Corbyn calls for unity: his Labour critics must agree at least an armed truce

May 10, 2016 at 3:47 pm (elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism)

jeremy corbyn sadiq khan

Jeremy Corbyn congratulated Sadiq Khan on his victory Credit: PA Wire

According to today’s Guardian Jeremy Corbyn has “admitted that Labour is not yet doing enough to win the general election in 2020 and [has] called on MPs to show greater unity by refraining from parading in the media”:

This has to be the way forward for all serious leftists who want a Labour victory in 2020, regardless of whether or not they support Corbyn. “Unity” may not be possible, but an armed truce should be achievable.

Reactions to the local election results demonstrate the problem: on the one hand, Corbynistas in a Panglossian fantasy world, claiming this was some sort of triumph or “vindication” of Corbyn, when it clearly was nothing of the sort; and on the other side, the likes of Progress and their friends in the media claiming the results were an unmitigated disaster (which they were in Scotland, but not elsewhere) whilst simultaneously appearing disappointed that they weren’t worse.

This simply won’t do: as Corbyn is reported as saying to MPs and peers yesterday, “We need, if not across-the board unity, then at least respect for each other – and to turn the fire on this Tory government and its forced acadamisation, tax and disability cuts policies in [that are in] utter disarray.”

No-one can force the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the likes of Progress to simply drop their criticisms of Corbyn: but we can ask for at least a superficial semblance of unity and a shared desire to win the 2020 election – something that is far from evident at the moment. Corbyn’s offered an admission that the party isn’t yet on course to win in 2020 and now seems open to suggestions as to how to get there. The least his Labour opponents can do now is to meet him half way: an armed truce at least.

***
NB: something similar is also required to resolve the ongoing anti-Semitism, row: an acknowledgement from Corbyn’s people that there is a real problem with “left” anti-Semitism in the ranks, and it’s not all been got up by the right wing; and a demand on Progress etc to stop using this most serious issue for factional purposes.

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Local elections: no denying a Labour failure

May 8, 2016 at 10:02 pm (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism)

Anti-Corbynites are trying to make out the results were a disaster; uncritical loyalists are fooling themselves that they were a success: a cool-heasded analysis is called for. This is from Rob Francis:
_______________________________________________________________________

On March 4, I wrote a blog setting out what I thought would constitute a “good result” for Labour in the 2016 local elections in England. You can see it here.

I concluded that a good result, one that would suggest we are heading back to government, would be measured on three criteria; gains of 500 seats or more, a 10% lead over the Tories, and a high turnout. The high turnout would prove that Corbyn’s leadership was appealing to non-voters, as previously claimed. An acceptable result would be 200–250 gains, and a 5% lead.

The point was to be open and honest about what success looks like. Clearly, even on my “acceptable” yardstick, we have failed.

Since the polls closed, lots of arguments have rolled out justifying the results, and I’d like to quickly address a couple of them.


John McDonnell, and many others, have started claiming that the benchmark for success is to close the gap between ourselves and the Conservatives in terms of vote share. Now, John knows he is being disingenuous; the gap was always going to close.

But actually, this is a measure we can compare against historic experience; going back to 1988, there has always been movement towards the main opposition after one year of a parliament, and it’s typically quite large.

So if that’s the measure of success, we should be looking to turn the 6.3% deficit we had last year into something like a 7–8% lead. John Curtice has just indicated that Labour’s lead is 1%, which matches the movement from Blair’s landslide in 1997 to Hague’s Conservatives in 1998.

Next. There are a lot of claims about 2012 being a “high water mark”. Well, it was Ed Miliband’s high water mark, but not a Labour one:

Thanks to Matt Forde

Also, some people questioned my 10% metric. Actually, Matt Singh has done this more scientifically than me; 10% is a good indication that the opposition is on course to become the next government:

A 1% lead in the 2016 election result means that, by this analysis, we’re on course to be worse than Ed Miliband’s Labour in 2015, and worse than William Hague’s Conservatives in 2001.

Finally, comparing the results against Rallings & Thrasher’s prediction of 150 losses is risible. They were overly pessimistic about Labour’s chances. But outperforming their estimate is not an achievement.

In summary, the results in the English council elections yesterday were bad. They are not a sign of future success; far from it, they show we are going backwards.

At a time when our support in Scotland is collapsing, we need to be extremely strong in England to have any chance at a General Election. Ipsos-Mori have today said that, given Labour’s performance north of the border, we would need to win the 2020 election by 13% to form a government.

We are in big trouble.


There are some flat-earthers who believe that these election results are good, that Jeremy Corbyn has “embarrassed his critics” by losing seats. More sensible types, however, are accepting that the results are bad, only to then shift the blame onto “Blairites” or the media.

Ah, the Blairites. It’s always their fault. But is there actually any empirical evidence at all to show that these so-called Blairites have damaged Labour’s chances in any way? Can we prove this? If there isn’t any evidence, then this is just an unsubstantiated gut feeling.

We could just as easily suggest that, in fact, Blairite interventions may have helped. Who damaged Labour more? Ken Livingstone for defending antisemitism and continually bringing up Hitler, or John Mann taking a stand against racism? Which is worse: Wes Streeting demanding tough action against antisemitism, or Diane Abbott denying that there is a problem? Are the Blairite actions damaging the party here, or helping to protect its reputation? How can we know?

And of course, the media is to blame, as it always is. But even if it is the fault of the “biased MSM”, what are you going to do about it? Is the media going to change any time soon? If they are to blame now, what’s going to happen in 2020? Do we think that, in the run-up to a General Election, the media will attack Jeremy Corbyn more or less than they have over the past few months?

You may think it’s unfair, but tough; every Labour leader has had to deal with a predominantly unfriendly media. It’s just something that we’re going to have to learn to work with.

Perhaps, Jeremy Corbyn supporters could just admit these results are bad, and then own them, rather than trying to blame everyone else? If you deny the problem, or blame others for it, how are you ever going to improve things? Wouldn’t time be better spent trying to understand why we’ve lost seats, and how we can win, rather than shouting at “Blairites”?


I desperately want Labour councils and a Labour government. The party has achieved great things, and I believe it is still the best vehicle for delivering greater equality and social progress.

But we have got to start being honest with ourselves.

Everything points to a Labour defeat at the next General Election. And a big defeat, at that. These local election results were poor.

You can have faith that we can win in 2020, but that’s all it is. Faith. There is nothing to back it up, and many things pointing in the other direction.

And yet today, Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell gloat on television, and Clive Lewis challenges critics of Corbyn to “put up or shut up”. These people have helped lead Labour to its worst set of local election results in decades. A bit of humility wouldn’t go amiss, today of all days.

We are heading in the wrong direction as a party, and we have the power to change it, if we want to. But we first have to accept what we’re seeing, stop kidding ourselves, and acknowledge that we’re sleepwalking towards disaster.

It is increasingly apparent that you can either have Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, or a shot at winning power at the next General Election. I don’t think you can have both. We cannot afford to keep indulging weak leaders; if we do, it’ll be a Tory waving on the steps of Downing Street in May 2020.

As someone who, more than anything, wants Labour to succeed, my heart is breaking.

