Enough equivocation: the left must campaign to Stop Brexit!

October 20, 2017 at 11:35 am (Anti-Racism, AWL, Brexit, campaigning, Europe, labour party)

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DMVt6zWWsAEquYe.jpg

Illustration: John Rogan (via Tendance Coatesy)

By Martin Thomas (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Opinion polling on 10-11 October showed 64% saying that the Tory government is doing “badly” in negotiating Brexit, and only 21% saying it is doing “well”. 47% said that, with hindsight, they thought the vote for Brexit in June 2016 was wrong, 40% that it was right.

Only a small minority say that Brexit will make Britain better off economically — only 23% overall, and only 12% of Labour voters. 44% think Brexit will make Britain worse off. 39% expect Brexit to be bad for jobs, just 22% think it will be good. 31% expect Britain to be bad for the NHS, 25% good. Among Labour voters, 51% expect “bad for the NHS”, 17% good.

Meanwhile the Tories’ talks with the EU are going badly. On Thursday 19th and Friday 20th ministers, and then chiefs, from the 27 other EU states will hear a report from Brexit negotiations after five rounds of talks. The EU 27 are insisting that the UK must promise a clear list of closing-the-account payments before they will even start discussing a new deal on trade. That new deal itself will be difficult. Canada’s trade deal with the EU, with much less baggage to impede it, took eight years to negotiate and ratify, and nearly collapsed.

There is no sign of progress towards the trade deals with other countries which the Brexiters airily promised back in 2016. With right-wing nationalists like Trump gaining ground in many countries, the terrain is more difficult for such deals. All that should be a signal for the left and the labour movement to start a drive to stop Brexit.

We should oppose and harry the Tories at every point. We should demand — as some pro-EU Tories are already demanding — that any exit deal must be voted on by Parliament. Not just in the my-way-or-the-highway alternative the Tories are offering — their deal or a crash exit with no deal at all. And not just by Parliament.

The June 2016 referendum had the defects of all referenda — a poor form of democracy. It was biased because 16-17 year olds and EU citizens resident in Britain were denied votes. It was run in a way which artificially limited the mass media debate to a Tory-vs-Tory contest. And on top of all that, it was a one-off vote about a very vaguely-sketched alternative.

Democracy means stopping elites like the Tories grabbing full power to make and shape things to their own liking from such vague mandates. The populace must retain its say. Minorities must retain a chance to become majorities. Given we’ve already had the first referendum, probably the only way to stop the Tories trashing people’s rights is a second referendum.

“A Labour MP”, quoted by the Financial Times on 17 October, said: “the public would need another vote on whether to go ahead, given that the Leave camp had offered a more positive manifesto [than any possible exit deal] in June 2016… It would be a ‘final say’ now that we know the facts. The people would want to have the final say over all of this”. That MP also told the FT: “this would not be a ‘second referendum’, despite all appearances to the contrary”. Huh? It would be second, and it would be a referendum, wouldn’t it?

In any case, the MP is right. We didn’t want the first referendum, but now it’s happened we must demand a “final say” for the populace. The alternative is to let the Tories have their way unchecked, to let them cancel the rights of EU citizens and of British citizens to be able to work and study in the EU, to let them make difficult-to-reverse decisions, all on the authority of an old referendum and the Parliamentary majority of a moment. Our basic guideline should be working-class solidarity and social levelling-up across borders. Immediately, we should also be backing French workers in their battle against the very pro-EU but anti-worker Macron government.

Also, however, we cannot let the immediate issue of the re-raising of economic and social barriers, and the suppression of rights to free movement, wait on the general and longer-term issue of reorienting the labour movement towards a workers’ Europe. “Stop Brexit” and “Second referendum on any exit deal” should be immediate slogans, alongside “Freedom of movement”.

On 12 October, Jeremy Corbyn said that he would vote Remain in a second referendum, but in these terms: “There isn’t going to be another referendum, so it’s a hypothetical question but yes, I voted remain because I thought the best option was to remain. I haven’t changed my mind on that”.

Last week I met by chance, on a bus, a member of Corbyn’s inner circle, someone I’ve known for decades. I can’t quote him by name, because it was a conversation on a bus, not an on-the-record interview. But those who have followed Labour statements on Brexit will recognise his responses as only a snappier and more candid rendering of the official line.

What should Labour do about Brexit? Response: oppose the Tories, criticise the Tories at every step, wait and see, and avoid further commitment. What if the Tory government falls before it can complete a deal? Won’t Labour then have to say something definite? Response: long silence. Then: “That would be very difficult”. The Corbynista insider was sure of one thing: Labour cannot, must not, come out for stopping Brexit. Labour must equivocate in order to keep both its pro-Brexit and its anti-Brexit supporters on board.

This craven, manipulative approach to politics is incompatible with socialism, and unlikely to work in the long or even medium term. Tens of thousands joined a “Stop Brexit” march at the Tory party conference on 1 October in Manchester — some of them chiming in with pro-EU Tories like Stephen Dorrell, some of them going on to join the anti-austerity march the same day.

So far there’s still a majority for the resigned view: Brexit will be not very good, or positively bad, but now we just have to go through with it. That majority is beginning to break up. Probably it will wane and wax in the next months and years as the talks between the Tories and EU go worse or better. A determined drive by the left and the labour movement can and should turn the majority into a minority, and stop Brexit.

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Matgamna and Hornung on Lenin and the Russian Revolution

October 16, 2017 at 7:59 pm (AWL, class, From the archives, history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia)

Above: the young Lenin’s police mugshot when arrested in 1895.

By Sean Matgamna and Andrew Hornung (adapted from a series of articles first published in Workers’ Fight in 1974).

Read online (below), or download pdf

Who was Lenin? He led the workers of the Tsarist Russian Empire to make the most profound revolution in history in 1917. He was the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Party, without which the workers would have been defeated.

Of Karl Marx’s fate at the hands of his alleged followers in the early socialist movement, Lenin wrote that it was often the fate of revolutionaries that after their deaths their names were made into legends to console the oppressed, while their ideas — their real politics, what they had stood for in life — were thrown out and replaced by something else. Something very like that happened to Lenin himself. It happened to him almost immediately after his death. The bureaucracy which ruled the USSR mummified his poor physical remnants, built a great ‘Lenin Mausoleum’ and created an obscene national shrine around the mummy.

