Socialists and the Labour Party: letter to Charlie Kimber

September 27, 2015 at 9:23 pm (AWL, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, SWP)

The Labour Party

This first appeared in the AWL’s paper, Solidarity; Charlie Kimber is National Secretary, Socialist Workers Party:

Dear Charlie Kimber,

I am responding to your “Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter” (8 September), and subsequent statements by your organisation in which you basically tell “The tens of thousands of people who cheered Jeremy at his rallies [who] are a sign of the potential for a mass movement against austerity” that they are wasting their time.

You say, the Labour Party leadership are so right wing and the unions will only back Corbyn if he can win the next election so there is, “no point spending four years striving to get Corbyn into office just to see him destroyed.”

I don’t share your analysis. While not destroying them, the effect of Corbyn’s campaign has been a disaster for the Parliamentary Labour Party and the trade union leaderships who have worked hard to maintain the wall between what Labour does politically and the rest of the labour movement.

Yes, his candidacy was a fluke and the Labour Party left is woefully unprepared for the fight against the right, both inside and outside the party. It is an indication of the weakness of whole left over decades, but we have to start from where we are and make the most of this chance.

Even in your worst case scenario and Corbyn is “destroyed” in four years time, the revolutionaries in the Labour Party will still have been struggling alongside hundreds of thousands of others for that period. People can learn from defeat as much as from victory; but to learn from either revolutionaries need to go through the struggle and having done so will get a much more receptive hearing than if you are one of those revolutionaries who remained on the sidelines as a spectator.

There is then the possibility of raising the movement to a higher political level but only if there are enough revolutionaries trying to spread that message.

For all your talk about the undoubted necessity for struggle you back away from the political struggle within the Labour Party to move it to the left. “The real danger is that Corbyn supporters are plunged into internal party struggles…” Except that this lack of internal party struggle is precisely what has made the Labour Party the top-down neo-liberal supporting organisation it is today.

The struggle inside the party can be a part of the more general struggle to rouse our class against the Tories. If “…resistance… [is] … the best route towards political radicalisation” why doesn’t that apply inside the structures of the hundreds of thousands strong Labour Party as well?

Your dismissal of the need for internal party struggles illustrates the operational mindset of the SWP’s leadership who can just tell the membership what to do without having to “waste” all that time on debate and democracy. Happily there are Corbyn supporters who understand that a healthy political organisation cannot be built be decree or decide what to do in the “… struggles at work and in working class areas” by diktat.

Socialists should be encouraging Corbyn’s supporters to flood into the Labour Party, get organised and tear down the wall before the Parliamentary Party has time to rebuild it.

You say, “We should all support [Corbyn] against the Labour right”; if you’re serious about that then join the Party and encourage your members and supporters to do the same.

Bob Anthony

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Northern Ireland: clownish play-acting by Unionists puts power-sharing at risk

September 23, 2015 at 7:36 pm (AWL, Ireland, posted by JD)

From Workers Liberty (who know a thing or two about Irish politics):

Northern Irish power-sharing institutions look close to collapse, following a crisis sparked by the murder of former IRA member Kevin McGuigan on 12 August in the Short Strand area of East Belfast.

McGuigan’s murder is widely seen as a revenge killing for the murder in May of Gerard “Jock” Davison, at one point one of the IRA’s most senior commanders in Belfast and allegedly responsible, along with McGuigan, for much of the IRA’s vigilante violence against drug dealers in the mid-to-late 1990s.

After the two men fell, an internal IRA disciplinary unit “sentenced” McGuigan to a “six-pack” — republican parlance for gunshot wounds to each of the elbows, kneecaps and ankles.

For years, McGuigan blamed Davison for the punishment shooting, and last May decided to get revenge. Davison was shot outside his home in the Markets area, near Belfast City Centre.

With a police investigation stalling, the IRA placed their own surveillance team on McGuigan and decided to avenge Davison’s death. McGuigan was ambushed by two men in dark clothing as he was walking with his wife, and killed in a volley of shots.

A number of factors explain why these killings have sparked such an intense political crisis at Stormont.

In a press conference following the McGuigan murder, Police Service of Northern Ireland chief George Hamilton made it clear that the police blamed individual members of the Provisional IRA for the murder.

He did not believe that the IRA leadership ordered the killing but did admit that “some of the PIRA structure from the 1990s remains broadly in place, although its purpose has radically changed since this period.”

No one should have been surprised by the admission of the Provisional IRA’s continuing existence.

Indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers commented afterwards that: “It didn’t come as a surprise to me… that a number of the organisational structures of the Provisional IRA still exist but that there is no evidence it’s involved in terrorism or paramilitary activity.”

Even though Sinn Fein say publicly that the IRA has “left the stage”, no movement of this type could have moved from armed struggle to politics without maintaining a military structure with sufficient authority to rein in “hardliners”.

Without this, the movement would have descended even more than it already has into a collection of local fiefdoms motivated by apolitical criminality or, worse, a continuation of sectarian warfare.

It is remarkable that there has not been more internecine republican violence during the Provisional’s transition to politics. The anti-Good Friday Agreement groups, though deadly, remain little more than an irritant.

In truth, the significance of the McGuigan murder lies ultimately in political rivalries within Unionism.

