The Socialist Party’s “wretched concession” to nationalism

April 27, 2017 at 9:16 pm (AWL, Europe, identity politics, immigration, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reformism, Socialist Party, trotskyism)

Image result for picture Lindsey oil refinery strike
Above: the 2009 Lindsey oil refinery strike

NB: this article is from the AWL: anyone from the Socialist Party is welcome to send us a reply, which will be published on this site.

By Ira Berkovic

At best, Hannah Sell’s article “Brexit and the left” (Socialism Today, the magazine of the Socialist Party, Issue 207, April 2017) is a series of platitudinous banalities. At worst, it is a wretched concession to nationalism.

In a rare direct polemic against other group on the left (the Socialist Party prefer to plough their own sectarian furrow, acknowledging the existence of other tendencies only occasionally), Sell makes a number of claims about Workers’ Liberty which range from the distorted to the straightforwardly untrue. She accuses us of “having consistently argued that the EU is progressive”. This is not our position.

The institutional infrastructure of the European Union, like all capitalist institutions, is a class instrument, constructed to enforce the rule of capital. But the continental integration it brings with it provides a higher platform for working-class solidarity and united struggle than the hard right’s alternative — a Europe of competing national-capitalist blocs, walled off behind high trade barriers and intensive immigration controls. That was the choice on offer in the 23 June referendum; that is why Workers’ Liberty was for “remain”.

She next accuses us of having “no concept of the limits to capitalism’s ability to overcome the barrier of the nation state”. In fact, we have repeatedly cautioned against the view that capitalism has bypassed the nation state entirely, echoing the arguments of Ellen Meiksins Wood and others. Rather, nation states themselves “globalise” by making themselves attractive sites for international investment, and plugging into interconnected world markets. This globalising logic creates objective, material basis for a greater degree of working-class unity than “national” working classes struggling solely against “their own” ruling class, behind barriers and borders.

Sell scoffs at the idea that capitalism might “carry through the task of the unification of Europe and that this would be ‘progressive”, apparently impervious to the reality of the degree of European integration and unification capitalism has already achieved. To repeat: the existence of a single market, and the erosion of borders throughout substantial parts of Europe, provide an objectively higher, better, basis for working-class unity than the vision preferred by the right, and apparently by the Socialist Party, of rigidly delineated national-capitalist blocs. For that process to be reversed under pressure from economic nationalism and xenophobic “sovereignism” — currently the only meaningfully hegemonic forces behind the drive to break up the EU —would certainly not be “progressive”. The article finishes by repeating the Socialist Party’s wretched position on immigration – that is, an unquestioning acceptance of the idea, which does not survive contact with evidence, that migrant labour straightforwardly depresses pay and conditions for domestic labour, and that the solution to this is to apply controls at the border.

Migrant workers are as much part of our class as British workers. Our politics must be as much for them as for British workers. We must defend their rights – their rights to migrate freely and safely, free from the violence of border controls, and their right to legally seek work – as vociferously as we defend the wages, terms, and conditions of domestic labour. To adopt any other position necessarily implied that the rights of British workers come first, simply by dint of the fact that they are British. There is no other word for this but “nationalism”.

Sell’s article says that “the only way to push back is for a united struggle of all workers”. Quite so. But in the context of what is essentially a polemic against a policy of free movement, and for restrictions on immigration, it is plain that, for the Socialist Party, “united struggle” is not the “only way to push back”; they also favour legislative mechanisms to restrict immigration. Sell cites the 2009 Lindsey oil refinery strike, where workers protested at bosses’ use of Italian migrant labour on terms that undermined collectively-negotiated agreements, as an example of the kind of struggle necessary.

That strike began as a strike demanding “British jobs for British workers”. Undoubtedly the Socialist Party comrade involved did play an important role in shifting the dispute away from such racist slogans and onto politically healthier terrain. But those who, while supporting the Lindsey workers’ fight for national agreements to be respected, sounded a note of caution about the risk of viewing migrant workers as the enemy, were right to do so.

Sell quotes Giorgio Cremaschi, leader of the Italian union Fiom, supporting the strike, but none of the Italian migrant workers themselves. Migrant workers’ agency is missing from the Socialist Party’s picture; the implication is that “united struggle” in fact means struggles by British workers against the way migrant labour is “used”. The fact remains that the Lindsey scenario is rare. There, a unionised domestic workforce, with collectively-negotiated national agreements, saw their employer physically bus in migrant workers and employ them on terms outside the existing agreements. This is not the basis on which any significant proportion of migrant labour comes to Britain – or, to use the Socialist Party’s schema in which migrants are passive instruments of neo-liberalism with no agency of their own, “is brought”.

Ending free movement, which is the Socialist Party’s policy, would not do anything to meaningfully protect trade union agreements. It would, however, significantly disadvantage working-class people from EU countries attempting to move to make a better life for themselves and their families. The Socialist Party give their pro-immigration controls position a labour-movement gloss by claiming that the “control” they favour is a kind of (presumably state-enforced) closed shop, whereby employers wishing to “recruit abroad” must be “covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining”.

But the vast majority of migrant labour does not consist of workers directly “recruited abroad”, but of workers who come to Britain, sometimes as a result of acute poverty and lack of opportunity in their countries of origin, looking for work. Does the Socialist Party propose to have border police checking union cards at Dover? Should we expect to see Socialist Party delegates at Britain’s airports and docks, telling migrant workers – the very people who, in previous generations, helped lay the foundations for our modern labour movement – that employers will use them to undercut British workers, and that the class conscious thing to do would be to get back on the plane or boat and go home?

All workers – local and migrant – should be “covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining”, but this will be imposed on employers through class struggle. To propose it as policy we want the existing state, with its Tory administration, to adopt as a fix for a perceived immigration “problem” is a political contortion undertaken by a tendency visibly uncomfortable with the implications of its own perspective.

The Socialist Party should take some responsibility for the logic of its position. Be honest! Just say it, comrades: you think immigration depresses pay and conditions for domestic workers, and to solve this problem, you think there should be less immigration. That is the substance of your view. No amount of gloss, nor any amount of reassurances that you do not consider migrant workers to be at “fault”, as Sell puts it in the article, change that fundamental fact.

Workers’ Liberty takes a different view. Our view is that no human being should be “illegal”. Our view is that the right to move freely, including to move between states, is a fundamental human right, and that restrictions on that right cannot be imposed except by state violence. Have employers sometimes attempted to “use” migrant labour to lower their costs? Of course — just as some employers historically exploited the entry of women into the workforce to drive down wages by paying them less than men. In proposing restrictions on immigration, however packaged and presented, the Socialist Party echo the Lassallean socialists of the 19th century who opposed women’s entry into the workforce on the basis that they would be “used” to undercut existing, male, workers’ wages.

