Support the Brum refuse workers!

August 11, 2017 at 9:26 am (Brum, Cuts, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity, Unite the union, workers)

By a member of South Birmingham Momentum

For the past few weeks the refuse workers in Birmingham have been in dispute with Birmingham City Council over proposed changes to pay-grades, terms and conditions, and levels of public safety.

Workers from the Unite union are now beginning a third week of industrial action. I went down to Lifford Lane depot to find out more about the dispute.

There were a large number of workers on the picket line. I introduced myself, telling them that I was a Labour Party member, and that I wanted to find out more about the dispute, but through the workers themselves, and not just those who had the fortune of having their views published, often exclusively, by the local mainstream media. Immediately, one of the striking workers exclaimed, “Where’s the councillors? Why aren’t the councillors here to discuss this with us?” This was an issue that was raised time and again throughout the morning, and contributed to a genuinely angry atmosphere on the picket line. Workers were collectively angry that councillors did not seem to be engaging with them. Moreover, they felt like they were being ignored by the political class who distance themselves from the realities of real worker’s struggles and real working-class life.

Part of the dispute is about a pay and grade review, where previously agreed pay levels linked to skill grades are threatened by council proposals. One worker was disgusted with the language that has been used by councillors. “They call it ‘modernisation’ – we call it job cuts,” he said. “We’re out doing this job year on year, we’ve told the council how we need to modernise, how we need to improve efficiency. They ignore us, yet they have no experience of doing our jobs.” Some workers spoke of the inefficiency of the council’s long-standing policy of relying on agency staff – some who have been doing the job for over a decade – rather than take the workers on permanent contracts. “Hardly modern, is it? But they do not listen,” grumbled another disgruntled worker.

Workers complained at the attitude of the council. “They won’t come to the table,” they said. “They have their view of ‘modernisation’, and that’s it.” Another angry worker told me that the proposed changes will mean the scrapping or downgrading of the grade 3 post. This is a safety-critical post. It concerns the very workers who are trained and skilled to drive the vehicles. One only has to think of the size of the wagons that are used in the huge operation of moving Birmingham’s rubbish to imagine the carnage that could occur if cuts to safety are allowed.

And what for the future? If the council can alter conditions and get rid of previously agreed terms then what is stopping them doing it again in the future? Could councillors simply abolish grades, after, in the words of Unite regional officer, Lynne Shakespeare, “woefully inadequate consultation”?

Council attempts to redefine the job are another slap in the face for the workers. They stressed that the job hasn’t changed at all – people still need to have their rubbish collected – but the conditions have. Expectations of time had been put on workers, especially since the introduction of wheelie-bins, but the council had shown arrogant disregard with a one-size-fits-all policy. The view that there is no difference in removing refuse from a wheelie-bin from two completely different areas in two completely different houses is as ludicrous as it is ignorant. Add to this the policy of side-waste – waste that is left outside of the bins, that workers are not contracted to take, but bosses have instructed them to collect – then the time constraints become even clearer. Furthermore there are special requests from residents, for example, some elderly residents who cannot physically move their wheelie-bin on to the pavement, so leave it at the top of their drive. Both the council and the workers want to get this waste collected, but it is seemingly only the workers who recognise that this takes more time.

The points made by the workers were plentiful and detailed. Previous projects that had wasted many times more than the predicted savings were to make, ignoring the cost-saving advice of the unions and not listening to the solutions offered by the workers, the false offer of equivalent employment, the privatisation of the vehicle mechanics and maintenance, the lack of assessment on a variety of health and safety issues and the failure to correctly survey properties were just a sample of the points that were made.

The workers were clear:

• These proposals will not improve the service, they will make it worse.

• If the workers don’t stand up for their jobs now, the council will move to make even deeper cuts in the future.

• People never noticed the refuse workers……..until they weren’t there.

South Birmingham Momentum sends its true solidarity to the Birmingham refuse workers and supports their action 100%. We don’t want a city with a fourth-rate, underfunded refuse collection service. We don’t want the safety of all of us to be jeopardised in the name of austerity. We don’t want the council to attack Birmingham’s most valuable assets – those workers who I met today. If we want to reduce pay, perhaps we should start at the top, those in senior council positions with fat-cat salaries that are in excess of ten-times the amount of some of the workers I spoke to today.

We do want to show our solidarity with the refuse workers. We can do this by attending the picket lines every day until we win this dispute. Workers will be on strike outside Lifford Lane depot every weekday morning between 6am and 8am and every weekday afternoon between 1230pm and 130pm.

Members of the Labour Party can further show solidarity by passing resolutions at ward and constituency level that support the industrial action of the refuge workers and oppose the council proposals that amount to nothing more than an assault on the working-class of this great city, and a guarantee of a worse service.

