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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Scottish left: still grovelling to nationalism

July 18, 2017 at 5:27 pm (elections, identity politics, nationalism, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, sectarianism, Socialist Party, SSP, SWP)

Image result for picture Scottish Socialist Party SSP

By Dale Street

“The Labour Party in Scotland has been wiped out.” That was the verdict of the Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) on the 2015 general election. The next step was: “The trade union movement must now prepare to build a new mass party for the working class.”

In alliance with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the SPS had stood ten candidates in Scotland under the ‘Trade Union and Socialist Coalition’ (TUSC) banner. Their votes ranged from 0.2% to 0.7%, and amounted to only 1,772 in total.

But that did not constitute a “wipe-out”.

The slump in the Labour vote in 2015, explained the SWP, demonstrated that “the crucial task for all on the left in Scotland is to quickly discuss and organise for a united left alternative in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.”

The SWP was contemptuous of “some in the Labour Party who argue that what is happening in Scotland is just a wave of nationalism.” What this “failed to understand” was “the shift in the political landscape and the potential for the left to grow.”

Apart from allying with the SPS to stand TUSC candidates, the SWP had also given a tacit call for a vote for the SNP: “The SWP is not calling for a blanket vote for the SNP on 7th May” (in effect: a call to vote SNP in most constituencies, but not all).

For the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) Labour’s performance in Scotland in the 2015 general election had borne out its pre-election predictions:

“Make no mistake about it. We are witnessing the end of an era. Like the Liberals prior to the labour movement, Scottish Labour is a beast that will soon be almost extinct over the next decade.”

The election result was further proof of the need for unions to disaffiliate from Labour:

“The unions in Scotland need to stop propping up the bankrupt project that is Labour. We’ve seen attempts by the biggest of all unions, Unite, to drag Labour back to the left. That’s proven utterly futile.”

“Union leaderships should combine with the SSP and all genuine socialists to build a mass working-class socialist party to stand up for Scotland’s working-class majority population.”

The SSP had stood four candidates in the election – after the SNP and the Greens had, unsurprisingly, ignored SSP proposals for a single pro-independence ‘Yes Alliance’ candidate in each constituency. Their total vote was 895.

In their approach to this year’s general election and analysis of its results, the SPS, SWP and SSP struck a very different tone. But it was no better that that adopted two years earlier. And it was certainly a lot more incoherent.

The SPS stood no candidates in the general election. Nor did TUSC. Nor did the non-existent “new mass party for the working class” which the SPS had looked forward to after the 2015 general election. Instead, the SPS “campaigned in support of Corbyn’s manifesto.”

But this did not mean campaigning for a vote for the party in Scotland (Scottish Labour) which was standing on the basis of that manifesto (however inadequately it promoted its contents in its election campaigning).

The SPS coupled its support for “Corbyn’s manifesto” (minus support for Scottish Labour) with “pointing to the need to adopt a far more sensitive approach on the national question”, including “as a minimum the right to a second referendum when there was a majority in favour of one.”

After the election the SPS talked up “significant swings to Labour in working-class areas in Glasgow and across the West of Scotland”. In fact, the popular vote for Labour in those constituencies was either static or less than in 2015 general election.

The SPS also fell over itself with helpful tips about how Scottish Labour could have improved its performance and “doubled their numbers (of MPs) in Scotland”. But such belated advice would have had more credibility coming from an organisation which had actually campaigned for a Labour vote.

In the run-up to this year’s general election the SWP again made an implicit call for a vote for the SNP, using the formulation “We call on our readers to vote Left in every constituency – to choose the candidate who is best able to carry forward the fight against austerity and racism AND FOR INDEPENDENCE.” (Emphasis added.)

Any number of Scottish Labour candidates would have met the first two criteria but none would have met the third. But in England and Wales all Labour candidates were endorsed by the SWP, for what it was worth, simply because they were Labour.

In other words: it was okay to vote for a right-wing Labour candidate in England, but wrong to vote for a left-wing anti-independence Labour candidate in Scotland!

The SWP looked on in awe when a thousand people turned up to hear Corbyn speak in Glasgow during the election campaign. But this was coupled with criticism of Corbyn for not supporting a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Corbyn was “on the side of the majority of Scots who don’t want a second referendum,” complained the SWP. But the normally let’s-not-waste-our-time-with-any-of-this parliamentary-shite SWP was aggrieved by Corbyn’s failure to “respect the majority for a second referendum in the Scottish Parliament”!

