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 mug shot as he is 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 »

Permalink Leave a Comment

What we should talk about when we talk about socialism

July 23, 2017 at 8:49 am (campaigning, class, labour party, liberation, posted by JD, reformism, revolution, socialism, workers)

By Daniel Randall, railway worker and RMT rep (also published at The Clarion)

The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto was its most radical for a generation. Its policies offered a real clawing back of wealth and power from the richest in society, and some of them pointed towards a far greater degree of social ownership, advocating the renationalisation of the railways, postal service, and some utilities, and pushing the market and private sector out of healthcare. These policies suggest a different type of society: Labour MPs frequently talked during the election of an “alternative to austerity”, or an “alternative to neoliberalism”. The manifesto did not, however, and nor did many Labour MPs, talk about that different type of society in explicit terms. Few would describe their aim as “socialism”, and even the main Labour left group Momentum does not refer to itself explicitly as “socialist”. John McDonnell is one of the few Labour MPs who does talk explicitly about socialism; this article is an attempt to draw out what it might mean to name the Labour Party’s aim in those terms, written before the election following a rally in Liverpool.

***

While in Liverpool for a union conference, I was able to attend a Labour Party election rally, where the “star turn”, as compère Peter Dowd, the MP for Bootle, called him, was Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

The rally was packed with an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd, which gave McDonnell a standing ovation practically the minute he appeared. John’s speech was stirring, and consisted mainly in setting out Labour’s key policies – on health, on housing, on education, on wages, and workplace rights. Towards the end, he used a rhetorical flourish I’ve heard him deploy a few times before: “We want a society that’s radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic”, he says, then asks the crowd, “what do we call that society?” “That’s right,” John finishes, repeating the calls that have inevitably come from the audience, “we call it ‘socialism’”.

The little motif is powerful. It is a deliberate break with the Labour Party’s immediate past, where “socialism” was a dirty word, and a defiant statement from its new leadership that Labour is once again prepared to talk about social transformation. It drew warm applause from the crowd at St. George’s Hall.

And John is right, of course: socialism would certainly be “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than the society we have now. But plenty of societies could be “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than our current one, and still not be socialist. With a leadership at least ostensibly prepared to encourage, rather than stifle, discussion of socialism within the party, and faced with an election that acutely poses the question of what kind of society we want to live in, this is as good a moment as there’s been for generations for Labour Party members and activists, who call themselves “socialists” as a matter of political reflex, to discuss what “socialism” actually means.

Some caveats to what follows: this article is not intended as a pedantic quibble that what McDonnell is proposing isn’t “really” socialist. Nor is it intended to dismiss or trivialise the overwhelmingly positive impact that Labour’s current policy programme, if implemented, would have on the material conditions of life for millions of working-class people. A choice between socialism and capitalism is not, with the best will in the world, on the ballot papers on 8 June. A choice between a Tory party that will continue to govern unashamedly in the interests of the rich, and a Labour Party that will govern, at least to some extent, in the interests of working people, is.

This article presupposes that a Labour Party that calls itself “socialist”, and talks explicitly about building a socialist society, is a good thing. It is intended as a contribution to a discussion about what the content of that “socialism” should be.

John McDonnell is perhaps the most Marxisant Labour MP since Eric Heffer, prepared to acknowledge Marx, Lenin, Trotsky as political influences, much to the horror of the right-wing press. His long years of service to the labour movement make clear that he understands the centrality of workplace organisation and workers’ struggle. But his stated point-of-reference for the government he and Corbyn would lead is the Labour government of 1945: a great reforming government, without a doubt, but was Britain a socialist society between 1945 and 1951?

Any combative, socialist Labour Party should have a programme for radical reforms, but socialism must be more than an aggregation of reforms. Notwithstanding this, however, dogmatically recapitulating the “reform or revolution?” debate that has historically divided the socialist movement is not the best starting point for this discussion, and would miss the point, at least at this stage.

I am a revolutionary: I do think any attempt to build a new society will require a decisive confrontation with the capitalist state, which has strong self-defensive instincts that kick in whenever its power is meaningfully threatened. But it is not my immediate aim to advocate that Labour should include a commitment to forming workers’ militias its manifesto. What I want to convince fellow activists of in the immediate term is that socialism must be a genuinely different society, with the rule of capital decisively broken, not merely tempered or hemmed in by social-democratic policy reform, and that organised labour is the key agency for affecting that change.