NB: Unite statement here

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Venezuela, Corbyn and Labour MPs

August 7, 2017 at 7:00 pm (democracy, labour party, Latin America, left, posted by JD, protest, reformism, riots, solidarity)

The following discussion article was published by The Clarion a few days ago, before Corbyn’s statement today.  Comments are invited both here and at The Clarion (see bottom of this post). Coatesy provides an excellent survey of other leftist views re events in Venezuela, here.

Venezuela, Corbyn and Labour MPs
By Sacha Ismail

On 2 August the main headline on the front page of the Times read: “Labour MPs urge Corbyn to condemn Venezuela”! Labour MPs are using the crisis in Venezuela to have a fresh pop at Corbyn.

No doubt some Labour MPs are genuinely concerned about human rights abuses in Venezuela. But the campaign as a whole is both bad politically and deeply hypocritical.

I don’t say that because I am a fan of the Maduro government. I do not believe it is socialist – socialism or even a workers’ government can only be created by the self-organisation of the working class, not Bonapartist type populist regimes. Moreover in the recent period Maduro has taken an even more authoritarian turn, with many of the social gains made under the government of Hugo Chavez – also not socialist – in danger or already gone (see this statement by Venezuelan socialist organisation Marea Socialista for a useful explanation). We should be supporting Venezuela’s beleaguered but substantial labour movement and particularly the wing of it critical of Chavismo from the left – not the government.

 A protester throws rocks during clashes with Venezuelan security forces near a military base, which was attacked by rebels on Sunday. A protester throws rocks during clashes with Venezuelan security forces near a military base, which was attacked by rebel soldiers on Sunday. Photograph: Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

But despite this and despite human rights abuses which are almost certainly taking place and getting worse – and which we should not be afraid to criticise – the dominant forces of the Venezuelan opposition do not represent a better alternative. Despite undoubtedly having some popular support, they are a right-wing, anti-democratic movement which is using popular dissatisfaction and supposed concern for democracy as a cover for its real agenda. They collaborate with a US government that has long sought to overthrow the “Bolivarian” regime for old-fashioned capitalist and imperialist reasons.

The current movement is the descendent, so to speak, of the right-wing coup against Chavez in 2002, which was defeated by mass popular mobilisation. The cause of democracy and the working class will be set back if it succeeds.

We can also question to what extent many Labour MPs are motivated by genuine concern for democracy and human rights. They seem determined to ignore the fact that the Labour Party leadership has issued statements criticising the Venezuelan government (through shadow foreign office ministers Emily Thornberry and Liz McInnes, admittedly, not Corbyn – but Corbyn’s spokesperson has endorsed them). Is their problem that it is insufficiently enthusiastic about the right-wing Venezuelan opposition, or do they just not care about the facts at all?

And in addition to the Labour right’s silence about the nature of the Venezuelan opposition, the right-wing MPs’ broader record speaks for itself.

Many of those leading the charge against Corbyn on Venezuela broke the whip and abstained when the Labour Party pushed to end British support for the disgusting Saudi war in Yemen – something I am still genuinely slightly astonished by. Angela Smith, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Venezuela member quoted widely in the press today, is a case in point. (She also abstained on the Welfare Bill, in case you were wondering.) Such people support “democracy” as long it serves the interests of British capitalism and the Western powers. Labour MPs supporting Narendra Modi when he came to the UK was another shocking example.

Perhaps Corbyn could do more to use his influence to stop human rights abuses by the Venezuelan government. I’m sure, judging by his previous statements, that he has illusions in Venezuela along with other “progressive”, “anti-imperialist” developing world regimes. That’s something The Clarion might look at in the near future. But this campaign to condemn him over Venezuela is fairly absurd and in many ways disgraceful.

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

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Jackie Walker and Scottish PSC: full-on anti-Semitism at Edinburgh Fringe

August 5, 2017 at 6:24 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, posted by JD, Racism, scotland, stalinism)

Any pretence that Jackie Walker and her supporters might once have had, that she’s simply an honest-to-goodness”anti-Zionist” but not an anti-Semite, now lie in ruins. She’s now in Atzmon territory:

Inline image

Can anyone tell us who the “they” might be in the sentence “What they wouldn’t let Jackie Walker tell you?”

                                         Inline image

 The banner at the front of the stage is the banner of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Last week a report was published contained 140 pages of screengrabs of antisemitic material posted by SPSC members and activists:
 
 
If the link does not work, google: jewish human rights watch holocaust denial in Scotland
(Gosh! I didn’t know that Princess Di was assassinated by Mossad. Gosh! I didn’t know of plans to build a statue to Adolf Hitler in Israel. Gosh! I didn’t know that the Rothschilds were behind the assassination of President Kennedy. Of course, I already knew that 9/11 was really an inside job by Mossad, just as ISIS is really a Mossad front organisation.)