The free movement that exists between EU member states should be extended, not restricted. Bosses’ use of migrant labour to undercut local labour should be met with common struggle and demands for levelling up, not calls to end free movement. By arguing that the rights of British workers can be protected by restricting the rights of migrant workers, the Socialist Party give ground to nationalism.

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Counterpunch columnist Diana Johnstone defends Le Pen

April 22, 2017 at 4:45 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, elections, Europe, fascism, France, identity politics, immigration, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism)

Andrew Coates draws attention to the supposedly “left wing” commentator Diana Johnstone’s defence of Le Pen – a warning to all those on the idiot-left (eg the UK SWP, Socialist Party and CPB/Morning Star), who think there’s something potentially progressive about an anti-EU, pro-sovereignty stance.

Johnstone has form, and has previously been backed by the likes of Chomsky and Pilger, as her Wikipedia entry describes:

“After the 2003 publication of her Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions, Johnstone became the centre of controversy over her claim in the book that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that the Srebrenica massacre of the Bosniaks was genocidal.[2] The historian Marko Attila Hoare called it “an extremely poor book, one that is little more than a polemic in defence of the Serb-nationalist record during the wars of the 1990s—and an ill-informed one at that”.[3]

“The book was rejected by publishers in Sweden,[3] prompting an open letter in 2003 defending Johnstone’s book—and her right to publish—that was signed by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali and John Pilger. The signatories stated, “We regard Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.”[4][5] Ed Vulliamy, who reported for The Guardian during the Bosnian War, called Johnstone’s book “poison” in response to the letter from Chomsky and the others.[6] In her own defence, Johnstone has said her critics “reduce [her] book, as they reduce the Balkan conflict itself, to a certain number of notorious atrocities, and stigmatise whatever deviates from their own dualistic interpretation”.[7]

“Richard Caplan of Reading and Oxford University reviewed the work in International Affairs, where he described the work as “a revisionist and highly contentious account of western policy and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. [… It] is insightful but overzealous […] well worth reading—but for the discriminating eye.”[8]

“In April 2012, she wrote about the first round of the French Presidential elections a few days earlier and identified Front National leader Marine Le Pen as “notably” “basically on the left” while also labelling Le Pen as “demagogic”.[9] She also rejected claims Le Pen is antisemitic: “There is absolutely nothing attesting to anti-Semitism on the part of Marine Le Pen. She has actually tried to woo the powerful Jewish organisations, and her anti-Islam stance is also a way to woo such groups”.[10]

Johnstone: Cannot “reduce” Marine Le Pen’s anti-Immigrant stand to “racism”. 

Diana Johnstone is a columnist for the American left site, Counterpunch.

She has, to put it mildly, ‘form’ on French Politics saying that the Front National is “basically on the left”. And indeed on British Politics, where she warmed to UKIP’s views on European immigration (Diana Johnstone’s poisonous nativism) (1)

In her most recent contribution (21st of April)  to the favourite journal of ‘wise-guys’ who want the ‘low down’ on politics, this is her view on tomorrow’s French Presidential election.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty 

Johnstone is torn in the French elections,

A most remarkable feature of this campaign is great similarity between the two candidates said to represent “the far left”, Mélenchon, and “the far right”, Marine Le Pen.  Both speak of leaving the euro.  Both vow to negotiate with the EU to get better treaty terms for France. Both advocate social policies to benefit workers and low income people. Both want to normalize relations with Russia. Both want to leave NATO, or at least its military command.  Both defend national sovereignty, and can thus be described as “sovereignists”.

Left-wing internationalists may protest at this side of Mélenchon’s politics (La chevènementisation de Jean-Luc Mélenchon Philippe Marlière).

She ignores such critics

The main divide appears to be racism.

But…

In a country suffering from unemployment, without jobs or housing to accommodate mass immigration, and under the ongoing threat of Islamist terror attacks, the issue cannot be reasonably reduced to “racism” – unless Islamic terrorists constitute a “race”, for which there is no evidence. Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion. She is certain to get considerable support from recently nationalized immigrants, just as she now gets a majority of working class votes. If this is “fascism”, it has changed a lot in the past seventy years.

So that’s all right then.

Human rights bleeding hearts and internationalist globalisers  might remarks that giving national preference to the French in jobs and housing, chanting “on est chez nous”, claiming that the French have fewer rights than foreign residents(,les Français ont parfois moins de droits en France que des étrangers, même clandestins) restricting free schooling to French citizens, and systematically linking terrorism to immigration is about as racist as you get.(Immigration et terrorisme : Marine Le Pen multiplie les intox.)

Then there is this,

The globalist media are already preparing to blame the eventual election of a “sovereignist” candidate on Vladimir Putin. Public opinion in the West is being prepared for massive protests to break out against an undesired winner, and the “antifa” militants are ready to wreak havoc in the streets. Some people who like Marine Le Pen are afraid of voting for her, fearing the “color revolution” sure to be mounted against her.  Mélenchon and even Fillon might face similar problems.

Against the views of the “globalist media” Johnstone concludes,

By far the most fundamental emerging issue in this campaign is the conflict between the European Union and national sovereignty.

That  Counterpunch claiming to be on the left, publishes Johnstone’s  defence of the ‘nation’ against the EU is, well, not unexpected.

A section of the former French ‘republican’ and anti-EU  left has moved from  ‘sovereigntism’ to active involvement in the Front National. From the “regulation” heterodox economist Jacques Sapir (a former supporter of the Front de gauche) to Thibaut Garnier (former youth secretary of the  Mouvement républicain et citoyen (MRC) and many others, they have found in Marine Le Pen a defender of National Sovereignty (Ces chevènementistes séduits par le FN).

This little gang obviously has its admirers in the US.

*******

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George Szirtes: The Immigrant at Port Selda

April 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, democracy, Europe, Human rights, identity politics, immigration, internationalism, literature, Migrants, poetry, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism")

Picture by Clarissa Upchurch

George Szirtes was born in Hungary and emigrated to England with his parents—survivors of concentration and labor camps after the 1956 Budapest uprising.

George’s address to the recent symposium at Southampton University, ‘The legacy of Brexit and citizenship in times of uncertainty’  is posted here with his permission:

I must confess I have no qualification for speaking on this subject and am keenly aware of speaking to those who do. I can only speak in my character as an unwitting child refugee to these shores, a poet and translator, and as an occasional writer of articles in the press, on, among other things, the issue of Brexit: about the campaign itself, the impact of the campaign and its likely future impact.

On that last, of course, I can only speculate. We are not out yet, we don’t know anything about the terms of disengagement, and we have no clear idea of how this or that set of terms may impact our lives.

