Letters

Enter left

Peter Manson’s article, ‘Defend Corbyn where it really matters’ (July 14), is strong on moral rhetoric and very weak on practicalities. I get the impression that comrade Manson has no significant experience of ‘entry’ work, and that he has not made a study of historical precedents.

I did six years as an ‘entrist’ in a very different Labour Party in the 1960s and Manson’s article leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions.

Manson states that our aim should be “to transform the Labour Party into a genuine instrument of the working class, one to which all working class organisations and left groups can affiliate”. Well, yes. People have been trying to do that more or less since the Labour Party was founded; they have all failed. Indeed, the present-day Labour Party is considerably further from that model than it was in 1945-51. Does the CPGB have some magic formula that will enable it to succeed where all its predecessors have failed?

Joining the Labour Party may be comparatively easy for an organisation like the CPGB with a couple of dozen members. For slightly larger organisations, like the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, with up to a thousand members, it is a bit more of a problem. They may have no greater ability to actually influence the course of events than the CPGB, but they do have premises, publications and employees. Should they wind up their organisations completely, or should they maintain an open organisation alongside their entry work? (Perhaps Socialist Worker could change its name back to Labour Worker, as it was called in the 1960s, when I was briefly its editor.)

Let us imagine (somewhat fancifully) that the SWP central committee read Manson’s article and are convinced. What happens next? The SWP leadership can fix almost anything, but even they would need a couple of internal bulletins and a special conference. By the time they had gone through that the leadership election would be over.

And perhaps Corbyn will be defeated. He will be facing a full mobilisation of the PLP right, and an onslaught from the mainstream press, with perhaps a bit of ballot-rigging thrown in. (The venal journalists of The Guardian, concerned only to keep their jobs by sucking up to the vile Katharine Viner in her vendetta against Corbyn, will play their part.) So what then? Do we stay for the long haul? And it will be a very long haul. The right wing won’t make the same mistake twice; the rule book will be revised to exclude the possibility of another Corbyn. Deselection, even if it could be achieved, would have no impact before 2020.

Certainly the thousands who joined the Labour Party to support Corbyn will not hang around. They didn’t back Corbyn because of his programme (he doesn’t really have one), but because he is an honest man - a rare and remarkable phenomenon among the corrupt time-servers and money-grubbers of the Parliamentary Labour Party. If he is ousted, thousands will be demoralised. Very, very few will flock to the banners of the SWP, the SP or the CPGB.

But perhaps Corbyn will win. If so the war of attrition will continue. The Labour right never accept democratic decisions if they are on the losing side. They will use any possible means to get rid of him. If they do not resort to physical assassination, it will not be from any moral scruple, but only because they wouldn’t have the first idea how to go about it.

Perhaps the Labour Party will split. On the face of it this would be the best scenario for the revolutionary left. Yet in reality this would probably mean a small left party with at best a handful of MPs, and the youthful followers of Corbyn increasingly alienated, as the various Marxist grouplets battle for control. Manson should have a look at the history of the French Workers’ and Peasants’ Socialist Party (PSOP) and Unified Socialist Party (PSU) and the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP).

In fact, entrism would not be easy for the SWP or the SP. The SWP has a core of grey-haired activists, who for decades have been known (often to their credit) as SWP members in their unions and localities. Are they supposed to now publicly renounce their past and declare they are genuine converts to the Labour Party? Even if they did so, it is highly unlikely the Labour Party would admit them.

In the early 1950s the legendary Michel Pablo, who invented the concept of ‘centrism sui generis’, decided to enter the French Communist Party. Though his group had over a hundred members, just seven managed to enter the PCF.

The Labour Party is not quite as Stalinist as the PCF - but SWP members are more visible. It is unlikely that many would get into the Labour Party, which can still draw on the expertise of those who dealt with the Militant in the 1980s and the Socialist Labour League in the 1960s.

Of course, there are real criticisms to be made of my old comrades in the SWP. I think they combine political tailism with organisational sectarianism. They have made no detailed political critique of Corbyn (except on the European Union question), and they insist that their version of ‘Leninism’ is timeless.

But Manson’s alternative remains on the level of abstract propaganda. To urge us to ‘Join the Labour Party!’ without any suggestion of how this might be done in practice is singularly useless.

Ian Birchall
email

Become active

A candidate has emerged. The Corbyn leadership will be challenged, but what will the points of contention be over the next nine weeks? The “unity candidate”, as Owen Smith is wont to style himself, declared: “I am just as radical as Jeremy Corbyn.”