To save anyone spending time reading the entire report, here are examples of what has been posted by (some) SPSC members and (some) PSC activists:

“The Real Holocaust of World War Two: The Genocide of 15 Million+ Germans.”

“I had not known that many of the claims they (i.e. Jews) made about the Holocaust were in fact fraudulent.”

“It is mostly they (Jews) who push for race mixing and miscegenation, knowing full well that it would eventually lead to those of white European descent being minorities in their own countries and the eventual extermination of white European DNA”.

“Holocaust Against Jews is a Total Lie – Proof.”

“International Red Cross Report Confirms the Holocaust of Six Million Jews Is a Hoax.”

“Not ‘Death Camps’ but Work Camps.”

“ISIS Leader ‘Al-Baghdadi’ is Jewish Mossad Agent.”

The Paris attack “had every single hallmark of a Mossad false flag operation.”

“The Real Reason Why Princess Diana Was Assassinated: Princess Diana was assassinated by Mossad because … …”

“25,000 Ukrainian Children Organs Harvested in Israel.”

“What do both these men (Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi) have in common? They refused to accept American dollars for oil and their central banks were not owned by the Rothschild family.”

“I suggest you investigate the role of the elite in the creation, funding and propagation of Bolshevism and Communism, both Jewish led and funded movements.”

“Israel Did 9/11 to Destroy Seven Countries in Five Years.”

“The problem here is Bashar Assad. He still refuses to open the door to Jewish greed, i.e. Rothschild Central Bank and all the Zionist corporations of the Jewish Lobby, therefore must be replaced by an obedient puppet as in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, etc.”

“Jewish Bolshevik mass murderer Genrikh Yagoda was responsible for between 7 and 10 million deaths. The fact that you’ve never heard of him is exactly why the Jews should not have total control of the media.”

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Labour Campaign for Free Movement launched

August 5, 2017 at 8:27 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, labour party, Migrants, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

By  04/08/2017

MPs and union chiefs call on the party leadership to say it how it is – and to come out fighting for free movement:

A series of leading allies of Jeremy Corbyn, including former shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis (pictured above) and the leaders of several trade unions, have joined forces to call on the Labour leadership to fight for free movement.

Lewis, the ex-shadow defence secretary, and the general secretaries of the TSSA and Bakers’ Union, as well as MPs David Lammy and Geraint Davies are among the backers of a new campaign which aims to resist the “scapegoating” of migrants by a “political and economic elite”.

The group, entitled Labour Campaign for Free Movement, accuses the Tories of responding to the refugee crisis with “brutality and detention centres” and demands Labour translates into policy its recent “celebration” of the contribution of migrants.

“Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services,” the group wrote in a statement today.

“These are the product of decades of under-investment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.”

The intervention is the latest salvo in Labour’s internal debate over the shape of Brexit. Last month, the party leadership performed a significant U-turn when senior figures such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott said they were keeping all options on the table.

EU leaders have repeatedly said the single market is tied to the issue of free movement but today’s launch of the free movement campaign makes no reference to the trading bloc, although many of the signatories have previously spoken out on the subject.

As well as Manuel Cortes, head of the TSSA, Ronnie Draper, leader of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, and Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, the backers include Labour national executive members Ann Black and Darren Williams, and MEPs Julie Ward and Lucy Anderson.

The statement:

We are Labour members and supporters united in our commitment to defending and extending the free movement of people in the context of the debate around Brexit.

To sign up to the campaign, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

The UK is at a crossroads in its relationship to the rest of the world, and so is our party. Immigrants and free movement are being scapegoated by a political and economic elite that is subjecting ordinary people to cuts and austerity. During the greatest refugee crisis in recent years, the Tories have responded with brutality and detention centres.

Labour should respond with clarity, humanity and solidarity. We fought the last General Election arguing against such scapegoating, and celebrating the contributions of migrants to our society. That tone must now translate into policy.

Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services. These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.

A system of free movement is the best way to protect and advance the interests of all workers, by giving everyone the right to work legally, join a union and stand up to their boss without fear of deportation or destitution. Curtailing those rights, or limiting migrants’ access to public services and benefits, will make it easier for unscrupulous employers to hyper-exploit migrant labour, which in turn undermines the rights and conditions of all workers.

Free movement enhances everyone’s rights. There are more than a million UK citizens living in the EU, and millions more who may enjoy the right to do so. UK workers in the EU have access to benefits, healthcare and other public services. Tens of thousands of UK students study abroad each year under ERASMUS schemes. UK and European citizens have the automatic right to family reunion.