I did in fact campaign for Remain but my role and experience was very minor. In asking Leavers why they intended to vote as they did the two answers I repeatedly got were: ‘So they won’t tell us what to do any more,’ and, ‘Things were better before’. These words will be familiar to most people here and seemed to me to be perfectly rational responses to the two major arguments of the Leave campaign regarding sovereignty and free movement of people. The way those arguments were presented elicited precisely these responses.

As I have already said I am not qualified to address those questions because I am not an expert in any of the relevant areas and because I am, by birth, parti pris on one side of the question, in that I am a foreigner and therefore one of those factors in things somehow being better before my arrival.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign. I don’t want to call those who voted differently from me stupid, or simple, or racist. Life is far more complicated and I did have some intelligent conversations with people who wanted to leave the EU, particularly those on the Chomskyite left of the political spectrum, whose arguments centred on globalisation, capitalism and high finance as expressed, occasionally, in terms of sovereignty.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign but the day after the referendum there was an incident in Norwich, a city that had voted to remain in a region that had voted to leave, in which a small Romanian supermarket was firebombed. Students at the university from which I had retired immediately set up an appeal to raise £500. By the next morning it had raised over £20, 000, so the field was not altogether lost. Despite what we are continually told about the clear will of ‘the people’ there were enough people willing to raise money for a minor indirectly demonised enterprise.

I don’t think demonisation is too harsh a word, in that Leave rhetoric called forth certain demons, or rather that it quite consciously opened the trapdoors where such demons were hiding. It legitimised them. It called forth the firebombers. It called forth those who immediately set upon elderly widows of French and German birth who had lived in the country for decades and taunted them by asking when they were going home. It called forth the teenagers on the Manchester tram who demanded a black American get off it. It called forth the murderer of Jo Cox.

By the time that happened a certain madness had set in. All the Leavers rushed to distance themselves from the murder, of course. This was nothing to do with them. None of those xenophobic incidents, and there have been and continue to be plenty of others, had anything to do with them. It was nothing to do with their presentation of sinister foreigners in Brussels, and sinister gangs of Albanians hanging round Dover and Boston, or with the sinister cheap labour of mushroom pickers and chicken packers who were taking much-coveted jobs from true Brits. No! they protested. That was not what they meant. They had nothing to do with encouraging the taxi driver we met who had moved from Kings Lynn because there were too many Lithuanians and Poles there, foreigners whose rather marvellous supermarket down a side street was, as he put it, ‘taking the place over’.

Perhaps I could go back in time and take a more personal line in order to think about what it is that might make one properly British or, more problematically, a foreigner.

2
My family of four, along with some 200,000 others, that is one-fiftieth of the population, left Hungary in the months following the defeat of the 1956 Revolution. I am not entirely sure why we left. My parents had taken no part in the fighting and were unlikely to be arrested in its repercussions. My father, as the leader of a department within the Ministry of Building, would have been exposed in the revolution itself, as much as a Jew as a member of the apparatus, but I think he would have stayed. It was my mother who insisted we leave.

Why did she do so? I don’t think it was for ideological reasons. Neither my mother nor my father hoped to feel more comfortable among free-market liberal capitalists than in a restored post-Stalinist state. They were both of the left, my middle-class mother further to the left than my working-class father who actually worked in a ministry. Ideology would, if anything, have kept them at home. They lived quite well in the given context and weren’t economic migrants.

The truth is that my mother was afraid, not so much for herself as for us, her children. She had survived two concentration camps, my father had survived forced labour. They had history gnawing at their nerves. Neither of them could have demonstrated that their lives were in immediate danger. Instead they took the dangerous impromptu risk of walking out of the country at night in wholly arbitrary party of a dozen or so, across the Austrian border, arriving there with one suitcase of clothes and nothing more. At that stage I had just three words of English — A A Milne’s AND, BUT, SO as read in my bilingual copy of Now We Are Six. We also had a bilingual edition of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. In this poem based on the memory of crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border by night, Milne’s characters — the owl and the ass in the hundred-acre wood — serve as forms of familiarity.

My father carries me across a field

My father carries me across a field.

It’s night and there are trenches filled with snow.

Thick mud. We’re careful to remain concealed

From something frightening I don’t yet know.

And then I walk and there is space between

The four of us. We go where we have to go.

Did I dream it all, this ghostly scene,

The hundred-acre wood where the owl blinked

And the ass spoke? Where I am cosy and clean

In bed, but we are floating, our arms linked

Over the landscape? My father moves ahead

Of me, like some strange, almost extinct

Species, and I follow him in dread

Across the field towards my own extinction.

Spirits everywhere are drifting over blasted

Terrain. The winter cold makes no distinction

Between them and us. My father looks round

And smiles then turns away. We have no function

In this place but keep moving, without sound,

Lost figures who leave only a blank page

Behind them, and the dark and frozen ground

They pass across as they might cross a stage.

We might well have been moving into extinction. My parents would never again be what they had been and what they might have become. Once in Austria the process of unbecoming became relatively easy. Refugee services were waiting for us, both in Austria and, a few days later in Britain, after we had been offered a flight there. Reception was efficient and kindly. We were regarded as victim-heroes of a failed but heroic Uprising against the Cold War enemy. Sentiment was with us.

So was our historical baggage. In Metro, the longest poem of my career, there are a couple of verses in which I try to sum up what we had left behind in Budapest. The physical city described in it stands in for history: the empire of the living becomes the empire of the dead.

[Metro 2 2/3]

The empire underground: the tunnelling

Begins. The earth gives up her worms and shards,

Old coins, components, ordnance, bone and glass,

Nails, muscle, hair, flesh, shrivelled bits of string,

Shoe leather, buttons, jewels, instruments.

And out of these come voices, words,

Stenches and scents,

And finally desire, pulled like a tooth.

It’s that or constancy that leads us down

To find a history which feels like truth.

That baggage of old coins, components, bits of lace and so forth is the kind of thing any refugee brings with them. It is an emblem of the real baggage of those who leave without much deliberation or calculation simply because of what appears as a pressing necessity. The children and teenagers in the jungle at Calais carry something similar. They bring their foreignness with them to squat in the mud of an alien port.

England was not our intended destination. That was Australia where my father had a cousin: we had no one in England. But Australia rejected us because of my mother’s health so we had to remain. Altogether some 28,000 Hungarians chose to remain in the UK.

What did we offer our kindly hosts?

My father had some English before we came. The rest of us — my mother, brother and I — had none. The English my father possessed made him useful in helping to process other refugees, which is what he did while we spent four months along with those others in various off-season boarding houses in or near Margate, attending English classes. My father interpreted for fellow refugees who were sent off to jobs in Wolverhampton or Luton or wherever their skill and experience would come in handy. My father’s particular skill lay in plumbing, heating and ventilation at managerial level so they found him a first job in London and, remarkably enough, enabled us to put down a deposit on a first house there. Starting from zero that was nothing short of a miracle, a remarkable act of generosity that was enough to make life-long anglophiles of us all. Meanwhile my mother, a press photographer, found work in a photographer’s studio and shop in Oxford Street.