H/t Paul Canning

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Unite says: Vote Khan!

May 4, 2016 at 2:38 am (elections, labour party, London, posted by JD, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

From Unite London and Eastern Region:

Sadiq Khan for London

Unite for Khan

Download and read the Unite draft submission to Sadiq’s manifesto

Why London and Eastern Region of Unite came to support Sadiq

On Saturday 16 May 2015 Unite’s Regional Committee met to interview 5 candidates who had put themselves forward to be the Labour party’s candidate for the London Mayor election in May 2016.

The committee, which is made up of lay members from across all of Unite’s industrial sectors including; b us and taxi drivers, cleaners, charity workers, health and Local Government workers, printers, bank employees and members from manufacturing, spent over 4 hours listening to the views of all the candidates to four questions we posed on transport, housing, workers’ rights and equalities.

At the end of the meeting the committee held a vote and it was decided that London and Eastern Region would support Sadiq Khan as our first preference candidate (to be the Labour candidate) and Diane Abbott as our second.

All of the candidates performed well, but the meeting felt that Sadiq offered the best vision for London and Londoners, closely reflecting the values and policies of the regional committee.

Since the hustings Sadiq has come out with a number of policy initiatives that underline why we were right to give him our support including:

  • A one wage structure across the London’s bus network
  • A clear commitment to build more social homes for rent at affordable levels
  • The creation of an economic fairness unit at City Hall to deliver a £10 per hour London living wage
  • End the use of companies who have taken part in blacklisting union members

Sadiq Khan offers the best hope of Londoners including our members. If he is successful he will clearly make a difference – That’s why we are supporting Sadiq.

You can find more about Sadiq’s plan for London at www.sadiq.london

– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/how-we-help/listofregions/londonandeastern/unite-forkhan/#sthash.JS27p6OE.dpuf

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US voters in Britain feel the Bern

February 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm (Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, internationalism, London, posted by JD, reformism, United States)

This article first appeared in the Morning Star:

With Super Tuesday tomorrow, ERIC LEE examines Sanders’ prospects with expat Democrats


TUESDAY March 1 is known as “Super Tuesday” in the US Presidential election, because it’s the first day in the long season of primaries and caucuses on which more than one state gets to vote.

Until now, each individual state had its moment in the sun. Hundreds of reporters from all over the world filled every hotel and guest house in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But on Super Tuesday voters in a dozen states get to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And Republican voters get to choose between Donald Trump and several other contenders, most of them equally odious.

Some of those states could be easy wins for Sanders, including his home state of Vermont. But others are seen as fairly solid for Clinton, especially some of the Southern states.

What the mainstream media has largely ignored is the 13th state holding a primary that day.

I’m referring to Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party group that represents some six million US voters who live overseas. Those voters get to choose 13 delegates who will go to the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. Any US citizen can show up at voting centres around the world, produce their passport and vote. In Britain there will be such centres in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Voting takes place over the course of a week, and there are also options for absentee ballots, including post and email.

The last time there was a contested election inside the Democratic Party, the upstart candidacy of Barack Obama did exceptionally well, beating Clinton two-to-one in the Democrats Abroad global primary.

This year, Clinton stands to lose as well. Sanders is the most likely winner of the global primary. Let me explain why.

Hillary Clinton has a formidable political machine behind her. She’s been able to raise tens of millions of dollars from wealthy backers, including from US citizens living abroad. Her campaign held fundraising events in places like Singapore and Shanghai. In London the Clinton campaign has largely consisted of just such fundraising events. At an upcoming event in London, one can meet Chelsea Clinton — Hillary and Bill’s daughter — for just $500. For another $500, one can be photographed with her.

But there is no evidence of a Clinton campaign on the ground — for example, among the thousands of US students studying in Britain.

The Sanders campaign in London and elsewhere is entirely different. The closest thing to a fundraising event has been the production and sale of some “London for Bernie” T-shirts. There have been several well-attended public meetings, including a launch event in the House of Commons, hosted by a Labour MP, in November, and a more recent event held in union Unite’s headquarters. Both of those events were addressed by Bernie Sanders’s older brother, Larry, who has lived in Britain since the 1960s. The Sanders campaign team, including a very enthusiastic group of students, meets weekly, and has conducted extensive canvassing in the streets of London. It also has a strong online presence on Facebook and the web.

So we can expect the Sanders campaign to win simply because it is better geared up for an election, but there are other reasons as well.

US citizens living abroad are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans (the Republicans don’t bother to hold a global primary). And among the Democrats, they tend to be on the left wing of the party.

US voters living in Britain, for example, are likely to understand the advantages of single-payer health care based on their experiences with the NHS. In Europe and elsewhere, where public universities are tuition-free, Bernie Sanders’s advocacy of such policies doesn’t come across as particularly radical.

And even Sanders’s embrace of the words “democratic socialist,” which are thought to be a liability among some US voters, are far less likely to scare off US citizens who have lived in countries with large, well-organised labour and social democratic parties.

For those reasons and more, and regardless of what happens in states like Arkansas and Alabama on Super Tuesday, Sanders supporters in Britain are confident that he will win the majority of delegates — but only if people turn out to vote. In conversations with US citizens, including students, it turns out that the vast majority are unaware of the global primary. For that reason, the entire effort of the campaign in the next week or two is devoted to raising awareness and boosting voter turnout.

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Bernie Sanders and the Dilemma of the Democratic “Party”

February 13, 2016 at 4:26 pm (class, Democratic Party, elections, posted by JD, socialism, United States)

By Jason Schulman (first published at New Politics):

Some months ago I responded to a piece that appeared on the New Politics blog by my longtime fellow NP editorial board member and friend Barry Finger.1 In my own blog, I argued that Barry had a better, more sophisticated understanding of the peculiarities of the Democratic Party and the U.S. electoral system than do many on the radical left who refuse to support any Democratic candidate regardless of that candidate’s personal political platform. However, I also made clear that I believed that Barry still suffered from certain misunderstandings regarding just how different American political parties are from parties that exist anywhere else in the world, and this meant there were defects in his suggestions as to how left-wing socialists should relate to the Sanders campaign. Other defects still characterize the arguments of those who claim that to support Sanders, however critically, is to support a candidate of a party of capital. While invoking my debate with Barry, I’ll touch upon those other arguments and their problems and explain why I think that critical support for the Sanders campaign is a necessity if we’re to build a much larger socialist movement and how the campaign may lay the basis for an independent party of the left.

The Non-Party Party

Barry writes:

The totality with which socialists have traditionally viewed the Democratic Party has been this. The agenda of the Democratic Party is determined by its corporate financiers. It is they who keep the party competitive, who write and prioritize legislation and it is they who provide lucrative post-electoral revolving door employment opportunities for faithful party standard bearers. The two parties provide a full spectrum career subculture, designed to incentivize, entice and indoctrinate candidates and office holders to ruling class perspectives. Its base, organized as voting blocks, has no membership privileges.