Labour must build a society for the many, not the few. We need well-paid, secure jobs for all, with guaranteed hours, collective bargaining and stronger, freer trade unions. We need a policy of massive investment in council housing, public services and infrastructure. And we need to tell the truth about who and what is to blame for the crisis: an unaccountable elite who have run the economy in their own narrow interests. Ending free movement would be counterproductive to achieving all of this.

List of signatories

Sign the statement here

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Unions challenge Corbyn’s Brexit delusion

July 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm (Conseravative Party, economics, Europe, Jim D, labour party, populism, TUC, unions, Unite the union)

Steve Bell cartoon
Above: Labour shouldn’t back this Tory obsession (cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian)

Watching the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit is excellent spectator sport, but some on our side seem determined to follow them into the right wing, nationalist mire. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been showing signs of revisiting his anti-EU past, apparently committing Labour to hard Brexit, and capitulating to the anti-immigration camp.  Since then, John McDonnell has softened the position, suggesting that Britain could stay in the single market under some circumstances.

It’s becoming clear that the Labour leadership and PLP are almost as split on this as the Tories, though the rank and file membership (including those who identify as Corbynites) are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit. It may not be an accident that just lately, the delusion of a “left exit” (or “Lexit”) from the EU has been canvassed in left of centre publications (here and here) and expertly demolished here.

But as well as the rank and file of the party, another powerful constituency has been horrified by Corbyn’s apparent capitulation to the ideas of a hard Brexit: the unions. The TUC remains committed to staying in the single market and customs union (even if it uses some dodgy arguments) as does the biggest pro- Corbyn’s union, Unite.

But the most outspoken (and perhaps, surprising) union attack on “Lexit” so far has come from Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, a union that supports both Corbyn and Momentum. In an article on the New Statesman website, Cortes tears into the “Lexit delusion” and concludes by raising the possibility of Labour coming out against any kind of Brixit – soft or hard – and campaigning to stay in the EU:

“We don’t know yet what Brexit will look like. By the time the deal – or no deal – is finalised, almost three years will have passed since the vote to leave was made. That’s a lot longer than the Tory 2015 majority lasted. Let’s treat the voters as grown-ups not ideologues. If what’s on the table damages our livelihoods and/or is a simply a free trade deal in which the EU makes all the rules, why can’t we can’t change our minds?

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it’s important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it. Jeremy’s past Euroscepticism, his vote against both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, actually makes him the best person to renegotiate a new future for Britain in the EU, not a Brexit deal which will harm the implementation of our manifesto and our vision of a People’s Europe.”

Cortes is to be congratulated for posing the issues so plainly, and for breaking an emerging  taboo within the labour movement: the idea that we might just campaign to overturn the referendum result.

(NB: and before anyone mentions it, none of this changes Shiraz‘s past criticisms of Cortes and the way he runs the TSSA)

  • Acknowledgements and thanks to Peter Ryley for an excellent piece that gave me some ideas for this post.

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AWL statement: Yes, antisemitism *is* an issue!

July 29, 2017 at 3:59 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, labour party, Livingstone, London, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, wankers)


Above: antisemitic protest by some local Momentum people (not backed by national Momentum) at Haringey Council meeting

By Ira Berkovic (also in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Controversies have arisen in some local Labour Parties and Momentum groups around whether to endorse definitions of antisemitism proposed by various civil society organisations. Two main definitions have been promoted in the labour movement, one from the European Union Monitoring Centre (EUMC) and one from the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA). Both include short “definitions”, supplemented by lengthier “guidance”.

Some local government bodies, including Haringey Borough Council in north London, are due to debate (or already have debated) endorsement of the IHRA definition and guidance. The local Momentum group in Haringey organised a protest to lobby councillors to vote against endorsement. The protestors claimed such policies are a part of a “Zionist” campaign to restrict “free speech on Israel”.

Some believe that, in all the controversies around antisemitism in the Labour Party, there is no actual antisemitism at all, but only an effort to silence critics of Israel. It seems not to have occurred to them that in almost none of the prominent cases (Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, and others), the things said or written were not “criticisms of Israel” but comments about Jewish financiers funding slavery and comments that alleged Jewish complicity in the Holocaust. In cases where the charge relates more directly to comments about Israel (that of Vicki Kirby, for example, who tweeted that Islamic State should attack “the real oppressor”, Israel), no-one claims that those in question are sincere Palestine solidarity activists with track records of important advocacy and solidarity work for Palestine who are somehow being targeted or silenced because of this.