Having settled in we set about assimilating. First of all we were to speak English, not Hungarian at home. We would never go back, very few people in the world spoke Hungarian so the language would be redundant and only slow down the rate at which we, the children, learned English and made a go of school. Budapest was no longer home. My father anglicised the pronunciation of his name to Surtees, as in the racing driver, even altering the spelling for strictly work purposes when visiting building sites to make life easier for foremen and site managers. His face and accent did not accord with the adopted name of course, and the accent was thick.

But it was a reasonable, relaxed ambience. By the time we began our English school careers there were other immigrant issues to think about. The Notting Hill Riots of 1958 for example and, ten years later, Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Then, just four years after that, in the wake of Idi Amin, came the Ugandan Asians. We might have been foreign but at least we were white.

And because we were white and less conspicuous we did not experience the resentment that met West Indians or Asians. We took the mild if diffident benevolence of England for granted. We had melted in hadn’t we? And the country into which we had melted was a stable, powerful force in the world, a safe place, ever less powerful now perhaps, ever less imperial, but still safe.

In 1984 I returned to Hungary for the first time as an adult. And kept returning. In 1989 my family and I spent almost the whole year there watching the state fall apart. Ten years later, after several books I changed publishers for the second time and my work to that date was sorted into two distinct volumes: The Budapest File (2000) dealing with work that had a Hungarian interest (by which time I had written a good deal on that) and one titled An English Apocalypse (2001), that dealt with settling in England and simply being here. In this way my work — and self — was neatly divided for public consumption.

An English Apocalypse was chiefly written in Ireland while I was a fellow at TCD, Dublin, and contained many memories of the seventies but also registered what I sensed was a mounting crisis in English identity and self-confidence. There were five apocalypses at the end of the sequence. This is one of them.

Death by Deluge

I have seen roads come to a full stop in mid-

sentence as if their meaning had fallen off

the world. And this is what happened, what meaning did

that day in August. The North Sea had been rough

and rising and the bells of Dunwich rang

through all of Suffolk. One wipe of its cuff

down cliffs and in they went, leaving birds to hang

puzzled in the air, their nests gone. Enormous

tides ran from Southend to Cromer. They swung

north and south at once, as if with a clear purpose,

thrusting through Lincolnshire, and at a rush

drowning Sleaford, Newark, leaving no house

uncovered. Nothing remained of The Wash

but water. Peterborough, Ely, March, and Cambridge

were followed by Royston, Stevenage, the lush

grass of Shaw’s Corner. Not a single ridge

remained. The Thames Valley filled to the brim

and London Clay swallowed Wapping and Greenwich.

Then west, roaring and boiling. A rapid skim

of Hampshire and Dorset, then the peninsula:

Paignton, Plymouth, Lyme, Land’s End. A slim

line of high hills held out but all was water-colour,

the pure English medium, intended for sky, cloud, and sea.

Less earth than you could shift with a spatula.

Something important began in the seventies that more-or-less coincided with the time of Britain’s EU entry: a process that involved the fuel crisis, the three-day week, the winter of discontent, and the rise of Margaret Thatcher which was followed by the destruction of old mass industries that had sustained stable communities and provided social cohesion. Britain had become the sick man of Europe. And despite an economic recovery through the later eighties and nineties, the cohesion had vanished. The economic body was no longer sick, but the social soul was.

Somebody had to be blamed for all this and the EU was the easiest scapegoat. If Britain was falling apart by 2001 in the way An English Apocalypse suggested that can’t have been Britain’s fault, can it? Who took away our pounds and ounces, our twelve pence to the shilling and our pride? Our image of sinister, faceless foreign bureaucrats — so beloved by the right wing press — conjured our own long resentful demons. The foreigners kept coming. They were after our jobs, after our benefits, after our houses, changing our ways of life, the ground of our very being. These foreigners were not all the result of the EU’s free movement policy, more to do with globalisation beyond Europe, with the disasters of wars or famine, with Britain’s own colonial history.

The concerns associated with large numbers of immigrants were masked by what people — and increasingly the popular press — called ‘political correctness’ (Political Correctness Gone Mad) by which they meant the control of language and manners, and in some cases of law, of the means of even beginning to address the concerns. That was seen as repression and, in some ways, for the best of reasons, so it was.

What I am suggesting is that that which was successfully suppressed after Notting Hill in 1958 was inarticulate and still struggling for manoeuvre in 2016 when it finally found an outlet in the referendum campaign. The end of empire had found its cry. Hence the fury. Hence the demons.

Two or three years ago I was chairing a small literary festival in the small Norfolk town where we live. In order to publicise the event we decided to read poems in the marketplace on market day. That was fun. Somebody there decided to read John Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song, that begins: ‘Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn / furnished and burnished by Aldershot sun…’, a poem that wonderfully conjures an England of the 1930s. After the event the sweetest and nicest person on the committee said to me, ‘I don’t suppose you will ever fully understand that poem, George’.

Maybe he is right. Maybe, even to the nicest of men, a foreigner can never be truly of the atavistic tribe. That wouldn’t be peculiar to the English, of course: that is, I suspect, a general truth about specific historical moments when tribes come under pressure. Maybe the English tribe is ay such a point and has decided to wash its hand of foreigners. I started out by saying that I am not, for now, directly affected by Brexit and the tide of emotion it has loosed. But the conversation with the genuinely nice man who pointed out that I could never truly understand the heart of Englishness in the Betjeman poem — and he may be right, of course — is a salutary reminder that, in subtle ways, I remain a foreigner. Maybe the door to Brexit is the door out for some of us.

I will finish with a short poem titled Port Selda. There is a much loved popular poem by the Anglo-Welsh poet, Edward Thomas, titled ‘Adlestrop’ In Thomas’s poem of 1917, it is a sunny day during the war when his train makes a brief unscheduled stop at a tiny station, Adlestrop, by an empty platform where no one gets in or out. It seems quiet there until suddenly the poet hears “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”. What we know, as readers, is that the poet himself was very soon to die in the war. For many people this poem this represents a sense of England at war, England as the elegiac quiet place sensed as if by accident.

My title, Port Selda is in fact the word Adlestrop spelled backwards. It is about the beauty of the country and the inevitability of rejection. Many of us are at Port Selda now.

The Immigrant at Port Selda

I got off at Port Selda and looked out for the harbour

but it was quiet, nothing smelled of the sea,

all I saw was a station by a well-kept arbour

with a notice pinned to a tree.