In its analysis of the election result the SWP concluded that “using the crude measure of first-past-the-post elections, independence has won this election”. The three anti-independence parties, explained the SWP, had won only 40% of the seats.

But in the real world, using the only slightly more sophisticated measure of the popular vote, independence lost. Anti-independence parties picked up 63% of the vote.

Inconsistently, the SWP attributed the SNP’s loss of seats to the fact that “the SNP leadership staked so much on a second independence referendum.”

So: independence won the general election in Scotland, according to the SWP, but the party which had championed independence had lost seats because – errrr – it championed independence.

The SWP was realistic in its analysis of Scottish Labour’s poor showing in the election and the fact that its increase in the number of seats held masked a more basic electoral stagnation. But, at the end of the day, this was all irrelevant.

With the election – yawn – out of the way, the SWP could get back to business as usual:

“We should not postpone the fight against austerity to focus on a second referendum and let the SNP off the hook. Battling against those attacks now should be at the centre of the left’s political action.”

Like the SPS’s “new mass party for the working class”, the “mass working-class socialist party” which the SSP had looked forward to in 2015 had also failed to materialise by the time of this year’s election.

Left to its own devices, the SSP stood four fewer candidates than it had in 2015, i.e. none.

“But that does not mean that we will not be campaigning,” the SSP explained. It would be campaigning – for independence:

“Our annual conference last weekend committed all SSP members to spend the next six weeks making the case for independence and helping to ensure this become the ‘independence election’.”

This was the vital task confronting SSP members because “Theresa May is heading for a 60-70 seat majority at Westminster, and Labour is heading for a hiding.” Only Scottish independence could provide a defence against the approaching Tory onslaught.

Boldly, the SSP declared its readiness to criticise the SNP for failing to be sufficiently pro-independence:

“In the very important debate Alex Salmond initiated last week between him and Nicola Sturgeon about this being ‘the independence election’, we are bound to say we agree with Alex. … We will press the SNP to put an unequivocal commitment to independence in its manifesto. And we will criticise them if they do not.”

Unfortunately for “Alex”, having the SSP on his side turned out not to be enough to save him from defeat.

But the SSP was as good as its word. In an article snappily entitled “Independence Offers Our Only Escape From a Zombie Tory Government” SSP co-convenor Colin Fox let the world know:

“Our party will be writing to the SNP to insist they put independence at the epicentre of their manifesto. We will be campaigning to increase support for independence with a series of sparkling initiatives which we will unveil in the next few days.”

But the election result was not as predicted by the SSP. May’s credibility, the SSP acknowledged, was “in tatters”. Corbyn’s gains had shown that socialist ideas “are highly popular, and this must be welcomed.” And a second general election was “a strong prospect.”

The SSP attributed the loss of 21 seats by the SNP to “their failure to make the case for independence – supposedly (sic) their core belief.” This is the same SNP which, according to the SWP, “staked so much on a second independence referendum.”

The SNP’s defeat, concluded the SSP, “underlined the case for a reinvigorated broad-based Yes movement.”

In other words: prospect of strong Tory government necessitates Scottish independence; actual election of weak Tory government necessitates … Scottish independence.

Some things never change. And one of them is socialist organisations which have collapsed into tailending nationalism – even when the nationalism they chase after is in electoral decline.

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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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Bosnia genocide denial – then and now

July 12, 2017 at 7:51 pm (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, capitulation, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, From the archives, genocide, grovelling, Guardian, Human rights, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, serbia, stalinism)

Jeremy Corbyn’s ill-advised choices of people to be seen associating with, continues:

It seems incredible that anyone should deny that the siege of Sarajevo happened or that it claimed the lives of thousands of people.

Yet Corbyn’s pizza-chomping companion Marcus Papadopoulos tweeted this in December of last year:

Corbyn’s weakness on foreign affairs, and especially the former Yugoslavia, can be ascribed to his general political primitivism and the influence of Stalinism on the Bennite reformist tradition he hails from (as well as the influence of the Stalinists now in his inner sanctum). In 2004, for instance, he signed an Early Day Motion backing crazed my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend conspiracy-theorist (once, long ago, a serious journalist) John Pilger  over Kosova.

Denying that Sarajevo was under siege, or that there was genocide at Srebrenica, remains frighteningly common on the Stalinist and Stalinist-influenced left and liberal-left, as this 2011 article by Michael Deibert makes clear:

With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologise to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.