In the last decade, the IRA has been involved in two high-profile murders (those of Robert McCartney in 2005 and Paul Quinn in 2007), both a testament to its capacity for sheer gangsterism and violence. Both victims were thrown under the juggernaut of the “peace process” by republicans, Unionists and the British government, to ensure power-sharing between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

So what has changed? The Northern Ireland Executive has failed to deliver on any of the promises made to people about a “peace dividend”, instead locking itself in sectarian wrangles over parading, flags and other issues of identity, as well as attempting to implement Tory austerity.

This has largely sapped any enthusiasm that once existed for Stormont across both communities. Added to this is a reasonable fear among Nationalists that many Unionists continue to be hostile to power-sharing.

Sensing this, the smaller Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), opportunistically seized the chance to reverse its political fortunes after a decade of marginalisation, and piled the pressure on the dominant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

With one eye on the 2016 elections it pulled its one minister out of the Northern Ireland Executive — a move highly popular with over 80% of Unionist voters.

Stunned, and after failing to suspend Stormont pending crisis talks, the DUP felt in turn reluctantly obliged to pull its ministers out of the Executive, effectively shutting down the working of the devolved government which has provided such material benefits to the party in the form of ministerial salaries, expenses and other privileges of office.

This clownish play-acting, which has always been implicit in the very structures of Stormont, risks the return of Tory direct rule, the implementation of savage welfare cuts and an intensification of sectarian tension.

A political system based on institutionalising sectarian identities within the existing boundaries of the six counties has become unable to provide adequate governance of any sort, let alone a space in which workers can elaborate a socialist politics capable of a democratic resolution to the national question.

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What Corbyn supporters need to do next

September 17, 2015 at 10:06 pm (AWL, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, socialism, unions)

Interview by the AWL’s paper Solidarity with Pete Firmin (Political Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee – ‘LCR’) in a personal capacity:

What are the main lessons of the Corbyn campaign so far?

That the existing left doesn’t have to control everything — the reason the campaign has surged is because it’s got out of control and in the positive sense. Nobody has controlled it or been able to control it top down. It’s flourished in ways nobody’s expected. That has been incredibly positive.

In addition lots of people new to politics or at least Labour Party politics have come around it; there’s a big layer of people who are long-term members of the party but have been frustrated over the years by New Labour policies and attacks on democracy. They’re coming out to support the campaign too. I don’t think the party establishment understand that at all. When people like Blair and Clarke and Mandelson come out and say anyone but Corbyn, the more reaction there is against them and they just reinforce us.

The other thing is how politically mixed the support has been. It’s not a firm left support, it’s much looser and more heterogenous. Of course that doesn’t mean the left shouldn’t be firmly involved and try to influence things, but we won’t do that if we assume everyone is fully paid up to all the things the left is for. That will just turn people off.

What have you and other LRC’ers focused on?

I organised in my constituency, Hampstead and Kilburn, for getting people along to the nominating meeting — we lost to Yvette Cooper by one vote. Interestingly our MP, Tulip Siddiq, was backing Andy Burnham but he came fourth. To give her credit we persuaded her to nominate Jeremy and, though she was not supporting him, she defended the decision publicly when it was attacked.

Our Labour Party branches have been doing a weekly stall on the local High Road for the last two years and in the last two months it’s noticeable that everyone who stops wants to speak about the leadership election and a clear majority support Corbyn.

I’ve been active in the social media stuff, encouraging long-standing political contacts and friends to sign up as members or supporters — some of whom have been purged.

The LRC did a public leaflet early on encouraging people to sign up and vote, and LRC members in lots of places have been doing stalls, or been involved as organisers for some of the big meetings, as well as doing phone banks and so on. We’ve generally helped to build the campaign. Also, and I think this is very important, LRC members played a good role in winning union support, particularly in Unison.

What are the main tasks for the left?

I’d argue that we need a new organisation bringing together the whole of the Labour left, and that’s the only way we’ll attract significant numbers to get on board, a significant chunk of the tens of thousands who volunteered to actively support Corbyn. Obviously people are already joining existing organisations in small numbers, but only small numbers. Those organisations don’t have strong roots in most of the places where there is strong Corbyn supporter — either where it’s not that organised formally or where there’s a strong local group.

I don’t think the right will be stupid enough to try to kick Corbyn out in the next few months, but they will try to undermine him in any way they can, and unless we have strong, organised support inside and outside the party he won’t be able to do things, even opposing austerity. Read the rest of this entry »

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AWL statement: don’t celebrate, organise!

September 11, 2015 at 8:07 am (AWL, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity)

“Don’t mourn, organise”, the American trade union activist Joe Hill famously told his comrades in 1915 as he was railroaded to a firing squad on trumped-up murder charges.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leader on 12 September, we should flip that motto into “don’t celebrate, organise!” And if he has a near miss, Joe Hill’s original will do.

All the opinion polls since early August show Jeremy Corbyn ahead. They also show him more popular with voters in general than the other candidates.

Corbyn, an unassuming campaigner and supporter of workers’ struggles for forty years, has become the seed around which a surge of anti-capitalism, generated by the crashing and grinding of the system since 2008 but previously dispersed and almost “underground”, has crystallised.

It will be wrong, terribly wrong, disastrous, if we think that once we’ve elected Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, then we can sit back and let ourselves be towed by the new leadership to a better future.