If this is the case two questions are immediately begged. Firstly, why stand against the leader whose policies Smith claims to support and, secondly, how can he unify a party that has been fractured by its own MPs revolting against those same policies?

It might be claimed that it is only Corbyn himself they are against because he cannot lead them to election victory. Essentially, then, they’d be showing more concern for their own political careers than anything to do with policy or principle.

All those who declared “no confidence” in Corbyn would probably argue that the pressing need is to oppose the Tories and remove them from power at the earliest opportunity. But to what end? If, presently, the only way this can be achieved is by Labour being Tory-lite to attract votes, then they’d be better served defecting to the Lib Dems.

The problem is not who leads the Labour Party, not even this policy rather than that. Austerity - or ‘good housekeeping’, as the new prime minister would have it - is not the result of some fiendish Tory plot against the people. Whether Labour politicians like it or not, it is the economics of capitalism that is the source of gathering impoverishment. The assault on living standards and public services is being conducted internationally.

In Britain, it has been sustained by Tory and Labour governments since 1979. That is 40 years - almost two generations - which has embedded neoliberalism deeply in the national, and international, psyche; it has become normal. There is not a wide conception of a viable alternative. There may be much grumbling about unfairness, the tax-dodging rich, self-interested politicians and so on, but relatively few believe things can be fundamentally changed for the better.

This is seen in the continuing vilification of the baby-boomers, perceived as grabbing for themselves when what they actually did was benefit from the rather more progressive policies followed after 1945. These were policies lauded by those who’d experienced the privations of the 30s. Baby-boomers, migrants, the Scots (if you’re English) or the English (if you’re Scottish), the north-south divide, the unions - whatever can be employed to turn people against each other has been and is being utilised to preserve the present ideological impasse.

Because there is this ideological agreement, the two main Westminster parties have become internally fractious. The EU referendum resulted from Tory dissent, while Labour’s has manifested itself in the unedifying spectacle of mass disloyalty.

If the only ambition of Labour MPs is to get a firmer grip on the greasy pole to power, then perhaps they should ditch Corbyn and select an anodyne alternative. That way, they can continue to posture as the party of the people without the exceedingly demanding prospect of having to engage with overcoming the ideological block to progress.

Corbyn, Smith or whoever, electing a leader is all too easy and changes little unless people begin to develop a sense that things can be changed - and they start to become active in seeking such change. Even if Corbyn wins again, or if Smith wins and proves he is as radical (whatever that means), then that person will continue to be vilified and isolated by the media.

At the very least, though, Labour MPs should have shown some backbone and utilised their individual and collective energy to confront their opponents, not their own democratically elected leader.

Dave Alton
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Labour issues

Mike Macnair states that to him as an academic lawyer it is “obviously” the case the incumbent leader of the Labour Party does not need nominating by 20% of the parliamentary party to stand again (‘Don’t rely on the courts’, July 14).

Really? The very rule Mike quotes states that “any nomination” must be supported by 20%, which surely means any candidate. If it was intended to mean potential challengers only, it would surely have said that, and that the incumbent could go through automatically, if they chose to stand. In any case, the real and important issue is that it is ridiculous and unsustainable that a leader not just of the Labour Party, but of the Parliamentary Labour Party, cannot find 20% to support their candidacy or incumbency.

The whole point of the Labour Party was to fight for the interests of the trade unions of working people more generally in parliament. That is both its strength and limitation. It was created to fight and win elections. Without that capability, there is no real point to it. It was never going to fight for revolutionary socialism or a revolutionary transformation of power.

You just can’t go into a general election with someone as leader who patently doesn’t want to be prime minister and who would, if elected, be unable to fill the majority of posts in a new government. The new majority in the House of Commons would pretty quickly get rid of any such government.

Yes, we might have comments about the composition of the current PLP. Yes, the Labour Party conference should be the sovereign body, the highest expression of the views of the membership and able to decide party strategy and policies. Yes, the national executive committee elected by the conference should be able to exercise day-to-day leadership and direction and should, for example, determine the party’s election manifesto. Yes, all candidates for public office, MPs and councillors, should have to go through some form of reselection process to ensure they remain the best candidates available to do the job, and to exercise accountability to the membership.

