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 »

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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.

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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

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

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

By Cathy Nugent at the Workers Liberty website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hillsborough and the end of history

April 16, 2017 at 10:01 am (Civil liberties, class, Daily Mail, history, Murdoch, Robin Carmody, sport, tragedy)

Above: Anfield in the days following April 15, 1989 –  scarves left at the ground and draped on the Kop goal. Photo: Dave Sinclair.

By Robin Carmody

So here we have it, the first anniversary when there has not been an official memorial service at Anfield itself, and the first after some kind of victory, some kind of vindication, some kind of recognition that the years of struggle were not worthless, not fought in vain?

A few things spring to mind:

Douglas Hurd – who, had he been Prime Minister, certainly would have tried not to let Murdoch ride roughshod over the PSB tradition, however hard that would probably have become after a certain point – should be given some credit for his (squashed) insistence as Home Secretary, coming directly from the social conscience of his One Nation Tory tradition, that the government should embrace and endorse the wholeheartedly, unashamedly and unambiguously anti-police conclusions of Taylor’s interim report. Had Thatcher not stood in his way, a generation of lies could never have become institutionalised.

Might gridiron football be more widely played and followed in 2017 England than association football had it not happened? I’m not sure it’s entirely ASB (for “Alien Space Bats”, the term used in alternative history circles to refer to something wholly unbelievable and impossible in any remotely conceivable circumstances); as a child at the time I had just fallen for football in a big way, but I was a romantic looking outside my own time, my previous sporting passion had been horse racing, and I was obsessed with repeats of Look, Stranger and Follyfoot, Plenty of my He-Man and Thundercats-preferring contemporaries on the Thames Estuary did love the NFL on Channel 4, for all that it didn’t exist to me. And if that Polish shot had been slightly lower … no Blair, no Britpop, no Cameron and no Coldplay, and Florence Welch and Laura Marling ballerinas? It is well within the realms of possibility.

Let no-one pretend that the ancien regime of English football was remotely ideal, or in any way representative, or in any way democratic, or in any true sense “the people’s game”. It was no such thing. It was, in essence, a different kind of bad, a different kind of unrepresentative, undemocratic elitism. It represents the same story as many aspects of English life and capitalism, which went straight from small-time feudalism to billionaire plutocracy with scarcely any intervening period of being any good (compare, for example, the first incarnation of radio stations such as 2CR with the current Heart network, or the towns those stations tend to serve when virtually all foreign influence was shut out of them to the same towns monopolised by national or global brands; as bad as each other, just in wholly different ways). The 96 did not die for Murdoch and the Glazers. But they did not die for aldermen either.

Rather, they died for what we never had before and would have had to have wholly different politics in the decade leading up to Hillsborough to have after, that is to say the elusive dream of genuinely democratic control of “the people’s game” – which it never has truly been in any of its incarnations – actually by the people. There was, even in the context of Thatcherism, a decent chance of this happening after Hillsborough, because the plutocrats at that point saw the game as beneath them, “a slum game for slum people” to quote one particular Murdoch rag. Maybe if Gazza’s tears hadn’t happened, and the game hadn’t had a sudden boost in terms of bourgeois and broader social appeal, it could have done, because they still wouldn’t have cared and democratic ownership could have been the way out of what was very clearly the final straw, the last knock which had rendered the old edifices wholly unsustainable, for the old quasi-feudal structure of club ownership. Michael Knighton may have been trying to wake the sleeping giant in the sleeping giant of an industrial city which was being given new pop-cultural life, but there were other, better ideas which, again, were in no sense ASB or out of reach. One of the most melancholy pages in The Times’ digital archive – the first, only in some highly selective senses and from some equally selective perspectives the best (at any point in the paper’s history), but still the most widely available – is from September 1989, with much talk about fan power and fan involvement as the way ahead – the only way ahead – for football in the 1990s. But on the same page, we have the paper’s owner, at that stage talking only about his hopes to buy cricket rights. At that point, football was still for prole scum as far as he was concerned – that Sun front page showed how much he cared about the people who had given him a British foothold and made him rich in the first place – and so there was still hope for the rest of us. But then …