The basic ideas of democracy, workers’ rights, and social provision which Corbyn represents are not such as can prevail just by having a good advocate in the high ground of politics.

They can prevail only by determined and militant mobilisation of the rank and file.

A relatively “moderate” Labour right-winger, Luke Akehurst, has denounced Corbyn’s supporters as “moving through the party like ISIS in their jeeps in Iraq”. Decoded: he wants to demonise the Corbyn camp, and move against it as the US has moved against Isis. The New Statesman reports that Corbyn “faces a significant number of Labour MPs not merely against him but actively out to get him”.

Behind those MPs stand hundreds of “advisers”, “researchers”, spin-doctors, think-tank people and other careerists. And behind them, the billionaire media and the whole entrenched power of the ruling class. The smear and scare campaigns of the last couple of months — “Corbyn will make Labour unelectable” — are only the start.

They are the minority. A small minority. But compact and rich minorities win unless the working-class majority makes itself organised and compact, striking with a fist rather than flailing with limbs askew.

Corbyn’s advisers will tell him to go softly-softly, to woo the maximum number of right-wingers who may grudgingly cooperate for a while.

We’ve seen where that approach leads with Syriza’s decision to form a coalition with the right-wing Anel, to elect a moderate right-winger president of Greece, and to invest in cajoling Hollande and Renzi and Lagarde to sway Schäuble towards less harsh EU policy.

Working-class, socialist majorities need to be made and sustained in dynamic action. Unless the Corbyn campaign presses on to transform the labour movement radically, it will be neutralised and then reversed by the entrenched power of the right wing. If Corbyn wins, we should press him to start by opening out the Labour Party conference at the end of September, allowing debate on rule-change reforms and political challenges usually stifled.

Already in some areas, like Sheffield, Corbyn supporters are organised into active, regularly-meeting, local groups. Elsewhere there have been only rallies and phone-banks without organising meetings. The first step should be to get local groups going everywhere – democratic, active, open to debate, geared both to campaigning on the streets and to transforming their local Labour Parties.

Transforming the unions, too. The great lesson of the last big ferment in the Labour Party, in the early 1980s, is that the left-talking union leaders who had let it happen, by supporting democratic reforms within Labour, also cut it short. Because no similar democratic reforms were made within the unions, the top union officials could meet with Labour’s leaders in January 1982, at Bishops Stortford, plan to start reeling back the left-wing surge, and carry through the plan.

The TUC congress assembles the day after the Labour leader election result is announced. Trade unionists should argue for it to raise the pressure on Labour.

Young supporters of Corbyn have a national conference for ongoing organisation on 20 September. We need a similar general conference as soon as possible.

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Matgamna on the two Trotskyisms

September 5, 2015 at 5:11 pm (AWL, history, James P. Cannon, Marxism, posted by JD, Shachtman, stalinism, trotskyism, USSR, war)

August was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the murder of Leon Trotsky by an agent of the Stalinist USSR’s secret police (remembered by his grandson, here). Workers’ Liberty is publishing a second volume of documents from the movement which kept alive and developed the revolutionary socialist politics Trotsky fought for. Just before Trotsky’s death, the American Trotskyist organisation split after a dispute triggered by Stalin’s invasion of Poland. The majority was led by James P Cannon, the minority by Max Shachtman. Shachtman’s “heterodox” side, would later repudiate Trotksy’s analysis of Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state”; but that was not their view at the time of the split. Cannon’s “orthodox” side continued to hold onto the degenerated workers’ state position and from that would flow many political errors. This extract from the introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism by Sean Matgamna, puts the record of the two sides into perspective:


Above: Shachtman and Cannon, on the same side in 1934

The honest critic of the Trotskyist movement — of both the Cannon and Shachtman segments of it, which are intertwined in their history and in their politics — must remind himself and the reader that those criticised must be seen in the framework of the movement as a whole. Even those who were most mistaken most of the time were more than the sum of their mistakes, and some of them a great deal more.

The US Trotskyists, Shachtmanites and Cannonites alike, mobilised 50,000 people in New York in 1939 to stop fascists marching into Jewish neighbourhoods of that city. When some idea of the extent of the Holocaust became public, the Orthodox responded vigorously (and the Heterodox would have concurred): “Anger against Hitler and sympathy for the Jewish people are not enough. Every worker must do what he can to aid and protect the Jews from those who hunt them down. The Allied ruling classes, while making capital of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews for their war propaganda, discuss and deliberation on this question endlessly. The workers in the Allied countries must raise the demand: Give immediate refuge to the Jews… Quotas, immigration laws, visa — these must be cast aside. Open the doors of refuge to those who otherwise face extermination” (Statement of the Fourth International, The Militant, 3 April 1943).

We, the Orthodox — the writer was one of them — identified with the exploited and oppressed and sided with them and with the labour movements of which we ourselves were part; with people struggling for national independence; with the black victims of zoological racism. We took sides always with the exploited and oppressed.

To those we reached we brought the basic Marxist account of class society in history and of the capitalist society in which we live. We criticised, condemned, and organised against Stalinism. Even at the least adequate, the Orthodox Trotskyists generally put forward proposals that in sum meant a radical transformation of Stalinist society, a revolution against Stalinism. Always and everywhere the Orthodox Trotskyists fought chauvinism. When some got lost politically, as they sometimes did and do, it was usually because of a too blandly negative zeal for things that “in themselves” were good, such as anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. We mobilised political and practical support for movements of colonial revolt.