Indeed, the two parties are not private, voluntary organizations sustained by membership fees, but political utilities of the ruling class, which, like other public utilities, are internally regulated by the state and protected from outside competition by upstart third parties through a dense network of legal encumbrances to market entry. Because the Democratic Party is sustained and disciplined by the mobilization of outside capitalist wealth, the voting blocks aligned to the Democrats cannot compete for influence on this terrain. Their power is limited primarily to the threat of abstention from electoral participation.2

Much of this is true. Regardless of their origins, today the Democratic Party and Republican Party are not real, “European-style” political parties. They ceased to be so over the course of the twentieth century. The political machines with their party bosses that used to control who could run for office on which party label—particularly in the Democratic Party—are overwhelmingly a thing of the past. In the words of former NP editorial board member Arthur Lipow,

Only in America is it true that direct membership participation in the parties does not exist except in the sense that individuals register their party preference with an official agency of the state or are habitual voters for one or another party. The parties themselves and the choice of candidates are strictly regulated by law in the states in which the individual parties exist. … As a party, control over its own candidates is virtually non-existent.3

That is to say, both the Republicans and Democrats (and any “third” parties on the ballot in any state) exist as state-run ballot lines, not private voluntary associations that can control their own memberships or who runs on their ballots.

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Barry and others have some understanding of this. But where their analysis goes awry is the conclusion that if you are running on the Democratic Party ballot line, you yourself are necessarily being “sustained and disciplined by the mobilization of outside capitalist wealth.” Were this true, it’s unlikely that Bernie Sanders—with his rather radical platform and his steadfast refusal to take any money from “the billionaire class” to fund his campaign—would be able to run for president in the Democratic presidential primary in the first place. Michael Hirsch, another NP editorial board member, was not wrong to write, “The Democratic Party is barely a party; it’s a series of shifting coalitions in 50 state organizations and some 3,000 U.S. counties. In many states, the center-right controls it. In city and county politics, real estate and banking interests dominate the local councils. But that doesn’t make it a corporate party.”4 Why not? Because its leaders at either the national or local level have no control over who runs on the Democratic Party ballot line. Each candidate runs on their own specific political platform (the official Democratic Party platform is an irrelevancy that no one reads). And party leaders find it all but impossible to ensure that all elected Democrats will vote in legislatures the way that they’re “supposed to.” Hence, different Democrats will vote in different ways—with no fear that they’ll be kicked out of the Democratic Party for disloyalty. There exists no legal basis by which they can be kicked out, unlike in parliamentary systems with real, private-association political parties. Dissidents can get kicked out of Democratic Party or Republican Party clubs, of course—but as those have no real power over what the elected officials do, they don’t really count.

Obviously, those Democrats who do rely on “outside capitalist wealth” have an advantage over those who do not—just as in our single-member-district, winner-take-all electoral system, those who run for office as Democrats or Republicans have an advantage over those who do not. (In nonpartisan races this advantage is greatly diminished; this helps to explain why an open socialist like Kshama Sawant, taking no corporate cash and winning support from local unions, was able to win a seat on the Seattle City Council.) And it is true, unfortunately, that at the national level even the most left-wing Democrats do take some corporate political action committee (PAC) money. For example, a cursory glance at opensecrets.org reveals that the top three contributors to Rep. Keith Ellison for 2013-2014 were TCF Financial, General Mills, and Masimo Corp.; for Rep. John Conyers, DISH Network, Avenue Ventures, and Sony; for Rep. Barbara Lee, a union, the IBEW, but also the San Francisco Regional Center and Gallo Winery.

Of course, proportionally Ellison, Conyers, Lee, and other progressive Democrats take more PAC cash from labor than from capital. But why do these elected officials accept corporate PAC money at all? It’s not because as Democrats they’re required to do so, but because of the horrendous U.S. campaign finance system. If one hopes to win a major House (let alone Senate) race against an opponent with much more money to spend, and who gets 95 percent of his or her funding from business PACs, then it’s almost inevitable (except in Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, it seems) that one will take some amount of corporate PAC money—albeit much less than the truly pro-business candidate. Further, the bulk of business PAC contributions will come from those who are ultimately unable to press the leftmost Democrats to vote the wrong way on important legislation. Money may buy access but not always influence in regards to votes. This is what explains why the leftmost Democrats are able to vote the right way most of the time. (On Israel/Palestine, matters are often different—but Sanders himself, as many of his leftist critics have noted, is also rather imperfect on this issue.) As long as the current rotten system of private financing continues—and as long as the labor movement remains a shadow of its former self—one will find few progressive politicians, at least at the national level, who take no money at all from corporate PACs. Will those campaign contributions that one needs to win be a heavy influence on one’s voting record? The evidence suggests that if one has a diversified contribution base and receives one-third or more of one’s money from labor and progressive ideological groups, then one will most likely be able to vote from the left without serious problems. (It’s worth noting that business PACs are incredibly dispersed, as no PAC can give more than $10,000 to any one candidate.)

Given these circumstances—parties that are not really parties and an oligarchical system of campaign financing—I do not consider supporting the leftmost Democrats to be a betrayal of class-struggle politics, or to be the equivalent of supporting (say) the Canadian Liberals. There are, of course, Democrats who obviously represent the ruling class, like Barack Obama and his dominant wing of the Democratic Party, and also there are Democrats who, however very imperfectly, represent the working class. I see nothing class-collaborationist in opposing the former and critically supporting the latter. Yes, ruling-class politicians usually win Democratic primaries simply because they raise more campaign funds, have name recognition, are incumbents, and so on—but not always. (Only the Democratic Party fundraising committees are pure shills for corporate America, and left-liberals and radicals running as Democrats aren’t required to take any money from those committees.) So when genuine left-liberals or radical leftists win office on the Democratic Party ballot line, as has happened and will continue to happen in various parts of the country, the Democratic Party is not simply a “political utility of the ruling class.” It would be if the neoliberal, bourgeois leadership of the Democratic Party could impose parliamentary discipline on all elected Democrats, but there really is very little that it can do beyond removing dissidents from congressional committees.

Does this mean that it’s likely that the Democratic Party will be taken over by progressives, that the “realignment” sought by the late Michael Harrington is near? No. But the primary reason for this, aside from the fact that it’s rather hard to democratically control a state-run ballot line, is the same reason why an independent labor party, which left-wing socialists have advocated for years, is not forthcoming any time soon. Organized labor is simply too weak and, due to the AFL-CIO’s lack of control over its affiliated unions’ political choices, too diffuse. I agree with most American socialists that a labor party based on the unions should have been formed at least by 1948, when 35 percent of the U.S. workforce was unionized and the United Auto Workers in particular was a real power in the country. But Walter Reuther didn’t do what we wanted him to do, and today we are unfortunately where we are. I was active in Labor Party Advocates and then the Labor Party in two states in the 1990s; I really wanted it to take off and become politically important. It didn’t. Nor is it likely that the Green Party, which has existed in one form or another since the 1980s, will ever displace the Democrats. As former Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic has said, “If you can’t even put out enough poll watchers to cover every precinct in an election campaign, and you can’t call on a substantial portion of the labor movement to come out and support your candidate, you’re not building anything, and there’ll be little that remains afterwards.”5 I’ve voted for Greens many times in my life but eventually one tires of voting for protest candidates.