Minimally, breaking the rule of capital must mean widespread social ownership of industry. The Corbyn-led Labour Party has, so far, shied away from advocating widespread nationalisations, perhaps in part out of a legitimate and laudable desire not to be seen as advocating an “Old Labour” state-capitalism often seen as lumbering and bureaucratic. But there is more than one model for how nationalisations might work, and for how nationalised industries might be organised.

Labour’s current policies for the energy sector, for example, talk of regulating prices and breaking up the dominance of the “Big Six” energy companies (which McDonnell referred to in his Liverpool speech as a “cartel”), and setting up publicly-owned regionally-based energy companies to compete with the private giants, but stop well short of advocating that energy provision, or even just the “Big Six”, be nationalised. Labour wants to set up a “National Investment Bank” to fund communities, but won’t advocate public ownership of the banking sector as a whole. For sure, nationalised industry does not in and of itself equal “socialism”, or even, necessarily, something inherently better than private industry. But genuine social ownership – collective, democratic ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth in society – must surely be a bedrock of any socialism worth the name. Can a policy platform that leaves, for example, the provision of utilities, and the vast amounts of wealth generated by the finance sector, in private hands meaningfully be called “socialist”?

McDonnell, rightly, says that socialism will be “radically more democratic” than the current system, and it remains to be seen what proposals for democratic reform will make it into Labour’s manifesto. Socialism must surely mean a radical deepening and extension of democracy, removing power from the unelected and unaccountable, and implementing rights of recall to transform the role of our political representatives from technocratic specialists administering an essentially plutocratic system into delegates who are genuinely accountable to those who elected them.

Underlying the whole issue is the question of agency: who is socialism to be made by? The implied perspective of the current Labour leadership is that “socialism” will be established almost by default when a Labour government is elected and implements its programme of radical reforms. This somewhat improbable scenario implicitly renders the likes of Chuka Umuna and Wes Streeting as part of the socialist vanguard; perhaps, then, we need to look elsewhere for our agents of socialist transformation.

If socialism means breaking the rule of capital, it must be broken at the point where it is most fundamentally exercised: the workplace. If socialism means genuinely democratic social ownership of the “means of production”, to use an old-fashioned phrase, that social ownership must be administered by those engaged in the process of production. The agency for socialist change, in other words, can only be the organised working class.

Labour’s commitment to repeal the Tory anti-union laws is welcome, and essential, but must go further. Rolling back the Tories’ 2016 Trade Union Act is a start, but it has long been McDonnell’s stated aim to scrap all anti-union legislation, not just the most recent. That must be pushed forward in government. Freeing workers to effectively organises against our bosses is, in a profound sense, a prerequisite for the rest of Labour’s policy platform. Even a moderate social-democratic reform programme is likely to require action from a militant and assertive labour movement to defend its implementation from employers eager to find ways to circumvent, undermine, and sabotage it. Labour needs to anchor workers’ struggle firmly at the heart of its political agenda if it is to meaningfully talk about socialist transformation.

At the Liverpool rally, Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, Labour’s candidate for the newly-created Liverpool City Region mayoralty, began his speech by invoking the memory of the 1911 Liverpool transport strike, during which many demonstrations took place on St. George’s Plateau, next to St. George’s Hall.

What he did not mention, and what no-one on the platform at the rally mentioned, was that a group of local transport workers had in fact been on strike rather more recently than 1911 – that very day, in fact – and had been picketing across the road from St. George’s Hall at Lime Street station until a few hours before the rally began. Northern Rail workers had been striking against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”; if Labour is serious about empowering workers to stand up for their rights, why not have one of them address the rally? Why not, at least, mention their strike? Labour is, after all, committed to renationalising the railways. It was a perfect opportunity to connect Labour’s policy to a live struggle.

The presence of striking Northern Rail workers would undoubtedly have embarrassed certain local Labour figures. Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, and Rotheram himself, have been at best lukewarm, and at worst outright hostile, to Northern Rail, MerseyRail, and other railworkers’ strikes. This is an irreconcilable tension; Labour cannot be both a party of socialism and a political home for people who are hostile to the self-assertion of the necessary agents of socialist change.

For the Labour Party to contribute to the socialist transformation of society, the Labour Party itself must be transformed. McDonnell and Corbyn could do worse than to increase their efforts to make the party “radically fairer, radically more equal, and radically more democratic” than it is now.

A discussion within the party, and wider movement, about what we mean by “socialism” cannot be put off to some future point where we may have more “time”. The general election is being fought on unfavourable terrain, in circumstances not of our own choosing. But despite the unfavourable conditions, the election nonetheless represents an opportunity for the Labour Party, and wider labour movement, to assert an alternative political vision.