Lenin had stood for maximum working class democracy. The rulers who made him — and Marx — into a holy icon of their pidgin-Marxist state religion, proceeded in the decades after his death to build an anti-socialist totalitarian state on the groaning backs of the people of the USSR. Lenin had liberated the many oppressed nationalities of the Tsarist empire: Stalin put them back under the control of Great Russian chauvinist jailers and oppressors. Lenin had stood for the international socialist revolution. Stalin tried to build ‘socialism’ in backward Russia, substituting “socialism in one country” for Lenin’s programme of international socialism. Lenin had defended the right of independent trade unions to exist in the USSR: everywhere Stalinists ruled and rule, such organisations of the working class are systematically and brutally rooted out.

At every important point the Stalinists, who lyingly call themselves Leninists, radically cut away what Lenin had really stood for and adopted anti-working-class policies — the very opposite of those which Lenin spent his life fighting for. Now that Stalinism has fallen in the USSR and Eastern Europe, we have the inverse process. Lenin, who spent his last crippled years fighting incipient Stalinism, is scapegoated for the discredited despotic system which rose up on the defeat of Lenin’s last struggle, continued after Lenin’s death by Trotsky and others.

This pamphlet is offered to the reader as an introduction to what Lenin — the man who led the greatest working class revolution so far — really did in his life, what he said and what he fought for and against.

The contents were published as a pamphlet in 1987, based on articles in the weekly Socialist Organiser in 1982 (nos. 108-113). They have been slightly edited for this reprinting. The 1982 text was adapted from a series of articles in the paper Workers’ Fight in 1974.

The beginning of Bolshevism

Born in the provincial town of Simbirsk, into the family of a schools administrator, Lenin was no stranger to revolutionary ideas other than Marxism. His brother Alexander had been hanged in 1887 for planning the assassination of the Tsar. Alexander had been a member of the populist, agrarian socialist Narodnik organisation. But if the execution of his brother sharpened Lenin’s sense of injustice, it was not the views or the methods of the Narodniks that influenced him, but those of Marx, Engels and Plekhanov. By the time he was 19 Lenin had already read Marx’s Capital and begun to ground himself seriously in its scientific method. Read the rest of this entry »

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Catalonia: right to choose, yes! New borders, no!

October 12, 2017 at 1:34 pm (AWL, democracy, elections, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, spain)

By Martin Thomas and Tony Holmes (also published in the present issue of Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website); slightly amended by JD to take account of latest developments:

Charles Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia, has announced his cautious response to the referendum on independence in Catalonia his government called on 1 October.

The Spanish government declared the referendum illegal, and deployed heavy Spanish police force to try to stop it, but it largely went ahead. 92% voted yes, on a 43% turnout. A series of opinion polls carried out by the Catalan government since 2011 has in recent years shown a slight majority against independence, most recently 49%-41% in July this year.

Puigdemont asked the Catalan parliament, where he leads a coalition government, for a mandate to declare Catalonia an independent state. He proposed “suspending the effect” of the independence declaration “for a few weeks” and seeking talks with the Spanish government and exploring international mediation. The Spanish government had warned that it would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule from Madrid if Puigdemont went for independence. It may still do so, though the immediate call by EU chief Donald Tusk for Madrid to negotiate makes that less likely.

Judging from the failure of the Spanish police to stop the 1 October referendum, such an attempt by Madrid could not go smoothly, and might lead to a low-level civil war between Spanish and Catalan police. The European Union and neighbouring France have said that a Catalonia which declared itself independent could not expect to be admitted to the European Union, implying that it would face a degree of economic blockade, with serious trade barriers surrounding it. It is conceivable that the stand-off could be resolved by the reintroduction of a 2006 law ceding more autonomy to Catalonia, which was approved at the time both by a referendum in Catalonia and by a vote in the Spanish parliament, led at that time by the social-democratic PSOE.

The current People’s Party (conservative) government in Madrid got that law annulled by Spain’s constitutional court in 2010, starting a process towards the current crisis. Democratic principle mandates concessions by Madrid to Catalonia.

The people of Catalonia have the right to a proper referendum on separation, and to be allowed to separate without sabotage or disruption if they vote for separation. It is, however, good that Puigdemont called for negotiations rather than immediate separation. To denounce restraint as a sell-out would be wrong for three reasons.

Firstly, there is no solid evidence of a majority for separation. That 40% of the electorate voted yes on 1 October is not solid evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

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Stalinist iconography is not acceptable

July 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm (AWL, labour party, left, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism, thuggery, youth)

Groups help banners with Stalin’s face on

By Cathy Nugent (of Workers Liberty)

In the recent past there has been a minor craze in and around the Labour left for using 1930s Stalinist iconography. This craze, based in social media, ranges from the use of Stalinist socialist realist “art” to images and memes attacking Trotskyists, including ice-picks emojis etc. Some people, so we understand, who volunteer for Momentum like to use jargon attacking Trotskyists, taken from these social media exchanges, such as “Clear Them Out”. They mean that people who support Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Appeal should be expelled from the Labour Party.

In an effort to draw attention to this phenomena, we commented here on a recent example of Stalinist “theatre”, where a prominent member of the Labour left wore a badge saying “Goodnight Trotskyite”, showing a figure being stabbed with an ice-pick — a reference to the murder of Trotsky by Stalin’s assassin Ramón Mercader.

That person apologised. Others, some “satirical Stalinists” around the Facebook page “Red London”, in an attempt, I guess, to defend their right to wield the virtual ice-pick, responded with something more toxic and slanderous in character. They made claims (and not for the first time) of paedophilia against the AWL, based on selectively quoting from two of our articles, both of which were serious discussions about how the tackle the problem of child abuse! They also tried to make fun of a 15-year old comrade of ours by posting a nasty comment about his fundraising activity. Apologising shortly afterwards, they continued to maintain that the dog-walk, advertised on a charity crowdfunding site, was intrinsically funny, thus continuing to ridicule this young man’s endeavours. The Labour left platform Red Labour commented here on this, arguing effectively why Red London are really very unfunny.

We are not thought police, we have no wish to, nor could we, ban this iconography and group-think. Jokes and memes have their place in the movement, as they have in life. However, we believe it is time to spell out the political implications of the Stalinist craze.

It has been said that real Stalinists – people that adhere to the state ideology of the Soviet Union from the1930s onwards – no longer exist. That very few people in the UK labour movement believe the Soviet Union was a socialist utopia. Pretend Stalinism is therefore fairly “safe” silliness. Not so.