Pushing Political Discourse to the Left

This brings us back, finally, to Bernie Sanders. Whatever the flaws in some of his political positions, his running as a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary has led millions of people, even in the corporate media, to talk about “democratic socialism” and “political revolution.” His interpretation of those terms may be far more moderate than that of NP writers, but he is pushing political discourse in the U.S. significantly to the left, and in a country where “socialist” has long been a swear word in mainstream politics, this is no small feat. His campaign is providing an opening for U.S. socialists that hasn’t existed in decades, and he’s made it clear that it won’t be possible to win the radical reforms that he (and we) want without an ongoing mass movement that will outlast his campaign. Yes, we must, as Barry says, “hold Sanders’ feet to the flames if he wavers or weakens his stance against the Party establishment.” But to do this effectively we have to actively support him, not abstain and only offer criticism, however constructive, from the outside. Both the “critical” and “support” in “critical support” are very important in this case. Support of Sanders is the only way to get the thousands of working-class people already involved in Sanders’ campaign—most of whom know nothing of Marxism or the organized socialist left—to take us seriously. Criticism of Sanders’ shortcomings will fall on deaf ears if we do not work with such people in an honest effort to get Sanders elected president.

And Sanders would not be winning over millions of Americans if he had not decided to run for president as a Democrat. He would not have been able to introduce himself to millions who knew little or nothing of him via the Democratic presidential candidates’ debates. The mainstream media would have simply ignored him, and so would have virtually everyone else in the country, had he run as an independent or as a Green. As the late Julius Jacobson, founding co-editor of NP and a genuinely revolutionary democratic socialist, said of Jesse Jackson’s run for president as a Democrat in 1988, “To take advantage of the facilities offered by a Democratic Party primary involves no necessary compromise of socialist principles” provided that it is being used “as a vehicle for propagandizing a position with an eye on building a movement outside the Democratic Party.”6 Jackson failed to do this, but this describes precisely what Sanders is doing, which is commendable.

Furthermore, contrary to the “Bernie Sanders as sheepdog for Hillary Clinton” argument made by various far-leftists, at the moment there’s hardly anyone at all to “sheepdog,” not even a quasi-mass movement for a left-wing third party. If there was, my judgement of Sanders running in a Democratic primary would be quite different. I do acknowledge that Ted Kennedy in 1980, Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Dennis Kucinich in 2004, and John Edwards in 2008 all ended up endorsing the candidate of the ruling class in their respective Democratic presidential primaries once they lost. And they should not have done so. But it’s important to realize that they did not have to do so but chose to do so. Most have forgotten, but Jerry Brown did not endorse Bill Clinton in 1992. More recently, on the Republican side, look at Ron Paul. He very openly did not support John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012; he supported minor right-wing party presidential candidates. And yet he remained in office as a Republican. Look at the Seattle Democratic elected officials that have endorsed Kshama Sawant’s re-election campaign. Such a thing is simply not possible anywhere else in the world—try to imagine Canadian Liberals endorsing New Democratic Party candidates for office!—and it further proves that our “parties” are not real parties because they lack party discipline, and that applying class-struggle principles to U.S. electoral politics is a far messier business than it is anywhere else in the world.

Yes, Sanders has already said he would endorse Hillary Clinton if he loses to her in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. But Sanders, as explained above, can’t be forced to do this. He’s made a choice. Contrary to what some socialists believe, there are no actually enforceable Democratic Party rules that prohibit him in advance from “harming the Democratic Party.” So, I think that socialists should pressure Sanders’ campaign to “pull a Ron Paul”; at the very least he should not encourage his voters to support Clinton if he loses the presidential primary. If he refuses this request we should openly criticize him for it. But again, the only way we can effectively apply such pressure is if we are active in his presidential campaign. Pressure from the outside simply won’t work. By all means, let’s relentlessly attack Clinton and other “billionaire class Democrats” who dominate the Democratic Party line. One can do this just as easily as a registered Democrat as a registered Green or independent. No one can silence you, just like Fannie Lou Hamer couldn’t be silenced as a civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activist of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which in 1968 did become the official Democratic Party of Mississippi, despite being betrayed by Lyndon Johnson and those who supported him in 1964.

Barry argues that

If the Sanders campaign is competently run, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment will be confronting an incipient rank-and-file mutiny demanding the complete overhaul and repudiation of what the party currently stands for. An increasingly politically conscious grassroots movement motivated by a militant and credible anti-austerity message heralds the development in the foreseeable future of a “split” situation in the Democratic Party when these demands are blocked, watered down, frustrated or compromised with, as they invariably must.

This split may very well happen. Sanders campaign activists are quite aware of the problem of Democratic Party Superdelegates. To quote a recent email I received from People for Bernie, the Superdelegate system is “one of many ways that the system is rigged to ensure corporate-friendly Democrats almost always get the presidential nomination. And it’s almost always longtime party insiders that cast votes as Superdelegates. In an ordinary election year, it’s one of many ways that they disenfranchise people like us.” This is why it’s important that Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison endorsed Sanders, and more pressure needs to be put on other Congressional Progressive Caucus Democrats to do the same. Selection of Superdelegates in fact depends on state Democratic Party rules, and state Democratic parties are not immune to popular mobilization.

But let’s assume the ruling-class Democratic Party Superdelegates turn out to be the sole barrier keeping Sanders from winning the Democratic presidential primary. Then it’s entirely possible that People for Bernie and the mass movement supporting Sanders will make up the base of an independent left-wing party, sooner rather than later. But again, we need to be in the Sanders campaign to help make this happen, and, as NP writer and lifetime class-warrior-unionist Steve Early has said, we need to get as many unions as possible to support Sanders and not Clinton (either in the primary or the general election).7 And we will need the leftmost elected Democrats—the ones who support social-democratic reform and primarily rely on union PAC money and the financial contributions of “ordinary” people—to “jump ship” to this new party, which requires critically supporting them as well. (I see this as no worse than voting for the social-democratic wing of a popular front, which revolutionaries certainly did in the past, and the Democratic Party today is more like a popular front unto itself than a genuine political party.)

Yes, this is a complicated process, and I wish Marxists could simply stand outside Democratic Party politics entirely and convince the toiling masses to “break with the elephant, break with the ass, build a party of the working class.” But decades of revolutionary socialists doing precisely this has been no more successful than the attempt in the 1970s by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, a predecessor of today’s Democratic Socialists of America, the only U.S. socialist group fully supporting the Sanders campaign, to realign the whole of the Democratic Party into a social-democratic party. The movement to elect Sanders represents the best opportunity to build a much larger socialist movement—and hopefully a split from the Democratic Party that results in an independent leftist party—that I’ve seen in my lifetime. To make that party a reality, ironically enough, means getting involved in a Democratic Party presidential campaign. Yes, most elected Democrats are ruling-class politicians; yes, the Democratic Party was once the party (a real party) of white supremacy in the United States; yes, it was the party of dropping nuclear bombs on Japan and of the Vietnam War. Therefore any involvement in Democratic Party primaries involves “dirty hands” to some extent. But, to paraphrase a French philosopher, “it is easy to have clean hands if you have no hands.” Better dirty hands than none at all.

