Poujadism
By Colin Foster
Among the most vigorous of populist movements in advanced capitalist countries since 1945 was the Poujadist movement, which flourished in France between 1954 and 1958. In January 1956, it won 53 seats, and 12% of the vote, in France’s parliamentary elections.
Pierre Poujade, the movement’s leader, is still alive and alert [he died on 27 August 2003 - JD] and hailed the hauliers’ fuel-tax movement this year as a vindication of his ideas. But Poujadism in its later years was fascist-coloured. Its best-known relict, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is today the leader of France’s fascist National Front. Since the hauliers’ and farmers’ fuel-tax movement was not fascist, that seems to rule out any relevance of Poujadist history to the fuel-tax movement, or to anything contemporary except fascism or near-fascism.
The story, however, is more complex. In its first years, until late 1955, the Poujadist movement ‘avoided any openly anti-worker or anti-communist attacks. It limited itself essentially to anti-capitalist demagogy’1. It was energetically supported by the Communist Party, and might never have succeeded in becoming a national movement without that CP support.
France has long had an exceptionally large class of small shopkeepers, self-employed craft workers, and small farmers. By 1956 it had nearly a million small shops – over twice the number in 1936 – and 61% of them had no hired labour. From 1954 the small shops went into decline. The end of rapid inflation and black markets, the rise of supermarkets, the beginnings of mass car ownership, and a tighter tax system all hit them.
Pierre Poujade ran a small stationery shop in the village of St-Cere, in Lot, south-west France. His father had been an architect and a member of the old fascist movement Action Franaise, but died when Pierre Poujade was eight, leaving the family to be brought up in poverty. Pierre Poujade became an apprentice typesetter, a vineyard worker, a tar-sprayer and a docker before finally buying his little shop. In the 1930s he had joined the youth group of the Doriot movement – set up by a Communist Party leader who defected to form a breakaway group, at first leftist and then fascist – but he fought in the Resistance. One of his themes, later, would be that the Resistance had liberated France in 1945; now his movement would liberate the French people.
In 1952 Poujade was elected to the St-Cere town council on the ticket of the RPF, the movement set up in 1947 by General De Gaulle as a vehicle to return him to power. But in May 1953 De Gaulle, deciding that the time had not yet come, effectively dissolved the RPF. That created a political gap which the Poujadists would fill. De Gaulle’s return to power, in the coup of May 1958, would finish them off as an effective movement.
In July 1953, another member of the St-Cere town council, Fregeac, a Communist, warned Poujade that tax inspectors were arriving in the village the next day. Poujade and Fregeac called an emergency meeting of shopkeepers at the town hall, and organised enough resistance to drive the tax-inspectors out of town.
Poujade decided to build a movement. This was long before the Internet or mobile phones. Poujade had contacts outside St-Cere from a previous job as a travelling salesman, and set out in his van to visit them. As the movement developed, he came to rely heavily on ‘an admirably well-chosen category of tradespeople: hauliers and truck-drivers’, to act as travelling missionaries for his movement2.
Poujade deliberately limited himself to demands for lighter taxes and claimed to speak for all ordinary people – irrespective of class or political identity – against a tiny handful of swindlers in big business and big government. even in posters for the 1956 election, by which time the Poujadist movement had become much more clearly right-wing, that was the main message.
‘If you are against being strangled by taxes, against the exploitation of man by man – arise! Against the monopolies, owing allegiance to no nation, who ruin you and reduce you to subjection. Against the electoral monopolies, who cheat with your votes. Against the gang of exploiters who live from your labour and your savings… Rebel! Like you, we want justice. Fiscal justice for the taxpayers; social justice for the workers’.
Small shopkeepers and small business owners responded. The movement was boosted by a series of acts of resistance to tax inspectors and bailiffs like St-Cere’s.
In this period ‘Poujade not only received but also accepted the support of the Communists’ because in many areas they were ‘the only people able to offer him cadres’3 and the best people to offer him press publicity. Often Communist Party members took leading local positions in Poujade’s movement, the UDCA (Union for the Defence of Traders and Craft Workers; it would later be renamed UFF, French Unity and Fraternity). In his speeches Poujade celebrated his first alliance with Fregeac as the model for how his movement could represent tradespeople across all political lines. The Communist Party saw a success for their strategy of ‘popular front’ or ‘anti-monopoly alliance’. On the occasion of Poujade’s first mass meeting in Paris, in July 1954, the Communist paper L’Humanite praised the town councillors of St-Cere for uniting across political lines to raise ‘the banner of the struggle against fiscal injustice’. ‘Today there are tens and tens of thousands, who do not question each others’ opinions but who unite regardless of other issues to act as those of St-Cere did. Quite naturally, the ‘movement of St-Cere’ has snowballed everywhere…’
The CP found its alliance with the UDCA useful in factional battle against the Socialist Party, which opposed the Poujadists; and hoped that by adroit ‘entry work’ it could make the Poujadist movement an annexe to its own. However, the CP soon found that the Poujadist nest was one where no working-class cuckoo could prosper. Its petty bourgeois class base was too strong a shaping factor.
