On January 22 2017 Left Unity’s national secretary received a draft for an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn on rights of the Scottish people. On February 9 the LU executive committee replied - they decided not to write to Corbyn on this matter. The idea was raised at the conference of Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism (Rise) on March 4. Rise took a similar view and rejected any such letter or a campaign.
The letter was drafted through consultation between three members of Rise and Left Unity with the intention that it would become a joint letter signed by both organisations. At least both anti-unionist organisations did not fall out. If we cannot unite to do something at least we can unite to do nothing.
It was an opportunity missed. It is always a good idea to get ahead of the game rather than follow sheepishly along in the wake of battle. A battle royal was surely about to kick off. This week it did, when the elected Nicola Sturgeon stole the thunder from the unelected Theresa May by declaring the intention to hold a second Scottish independence referendum.
May is fighting for a hard Tory Brexit. The Tories will be screwed if Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the European Union. Scotland, having previously voted to remain in the UK and the EU, cannot now do both. One way to solve this contradiction is force - forcing Scotland out of the EU against its will, as expressed in the 2016 referendum.
Force starts with imposition and ends in war. The Tories want to block or prevent a consultative referendum. But they are realists. If they can’t stop it, they will delay it to a time of their choosing. If they can’t do that, they will mobilise all their forces in the state, the loyalist parties and the media to prevent the end of the UK. It would be an irony if the unintended consequence of Brexit was a new Anglo-Welsh world superpower.
Letters are neither here nor there. It is the politics that counts. Open letters are a long established method of political struggle connected to the united front. Left Unity and Rise would jointly declare war on the Tory government and the policy of the Labour Party. But this is only part of the story. The open letter is aimed at a united front between Corbyn’s socialist Labour, Left Unity, Rise and Momentum - and indeed the rest of the left - to fight the Tory Brexit.
The main enemy identified in the letter is the Tory government, which is determined to impose a hard, anti-working class, Tory Brexit on the whole UK. They gerrymandered the referendum by excluding sizable groups of voters. The letter does not identify Corbyn with the Tory enemy, but appeals to him saying, “The Tory referendum on the EU presents us with the challenge of finding a progressive democratic and internationalist way out of the mess they have landed us in.”
Opposition to an anti-unionist united front comes from the Tories, the UK Independence Party and the right wing of Labour committed to the interests of the British ruling class. They are demanding Corbyn joins their popular front to defend the UK. The socialist wing of the Labour Party is thus caught on the horns of a dilemma. Should they back the Tories, as Gordon Brown did, whilst trying to keep a safe distance to deceive the working class? Or should they adopt a novel or indeed ‘revolutionary’ approach? Left Unity and Rise have to show they are relevant to this battle if they are to be relevant at all.
One explanation for the reluctance of Left Unity and Rise to unite and fight the class enemy is simply that both organisations are not ready to fight or are simply too weak. We can respect that if it is honestly admitted, but not if it is concealed by excuses and general flim-flam.
The other obvious reason is sectarian politics, which rejects the fight for the united front. In Scotland a strong opinion among ultra-lefts and sectarians is that Corbyn is irrelevant. This is parochial nationalism of the worst type. Corbyn is still seen as potentially dangerous, because he encourages working class action. There is no doubt that Corbyn is connected to the working class and trade union movement in England, where by far the largest section of the working class is concentrated.
International socialists in Scotland recognise this fact and it figures in their calculations about building an anti-unionist alliance with international socialists in England. Anti-unionism has to be fought both sides of the border and especially among the English working class, as does the inevitable growth of national chauvinism, especially in England.
Left Unity and Rise are embryonic anti-unionist, socialist parties. They are stronger campaigning together and weaker apart. This open letter did not bark. It is a wake-up call. There is no future for parties that are not ready or able to fight over the big political issues of the day. There is no bigger issue than the very future of the kingdom.
Left Unity and Rise
At the Grassroots Momentum networking conference last Saturday, the differences came out around two motions on the way forward. Motion 2 was from the Wrackite wing (Matt Wrack and Nick Wrack, supported by Red Flag/Workers Power, etc), which acknowledged that a split had already happened and we needed to gather together those excluded by Lansman to mobilise the base. The second, backed by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and CPGB, wanted to fudge the question, to pretend a split had not happened and to keep that base in check.
And it was all about genuinely mobilising the base - those mobilised in the first and second Corbyn surges to fight austerity. Now using them simply as a stage army to get Corbyn elected in 2020 and not to fight austerity, including that imposed by Labour councils, will ensure he won’t get elected.
That was the difference between motions 2 and 3. Motion 2, of course, could have been better formulated (the conference itself could have been better organised), but clearly No2 did not seek a bureaucratic cap on the movement in case it would embarrass Corbyn to the same extent as No3.
Crucially No2 proposed that “Local groups meet as normal, but affiliate to Grassroots Momentum”, which should have a proper democratic structure: “All affiliated groups send two reps to meet quarterly at a forum for networking and discussing good practice, perspectives, policy, campaigning priorities, etc. (This replaces the current NC).”
The AWL and CPGB did not want a split. As if it had not already happened and the clear choice now was whether to capitulate or fight. No3 wanted the fudge and it won by 89 votes to 83 - to much whooping from AWL youth. (It turns out that only 134 registered at the door and the delegates voted right at the start to abandon the delegate structures, so everyone got to vote. There were floods of AWL student youth in the seats in front of me.)