Let us look back rather sadly on the situation described in David Stubbs’ book 1996 and the End of History, where there was vague hope – hope, as we now know, built on grains of sand and seats of clay – that the decay of both English football and British politics, both of which could arguably be traced to the same week in June 1970 (c.f. the “permanent Butskellism” counterfactual in the Nick Hancock & Chris England book published in that era, far removed from the better-known quasi-fascist dystopia with the same starting point), could be reversed through a closely interrelated purpose. Let us reflect with deep melancholy – especially if we’re my age, even if we were always one step out of everything – on the fact that the first huge wave of mainland European influence on English football at that moment was seen as a means of shoring up our position in the EU, and quite possibly the euro itself, for good.

Let no-one pretend that Brexit can be progressive for English football, for the reasons given above. The old isolation was every bit as bad, in a different way, as the present situation. Let no-one attempt to bring it back, while (in common with Brexit as a whole) leaving the true exploiters untouched.

And let us recall again these words of Keith Waterhouse, arguably his single best column after his Faustian pact with the Harmsworths (the results of which have left much of his best work in limbo among young liberal types in the UK who would otherwise respect and admire it, and I’m working on the assumption that most readers of this blog who were adult by 1989 would not have seen it unless they glanced at Tory relatives’ newspapers, relatively mild and restrained in tone compared to now though the Mail still was); let us praise and celebrate the fact that fans are now, as he rightly believed they always should have been, treated as people and not as prole scum and cattle, let us acknowledge the gains he called for which have been won, but let us mourn the fact that they were not deeper and more profound in other, harder to reach under the present economic system, senses. Let us, in particular, acknowledge its progressive status compared to much else which appeared in that part of the press, by no means just The Sun. And let us keep it in our minds, as proof that a great humanitarian – for all his latterday moans about “Brussels bureaucracy” and the like – never quite (see his sheer joy at Obama’s election, in his last year of life, for proof of this) lost the qualities which had once, in less divided times, made him so revered.

Thanks, of course, are due to the Gale Group for digitising the Mail (particularly valuable if you want to see the “middle class fightback” of the 1970s, stealing Labour’s tactics against it, in action, in a paper which had been seen, like that class itself, as in an inexorable decline) and to the British Library for allowing me to print it. The microfilms would still have been there, but for the generation coming through now, who need to know how they got where they are and how they might want to get out of it, they are acquiring the status of papyrus. Those with access to UK Press Online are urged to track down his post-Heysel column from 3rd June 1985, still in the Daily Mirror at that point, which reveals many of the fractures which had emerged on the Left; while he ends with vicious, fervent condemnation of unemployment, the poverty trap and Thatcherism, many of the things he identifies as elements of social decay were now supported and seen as non-negotiable forces to be championed by the post-68 Left in England (although, very importantly, not in Scotland) and they give some idea of how he would, effectively, call their bluff a year later. But coming out on the other side, here it is (and please don’t be offended by the use of “soccer”, the dominant form in most newspapers until comparatively recently and, while always more common among the middle class in the UK, reflecting its origins within private schools and universities, definitely not a US-originated term as many now think):

After Black Saturday

Keith Waterhouse

Daily Mail, Monday 17th April 1989

IF I SUGGEST that some good may come out of the deadly shambles that was Hillsborough, I am not thinking of such safety improvements as may be triggered off, or not, by those oft-repeated shibboleths, “Lessons must be learned”, “It must never happen again” and “these are all issues which have to be very closely examined”.

Similar resolutions were made after Heysel and Bradford but what must never happen again has happened again – with the supposed safety improvements being a factor in the cause of the disaster.

To most observers on the touchline of this tragedy it seems blazingly obvious that football is a spectator sport in the control of fools. In the fullness of time the inquiries and inquests will doubtless couch this verdict in more seemly language. And there will be recommendations effectively suggesting that the fools might, with the benefit of hindsight, acquire a somewhat higher IQ.