There are small groups of people who are proudly Stalinist. Some of them are very influential: ex-Guardian journalist Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union, are both central to the Labour leadership’s inner circle. Both were members of a former Stalinist sect “Straight Left”, and they have not changed their views. Then there are groups like Red London, and individuals who operate at a very different level to Milne and Murray. (And, to be clear Corbyn himself is not a carbon copy of his advisors, and, always deals with political disputes in a comradely way.)

The likes of Red London use hateful trolling because they know it will be both tolerated and feared, or rather it will be tolerated because it is feared. Nobody wants to get in their way of their slanders. But they get their tactics of abuse and slander, some of it very personal, straight out of the High Stalinist playbook.

Many of today’s Stalinists and semi-Stalinists are inculcated into their views, and an operating policy of slander and lies, through a simplistic world view. For example, that the Soviet Union was a mighty power against Hitler and against American imperialism. That the Soviet Union was a great ally of small and oppressed nations. People, such as ourselves, Trotskyists in general, some anarchists and left libertarians, or anyone who challenges these views are regarded as being on the “other side” of a political binary. We are enemies, collaborators, sometimes we “have right-wing handlers” etc, etc.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what and abuse.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what is wrong with those views. Therefore we think we are in a good position to appeal to people on the left, people who maybe regard themselves as “not Leninist”, or who are not sure about whether there is a role for Marxist ideas in the Labour Party, not to laugh along with the anti-Trotskyist jokes, but rather, to try to encourage debate on the underlying issues.

There is a wide spectrum of political traditions and current political beliefs among the people who now want to change the world and see it cleansed of oppression and exploitation. Many of us, including ourselves, see a great opportunity to fight back against oppression in a Corbyn-led Labour government. To make a good job of that opportunity we do need to unite, but not by way of dealing with our differences through abuse and puerile behaviour. Fighting to make the most of these opportunities means opening up thoughtful and comradely debate at every level, including on social media.

We need a movement that takes the historical crimes of Stalinism seriously and recognises its current manifestations. We need to be able to debate the historical record, from whatever our point of view, without fear of slander and abuse.

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Matgamna’s picture of the revolutionary left in disarray

July 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm (AWL, left, liberation, Marxism, political groups, posted by JD, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", revolution, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, trotskyism)

Paul Hampton of the AWL reviews The Left in Disarray by Sean Matgamna

Why is the revolutionary left in such a mess today, despite the economic problems of the last decade, the crises of many neoliberal states, the enormous size of the global waged working class, the potential power of the trade union movement and the signs of revival in left politics? The answers to why the Marxist left is in such a state are comprehensively hammered home in this collection of essays. The book is a tour de force history of the revolutionary left over the past one hundred years. The short answer is: Stalinism.

But the syphilis of Stalinism is not only about the states that were or still are ruled by Stalinists. It is also about how the ideology of Stalinism has taken root even among the anti-Stalinist and social democratic left. Sloughing off this Stalinism is an essential prerequisite for reviving the authentic Marxist left.

Why disarray? Matgamna tells the story of the degeneration of the revolutionary left with great verve. The revolutionary left that emerged from the 1917 Russian revolution was essentially healthy. It had opposed the First World War and arose triumphant to lead the Russian workers to power. These revolutionaries formed the Communist International, a school of revolutionary strategy that by the early 1920s had built mass communist parties made up of the finest working class militants internationally.

The principal blow came with the isolation of the Russian workers’ state, already depleted by three years of bitter civil war and compounded by the backwardness of the inherited Russian social formation. Concomitantly, no communist party was able to lead the workers to power outside Russia.

The result was the bureaucratisation of the Russian workers’ state. The bureaucratic tentacles strangled the organs of soviet democracy, the trade unions and finally the Bolshevik party — the last living mechanism through which the Russian workers could exercise their rule. The Stalinists “revolution from above” defeated the Left Opposition, imposed forced industrialisation and collectivisation, and destroyed democratic, national and civil rights. After 1928 the new bureaucratic ruling class held the levers of control over the surplus product and inaugurated a totalitarian semi-slave state. After that, the Communist Parties acted as the overseas agents of Russian foreign policy, as well as incipient bureaucratic ruling classes in places where they got a foothold.

The monstrous form of the Stalinist counter-revolution threw most of the revolutionary left back to a state of reactionary anti-capitalism, shorn of working class agency and of the consistently democratic programme they had once espoused. The tiny forces that coalesced around Trotsky put up a spirited rearguard action, keeping alive the flame of authentic Marxism during the 1920s and 1930s. But the Trotskyist movement itself was wrecked on the cusp of the Second World War, its main forces unable to explain the expansion of Stalinism outside of the USSR and later to understand the revival of capitalism in the post-war epoch. Most of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists embraced the Stalinist advance into Eastern Europe, China and beyond as somehow creating “workers’ states” (without the active intervention of workers), or painted despotic post-colonial regimes as somehow the embodiment of permanent revolution.

Matgamna itemises the bitter array of failures in the years after the Second World War. Among the litany of terrible errors were: • Support for North Korea’s war in 1950 • Failure to support the East German workers uprising in 1953 • Uncritical support for the Vietnamese Stalinists • Uncritical support for the Castro Stalinists in Cuba after 1960 • Soft backing for Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution • Opposition to Israel’s right to exist after the 1967 war • Backing Catholic chauvinism in Northern Ireland • Opposition to the UK joining the European Union from 1971 • Fantasies about the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia • Support for clerical-fascist theocracy in Iran from 1979 • Support for Russia’s murderous war in Afghanistan in 1980 • Support for Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in 1982 • Backing Iran against Iraq in their sub-imperial conflict during the 1980s • Siding with Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait 1990-91 • Support for Serbia’s assault on the Kosovars in 1999 • Softness and refusing to condemn Al Qaeda in 2001 • Support for Saddam in the 2003 war • Uncritical backing of Islamist Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, even as they slaughtered workers.

Matgamna eviscerates the justifications used by sections of the left for these stances. He is scathing about the “anti-imperialism of fools”, a species of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that leads to support for despotism under the cover of anti-Americanism. He also denounces “left antisemitism”, defined as the exceptional denial of fundamental national rights to Jewish people (including the right to their own state) and demonisation of all Jewish people for the crimes of the Israeli state.