French Trotskyists, living in a world gone crazy with chauvinism of every kind, set out to win over and organise German soldiers occupying France. They produced a newspaper aimed at German worker-soldiers: some twenty French Trotskyists and German soldier sympathisers lost their lives when the Nazis suppressed it. The Orthodox Trotskyists even kept some elements of feminism alive in a world in which it was long eclipsed: Michel Pablo, in a French jail for helping the Algerians in their war of independence, applied himself to studying and writing about “the woman question”. Large numbers of people shared the view of the Trotskyists on specific questions and worked with them or in parallel to them. The Trotskyists alone presented and argued for a whole world outlook that challenged the outlook of the capitalist and Stalinist ruling classes. We embodied the great truths of Marxism in a world where they had been bricked up alive by Stalinism. We kept fundamental texts of anti-Stalinist Marxism in circulation.

Read the accounts of the day to day mistreatment of black people in the USA in the mid 20th century – Jim Crow in the South, where blacks had been slaves, segregation in the North, all-pervasive humiliations, exclusions, beatings, burnings, mob lynchings, the systematic ill-treatment of children as of grown-up black people. Work through even a little of that terrible story and you run the risk of despairing of the human race. The Trotskyists, challenging Jim Crow, championing and defending the victims of injustice, showed what they were. To have been less would have been despicable. That does not subtract from the merits of those who did what was right and necessary, when most people did not

James P Cannon and Max Shachtman, the main representatives of the two currents of Trotskyism, were, in my judgement, heroes, both of them. Cannon, when almost all of his generation of Communist International leaders had gone down to Stalinism or over to the bourgeoisie, remained what he was in his youth, a fighter for working-class emancipation.

I make no excuses for the traits and deeds of Cannon which are shown in a bad light in this volume. It is necessary to make and keep an honest history of our own movement if we are to learn from it. After Trotsky’s death Cannon found himself, and fought to remain, the central leader of the Trotskyist movement, a job which, as the Heterodox said, he was badly equipped politically to do. He did the best he could, in a world that had turned murderously hostile to the politics he worked for and the goals he fought to achieve. More than once he must have reminded himself of the old lines, “The times are out of joint/O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”. James P Cannon remained faithful to the working class and to revolutionary socialism. Such a book as his History of American Trotskyism cannot be taken as full or authoritative history, but it has value as what Gramsci called a “living book”: “not a systematic treatment, but a ‘living’ book, in which political ideology and political science are fused in the dramatic form of a ‘myth’.”

Socialists today can learn much from both Shachtman and Cannon. In his last decade (he died in 1972), Max Shachtman followed the US trade unions into conventional politics and dirty Democratic Party politicking. He took up a relationship to US capitalism paralleling that of the Cannonites to Stalinism of different sorts and at different times. Politically that was suicidal. Those who, again and again, took similar attitudes to one Stalinism or another have no right to sneer and denounce. Shachtman got lost politically at the end of the 1950s; the Cannonites got lost politically, in relation to Stalinism, twenty years earlier! When Trotsky in 1939-40, living under tremendous personal strain, reached a crossroads in his political life and fumbled and stumbled politically, Max Shachtman, who had tremendous and lasting regard for Trotsky and a strong loyalty to what he stood for, had the integrity and spirit to fight him and those who — Cannon and his comrades in the first place — were starting on a course that would warp and distort and in serious part destroy their politics in the decade ahead and long after.

The Prometheus myth has been popular amongst socialists, supplying names for organisations and newspapers. As punishment for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind, the Titan Prometheus is chained forever to a rock in the Caucasian mountains and vultures eternally rip at his liver. Shachtman picked up the proletarian fire Trotsky had for a moment fumbled with and carried it forward. Generations of mockery, obloquy, misrepresentation, and odium where it was not deserved, have been his punishment for having been right against Trotsky and Cannon.

This book is intended as a contribution to the work of those who strive to refurbish and renew the movement that in their own way both James P Cannon and Max Shachtman tried to serve, and served.


You can order a copy of the book here

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Matgamna: why the left must back Corbyn

August 22, 2015 at 12:54 pm (AWL, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, socialism, unions)

This article by Sean Matgamna, one of the founders of the Alliance for Workers Liberty, also appears on the AWL’s website and in their paper, Solidarity: ________________________________________________________________________

Seize the chance the left has now

In the three months since the general election hundreds of thousands of people have joined the Labour Party, the party that lost the election.

Over 600,000 people have signed up to vote in the Labour leadership election. 300,000 have become full members of the Labour Party. The rise in Labour Party membership started immediately after the general election. Twenty thousand joined in the first couple of days after the defeat. Opinion polls report that in his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has the support of between 50 and 60% of those eligible to vote. He has the backing of the bulk of the trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union explained that what the trade union leaders are trying to do in backing Corbyn is to shift the political axis of mainstream labour movement politics radically from the politics that has ruled the roost in the labour movement for the last 21 years, since the Blairite coup in the mid-1990s. Jeremy Corbyn, Ward said, is the antidote to “the Blairite virus”.