1. Jason Schulman, “The Sanders Campaign and the Democratic ‘Party,’” New Politics blog, May 27, 2015.

2. Barry Finger, “Further Reflections on the Sanders Campaign,” New Politics blog, May 26, 2015.

3. Arthur Lipow, Political Parties & Democracy: Explorations in History and Theory (London: Pluto Press, 1996), 20-21.

4. Michael Hirsch, “Socialists, Democrats, and Political Action: It’s the Movements That Matter,” New Politics (Vol. XI, No. 2, Summer 2007), 119.

5. Mark Dudzic and Derek Seidman, “Whatever Happened to the Labor Party?Jacobin blog, October 11, 2015.

6. Julius Jacobson, “The Duality of the Jackson Campaign,” New Politics (Vol. II, no. 2, Summer 1988), 5-6.

7. Steve Early, “Labor for Bernie,” Jacobin blog, May 26, 2015.

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Muslim women ‘stopped from becoming Labour councillors’

February 6, 2016 at 7:56 pm (elections, Galloway, Islam, islamism, Jim D, labour party, misogyny, sexism, women)

Shazia Bashir

“Because I didn’t have my father’s consent and support, I had to step down. I was pressured into stepping down”  – Shazia Bashir (above)

Another said she had been told by Labour members “Islam and feminism aren’t compatible”.

An advocate for gay rights was told: “This is un-Islamic. Leave that for white people.” And many spoke of being criticised for being too Westernised.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35504185

A comrade from a Muslim background comments, “I can tell you the number of people in my family who were surprised by this story when I mentioned it to them and that is nil – which, at an educated guess, is almost certainly also the number of people in the SWP, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and other groups who usually fall over themselves to say how much they support Muslim women, who are likely to do anything about this issue.

JD comments: it’s not just a Labour Party problem or a problem at councillor level: just look at the misogynistic abuse Naz Shah got from Galloway and his Respect Party supporters when she stood against him in Bradford West at the general election.

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US Socialist Worker on Election 2016

February 2, 2016 at 10:07 am (Democratic Party, elections, posted by JD, Republican Party, United States)

Here’s the US Socialist Worker‘s take on the run-up to US Election 2016, written before the Iowa caucuses, in which Ted Cruz beat Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders very nearly defeated Hilary Clinton. By the way, the US SW has nothing to do (any more) with the UK SWP:

Year of the renegades?

The usual election circus is reflecting broader dissatisfaction with the status quo.

IT SEEMED so simple–and soul-deadeningly boring–a year ago. Election 2016 would be a match-up between two political dynasties–the Clintons and the Bushes–with nothing but months of Super PAC spending and stage-managed sound bites between then and the election.

Now, we’re headed for a February where the Republican heir apparent Jeb Bush is bumbling along among the also-rans in opinion polls, and the first primary contests seem certain to be won by right-wing maniacs who regularly denounce their own party’s establishment leaders. Billionaire Donald Trump remains the runaway frontrunner, but Tea Partier Ted Cruz is coming up on the outside.

And on the Democratic side, a self-identified socialist has a fair shot at winning at least the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary over Hillary Clinton, who was once thought to have the Democratic presidential nomination in the bag a full year before the party’s convention.

For anyone on the left, this should inspire both dread and enthusiasm.

Neither Trump nor Cruz may survive what promises to be a bruising and unpredictable GOP primary battle that won’t be decided for months. But in the meanwhile, they give legitimacy to ideas at the far right of the mainstream political spectrum–and then some.

As for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, he has a lot more obstacles–like, for example, the Democratic Party’s completely undemocratic practices, like seating party insiders and officeholders as unelected “superdelegates,” specifically designed to head off left challenges–between him and the party’s presidential nomination.

But Sanders has tarnished the aura of inevitability that once surrounded Hillary Clinton–and what’s more, he’s done so by generating real excitement among millions of people who vote Democratic mainly because they despise the Republicans, not because they feel inspired by the corporate-dominated party that falsely claims to speak for them.

Sanders is talking about the issues that should matter in a real election campaign, like jobs, health care, poverty, challenging racism and the like. It’s no wonder that so many people see him as a breath of fresh air–though he has also gone along with many conventional mainstream Democratic positions, most obviously to defend and extend the power of the American empire.

We can celebrate the opinion polls that show Sanders gaining support against Clinton, most of all because of what they show us about the growth of a layer of people in society who are looking for a radical alternative to the political and social status quo.

If Sanders fails in his still-long-shot quest to win the nomination and then does what he has promised from the start and endorses the presidential candidate of a pro-corporate party, he won’t have answers for the questions those people are asking. Socialists need to be ready with answers of our own, and we can start now, as this election year is unfolding.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AT ONE point not too long ago, Hillary Clinton greeted Sanders’ candidacy within the Democratic Party as a positive. Clinton understood that Sanders’ campaign would motivate the party’s base of progressive supporters, while she could still be seen as the “realistic” candidate who stood the best chance against the Republicans in a general election.

Since then, opinion polls have shown that Sanders could hold his own against the Republicans. In December, in a hypothetical race against the GOP’s front-running reality TV star, the Vermont social democrat came out ahead by 13 percentage points–stronger than Clinton’s 7 percent–according to a Quinnipiac poll.

As Sanders has climbed in the polls–building a clear lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, threatening in Iowa and creeping toward a real contest nationally–the Clinton campaign went on the attack.

Often enough, this merely provided further evidence of what a cynical political insider she’s always been. According to the Nation, for example, the Clinton campaign put out a press release calling Friends of the Earth Action a “dark money group”–after it put out TV ads commending Sanders’ fight against the Keystone XL pipeline.

During a candidates’ debate in South Carolina, Clinton claimed that Sanders was going to undo all of the Obama administration’s hard work on a health care law and tear up the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Clinton acted as if she was attacking Sanders from the left, but as Sanders explained during the debate, he favors a much more radical solution to the health care crisis that the ACA has made worse in numerous ways: a universal, “Medicare for All” health care plan.

For the most part, though, Clinton is sticking to what she knows. That’s her claim to be the only “viable” candidate against a host of scary Republicans.

As the first primary contests approach, the organizations whose jobs it is to rally followers behind the conventional liberal choice–the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, a number of unions–are announcing their endorsements of Clinton. This despite her record of betraying the very people who are expected to campaign for her–as in the case of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which only recently backed the campaign for a living wage at Walmart, where Clinton once served on the board of directors and silently sat by while the mega-retailer rolled over workers.

The Clinton campaign understands that the odds are still with her winning the party’s nomination. But victories for Sanders in New Hampshire, Iowa and beyond would damage her inevitability factor in a race against Republicans.

What all this reveals is something that mainstream political commentators have a hard time predicting or processing–despite all the talk about Clinton being the most viable candidate among the widest range of voters, Sanders is showing that there is a huge opening for unapologetically liberal and even radical political ideas.

The huge electoral support for Sanders is a reflection of the state of U.S. politics, where a growing number of people are expressing their dissatisfaction with status quo politics. That sentiment is expressed in specific attitudes about issues like police violence or racism, but it can also be seen in the widespread feeling that political leaders don’t represent us–and don’t even try. No event illustrates this more than the protests by residents of Flint, Michigan, whose elected officials allowed their drinking water to be poisoned.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ON THE other side of Election 2016, the Republican Party establishment is discovering that its anointed “inevitable” candidates–conservatives like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio with just enough sheen of moderation to appeal in a general election–are in big trouble.