There will be some pressure within Labour’s campaign not to initiate wider discussions, but to focus on the hard graft of electioneering in the hope of defending seats and kicking out the Tories. But even in sheer electoral terms, winning a Labour government requires people to believe in, to be persuaded of, Labour’s political narrative, and to have at least some degree of conscious ownership over it, in the sense of understanding what it would mean in their own life. That requires, above all, political discussion and education.

Labour’s vision is one that, for the first time in a generation, the leadership of the party is not ashamed to call “socialist”. All of us who share that political aspiration have a responsibility to discuss what we mean by it. Only through that discussion can we hope to thrash out a political strategy that can make the vision a reality.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.

Permalink 3 Comments

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 »

Permalink 3 Comments

Reassessing Corbynism: success, contradictions and a difficult path ahead

June 21, 2017 at 7:35 am (class, conspiracy theories, democracy, economics, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, left)

A worthwhile (and generally leftist) critique from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI):

Corbyn’s success in building an alliance that extends from Greens to UKIP voters only postpones the moment of Labour’s reckoning with Brexit

By Matt Bolton, Doctoral Researcher, University of Roehampton

The trickle of mea culpas from the rapidly diminishing band of Corbyn-sceptics following the election result has now turned into a flood, and not without cause.  Once widely-held truisms – Corbynism is a ‘movement’ more clicktivist than canvasser, Corbyn himself is electorally toxic, Labour face a 1931-style demolition and the collapse of its Parliamentary presence – have been shown to be categorically wrong.  Corbyn ran an energetic, positive, smart campaign, founded on an unashamedly tax-and-spend manifesto.  The quick-witted air war was backed up online and through unprecedented numbers of volunteers taking to the streets to engage potential Labour voters and getting them to turn out on polling day.  Such mass activism had long been promised by Corbyn’s most vocal supporters, but aside from his own leadership campaigns, had been in sparse evidence on the ground.  But there is no doubt that when it came to the crunch, Corbynism cashed its activist cheques.  This level of enthusiastic political engagement would simply not have taken place with another leader – although the suspicion persists that a lot of the urgency was the product of retrospective regret on behalf of younger Remainers that they had not done the same (or perhaps even voted) during the EU referendum.

The election result also clearly demonstrates that Corbynism has not destroyed the party’s parliamentary presence.  Labour has made some promising gains, particularly in England, and as Paul Mason notes, seem to have somehow picked up votes both from the liberal and green metropolitan left, and a decent sized portion of the former UKIP vote.  This was undoubtedly a remarkable and wholly unexpected achievement, one which few in the top echelons of either party thought possible up until the moment of the exit poll.  But while Labour are rightly still celebrating a welcome electoral step forward, not to mention capitalising on the total collapse of Theresa May’s authority as Prime Minister, unpicking the reasons why Corbyn was able to bring this unlikely electoral coalition together reveals that many of the criticisms levelled at the Corbyn project continue to hold.  Indeed, in some ways this election has merely postponed a true reckoning with the contradictions and regressive tendencies that run through the Corbynist worldview.  In particular, Corbyn’s success postpones once again the moment of reckoning at which the left finally recognises that the acceptance of Brexit and the end of free movement constitutes a fundamental, generational defeat, one for which gains in the House of Commons, however welcome, are scant recompense.  With this in mind, then, this article is not yet another mea culpa.  It is rather an attempt to take stock of what has changed and what has not, in the form of some first thoughts on how this election result – and in particular Corbyn’s Green-UKIP alliance – was possible.