It said: Welcome to Port Selda, you who will never be

our collective unconscious nor of our race.

This is the one true genealogical tree

and this the notice you will not deface.

It was beautiful there. It was Friday in late

autumn and all the birds of the county sang

their hearts out. I noted down the date.

The sun was shining and the church-bells rang.

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David Aaronovitch: Defending ‘white interests’ can never be right

March 27, 2017 at 7:27 pm (Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, identity politics, immigration, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reaction)

This article by David Aaronovitch first appeared in The Times on 15 March 2017. It’s so good that I thought – at risk of incurring the wrath of his lawyers – it aught to be released from behind Murdoch’s paywall; it’s a superb reposte to the”intellectual” relativist apologists for racism, David Goodhart and Eric Kaufmann. The Socialist Party and CPGB/ Morning Star “left” Brexiteers should also read , learn and weep:

Trying to draw a distinction between ethnic self-interest and racism is a highly topical but fatally flawed argument

Let’s talk about whites. Readers of other colours are welcome to listen in, but this is really about us and our legitimate white self-interests, which are not at all the same thing as racism.

We owe this formulation to David Goodhart, head of the demography, immigration and integration unit at Policy Exchange, a think tank. An article by Mr Goodhart entitled “White self-interest is not the same thing as racism” was published on its website a fortnight ago as a curtain-raiser for a report by Eric Kaufmann of Birbeck College London called “Racial self-interest is not racism.”

Goodhart says the main aim of the report was “to distinguish between white racism and white identity politics”. Or as Professor Kaufmann put it, to create “space for ideas around ethnic interests to be more openly aired without accusations of racism”.

The contention here is an important one: that what might be called The Great Upheaval (Trump, Brexit, Wilders, Le Pen — add or subtract as you please) is partly explained by the resentment of majority white populations at the way their legitimate interests have been overlooked. The implied remedy is that their interests should now be factored into public policy, in areas such as immigration. As you might imagine, it has provoked something of an argument.

Broadly speaking, Kaufmann takes the view that liberals have got it all wrong. Wanting your neighbourhood to reflect your ethnic character, he says, is not racist. Feeling “discomfort” when your group “no longer sets the tone in a neighbourhood” may be inward-looking, Goodhard adds, but “labelling that feeling racist risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy, driving white resentment”. Both men cite the work of an American Muslim academic, Shadi Hamid, who has also written about supposedly non-racist “racial self-interest.”

Kaufmann cites some revealing responses when American voters were asked whether it was racist or just “racial self-interest, which is not racist” to want an immigration policy that “maintain his or her group’s share of the population”. Nearly 73 per cent of Clinton supporters and 11 per cent of Trump supporters opted for “racist”. You may have already have spotted the flaws in this argument. The first is, how do we define “white”? To an extent, Kaufmann and Goodhard are guided by people’s own description. But if “white” is the classification, does that mean that “setting the tone” is literally the skin tone? Which, for many whites, could be expressed more honestly as “too many blacks”. Or by “white” do we mean “English-speaking”? Or “Christian”? Or “non-Muslim”?

A clue comes when, in Goodhart’s new book he talks of “white British people, especially those from lower income and educational backgrounds, [who] do still wish to retain a non-supremacist ethnic identity”. He assumes that this conveniently benign identity is threatened by the presence of others who are not regarded as sharing it. And since the top signifier is colour of skin it follows that the main threat to this group comes from non-white people.

As it happens I agree with Goodhart and Kaufmann and plenty of others that the soubriquet “racist” has been horribly overused. When a mild-mannered don is accused of racism for feeling that, on the whole, a statue of Cecil Rhodes is no great threat to humanity, then that’s an abuse of language. And it is also true that fear of being labelled racist has inhibited weak-minded public officials from doing their jobs, from the Victoria Climbié case to the British-Asian grooming gangs. Furthermore, as over the Satanic Verses, I support a robust defence of democratic values and rights — rights that have been hard won.

But when they talk about legitimate white “racial self-interest” in a society where 86 per cent of the population is white, I struggle with their argument. Kaufmann, for example, is indignant in claiming that “whites” must have their own interests if other racial groups have theirs. He cites a Zoroastrian (an ancient Persian religious group) as arguing against “marrying out” to preserve the existence of the ancient religion.

But this is an absurdity, There are nearly no Zoroastrians left. There are quite a few white people. And a similar read-across doesn’t work for minorities. Take my black nephew and my white nephew. My black nephew inhabits a society where he can witness us having an argument about whether there are too many of him. My white nephew has never encountered such a thing. My black nephew has an interest in dealing with prejudice. My white nephew doesn’t. Of course, if he were poor he would be disadvantaged and still white, but it would be the poorness that marked him out.

It is a feature of the times, of course, that a multi-millionaire aristocratic think-tanker, daughter of a 15th earl, can write to the Financial Times (as one did last week) complaining about a “liberal animus against whites” and not be thought eccentric.

White males were declared an “endangered species” in the same week that University Challenge managed a programme on which every person appearing was white and male. We are living through a moment of cultural reaction that has little to do with reality.

So let me spell it out. I find it very hard to imagine any “racial self-interest” that whites might have (in a country where they are, after all, in the majority) which wouldn’t have a negative impact on minorities. If, for example, we fashion an immigration policy that embodies the desire to “maintain” a white share of the population, then that policy will have to be racially discriminatory. Since we are never worried about white people moving into “ethnic” areas, a housing policy reflecting white self-interest could be aimed at keeping others off the list. More of my white nephew, less of my black nephew, just so that some people don’t feel “uncomfortable”.

And when Kaufmann writes, sympathetically, that “cultural conservatives hold elites responsible for enforcing antiracist norms — in the workplace, government and mainstream media — beyond the bounds of what they consider appropriate”, I reply “Didn’t they always?” Didn’t they first tell us that tribalism was natural, as was preferring your own, and that it was better to be educated separately but equally, to want your daughter to marry someone just like daddy, a human right to be able to let that spare room to someone you could identify with rather than a black or an Irish? I’m not racist. I have nothing against them. I’m just acknowledging my racial self-interest. Which is that I’m white. So give me the job.

  • Eric Kaufmann responds in a letter published on 19 March by The Times, here

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Socialist Worker’s fantasy world of non-racist Brexit, quite different from Trump

February 23, 2017 at 8:35 pm (Andrew Coates, Beyond parody, Europe, fantasy, immigration, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, stalinism, SWP, Trump)

Andrew Coates nails the liars and fantasists of Socialist Worker:

Image result for Trump Brexit

Nothing to do with Brexit, says Socialist Worker Alternative News Factory.

Don’t lump together Brexit and Trump.

Socialist Worker. 21.2.2017.