The confluence of large numbers of rebellious people joining the Labour Party and union leaders looking for an “antidote” to neo-Thatcherism — that is what “Blairism” in the labour movement is — has produced something very like a mass movement to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class and the left. This mass movement has to be judged for what it is, not by how it measures up to our own working-class socialist politics. It would be a miracle indeed, if such a movement began with adequate working-class socialist politics.

It is for socialists to work to convince this movement of the need for socialist politics.

To do that socialists must be part of the movement, engage in dialogue with it. The alarm at the idea of a Corbyn victory in the press and in the ranks of the Labour Party Blairites tells its own story. The war criminals, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, architects of British participation in the invasion of Iraq, warn against electing Corbyn. Tony Blair: “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

Their’s is the voice of the Blairite virus. Their warnings that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would be unelectable are beside the point: a left-wing Labour Party could and would have to inform, shape, educate and re-educate “public opinion”. That is what a proper opposition party does. A serious political party is not, should not be, what the Blair-Thatcherite Labour Party now is — an election machine to install venal careerists in ministerial office. The influx into the Labour Party is itself evidence that this is possible. In any case, it is necessary.

There are vast numbers of people in Britain who have been deprived of a political voice and a political party by Blairite rule in the Labour Party. For a quarter of a century, at least, the working-class and the labour movement has been deprived of genuine representation in Parliament. British politics has been dominated by the political-personal rivalry of different strands of Thatcherism.

In a world on which the banks and their relentless greed have brought down catastrophe, Britian’s “public discourse.” has focused on the hunt for “cheating claimants” and an unending outcry against immigrants. The ideas, norms, consequences and ideology of market capitalism has not been contested by the political labour movement. All that can now be changed.

But let us take the worst possible case: what if the Labour Party in the course of educating “public opinion”were to lose an election? In 1931, when the Labour Party leader, Ramsay MacDonald and his associates went over to the Tories and to a Tory-led coalition government, with Macdonald as Prime Minister, the Labour Party was reduced to about the same number of MPs it had had in 1906, at its beginning. But if the Labour Party had not stood up to Macdonald and to the bourgeois economic consensus of that time then there would have been no 1945 victory for a Labour Party committed to the radical reform-socialist programme which created the modern welfare state. Read the rest of this entry »

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What a big rally in Croydon tells you about the Corbyn campaign

August 14, 2015 at 7:30 am (AWL, Cross-post, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism)

The following report, by Sasha Ismail, also appears on the Workers Liberty website. We think it gives a good, if brief, overview of both the strengths and weaknesses of the Corbyn’s politics. It does not, however, deal with the issues on which most Shiraz contributors would have our sharpest difference with Corbyn: international affairs.

Above: overspill meeting at Ruskin House, Croydon

I was slightly late for the meeting Croydon Trades Council held for the Jeremy Corbyn campaign on 4 August (“privatised trains”, joked Corbyn, who was even later than me). By the time I got there, the hall at the back of Ruskin House was full, as was the garden next to it, with more people inside the main building – perhaps just short of five hundred in all.

There was, genuinely, a real mix of people there – young and old, black and white, men and women, established labour movement activists and people pulled into political life by the Corbyn campaign. The hall was full of local trade union banners.

Croydon Trades Council collected details, advertised upcoming events and had a good profile. GMB organiser Nadine Houghton gave a very good speech on its behalf about fighting the government’s Trade Union Bill and defending the right to strike. I guess most Corbyn meetings, except perhaps the central London ones, are organised by and will help boost similar local labour movement organisations or networks. That’s one of the most positive elements of the campaign.

It was very easy to sell literature and have conversations (though I noticed there weren’t many organised socialist groups there). Interestingly lots of the people I approached, at random, were pretty new to political activity.

So far, so good – excellent in fact. It was great, inspiring to be at such a big, lively meeting. What about the content? What did Corbyn say?

He said lots of good things – about housing, about wages, about benefits, about public ownership of the banks. He called for an end to austerity, an end to pandering to the Tories, a start to fighting the cuts and fighting for the rich to pay. Even for someone who wants something more radical, as I do, it was good hearing all this from a politician with a decent chance of leading the labour movement.

The best bit of the speech, in a way, was Corbyn’s call to replace technocratic Blairite dictat with democratic labour movement discussion. He argued for an end to “secluded policy forums in leafy hotels” and for a “grittier process of discussion and decision-making in community centres and union buildings across the country”. He said that the policies he’s advocating are “not finished” and that the campaign wants ideas and argument.

In that spirit: there were some things on which I thought he was a little woolly. On lots of issues he cited detailed proposals; but on immigration he limited himself to condemning Tory and Blairite “rhetoric” and arguing for a “humanitarian approach”. From the press and reports, I’d guess that is his general pitch. More specific policies – about detention and deportation, about access to services, about immigration controls more generally – are necessary.

The other thing to say is that while Corbyn’s speech had “socialist values”, to use his phrase, it was not particularly socialist. It didn’t make an explicit case for class politics, or do more than hint about the possibility of replacing capitalism with a new society. I asked a friend what she thought about that: at first she was surprised I didn’t think the speech was socialist, but when I explained she said “Well, it’s a step”.