Mladic, Chomsky and Srebrenica: Time for an apology

By now the word that wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic has been arrested in Serbia has traveled around the globe. On the run for nearly 15 years, the former Bosnian Serb general accused of overseeing that massacre 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995 will face justice. But will the apologists for the violent Serbian expansion of the 1990s in the international community – the linguist and MIT professor Noam Chomsky chief among them – finally apologize to his many victims for seeking to scuttle their calls for justice all these years?

I first became aware of Chomsky’s, shall we say rather unorthodox, views of the Bosnian conflict in connection with a campaign he and his supporters launched against the talented young British journalist Emma Brockes, whose October 2005 interview with Mr. Chomsky in The Guardian caused a great deal of controversy. Among other tough questions, it asked about Chomsky’s relationship with what The Times (UK) columnist Oliver Kamm quite accurately described as “some rather unsavoury elements who wrote about the Balkan wars in the 1990s.”

The furor at the time centered around Ms. Brockes confronting Chomky with the fact that he had lent his name to a letter praising the “outstanding” (Chomsky’s own words) work of a journalist called Diana Johnstone. Johnstone’s 2002 book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Pluto Press), argues that the July 1995 killing of at least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica was, in essence (directly quoting from her book), not a “part of a plan of genocide” and that “there is no evidence whatsoever” for such a charge. This despite the November 1995 indictment of Bosnian Serb leaders Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for “genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war” stemming from that very episode and the later conviction by the same tribunal of a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica.

Johnstone also states that no evidence exists that much more than 199 men and boys were killed there and that Srebrenica and other unfortunately misnamed ‘safe areas’ had in fact “served as Muslim military bases under UN protection.” In 2003, the Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone where she reiterated these views. Chomsky was also among those who supported a campaign defending the right of a fringe magazine called Living Marxism to publish claims that footage the British television station ITN took in August 1992 at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia was faked. ITN sued the magazine for libel and won, putting the magazine out of business, as Living Marxism could not produce a single witness who had seen the camps at first hand, whereas others who had – such as the journalist Ed Vulliamy – testified as to their horror.

In fact, as recently as April 25, 2006, in an interview with Radio Television of Serbia (a station formerly aligned with the murderous and now-deceased Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic), Chomsky stated, of the iconic, emaciated image of a Bosnian Muslim man named Fikret Alic, the following:

Chomsky: [I]f you look at the coverage [i.e. media coverage of earlier phases of the Balkan wars], for example there was one famous incident which has completely reshaped the Western opinion and that was the photograph of the thin man behind the barb-wire.

Interviewer: A fraudulent photograph, as it turned out.

Chomsky: You remember. The thin men behind the barb-wire so that was Auschwitz and ‘we can’t have Auschwitz again.’

In taking this position, Chomsky seemingly attempts to discredit the on-the-ground reporting of not only Mr. Vulliamy – whose reporting for the Guardian from the war in Bosnia won him the international reporter of the year award in 1993 and 1994 – but of other journalists such as Penny Marshall, Ian Williams and Roy Gutman. In fact, Vulliamy , who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje camp and was there that day the ITN footage was filmed, wrote as follows in The Guardian in March 2000:

Living Marxism‘s attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathized with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and – in the final hour, the only – issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.

In his interview with Brockes, Chomsky stated that “Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist, but he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true.”

In a November 2005 column, Marko Attila Hoare, a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Kingston (London), wrote thusly:

An open letter to Ordfront, signed by Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and others, stated: ‘We regard 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.’ In his personal letter to Ordfront in defence of Johnstone, Chomsky wrote: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.’ Chomsky makes no criticism here of Johnstone’s massacre denial, or indeed anywhere else – except in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated. Indeed, he endorses her revisionism: in response to Mikael van Reis’s claim that ‘She [Johnstone] insists that Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda’, Chomsky replies that ‘Johnstone argues – and, in fact, clearly demonstrates – that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.’

Pretty astounding stuff, huh? But, faced with a relentless campaign by Mr. Chomsky and his supporters The Guardian, to its eternal shame, pulled Brockes’ interview from its website and issued what can only be described as a groveling apology that did a great disservice not only to Ms Brockes herself, but also to former Guardian correspondent Vulliamy and all those journalists who actually risked their lives covering the Bosnian conflict, to say nothing of the victims of the conflict themselves.

The caving-in focused on three points, the chief of which appeared to be the headline used on the interview, which read: “Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.”