The Weekly Worker in debates and discussions about other parties has consistently advocated delegate democracy, where conferences and aggregates elect executive and similar committees, and they then go on to elect officers and other functions, and are able to hold those office holders directly to account. So why shouldn’t the leader of the PLP be elected either in part or in whole by the PLP? If you disagree with the composition of the PLP or the policies of the party, use the democratic processes of the party to argue, persuade and change. Most continental social democratic or socialist parties have both a parliamentary leader and an overall party leader, and maybe that would provide a way forward for today’s Labour Party?

Corbyn was by far the best candidate in last year’s leadership election and, despite what has been said recently, he has performed far better in the role as Labour leader than many of his detractors and opponents had predicted, and he has conducted himself with dignity, steadfastness and increasing confidence. Whether he could motivate and unify the Labour Party and then be projected as a potential national leader and alternative prime minister was a far more open question, but even so he was always a more compelling option than Kendall, Burnham or Cooper.

I wonder just who on earth has been whispering to Angela Eagle she could be a compelling and attractive leader. She gave one decent performance against George Osborne standing in at prime minister’s questions. The second time she must have left her batteries at home. She gives car-crash media interviews one after the other. She either forgets her lines or gets stuck halfway through or shrills out the most excruciatingly embarrassing inanities possible.

I have been disappointed by the lack of policy progress by the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership, and the absence of a deeply compelling policy alternative to the Tories must explain part of its vulnerability to internal factional manoeuvring within the PLP. Just what have they done or achieved over the past number of months? Exceedingly vague references to being ‘anti-austerity’ and the need for ‘investment’ to counter recession and to ‘grow’ and ‘rebalance’ the economy are not good enough.

We needed much more concrete detail, setting out just how much progressive Labour would expand public spending and over what period, how much investment, how much would be funded from taxation and where from, how much from borrowing, and how much from increasing the money supply.

Any such alternative economic and financial strategy would need to be backed up by public investment; public ownership as the concomitant, democratically informed economic and social planning; and real industrial democracy, with workers, the public and the state working together to determine priorities. The Labour Party needs some really big, exciting and inspiring ideas if it is going to construct a new electoral coalition, including the majority of all working people, in all the regions and the nations.

Owen Smith’s leadership platform for a £200 billion investment programme in skills, housing, infrastructure, new technology and productivity is breathtaking and potentially one such big idea. Big ideas around universal, high-quality childcare and mothers’ mental health could chime hard with wide sections of the population and also be transformative, both in the immediate future, and in opening up longer-term opportunities. Labour needs policies and a strategy that will carry a positive vision of a better life that the majority of people can feel part of, wherever they live, work or whatever their background.

Can Labour ever move beyond being better (or worse) managers of capitalism than the Tories? When Lenin referred to the unique organisational basis of the Labour Party, I don’t think he was regarding that as 100% good or bad, just a statement of reality, when looking at social democracy across other advanced, western capitalist countries.

Chris Cutrone’s absolutely excellent article, ‘Sacrifice and redemption’ (July 14), in the same issue, on Rosa Luxembourg, the workers’ party and the goal of socialism, described both Luxembourg’s and Lenin’s argument that politics should command and determine economics. If politics flows from economics, it will always be limited and constrained by the latter. Luxembourg argued that the German Social Democratic Party “basing itself on the labour unions was a profound mistake”, which after 1914 ultimately chose the preservation of the workers’ social and economic organisations and cooperation with the state’s war, betraying the international working class and the revolution.

In my personal view, we need a mass, democratic, socialist and republican party, bringing together the great majority of socialists, communists, trade unionists, and left social democrats and which projects the need for socialism to replace capitalism, and the strategy for achieving it.

A Labour Party which is effectively the political wing of the organised trade union movement is going to find it hard to make the necessary breaks with sectional and limited trade union consciousness. Witness Labour MPs voting to renew Trident and quoting the big unions in support.

Let the Labour Party get on with what it exists to do. To get elected to office and implement reforms which benefit working people. And to keep the Tories and Liberals out.

Andrew Northall
Kettering

Deferred

I would like to follow up on my articles, ‘What was social democracy?’ (July 7) and ‘Sacrifice and redemption’ (July 14), and comment on the question of social democracy and the need for a socialist political party today, especially in light of controversies around Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the challenge to the Democratic Party represented by the ostensibly social democratic - ‘democratic socialist’ - Bernie Sanders, as well as the crisis of the EU around Brexit and its social democratic parties, such as the collapse of Pasok and rise of Syriza in Greece, and the equivocal role of Portuguese, Spanish and French socialists.