The Communist Party finally came out against Poujade in October 1955. Soon they were denouncing him as ‘Poujadolf’.
Meanwhile Poujade built his movement with a hectic series of public meetings and a campaign of harassment of members of Parliament. When Pierre Mendes-France, prime minister from June 1954 to January 1956, tried to contribute to the fight against alcoholism by making a public point of choosing milk as a drink, Poujade went wild against him for insulting France’s wine and champagne. Poujade’s campaign against Mendes-France, who was Jewish, had anti-semitic overtones. Algeria’s war for independence from France started in November 1954, and as it escalated, keeping Algeria and the French empire in general became a bigger and bigger theme for the Poujadists. They squared it with their ‘non-political’ stance by claiming ‘a sort of equivalence between the humiliation of shopkeepers threatened with proletarianisation, and that of the nation, reduced to the rank of a fourth or fifth rate power’4.
In June 1955 Poujade sought higher ground by adding to his movement’s limited programme of tax reform the call for an estates-General, explicitly modelled on the representative body convened by the King in 1789 which started the French Revolution. Meetings in each district should compile the people’s demands and mandate their delegates to the estates-General, which would replace the rotten parliamentarians and ensure a ‘return to the basic principles of the Republic, to the people’. Nothing much came of the meetings, but the agitation was enough to gain the Poujadists their 53 seats in the January 1956 election.
It also helped Poujade keep his politics vague and catch-all. The programme was to be defined by the future estates-General, not by him. In this period, however, Poujadism became more fascistic in its attitude to the trade unions.
Up to late 1955, Poujade had claimed to be friendly to the trade unions. Now he proposed to replace them by a Workers’ Union tied to his movement. ‘For us it is a question of breaking down the political compartmentalisations of trade-unionism by means of the Union [his Union] and thus realising the unity of the workers on the national level… Our Unions are not a trade-union, their aim is to absorb all the trade unions into themselves… If the union headquarters can not fuse with us, well, we will bypass them… We will leave those who have not accepted our course to perish, because they will no longer represent anything’.5
The Poujadists made a point, in the same period, of actively supporting some workers’ strikes – organising shopkeepers’ strikes in solidarity, or giving material aid – but with the aim of tying workers in to a movement led by the petty bourgeoisie. For them, the petty bourgeoisie were the authentic leaders of the people. Positioned centrally at the ‘crossroads’ of all classes, they were also ‘the last possessors of a particle of liberty, and they will take advantage of it to extend it to all’. ‘Worker of France!’, they appealed, ‘now that this magnificent struggle is joined, of the small people against the predators, do not forget that our interest is yours’. Because, ‘what is your ideal? To have your own little business, your very own. The workshop, the small industry: that is how workers can get on’.6
The evolution of Poujadism, despite all the efforts of the Communist Party to annex it to the labour movement, shows that it is a snare for workers to think that supporting the sectional movements of small capital can bring us socialist advance by a short-cut. As the French Trotskyists commented, looking back in 1961: ‘One of the greatest faults of… the Communist Party’s policy towards the small tradespeople and peasants was to conduct themselves as… pseudo-defenders of the small business and the little landholding. It was necessary, in the best Marxist tradition, to explain to those social layers that under the capitalist regime they are odiously expropriated by big capital, the banks and the monopolies, that social progress does not permit the conservation of these outdated forms, and that workers’ power would assure them a transition without coercion towards socialism’7.
1. Les Bandes Armees du Pouvoir 1 (Ligue Communiste pamphlet), p.22
2. Stanley Hoffman, Le Mouvement Poujade, p.31
3. Hoffman, p.28.
4. Hoffman, p.99
5. Hoffman, p.101
6. Hoffman, p.231, p.256
7. Jean-Marie Brohm and others, Le gaullisme, et apres, p.197
Guest-poster Roger McCarthy did some canvassing for Labour in Eastleigh last week and is active in a not dissimilar southern seat:
1. UKIP’s breakthrough
First and foremost UKIP bucked a very clear general election trend of right-wing voters only giving them a significant (say 10%+ rather than <3%) share in seats where the MP (of whatever party) is so safe that a protest vote can be delivered without endangering the Tory’s chance of winning.