Though this was a paraphrase rather than a literal quotation, the fact of the matter was that it did seem to accurately sum up the state of affairs: Chomsky had actively supported Johnstone, who in turn had claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated and not part of a campaign of genocide. The Guardian brouhaha prompted, Kemal Pervanic, author of The Killing Days: My Journey Through the Bosnia War, and a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, to write that “If Srebrenica has been a lie, then all the other Bosnian-Serb nationalists’ crimes in the three years before Srebrenica must be false too. Mr Chomsky has the audacity to claim that Living Marxism was “probably right” to claim the pictures ITN took on that fateful August afternoon in 1992 – a visit which has made it possible for me to be writing this letter 13 years later – were false. This is an insult not only to those who saved my life, but to survivors like myself.”

Chomsky complained about that, too, forcing The Guardian to write in its apology that, ignoring the fact that it was Chomsky’s characterization of the Serb-run camps that seemed to outrage Pervanic the most, “Prof Chomsky believes that publication (of Pervanic’s letter) was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false…With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint and that is regretted.”

So Emma Brockes (whom I have never met), in this instance, at least, was silenced.

But the history of what happened in the Balkan wars should not be so easily silenced and re-written. With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologize to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.

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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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Unite the Union: Whither the United Left?

July 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm (democracy, elections, left, posted by JD, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

Len McCluskey Len McCluskey  Credit: RUSSELL CHEYNE

This article was written immediately after the re-election of Len McCluskey, and before the general election. It has been published on the United Left (UL) website, and Shiraz has held back from publishing it (until now) on the hope that some serious debate would be generated within the UL: that hasn’t happened, so we publish it now in the hope that it will stimulate a debate amongst serious left wing members of Unite: 

WHITHER THE UL?
By Jim Kelly, Chair London & Eastern United Left

Len touched on the need for organisational change at the last UL AGM in Birmingham. An AGM immediately after returning an incumbent UL GS and majority EC would usually be expected to be well attended and vibrant, especially with the GS speaking. The Birmingham meeting certainly did not meet those criteria. Indeed, in my view it fell well short of expectations and continued a decline in both regional & national officers and industrial based activists which has been noticeable for some time

An election wash up meeting organised in L&E shortly after became a forum for a wide-ranging discussion; one which I think is long overdue and continued the discussion first started by Len in Birmingham. Essentially; whither the UL.

This is not a report of the London meeting rather it puts forward my views on some of the key points raised during that discussion. As I was putting this note together I was struck by the fact how little discussion there is within the UL about what we should be doing and what are our limits.  I hope those who attended the London meeting as well as others from around the country will participate in this discussion.  It is only through discussing and clarifying our ideas in the light of experience we will be able to move forward.

Also, there seems to be a distinct lack of vision or strategy or priorities over the next 5 years. For a third time, we have re-elected a left GS, yet how the UL relationship with the GS evolves in his final term will be critical if we are to continue to rebuild a fighting back union in the UK & Ireland.

I understand that many activists are now focused on the return of a Labour government, but there seemed a clear void before May’s announcement of her cut & run general election & Len’s and the left’s victory.

Understanding the GS election
Self-evidently all were happy with the Len’s victory however there were divergent views on interpreting it. Some saw this as a victory in the face of press hostility and Coyne’s vile campaign.  Both true, but the voting figures tell a slightly different story.  Prior to the results the consensus was the left vote would remain static and for Coyne to win his social media campaign would have to mobilise members who don’t usually vote.

This did not happen; Coyne, despite the vast sums of money poured into his campaign, failed to mobilise these layers, it would seem those voting were the traditional voters. It is likely Coyne won the craft vote and McCluskey the rest. (We have no way of knowing why we lost 80,000 plus votes and there seems little point in speculating).  If you want to put our 12% turnout into perspective in 1985 Ron Todd become T&G General Secretary on a 41% turnout.

A simplistic view which blames the right-wing press obscures not only the reality of the numbers voting but fails to place this vote as part of the broader malaise the Left faces. I think this was rightly described in our meeting as a disconnect between activists and members. Yet when some comrades pushed this point I noted that many, probably a majority, did not wish to face up to this.
Yet where else is there to start? Consider this; our Region, like many others, obtained more nominations then ever for Len – nearly all the major workplaces. What else can this tell us than the existence of a disjuncture between activists and members?

The UL: what it is, its limits and what it can become
While we should be pleased about our record as an electoral machine, the question which rightly came to dominate the meeting was can the UL be anything more than an electoral machine? If it can, what else can we do? It seems to me this is the central question which we should be debating in finding our way forward. This is not an easy question to answer and for me the meeting illustrated this, while nearly everyone had a view little light was shed on the matter.