Sloughing off these rationalisations for reactionary politics is essential for renewing the revolutionary left. Matgamna’s descriptions of the practices and ideologies of the post-Stalinist left are often thought-provoking. The left Stalinist embalming of Lenin is described as the work of a “Leninolator” and of “Lenin-olatry”. The Stalinist picture of the world is “totalitarian utopianism” and the former Trotskyists who capitulated to Stalin “self-depoliticised ex-Bolshevik social engineers”. Liberal interventionist are dubbed “mañana third campists”, their “socialism” always for the distant tomorrow.

The text also has engaging cultural references — tales of Prester John, Kim Philby, slaves crucified on the Appian Way, Marlon Brando and others. Avid followers of the left will enjoy Matgamna’s pen portraits of the principal leaders of the post-war Trotskyist groups in Britain.

Gerry Healy led the SLL and WRP until it exploded after his sexual abuse of members was made public in 1985. By then Healy had sold the organisation to the Libyan, Iraqi, and other Arab states, as an agency to spy on the left and refugees. The Healyites were characterised by their millenarian catastrophism, their frozen words of Trotsky used to justify political lurches, and by gangster politics.

Ernest Mandel was the principal theoretician of the post-Trotsky Fourth International, responsible for rationalising its adaptation to the Stalinist “workers’ states” in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. Mandel died in 1995, a few years after the collapse of Stalinism had destroyed his theoretical edifice, leaving a movement clinging to a venerable name while desperately wondering where the “revolutionary process” had gone.

Ted Grant spawned the current Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. He redefined socialism as “nationalise the top 200 monopolies” and an enabling act. He peddled the fantasies of “proletarian Bonapartism”, the military substitutes for working-class agency under Stalinism, but also in Syria, Portugal and latterly Venezuela. Grant’s supporters eulogise the capitulation of Liverpool city council while evading concrete political questions with fantasy sloganeering. Grant did not teach his followers to think, but to do political parrot work.

Tony Cliff was a purveyor of toy-town Bolshevism, a man who bent the stick so far on the revolutionary party that the SWP came to represent a parody of third period Stalinist mono-factions. Cliff joked about trying to find your way around the London Underground with a map of the Paris metro, but the legacy he left was more akin to a map of the Moscow sewers. For the SWP, nothing is forbidden in pursuit of organisational advantage. This makes for an increasingly incoherent group that is now a galaxy away from the Marxism of its origins.

If the history of the left is so miserable, what examples of hope are there? There is much to learn from the small third camp Trotskyist tradition around Max Shachtman and Hal Draper which survived during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the left have sobered up over Syria, where few socialists could support the Daesh terror even by implication, and where most recoiled from any support for the barbarous Assad regime. Similarly, the Brexit vote saw sections of the left abandon their previous nationalist positions. There is something of a revival in social democratic reformist projects.

The bigger picture includes some disarray among our main enemies, the ruling classes, as illustrated by Trump and May. Most of all, the politics of the AWL provides the most important embodiment of hope.

The AWL has forged a living tradition of rational Marxist politics, with realistic assessments of the great global events of the last half century and a series of interventionist political conclusions aimed at mobilising the working class and transforming the labour movement.

The AWL has renewed the great Marxist tradition from a century ago. We do not start from scratch. All is not lost. Much of the left may be in disarray, but the forces of independent, third camp Marxism are alive. With our help, the new generation of socialists will make this politics their watchword.

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Eric Lee debates the AWL on ‘1917: Freedom or Tyranny?’

July 4, 2017 at 3:57 pm (AWL, democracy, Eric Lee, history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

From Eric’s blog:

Last night I participated in a debate with the Alliance for Workers Liberty in central London on the subject of “1917: Freedom or Tyranny?”. The following is the text of my opening remarks.

I want to begin by congratulating Paul (Hampton) and the AWL on the publication of this book. While we will disagree on some important things – which we will come to this evening – we agree on the enormous historic importance of the 1917 Russian revolution, and I welcome any attempts to grapple with the issues raised.

Paul’s book offers new insights, such as the critical discussion about Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism”. And of course I welcome all the very positive references to Karl Kautsky and the German Social Democracy, which are often lacking in the writings of those who come from the Leninist tradition.

Let me very briefly comment on four of the questions that were posed for this evening’s debate:

Was the Bolshevik party of Trotsky and Lenin a conspiracy of elitist “professional revolutionaries”, or a mass movement organically rooted in the Russian working class?

Maybe it was both.

The Bolsheviks were elitist and conspiratorial and this was pointed out by such leading revolutionary Marxists of the time as Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky himself.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote a blistering critique of Lenin’s view of the Party way back in 1904. She ended her essay, which had the catchy title of “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy” with this memorable sentence:

“Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

In that same year, Trotsky wrote this memorable critique of Lenin:

“these methods lead … to the Party organisation ‘substituting’ itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organisation, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee.”

Yet thirteen years later, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Party, and tragically witnessed his own prophecy come true.

But it was not all about conspiratorial elites.

As the Provisional Government in 1917 failed to deal with the challenges facing the peoples of the Russian empire, in particular ending the war and dealing with the peasant hunger for land, the Bolsheviks picked up considerable support among workers in Petrograd and, most importantly, in the army garrison in the imperial capital.

In other parts of the empire, most notably in Georgia, the Bolsheviks had hardly any support at all.

In other words, there are aspects of the October revolution that resembled a popular uprising and others that look more a military coup.

There were elements of both. Read the rest of this entry »

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Matgamna vs Minogue: “Is Socialism Dead?”

July 1, 2017 at 12:39 am (AWL, class, From the archives, Marxism, posted by JD, USSR, workers)

I’ll be away this weekend, at the AWL’s Ideas For Freedom event. This seems like an appropriate moment to remember the AWL’s Sean  Matgamna debating the Thatcherite Kenneth Minogue at the AWL’s event in 1991. Click here to download pdf

Sean Matgamna

Sean Matgamna

We are discussing “Is Socialism Dead?” because of the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. The question there is: what, if anything, did the Soviet Union have to do with socialism? Yet there is a more immediate reason why we are discussing this issue in Britain. For ten years now the British working class has suffered a series of defeats. If we had not had those defeats we would not have the climate of ideas we now have, and we would not be discussing issues in this way. Quite likely, there would be euphoria in most of the labour movement about the collapse of Stalinism.