The reason is that the Republican right–unleashed as attack dogs during the Obama years to drive the political mainstream further and further to the right–isn’t going away. It wants its place in the spotlight.

The mobilization of the Tea Party fanatics, backed by big-money right-wingers like the Koch brothers, was central to the Republican victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. But Republican base voters were whipped up not only against “big government” and “special interests,” associated with the Obama administration, but the “Washington elite” in general–which sometimes meant Republican leaders like former House Speaker John Boehner who were judged to be not fanatical enough.

Now that it’s time to elect the president, the GOP establishment would like the right-wing fringe to step aside. But no such luck. In spite of every vile statement and blunder, billionaire Islamophobe and immigrant hater Donald Trump has stayed well ahead of the pack in opinion polls. After the rise and fall of crackpot Ben Carson, Ted Cruz has been the only contender to make a real run at Trump–and in some ways, he’s more of a threat to the party establishment than Trump.

The structure of the Republican primaries, with delegates awarded based on the proportion of votes in each contest, guarantees that the nomination battle will drag out for months. It’s impossible to predict whether Trump or Cruz will survive to become the party nominee, or if the establishment will unite around an alternative. But whatever the case, this is a recipe for chaos and splits within the historic party of Corporate America.

The enduring appeal of the Trumps and Cruzes in Election 2016 is more evidence of the instability and polarization in a society that’s motivating people to reject politics as usual. But it’s not only that.

In Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this month, he boasted about the amazing U.S. economic recovery. But for most working-class Americans, there are few signs of these better times. This, coupled with the Obama administration’s escalation of the “war on terror,” has produced a frightening and unpredictable world.

This is why Trump can gain a hearing for right-wing ideas that attempt to redirect the blame onto scapegoats, such as immigrants or Muslims.

In this respect, Trump is leading the way for the Republicans, as conservative ideologues Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in the National Review: “[W]hile Trump is not a conservative and does not deserve conservatives’ support, Republicans can nonetheless learn from him…He has exposed and widened the fissures on the American right. If conservatives are to thrive, they must figure out how to respond creatively, sensibly and honorably to the public impulses he has so carelessly exploited.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IT FRIGHTENING to think of the “public impulses” that Lowry and Ponnuru want another Republican to exploit less “carelessly.” But as the atrocities of the Republican presidential contenders pile up, it will be important to remember that the same political circumstances are radicalizing people to the left.

The strong support for Bernie Sanders is the most obvious evidence. But the people being won over to Sanders won’t necessarily stop with a campaign within the Democratic Party. While Election 2016 goes on, there will be many opportunities for protest and politics, with those enthused about the Sanders campaign certain to play a role.

And the odds are still strong that Sanders will ultimately confront those supporters with a choice later on this year. They can join him in supporting the candidate who beat him for the Democratic nomination, even if they represent everything that millions of Sanders supporters are fed up with.

Or they can stand for a real alternative. That will mean casting a ballot for an independent left candidate next November. But even more important, it will mean participating in the grassroots movements and struggles well beyond the ballot box that, as history has shown us, can bring real change.

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Sanders: a socialist headed for the White House?

January 23, 2016 at 5:10 pm (Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, posted by JD, socialism, United States)

By Eric Lee

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity and on Eric’s own blog


Sixty years ago, the Socialist Party ran its last presidential campaign in the United States.

In its heyday, the party could capture upwards of a million votes, achieving this result in 1912, 1920 and again in 1932. The best result was the first one, when Eugene V. Debs led the party to six percent of the national vote. But less than a quarter century after Norman Thomas won nearly 900,000 votes at the height of the Great Depression, the total number of votes the Socialist could muster nationwide was a mere 2,044. Its final Presidential candidate, the successor to the legendary Debs and Thomas, was the little-known Darlington Hoopes.

By then, even the last stalwarts in the party accepted that it was no longer feasible to wage presidential campaigns. Within a year of the Socialists reaching their electoral nadir, the party was strengthened by the decision of Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League to join their ranks. The Shachtmanites rejected the traditional independent electoral strategy and called instead for the Socialists to join the ranks of the Democrats.

It took Shachtman and his comrades a decade to achieve their goal under the charismatic leadership of Michael Harrington. While the Socialists were grappling with issues of electoral strategy, a young man joined their youth organisation in Chicago, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL).

His name was Bernie Sanders.

Like many other YPSLs (pronounced “Yipsels”), the young Brooklyner was active in the peace movement through the Student Peace Union and the civil rights movement through the Congress of Racial Equality. Before joining the YPSL, Sanders was introduced to politics by his older brother, Larry, who would take him to political meetings. Larry was active in the Young Democrats. It was in the YPSL that Bernie would learn about democratic socialism.

Half a century later, he continues to define himself as a democratic socialist. He advocates a program of reform that most socialists would be very comfortable with, including breaking up the big banks, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and creating employment, health care as a right for all citizens, free tuition at all public universities, campaign finance reform, strengthening union rights, and much more.

His campaign for the presidency launched earlier this year has galvanized the American political system and given new hope for a rebirth of a democratic socialist movement in the country.

What has changed that allows a democratic socialist to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, to become a serious contender for the presidency sixty years after the unfortunate Darlington Hoopes won only 2,044 votes? And what are his chances to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency in November?

I think that three things have happened to allow a professed socialist to run a credible campaign for the presidency in 2016.

First of all, the economic crisis that hit America (and the world) from 2008, triggered – as it did in many countries – a rise in critical thinking about capitalism. We have seen big gains for parties and leaders once considered “far left” in several European countries, and while this cannot express itself in America in the creation of a new mass party of the left like Syriza, it can and does express itself in social movements like Occupy, in the trade unions and in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

But an economic crisis alone cannot create the basis for the rise of a socialist left in a country like America. There have been a number of economic crises, with periods of mass unemployment, in the years since 1932, but none of these resulted in the rise of an overtly socialist candidate or movement.

The second factor that allows for the rise of Sanders is the passage of time since the end of the Cold War. One cannot overstate the importance of Stalinism in undermining and weakening the American left over many decades. Whether it was McCarthy-era red-baiting and persecution (which affected everyone on the left, not just the Stalinists) or the idiotic, counter-productive tactics of the Stalinists themselves, it was nearly impossible to say the word “socialism” aloud in America so long as the Soviet Union existed.

But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a generation of Americans has grown up with no personal memory of that period, people for whom the word “socialist” is not necessarily a deal-breaker. There are people voting for Bernie Sanders today who were born in 1998, nearly a decade after the Wall came down. All voters under the age of 40 came of age politically only after Communism’s historic defeat.

None of this applies to Sanders, of course. The 74-year-old is a veteran of the YPSL from a time when socialists really were on the margins of American life, and when “socialism” really was a dirty word. But his supporters largely come from an entirely different generation, who’ve grown up in a different world.

The third thing that has happened is that Bernie Sanders, who his entire political life has been an independent, an opponent of the two-party system, has chosen to run as a Democrat. Some people on the small organised left in America would have preferred it otherwise. They would have liked to support a campaign like Ralph Nader’s, free of the taint of what Socialists use to call the “sewer” of the Democratic Party.