The most coherent attempt came from many comrades who, however gently attempted to shift the UL focus towards a rank and file-ism. Whether a R&F movement / shop steward movement is possible, the UL cannot possibly undertake such a function.  At a minimum, such organisations goal is to hold the union bureaucracy to account, and to get the union to undertake a militant industrial programme.
While the UL can advise & criticise the bureaucracy, it cannot replace it nor hold it to account in the manner put forward, as the UL already runs the bureaucracy and large numbers of UL members are part of the bureaucracy; including of course the GS.  This plays out on a practical level, as one of differentiation illustrated by the LE Region; it is a left-wing region, it supports all strikes and we want to promote members involvement in the Region so the question becomes how can the UL differentiate itself from the Region? The best the meeting could come up with was a banner on picket lines!

Others at the meeting proposed the UL should promote a political programme, a view which fails to take account of who constitutes the UL. What gives many organisations like the UL a political coherence is when they are dominated by a political grouping, for example in the 70s the SWP ran many R&F organisations (I was a member of one of these) while the CP controlled the union Broad lefts.
In each case the R&F / broad left group is where a Party recruits from and projects its ideas into the wider movement. Today we can see a similar relationship between the SP and TUSC. It should be clear that the UL is not dominated by any political grouping consequently it cannot have a coherent political programme.
Again, we can see this practically; at present the UL is largely united around support for the LP yet post-election, if Labour loses and Corbyn goes, I am sure some of the new converts may be off on a new adventure and many others in the UL will be again calling for Unite to disaffiliate. The UL may once again be consumed with a debate about the LP / new Party.

A further consequence of our lack of a political programme makes us extremely vulnerable to being used, and we can see this in two very different ways. First there are those individuals who join the UL to progress within the union. For example, over the last month I have been approach by a few people who have recently got involved in the UL demanding we support them in becoming prospective parliamentary candidates, these people had no track record in the movement and had just joined the UL. Personally, I am disappointed, but not surprised, at this type of behaviour, but I recognise we have no rules which can stop such people signing up.

A different type of problem we face are those who decide to leave the UL for example the Allinson group and after standing against may well want to be readmitted. The cynical & opportunist attacks on our left by BASSA/Unite Alliance are one more example, in my view these types of people should not be tolerated or allowed back in, but need to be vigorously opposed.

But there was another type of activist, genuinely frustrated with the record of EC UL incumbents, who stood as individual Left candidates. This raises the issue of sitting EC delegates not being opposed at reselection.

I am now firmly of the view that if a sitting EC/UL delegate has done a good job they have nothing to fear by being part of a reselection process.

When we turn to the EC elections we need to abandon the present policy. The hustings in a few cases also turned into who could simply bus in the most supporters on the day. I am unsure if there is a better forum for democratic choice, but it’s clear we could tighten up in many areas.

The above then may provide some boundaries which we cannot cross, however we can focus on taking on the disjuncture between Left activists and members. We only have one way of doing this and that is through UL supporters talking to members – UL activists need to become propagandists for Unite the left union.

Boring meetings
Another issue raised at our meeting was the perennial problem of the boring nature of UL meetings, (some comrades raising this may want to reflect on their contribution to this problem). I am not alone in having had to chair meetings where a small group often can be like broken gramophone records, repeating choreographed mantras, and raising issues which many industrial activists do not instantly relate to. This can often be one reason many good industrial activists fail to be energised and do not return.

At a time when some branches struggle to raise a quorum for monthly or even quarterly meetings; when the best attended meetings are usually linked into action in the workplace or against an employer, what would motivate hard working activists to attend a regular UL meeting, if many do not see the need or importance of attending their own branch meetings on a regular basis?

It is also clear that many UL supporters attending both national or regional meetings see the UL meeting as a substitute branch meeting. If UL meetings are to help develop a new cadre of activists perhaps our meetings should be based on sectors or other industrial criteria, such as the ideas developing around a UL Bus workers group in L&E?

Already UL activists on the buses in London are developing this, the main aim of which is to reach out to new activists, some of whom will not hold union positions. Industrial issues are being promoted in tandem by UL supporters to address issues facing bus workers in TfL.  Issues, such as industrial action and solidarity work may be better prioritised at this type of meeting, maintaining interest levels and more regular attendance. This may also help to isolate any careerist element.

Our committees are reconstituted from June 2018. This type of new periphery needs to be encouraged to become UL supporters, activists and leaders. The UL can make a turn to propagandising in the workplace around the values and ideals of a left union, and in doing so our activists can be developed into workplace leaders. Undertaking this in a consistent and systematic manner will see us begin to address the gap between activists and members. For some this task may seem trivial or an irrelevant matter, however I would argue far from being trivial challenging the disconnect between activists and members is our central task and for those who don’t wish to see this, I would point them again to our election result.