But the good that may come out of the disaster will not arise out of the implementation of belated recommendations. Good is not implemented. It implements itself. It did so at that abandoned FA Cup semi-final.

Like many other by now shame-faced listeners, I would guess, my first reaction to the initial newsflash on the radio was a sigh of, “Oh God, here we go, here we go, Liverpool again!” By the end of a long grim day I had regained a good deal of the respect for Liverpool in particular and soccer fans in general that had seeped away over the violence-besplattered years.

Mismanagement, not misbehaviour, was to blame for Hillsborough. That much was quickly apparent. But more than that: we saw the fans in a new light – and it was the light of respect.

We saw Liverpool supporters resourcefully acting as stretcher bearers for their stricken mates, quickly organising themselves into makeshift St John Ambulance teams and using advertisement placards to convey the injured. They didn’t learn that kind of initiative on their YOP schemes.

We saw the taunts die on the lips of Nottingham Forest fans as they realised this was no mere riot. As the dead were carried off they accorded their rivals the decency of silence.

We saw Everton fans returning home jubilant from their semi-final triumph over Norwich, only to be shocked and subdued by the news and to put away their scarves and rosettes as a gesture of respect.

We saw stunned Liverpool survivors who had lost friends or relatives returning to the ground clutching posies of flowers which they hung reverentially on the spiked railings.

THIS was the eye-opener. They looked like soccer louts and they dressed like soccer louts and doubtless in less sombre circumstances there were those among them who would have behaved like soccer louts, yet they returned carrying not bottles and beer cans but flowers.

The proposition that inside every soccer hooligan is a decent young man trying to get out may be too saccharine-sweet a pill for our present administration to swallow, and indeed it may be a wild overstatement. But Parliament, before leaping on Hillsborough as hell-sent support for the Football Spectators Bill, would do well to take pause and consider that these are human beings and not animals they are dealing with.

The sole function of soccer identity cards, it seems to me, is to degrade and humiliate the fans even further than they are degraded and humiliated already by being prodded and herded into cattle pens. Had ID cards been required at Saturday’s semi-final their only use, in the opinion of the Liverpool doctor who took upon himself the duty of declaring the victims dead, would have been to identify the bodies. Otherwise they could have led to a crush outside the ground as terrible and fatal as the one within it.

BUT I am not about to go into the ins and outs of identity cards, inadequate organisation, allocation of tickets, crowd control, cages, crush barriers, or the insensitivity of Football Association chairman Bert Millichip who, when asked whether the Cup Final would be cancelled, replied: “Life does have to go on”. Not for the dead Liverpool fans, it doesn’t.

No: I simply say that when these matters are weighed and considered, it must be in the realisation that all concerned with football safety, from the Government down, have gone badly wrong in regarding soccer fans as a species of sub-humans with a level of intelligence even lower than that of some soccer administrators.

Received opinion, or anyway the received opinion of those who spend most of their waking hours dreaming up new and ever more futile schemes for curbing soccer violence, is that if the fans behave like animals then they must expect to be treated like animals. Yet when they are treated so much like animals that their lives are put in peril and many of their lives are lost, then they behave not like animals but like responsible human beings. There is a valuable lesson there. Will anyone in authority learn from it?

At the risk of waxing sentimental I will stick my neck out and repeat myself. Inside every soccer lout there is a decent young man trying to get out. That is the good that may emerge from Hillsborough’s black Saturday.

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Guilt, race and class politics: “Where are the people of color?”

March 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, class, left, political groups, posted by JD, solidarity, Trump, United States, women, workers, youth)

Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.

It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.

On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.

Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.

But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”

In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.

The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?

Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.

This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.

Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.

But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.

A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.

White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.

Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.

This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.

To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.

But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.

It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.

You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.

Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.