Nader himself followed in the tradition of a large number of well-intentioned but long-forgotten attempts to forge left-wing third parties in America. These included the peace campaigner Dr Benjamin Spock (People’s Party) who received fewer than 80,000 votes, or ecologist Barry Commoner (Citizen’s Party) who received 234,000 votes. Sanders was personally sympathetic to Nader, Spock and Commoner, campaigning for the latter two. But he learned an important lesson: to win a Presidential election in America, you need to run as a Democrat.

The extraordinary success of his campaign so far – regardless of what happens next – shows that he was right. His campaign is a vindication of everything Max Shachtman, Michael Harrington and their comrades fought for on the American left from the mid-1950s until now.

But does Sanders really have a chance?

I write these words two weeks before the Iowa caucus vote on February 1, the first electoral test of the Sanders candidacy. At the moment, all the polls show Iowa to be a tie between Sanders and Clinton. In the following vote, on February 9 in New Hampshire, polls show Sanders winning. If America wakes up on February 10 to learn that Bernie Sanders has won both Iowa and New Hampshire, it will represent a political earthquake.

Sixty years after the disappearance of the Socialists from the main stage of American politics, they have made a triumphant return. A former YPSL member from Chicago, still talking about the same democratic socialism he learned in the party of Debs and Thomas, may be on his way to becoming the forty-fifth president of the United States.

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Unison: Prentice re-elected as vote collapses and corruption is exposed

December 19, 2015 at 12:50 pm (corruption, elections, UNISON)

Dave PrentisDave Prentis has been re-elected as leader of UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, amidst allegations of ballot rigging, in face of a call by one-third of the union’s national executive committee for his suspension and with a public petition calling for an independent enquiry and a re-run of the election.

Ed Whitby writes:

So Prentis has been elected on less than 50% of the vote, and less than 10% of the membership voting.

In the last 10 years Dave Prentis has gone from 185,000 votes to 66,000 votes losing 119,000 or two thirds of his vote.

This in an election where:

* There is known corruption in the important London region, with staff members recorded organising support for Prentis against all the rules

* No hustings or debates to raise profile of alternate candidates

* No information in the unions two membership publications on the other candidates

* Meanwhile Prentis appeared in almost every article on the unions magazines and in weekly emails sent to all members.

So while there is no great news for the left coming a poor third and fourth, this is no mandate for Prentis and surely must create the opportunity for a debate about the direction of this important public sector trade union.

Overall votes and turn out in last 3 elections:
2005: 244,000 votes (16% of membership), 2010: 216,000 (14% of membership), 2015: 134,000 (9% of the membership)

Results 2015
Roger Bannister 16,853 (12.6 per cent)
John Burgess 15,573 (11.6 per cent)
Dave Prentis 66,155 (49.4 per cent)
Heather Wakefield 35,433 (26.4 per cent)

Previous results

2010
Dave Prentis
145,351
(67.3%)
Roger Bannister
42,651
(19.7%)
Paul Holmes
28,114
(13.0%)
216,116

2005
Dave Prentis
184,769
(75.6%)
Roger Bannister
41,406
(16.9%)
Jon Rogers
18,306
(7.5%)
244,481

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France: Front National leads vote but fails to win regional power – Coatesy’s analysis

December 14, 2015 at 6:41 pm (Andrew Coates, democracy, elections, fascism, populism, posted by JD, reblogged)

Out blogging friend and expert on French politics, Coatesy, provides the following analysis:

Embedded image permalink

Final results graphic from second round

The BBC reports,

The FN actually increased its votes in the second round to more than 6.8 million, from 6.02 million on 6 December as more people voted, according to the ministry of the interior (In French). But the FN share of the vote went down slightly from 27.73% to 27.36%. The Republicans increased their share from 26.65% to 40.63% and the Socialists from 23.12% to 29.14%. The overall turnout increased from 22.6 million on 6 December to 26.2 million on Sunday. Sunday’s figures are based on a count of 98% of votes so far.

France 24.

Despite leading in the first round of regional elections last week, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front party (FN) failed to gain a single region in the second round of voting in France on Sunday.

The head of the FN, Marine Le Pen had hoped to make history on Sunday night by gaining control of a region for the first time. But after winning 28 percent of the nationwide vote in the first round of elections, the FN was pushed back in the second round as voters rallied behind the conservative Les Républicains party and President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS).

The FN had been riding high, exploiting an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe. The party came out on top in six of France’s 13 newly drawn regions in the first-round vote a week ago. But that initial success failed to translate into any second-round victories.

The FN was defeated in three key regions where it had come in first place last week: Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur and Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. The Socialists had pulled their candidates out of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur races to defeat the FN and it appears that many of their voters cast ballots for conservative candidates.

Le Pen won around 42 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, while rival conservative Xavier Bertrand took around 58 percent.

Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, won about 45 percent in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region against conservative Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who received around 54 percent.

In Alsace Champagne-Ardenne Lorraine, the Socialist candidate, Jean-Pierre Masseret, had refused to pull out of the race, even after trailing in the first round of elections. Despite that refusal to follow the Socialist Party’s orders, the FN candidate in the region, Florian Philippot, was defeated by Les Républicains candidate Philippe Richert, earning 36 percent of the vote against his 48 percent.

After her defeat Sunday night, Marine Le Pen insisted that the National Front was the first party of France. She said the election results would not discourage the “inexorable rise, election after election, of a national movement” behind her party.

Pause for breath – there is worse to come:

“Nothing can stop us now,” Le Pen said after polls closed. “By tripling our number of councillors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France.”

Equally defiant, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who ran in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, urged supporters not to be disappointed. “We will redouble our efforts,” she said. “There are some victories that shame the winners.”

The National Front has racked up political victories in local elections in recent years, but winning the most seats in an entire regional council would have been a substantial success.

The election was seen as an important measure of support for Le Pen ahead of 2017 presidential elections.

Tactical voting boosts Sarkozy’s Les Républicains

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party won seven of mainland France’s 13 regions, giving them the largest share. However, it’s almost certain Les Républicains would not have been as successful without the tactical support of the ruling PS.

Conservative candidate Xavier Bertrand acknowledged as much in a speech after his victory against Marine Le Pen in Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie.

“I thank the voters for protecting our beautiful region,” said Bertrand. “I also want to thank the voters of the left who clearly voted to create a rampart (against the FN).”

On the left there is not much relief.

Une nouvelle fois, le sursaut républicain a bloqué l’avancée du FN. Mais ignorer l’avertissement serait dévastateur pour les partis traditionnels. Comments Libération.

The Republican ‘surge’ has blocked the FN’s progress. But the traditional parties ignore the warning at their own peril.

L’Humanité notes, “La mobilisation d’une proportion assez importante des abstentionnistes a fait la différence.” But deep difficulties remain: the left has to mobilise amongst the people to fight the far-right’s ideas.

We also observe that the Corsican nationalists now control the regional council in Corsica (le Monde).

Observations.