We are Trotskyists. We are in Trotsky’s tradition. Unfortunately, “Trotskyism” today means very little. You need more information other than the word itself. To us it means that we are with the people who stood against the rise of Stalinism. We are with the people who were in Siberia, in the labour camps. Who organised hunger strikes in Stalin’s prisons. Who tried to defend the Soviet working class against Stalinism. Who defended working-class freedom in the USSR in the 1920s. We are also with the people who made the Russian Revolution. We do not attempt to ingratiate ourselves with the bourgeoisie. We are with the people who shot the Tsar and who used the state against the capitalists. We stand for genuine Marxian socialism.

The idea that Stalinism has anything to do with socialism is based on a series of misrepresentations. We do not want state socialism. Marxists believe that ultimately society will be organised without coercion, without the state. The real roots of bureaucracy in British capitalist society and of bureaucratic tyranny in the USSR are in the fact that both these types of society are ruled by a minority. This minority cannot tolerate real democracy. At best it will concede — as in Britain — shallow forms of democracy. These societies cannot allow real self-rule by the people. Because real self-rule cannot be allowed, we get bureaucratic rule — although the levels of bureaucracy differ, sometimes greatly. Marxists believe that once the rule of the bourgeoisie is smashed and the self-rule of the people is a reality, we will not have a state in any of the old senses. We will not have the type of bureaucratism characteristic of Stalinism.

Marxist socialists believe socialism can only come out of advanced capitalism, that it can not come from anywhere else. Trotsky and Lenin did not believe that you could take a backward part of the world, the old Czarist empire, cordon it off and build a viable utopian socialist colony there. Marx laughed at people with basically similar ideas — people who wanted to build socialist colonies in America. The Russian Stalinists tried to build a vast quasi-utopian system counterposed to capitalism. That collapsed because it was not possible for a backward country to overtake and outstrip the power and the might and the wealth of the world bourgeoisie.

The Bolsheviks led a workers’ revolution in a country where socialism was not possible. They were right to take power. They wanted to see a European and a world movement of the workers taking power. They wanted advanced, capitalist Germany, which was ripe for socialism, to be taken by the workers. In 1917 socialists understood that socialism was not state tyranny: socialism was the elimination of the capitalist system, of wage slavery and the substitution of co-operatively organised society, with a real democracy.

One of the central criticisms Marxists make of capitalism is that it develops ideas it cannot make good on, cannot deliver. Capitalism suffers from a giant flaw: capitalism means private ownership of the social means of production, so real equality is impossible in capitalism.

We have formal equality — for example, equality before the law. But economic inequality disrupts and destroys the possibilities for social equality.

If, ten or 15 years ago, someone made a socialist speech like this, the speaker might well be saying that it does not matter if the democracy that existed in Britain were suppressed; that it would not be a bad thing to have a Stalinist system instead. I am not saying that. I think the sort of liberty we have in capitalist Britain would be worth defending against the “stormtroopers” of capitalism who, in all probability, at some time in the future, will come — as they came to Germany under Hitler and to Chile, in 1973, under Pinochet. Nevertheless, British democracy is a great deal short of real self-rule.

The Russian revolution was made by Marxists with the full knowledge that socialism could not be built amid Russian backwardness. The collapse of Russian Stalinism is a vindication of Marxism. That does not lessen the triumphalism of the bourgeoisie at the collapse, or lessen the pressure on fainthearted people.

Mr Minogue attacks the bureaucracy we find in Britain. Minogue attacks the waste of a welfare state, which of course is superimposed on the capitalist system. But to a considerable extent, when Minogue attacks these things, calling them socialism, what he is actually attacking is the evolution of capitalism itself. The sort of statism which has been attacked by the so-called libertarian right is itself the product of capitalism. Monopolies long ago developed across the capitalist world, and the state and industry began to combine — for war and the plundering of colonies — a century and more ago. Into this development have come the demands of the labour movement, for example, for welfare reforms. Desirable and good goals — like a welfare state — have been strangled with bureaucracy arising out of the conditions of the British capitalist class society. Much of what Minogue and people of his outlook attack is bureaucratic monopoly capitalism – for which they then blame the socialists. This is a species of ideological card-sharping.

And there is more cheating about the legacy of Stalinism. Stalinism did not exist in the world on its own. During the long period of Stalinist rule in various countries, the bourgeoisie was the dominant world force. They are now realising their fullest domination with the collapse of Stalinism. Throughout this period many of the horrors of Stalinism can be traced to capitalism. For example, there are few things more terrible than the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. They treated a large part of their own people as Hitler treated the Jews. Yet how were the Khmer Rouge produced? This psychotic social formation arose after the modern, democratic, bourgeois USA bombed Cambodia “into the Stone Age”. Stalinism cannot be taken in isolation from the capitalist world in which it existed. Even Stalinism in the Soviet Union did not happen in isolation from capitalism. Fourteen states, including Britain, invaded Soviet Russia between 1918 and 1921. That was one of the factors which, by its effects on the economy, led to the rise of Stalinism.

One argument we meet is this: despite all the imperfections of capitalism, nevertheless this system is the best we can get. “Anti-utopianism” is very fashionable now. If we want to achieve a better society we are “utopians”. And, comrades, “utopianism” is dangerous! Apparently it leads to Jacobin terror and Stalinism. Of course, Marxists do not condemn capitalism totally. The Communist Manifesto contains a great paean of praise, by Karl Marx, to the capitalist system. He truly says that the capitalists have done wonderful things.

Capitalism is progressive in history. It creates the conditions whereby capitalist ideals of liberty and equality can actually be realised – though the bourgeois class cannot do it. From this point of view, capitalism has been progressive. In previous epochs of history class society was necessary. In ancient Greece, when Aristotle argued in favour of slavery, he was arguing for a necessary condition for their actual civilisation.

I would concede that the capitalism we have in Britain is better than Stalinism. Indeed, it is nearer to socialism. Yet capitalism is still a dog-eat-dog system. Capitalism can work. It can continue for a long time. But in the 20th century it survived only by destroying large parts of the means of production in the Great Slump, creating mass unemployment, and by going into world wars. We hear about the horrors of Stalinism. I do not excuse them. But in this century we witnessed the near destruction of European civilisation — by forces arising from capitalism. If you walk down the streets from the London School of Economics, where Mr Minogue, you find people asleep in doorways. In Lincoln’s Inn Fields, nearby, there are hundreds of people camped. We live in a world where homelessness is nowadays considered almost normal. A world where culture is degraded to the lowest common denominator by the profit motive. Where the mass of the population is not educated to have the possibility of realising real self-rule. All these horrors are rooted in the fact that there is private, minority ownership of the means of production and everything is geared to exercising, justifying and maintaining the rule of that minority of big capitalists.