And for sure it is. The Corbyn campaign has potential to break the blockade – not just of socialism, but of anything approaching a labour movement political voice – which Blairism has maintained for twenty years. The excellent meeting put on by Croydon Trades Councils shows that, as do similar meetings up and down the country.

If Corbyn wins, big possibilities will open up. To maximise the impact and opportunities, socialists need to argue within this movement for clearer, more consistent, more explicit socialist ideas.

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Debating the left’s stance on the EU

July 24, 2015 at 8:10 am (AWL, Europe, Germany, Greece, history, internationalism, left, Marxism, posted by JD)

By Sacha Ismail of Workers Liberty

Eighty people attended the London public meeting on Europe held by the socialist organisation RS21 on 15 July. RS21 should be congratulated for organising the event; the class-struggle left needs much more debate on these issues.

Workers’ Liberty members took part, distributed the call for a “Workers’ Europe” campaign we are supporting, and argued for a left, class-struggle “Yes” campaign in the coming EU referendum. It should be said that two of our comrades were taken to speak and that in general the atmosphere of the meeting was friendly and civilised.

There were four speakers: Dave Renton from RS21; Karolina Partyga from new Polish left organisation Razem; Eva Nanopoulos, who is a Syriza member and Left Unity activist in Cambridge; and an independent socialist, Christina Delistathi. Karolina argued to stay in the EU; Eva strongly implied we should argue to get out; Christina made the case explicitly for “No”; and Dave did not come down on one side or the other, arguing that the most important thing is political independence from the two bourgeois camps.

From the floor RS21 members argued a variety of positions, “Yes”, “No”, “Abstain” and no stance on the referendum vote as such. Probably a majority who spoke were for a “No”.

Rather than describe in detail the discussion at the meeting, we will answer some of the “No” arguments that were raised during it and after it.

The EU is imperialist, even colonialist – look at Greece. By dismembering and weakening it we help its victims.

There is an imperialist, big power bullying dimension to the EU, but it is not a colonial empire. It reflects the fact that capitalism in Europe long ago developed and integrated across national borders. Do we want to reverse that? Even in the case of Greece, the answer is not “national liberation” as such. What colonial empire threatens to “expel” its colony? We should demand the Greek government is not threatened with expulsion from the Eurozone or EU, but allowed to carry out its policies inside them. In any case, breaking up the EU would not lead to an end to big power bullying of weak countries in Europe: it would simply mean it happened within a different, probably even more aggressive, violent and unstable, framework.

The Greek radical left is right to argue for exit.

The only two Greek MPs to vote No in the first parliamentary vote on a Third Memorandum were supporters of the socialist organisation International Workers’ Left (DEA) or its Red Network of anti-capitalists within Syriza – who do not support Grexit as a goal but say “No sacrifice for the Euro” and argue to pursue a class-struggle policy even if the confrontation means being pushed out of the EU. The sections of the Syriza left who positively advocate Grexit are not more radical, simply more wrong – and their MPs did not vote against (that time: they did in the second vote). The problem with Tsipras et al is not that they did not immediately carry out Grexit but that they were unwilling to risk it – they did not prepare the Greek people for a struggle, that they did not want a struggle and that they abandoned attempts to win solidarity across Europe. The policy most appropriate for a struggle and for winning international solidarity is not demanding exit but “No sacrifice for the Euro” and “Make the Greek question a European question” – Syriza policies which eg DEA and the Red Network take seriously but Tsipras does not.

You say you are for freedom of movement, but the EU prevents freedom of movement. Look at what is happening in the Mediterranean.

Anyone who does not condemn “Fortress Europe” and argue for migrants to be welcomed to Europe is not left-wing, and betrays basic human solidarity, to say nothing of the interests of the working class. But a Europe of “independent” national states is unlikely to be more open to or welcoming for migrants. As for British withdrawal from the EU, it would not end Fortress Europe, but simply create a stronger Fortress Britain – not help migrants from Syria or Eritrea, but harm those from Romania and Poland. As an RS21 member put it on 15 July: “You can’t defend and extend rights for all migrants by restricting rights for some of them”. That is what a “No” vote in the referendum would mean.

The EU is not a benign institution. It is about creating wider capitalist markets and a bigger pool of labour to exploit. As socialists we oppose that.

Of course the EU is not a “benign institution”, any more than any capitalist state or federation. Who on the radical left argues it is? Of course we oppose capitalist exploitation – but oppose it in what way? We should oppose it by organising workers for a united struggle against the exploiters, not by objecting to the creation of larger units in which to organise.

The EU is not about the internationalisation of capitalism, it is about creating a regional bloc opposed to the rest of the world.

The whole history of capital becoming more internationally integrated is a history of it creating blocs – in the first instance, nation states. When the dozens of petty states in what is now Germany were fused into a united nation, it was done in a reactionary way, by Prussian imperialism – yet Marx and Engels, while denouncing the new regime, explicitly argued that German unification provided a wider, better framework for working-class organisation and struggle. Were they wrong? Why does the same not apply to Europe today? Is what the German Empire did in the world better than what the EU has done to Greece? Of course we oppose the development of EU imperialism – just as Marx and Engels opposed German imperialism – but by fighting the ruling class across Europe, not by seeking to reverse European integration. In addition it is hardly the case that France, Britain, Germany, etc, without the EU would not be imperialist in their relations with the rest of the world as well as each other.