  • The Front National has failed to take over some of the levers of the established French political structure. This is a victory for their opponents. Regional councils, it has been observed, are a relativity cost-free platform for the display of  administrative stagecraft. Control of their budgets gives an opportunity to show off policies, reward patrons, and attract attention. Control of one of them would not have tested the FN’s national policies. It would have given the far-right party momentum. They do not have this.
  • The cost of the “sursaut républicain” is not to be underestimated. Despite reports that the FN is now attracting members from highly educated and .experienced French  administrative sectors (traditional sources of political cadres) the party continues to claim that it stands alone against the other parties, the political elite, the equivalent of the Spanish ‘casta’. With the Parti Socialiste calling its supporters to vote for Sarkozy’s  Les Républicains in the regions where they were alone capable of beating Marine Le Pen’s party, the claim will continue to appeal to their electorate.
  • The FN still headed the results. Indications that they performed well in the first round amongst young people (34% amongst the 18-24 year olds), the unemployed, workers (43%) , self-employed, farmers and agricultural workers (35%), white collar public sector workers (30%) and indeed all social categories. While the party is most supported amongst the young and the “popular classes” the results  suggest a party with a broader national appeal than any other French political force. (Elections régionales : qui a voté FN ?)
  • From a rate of 57% in the first round, to 50% in the second, abstention marked these elections. That workers, the out-of-work, and above all the young, are amongst the biggest groups of abstentionists, is thin against the above evidence of their far-right voting.  (le Front national, premier parti chez les jeunes… qui votent.Le Monde. 7.12.15.)
  • Claims that there is a “left wing’, ‘national’ socialist (protectionist and working class) strain in the far-right’s language in the formerly left North, and a more traditional hard right (xenophobic and morally reactionary)  line in the South East, have been eroded in this election. They were always doubtful – given the homogenising effects of modern politics. ( Les trois visages du vote FN Joël Gombin  Le Monde Diplomatique November 2015.) But both the protectionist, and above all the xenophobic  themes in the FN’s policies have had a nation wide impact.
  • The results have produced a crisis on the French right and left. On the right there are growing voices to oppose Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempt to run again for the Presidency. . The former is a serious political project, led by Sarkozy’s long-term more emollient and apparently more ‘moderate’ rival, Alain Juppé after what is widely seen as a personal set-back for Nicolas Sarkozy (Nicolas Sarkozy face à un échec personnel).
  • On the left, there are those in the ruling Parti Socialiste who wish to create a new centre left party free from the historic baggage of the left, and indeed the word socialist. This skirts over the more difficult task of re-connecting with the popular electorate. A government headed by one of the few politicians in France to admire Tony Blair, Manuel Valls, that has failed to offer substantial reforms to improve the quality of life for wage-earners, reduce unemployment, and has been unable to relaunch economic growth, is not in a strong position to appeal to these lost voters.
  • The left, taking stock, did not suffer electoral annihilation, although it lost in important regions, including the Ile de France (surrounding Paris, perhaps the consequence of a big, 10.2% drop in the FN vote between rounds). With 5 regions for the left against 7 for the right it may seem as if their formal political strength has stood up. The Socialists, in agreement with the Greens (EELV), 6,81 %, and the Front de gauche,  nevertheless did not shine in the electoral scores (around 7%). Inside the Front de gauche Jean-Luc Mélenchon has complained that the complex regional alliances and lists that the bloc has entered into prevented getting a clear message across. It is very doubtful if this was a major factor in their results – although perhaps somewhere in France Mélenchon’s personal message of the Bolivarian Revolution, on the Venezuelan model has support. His own refusal to give any recommendation for the second round was not universally appreciated.  The Greens lost half their votes – they had 12,18% in 2010.  ( Elections régionales : la débâcle des écologistes).

There is no argument that a fundamental reason for the FN’s rise in support lies in its encouragement and use of anti-Muslim feeling. This reached a crescendo after the slaughters of the 13th of November. (Le Front national se déchaîne sur l’islam. Le Monde. 4.12.15.)

President Hollande responded to the massacres with a state of emergency and airborne retaliation in Syria against Daesh.

His personal popularity leapt, but his party, the Socialists, did not benefit.

The FN have been able to take advantage of the popular mood because of a boarder package of polities. This can be seen in the social composition of their electorate. Unless one believes that young people, workers and the unemployed are particularly hostile to Muslims, and that this was the reason for their ballot box choice, we would look into what this demagogy in embedded within.

The theme of “security” against ‘Islam’ and, more widely, “foreigners” is tied to a deeper set of ideas, a national ideology, that animates the party of Marine Le Pen, nationalist ‘sovereigntism’ (the principle that the ‘nation’ should be the source of all political, economic and social decison0making and virtue). Their attraction for the young, the working class and all shades of “precarious” employed people lies in the call to protect the French nation from outside forces, foreigners, refugees, migrants and economic powers. That is, to give them jobs, and preserve living standards, and social security.

The FN claims not be primarily ‘anti’ other nations, religions or peoples: it is for France. It claims to be the best political force to protect French citizens from outside threats; not to seek out new areas in which to expand French power. The FN has been supportive of Russian interests (for which they have been rewarded), over the Crimea and Ukraine, which they see in terms of another nation standing up to foreign menaces.

In this sense the Front National is sometimes described as ‘national populist’ , not fascist; defensive rather than overtly imperialist.

Its policies centre on  ‘national priority’ for French citizens in jobs, and welfare, stricter controls of immigration, ‘Laïcité’ (secularism) but recognition of France’s ‘Christian’ roots, strict laws on ‘security’ including reestablishing the death penalty, and a long list of measures designed to protect French industry and make French law supreme against EU legislation.

These reactionary ideas are by no means unusual in Europe today.

Many of the FN legislative plans – stricter immigration control and cutting migrants’ right to social benefits – are shared by the mainstream British right, and are policies of the present Cameron government.

The ‘sovereigntist’ approach to the European Union – blaming the EU for France’s poor economic performance and allowing migration are at the heart of the right-wing campaign in the UK to leave the Union.

Before British leftist indulge in their customary lecturing of the French Left there is another aspect of the FN that it’s important to note. Some of the FN’s views on Europe, which see migrant labour as a “tool” of the capitalists to undermine French workers’ living standards, are shared by the anti-EU ‘left’ in the UK. The idea that ‘national’ control of the economy is the way to confront the problems of globalisation is also popular amongst  some ‘left-wingers’ here and in France. There is as yet no equivalent of the kind of overt cross-overs from left to right which is a feature of French political life amongst ” souverainistes” but this could easily develop.

Populism, as they say, is about being popular.

In this respect, with 27% of the vote,  the prospect of Marine Le Pen emerging at the main challenger in the French Presidential elections on 2017 is strengthened, not weakened by this weekend’s results.

The Communist Party Leader and supporter of the Front de gauche,  Pierce Laurent has called for a “new progressive project” to unite the left to stand up against the right and the extreme right, fighting austerity, and engaging in measures to tackle the problems of the world of work  (Régionales : Déclaration de Pierre Laurent.).

Ensemble, also like the PCF, part of the Front de gauche,  have equally called for a new approach, “Pour rassembler, il faut un projet commun de tous ceux qui à gauche et dans le mouvement social ne renoncent pas et aspirent à une alternative politique de rupture avec le libéralisme, un nouvel espoir.”

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