Now while Eastleigh is UKIP’s best parliamentary result ever it is presaged by previous recent by-elections where right-wing voters have deserted Conservative candidates for UKIP in significant numbers across multiple types of seats gaining 21.7% in Rotherham (safe Labour), 14.3% in Corby (Tory-Lab marginal) and 12.2% in Barnsley Central (very safe Labour), 11.8% in Middlesbrough (safe Labour)
Having said this they did not do anywhere near as well in Oldham (5.8%), Leicester South (2.9%), Manchester Central (4.5%), Feltham (5.5%) Bradford West (3.3%) or Croydon North (5.7%) all of which were safe Labour seats.
(there is probably also a strong correlation with ethnicity as well with UKIP doing – surprise, surprise – well only in very white constituencies and failing in those with significant BAME populations – even when as in Leicester and Croydon they somehow managed to rustle up an Asian or Black candidate themselves).
This brings out an interesting anomaly that of a historically very high 15 by-elections in just this first half of a parliament only one has been in a Conservative-held seat and 11 were in Labour-held seats (in comparison there were 14 by-elections over the whole 2005-10 parliament of which 3 were in Tory seats)
So we are not being given a real chance to see how deep UKIPs new found support is in Conservative and Conservative-targeted marginals as only two of the 15 by-elections have been in seats where the Tory had any chance of winning.
But with that note of caution this does raise the interesting possibility that the constant obsessive propaganda on immigration by the right wing media may have finally created a right-wing populist monster which they no longer can properly control electorally and that as has happened with the Tea Party in the US there are now significant numbers of right-wing voters so lost to elementary logic and reason that they will throw winnable elections rather than support candidates who are not right wing enough for them.
And as the only way the Tories can control immigration and give the base what they crave is by leaving he EU and this is not at all on the agenda of global capital this may create a UKIP threat which just could lose them the next election by splitting the right-wing vote in their target seats.
2. The Lib Dems hang on by their fingernails
Again the result seems to show a general and under-reported trend that the Lib Dem collapse in national polls is not being reproduced in those areas where they actually hold parliamentary seats and control councils – and that while they lost a great many votes in Eastleigh this time there are still people (and we met them on the doorstep) who believe that the Lib Dems are a restraining force on the Tories and cannot be persuaded otherwise despite all the evidence that the Tories have got through every single important item from their manifesto.
And we can’t discount the Lib Dem machine in their seats – clearly they were out in force and seem to have been particularly good at collecting postal votes and that these pushed them through the final barrier,
3. Labour disappointment
Increasing the historically very poor 2010 result by 0.2% to 9.8% is of course a real disappointment for Labour as people in the campaign office genuinely believed that they could raise it significantly toward the 1997-2005 levels of 20% and local polls all showed us doing somewhat (although not that much better) than we did on the night.
And we did run a serious campaign with an excellent candidate (Whatever one thinks of John O’Farrell’s New Labour politics he clearly was by far the brightest and most personable of the candidates) many MP and front-bench visits, hundreds of volunteers and 20,000 voter ID visits – a level of activity which compares favourably with that we put into key marginals and which seems to have been almost entirely wasted and goes some way to validating the views of Miliband-haters like Dan Hodges that we should have run no more than a token campaign.
But under this was a complete absence of any real Labour party on the ground – with just 158 members in summer 2010 (the last date for which CLP membership is available), Eastleigh was the 534th smallest CLP in the UK and they really cannot have had much more than a dozen or so even semi-active members before region and national HQ started busing in volunteers.
And like my CLP they have no councillors even in deprived urban wards (and Eastleigh has them with much of the town centre being visibly run-down) which should have vote Labour and this is a huge handicap on the doorstep – while the Lib Dems have 40 out of 44 borough seats (with the Tories holding the remaining 4).
On the plus side they were close to two of the exactly 4 Labour-held seats in the South East region and which do have active and effective CLPs – but Southampton activists are unlikely to have had much more grasp of local issues than those of us who came from further afield.
4. So much for the NHA…
This was the first real test for National Health Action which was rewarded with just 392 votes or under 1% and shows them to yet another clown party which has zero real support and if it did could only threaten Labour.
But even this was better than the wretched Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate who got just 62 votes and was soundly beaten by three genuine clown parties.