In the short term, we also have sector conferences in November and a policy conference in July 2018 to focus on. Calls for motions for conference should be circulating at the end of the year.

In the medium term unless we make a shift back to our industrial base the issue of who the next UL GS candidate is may be academic.

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Corbyn’s weakness on Brexit endangers Labour’s revival

June 30, 2017 at 8:51 am (Europe, Jim D, labour party, reformism, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers, youth)


Cartoon: The Economist

Corbyn and his team risk jeopardising Labour’s election success because of their backwardness over Europe and de facto commitment to supporting the Tories over Brexit.

It was always a fundamental political weakness waiting to be exposed, although during the general election campaign the Corbyn team skilfully maintained a policy of studied ambiguity.

Corbyn’s capitulation to the Tories over Brexit and the sacking of three front benchers who voted for the amendment to stay in the single market and customs union, is a big mistake, because:

  • It will dismay and disillusion the overwhelmingly pro-EU internationalist and anti-racist youth who rallied to Labour and Corbyn at the election
  • Labour’s mistaken but just about plausible argument that it is bound by the referendum result to support leaving the EU has been stretched to arguing that the referendum also binds it to oppose the single market and customs union
  •  This position has enabled opportunist right wingers like Chuka Umanna and Meg Hillier to take a different stance from Corbyn and thus generate headlines about Labour division just at a time when the Tories are weak
  •  Newly-elected left Labour MPs like Lloyd Russell Moyle and Alex Sobel have been put in a position of going against Corbyn alongside right wingers
  • This risks alienating unions like Unite, which are acutely aware that their members’ jobs in manufacturing will be put at risk outside the single market and customs union: Unite has policy to stay in both, as does Usdaw and the TUC.

Labour MPs, MEPs and peers have launched a group opposing hard Brexit and in favour of staying in the single market and customs union. They’ve signed a statement arguing, amongst other things, that young voters backed the party in the general election because they wanted it to “stop the Tories in their tracks” over Brexit. Some of us here at Shiraz might disagree with some aspects of the statement, but it’s considerably better than Corbyn’s position.

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

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

By Cathy Nugent at the Workers Liberty website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jacobin: why Corbyn ‘won’

June 9, 2017 at 11:31 am (class, democracy, elections, labour party, left, posted by JD, reformism)

The US-based Jacobin website has put out its analysis of the UK election remarkably swiftly. Shiraz wouldn’t agree with all of it (especially the praise for Corbyn’s simplistic ‘blow back’ linking of terrorism with foreign policy), but overall, it’s not bad:

By Bhaskar Sunkara

I don’t care if he didn’t actually win — he won. Jeremy Corbyn has given us a blueprint to follow for years to come.

The Tories may still be in power at the end of the night, but Jeremy Corbyn won today.

Yes, I know this is shameless spin, but hear me out: the last few weeks have vindicated the approach of the Labour left and its international cothinkers under Corbyn.

This is the first election Labour has won seats in since 1997, and the party got its largest share of the vote since 2005 — all while closing a twenty-four point deficit. Since Corbyn assumed leadership in late 2015, he has survived attack after attack from his own party, culminating in a failed coup attempt against him. As Labour leader he was unable to rely on his parliamentary was unable to rely on his parliamentary colleagues or his party staff. The small team around him bombarded with hostile internal leaks and misinformation, and an unprecedented media smear campaign.

Every elite interest in the United Kingdom tried to knock down Jeremy Corbyn, but still he stands. He casts a longer shadow over his party’s centrists tonight than at any time since he was elected Labour leader.

Okay, Corbyn may not be prime minister tomorrow. He was a “flawed candidate,” he wasn’t the strongest speaker, he had his share of gaffes, he ate cold beans. All this is true. But besides for outside hostility and the opposition of his own parliamentary group, it’s worth remembering that Corbyn became Labour leader at the most perilous moment since the party’s birth.

Labour was discredited by the Blair-Brown administrations — from their catastrophic military adventures in Iraq to their privatization agenda at home and their overseeing of the financial crisis. The Blairites got their wish: Labour was looking more and more like a social liberal party than a social-democratic one, embracing the financial sector and prepared to “modernize” the welfare state by gutting it. But there was no serious challenge from its left, and there were professional-class voters to chase.

The party’s mass membership base deteriorated, as did its links with a weakened labor movement. Scotland was lost. The only anti-establishment voice in formerly Labour-dominated communities angry at years of neoliberal economic policies was the right-wing UK Independence Party.