Capitalism has its horrors, too.

Right now, we can see the outlines of three great trade blocs emerging: America, Japan and Europe. If capitalism once again slows down, and there is no reason to presume it will not, eventually, there is the possibility of conditions something like those of the 1930s. The nightmare scenario of an eventual “1984” world with three great warring powers. Capitalism is not a stable system. Capitalism is progressive, historically, allowing the creation of a working class. But then the working class must seize its historic destiny and put itself in conscious control of society. The alternative will not always be a bourgeois democracy like the one we have in Britain now.

It is arguable that we can not completely do away with the market. Who needs to do such a thing? But what we can do is eliminate the private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery that is inseparable from it, and introduce real, democratic self-control in all spheres of society, including the economic.

Is socialism dead? No, and it will not die until capitalism is dead. Socialism is a product of and an answer to capitalism. The capitalists can win victories in the class struggle, but they cannot eliminate the working class. The class struggle will continue and the workers’ movement will revive. Socialism will revive.

We are witnessing the purging of socialism of all the encrustations of Fabian statism and Stalinism. This is the purification of socialism. We are seeing the emergence of the opportunity for real socialism to expand. This is not the end of history. This is a new phase of history where real socialism will have a far better chance than it had when our heroic comrades took power in Russia in October 1917.

Kenneth Minogue

Kenneth Minogue

A lot depends on definitions. There are a lot of packaged words: capitalism, socialism, workers’ power, democracy. These have been shuffled like a packs of cards. When Sean Matgamna says “Stalinism was never what socialists believed to be socialism” he is simply wrong. This is a matter of historical fact. Great numbers of people fought for the defence of the Soviet Union as the homeland of socialism. It is only as the project has more obviously failed that they gave it up.

I was struck by a story from the Tiananmen Square episode. It was repeated in Moscow. In both cases some luckless person said: “Now I know what fascism really means”. Now why did these people choose the word “fascism”? These people were communists, not fascists. I think this illustrates one of the ways in which socialism is a type of perpetual virgin, never touched by experience. In Islam, the reward of warriors going to paradise is to meet women for ever reconstituted as virgins. Socialism is like this.

Sean Matgamna says that socialism is sometimes regarded as an ideal which is too good for us. It is a marvellous idea which we can not actually achieve. Matgamna believes it can bc achieved. I believe revolutionary workers’ socialism is pretty dead. All forms of socialism ought to be dead. I would like to see a stake through its heart. It has caused more death, unpleasantness and boredom than almost any other doctrine. Socialism involves a curious conception of society: a society in which there are no rich or poor; no aristocratic or bourgeois; no people dying for love or dreaming of getting rich; no scandal, gossip, monarchy — all the things which keep us enthused. We have little comrades slotted into a society where their needs are perfectly satisfied. This happens not to be the type of world I would like to live in.

If we ask: what is the opposite of socialism?, the obvious answer is capitalism. Capitalism is one of those packages containing everything. Capitalism contains the experiences in this hall, a type of socialism within capitalism. All over Britain you will find Hari Krishna people trying to worship at Stonehenge. You find a vast number of activities. The point about capitalism is that a great number of people do a vast number of different things with a great number of conflicting beliefs. This plurality distinguishes capitalism from socialism. You have to believe in socialism in order to live in a socialist society. You do not have to believe in capitalism to live in a capitalist society. According to quite respectable opinion you better not have a religion in a socialist society. The Russians set up the League of the Godless to remove all the nonsense from people’s minds. The contrast is therefore between socialism as a single way of life, right through society, and capitalism as immensely plural. Read the rest of this entry »

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SNP fakers and cybernats try to blame Labour for Tory re-election!

June 26, 2017 at 8:34 pm (AWL, conspiract theories, identity politics, labour party, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, scotland, SNP)

Steve Bell's If ... 13/11/2014 Copyright Steve Bell 2014

By Dale Street (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Scottish Labour and/or its leader Kezia Dugdale bear the blame for the re-election of a Tory government on 8 June. That’s the line currently being systematically promoted by cybernats. And it’s not confined to the fringe elements of cybernattery.

SNP MP Angus McNeil and SNP MSP and Scottish Government minister Mike Russell have both tweeted about how Scottish Labour supposedly backed a vote for Tory candidates in the general election. The cybernat argument runs as follows: • If the Tories had not won 12 new seats in Scotland, then Tory MPs plus DUP MPs would be a minority in Westminster. • The Tories were able to win 12 new seats in Scotland because Scottish Labour and/or Kezia Dugdale backed Tory candidates. • Scottish Labour and/or Kezia Dugdale are therefore to blame for Theresa May being back in Downing Street.

Scottish Labour’s vote increased by 10,000. The Scottish Tory vote increased by over 300,000. Scottish Labour could therefore persuade only an extra 10,000 voters to vote Labour. But it supposedly managed to convince more than 30 times that number to vote Tory. The only “evidence” that Labour did anything like encouraging Tory votes is a brief televised interview with Kezia Dugdale in which she said that with the exception of a few constituencies in the north east of Scotland, Labour was best placed to beat the SNP. The problem with this statement was not that Dugdale was calling for a vote for the Tories. She wasn’t. She was merely stating a fact. The problem with the statement was that it summed up the weakness of the Scottish Labour election campaign: it identified the SNP as “the enemy” to be beaten, instead of offering a positive alternative (a Corbyn-led Labour government) to win back ex-Labour voters who had switched to the SNP.

The cybernat campaign to blame Scottish Labour for the election of a Tory government signals a further lurch by the SNP activist base into fantasy politics. It also diverts attention away from the helping hand which the SNP has repeatedly given to the Tories (and vice versa).

In 1979, the SNP voted with the Tories in Westminster to bring down a Labour government. Without support from SNP MPs, the Tories would not have succeeded in winning their motion of “no confidence”. Between 2007 and 2011 the SNP minority government in Holyrood relied on support from Tory MSPs to get its annual budget through Holyrood. As the then Scottish Tory leader Annabelle Goldie later explained: “When the chips were down, he (Alex Salmond) had to find support for his budget … he took those Tory votes and was glad to get them. Our position was very clear. In return for supporting their budget, the SNP would include Conservative policies in their budget. It was as simple as that.”