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Notes on Brexit from a trade union and working class perspective

February 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm (class, Europe, Johnny Lewis, labour party, left, nationalism, populism, Socialist Party, solidarity, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Protesters block the main gate to the Wilton Chemical Complex on Teesside in support of a mass walkout by energy workers in Lincolnshire

Above: Reactionary Socialism in action

By Johnny Lewis

Labour and Brexit
For Labour the 2015 election may well prove as significant as the Liberals’ 1924 defeat which signified their eclipse by Labour. Certainly this fate was signalled by the psephologists post ’15 analysis of Labour’s 2020 prospects. They concluded Labour needed to win 100 seats and, more importantly meld together a number of very different political constituencies.  While this predates both Corbyn and the referendum all three spring from the same fountainhead of a profound change to class, one that has equally impacted on the unions as on Labour.

As I have argued in a previous post the unprecedented changes to class are profoundly changing the labour movement, and it is not a question of if, but when and how, this leads to some form of fundamental realignment. Whether, in the end this is piece-meal in character or takes the form of a sharp break, the prelude to such a change will be Labour’s electoral decline.

Since at least 2010 this should have determined the left‘s strategy; to form a  tendency within the Labour movement primarily working in the Party to roll back New Labour’s uncoupling of the unions from the Party and their abandonment of social democracy for social liberalism. A strategy which only made sense by turning the Party outwards to win back its working class base.

Such a view is one among many and the left cannot be measured by its failure to take up this particular approach but it can on its inability to adopt any strategy to reform Labour, a failing compounded by the hapless Corbyn and his entourage. Brexit has now amplified our shortcomings and seems set to bring to a head the crisis within the movement.

Unlike Trump or Le Penn’s programmes Brexit was not a programme for government yet the inescapable logic of the exit process makes it just that. Injected into the body politic as this virus spreads it is radically transforming the host and its weakest part is Labour. Labour is no longer facing a passive indifference from sections of its core electoral base, rather they are now mobilised around Brexit and the Party is in a life and death struggle with the forces Brexit unleashed. How Labour defines itself against the Brexit process will play no small part in determining its future.

To date the only impact of Brexit on Labour has been to function as an accelerant on the divisions between its membership (Remain voters) and its working class electoral base (Leave voters). The likely consequence of this is to speed Labour’s electoral decline and further push the Party back in the direction mapped out by New Labour: that of social liberalism, now cast as identity politics.

The casting of Labour as a party of social liberalism can only happen through a focus on pushing back against the rise of social conservatism. All to the good that the Party takes on conservatism, but when this is seen to be its primary role it cannot but become part of the process of moving the body politic to one where the primary cleavage is defined as one of social liberalism against conservatism. The consequence is to move the party further away from class and the ability to speak to those workers smitten with reactionary socialism.

Reactionary Socialism
Surely it is now clear that Brexit is the English version of a phenomenon sweeping the west, where large numbers of workers, including trade unionists are moving from passive political indifference to an active engagement with, what is commonly known as the populist right.

In all cases its core support comes from the least well educated, and those impoverished by industrial decline typified by Logan County West Virginia. The site of the battle of Blair Mountain, a struggle to unionise the mines and the biggest armed insurrection since the civil war – Democrat to its core – now belongs to Trump.

The stage of development and pace of this process is different between countries so in France the Front National has built up its working class base over decades, while Trump’s rapid accent was made possible by winning over sections of core democratic voters; some 48% of US trade unionist voted Trump. In the UK this tendency has been galvanised by Leave and is still being formed around the Brexit process.

Regardless of each country’s stage of development the tune is the same; a direct appeal to workers on the grounds of the betrayal by their traditional parties, nationalism and its corollary xenophobia, hostility to supra national institutions, conservative social policies and elements of economic social policies usually associated with the left, wrapped in an imagined past. This is a form of reactionary socialism.

This is not the first time workers have been mobilised behind a reactionary programme, the phenomenon was first noted by Marx when remnants of feudal society tapped into workers’ anti-capitalist sentiment attempting to mobilise them against the consolidation of bourgeois political power and regress development of the productive process.