This was the situation that Corbyn inherited. Yet against all odds, his team brought Labour back to life.

They rebuilt the party’s mass base, turning Labour into Europe’s largest party, with more than a half million members. Momentum, the grassroots formation created to support the effort, organized tens of thousands in communities across Britain. Battles with the Labour center and right helped in a certain way, too, distancing the leadership from a discredited establishment. Many party members came to embrace the ire of the billionaire press.

Labour developed a robust left character and platform for the first time in decades. Even as it dipped behind in the polls, it was forming the nucleus of a real opposition, a real alternative.

But even if we didn’t care about program and just wanted the Tories out, it’s hard to imagine that a rightward-tacking Labour leader would have done any better than Corbyn. Would Owen Smith have inspired the surge in youth turnout that pushed what should have been a Conservative landslide into a hung parliament? Would Angela Eagle or any “soft-left” challengers have kept Wales in Labour hands? Could any force but the Labour left begin to win back Scotland from the siren-call of the Scottish National Party?

Corbyn salvaged this election by bucking Labour’s conservative slide over the past several decades and sticking to his left-wing guns. His success provides a blueprint for what democratic socialists need to do in the years to come.

Labour’s surge confirms what the Left has long argued: people like a straightforward, honest defense of public goods. Labour’s manifesto was sweeping — its most socialist in decades. It was a straight-forward document, calling for nationalization of key utilities, access to education, housing, and health services for all, and measures to redistribute income from corporations and the rich to ordinary people.

£6.3 billion into primary schools, the protection of pensions, free tuition, public housing construction — it was clear what Labour would do for British workers. The plan was attacked in the press for its old-fashioned simplicity — “for the many, not the few” — but it resonated with popular desires, with a view of fairness that seemed elementary to millions.

The Labour left remembered that you don’t win by tacking to an imaginary center — you win by letting people know you feel their anger and giving them a constructive end to channel it towards. “We demand the full fruits of our labor,” the party’s election video said it all.

If the immediate economic program of Labour was inspiring, the leadership also revived a vision of social-democratic politics that looks beyond capitalism. The most striking thing about Corbynism isn’t that it’s run-of-the-mill welfare capitalism in an era where neoliberalism rules supreme, but that its protagonists see the inherent limits of reforms under capitalism and discuss ideas that aim to expand the scope of democracy and challenge capital’s ownership and control, not just its wealth. What other post-Golden Age, center-left party has drafted plans to expand the cooperative sector, create community-owned enterprises, and restore the state’s control of key sectors of the economy?

The plans were far from exhaustive, but they would put Britain on a course for deeper socialist transformations in the future. That’s a lofty dream, one that will take decades to come to fruition, but it goes far beyond traditional Labourism.

The Labour left isn’t a “mere social-democratic” current. Whereas what social democracy had morphed into by the postwar period often tried to tamp down class conflict in favor of tripartite arrangements with business, labor, and the state, the new social democracy of Corbyn was built on class antagonism and actively encourages movements from below.

But Labour couldn’t just put forward a pie-in-the-sky program. It had to deal with issues that socialists have typically not had to confront. And it succeeded by appealing to the commonsense of “the many” they sought to represent.

When the issue of terror and security was raised during the campaign, Corbyn showed not only that the Left was not weak on these issues — in many ways, we’re more credible than our opponents. For years, it’s been taken for granted that when it comes to terrorism, the choices confronting the Left were either sticking to our hallowed principles and suffering for it electorally, or mimicking the bellicose rhetoric of the Right.

Corbyn found another way through the madness. In the wake of the horrific Manchester and London attacks, the Labour leader was unafraid to connect British imperialism overseas and the proliferation of Islamist terror. Corbyn expanded his criticism into other aspects of British foreign policy: a deep-rooted set of alliances with Gulf States at the center of Middle East reaction.

Corbyn has taken some flak from the far left for his call for a proportional police response to terror. But he outlined a broad alternative, one that spoke of the social causes behind the path to terrorism, and used it to attack the violent xenophobia and scaremongering pushed by the Tories. In doing so, he changed the debate about terrorism in fundamental ways. There will always be alienated, angry people engaging in anti-social activity, but Corbyn offered a way to view such acts as security matters to be dealt with at their roots, rather than a clash of civilizations.

Let’s not underestimate voters. After years of endless wars and violence, most of them are ready for peace. Corbyn offered them what they wanted, and he wasn’t punished for it.