This was the first post-deficit election

Direct comparisons with previous elections (whether on seats or vote share) are misleading.  Each election takes place in an entirely different context, which shapes what can and cannot be said within the campaign, and what is regarded (rightly or wrongly) as ‘credible’.  Much of the day to day grind of politics consists of the battle to shape that context (as can be seen with the struggle  over the ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ interpretation of the referendum result, a battle which until Thursday night at least, May seemed to have comprehensively won).  The 2015 election was dominated by discussion of the deficit and debt.  The endless repetitions of how the Tories were still ‘clearing up Labour’s mess’ trapped Ed Miliband in political-economic territory from which he could never win  –  every word from his mouth was framed by the context of how Labour’s supposed overspending had led to the crash and the ‘deficit’.  This frame has, incredibly, now virtually disappeared. Labour were careful to cost their manifesto nonetheless – demonstrating that the difference between their position and Miliband’s cannot be explained by mere hard left ‘will power’ – and the Tories failure to bother doing the same, lazily assuming the line from 2015 still held sway, left any attacks they made on Labour’s spending plans seem hollow and hypocritical.  But it was the combination of austerity finally starting to bite the lower middle classes in a way it hadn’t in 2015 (school cuts and the NHS winter crisis cut through in a huge way) and Brexit that really wiped the economic slate clean.  The Leave promises of an extra £350m a week for the NHS, regardless of their veracity, put public spending for services back on the ‘credible’ electoral playing field in a way that we have not seen since 2005.  Add in May’s own desire to boost infrastructure spending, and Corbyn and McDonnell had the space to make spending commitments that were just not available to Miliband.  They made the most of it.

The left’s instinctive trust in Corbyn allows him to successfully triangulate

The idea that Corbyn is a truly authentic man who has stuck to his principles through thick and thin is prevalent even amongst his fiercest critics.  It is also his greatest weapon when it comes to keeping the left (and the youth vote) onside while in reality triangulating as ably –  if not more so –  as any Blairite.  Labour’s policy on immigration in this election was well to the right of the 2015 manifesto.  Miliband was pilloried by the left for proposing ‘controls on immigration’, which slogans on mugs aside, amounted to a two year ban on EU migrants receiving benefits.  Corbyn’s manifesto went even further than May herself by pledging to end free movement of people from the EU come what may in the Brexit negotiations.  While the effect of this was to almost entirely drain the ‘immigration debate’ from the election in a way unimaginable even six months ago, this was only due to the total capitulation of both Corbyn and the broader left on the issue.  The immigration policy in Labour’s 2017 manifesto was more extreme in concrete terms than what most of the Leave side were proposing in the referendum -  in essence assuring full withdrawal from the single market, whatever the consequences -  and yet Corbyn’s supporters on the left accepted it because they refuse to believe that Corbyn himself, as a man of principle, can really mean it.  While every word Miliband (or indeed virtually anyone else who is not Corbyn) is treated with suspicion, despite the pro-single market arguments of the contemporary Blair being inherently far less punitive on immigration than Corbyn’s position, Corbyn is given the benefit of the doubt every time, even when the policy is written down in black and white.  This is triangulation of the highest order, enabling Labour to appeal to hardline anti-migrant UKIP voters while also keeping the trust of the ‘cosmopolitan’ urban left.  It is doubtful any other Labour leader would have been capable of achieving this.  Yet the faith in Corbyn’s supposedly unshakeable core beliefs is such that his party’s policies on immigration barely register amongst people who would be incandescent with rage if another Labour leader even vaguely gestured towards them. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

Grenfell Tower: ruling class criminal negligence

June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm (campaigning, capitalism, class, Conseravative Party, crime, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Tory scum, tragedy)

“People were waving scarves, flashing phones, torches, flapping their windows back and forth, crying for help … At first people [on the ground below] were trying to help them, pushing at cordons. I could see the smoke billowing behind them and in some cases I could see the flames, until they disappeared … [by 4am] there was no sign of life. Everyone was in a resigned state of shock. We couldn’t do anything and we were coming to accept the fire brigade couldn’t do anything either … I’ll never forget the sound of those screams: the screams of children and grown men” (would-be rescuer Robin Garton, quoted in The Times).

The faces look out from the newspaper, smiling in happier times. Many of them black or Middle Eastern with names like Khadija Kaye, Jessica Urbano  and Ali Yawa Jafari. But also Sheila Smith and Tony Disson. Then you read about people throwing their children out of high windows in the hope that someone would catch them, people jumping (some on fire) to almost certain death (shades of 9/11) and mother of two Rania Ibrham sending a Snapchat video to a friend who described it: “She’s praying and she’s saying ‘Forgive me everyone, goodbye’.”

This all happened in 2017 in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London, under a Tory council and a Tory government. But these people weren’t wealthy: they were amongst the poorest in the city, living cheek by jowl with people of enormous wealth.

It turns out that the local residents’ group, the Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned the council and the so-called Tenant Management Organisation (ie the landlord) that a disaster was coming. In November of last year Edward Daffarn published a post on the Grenfell Action Group blog, entitled Playing with Fire, in which he warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

Local (Labour) councillor Judith Blakeman attempted to raise concerns with council officials and the management body “ad nauseam” since refurbishment of the block began in 2014: “They kept reassuring us that everything was fine” she said.