Quite how the “Free Speech on Israel” campaign serves the cause of Palestine by devoting its energies to defending the likes of Walker and Livingstone on these matters is not clear. Neither the occupation of the West Bank nor the siege of Gaza have been much threatened by these people’s fervent insistence that there is no antisemitism in the British Labour Party (or, as some argue, in society at all). The Palestinian people are not one inch closer to freedom because some Labour Party activists in north London have worked themselves into a lather defending Ken Livingstone’s right to spout toxic lies and misleading half-truths in the national media.

The alternative lens for understanding antisemitism proposed by the “Free Speech on Israel” campaigners is that antisemitism can only ever consist of direct, implicitly racist, hostility to Jews as Jews. As it is rare to find anyone on the left guilty of this, there cannot be any antisemitism on the left. And attempts to combat antisemitism within the movement are therefore addressing an almost non-existent problem, and must have an ulterior motive. The real issue, they argue, is the fabrication of antisemitism to bolster Israel. Labour Parties and Momentum groups should be passing motions about that, not ones which attempt to mobilise opposition to antisemitism.

It is true that antisemitism is no longer, in most of the world, a “cutting edge” form of racism and bigotry, experienced primarily materially. It has largely receded to the level of ideology, but socialists should still understand how an idea can, in Marx’s phrase, “descend from language into life”. The global rise of a right-wing nationalist populism that draws on antisemitic tropes about “globalist financiers” shows how antisemitism could easily regain a material form, as such movements grow on the streets. Governments informed, at least in part, by such ideologies are in power in Russia, Hungary, and the United States.

There is also the continued existence of a powerful global Islamist movement, steeped in antisemitism. Against such a backdrop the desire to discuss, understand, and guard against antisemitism is a perfectly legitimate one. And yet antisemitism remains the only form of bigotry which most of the left responds to not by simply opposing it and sympathetically investigating any complaints, but by immediately impugning the motives of the plaintiff and ascribing bad faith and ulterior motives. Whatever the precise details, a Momentum demonstration outside Haringey council chambers against the council adopting a firm stance of opposition to antisemitism will appear to almost everyone who notices it as a demonstration against the idea that antisemitism should be firmly opposed.

Undoubtedly there are instances in politics where allegations of antisemitism are manipulated for factional ends. This can be true of any bigotry: for example, the Bengali-background socialist Ansar Ahmed Ullah has noted how political Islamist forces have manipulated the concept of “Islamophobia” to stifle criticism of their politics and legitimate secularist-atheist criticism of Islam (Solidarity 308, 8 January 2014). But just as such manipulation does not negate the existence of real anti-Muslim racism, neither do any instances of political manipulation and instrumentalisation of antisemitism mean that the issue of antisemitism is not real.

The IHRA guidance, which is now more current than the EUMC’s, is imperfect, as any attempt to distil so complex and varied an ideological edifice as antisemitism down to a few bullet points will be. One of its points, certainly, is politically dubious: it defines any attempt to “deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as antisemitic: this definition would include anyone, including members of Workers’ Liberty, who do not see all Jews, wherever they live, as part of a singular nation capable of expressing a unitary self-determination through the state of Israel. We believe that the Israeli-Jewish nation currently living in historical Palestine does constitute a national group, which does have a right to self-determination. And it is true that denials of that right to the only majority-Jewish national group on earth by people who extend it as a principle to every other national group cannot but tend towards exceptionalisation and discrimination: that is, towards antisemitism.

The guidance’s assertion that claims that “the State of Israel is a racist endeavour” are antisemitic is perhaps also ambiguous: any serious historical analysis of Israel’s foundation must identify elements of ethnic cleansing in the 1948 war, and conclude that much of the Zionist movement and early Israeli state policy was informed by racist ideas. Certainly, the contemporary state of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Arab minority within Israel is racist. Such political assessments are patently not antisemitic. However claims that Israel, uniquely amongst world states and even amongst states whose foundation was based entirely or in part on colonial settlement and the displacement of an indigenous population, is so profoundly racist that it requires dismantling (rather than, say, radical upheaval and reform), do indeed suggest, at the very least, a remarkable double standard.

Workers Liberty has long argued that a form of political antisemitism exists in some sections of the left, consisting in an implied hostility to Jews, based on an exceptionalising and essentialising ahistorical attitude to Zionism. This left antisemitism can be traced back to the industrial-scale denunciations, antisemitic show-trials, and conspiracy-mongering about “Zionism” conducted by the Stalinist ruling class of the USSR. We have argued that this left antisemitism is distinct from the racialised antipathy towards Jews on which Hitlerite antisemitism is based.