What has been forgotten today is the essential lesson for Marxism in the failure of the 1848 revolutions, why petty bourgeois democracy is not only inadequate, but is actually blind to, and indeed an obstacle for, the political task of overcoming capitalism.

In its heyday, Marxism assumed that social democracy had as its active political constituent a working class struggling for socialism. Today, social democracy treats the working class not as a subject as much as an object of government policy and civic philanthropy. Through social democracy as it exists today, the working class merely begs for good politicians and good capitalists. But it does not seek to take responsibility for society into its own hands. Without the struggle for socialism, the immediate goal of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the working class merely becomes a partner in production at best, and an economic interest group at worst.

This is what the liquidation into petty bourgeois democracy means: naturalising the framework of capital. International social democracy once signified the means for achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without this as its goal, it has come to mean something entirely different. The working class has deferred to those it once sought to lead.

Chris Cutrone
Platypus Affiliated Society

Passion

As is common with what seems to be happening in many parts of the country, a number of excellently attended and dynamic meetings have taken place in south Wales over the past couple of weeks in support of Jeremy Corbyn and his battle to maintain his position as leader of the Labour Party.

Local press have reported on meetings in Swansea, and Momentum’s political Facebook pages for the area highlight the passion with which Corbyn’s support has flourished since the PLP rebellion and attempted leadership coup. My observations at those meetings I have attended have noted common themes - all of which relate to party democracy, justice and the need to ensure that those MPs responsible for engaging and participating in the anti-Corbyn rebellion are made accountable for their actions.

Fundamentally, there has been a clear statement of intent by grassroots Labour Party members in ward, constituency and at wider community levels. Motion upon motion has been passed overwhelmingly supporting Jeremy Corbyn. Their goal is clear: driven by anger and motivation, unconditional support for Corbyn and his political platform for discussion around principled and progressive politics is paramount over the coming couple of months. The passion for victory is unquestionable.

Bob Paul
South Wales

Racist

I read Ted Hankin’s letter with shock and revulsion (July 14). I’m sure that other comrades will do a better job of rebutting his racist diatribe than I will, but I’d like to point out a few things.

Ted glibly comments that he is yet to witness any increased levels in hostility towards migrants, dismissing the words of an Iranian woman in the process. Might I suggest that Ted Hankin’s name is a dead giveaway as to why he hasn’t experienced any such hostility? This dismissive posturing is not only dangerous; it’s petty.

Ted’s questions about why comrade Yassamine Mather, and indeed other migrants, ‘chose’ to come to the UK are steeped in nationalism and chauvinism. Why indeed, Ted? Not for the company of people like you, that’s for sure. These comments are deeply concerning and are an affront to communist solidarity. Communists support the free movement of labour without caveat. Workers, refugees, people seeking asylum have no responsibility of gratitude to the host nation.

Ted’s closing comments about Islam are reminiscent of Žižek’s recent capitulation and descent into racism. The conflation of Islamism with people of Muslim faith, many of whom are among the most displaced, impoverished and affected by Islamist acts of violence, is not materialist or communist. It is racist.

Josh Guiry
email

Bogeyman

Is Ted Hankin aware that the events in Orlando had little to do with the bogeyman that is Islamic militancy and very much to do with sexual jealousy? Was he aware that the perpetrator was himself gay and jealous of his lover’s infidelity? Why do people like Ted Hankin put two plus two together and always come up with Islam?

Ted Hankin needs to decide whether he is a propagandist or an historical materialist.

Maren Clarke
email

Criticisms

Whilst I continue to both support and applaud the principal positions of the Weekly Worker, I think it necessary to make the following quite urgent observations and strong criticisms.

Firstly, you are entirely wrong to interpret the Chilcot inquiry and eventual public report as not being the “whitewash” widely expected by many on the left (‘Not a whitewash’, July 14). Indeed, it is rather naive to the point of gullible on your part to be duped in this manner.

Whilst maybe not precisely a whitewash in any arrogantly obvious form, it certainly was a clever and necessary decontamination or detoxification by the establishment. In their own terms, that process had been made absolutely essential for the purposes of both deflating and diverting the widespread awareness that the Iraq war was ‘illegal’, not to mention in order to defuse the parallel moral outrage and abhorrence felt by many citizens - a very large element of whom were publicly calling for Tony Blair and George Bush to be prosecuted as ‘war criminals’, etc.