The refurbishment involved encasing the building with cladding that fire safety experts have long warned compromises the safety of tower blocks whose original “compartmentalised” design had incorporated rigorous fire safety standards (it also meant that advice to residents to “stay put” in the event of a fire was fatally inappropriate). An “external cladding fire” had caused the death of six people in Lakanal House tower block in South London in 2009. At the inquest into that disaster, the coroner had recommended that the government should review fire safety guidance to landlords and, in particular, the danger of the “spread of fire over the external envelope” of buildings (ie the use of external cladding). She also recommended that sprinkler systems be fitted to all high-rise buildings. None of this happened.

So why were the warnings ignored? Why did Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week (and is now Theresa May’s chief of staff) fail to act on the warnings prompted by the Lakanal House fire? Why did his predecessor Brandon Lewis, tell MPs that it was “for the fire industry”, not government, to “encourage” the installation of sprinklers rather than “imposing” it? Why did then-communities secretary Eric Pickles treat the Lakanal House coroner’s recommendations as “advice” to local authorities rather than as instructions?  And why didn’t Grenfell Tower even have a building-wide fire alarm?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: these residents are poor working class people, many of whom are also ethnic minorities and migrants (in an especially tragic twist, the first body to be identified is that of a Syrian refugee, Mohammad al-Haj Ali). Such negligence and cost-cutting would never be tolerated in the luxury high-rise flats and offices peopled by the rich: these are built to the highest standards, using the safest materials.

This is ruling class contempt for the poor – also exemplified by May’s refusal to meet with local people during her brief and tightly-policed visit to the scene earlier today.

Let no-one tell you this was simply a “tragedy” as though it was some sort of natural disaster. This was criminal negligence by the ruling class and their political party, the Tories. Our response – and the only response that will truly honour the victims – must be to pursue the class struggle with renewed vigour. Starting by kicking out the Tories as soon as possible.

Permalink 11 Comments

Grenfell Action Group: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears”

June 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm (class, environment, Human rights, London, posted by JD, privatisation, Tory scum, tragedy, workers)

It is becoming apparent that the residents of Grenfell Tower had made repeated representations to the (Tory) Council and the so-called Tenant Management Committee, about their fears over the safety of the building. But these were poor working class people, isolated within a prosperous borough. They were ignored, as the Grenfell Action Group’s blog demonstrates:

Posted on by

Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/more-on-fire-safety/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/another-fire-safety-scandal/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kctmo-feeling-the-heat/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/why-are-we-waiting/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/grenfell-tower-from-bad-to-worse/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/more-trouble-at-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tmo-still-asleep-at-the-wheel

Permalink 9 Comments

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.

Permalink 15 Comments

Jacobin: why Corbyn ‘won’

June 9, 2017 at 11:31 am (class, democracy, elections, labour party, left, posted by JD, reformism)

The US-based Jacobin website has put out its analysis of the UK election remarkably swiftly. Shiraz wouldn’t agree with all of it (especially the praise for Corbyn’s simplistic ‘blow back’ linking of terrorism with foreign policy), but overall, it’s not bad:

By Bhaskar Sunkara

I don’t care if he didn’t actually win — he won. Jeremy Corbyn has given us a blueprint to follow for years to come.

The Tories may still be in power at the end of the night, but Jeremy Corbyn won today.

Yes, I know this is shameless spin, but hear me out: the last few weeks have vindicated the approach of the Labour left and its international cothinkers under Corbyn.

This is the first election Labour has won seats in since 1997, and the party got its largest share of the vote since 2005 — all while closing a twenty-four point deficit. Since Corbyn assumed leadership in late 2015, he has survived attack after attack from his own party, culminating in a failed coup attempt against him. As Labour leader he was unable to rely on his parliamentary was unable to rely on his parliamentary colleagues or his party staff. The small team around him bombarded with hostile internal leaks and misinformation, and an unprecedented media smear campaign.

Every elite interest in the United Kingdom tried to knock down Jeremy Corbyn, but still he stands. He casts a longer shadow over his party’s centrists tonight than at any time since he was elected Labour leader.

Okay, Corbyn may not be prime minister tomorrow. He was a “flawed candidate,” he wasn’t the strongest speaker, he had his share of gaffes, he ate cold beans. All this is true. But besides for outside hostility and the opposition of his own parliamentary group, it’s worth remembering that Corbyn became Labour leader at the most perilous moment since the party’s birth.