Even with a diminished Conservative majority, things won’t be rosy tomorrow. Momentarily humbled, the Tories still rule. Their allies in the business and media elites will regroup. They will come up with new plans to attack working people and the public good.

But Corbyn’s party is better positioned than any recent Labour regime to be a credible opposition rooted in an unapologetic left vision — to offer hopes and dreams to people, not just fear and diminished expectations. Also, Bernie would have won.

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Labour’s future: notes on the Resolutionary Road

June 5, 2017 at 7:48 am (class, democracy, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism)

By Johnny Lewis

The Manifesto
Post-election Labour will be confronted with choosing between two diametrically opposed futures: one road takes it back to some variant of New Labour while the other is the refounding Labour as a reformist party. Although which future will be determined by the forces each side can muster, the leverage open to either is in no small measure contingent on the election outcome.

Some three weeks ago the Tories held a 24% lead, Labour was heading for a defeat of 1931 proportions and the party’s right were ecstatic. Defeat on such a scale would see off Corbyn ensuring in short order the loss of a left majority on the National Executive, and the Party bureaucracy intensifying its purge against anyone seen as a danger to incumbent constituency parties and council leaders. This would clear the way for the Party to jettison its manifesto, replacing it with some pale blue austerity-light policies. The press and the right’s narrative to remove Corbyn would be straightforward enough: Labour’s defeat was a consequence of Corbyn’s divisive nature, his lack of leadership skills and a far-left manifesto which alienated the British public.

Even if Labour do badly, the cant the press spew out and the right’s attempt to unseat Corbyn will not have such purchase in the light of the way the election campaign has turned.

For sure the Tories have run a bad campaign by displaying May in all her pomp we have seen her for what she is: a third-rater. Of course the odium poured on Corbyn will have some effect but it will be limited because unlike May he is a known quantity. What has changed politics in the last 14 days has been Labour’s manifesto.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 defeat every commentator, pundit and pollster’s analysis of Labour’s chances in 2020 where at best bleak. The only route Labour could take in 2020 was to offer a social programme which appealed to the whole class rather than just the poor, and this is what we have seen with the present manifesto. It is its radicalism which has closed the gap with the Tories. Moreover it has provided a means for the young to begin to come out from under the dead weight of the old.

Labour’s social programme has largely thwarted the plan to ditch Corbyn, placing the left in a far better position to defend the leadership against attacks by the right. I also consider it has done more in the following sense: support for Corbyn comes from individuals whose lived experience of modern-day capitalism has led to a rejection of its inequalities. As such they are bound together negatively by what they are against. Outside of their rejection of inequality we find a cacophony of competing voices and no way of uniting them. The manifesto changed that and has provided the first substantial positive voice which the movement has been able to organise around. Moreover it provides us with the first important measure around which this melee of competing voices can begin to take on a coherent political shape through critique and debate around how the ideas in the manifesto can be developed.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance the election will have massively strengthen the left’s position made possible by the manifesto. Post June 8th the Corbyn movement can begin to reshape Labour into a reformist party. If this potential is realised and we witness the emergence of a reformist party it will be of historic importance and I think unique in character as rather than being based on the unions (the old Labour model) it will rest on an overtly pro-working class political programme. We are still a long way off from that, but far far nearer than it looked just a few weeks ago.

Momentum and the Party.
Only the membership can undertake such a transformation: the manifesto provides the positive statement for us to unite around, while the activity we need to undertake to transform the Party will develop us into a more ideologically coherent entity (but I hope a pluralistic one). This however will not happen spontaneously: the pivotal force to drive it forward can only be Momentum, supported where possible by union organisation. Of course my hope for Momentum to play such a role will be in vain if Lansman turns out to be as perfidious as some make out and is indeed a puppet of the Blairites (!).

Turning the party into a recognisable reformist party was always the only real goal open to the Corbynistas, yet much of the last two years has been wasted pretending they and indeed the Labour Party as a whole, could be something else. The idea of Momentum either as some embryo party or a left current which at some stage splits from Labour to form a new party, turns to dust when it is given a moments consideration. The relevance of Momentum is to change Labour and the relevance of the organised left is to take part in such a transformation not as a faction but a tendency.

In fact the tasks the left faced first faced in the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory are simply repeated post June 8th: defending Corbyn, becoming the catalyst to develop Labour’s social programme, winning positions for the left within the Party, turning the Party outward to campaigning, winning working class members to its banner, training Party members and at the centre carrying out the CLPD’s programme. It is only by organising around these specific tasks that the left will be transformed into an ideologically coherent entity and with it the Party.

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