We can perfectly well advocate breaking up the EU but reintegrating Europe once we have socialist states in each country.

Then why did Marx support – certainly not oppose, or try to reverse – the unification of Germany even by Prussia? Why did Trotsky argue that, if German militarism united Europe in World War One, it would be wrong for socialists to argue for a return to separate national states? The reason is that seeking to reverse the international integration of capital means seeking to reverse capitalist development, with all its exploitation and irrationality, yes, but also the new openings and possibilities it creates for workers’ organisation and struggle. It means putting up new barriers to building links with our brothers and sisters across the continent. It means strengthening backward-looking, nationalist political forces. It means weakening the labour movement and the left. That is why breaking up the EU into its constituent parts will take us further away from, not closer to, a united socialist Europe.

Where there is an issue of national self-determination – the democratic right of a people to live free from national oppression – that may trump these kind of considerations. We hope no socialist argues that Britain is nationally oppressed by the EU.

You cite Marx and Trotsky, but quoting scripture doesn’t settle anything.

Marx, or Trotsky, or whoever, might have been wrong at the time. Or they might have been right then, but their argument not apply to the EU now. Simply dismissing reference to their writings as “scripture” is not helpful, however. It lowers the level of discussion. We can and should learn things from the debates our movement had in the past.

There is a tactical case for an abstention or even a Yes vote, given the clearly dominant right-wing, nationalist character of the No drive, but it’s just tactical. In principle, we should vote to get out of the EU.

The character of the push to get out strengthens the case. But why should socialists favour a capitalist Britain separate from Europe to one more integrated into it? What is the “principle” involved?

The EU is a neo-liberal institution. It cannot be reformed.

That sounds very radical, but what does it mean? We need to break down and consider the meaning of terms like “neo-liberal institution”. The United Kingdom state is also a neo-liberal institution! Neither it nor the EU is a vehicle for socialism: only their replacement with new forms of state will make socialism possible. But both can be reformed in the sense of winning changes within them, including some changes to their structure, through struggle.

The EU is far more undemocratic than even the British state. Its structure is designed to be impermeable to popular pressure and make winning left-wing policies impossible.

For class-struggle socialists, the idea that the main barriers to winning reforms are not in the weighty, well-organised ruling class and capitalist state in Britain (France, Germany, etc) but the relatively lightweight bureaucracy of the EU is bizarre. In Britain democracy and workers’ rights have been curbed overwhelmingly by our British rulers, not by the EU. The policies, treaties etc of the EU reflect the fact that its integration accelerated at a time when the working class and left in most European countries are on the retreat and have been for a long time. They reflect the character and policies of its member states. The answer is to regroup, stop the retreat and fight back in each state and internationally, not to convince ourselves that the EU rules mean nothing much is possible. In any case, we can oppose particular EU policies without wanting to reverse European integration or imagining that a Britain outside the EU would provide better conditions for our struggle. As part of that struggle, we need to fight for more democracy – and that is necessary and possible at the local, national and European levels.

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AWL on Corbyn and the Middle East

July 22, 2015 at 2:16 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, internationalism, islamism, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD)

Corbyn and the Middle East: the hypocrisy of the right, a challenge for the left

By Sasha Ismail (at the Workers Liberty website)

The controversy sparked, or ramped up, by Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance on Channel 4 News on 13 July raises important issues for the left.

(You can watch it on the Channel 4 website here.)

Corbyn responded to interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy asking about his description of Lebanese Islamists Hesbollah and Palestinian Islamists Hamas as “our friends” by stressing that peace in the Middle East requires negotiations with all sorts of people.

The first thing to say is that, however one assesses the performance and motives of Guru-Murthy and Channel 4, there is clearly a right-wing push against Corbyn on these issues. If the Corbyn leadership campaign continues to perform as strongly as it has so far, the right-wing outcry is likely to get louder.

The motivations of these attacks are made clear by the fact that those making them are not bothered by the friendly relationship of the entire New Labour hierarchy with the Saudi dictatorship, or the links between all kinds of bourgeois British politicians – particularly Tories – and unpleasant regimes around the planet. They are targeting Corbyn because he looks soft on the ‘wrong’ people, and above all because they are bothered by the success of a left-wing campaign that is bolstering labour movement confidence.

The left must expose such cynicism and hypocrisy, both for general reasons and to defend the Corbyn campaign. At the same time, we should say that – judged by our own standards, not those of the right – Corbyn’s stance on the controversial issues is wrong.

In the March 2009 speech to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in which Corbyn talked about “friends” (on YouTube here) he said:

“Tomorrow evening it will my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hesbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well…

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”

“Our function is to support those people who are supporting and defending and representing the Palestinian people… part of [that] is inviting and welcoming our friends from Lebanon and from Palestine to London…”

The issue is not this or that phrase, nor the legitimate idea that getting peace often requires negotiations with people you don’t like – nor, of course, Corbyn’s absolutely correct opposition to repressive “anti-terrorism” legislation. It is the lack of sharp hostility to – and indeed praise of – brutally reactionary political forces. The problem with the likes of Hamas and Hesbollah is not that they are “terrorists” but that they are violently anti-women, anti-semitic, anti-working class theocratic bigots. In 2009 Hamas was engaged in a brutal clampdown on women and workers’ organisations among others in the Gaza strip: see here.