Labour was discredited by the Blair-Brown administrations — from their catastrophic military adventures in Iraq to their privatization agenda at home and their overseeing of the financial crisis. The Blairites got their wish: Labour was looking more and more like a social liberal party than a social-democratic one, embracing the financial sector and prepared to “modernize” the welfare state by gutting it. But there was no serious challenge from its left, and there were professional-class voters to chase.

The party’s mass membership base deteriorated, as did its links with a weakened labor movement. Scotland was lost. The only anti-establishment voice in formerly Labour-dominated communities angry at years of neoliberal economic policies was the right-wing UK Independence Party.

This was the situation that Corbyn inherited. Yet against all odds, his team brought Labour back to life.

They rebuilt the party’s mass base, turning Labour into Europe’s largest party, with more than a half million members. Momentum, the grassroots formation created to support the effort, organized tens of thousands in communities across Britain. Battles with the Labour center and right helped in a certain way, too, distancing the leadership from a discredited establishment. Many party members came to embrace the ire of the billionaire press.

Labour developed a robust left character and platform for the first time in decades. Even as it dipped behind in the polls, it was forming the nucleus of a real opposition, a real alternative.

But even if we didn’t care about program and just wanted the Tories out, it’s hard to imagine that a rightward-tacking Labour leader would have done any better than Corbyn. Would Owen Smith have inspired the surge in youth turnout that pushed what should have been a Conservative landslide into a hung parliament? Would Angela Eagle or any “soft-left” challengers have kept Wales in Labour hands? Could any force but the Labour left begin to win back Scotland from the siren-call of the Scottish National Party?

Corbyn salvaged this election by bucking Labour’s conservative slide over the past several decades and sticking to his left-wing guns. His success provides a blueprint for what democratic socialists need to do in the years to come.

Labour’s surge confirms what the Left has long argued: people like a straightforward, honest defense of public goods. Labour’s manifesto was sweeping — its most socialist in decades. It was a straight-forward document, calling for nationalization of key utilities, access to education, housing, and health services for all, and measures to redistribute income from corporations and the rich to ordinary people.

£6.3 billion into primary schools, the protection of pensions, free tuition, public housing construction — it was clear what Labour would do for British workers. The plan was attacked in the press for its old-fashioned simplicity — “for the many, not the few” — but it resonated with popular desires, with a view of fairness that seemed elementary to millions.

The Labour left remembered that you don’t win by tacking to an imaginary center — you win by letting people know you feel their anger and giving them a constructive end to channel it towards. “We demand the full fruits of our labor,” the party’s election video said it all.

If the immediate economic program of Labour was inspiring, the leadership also revived a vision of social-democratic politics that looks beyond capitalism. The most striking thing about Corbynism isn’t that it’s run-of-the-mill welfare capitalism in an era where neoliberalism rules supreme, but that its protagonists see the inherent limits of reforms under capitalism and discuss ideas that aim to expand the scope of democracy and challenge capital’s ownership and control, not just its wealth. What other post-Golden Age, center-left party has drafted plans to expand the cooperative sector, create community-owned enterprises, and restore the state’s control of key sectors of the economy?

The plans were far from exhaustive, but they would put Britain on a course for deeper socialist transformations in the future. That’s a lofty dream, one that will take decades to come to fruition, but it goes far beyond traditional Labourism.

The Labour left isn’t a “mere social-democratic” current. Whereas what social democracy had morphed into by the postwar period often tried to tamp down class conflict in favor of tripartite arrangements with business, labor, and the state, the new social democracy of Corbyn was built on class antagonism and actively encourages movements from below.

But Labour couldn’t just put forward a pie-in-the-sky program. It had to deal with issues that socialists have typically not had to confront. And it succeeded by appealing to the commonsense of “the many” they sought to represent.

When the issue of terror and security was raised during the campaign, Corbyn showed not only that the Left was not weak on these issues — in many ways, we’re more credible than our opponents. For years, it’s been taken for granted that when it comes to terrorism, the choices confronting the Left were either sticking to our hallowed principles and suffering for it electorally, or mimicking the bellicose rhetoric of the Right.

Corbyn found another way through the madness. In the wake of the horrific Manchester and London attacks, the Labour leader was unafraid to connect British imperialism overseas and the proliferation of Islamist terror. Corbyn expanded his criticism into other aspects of British foreign policy: a deep-rooted set of alliances with Gulf States at the center of Middle East reaction.