If the IHRA guidance can be criticised on any more thoroughgoing basis, it is that it collapses these distinct categories into one, which risks obscuring as much as it clarifies. That is an argument for further discussion, better education, and further clarification of terms and concepts. It is certainly no argument for the approach Haringey Momentum has taken.

Those who propose its adoption in the labour movement out of a desire to clarify the understanding of antisemitism, and deepen opposition to it, have far better instincts than those whose political antenna are (mis)tuned to detect the shadowy Zionist plot to defend Israel behind every attempts to discuss antisemitism in the labour movement. Workers’ Liberty sides with those people and their better instincts against those who would downplay or dismiss the issue of antisemitism.

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Stalinist iconography is not acceptable

July 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm (AWL, labour party, left, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism, thuggery, youth)

Groups help banners with Stalin’s face on

By Cathy Nugent (of Workers Liberty)

In the recent past there has been a minor craze in and around the Labour left for using 1930s Stalinist iconography. This craze, based in social media, ranges from the use of Stalinist socialist realist “art” to images and memes attacking Trotskyists, including ice-picks emojis etc. Some people, so we understand, who volunteer for Momentum like to use jargon attacking Trotskyists, taken from these social media exchanges, such as “Clear Them Out”. They mean that people who support Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Appeal should be expelled from the Labour Party.

In an effort to draw attention to this phenomena, we commented here on a recent example of Stalinist “theatre”, where a prominent member of the Labour left wore a badge saying “Goodnight Trotskyite”, showing a figure being stabbed with an ice-pick — a reference to the murder of Trotsky by Stalin’s assassin Ramón Mercader.

That person apologised. Others, some “satirical Stalinists” around the Facebook page “Red London”, in an attempt, I guess, to defend their right to wield the virtual ice-pick, responded with something more toxic and slanderous in character. They made claims (and not for the first time) of paedophilia against the AWL, based on selectively quoting from two of our articles, both of which were serious discussions about how the tackle the problem of child abuse! They also tried to make fun of a 15-year old comrade of ours by posting a nasty comment about his fundraising activity. Apologising shortly afterwards, they continued to maintain that the dog-walk, advertised on a charity crowdfunding site, was intrinsically funny, thus continuing to ridicule this young man’s endeavours. The Labour left platform Red Labour commented here on this, arguing effectively why Red London are really very unfunny.

We are not thought police, we have no wish to, nor could we, ban this iconography and group-think. Jokes and memes have their place in the movement, as they have in life. However, we believe it is time to spell out the political implications of the Stalinist craze.

It has been said that real Stalinists – people that adhere to the state ideology of the Soviet Union from the1930s onwards – no longer exist. That very few people in the UK labour movement believe the Soviet Union was a socialist utopia. Pretend Stalinism is therefore fairly “safe” silliness. Not so.

There are small groups of people who are proudly Stalinist. Some of them are very influential: ex-Guardian journalist Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union, are both central to the Labour leadership’s inner circle. Both were members of a former Stalinist sect “Straight Left”, and they have not changed their views. Then there are groups like Red London, and individuals who operate at a very different level to Milne and Murray. (And, to be clear Corbyn himself is not a carbon copy of his advisors, and, always deals with political disputes in a comradely way.)

The likes of Red London use hateful trolling because they know it will be both tolerated and feared, or rather it will be tolerated because it is feared. Nobody wants to get in their way of their slanders. But they get their tactics of abuse and slander, some of it very personal, straight out of the High Stalinist playbook.

Many of today’s Stalinists and semi-Stalinists are inculcated into their views, and an operating policy of slander and lies, through a simplistic world view. For example, that the Soviet Union was a mighty power against Hitler and against American imperialism. That the Soviet Union was a great ally of small and oppressed nations. People, such as ourselves, Trotskyists in general, some anarchists and left libertarians, or anyone who challenges these views are regarded as being on the “other side” of a political binary. We are enemies, collaborators, sometimes we “have right-wing handlers” etc, etc.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what and abuse.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what is wrong with those views. Therefore we think we are in a good position to appeal to people on the left, people who maybe regard themselves as “not Leninist”, or who are not sure about whether there is a role for Marxist ideas in the Labour Party, not to laugh along with the anti-Trotskyist jokes, but rather, to try to encourage debate on the underlying issues.

There is a wide spectrum of political traditions and current political beliefs among the people who now want to change the world and see it cleansed of oppression and exploitation. Many of us, including ourselves, see a great opportunity to fight back against oppression in a Corbyn-led Labour government. To make a good job of that opportunity we do need to unite, but not by way of dealing with our differences through abuse and puerile behaviour. Fighting to make the most of these opportunities means opening up thoughtful and comradely debate at every level, including on social media.