Today’s reactionary socialism is not peddling a regressive form of capitalism such as autarky(although this might come) rather we are witnessing neo-liberalism’s attempt to restructure itself on national rather than super national institutions, uncoupling the state institutions from  social liberalism, and realigning them with a social conservativism. To push through the latter it attacks bourgeois democracy by shifting power away from the legislature to the executive exemplified by Trump and seen in the UK by the attempts to stop Parliament holding a Brexit vote. Linked to this are attacks on the independence of the judiciary, again the benchmark is Trump but the Mail’s retro Stalinist headline “Enemies of the People” points in the same direction.

Apart from the policy specifics what makes this international movement different from previous incarnations is the manner in which it threatens the fabric of these countries Labour movements

The electoral success of the populists is unthinkable without mobilising large sections of the workers. Nowhere is this more apparent than the workers role in securing a Brexit victory.

Brexit and the working class
The most remarkable aspect of the Leave campaign was how its working class base drove it making border controls its beating heart and effectively turning it into a single issue campaign. The fact it makes little to no economic sense, or for the more enlightened among the Leave leadership it was anathema, to win they needed the working class vote which stood behind the demand.

Brexit is however more than border controls. As with other populist demands it is a modern day Janus; on the one hand it looks to the past with its socially reactionary programme but also to a future of repositioning British capital to its post EU incarnation. It envisages a future where the state becomes an enabler for multi-nationals through a low tax low welfare economy or as UKIP’s Douglas Carswell put it `Singapore on Steroids’.

The lynchpin holding these elements together is workers support for immigration controls. The shadow it casts over the Brexit process obscures all else, at least at this stage of the process.  However workers mobilised behind this banner are signing up to become the foot soldiers in the repositioning of Neo-Liberalism. They are the battering ram to eviscerate democratic institutions, and what remains of social legislation. The irony is their future in this Brexit Arcadia is prefigured in the present by the flexibility of the deregulated ‘gig’ economy; the as and when work ethic of the migrant labourer.

This is the terrain socialist and trade unionists have to fight on if they wish to engage with workers, mapping an alternative which counterposes workers’ rights to Singapore on Steroids. Such an approach will in the short term be swept away by the Brexit tide, an inevitable consequence of the time lag between the expectations raised by Brexit and its consequences.

However those wishing to engage with the Brexit worker are doing so largely from within a social liberal / conservative discourse and will surely miss their mark.  At least they, unlike Lexit supporters have something to say about Brexit other than viewing it as a victory.

The Lexit Delusion
As part of Marx struggle against feudal socialism he polemicized against those socialist whose watch word can be summarised as “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”:  this included elements among the Chartists who supported aristocratic Tories who, like them, were against the factory owners.  As an organised tendency these supporters of reactionary anti-capitalism were known as `True Socialists’. Today our world is replete with their offspring from Putin lovers, Jew-haters through to the Lexiteers: often, but not always, one and the same.

The starting point for Lexit was the True Socialist dictum of a defeat for Remain being a defeat for the ruling class – my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Once ingested it enabled a view of the world which ignored the reactionary premise of Leave, ignored the reactionary character of the campaign’s leadership, ignored that its core working class support was concerned with stopping immigration, and ignored the consequences of Brexit for the Labour Party. Perhaps most delusional was their belief they had a voice in the campaign. It is then hardly surprising that they are unable to grasp that Brexit was the catalyst for the rise of reactionary socialism.

A central pillar of this denial is to view the Leave voters as sticking two fingers up to our rulers, in reality this is a collective act of wish fulfilment of transposing and imposing their formula my enemy’s enemy onto the workers. Of course this does have a point but the point is banal. If you sees class conflict as central to how society functions you also accepts that workers often take reactionary positions. The fact Brexit has mass working class support does not make it less reactionary. Trump and La Pen peddle the same programme as Brexit and rest on a similar working class base, but apart from our hard core Putin lovers, on what possible basis could one support such people?  In the end the only purpose of `class struggle by stealth’ is as a piece of self-deception.

This cul de sac finds our `true socialist’ tied to the coattails of a hard Brexit and however surreptitiously need to distance themselves from Corbyn’s attempts to cling to the single market, until the consequence of Brexit has beaten them over the head enough times to knock some sense into them they have nothing to say to workers.

Of course the majority will march against Trump seeing no contradiction with Lexit, as they too become corralled within the social liberal / conservative discourse.

Socialist \ social liberal defence of free movement
It would seem most supporters of free movement start from the basis of upholding the socialist principle of internationalism. Yet this seemingly most of radical position rests largely on social liberalism, a mix of a moral imperative, rights and equality for migrant workers overlaid by a socialist gloss of workers’ solidarity and internationalism. See for example Allinson (Unite GS candidate) or the recent defence of free movement by Ira Berkovic posted on Shiraz Socialist.

Such appeals sit within the liberal – conservative discourse and invite rejection by the workers leaving the socialists with nothing more to say, and the way open for the populists to further consolidate their hold over such workers.

This defence betrays a division between a socialist and trade union approach, in big picture terms it separates out a socialist principal from workers immediate interest whether perceived or real.

Although such socialists like to view support of free movement going back to earliest times our movement’s history is far more chequered, and the liberal / Socialist approach (as with the broader social liberalism) has its origin in the struggles for equality in the early post-war period ’45-’79. Obscured in those struggles was the issue of competition between workers

Workers’ competition and free movement
Competition between workers can take many forms; between individuals, groups, or categories of worker  struggling to maintain or obtain an occupational position at the expense of others or a willingness to undercut the wage rates to obtain or maintain work at the expense of others. This competition is the worker’s natural state under capitalism as are the divisions it engenders between workers.

Workers struggle to overcome such competition is the driving force in the formation of unions and with it the starting point in the formation of class and therefore class power. It is also the starting point for working class socialism. There is however always an alternative which poses a reactionary resolution to worker competition. In periods of economic prosperity and or a strong labour movement it lies largely dormant, today we see the consequences of living with a weak and fractured labour movement.

Older workers will have direct experience of such divisions played out along gender and race lines. I can recall a job where the better paid plumbing work was given to white workers, who defended the practice on the grounds their jobs were more complex and “`N’s  are just not up to it.” Of course there are parallel examples of how women were excluded from the workforce, often backed up by law.

This example is drawn from a period of powerful unions, full employment and state welfare which had largely removed the reserve army of labour as a factor in a workers life and gave a particular shape to the struggles against these forms of worker competition.

Pushed by an emerging constituency of women and black workers it was the unions– often against the wishes of members and local union officials who came to the fore to fight discrimination. From the early ‘70s they were joined by the state and the two can be viewed as working in tandem to `civilise the workplace’ for women and black workers. State sponsorship led to a growing judicial floor of rights which defined our understanding of such practices. The workers who perpetrated these practices were increasingly marginalised seen as backward, bigots, racists’ sexist etc (all usually true) as the ethos of equality and rights came to dominate the workplace.

Today worker competition takes on a very different complexion; the economic model Thatcher built and continued under Blair reshaped the workforce, deregulated the labour market, and has largely removed the state social security system and social infrastructure. In our civilised workplaces where employers stuff workers mouths  with rights and equality we find for most workers job security has gone, work has intensified, workers are fragmented, unions are weak and competition between them takes many forms such as; in multinationals the employer threatens to relocate, the struggle between core (often unionised) and periphery workers, workers who take wage cuts to save their job from being undercut by a cheaper competitor, all are underpinned by a reanimated Reserve Army of the underemployed.

It is this markertising economy which EU migrants have been sucked into, and have become one factor in the competition between workers. More importantly they have become one of, if not the central way difference between workers is understood, and consequently one of the key ways worker competition is comprehended.

Our present throws a different perspective on the early post war struggles for workplace equality; in retrospect we can see discriminatory practices were a form of competition between workers. The bigotry of whatever type, while all too real was a hook one group was able to hang their hat on to rationalise their advantage over another, illustrated today by the inadequacy of the concept of race to categorise hostility towards E Europeans

Such reactionary solutions not only exist when workers are in direct competition with each over jobs and has a real basis in fact it also functions as the background noise in the workplace where divisions are understood through different forms of prejudice. In the latter case the worker comes to understand difference through breathing in the prevalent common sense prejudices of the day creating an unholy feedback loop where the prejudice explains difference and the difference reinforces the common sense prejudices.

Those defending free movement have, to all intense and purposes transposed the understanding of workers’ call for the end of free movement solely as a form of prejudice (it is) which they challenge by raising equality and the rights of others failing to comprehend it is a major plank in the reactionary (and completely illusory) solution to the problem of competition between workers. A different approach to this question starts from a trade union perspective.

A trade union perspective
In reality ‘rights’ are a secondary issue in any worker employer relation, as prior to them is the economic relation. If capital did not need migrant labour and if migrants did not need the work then there would be no relation around which rights could be discussed. From a trade union perspective the starting point for viewing migrant labour is necessarily the economic and it should also be the starting point for socialists. From this perspective it is another element in the struggle to mitigate competition between workers.

Yet it is precisely this point the liberal / socialist approach wishes to obscure through a non-recognition of the impact of migrant labour on labour markets. Berkovic touches on this matter in relation to the Socialist Party (SP) idea of the state-imposed closed shop and McCluskey’s call for sectoral bargaining. He says;

“The demand relies on two assumptions: one, that migrant labour necessarily has a depressing effect on the pay, terms, and conditions of domestic workers. And two that employers deliberately and directly hire migrant workers in order to drive down their costs, because migrant workers will work for less.”

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the SP’s or McCluskey’s views, Berkovic’s position does not hold up: far better to say some migrant labour depress wage rates as they are willing to work for less, and where employers can use migrants to drive down wages they will.

If one looks at aggregates of migrants impact on wage rates the evidence shows a somewhat neutral picture but that does not help with the specifics where wages have been depressed or the local labour market has been radically reshaped by an influx of foreign Labour. This is not a universal experience but it is a wide spread one among lower paid workers the cohort who voted Leave, to deny this or believe it is press hysteria leaves you unable to speak to these workers. It also puts their concerns beyond the pale because either they are dupes of the press or racists or both. It is akin to denying that in some parts of the country the health service has not been overwhelmed by the influx of migrant Labour, in both cases you cannot pose a solution if you refuse to accept that any problem exists.

A trade union approach recognises the issue but rejects the reactionary solution of border controls. Instead, we attempt to tackle the issue as with any other industrial matter – or  wage inequality which can only be undertaken in two ways: industrially where workers bid up wages and terms and conditions, for example in the recent strike at Fawley where Italian contract Labour took strike action to obtain parity and won; or through governmental action and developing policies for a future Labour government to enact. In this instance labour can increase the minimum wage (a point made by Berkovic) and change  labour legislation to alter the terms on which labour can be hired for example to regulate how agency labour can be used. Such demands are of course not specific to migrant labour they are general demands to improve the material well-being of workers. An effect of implementing such demands will, reduce or the flow of foreign labour. A conclusion which gives socialist radicals’ apoplexy as it is seen to be capitulating to the tide of reaction they need to consider where not supporting such demands places them in relation to the working class.

This change to labour legislation is my understanding of the origins of McCluskey’s proposal (even though he has now clearly overreached himself and taken this proposal to a ridiculous extreme), specifically out of a problem posed by the Posted Workers Directive. Originally wages, terms and conditions were derogated to individual member states; Blair chose the minimum wage rather than applying the going rate set by sectoral collective bargaining, which a number of other member states chose to do. This had two generalised consequences firstly in some workplaces peripheral workers have been replaced by Posted Workers on a lower rate; second the substitution of Posted workers for English workers sometimes at a lower rates. The demand was for government to shift the rate to the going rate which would also mean the employer of Posted Workers would also have to engage with unions around sector-wide collective bargaining.

It is clear that Labour’s present policies on workers rights are far from fully formed. However it can only be by proposing policies that curtail labour flexibility that we can build working class opposition to border controls and  begin to speak to workers about the issue – a hearing I am sure will get easier as Brexit unfolds and its consequences become apparent.

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