Corbyn has taken some flak from the far left for his call for a proportional police response to terror. But he outlined a broad alternative, one that spoke of the social causes behind the path to terrorism, and used it to attack the violent xenophobia and scaremongering pushed by the Tories. In doing so, he changed the debate about terrorism in fundamental ways. There will always be alienated, angry people engaging in anti-social activity, but Corbyn offered a way to view such acts as security matters to be dealt with at their roots, rather than a clash of civilizations.

Let’s not underestimate voters. After years of endless wars and violence, most of them are ready for peace. Corbyn offered them what they wanted, and he wasn’t punished for it.

Even with a diminished Conservative majority, things won’t be rosy tomorrow. Momentarily humbled, the Tories still rule. Their allies in the business and media elites will regroup. They will come up with new plans to attack working people and the public good.

But Corbyn’s party is better positioned than any recent Labour regime to be a credible opposition rooted in an unapologetic left vision — to offer hopes and dreams to people, not just fear and diminished expectations. Also, Bernie would have won.

Permalink 5 Comments

Labour’s future: notes on the Resolutionary Road

June 5, 2017 at 7:48 am (class, democracy, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism)

By Johnny Lewis

The Manifesto
Post-election Labour will be confronted with choosing between two diametrically opposed futures: one road takes it back to some variant of New Labour while the other is the refounding Labour as a reformist party. Although which future will be determined by the forces each side can muster, the leverage open to either is in no small measure contingent on the election outcome.

Some three weeks ago the Tories held a 24% lead, Labour was heading for a defeat of 1931 proportions and the party’s right were ecstatic. Defeat on such a scale would see off Corbyn ensuring in short order the loss of a left majority on the National Executive, and the Party bureaucracy intensifying its purge against anyone seen as a danger to incumbent constituency parties and council leaders. This would clear the way for the Party to jettison its manifesto, replacing it with some pale blue austerity-light policies. The press and the right’s narrative to remove Corbyn would be straightforward enough: Labour’s defeat was a consequence of Corbyn’s divisive nature, his lack of leadership skills and a far-left manifesto which alienated the British public.

Even if Labour do badly, the cant the press spew out and the right’s attempt to unseat Corbyn will not have such purchase in the light of the way the election campaign has turned.

For sure the Tories have run a bad campaign by displaying May in all her pomp we have seen her for what she is: a third-rater. Of course the odium poured on Corbyn will have some effect but it will be limited because unlike May he is a known quantity. What has changed politics in the last 14 days has been Labour’s manifesto.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 defeat every commentator, pundit and pollster’s analysis of Labour’s chances in 2020 where at best bleak. The only route Labour could take in 2020 was to offer a social programme which appealed to the whole class rather than just the poor, and this is what we have seen with the present manifesto. It is its radicalism which has closed the gap with the Tories. Moreover it has provided a means for the young to begin to come out from under the dead weight of the old.

Labour’s social programme has largely thwarted the plan to ditch Corbyn, placing the left in a far better position to defend the leadership against attacks by the right. I also consider it has done more in the following sense: support for Corbyn comes from individuals whose lived experience of modern-day capitalism has led to a rejection of its inequalities. As such they are bound together negatively by what they are against. Outside of their rejection of inequality we find a cacophony of competing voices and no way of uniting them. The manifesto changed that and has provided the first substantial positive voice which the movement has been able to organise around. Moreover it provides us with the first important measure around which this melee of competing voices can begin to take on a coherent political shape through critique and debate around how the ideas in the manifesto can be developed.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance the election will have massively strengthen the left’s position made possible by the manifesto. Post June 8th the Corbyn movement can begin to reshape Labour into a reformist party. If this potential is realised and we witness the emergence of a reformist party it will be of historic importance and I think unique in character as rather than being based on the unions (the old Labour model) it will rest on an overtly pro-working class political programme. We are still a long way off from that, but far far nearer than it looked just a few weeks ago.

Momentum and the Party.
Only the membership can undertake such a transformation: the manifesto provides the positive statement for us to unite around, while the activity we need to undertake to transform the Party will develop us into a more ideologically coherent entity (but I hope a pluralistic one). This however will not happen spontaneously: the pivotal force to drive it forward can only be Momentum, supported where possible by union organisation. Of course my hope for Momentum to play such a role will be in vain if Lansman turns out to be as perfidious as some make out and is indeed a puppet of the Blairites (!).