There’s no shortage of things to be angry about at the moment—especially when it comes to racism and attacks on Muslims and migrants.

It can be hard to keep track of the outrages committed by US president Donald Trump.

And in Britain many politicians think the vote to leave the European Union (EU) is an opportunity to attack migrants and end freedom of movement.

Yet Trump and Brexit are not the same thing—and we shouldn’t lump them together.

There are similarities between the two. They both happened because sections of working class people kicked back at mainstream politicians after decades of attack.

Myths

Some did swallow racist myths pushed from the top of society.

But there is a major difference. There could never be a progressive case for supporting Donald Trump—but there has always been a left wing and anti-racist case against the EU.

Socialist Worker campaigned to leave the EU because it has enforced austerity and locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty.

It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing.

It was a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politicians.

There’s an anti-establishment feeling in Britain that can be turned into resistance.

But to do that means connecting with people’s anger—not dismissing it as racist.

It is no doubt important to emphasise that Trump, who strongly backed Brexit, is not Brexit, nor indeed is he Paul Nuttall, nor was he present, like Nuttall at the Battle of Hastings.

Yet one suspects that the SWP are stung by the loud noises of celebration coming from the Trump camp, and far-rightists around the world, from Marine Le Pen onwards, at the British vote to Leave.

It would be interesting to see the data that shows that the main factor behind the Brexit  was “a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politics.”

It would be also interesting to see a Marxist analysis of the ‘elite’, what class it is, and indeed what an ‘elite’ in the UK is.

It would be perhaps too much to expect an account of how leaving the EU, and attacking migrants’ rights (in the UK and, for UK citizens within continental Europe)  and ending freedom of movement within its frontiers, is going bring borders down and help, “locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty”.

No doubt the “The EU’s Frontex border guards stop refugees entering Europe by land – forcing them to risk their lives at sea.” will disappear as the UK……. sets up its own border guards.

How Brexit  was going to be part of the the fight against austerity by consolidating power in the hands of the right-wingers now in charge of the UK Sovereign state, opening up the way for future trade agreements with the pro-Brexit nationalist Trump, is one of those mysteries of the dialectic.

One that shouting that Trump is not Brexit, and an analysis based on “kicking back” at elites, is not going to unravel.

As for people’s reasons for the Leave vote.

This is a synthesis of many studies (Wikipedia).

On the day of the referendum Lord Ashcroft‘s polling team questioned 12,369 people who had completed voting. This poll produced data that showed that ‘Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the European Union was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.”

Lord Ashcroft’s election day poll of 12,369 voters also discovered that ‘One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”’[8]

Immediately prior to the referendum data from Ipsos-Mori showed that immigration/migration was the most cited issue when Britons were asked ‘What do you see as the most/other important issue facing Britain today?’ with 48% of respondents mentioning it when surveyed.

In the SWP’s Alternative News Factory the third who were plainly anti-migrant have vanished, nor any consideration that this may have been a reason, if not the principal one, for a Brexit vote.

Perhaps the writers for Socialist Worker were asleep when the torrent of anti-migrant propaganda was unleashed in the country.

Now, how exactly  is the SWP going to relate to the “anti-establishment” demand that motivated the others  that “decisions taken in the UK should be taken in the UK” by these people ‘angry at the elites’?

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It’s anti-Muslim racism, not Islamophobia

February 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm (Anti-Racism, class, communalism, Human rights, immigration, imperialism, Islam, islamism, language, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion)

By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)

“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)

Protester holding a sign in Washington, D.C. Original caption: Sept 15 2007 March and Rally, Member of the counter protest Gathering of Eagles, yelling

Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class. Read the rest of this entry »

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AWL on Trump, Fascism and Brexit

February 3, 2017 at 8:52 pm (AWL, Europe, fascism, Human rights, immigration, Islam, populism, posted by JD, protest, reaction, Trump, United States)

 Steve Bell 03.02.17
Above: Steve Bell, Guardian

Also published on the Workers Liberty website and in the current issue of Solidarity:

Organise, on the streets and in the labour movement! Argue for socialist, democratic, internationalist ideas which offer a real answer both to Trump’s rancid, right-wing, regression, and to the discredited status quo. That is how we can block Trump.

Trump’s “executive order” of 27 January has stirred up protests across the world. Trump’s “Muslim ban” halted the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees fleeing Assad’s butchery and the sectarian Islamist militias. All travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are not permitted to enter the US for 90 days, or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. Customs and Border Protection agents have defied the orders of federal judges halting deportations.

Besides this outrageous act of anti-Muslim and racist discrimination, Trump has also signed executive decisions:

• To build a wall along the US-Mexico border

• To withdraw US federal grant money from “sanctuary cities” in the USA which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants

• To advance construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines

• To order the commerce secretary to develop a plan (likely to breach WTO rules) requiring US-made steel for the pipelines

• To order public agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” all portions of Obama’s Affordable [Health] Care Act that create financial burdens on states, individuals, or healthcare companies

• To ban federal money to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions

• To withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. Trump has suggested that South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons and US forces withdraw from those countries.

He has courted Russian president Vladimir Putin, but talked of rescinding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Russia was an interested participant. He has favoured the use of torture, but suggested for now he will defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis on that. He has promised to build up US militarism. He has given a green light for more-or-less unlimited Israeli settlement and creeping annexation in the West Bank.

On 27 January, too, the Holocaust Memorial Day statement from Trump’s White House, unlike previous such US presidential statements, omitted Jews and antisemitism. Trump’s chief of staff defended the omission: “I mean, everyone suffering in the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected… is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad”.

Trump’s style is often fascistic: authoritarian, demagogic, militaristic, nationalist. The analytic difference between this and full-fledged fascism has importance. As Trotsky explained in the 1930s, when the Stalinists had the habit of describing all they disliked as “fascist”, fascism requires a street-fighting “movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file… a plebeian movement in origin… from the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialistic demagogy”.

The reactionary mass movement gives fascism the facility, which ordinary decree from above lacks, to crush the labour movement, civil society, and civil liberties, and to impose demagogic, nationalist, racist, protectionist, militaristic policies which even the majority of the bourgeoisie dislikes. “Such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots into his face”. In return:
“From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years”.

To declare a right-wing government “fascist” before time amounts to declaring that social civil war has been lost in advance. Trump’s turn, however, can do great damage, and build conditions for actual fascism after the next great economic crisis. Already it shatters complacencies. Already it breaks up the comforting assumption that even if things get worse under neoliberalism, not all of them do, and worsening is slow, so if you have an established citizenship and good jobs you can keep ahead.