We need a movement that takes the historical crimes of Stalinism seriously and recognises its current manifestations. We need to be able to debate the historical record, from whatever our point of view, without fear of slander and abuse.

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What we should talk about when we talk about socialism

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Labour should defend the single market – and free movement

July 13, 2017 at 7:57 pm (Anti-Racism, capitulation, Europe, immigration, internationalism, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism)

Anna Soubry David Cameron Meets Ministers To Discuss Steel Crisis
Anna Soubry: to the left of Corbyn on this (Getty Images)

By Sacha Ismail (of Workers Liberty):

As the UK-EU negotiations on Brexit begin, the political landscape in Britain is in flux. The general election result was widely interpreted as a riposte to the Tories’ push for a hard Brexit. Now senior Tory critics of a hard Brexit, and indeed of Brexit per se, are becoming bolder.

Some, for instance Broxtowe MP Anna Soubry, even advocate the maintenance of free movement from the EU. More senior Tories have hinted at that too. Meanwhile polls suggest public opinion is shifting. A new YouGov/Times poll says that 58 per cent of people believe that trading with the EU is a higher priority than controlling EU immigration. More voters now believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave than right: 45 to 44%. A Survation poll found that 55% favoured a “soft Brexit” with the UK remaining in the EU single market and customs union, while only 35% favoured a “hard Brexit”. Survation found that 48% favour a referendum on the final Brexit deal, while only 43% are opposed!

All this is despite a lack of leadership from the Labour Party. Labour generally criticises the Tories from the left, i.e. from a more anti-Brexit position. It has rightly denounced the government’s concessions on the right of EU citizens to stay in Britain as “too little” — because as the campaign Another Europe is Possible and numerous migrants’ rights groups have explained, the offer is hedged round with all kinds of very bad limits. It’s “too late” because it should have been done a year ago, when Labour proposed it. More generally, however, Labour’s position is as clear as mud. With one, decisive exception: senior Labour spokespeople are very clear that they support an end to free movement from the EU. In other words, the position they have tied themselves to is to the right of that taken by Anna Soubry.

Labour’s stance has no doubt been given encouragement by the Stalinist-origin types in Corbyn’s office who think that leaving the EU is a win for “fighting the monopolies” or whatever. But its origin is with the Labour right. As late as November 2016, Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror that Labour would vote in Parliament against triggering “Article 50” unless the government agreed to a “Brexit bottom line” that included staying in the single market — and thus accepting continued free movement. Then Tom Watson, who combines right-wing, Stalinist and pseudo pro-working class strands in his politics, intervened to say that Labour would put down amendments but vote for Article 50 regardless. Corbyn eventually deferred to Watson.

Corbyn did not publicly endorse ending free movement until well into 2017, and then he did it in such an unclear way it looked very much like he was unhappy about it. Yet that then became Labour’s policy in the election. The leaders of the organised Labour left played a poor and even harmful role here. During the many months before and even after the referendum when Corbyn was holding the line on free movement, Momentum never once stated its support for this principle, let alone campaign to back Corbyn up. This was despite Momentum committees repeatedly taking a stand in favour of free movement, most recently in December 2016, when a motion on it passed with only a few votes against. Not long after the 23 June referendum, Momentum leader Jon Lansman made it clear that he favoured the left advocating an end to free movement.

Did he stay quiet on the Momentum National Committee because he thought that position would lead to a breach with his allies, many of them young and enthusiastic about migrants’ rights? Whatever the backroom manoeuvring was, Momentum never carried its democratic mandate on this, even while that was in line with Corbyn. Labour Party members or their representatives have never been given a chance to vote on this issue. At last year’s Labour Party conference, no motions were submitted advocating an end to free movement – but motions were submitted opposing it, including from the national Young Labour committee and CLPs including Norwich South, Clive Lewis’ constituency. These motions originated with socialist activists on the left of Momentum.

Unfortunately these motions were not prioritised for debate and the Labour right successfully counterposed the issue of refugee rights (which it seemed less keen on during the Blair years!) to having a discussion on free movement. The bulk of Labour members are very likely in favour of defending (and extending) free movement, and certainly vast majority of left-wing activists are. Yet this has not found expression in the hierarchy or public position of the party. Supporters of the hard right Progress group, which is making such a big deal of fighting a hard Brexit, like to say it will be possible to retain close ties to the EU while also limiting immigration. If the labour movement stands up and fights it can shift things further.

It is time to stop the retreat — starting on the left. Labour and trade union activists should unapologetically argue: 1. That leaving the single market will make workers in Britain “poorer and less secure”. We should oppose it. Like it or not, remaining in the single market means accepting free movement of labour from the EU. 2. That, in any case, people coming to Britain is not a problem. The labour movement should reject the right-wing idea that it is, and champion unity of all workers to win better conditions and rights for all.