That a socialist could describe Hamas as “dedicated… to social and political justice” and describe working with them as a “pleasure and honour” is ridiculous. So is the comparison Corbyn made with the ANC. From a socialist point of view there were many problems with the ANC even before it took power, but to compare it to Hamas or Hesbollah is a slander.

We suspect that in this speech Corbyn got carried away, and that his underlying thought is that Hamas and Hesbollah are bad, but peace is the priority, Western imperialism and Israel are the chief evils, and so it is necessary to be diplomatic.

The problem with such diplomacy is that it means representing militaristic forces as peace-loving, and promoting bigoted reactionaries busy smashing our comrades – working-class activists, the left, feminists, etc in the Middle East – as progressives. People with Corbyn’s politics in Gaza face physical attack, prison or exile!

We want peace in the region, yes, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinians, but we also want to help the left there battle against Islamism. In addition, being able to vigorously denounce such forces would put the left in a stronger position to point out the hypocrisy of the right.

These kind of failings are not just a problem with Corbyn, but with wide sections of the left, from liberals through to self-styled revolutionaries. Those leading the Stop the War campaign have played a central role in spreading such ideas.

Against that approach we need to restate the basic Marxist idea of international working-class solidarity: “We shall never forget that the workers of all countries are our friends and the despots of all countries are our enemies” (German workers’ resolution during the Franco-Prussian War). The working-class movements, socialists, feminists and democrats of the Middle East are our friends, not Hamas and Hesbollah.

None of the candidates in the Labour leadership election are good on foreign policy; Corbyn at least opposes British militarism, nuclear weapons, etc, and despite his comments he is the most likely to support solidarity with working-class activists around the world. This in addition to his policies and record on austerity, workers’ struggles, migrants’ rights, and so on: a vote for Corbyn is a vote to break from the New Labour consensus on these issues, and rally the left and labour movement for a fightback.

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AWL statement on Greece

July 13, 2015 at 4:54 pm (AWL, Europe, Greece, posted by JD)

This statement was published by Workers Liberty on 9 July – ie before today’s agreement (which can only be described as a capitulation) by Trsipras to the terms of the Troika’s bailout package:

Solidarity with Greece, and with the Greek workers and Left

After the huge vote in Greece against the bailout conditions the European Union leaders are seeking to impose, the left and labour movement internationally, and particularly in the EU, face two tasks.

The first is the strongest possible solidarity with Greece against the banks and against the EU hierarchy. What is happening to Greece is primarily a class, not a national struggle, and we reject the idea that Greek “national independence” from the EU is a desirable or credible solution to the crisis the country faces. Nonetheless, there is a large element of big power, imperialist bullying going on. We should denounce and oppose it as loudly as we can. We demand that, instead of plotting how to push Greece out of the Euro, the EU reopens real negotiations with the Greek government. Of course we also demand the Greek government is allowed to carry out its policies freed from external diktat!

The second is solidarity with Greece’s workers’ organisations and class-struggle left, including the left in Syriza. The reports today (9 July) that the leadership of Syriza is now rushing to make a deal which would involve further brutal austerity – assuming the EU will agree it! – highlights why that, and not just bland “solidarity with Greece”, is necessary. It seems the Syriza leadership may use the “No” vote as a mandate to justify and push through austerity measures. In the fact of that, the question is what the Syriza left will do.

A deal with the lenders is not necessarily unprincipled, in itself. Russia’s revolutionary workers’ government made a very bad deal with German imperialism in 1918 because it did not have a better option. The problem is that the character of the Syriza leadership and government have impelled them to seek a deal regardless of the options and the costs, because they are terrified of ending up outside the Eurozone or EU, and of seriously mobilising the masses.

The options available are indeed harsh. If Greece is pushed out of the Eurozone, its people will still suffer. Out of the Eurozone, attacks against the Syriza government from the EU leaders and the Greek bourgeoisie will intensify. Radical measures – like expropriation of the banks and attacks on the wealth of the shipping industry, the church, etc; a fight for workers’ control; and a purging of the police and military command and the creation of popular militias – would be necessary to prevent social and political collapse.

The choice is between preparing for such measures – many of which are, after all, official Syriza policy – and helpless capitulation one way or another. For sure, staying in the EU at all costs means accepting crushing “memoranda” from the lenders.

The only real way out is to spread the struggle across Europe. That means seriously fighting our own ruling classes and their austerity programs, as well as building the strongest possible solidarity with Greece and the Greek workers.

Socialists internationally need to do what we can to help socialists and organised workers in Greece prepared for a renewed fight, including against the Syriza leadership and government if necessary.


* Comrade Coatesy takes a somewhat different view, here

* Via Kevin Ovenden, today, in Athens:”The public sector trade union federation in Greece, ADEDY, has called a general strike for Wednesday. The strike against the Third Memorandum will be officially announced tomorrow. But activists throughout the public sector unions have begun organising for the stoppage this afternoon. Activists in other sectors – the private sector, the universities, the school students, etc – are also agitating for whatever action they believe they can get.

“The parliament has to agree the new memorandum by midnight on Wednesday.

“If MPs are to vote tomorrow, then the strike will be brought forward to tomorrow. Militants of the fighting left are pushing for an “active strike” – in the streets with mass demonstrations, not staying at home.”

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