The British establishment realised it needed to address and counteract those absolutely correct perceptions, and in fact did so very subtly, but nonetheless highly efficiently, via Chilcot’s little masterpiece of Oxbridge-styled waffle, plus opaque control.

I’d ask the following simple question. Where was the bit in Chilcot’s report that revealed the categorically stated core purpose of both Blair and Bush to commandeer the oil resources of Iraq (albeit often under the guise of being self-appointed and self-serving ‘globocops’ of democracy and freedom)? It was buried away deep within the 2.7 million words of main text, thereafter being entirely neglected in Chilcot’s own summary for media outlets, as well as subsequently by 99.99% of the mass/corporate media.

If those seven long years involved in the production of the Chilcot report plus the £10 million or more that it cost demonstrate anything whatsoever, it’s the fact that the capitalists and their various elites will never become ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. To be more precise, capitalism will never willingly permit the uncontrolled, unvarnished, non-filtered facts - in other words, the actual and genuinely full truth - to be revealed about its activities to its citizens and populations. Certainly not anything that would expose the vicious, ruthless, devious, cynical and calculatingly exploitative nature of their system for running the world, let alone the corporate profiteering plus imperialist ‘engine-room’ that drives it all.

Secondly, it was extremely poor to the point of negligent that you didn’t explain far more clearly your position on the EU referendum in advance. By which I mean differentiate between an ‘active boycott’ and, on the other hand, a ‘passive abstention’. Quite a complex matter, I’d suggest.

Having said that, given the absence of any real clout or muscle on the part of the CPGB (not to mention any other UK Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist outfits, very sadly!), any such principled position on your part will have had very little practical effect out there in the real world. Consequently, your formal position was really rather spurious/largely notional. However, none of that should overshadow my overall observation about your failures or even negligence in this matter of the EU referendum vote, respectfully I maintain.

In any event, speaking for myself, as a result of that lack of clarity etc, quite incorrectly I regarded your official position as defeatist and indeed foolish, whereas (now that I grasp things more fulsomely) I consider it to have been precisely the correct one to have adopted.

Underlying this particular criticism is another and more general one: namely that you tend to write your articles as if it’s all a relaxed and cosy in-joke chat between fully informed/fully engaged acolytes or disciples. Surely you need to bear in the forefront of your mind the fact that not all of your readers or supporters are graced with such fully informed insight and complete comprehension. Many of us have demanding lives, after all.

Bruno Kretzschmar
email

Cleaners’ victory

Cleaners working in the City of London have won the London Living Wage after an unprecedented 43 days of continuous, all-out strike action.

The cleaners, who are members of the trade union, United Voices of the World, work at 100 Wood Street, an office building which is owned by the world’s second richest man, Amancio Ortega. It is also home to financial giants such as JP Morgan and Schroders, and is managed by the real estate company, CBRE.

The cleaners had been on strike since June 8 and had vowed to continue until all their demands are met. They were calling for the reinstatement of unlawfully sacked colleagues, backdated payment of the London Living Wage to January 1 2016, union recognition, and a guarantee that they will receive the Living Wage at the new adjusted rate each year.

Petros Elia, UVW general secretary, said: “Yesterday’s announcement represents a significant victory and it is no exaggeration to say that this is a historic moment: this is now the longest strike in the history of the City of London and it is the first strike to be led by an entirely Latin American workforce in the UK. The resilience and determination of our members is incredible to witness, and now it is bearing fruit.

“In its letter to the cleaners, Thames Cleaning claimed to have always intended to pay the living wage and said that savings elsewhere have now enabled them to do this. The claim is laughable: this is a company that was willing to pay in excess of £20,000 in legal fees to try and stop our members’ lawful industrial action. Clearly they are not short of money.

“I urge Thames Cleaning to show its employees the dignity and respect they deserve and enter into meaningful negotiations over our reasonable demands.”

Victor Manuel, one of the cleaners on strike said: “This is a great victory but we will continue to fight for our cause, until they reinstate our colleagues and recognise our union. We’re not tired or afraid of anyone or anything. Unity brings victory and we will win. Thank you to our union, United Voices of the World”

UVW are seeking donations to support the strike fund and to help with legal costs incurred fighting the injunction taken out by Thames Cleaning to prevent effective picketing. Donations can be made online at: www.uvwunion.org.uk/emergency-appeal.

Daniel Stone
UVW