From 2014 onwards the SNP deliberately polarised Scottish politics around national identities. In opposition to the SNP proclaiming itself the champion of Scottish-identity-politics, the Tories were able to rebuild support by playing the same role in relation to British-identity-politics. In the 2015 election campaign the upsurge in support for the SNP was exploited by the Tories – as their election strategists subsequently boasted – as an opportunity to whip up English and British nationalism in opposition to Scottish nationalism, thereby garnering more Tory votes.

In the 2017 election campaign SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed that Kezia Dugdale had offered – in a private conversation after the EU referendum – to ditch Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence. This revelation — irrespective of whether or not it was true – was a boost to Scottish Tory efforts to portray themselves as the only reliable opponents of Scottish independence. It was a cynical ploy by Sturgeon to undermine support for Scottish Labour, even though it meant boosting the Scottish Tories’ electoral prospects And the Tories certainly made a point of exploiting Sturgeon’s revelation to the hilt.

There is no political party in Britain as fake as the SNP. There is no “social democracy” as fake as that of the SNP. There is no “anti-Toryism” as fake as that of the SNP. And there is no election analysis as fake as the cybernat version which blames Scottish Labour for the Frankenstein monster of a Scottish Tory revival created by the SNP’s own tunnel-vision, flag-waving nationalism

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AWL: Labour’s gains have put socialism back into politics

June 10, 2017 at 7:51 am (AWL, campaigning, class, democracy, elections, labour party, Marxism, posted by JD, reformism, trotskyism)

By Cathy Nugent at the Workers Liberty website:

The 2017 general election was a stunning success for the Labour Party and within the terms that Theresa May set for this election – to hugely increase her Parliamentary majority — a failure for the Tories.

At the start of the campaign, the Tory Party had a 20 percentage point lead on Labour in the opinion polls and was predicted to get a landslide victory. Labour’s result is partly down to a reaction against May’s arrogance and dismay with election issues such as the “dementia tax”, but it is much more.

Labour’s advance will prepare the way for renewed interest and commitment to explicitly socialist ideas. During the election John McDonnell explicitly spelled out his commitment to socialism. At the very least the election opens up is a chance to remake the Labour Party into a strong political voice for working-class people, for two reasons.

In its manifesto, despite a number of serious problems and limitations (e.g. no commitment to freedom of movement), Labour issued a clarion call against the ideologues of “capitalist realism” who say that poverty and inequality are inevitable, or even the fault of the people who are capitalism’s victims. As such, support for Labour, increasing their share of the vote to just under 41% with a net gain of 31 seats, is a truly remarkable achievement.

This election result sees politics once again polarising around class. In our society, there are two important classes. The Conservative Party represents the capitalist ruling class; the Labour Party is supposed to represent the working class. Labour lost support when Labour governments abandoned and even attacked working-class people, many of whom became alienated from politics, some of whom turned to minor parties, whether of the right (UKIP) or the apparently-left (the Greens). This election is a vindication of the idea that this approach was wrong. One of the most significant features of the election result is that support for those parties has shrunk to insignificance, and that the LibDems’ hoped-for rejuvenation has evaded them.

It is now clear – Labour can win elections when it fights on ideas that challenge ruling-class orthodoxy.

We have a Tory minority government, but how long May stays is not clear. As of now, the Tories will get a working majority in Parliament by relying on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But there will be divisions between the Tories and the DUP and from within the Tory Party as the talks on Brexit proceed. The Tories are in deep trouble and Labour was right to immediately call for May to resign and to say that they are ready to form a minority government. The Tories may survive or rather they will only go down if Labour keeps up the public pressure.

Millions of people listened to Labour’s call and responded positively. Labour’s support included some people who have never voted before and former UKIP voters and this too is significant. That is why there is now a huge opportunity for the labour movement — which at is best has always been the guardian of a working-class moral authority against capitalist realism — to reassert itself in political life.

It is down to the left to solidify and expand on these gains. In achieving this, it is very important that Corbyn has increased his own personal standing. Die-hard Blarites in Labour will be forced to shut up — for now. It is to Corbyn’s great credit that he has faced those people down.

In success, just as much as in defeat, it is important to reflect on the new trends and opportunities and that is what revolutionary socialists should do now. We have some initial observations.

The increase in young voters is highly significant; it is a reversal of a long-term trend of young voters being turned off mainstream politics and participating in elections. The Corbyn team’s strategy of holding rallies in safe seats and using Corbyn’s facility for speaking “on the stump” and then building support through social media succeeded in the context of an election campaign. The strategy of turning a layer of new activists in Labour out to marginals made those 31 seat gains and helped to close the gap elsewhere. The gains for Labour in Scotland, while being distinctive political trends, also represents a significant breakthrough for Labour. What can be done to build on these things?

The Tory minority government may not survive for very long. But whether it stays for one year or five years Corbyn’s team, Momentum and the broader left have to do some things they have so far failed to do. We need to make a serious turn to building the organisational strength and reinvigorating the political culture of the labour movement.

Rallies are good in election campaigns, but we need solid local Momentum groups and Labour Party organisations, which meet regularly and take political debate seriously.

To do that, the left needs to step up the fight for an open, democratic Labour Party, against the still-strong old regime of bureaucratic manipulation and political purges. The leadership of Momentum made peace with that old regime; it must reverse that choice.

Social media is a powerful tool but we also need much more face-to-face campaigning — on the streets. Labour and the Labour left need both a vibrant social life and a serious turn outwards to political campaigning — fighting the cuts everywhere, continuing to argue for the best ideas in Labour’s manifesto on education, health and the minimum wage. Above all we need to be drawing much wider layers of Labour’s expanding membership into political activity.

Young people should not be a “stage army” on which Labour relies every time there is an election. The left needs to rebuild Labour’s youth wing so that young members have space to develop socialist ideas and can also take a central role in shaping the political life of the Party and the broader labour movement.

This election is a huge step forward for the “Corbyn surge”, for the constituency of people who want an end to austerity. The AWL exists, to paraphrase the Internationale, to bring “reason in revolt”, to forge the kind of class struggle socialism we believe can arm that movement and ensure its fight can grow and win.