We need an organised campaign to make these arguments, shift Labour’s position and finally make the labour movement a positive rather than a negative factor in the shifting patterns of the UK-EU negotiations.

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The SWP: adulation for Corbyn, abstentionism towards Labour

July 10, 2017 at 7:22 pm (Europe, fantasy, labour party, political groups, posted by JD, reformism, revolution, sectarianism, SWP, wankers)

Image result for picture SWP Marxism 2017

By Martin Thomas (this piece also appears on the Workers Liberty website under the title SWP: fifth wheel of Corbynism?)

There were about 500 at the opening rally of the SWP’s “Marxism” summer event in London on 6 July. That’s fewer than in some previous years, I think, and older – about a third grey or white-haired.

Nevertheless, enough not to sneeze at, and the closing rally on 9 July was near 1000.

The worrying thing was more the politics. Most of the opening rally was given over to speakers, some eloquent, from the Parts cleaners’ dispute, the LSE cleaners’ dispute, the Grenfell Tower campaign, the Scottish further education lecturers’ dispute, and the campaign about Edson da Costa’s death in custody.

Two speakers had the job of presenting the SWP’s political purpose.

Gerry Carroll, a “People before Profit” member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, made a speech most of which could have come from Sinn Fein. Carroll’s first criticism of the DUP was about its demurral on an Irish Language Act. (Although the Irish language already has status in Northern Ireland from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and the DUP is willing to boost that status with a new law so long as it also boosts Ulster Scots, a language spoken by a tiny minority of Unionists).

The difference from Sinn Fein was that Carroll denied that the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016 had strengthened the Tories.

Alex Callinicos, the main leader of the SWP, took up the same theme. In fact, he said, Britain has moved “sharply” left, and the right has suffered a “devastating defeat”. The vote for Brexit was a product of squeezed real wages and growing class antagonisms.

(Huh? Tories and Ukipers voted for Brexit to show adherence to working-class struggle? So why did the big majority of left-minded people vote against Brexit?)

Callinicos’s basis for that claim was the 8 June election result. He ignored the Tories’ high poll ratings from July 2016 to May 2017.

Yes, the boost to the right from the Brexit vote was not infinitely durable and powerful. Theresa May’s hubristic election campaign, and the vigorous Labour manifesto, undid it, though arguably more by mobilising left-minded people who had previously not voted than by shifting people from right to left.

Callinicos made no criticism of Corbyn’s politics. He specifically endorsed Corbyn’s current stand on Brexit, and said that the only “valid” reason for worrying about the Brexit vote was the status of EU citizens currently living in Britain. (So free movement for those people’s friends, families, and neighbours to come to work or study in Britain – or for British young people to work or study in Europe – doesn’t matter?)

He further praised Corbyn’s speech on the Manchester bombings, hearing only that Corbyn had blamed the bombings on the UK’s support for “the USA’s war to dominate the Middle East”. In fact Corbyn, rightly, was much further from the simplistic “blowback” theory than that; and in fact, much of Corbyn’s speech was an implied call for more spending on the police.

Anyway, Callinicos praised Corbyn on those issues. He saw no need to raise any programmatic difference with Corbyn. Public ownership of the banks? None of that.

Callinicos still thought there was a role for the SWP. A left reformist government will be thwarted by “unelected centres of power” unless there are demonstrations and strikes. And the SWP favours demonstrations and strikes. QED.

The closing rally was more polished. Islamist Moazzam Begg (see here and here) gave a smooth liberal speech, getting a standing ovation both before and after.

Brid Smith from the Irish SWP spoke, and Amy Leather made the final speech. (Since 2016 Leather has been joint national secretary of the SWP with Charlie Kimber; at the time of the “Delta” scandal in 2013-4, she was an oppositionist, criticising Kimber and Callinicos for being too “soft” and apologetic in response).

Leather’s speech was better crafted than Callinicos’s, and she did (though briefly) mention opposition to capitalism, support for socialism, and support for open borders. But her basic argument was the same as Callinicos’s: Corbyn is doing what needs to be done in politics, but the SWP has a role in stirring up the strikes and demonstrations required to support him.

There is, if not the great general shift to the left which Callinicos claimed, a new mobilisation of a new left-wing political generation. Socialists should be in among that new generation (which means being active in the Labour Party and Young Labour, not standing on the sidelines like the SWP).

And our prime duty is to help new people organise and also to develop and debate politically to regroup around a socialist programme which goes beyond the redistributive measures in the Labour manifesto to establish a cooperative commonwealth with an internationalist perspective.

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