Turning the party into a recognisable reformist party was always the only real goal open to the Corbynistas, yet much of the last two years has been wasted pretending they and indeed the Labour Party as a whole, could be something else. The idea of Momentum either as some embryo party or a left current which at some stage splits from Labour to form a new party, turns to dust when it is given a moments consideration. The relevance of Momentum is to change Labour and the relevance of the organised left is to take part in such a transformation not as a faction but a tendency.

In fact the tasks the left faced first faced in the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory are simply repeated post June 8th: defending Corbyn, becoming the catalyst to develop Labour’s social programme, winning positions for the left within the Party, turning the Party outward to campaigning, winning working class members to its banner, training Party members and at the centre carrying out the CLPD’s programme. It is only by organising around these specific tasks that the left will be transformed into an ideologically coherent entity and with it the Party.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Why the Unite vote should worry the left

April 23, 2017 at 8:04 am (class, elections, Johnny Lewis, left, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

 Image result for picture Unite logo

By Johnny Lewis

I spent a suspenseful Friday afternoon stalking my Unite friends attempting to find out the results, while they tried to imagine what the union would look like under a Coyne leadership – of course everyone understood what it would mean for the Labour Party. However by late afternoon it was clear McCluskey had won by some 6,000 votes on a 12% turnout. I had previously commented that a Coyne victory would demand a high turnout – i.e. he would have to mobilise those who don’t usually vote, as for sure the activists would turn out for McCluskey; this proved wrong, the turnout dropped and still Coyne nearly won!

My initial thought is that the lower poll numbers come from two sources: first Unite changed its rules excluding a certain category of retired members, who traditionally voted in high numbers, second some 85,000 deserted McCluskey. It is possible these voters deserted McCluskey rather than the idea of a left union. They may well have thought he should not have stood for a third term, unable to vote for Coyne (and why in God’s name would they vote Allinson?) so they abstained. Coyne’s vote would seem to reflect a failure to garner members who don’t usually vote – rather he rallied the craft vote to his banner, just as the left winger Hicks had done in previous elections.

Whether this speculation is right or not in big picture terms it is secondary to the real issue which is the turnout Anne posted and the voting numbers for Unite’s previous elections but even this does not give the full measure of decline, if you go back to the T&G when 30% plus voted. Of course Unite’s 12% turnout is a towering victory for democracy when compared with the GMB’s last General Secretary election.

For both McCluskey and the union’s left wing organisation the United Left (UL) the question which should be uppermost in their minds is how was this result possible when the left has run the union since its formation, and when there has been no serious internal opposition to the left’s policies? How do they account for this yawning gap between the activists and the members  -and more importantly how can they overcome it?

The UL, looking at it from the outside, it is a hugely successful electoral machine comprising officers and members, and since Unite’s formation the majority of lay Executive members and both General Secretaries, Woodley and McCluskey, who identified as UL supporters. It is however unlikely the UL will be able to face up to this question, based on two assumptions: firstly when it comes to big issues the UL takes its direction from the GS and in reality is his creature; second and of far greater importance, is the dominance of conservative elements within its ranks. The first such group are UL members who sit on committees – the  ‘committee jockeys’. It is through the mechanism of the UL that lay members can progress onto the committee structures. (For those who are unaware of ‘how these things work’ all unions have a means by which members progress into the structures. In the GMB for example it is achieved via officer led cliques).

While UL supporters populate large swathes of the committee structures my guess is if one was to inspect the ‘left’ credentials of many of these UL supporters you would find they are bogus. I am not saying all UL representatives should be harden bolshevikii but the root by which many enter the committee structure is not through workplace activism but because they adopted left credentials as their passport to get onto committees. While I have no idea of their proportions within the UL, for sure such people have no interest in change – as long as their positions are not threatened.

A second conservative group are the routinists who simply don’t get it: for them Unite under a left leadership can do no wrong and they will explain away McCluskey’s narrow victory as the result of Coyne’s negative campaign and the press. A sub-set of such conservatives will be Allinson supporters and much of the organised left whose rationalisation will boil down to McCluskey’s shortcomings as a left winger – if only he had led the charge against Trident and if he really committed the union to support Corbyn … etc, etc …

Undelying all this is a complete misunderstanding of the state of the union, class and class consciousness – a misunderstanding which is becoming increasingly delusional. Ranged against these two blocks are those who recognise the divide between activists and members and desperately want to change matters. My guess is they feel pinned down by the weight of the careerists and routinists and so do not have the space to explore how to tackle this burning question. The only force that can come to their’s and the union’s rescue is the General Secretary sponsoring change from above. When I mention this to my Unite friends there was a deadly silence.

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »