Labour’s manifesto and the economy: a moderate re-balancing towards fairness

May 21, 2017 at 6:41 am (economics, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity)

Image result for labour manifesto 2017

Martin Thomas looks at the modest reality of Labour’s manifesto (full text here).

The output (value-added) of the UK economy these days is around £1900 billion a year. Of that, about £360 billion is goods and services bought by central and local government, about £320 billion is capital investment, and about £1,130 billion is stuff bought by households. The sub-totals do not add up to the overall total because of other categories, and the figures are rough, based on the last available official figures, for 2014.

The UK government produces many useful statistics on the distribution of household income, but not for the percentage of household income taken by the rich, the top 5%, and the fairly well-off, the top 20%. To get an idea, let’s borrow the US figures — 20%-plus of the total for the top 5%, 50%-plus for the top 20%. Historically, US income inequality has been greater than the UK’s, but the gap has decreased, and inequality between top and bottom incomes has been rising in a way that makes official figures, always produced after a delay, usually underestimates.

Household income and household consumption can diverge, especially for very high-income people who save a lot of their income, but the US figures will give us a ballpark estimate. A dozen complications make the figures inexact; but an inexact estimate of the shape of the forest can teach us lessons not visible from more precise statistics about the trees. If we subtract 20% from the employed-workforce total of 32 million for bosses and their high-paid associates, some 26 million workers turn out about £74,000 each in products and services.

Of each £74,000:
• about £22,000 returns as wage, benefit, and pension income to the lower 80%, mostly working-class households
• about £9,000 goes in household income to the top 5%
• about £12,000 to expanding capital, from which they benefit most
• about £13,000 in household income to the well-off-but-not-rich 15%
• about £14,000 in government purchases of goods and services, be that medicines for the NHS and books for schools, or Trident missile replacements.

Let’s say half to two-thirds of that £14,000 is health, education, and similar spending which should be counted as part of the social wage. That leaves over £40,000 of the average worker’s value-added going to the rich or well-off, to the expansion of capital controlled by the rich, and to the expansion of the power and pomp of the state. Or over £1,000 billion a year in total.

The figure is rough. But it gives a measure of the mendacity of the Tory propagandists who denounce Labour’s manifesto as made of “wild, uncosted spending commitments”.

To pay for:
• More than £6 billion extra per year for the NHS
• £8 billion extra for social care
• Reversal of the Tory school cuts
• Reversal of the Tory benefit cuts, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits
• Restoring student grants, and scrapping university tuition fees
• Ending the 1% freeze on pay rises for health and education workers

the Labour manifesto promises to:
• increase income tax for the top 5%
• reverse the Tories’ cuts in corporation tax.

It promises to take some tens of billions of pounds — John McDonnell estimates £50-odd billion — out of the £1,000 billion a year which currently goes to the rich and the very well-off, or to enterprises under their control.

Many other economic measures in the manifesto require little extra public spending. The government can readily borrow to build new council housing, and then by law council housing accounts are “ring-fenced”. Tenants’ rents cover the costs. In fact, more than that, since in recent years councils have been sneakily raiding their housing accounts by artificially increasing “service charges” paid from them to other departments. Abolishing tuition fees will cost little in current government spending. After tuition fees were raised, the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported “ the average total taxpayer contribution has not fallen very much”, since the government pays about as much on student loans for fees, and their administration, as it previously paid direct to universities.

Increasing the minimum wage to £10 an hour will force bosses to limit their profits and the amount they pay themselves, but that is all. The Picturehouse strikers have reported that the boss of Cineworld (which owns Picturehouse) could pay Picturehouse workers the Living Wage out of his own personal take, and still pocket £1 million. Repealing the punitive Trade Union Act, abolishing zero-hours contracts, and saying workers have “employee” rights by default (putting the burden on the boss to prove that they are not employees) will not tap public funds, but will help workers reduce inequality. Renationalising the railways, and launching publicly-owned energy companies, will limit privatised operators’ loot, but not cost taxpayers.

The moral and political content of the manifesto is the reduction of inequality. It is not to be counted in a few pounds here and a few pounds there. It is about changing towards a society of solidarity and cooperation from one where a rich few lord it over a majority who have to scrape and scrabble to find food and shelter, education and health care, or even to get a few hours’ work each week — where each one jabs their elbow in their neighbour’s face to get out of the mire and on to the high lands. It is about reversing the trends of the last near-forty years, since Thatcher.

When Thatcher took office in 1979, the ratio of incomes at the bottom of the top 10% to those at the top of the bottom 10%, the 90:10 decile ratio, was about 3. By the time she quit, in 1990, it was up to 4.5. Since then, and until now, Thatcher’s “neoliberal” mode of economic policy has dominated, with only slight inflections this way or that. Inequality has steadily drifted up to 5.3 now. Under the Blair and Brown Labour goverments, measures like the minimum wage and tax credits improved things for some of the very poorest, but inequality still rose, because the rich increased their loot much faster.

Under Thatcher, the very richest gained — individually, though not in terms of the society they were living in — and also a large group of upper-middle-income people. That has changed since the crash of 2008. The very richest quickly recovered their losses. The conservative Sunday Times headlined its report on its annual Rich List for 2017: “In a year of uncertainty, one thing was without doubt — Britain’s richest were getting richer… the total wealth of Britain’s 1,000 richest individuals and families soared to £658bn — a 14% rise on last year”.

Since 2008 both the worse-off and also middling-income people have seen at best stagnation. Real wages increased a bit, on average, in 2014-5 and 2015-6, thanks to some recovery in the world economy, but are still well behind pre-crash levels. Almost certainly they are already decreasing, and set to decrease further. No-one yet knows what the eventual Brexit deal will be like. But only the most fanatical ultra-market economists believed that Brexit could actually improve Britain’s overall income.

Their recipe is to slash all social and environmental regulations and protections, so that Britain becomes a high-profit, low-wage, high-insecurity, low-welfare platform for global capital, conveniently close to Europe. viable The main Tory leaders do not think that is viable. They know that, by diminishing and hindering trade, they will diminish economic life, to a yet-unknown extent. What justifies that, for them, is their mean-minded obsession with excluding migrants. Which will further diminish economic life, since those migrants are mostly young, keen, taxpaying workers, essential to many public services. The Tory future is grim.

That is why Theresa May has gone for an election now, and why she refuses to offer any substantial prospectus other than “strong and stable leadership”. It is why she refuses to rule out tax rises. The Resolution Foundation think-tank, analysing known wage trends and already-programmed benefit cuts, has predicted a rise in the 90:10 inequality ratio from 5.3 now to 6 in 2020, a faster rise even than under Thatcher. That is without taking into account effects from Brexit.

The choice at this election is between a “strong and stable” drive to make inequality even more hurtful, and an attempt to reduce inequality and institute some social solidarity and cooperation.

Explaining the Labour manifesto to workers who have been beaten down by years of Thatcher, Blair, and Cameron into believing that no plan for improvement can ever be true is a first step. It is not all. We need an active, mobilised, and lively labour movement to sustain the message, and to sustain and push a Labour government if we win one on 8 June.

The proposed clawback from the rich is moderate. In simple arithmetic, they could afford it easily — some tens of billions out of hundreds of billions of value which they siphon away each year. But the rich do not get rich, in a capitalist society, by being generous and easy. They get rich by being the people most ruthless in pursuit of greed, exploitation, trampling down and squeezing the working class.

What they say now, while they are still confident of a Tory victory, about Labour’s policies being “wild”, “ruinous”, “disastrous”, and “illegal”, is a pale anticipation of how they will react if Labour wins. They have a hundred levers of sabotage of an elected government — from “strikes” of capital, through top officials, to the Labour right — and they will use them.

In Solidarity’s view, even the moderate rebalancing proposed by Labour’s manifesto can be implemented thoroughly and securely only by a labour movement ready and willing to take economic power out of the hands of the ultra-rich, by workers’ control and social ownership across industry. The movement will become strong enough to do that only by uniting, now, to create and organisation in every workplace and working-class street capable of winning a majority for the manifesto and fighting the battles needed to implement it.

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Tories to outlaw effective strike action on rail

May 19, 2017 at 12:59 pm (elections, posted by JD, Tory scum, unions, workers)

This item, tucked away in the Tories’ “pro-worker” manifesto, seems to have escaped the media’s notice:

‘We will work with train companies and their employees to agree minimum service levels during periods of industrial dispute – and if we cannot find a voluntary agreement, we will legislate to make this mandatory’ (p.60)

H/t: Comrade Tony and thanks to Roger McCarthy and others BTL for pointing out the link to the image I originally posted had broken.

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Thornberry skewers Fallon over fawning on Assad

May 15, 2017 at 6:06 pm (elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism, Syria, Tory scum, TV)

We’ve not always been big fans of Ms Thornberry, here at Shiraz, but her demolition of Michael Fallon on Sunday’s Marr Show was simply superb, and an object lesson to other prominent Labour figures in how to conduct yourself when faced with a Tory liar:

Fallon had attempted to make capital out of Jeremy Corbyn’s contacts with the Provisional IRA prior to the Good Friday Agreement:

Thornberry asked Fallon where he was on May 27 2007. “No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” he replied.

She continued: “You were in Syria and you were celebrating, at a reception, the re-election of President Assad with 99 per cent of the vote.

“Now I am not going to judge you on your going to a reception for Assad, and I don’t think you should judge Jeremy for trying to talk to people who might be open to a settlement in Northern Ireland.”

Suddenly remembering his visit, Fallon: “There is a little bit of a difference. It was a parliamentary visit. An all-party visit. MPs have gone every year during better times in the relationship.”

Thornberry: “But you were at a party.”

Fallon: “I don’t recall any party. I remember a fact-finding visit to Syria.”

Andrew Marr intervened: “But did you meet Assad when you were there?”

Fallon: “I did meet Assad. Indeed.”

Marr: “Did you shake his hand?”

Fallon: “Indeed I met Assad.”

Thornberry: “And you celebrated his re-election.”

Fallon: “I did not celebrate his re-election.”

Thornberry: “But that was what the reception was for. It was a celebration of his re-election.”

Thornberry continued by saying Fallon had earlier claimed that she had wanted to negotiate “the future of the Falklands.”

“That is bollocks,” she said.

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Scotland: local elections, national issues

May 14, 2017 at 9:28 am (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, SNP, Tory scum)

Scottish Labour Party logo.svg

By Dale Street (also published on the Workers Liberty website)

In the Scottish council elections, the Tories did well, Labour did badly, and although the SNP won more seats than other parties, it failed to maintain the electoral momentum unleashed by the 2014 referendum.

The boundary reorganisation carried out after the 2012 council elections makes it difficult to compare the number of seats won in 2012 with seats won in 2017.

Labour losses can be calculated as 112 or 133. The SNP tally can be calculated as an increase of around 30 seats or a loss of seven seats. And whatever the precise figure for Tory gains (somewhere around 164), it was enough for them to overtake Labour as the second largest party in terms of council seats.

The Tories did particularly well outside of the Central Belt. What seems to have happened is that ‘traditional’ Tory voters who switched to the SNP in previous years as the best way to defeat Labour are now returning to voting Tory.

For a time SNP policies which benefited the middle classes and the better-off – such as the council tax freeze and no tuition fees for university education – had maintained the support of ex-Tory switch voters.

But Sturgeon’s announcement of plans for a second referendum, combined with her ongoing transformation into a latter-day Alex Salmond, have now resulted in large-scale desertions.

Although last week’s elections also saw a limited revival of the working-class Tory vote, especially in and around Glasgow, the SNP’s limited successes were mainly in the Central Belt.

They failed to win an absolute majority in Glasgow, for example, despite the resources they had poured into their campaign in the city. But they won enough seats to become the biggest party after 40 years of Labour rule.

And they overtook Labour as the largest council group in Edinburgh, but only because Labour lost more seats (nine) than the SNP (two). The Tories, on the other hand, increased their number of seats by seven.

The irony here is that the SNP vote held up or even increased in areas and sections of the electorate which have been the prime victims of SNP policies –falling literacy and numeracy standards, the growth of child poverty, major cutbacks in FE places, and cuts in council funding and local services.

(The Westminster block grant for the current financial year increased by 1.4% in real terms. But the SNP government in Holyrood cut local authority funding in real terms by 2.5%.)

Labour, the SNP and the Tories all claimed that they were fighting the elections on local issues. In fact, for all parties, the issue of a second referendum on Scottish independence was central, overtly or covertly, to the elections. It was also certainly the main issue on the doorstep.

The centrality of the issue of independence is also reflected in how political commentators have chosen to ‘analyse’ the results: unionist parties – 605 seats, up by 28, 57%; independence parties – 450 seats, down by 2, 43%.

Although some voting patterns are clear from last week’s election results, they provide little clarity about the possible outcome of the general election in Scotland in four week’s time. There was a low turnout in the elections, and Scottish council elections are based on Single Transferable Vote, not first-past-the-post.

Over the next four weeks Scottish Labour needs to make clear that the key question which should determine how people vote in the general election is not “who will stand up for Scotland?” but “who do you want to form the next government: the Tories or Labour?”

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Labour can ensure the Maybot’s empty slogans come back to haunt her

May 9, 2017 at 5:22 pm (elections, labour party, posted by JD, Tory scum)

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Local election results and the task ahead: we agree with the Morning Star !

May 6, 2017 at 6:25 pm (campaigning, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, Tory scum)

For the first time ever, Shiraz agrees wholeheartedly with a Morning Star editorial (though that doesn’t mean we can ever forgive their support for Brexit and continuing state of denial over its consequences):

Don’t abandon hope just yet

THERE is no point in trying to dress up the local election results as positive for Britain’s left.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is absolutely right to say the outcome of the vote across Scotland, Wales and some parts of England was mixed, and that Labour won important victories.

But there is no hiding the fact that Labour lost hundreds of seats and that the Conservatives gained hundreds of seats.

It is especially worrying that Theresa May’s party is making significant gains across Scotland, for many years a virtually Tory-free zone.

The advance shows that the politics of competing nationalisms, Scottish and British, are continuing to drown out the politics of class north of the border — which is bad news for working people.

Gains for Plaid Cymru and the Tories in Wales suggest similar forces are at work in that country, although Labour fared significantly better in the only British nation it currently governs than in Scotland.

The total collapse of Ukip will cheer anti-racists, but its cause is clear — Theresa May’s Conservatives are now virtually indistinguishable from the party taken to prominence by Nigel Farage.

A government that moots forcing companies to draw up and publish lists of foreigners in their employ, demanding to see passports at the hospital gate and returning to the days of grammars and secondary moderns offers everything Farage’s “back to the ’50s” outfit did to voters, especially now the decision to leave the European Union has been taken.

The Liberal Democrats also notably failed to make any recovery from the well-deserved drubbing they received in 2015, after shamelessly helping the Conservatives privatise our health service, triple tuition fees, sell off Royal Mail and wage war on disabled people and the unemployed.

Tim Farron might declare that Labour’s losses prove only a vote for his party can stop the Tories, but the claim is nonsense when the Lib Dems are also losing seats — and given that his party is openly willing to return to coalition government with the party of racism and the rich.

No, as journalist Abi Wilkinson has pointed out, these results mean June 8 is a two-horse race — between Labour and the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have a commanding lead, but it is not invulnerable. Local election turnouts are low, much lower than those for general elections.

The younger and the poorer you are, the less likely you are to vote — but the younger and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to support Labour, meaning low turnouts benefit the Tories.

Huge numbers of students have been signing on to the electoral register in recent weeks, and polling — otherwise so dismal for Labour — shows that among young people the party leads.

If the vote was confined to the under-40s, Jeremy Corbyn would beat May easily. All this points to the need for a mammoth get-out-the-vote campaign between now and June 8.

Labour has a huge asset in its party members. This half-a-million-strong army represents man and woman-power on a scale the Tories can only dream of.

However much the parliamentary party and its bureaucracy have mistreated them, Labour members understand what is at stake for Britain and the awful consequences of a victory for May.

Beyond that, the entire movement needs to come together to stop a government committed to smashing trade unions and impoverishing families in or out of work.

A Labour win is the only method of doing so. Over the coming month, everyone on the left should be out fighting for that victory.

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The Front National and fascism

May 4, 2017 at 5:56 am (AWL, elections, Europe, fascism, France, history, identity politics, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism")


Above: Le Pen v Macron TV debate

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

France’s Front National, which now has a real though outside chance of gaining the country’s powerful presidency, is not a fascist movement comparable to the Nazis or Mussolini’s Fascist Party when they were on the eve of power in the 1920s and 30s. Neither, however, is it a conventional hard-right party like UKIP or Germany’s AfD. The makeover the FN has given itself since 2011 is a makeover.

When Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the FN in 1972, it took the Italian party claiming to represent Mussolini’s heritage, the MSI, as a model. In the 1990s, the MSI renounced its fascist heritage, and eventually merged into a mainstream right party. The FN has not done that. The FN still has a fascist core cadre and a fascist ideology. It functions as the electoral-political wing of a broader fascist current. It softens and dresses up its message to win votes, but it fits the characterisation of fascism outlined by Leon Trotsky in the 1930s: “a plebeian movement in origin, directed and financed by big capitalist powers. It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat and even to a certain extent, from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialist demagogy. This is necessary for the creation of the mass movement”.

Fits it, except that it is still way short of being a mass movement. Its ideology is structured by characteristic themes of fascism:

• Exaltation of “the nation”, against mysterious global elites and against individuals, as the guiding value of politics. Marine Le Pen denounces the legacy of France’s great general strike and near-revolution of May-June 1968 in these terms: “May 68 promoted individualism. An individualism which has upended the foundations of our society”. Her social demagogy, pretending to stand up for the worse-off and for social provision, is tied into that exaltation of “the nation” and an insistence that social provision must first be for real French people.

• A leader cult. Both under Marine Le Pen, and under her father Jean-Marie, the FN has promoted its leader above all else, and given that leader absolute powers within the party.

• A cult of the state. In her closing speech at the FN congress where she was made leader, in 2011, Marine Le Pen declared: “Today, when globalisation rages and everything is collapsing, we still have the State… When things have to be regulated, protected, innovated, one naturally turns to the State”.

Since its foundation the FN has operated in conditions of bourgeois democracy and capitalist economy more stable than in the 1930s, when Trotsky and other Marxists plausibly believed that political and economic collapse was certain, in one country after another, unless a socialist revolution could be made within a few years or so. Its active base remains small compared to that of the 1920s and 30s fascist movements. It has 50,000-odd paid-up members, who function almost exclusively as electoral campaigners. Its “stewarding squad”, the DPS, had a fearsome reputation in the early years, but even then was cautious and weak compared to the street-fighting squads of 1920s and 30s fascism. Today the FN instead contracts out its stewarding to a commercial security firm, Colisée.

The Nazis at the start of 1933 had 1.5 million members in their party, and 425,000 (some not party members) in their paramilitary SA. Mussolini’s Fascist Party was formed from his “fighting squads” at the end of 1921, and then had 300,000 members. The twist, however, is that Colisée is not just any security firm. It was founded by Axel Loustau, a former cadre of the brazenly fascist student group GUD (Groupe Union Défense). Loustau also runs a printing company, Presses de France, which has produced the FN’s publicity materials since another company, Riwal, run by Fréderic Chatillon, a former comrade of Loustau’s in the GUD, was banned from doing so in a court case over political-finance laws.

Although Loustau and Chatillon have no high posts in the FN, they and other GUD-ers are among the closest advisers of Marine Le Pen. They also keep links with the GUD. division of labour The division of labour which FN leaders see between their caffe latte and a varying range of France’s espresso fascist grouplets was candidly summed up by Jean-Marie Le Pen — become, at the age of 87, garrulous and reckless — in November 2015. The Parti Nationaliste Français was being revived to regroup the members of L’Oeuvre Française, a brazenly fascist group active since 1968 but now banned by the government. Jean-Marie Le Pen wrote to the PNF conference: “Jeune Nation and Oeuvre Française, behind their founder Pierre Sidos, have led an independent national struggle for several decades in parallel to the Front National of which I was president. We have the same goal: to save our homeland and its French people from a decadence which we know to be deadly.

“The tsunami of immigration calls for a general mobilisation of patriots and the coordination of all national movements. Each one of these movement should be stronger and stronger in its own sector”.

How much Marine Le Pen can do if she wins the presidency, we still don’t know. A part of the mainstream right, led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, has rallied to her. Will others? If she wins, how will the FN do in the June legislative elections? Mussolini, even with his 300,000 members and with an Italian ruling class anxious for revenge after the factory occupations in 1920, took four years to impose a full fascist regime. If details of history had turned differently, it might have been overthrown in that time.

Le Pen cannot move as fast as Mussolini. But it is entirely imaginable that she can do harm in France on the lines of what Putin, Erdogan, or Orban have been doing recently in Russia, Turkey, Hungary.

The FN’s official line on the trade unions is that its desired changes in the law will make them bigger and better but needing fewer strikes. But Nazi leaders before 1933 such as Gregor Strasser declared: “We consider the organisation of workers into trade unions an absolute necessity… As a workers’ party, National Socialism recognises the right to strike without restriction”. The FN’s opinion of France’s biggest union confederation, the CGT, is: “The CGT shows its true face: still the transmission belt for a far left which is moribund but still pseudo-revolutionary and often ultra-violent”.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the FN, first came into politics as a teenager in the late 1940s with Action Française. AF had been founded in 1899, as part of the agitation around the Dreyfus affair: monarchist, Catholic-traditionalist, obsessed with hostility to Freemasons, for whom it blamed such events as the French Revolution of 1789-94. In 1956, he became an MP for the quasi-fascist Poujadist movement. He served in the French army in its colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. He did not join the Organisation Armée Secrète, a group of French army officers and Algerian settlers who sought by terrorism to stop France ceding independence to Algeria in 1962, and killed thousands in Algeria and some dozens in France; but in 1965 he was the campaign manager for the presidential campaign of Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, a veteran fascist who denounced the “abandonment” of Algeria.

After May 1968, new fascist groups sprouted, like the GUD and L’Oeuvre Française, focused on fighting the left and “communism” rather than the older enemies. They were mainly student-based. What they did is illustrated by a May 1969 episode recounted in a left-wing pamphlet of the 1970s.

Some 40 fascists set out from their base in the law faculty in the rue d’Assas in Paris to leaflet a high school. They trashed the student union office. The students gathered in the school canteen and pelted the fascists with missiles. The fascists retaliated with a hand-grenade. One school student had to have a hand amputated, but the fascists lost the battle. They lost more battles than they won, and in 1972, some of the fascist groups decided to create an electoral wing. Le Pen, who had been running a small business, had the electoral experience to impose himself as leader.

The FN did poorly in the 1970s, but survived. In 1977 Le Pen inherited a palace and a large fortune from a plutocrat whom he had befriended. He kept the fortune for himself rather than ceding it to the FN, and it helped him raise himself as a political figure above the formal structures of the FN (which were authoritarian enough, explicitly modelled on those of the Stalinised Communist Party). In 1983, the FN made a breakthrough, winning control of a small town in northern France in alliance with a section of the mainstream right. Some of the mainstream right excused their alliance with the FN by saying it was anyway not as bad as the then Socialist Party government including Communist Party ministers. The Socialist Party president, François Mitterrand, helped the FN get media coverage so as to make trouble for the mainstream right.

The FN has had ups and downs since then, and is still relatively weak in most of France’s big cities — only 5% of the vote in Paris. But it has gained in smaller towns, particular in “rust-belts”. Since becoming FN leader in 2011, Marine Le Pen has publicly campaigned to “de-demonise” the FN. Some FN leaders are openly gay. One leader, Louis Aliot, Marine Le Pen’s partner, boasts of his part-Jewish background. That makes her a canny fascist, and one born in 1968 rather than focused on the battles of long-past decades.

Her father made most of the big shifts in the FN’s profile — to try to distance it from lost causes of the past, and to align it to a broader electorate in an era when the threat of USSR “communism” no longer scares, when an increasing majority of France’s Muslim population are French-born and French-speaking. Jean-Marie Le Pen went for the FN: • describing itself as “neither left nor right” rather than “far right” • defining itself as “republican” and “secular”, and as respecting the heritage of the French Revolution • coming out for social provision and welfare (for the French, not immigrants) rather than as hardline free-market, and making a specific pitch to workers • accepting that a large chunk of the North-African-origin population is now French, and in France to stay.

He deliberately installed Marine Le Pen as his successor, pushing aside the old-fascist, Catholic-traditionalist, Bruno Gollnisch, explaining it thus: “I am tied by solidarities which I can’t break, from the [World] war… from my mates in [the colonial army] in Indochina and Algeria, from the pied-noirs… Marine is much more free”. He started a sustained attempt to build bridges to conservative Jews and to Israel. He blew it up with a notorious statement on TV about the gas chambers being only “a detail” of World War Two, but that may have been more off-hand garrulousness and stubborn refusal to apologise than deliberation.

Marine Le Pen’s new focus on France being threatened by twin “totalitarian” dangers, “globalism” and the EU on one side, “islamisation” on the other, sharpens the fascist edge of FN ideology.

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Support for Labour in Scotland can be built only by winning back Labour voters who switched to the SNP

May 2, 2017 at 4:54 pm (campaigning, elections, labour party, nationalism, reformism, scotland, socialism)

Image result for picture Blair McDougall campaign leaflet East Renfrewshire

Alternatively, he could campaign to win back ex-Labour voters from the SNP …

By Dale Street

Scottish Labour candidates need to fight the forthcoming general election on the basis of policies which challenge the inequalities of wealth and power inherent in capitalism, and which will mobilise the labour movement not just to vote Labour but to fight for those policies whatever the outcome of the election.

All Labour candidates throughout the UK should be campaigning on that basis. But the importance of such an election campaign is all the greater where specifically labour-movement and class-based politics have been squeezed out by competing nationalisms.

And that is the case in Scotland, where opinion polls currently show the SNP on 41% (50% in 2015), the Tories on 28% (13% in 2015), and Labour on 18% (24% in 2015 – and 42% in 2010).

Based on a now largely discredited and disowned White Paper, the SNP’s pro-independence campaign in 2014 polarised the Scottish electorate around national identities and attitudes to independence.

The momentum from that initial polarisation carried over into the 2015 general election. The SNP ran a straightforward nationalist campaign, promising to “stand up for Scotland”, give Scotland “a stronger voice” and “make Scotland stronger” in Westminster.

Despite having lost the 2014 referendum, the SNP consolidated the bulk of “Yes” voters into its electoral base. Aided by the first-past-the-post system, it won 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies.

The same momentum and the same polarisation also helped the SNP win the Holyrood elections of 2016, even if it lost its previous absolute majority at Holyrood.

At the same time, British nationalism began to consolidate its own political base, in the form of a boost in electoral support for the Tories. Pitching themselves as the foremost champions of the Union, the Tories increased their representation at Holyrood in 2016 from 15 to 31.

As the nationalist polarisation of politics in Scotland intensified and day-to-day politics increasingly degenerated into a permanent referendum campaign, Labour was squeezed remorselessly between the two competing nationalisms.

Despite standing on an election manifesto with a clear focus on social and economic issues, and one which advocated policies well to the left of the SNP, the 2016 Holyrood election saw the number of Labour MSPs collapse 37 to 24, leaving the Tories as the official opposition.

Sturgeon’s announcement in March that she wanted to secure a Westminster section 30 Order, to allow a second referendum to be held on Scottish independence, added a further boost to what was already a solidly entrenched political polarisation around national identities.

Scottish nationalists, whose sole political purpose in life is to secure Scottish independence, were given a fresh lease of life. Only too happy to ignore the SNP’s actual record during its ten years of power at Holyrood, they were able to wrap themselves in a Saltire again.

Inevitably, the SNP’s demand for another referendum, backed in breach of their manifesto commitments by Green MSPs, triggered a fresh surge of support for the Tories. Winning between eight and ten seats in the forthcoming general election is now a real possibility for the Tories.

It suits both the SNP and the Tories to transform the general election in Scotland into a referendum on a second referendum.

Whereas Scottish Labour backs federalism and Corbyn would not oppose a second referendum, the Tories are standing as the most reliable opponents of independence and another referendum: “We Said NO in 2014. We Meant It.”

This conveniently diverts attention away from the Tories’ actual record in power in Westminster since 2010, and also away from the policies which the Tories are fighting this general election on at a national level.

The SNP initially wobbled on how to present the general election, adopting three different positions between 18th April and 27th April, before falling in line behind Alex Salmond and treating the election as a referendum on a second referendum.

This likewise conveniently diverts attention away from the SNP’s record as a party of government in Holyrood over the past ten years:

Literacy and numeracy standards have declined, child poverty has increased, FE teacher and student places have been decimated, relative poverty has increased, inequalities in access to HE have increased, the NHS has suffered from shortages of doctors, nurses and GPs, the gap between rich and poor has increased, and Scotland’s economy now teeters on the brink of recession.

Insofar as the general election in Scotland remains a clash between two flags, two national identities and two nationalist ideologies, the chances for the Labour Party to win support for a specific labour movement response to the failures of ten years of SNP rule and seven years of Tory rule are correspondingly reduced.

Scottish Labour candidates need to transform the terrain on which the general election is fought. But some candidates – all of whom were selected by a sub-committee of the Scottish Labour Executive Committee – seem to want to out-Tory the Tories.

According to the first election campaign leaflet from Blair McDougall, former Director of “Better Together” and now Labour candidate for East Renfrewshire, for example: “I ran the winning campaign against independence. Now I want your vote to say No to a second referendum. On 8th June Vote Labour and Say No to the SNP.”

This epitomises just about everything wrong with the approach to the election adopted by the right wing of Scottish Labour.

McDougall’s electoral strategy is to win over Tory voters to voting Labour. But if they were unwilling to switch to voting Labour under Blair, they are even less likely to switch to voting Labour under Corbyn.

Support for Labour in Scotland can be built only by winning back Labour voters who switched to the SNP. But the focus of what McDougall proposes in his leaflet is tactical voting by the Tories to defeat – as opposed to win over – SNP voters.

To win back ex-Labour voters who switched to the SNP, Scottish Labour needs to tear off the “Red Tories” label which the SNP stuck on it after the “Better Together” campaign. McDougall, on the other hand, boasts of his role as “Better Together” Director.

(Not that there is actually anything to boast about. At the start of the referendum campaign support for independence stood at around 20%. By the end of the campaign it had more than doubled to 45%.)

Above all, McDougall’s campaign focuses on the possibility, or likelihood, of another referendum. But defining another referendum as the key issue in the election can only push ex-Labour voters further into the arms of the SNP, and also help boost support for Tory Unionists.

Scottish Labour candidates contesting seats in the general election includes members of the Campaign for Socialism/Momentum Scotland.

They have the opportunity to campaign, and to seek to influence the election campaign at a Scottish level, in a way which places basic class issues and labour movement politics to the fore.

The ability of the labour movement in Scotland to continue to represent a political pole of attraction and an electoral force depends on how successful they will be in the coming weeks in advocating class politics as an alternative to SNP and Tory nationalisms.

The pro-independence left, on the other hand, could do far worse than spend the election campaign working out how they could have got things so wrong.

They campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote in 2014, pretending that they were putting forward a socialist case for independence as opposed to functioning as no more than an echo chamber for the SNP.

They welcomed the defeat of labour movement politics by nationalism in 2015, deluding themselves into believing that it created a mass opening for socialist politics, only to be brutally disabused of such illusions when they stood candidates in 2016.

And now, because one nationalism begets another, they would find that the space for advocating socialist politics has narrowed even further – if it were not for the fact that they have now adopted support for a second referendum as a surrogate for fighting for socialist politics.

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“Facing up to some harsh truths”: statement from United Left Scotland

April 28, 2017 at 7:50 am (elections, left, posted by JD, Unite the union)

 Image result for picture Unite logo

United Left Scotland is relieved that our candidate Len McCluskey has won the General Secretary election and secured a third term.

But welcoming the win by Len must also include facing up to some harsh truths.

A very low turnout of 12% is a major worry and we can only assume that turnout for the Executive Council candidates may be even less, especially given that none of them are household names or have had much mainstream media attention.

We also need a realistic analysis of what can only be described as the collapse of the left vote.

The last time Len stood he got 144,000 votes and the time before that he attracted 102,000 votes – and that was when he stood in the much more crowded list of five candidates and was standing for first time, not as the incumbent.

How come over 1,185 nominations with representation of over 560,000 members only resulted in 59,000 votes for Len – barely 10% of the membership of the branches which nominated him?

Nearly all Executive Council members, the chairs of 90% of national committees, and all but one Regional Secretaries endorsed Len for General Secretary. So how come we were able to inspire only 5% of the union’s membership to cast their vote for Len?

Questions should also be asked about the wisdom of Len choosing to resign and trigger the election, particularly without seeking advice and endorsement from any of the United Left constitutional committees or a United Left all-member meeting. In Scotland, Len’s decision to launch his whole campaign at the breakaway group PULS meeting in January was questioned at the time and remains an issue of concern for United Left members in Scotland and elsewhere- especially given the dominant role of full timers supporting PULS.

Was Len the right candidate, given his age and his original commitment to stand as a one-term-only General Secretary when he was first elected by the merged membership of Unite?

Members from MSF, AEEU and Amicus had all experienced General Secretaries clinging to power long after the rule book and the will of the membership allowed: Roger Lyons, Ken Jackson and, most disappointingly of all, the erstwhile left General Secretary Derek Simpson. Underestimating this reaction to Len seeking a third term was maybe a significant factor?

We must, however, also ask ourselves as United Left activists: Are we out of touch with our members as well?

If nominations at branch and workplace meetings do not result in the members voting for the candidate whom we, as activists in those meetings, have proposed, then we need to shoulder some of the responsibility for this.

Within United Left meetings there has been the view expressed that we have had an excessive focus on elections and people securing or continuing in their positions rather than on the politics and policies that we want to see progressed.

There is nothing wrong with our attention on winning elections, but the win needs to be for the purpose of advancing policies and actions that support working people and their families. The problem is when electioneering for one individual over another in itself is seen as politics.

Instead, we should be engaging with members in workplaces and communities as part of the approach to building a politicised and motivated membership who are then enthused and inspired to take part in the union and all its democratic processes, not just in the postal vote for occasional choices of Executive Council or General Secretary candidates.

If we are to achieve our aims as United Left, then our priority must be: rebuilding grassroots connections; re-establishing lay membership control at all levels of the union; and reversing the trend of a fall in membership, a fall in turnout in elections, and a fall in the numbers of people voting for left candidates.

To do so, we need to make a reality of the election platform which Len stood on in 2010:

“A democratic union, with the ordinary members in charge and taking the decisions, and authority pushed out to branches, workplaces, areas and regions; a tolerant union which welcomes diversity of opinions and in which fear plays no part.”

We should not forget how close we came to disaster in this election. Gerard Coyne, the candidate backed by the right wing media and the most right wing elements within the Labour Party, came within 5,500 votes of victory.

The closeness of the result will have given the forces of conservatism within our union a new confidence, thereby endangering any future progressive agenda for the largest trade union in the UK.

So while, yes, it’s a time to celebrate the victory of our United Left candidate as General Secretary, we must not be at all complacent. This election and the early analysis of the vote tells us there is much work to be done.

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AWL debates the situation in France

April 26, 2017 at 7:32 am (AWL, elections, fascism, France, identity politics, left, Marxism, populism, posted by JD, trotskyism)

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks in Lyon, France. (Michel Euler, AP)

Should the left back Macron to stop her?

By Colin Foster

The first round of the French presidential election, on 23 April, confirmed that “Trump effects” are spreading.

The 2008 economic crash and the economic depression since then have discredited mainstream neoliberal politics, and so far right-wing nationalist, “identity politics”, demagogues have seized most of the gains.

The revolutionary socialist candidates, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, with 1.21% and 0.65%, did a bit better than in 2012, but still worse than in 2007 (4.08% and 1.33%).

Soft-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19.43%. The great gainer, however, was the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, with 21.43%, up on 17.9% in 2012 and 10.44% for the FN candidate in 2007.

Le Pen won only 5% of the vote in Paris; 7% in Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux; 9% in Lyon; 13% in the whole Ile-de-France region including Paris; but 24% in Marseille, 25% in Nice, and more in small towns and villages.

Just ahead of Le Pen, and favoured to win the second-round run-off on 7 May, was Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in the current government (led by the Socialist Party) who split off to form his own “centre” neo-liberal movement, with 23.86%.

The “mainstream” left, the Socialist Party, had its chance in 2012, when it won elections by a clear majority – with some leftish policies which it then trashed in favour of harsher neoliberalism.

The task now is to regroup the real left, and equip it to win a majority.

Not an easy task, but an urgent one. The lesson is that if the left dawdles and equivocates, in economic turmoil like today’s, then the right does not stand still.

The FN does not have the power to mobilise on the streets of a full-scale fascist movement. But Marine Le Pen herself is a fascist, surrounded by a cadre of fascists. France’s constitution gives the president great powers.

Even if Macron wins on 7 May, he promises worse than Hollande rather than better. Unless the left rebuilds as an independent force in time, the next presidential election will be even more scary.


French left takes stock

Groups on the French left have commented on the first-round presidential results, the second round coming on 7 May, and the parliamentary elections following on 11 and 18 June.

The Socialist Party and the Communist Party – and mainstream right candidate François Fillon – will vote on 7 May for Macron to stop Le Pen. Although his main base was the CP and other groups taking a similar attitude, Jean-Luc Mélenchon says he will consult his supporters about what to say about the second round.

Ensemble (left group, including some Trotskyists who split from the NPA in 2012, which supported Mélenchon)

Ensemble calls for mobilisation on the street on 1 May, and in voting against Le Pen on 7 May, to stop the far right gaining power.

At the same time, we will fight Emmanuel Macron’s project, Once Le Pen is eliminated, we must stop Macron constituting a majority in the National Assembly with the right wing of the Socialist Party and a section of the mainstream right around his ultra-neoliberal program, which will continue the policies of Hollande’s five years in worse form. Let’s pull together a left which stands up for itself.

NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party, a successor to the Trotskyist LCR, which stood Philippe Poutou in the first round)

On Sunday 7 May, many people will want to block the FN by voting for Macron. We understand the desire to push back the mortal danger for all social progress and rights, especially for immigrants and those of immigrant origin, which the coming to power of Marine Le Pen would represent. But we insist that it is the policies of cuts and repression, especially when carried through by the supposed left in government, which are the cause of the rise of the FN and its disgusting ideas. Macron is not a barrier against the FN, and to push back that danger durably, there is no other answer than going back on the streets, against the far right, but also against all those who, like Macron, have introduced or want to introduce anti-social measures.

Nathalie Arthaud, candidate in the first round of the Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvrière

Politically-aware workers should reject voting for Marine Le Pen. But Macron, this former banker and minister, is just as much an enemy of the working class as Marine Le Pen…

As for me, I will cast a blank vote [on 7 May], giving my vote the meaning of a rejection of Marine Le Pen without endorsing Macron…

Some of my voters will cast a blank vote like me. Others will spoil their ballot papers. Yet others will abstain. Some, maybe, will choose to vote for Macron, believing, wrongly, that by doing that they oppose the rise of the FN.

The main thing is to be aware that, whatever the result of the vote, the exploited, the retired, and unemployed, will have an enemy in the presidential palace.

Arguments pour la lutte sociale (a revolutionary socialist newsletter with whose editors we have friendly links)

Neither Le Pen nor Macron: this orientation [on the second round] does not play into the hands of Le Pen as both the partisans of “national unity” and comrades who see an immediate fascist danger are going to say, sincerely or not, because the orientation has immediate points of concretisation.

First, independent social struggle. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators should intervene on 1 May with the slogan of abrogation of the El Khomri law and all their other current demands…

And, in the same process, let us start the political struggle for unitary and democratic candidatures [of the labour movement] in the legislative elections…


Two views on the second round1: Martin Thomas

Marine Le Pen’s Front National does not have the mobilising power to install a fascist regime if she wins the presidency on 7 May.

But Le Pen’s politics, and the FN top cadre around her, are fascist. The presidency will give them huge power to impose discrimination, heavy police powers, union-bashing policies, and re-raised frontiers between nations which will ricochet across Europe.

The mainstream neoliberals pave the way for Le Pen. The whole of the French left will mobilise on the streets on 1 May, and, one way or another, will seek to secure left-wing representation in the new National Assembly elected on 11-18 June to limit whichever president wins on 7 May.

On 7 May itself, in my view, workers can best serve the continuing struggle by using the only option available on the ballot paper to block Le Pen: vote Macron.

Macron is bad, and the neoliberal policies of a Macron presidency not curbed by strong left-wing remobilisation will bring an even greater fascist danger in a few years’ time. Le Pen is worse, and Le Pen as president on 8 May is worse than a danger of Le Pen as president in some years’ time.

It is a principle for us in elections to seek the maximum independent working-class intervention.

On 7 May we cannot stand or support candidates of the labour movement. Sometimes we shrug because the differences between bourgeois candidates are small and speculative. Sometimes we say that the “lesser-evil” bourgeois candidate is bound to win anyway, and in any case we are strong enough to make blank votes a real gesture of working-class independence.

The outcome is not certain. The revolutionary left is not strong enough to raise blank votes visibly above the random level. It would be nihilistic disregard for bourgeois democracy and bourgeois cosmopolitanism to deny the big difference between Macron’s routine neoliberalism and Le Pen’s fascistic chauvinism.

There is no Marxist principle against voting for a lesser-evil bourgeois candidate when it is impossible to have a labour-movement candidate. When the German Social Democracy was a Marxist party, before World War One, it routinely advised a vote for liberals against loyalists of Germany’s bureaucratic monarchy in run-offs when the socialists themselves had been eliminated. Left-wingers like Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring did not dissent.

We tell workers: Le Pen is worse than Macron. And do we then say: you must not vote Macron, however much you indict him and organise against him? Once you vote, you will forget your indictments?

Those workers could reply to us: if you are so unconfident of your own political firmness that you dare not make an unusual step for fear of falling over, so be it. But do not attribute your own weakness to us, or make us pay the price of a Le Pen presidency for that weakness of yours.

2: Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson

A vote for Macron is not just, or even mostly, a vote for more open borders, a defence of Muslims and immigrants, and an expression of opposition towards protectionism and racism.

Macron is a former banker who wants to cut corporation tax to 25%, wants more flexible labour laws in the mold of the El Khomri Law, allowing companies to negotiate individual agreements with staff. His program is to reduce public spending by €60bn, cut 120,000 public sector jobs, and introduce greater “flexibility” in retirement age and the working week.

It is a continuation of the “liberalization” demanded by the French ruling-class which Francois Hollande’s Parti Socialiste was unable to deliver. Hence, the flocking of Hollande-Valls wing of the PS behind Macron, together with centrist François Bayrou and sections of the French centre-right.

Macron’s candidacy is a united front of the French establishment. Its neoliberal “reform” program will hit workers. A “critical” vote for this neoliberal programme will be indistinguishable from those who genuinely endorse Macron’s policy; both will be taken as legitimation for further attacks on our class, and will serve to undermine the credibility of the revolutionary left as it rallies a fightback.

A vote for Macron could drive workers further in to the arms of the “anti-establishment” Front Nationale, who will continue to prey on the fears and insecurities of those suffering under capitalism.

And it risks sowing illusions in the neoliberal center and its capacity to rescue us from a resurgent populist right. Lots of people who will vote Macron, people the revolutionary left needs to reach, will vote Macron not on the basis that he is a crook, but with enthusiasm and illusions.

It is only the labour movement which can combine a defence of the gains of the neoliberal period – cultural cosmopolitanism, freer movement, economic integration – with a fight against the poverty, alienation and social distress it inevitably creates.

As against Le Pen, Macron is a “lesser evil” but it is incumbent on Marxists to resolutely assert working-class independence and hostility to both. Even on the points on which we agree with Macron, our “Yes” is not his “Yes”. We say “Yes” to open borders, anti-racism and greater European integration but a resounding “No” to the capitalist nature of his programme, and even his capacity to defend those points on which we overlap.


Further discussion: Discussion document 1 (Martin Thomas)

Discussion document 2 (Ira Berkovic and Michael Johnson)

Discussion document 3 (Miles Darke)

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