The globalised neoliberal world order has resilience. It has negotiated and absorbed many shocks. A great swathe of top-level opinion considers Trump maverick and dangerous. Within a few days of Trump’s “Muslim ban”, over 9,000 US academics, including 50 Nobel prize-winners and 82 winners of Fields medals or similar, had signed a protest, and they included the doyens of neoliberal economics, Eugene Fama and Robert Lucas. Yet, as the conservative writer Jonathan Rauch pointed out last year, the system of political mediations, consultations, information-flows, safeguards for continuity and coherence, in the USA, had substantially fractured even before Trump, replaced by a chaos of demagogues negotiating an atomised and disinformed electorate and a welter of wealthy lobbyists. In this fracturing, and with the confidence of orthodox bourgeois leaders shaken by the crash of 2008 and the disarray since then, a militant and cohesive bourgeois minority — and Trump may be able to assemble that — can take the initiative. The rest will mostly adapt (as Theresa May and Boris Johnson are doing) or shrug ineffectually.

In the USA’s State Department (equivalent of the Foreign Office), top officials had, as a conventional formality, submitted resignation letters on the arrival of a new president. Usually new presidents ignore most such letters and maintain some continuity of management. Trump has accepted all the resignation letters and made a clean sweep.

Against a determined push by Trump, the liberal bourgeoisie will not safeguard the moderate extensions of women’s and LGBT equality, the modest opening of opportunities to ethnic minorities, the relative freedom of movement for some across some borders, the mild cosmopolitanism, on which it prides itself. Having already let so many civil rights be swallowed by the “war on terror” and the drive for “labour flexibility”, it will be no bulwark for the rest. The liberal bourgeoisie may not even safeguard the achievement of which it boasts most, the reduction of economic barriers between countries.

Before the USA’s Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930, which started a catastrophic spiral of protectionism and shrinking world trade, “economics faculties [in the USA]… were practically at one in their belief that the Hawley-Smoot bill was an iniquitous piece of legislation”. Over a thousand economists petitioned the US administration against it. It went through, and its effects spiralled. It falls to the labour movement to defend even the limited bourgeois ameliorations.

The labour movement cannot do that unless it mobilises; unless it cleanses itself of the accommodations to nationalism now so common over Brexit; and unless it spells out socialist answers which can convince and rally the millions of the economically marginalised and disillusioned. It falls to the left to make the labour movement fit for those tasks.

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Corbyn’s Brexit capitulation – and the curse of consumer-politics

January 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm (campaigning, capitulation, Champagne Charlie, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, reformism, socialism, stalinism, workers)

Image result for picture Labour Party logo

Corbyn’s decision to support May’s plans for triggering article 50 is a craven capitulation to nationalism. It also won’t work: hard-line Brexiteers and racists will remain unconvinced, while to the rest of Joe and Joanne public it just looks like a combination of panic and opportunism – which it is. Even in Stoke Central, the so-called “Brexit capital of the UK”, my local contacts tell me that Brexit isn’t the key issue: the overall state of the party and the credibility of its local campaign, is.

This shambles also calls into question the kind of advice that Corbyn is receiving from the cabal of politically illiterate Stalinists in his inner circle.

It needs to be stated loud and clear that the referendum result represents no fixed-forever “decision of the British public” which obliges Labour to give away the rights of migrant workers (and British workers and young people who want to work, study, or live in Europe) by abandoning the EU and freedom of movement. In fact, since some Leave voters wanted something like EEA status, even on 23 June there was probably a majority for keeping freedom of movement. Plebiscitary democracy — democracy via referendum snap votes, on questions shaped and timed by the established powers — is the thinnest form of democracy. Usually it just serves those already in office. This time a strong sub-section of those in office (Johnson, Gove, etc.) were able to surprise Cameron, in a public debate which was essentially Johnson-Tory plus UKIP versus Cameron-Tory, with Labour voices weak and unconvincing (Corbyn) or ignored by the media (Alan Johnson and Labour’s official Remain campaign).

That does not make it more democratic. The referendum excluded 16-17 year olds, excluded EU citizens living in the UK (though they can vote in local authority elections), was run on poor registers missing out seven million people; and such a narrow snap vote is no democratic authority to deprive millions of freedom of movement and probably impose new borders between England and Scotland and between Northern Ireland and the South.

All but the thinnest democracy includes a process of the formation, refinement, revision, and re-formation of a collective majority opinion. Without such a process, and without organised democratic political parties which collectively distill ideas and fight for them, democracy means only rule by whatever faction of the rich and well-placed can sustain itself through judiciously-chosen successive snap popular votes. It has almost no element of collective self-rule.

Labour should oppose Article 50 and demand a second referendum, at which we advocate remaining in the EU.

Whether Labour activists should ally themselves with the newly-formed Labour Against Brexit remains to be seen, and largely depends upon whether it turns out to be a right wing campaign to simply get rid of Corbyn: something that isn’t as yet clear.

Finally, a frank word to those good comrades who are talking about resigning from the party over this: we are not in politics as consumers who simply buy into a political party when we like the look/sound of what’s on offer. The uncritical adulation of Corbyn in the early days of his campaign and leadership was as silly as the claims now of being let down and the suggestion in some quarters of dropping out of the Labour Party.

Labour under Corbyn was always going to have crap politics, because Corbyn himself has always had crap politics – as demonstrated by his half-hearted stance on the EU and willingness to endorse the Morning Star. Most of the PLP have crappier politics still. We are arguing and mobilising for socialism in a world where politics is shifting to the right and British politics is dominated by questions of Brexit and national identity, which is simply not the terrain on which to build class politics, in the way that the NHS, workers’ rights and inequality is.

Our job is to rebuild Labour as a working class party. That process is only just beginning and will take years. People need to get stuck into their branches, CLPs and Momentum (whatever its faults). Serious comrades need to get their hands dirty delivering leaflets and travelling to Stoke and Copeland.

On article 50 Corbyn is clearly wrong, and we should say so. But instead of getting bogged down on the minutiae of the Brexit process, we need a laser-like focus on the NHS, housing and workers’ rights. Workers need inspiration and hope: maybe Corbyn can’t give it but a mighty battle against tory destruction of the NHS can in a way that article 50 never will.

Finally, socialists should be in the Labour Party now and for the foreseeable future, just as we should have been (and some of us were) under Miliband. What’s crucial is the party’s class nature, not its leadership at any given time. If there was a better Labour leader with better politics we could elect tomorrow I’d be in favour of doing so. But there isn’t and we can’t. We must not follow the example set the right wing Labour MPs who are resigning their seats to cause by elections as a strategy to get Corbyn out. If socialists throw up their hands in despair  because things are not coming up roses just at the moment, how the hell do you think we’ll ever overthrow capitalism?

(NB: thanks to comrade Dave for the closing rant).