If you want to discuss these ideas with us please come along to our Ideas for Freedom event on 1-2 July.

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Corbyn, terrorism and foreign policy

June 2, 2017 at 11:00 pm (AWL, elections, iraq, islamism, labour party, Libya, Middle East, posted by JD, reformism, Stop The War)

As Jeremy Corbyn’s personal ratings improve, and the Maybot alienates viewers of Question Time with a wretched performance, the Tories and their media cheer-leaders fall back on the old accusation that Corbyn is ‘soft’ (or worse than ‘soft’) on terrorism … Clive Bradley analyses what Corbyn actually says:

“Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault,” claimed Theresa May last week. “I want to make something clear… there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

It is a measure of the cynicism — and desperation — of the Tories and their press that Corbyn’s speech on foreign policy last week has been attacked in this way. Corbyn did refer to British foreign policy as a factor in any explanation of terrorism, but only in similar terms to many commentators, and indeed some Tories. What Corbyn actually said was: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.” He went on: “That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.” And he concluded: “But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.” He summed it up — paraphrasing Blair: “Tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism.”

In truth his speech bent over backwards not to be construed in the way May and the Tory press then deliberately misconstrued it. More — it heaped praise not only the emergency services but on the military. This was a mild, even-handed intervention in the debate, only pointing to foreign policy as one factor in understanding terrorism. What of the argument itself, though? Is there a train of thought in Corbyn’s argument which does, as it is claimed, attempt to excuse the terrorists?

There are different “versions” of the “Blame Western Foreign Policy” argument. At its most primitive it implies that the terrorists act simply from a kind of Pavlovian reflex to various (especially) US-led policies, most obviously the war in Iraq. This, crudest, version plainly fails to explain much at all: most obviously, why the vast majority of Muslims, for instance, don’t, despite these foreign policy outrages, feel motivated to blow up teenagers; why often the terrorists aren’t personally from the countries affected (even in the Manchester case, it’s unclear if Salman Abedi’s action was specifically in reference to events in Libya); why the terrorists’ aims are so unspecific, even apolitical, but rather just an expression of general hatred of “the West” and a desire to inflame more hatred in response.

But there’s a much more cogent version of the argument, which is more what Corbyn seems to have had in mind. Islamic State/Daesh, for example, was formed in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. There were many aspects to Western policy which fuelled the growth of what was to become IS, principally the utter lack of any sort of plan for what would come after the fall of Saddam, the decision to destroy the bureaucracy of the Iraqi state, driving thousands of Sunni Arabs into the arms of the jihadists, and the decision to back a Shia-sectarian government which made this worse.

Libya, where Salman Abedi was born, was in some ways a repeat of the same thing on a smaller scale. In that case the UK and France (with considerable ambivalence on the part of the US under Obama) decided to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, co-opting some of the Islamist forces who had been in exile (some of whom, indeed, had fought, in the 1980s, against the USSR in Afghanistan), but with scarcely any notion at all of what might replace the dictatorship. The result is more or less a failed state: Libya is divided, battle-torn, and a long way indeed from democracy.

This process took longer than is sometimes implied. Democratic forces did counterbalance the Islamists for a while; and the IS- aligned forces in Libya are now on the retreat. What this suggests is that Western policy played a part in Salman Abedi’s decision to massacre some kids at a concert, but not in the obvious sense. Terrorism is not a knee-jerk reaction to Western wars, but it is something which can breed in the chaos fomented by the failures of Western policy. And of course the jihadi organisations (IS and al-Qaida and their affiliates) demagogically make use of any and every Western failure to recruit vulnerable, confused, or alienated young people.

To explain the growth of Islamism in Europe — either more broadly defined, or specifically the jihadi movements (the decisions by young people to go to Syria to fight, etc), one needs to look at more than “Western policy”. There are many factors at play. But for sure, as part of a wider, nuanced explanation, foreign policy, as Corbyn said, plays its part. To invoke it is not necessarily to relieve the terrorists themselves of responsibility for their own actions (and Corbyn’s speech could hardly have taken greater pains to avoid this error).

It is true that Stop the War, with which Corbyn has been personally associated, has denounced all Western wars in a very un-nuanced way. It is the opinion of this writer, for instance, that though the outcome of military intervention in Libya was predictable up to a point, at the time — March 2011 — the only real alternative was to allow Gaddafi to survive and immediately massacre his opponents. Moreover, the rebel movement was calling for intervention. The proper socialist response was not to march in opposition to military intervention — as Stop the War did, if ineffectually, but to support the revolution against Gaddafi and warn about likely future problems.

Still today, to reduce a critique of Western policy in Libya to the fact of intervention is to miss a lot of the point. Corbyn’s background in the Stop the War milieu will inform what he says now about terrorism and foreign policy. But what he has actually said is right, as far as it goes. And the Tories’ attempts to attack him for it should be denounced for the dishonest, demagogic scandal they are.

Colin Foster adds:

The origins of modern suicide bombing

Andy Burnham, now Labour mayor of Manchester, probably wanted to cover for his votes in favour of the invasion of Iraq. But, as it stood, his comment on 28 May was right: “Obviously, the actions of governments can then contribute and help the terrorists to add to their cause, but let’s remember that the appalling atrocity of 9/11 happened before interventions anywhere”.

Modern-era suicide bombing dates from the 1980s, not from 2003. There was an Islamist-terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Centre in 1993 as well as the one in 2001, and it was equally designed to kill everyone there, only it failed. US-led military actions in the years running up to 2003 — the Bosnia intervention in 1995, Kosova in 1999, or the USA’s aid to Islamist groups in Afghanistan — favoured Muslim forces against non-Muslim rivals or enemies, rather than the other way round. Between 1981 and 2016, 80% of suicide attacks and 73% of victims were in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Russia, or Sri Lanka — not in Europe or the USA. The big majority of victims of Islamist-terrorist attacks have been ordinary Muslims. (Source: University of Chicago database).

Analyst Riaz Hassan finds the following common features of suicide attacks: used by weaker groups in high-asymmetry conflicts; used only against (more-or-less) democracies; religion may not be invoked at all, but if it is, it is Islam. Attacks like the Manchester bombing are not inevitable or logical “blowback” from US or UK misdeeds. They have their own dynamic. We can best undercut them by rebuilding movements of social hope.

These articles also appear in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website

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