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Three arguments against free movement, and three responses

January 5, 2017 at 9:01 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Ira Berkovic (also published at the Workers Liberty website)

In the debate in the labour movement around “free movement”, which is in fact a debate about immigration, a number of arguments have been made by left-wing advocates of ending free movement – that is, leaving the EU on a basis which abolishes the rights of free movement to the UK that EU citizens currently have, and which UK citizens currently have to other EU states.

This article attempts to respond to some of those arguments, and present a positive case for defending and extending existing freedom of movement.

Argument One: “By ending free movement we can make Britain a giant closed shop”.

See: “Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit opportunity”, Clive Heemskerk, Socialism Today No. 201, September 2016.
“Standing in the way of control: thoughts on Labour post-Brexit”, Tom Muntzer, The Clarion, 28 November 2016
“Workers need safeguards and strong unions to make migration work”, Len McCluskey, LabourList, 5 November 2016

A closed shop is a workplace in which membership of the recognised union is a condition of employment. It is a gain which grows out of workplace organisation and strength, when a union is strong enough to impose it on the employer.

It was illegalised by Thatcher’s anti-union laws in 1990, and now exists only in a handful of places in a spectral form, where workers are able to establish a culture and a common sense in the workplace whereby choosing not to join the union is universally understood as a very bad idea.

So, what has any of that to do with the debate on immigration?

In what is simultaneously the most fantastical and, in some ways, the most offensively reactionary, “left-wing” argument against free movement, some have suggested that the existing free movement arrangements could be replaced by a form of immigration controls that legally compels bosses who wish to “hire abroad” to operate closed shops, so the foreign workers they recruit must be union members in order to get jobs, or be covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey puts it like this: “Any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.”

The implication is that if employers are legally forced to only hire union workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, there will be no financial incentive for them to hire cheaper, migrant labour.

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

But in a genuine closed shop, the enforcing body is the trade union. In this version, the British state will apparently become the enforcer. Quite how this is supposed to work in practise (whether, for example, it will involve uniformed border police checking people’s union cards at Calais and Heathrow) is not clear.

And why will the proposed law apply only to international migrants? Why will a Polish worker looking for work in London require a union card, but not an English worker from, say, Blackburn looking for work in London?

And why is it imagined that the existing labour movement, that has not been able to overturn the law banning closed shops in order to force employers to recognise them for domestic labour, will succeed in forcing employers to operate closed shops for migrant labour?

Some advocates of this policy on the revolutionary left justify the approach with reference to the First International, which did indeed set as part of its aim resistance to attempts by employers to “play off” workers from one country against those of another.

But two key differences with the contemporary situation are missed out. Firstly, the disputes to which the First International was responding were ones in which employers who faced strikes in Country A attempted to directly hire workers from Country B, in order to break the strike in Country A. Almost no migrant labour in Britain today is directly recruited abroad, and none of it on the conscious, explicit basis of doing the work of striking workers in Britain.

And secondly, the methods of the First International were solidaristic, linking workers’ organisations across borders to appeal directly to workers not to allow their labour be used to undermine the struggles of their brothers and sisters abroad. This approach has nothing in common with the hostile attitude to migrants and immigration implied by the policies of today’s anti-free-movement left.

There is a nationalist arrogance implied in this politics. The implication is that British workers are unionised, militant, and in an almost permanent state of struggle to defend their conditions – which is why bosses want to use migrant workers, who of course have no trade union consciousness and are little more than scabs, to undermine it.

The reality is quite different. As we know, strikes are at historically low levels and the labour movement has halved in size since its 1979 height. The picture of a militant and combative “native” labour movement having its struggles undermined by bosses shipping in migrant strikebreakers is simply false. In fact, some of the brightest spots in contemporary class struggle in Britain are migrant workers’ struggles, such as the organising by the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB) and United Voices of the World (UVW). As Jason Moyer-Lee of the IWGB puts it, these struggles mean migrant workers often leave their jobs “better than they found them”.

Overturning the law on closed shops, and reintroducing them as a feature of the industrial landscape in this country, is a worthy aspiration. But that will be achieved through organisation and struggle. To demand a state-enforced “closed shop” as a means of “solving” the largely illusory “problem” of migrant labour depressing wages for domestic workers is, at best, bizarre.

It either functions as a demand that migrant workers have adequate trade union consciousness before they move to Britain (again, why demand this of a Pole moving to Britain, but not a Geordie moving to London?), or is simply a dishonest obfuscation. Uneasy with straightforwardly expressing the political core of their demand – that immigration be reduced – the policy is wrapped up in “trade union” verbiage to make it appear like something other than what it is, a demand for boosting one group of workers at the expense of another, in this case on the basis of nationality and immigration status.

It is the very opposite of the politics of class unity and solidarity that the principle of the closed shop is supposed to express.

Argument Two: “We need fair immigration controls”.

See: “My cure for a divided Britain: a programme of managed immigration”, Stephen Kinnock, The Guardian, 19 September 2016

Versions of this argument are used by a range of people in the labour movement, from Blairite and soft-left MPs through to some on the far-left. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jo Cox: victim of ‘Leave’ hate crime.

November 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm (assassination, crime, Europe, fascism, immigration, Jim D, Migrants, murder, populism, Racism, RIP, terror, UKIP)

Nigel Farage with the poster
Above: incitement to hatred

The individual who murdered Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum shouted “Britain First” and similar slogans as he snuffed out her life. In court, when asked his name he replied “Death to Traitors.” We now know that in the bag he carried during the attack there was a leaflet about the referendum (from the ‘Remain’ side, but quite obviously not because that’s the side he supported).

Jo Cox was, of course, a well-known ‘Remain’ campaigner and had also been outspoken in demanding that the UK did more for Syrian refugees. She was murdered on the very day that Farage unveiled his notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.

At the time of the slaughter, it was pretty obvious that the killer was a ultra nationalist, driven into action by the extreme nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Farage/Banks wing of the Leave campaign (which the likes of Johnson and Stuart were, of course, quite happy to go along with). But the Remain side pulled our punches on this – mainly, I suspect, because it felt distasteful to seem to be making political capital out of a human tragedy. Even Shiraz Socialist was hesitant about making the link in plain language. The likes of the SWP and Morning Star, usually quick off the mark in pointing out that politicians’ racist language (eg Cameron’s use of the word “swarm”) can have practical consequences in the streets, avoided pointing the finger – for the obvious reason that they found themselves on the same side as Farage, Johnson and Stuart, however different their motives may have been

But now it can be said – indeed, must be said: although the killer is a far from being a typical ‘Leave’ voter (he is a neo- Nazi and may well be mentally ill), he was undooubtably stirred into action when he was by the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the wise words of Alex Massie (one of the few journalists to make the link at the time, though he stopped short of holding Farage personally responsible):

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen

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