But this is unsustainable, as demonstrated by the West Lothian question for Grassroots Momentum: what happens to the expelled members from Labour in July, when they are automatically expelled from Momentum? In practical terms to whom do I pay my £1 a month, if Grassroots Momentum is not a separate organisation with its own bank account and structures by then? It irks me to have to pay it up to July, as it goes into the pocket of a private company, owned by the corrupt, bureaucratic millionaire/property speculator monster, John Lansman, but I will do so until then.
Thanks to Rex Dunn for his informative and stimulating piece on post-1917 Russian art and the pressures of western intervention on the progress of the October Revolution (‘Mayakovsky and the avant garde’, March 9).
Last week I happened to visit the Royal Academy for its latest exhibition, Revolution: Russian art 1917-32 (which continues till April 17). I was impressed with the diversity of work from the 1920s, though disagreed with some of the curators’ views. There was Malevich, the abstractionist; the ambitious constructivists and the militant Proletkult: Isaak Brodsky, the very model for the socialist-realist style of the 1930s; alongside domestic painters, colourful ceramists and designers like El Lissitzky. I left in no doubt that much of this was the work that influenced western modernists well into the 50s and 60s.
This flowering occurred in the circumstances of civil war and the threat of invasion and starvation. But the thing was that there was also a ‘civil war’ between the different groups of artists. Even some of the most famous avant-gardists seemed to think there should only be one ‘revolutionary’ style: theirs. But Bolsheviks like Lenin and Trotsky didn’t think like this: Lenin had certain preferences, but he only pressed these for party literature - for analysis and propaganda, not art and design. Trotsky proposed in 1919 that craft workers should join industrial combines, but he didn’t insist on dishes looking a certain way. He wrote Literature and revolution (1924), which, when I came to read it, surprised me by not being a manifesto, but just a survey of pre- and post-1917 culture.
Yet this maelstrom of robust activity was brought to an end not by the emergence of one popular style or even just a return to tradition - Isaak Brodsky had shown, in his ‘conventional’ paintings of Lenin and Russian crowds, that socialist realism can have a power which we associate with exploratory and effective art. No, the robust diversity of the 20s, where artists could promote production and explore the problems of everyday life (in films too), was contained by a command economy: artists had to start looking over their shoulder: Is my work ‘socialist realist’ enough? Is it optimistic and proletarian? Will it do?
There’s an example in the RA show of the sort of style that finally claimed supremacy over the rest. It’s entitled Collective farm team leader (1932) and you can guess the sort of thing it presents: a placid worker-organiser at the centre of some agricultural activity, which indicates no difficulties or interruption of command between heroic central allocation and bright fulfilment. Here is the art of reassurance.
The early process of revolution facing outwards to the world, which might indeed have consulted workers and consumers, had given way to the state-led modernisation of one nation in which an insecure bureaucracy was arbiter of everything from imaginary wheat production to the approval of art.
The Sun is the bloody rag of Hillsborough, and the persecutor of my friend (yes, still my friend), Tom Watson. The Times employs Oliver Kamm, the tormentor of my friend, Neil Clark. But try as I might to work myself up about Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to purchase the rest of Sky, I cannot bring myself to do so. What would such an acquisition make any worse?
The BBC gives little or no platform to those who understand the lesson of the EU referendum result in the United Kingdom, and of the election of Donald Trump in the United States - which is that the workers, and not the liberal bourgeoisie, are the key swing voters. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who locate identity issues within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who welcome the fact that the EU referendum was decided by those areas which voted ‘leave’, while voting Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru for other purposes, and which have thus made themselves the centre of political attention (except, of course, on the BBC).
The BBC gives little or no platform to those who celebrate the leading role in the defence of universal public services of those who would otherwise lack basic amenities, and the leading role in the promotion of peace of those who would be the first to be called upon to die in wars. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who have opposed from the start the failed programme of economic austerity. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who opposed Tony Blair’s privatisation of the national health service and other public services, his persecution of the disabled and his assault on civil liberties - all of which have continued under every subsequent government.
The BBC gives little or no platform to those who have opposed every British military intervention since 1997. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who oppose Britain’s immoral and one-sided relationship with Saudi Arabia, and who reject the demonisation of Russia. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who have the real eyes to realise real lies, recognising that the truly fake news is propagated in support of the economic policies of neoliberal austerity and the foreign policies of neoconservative war.
The BBC gives little or no platform to those who reject any approach to climate change which would threaten existing or potential jobs, workers’ rights, the right to have children, travel opportunities or universal access to a full diet. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who seek to rescue issues such as male suicide, men’s health, and fathers’ rights from those whose economic and other policies have caused the problems. And the BBC gives little or no platform to those who refuse to recognise racists, fascists or opportunists as the authentic voices of the accepted need to control immigration.
Over-concentrated media ownership, especially by a foreign national who is not based in this country, is inherently problematic. But in the very great scheme that is these things, the biggest problem is not Rupert Murdoch. He already owns a lot of Sky, on which the much-maligned RT does indeed provide these platforms. He now also owns Talk Radio, on which they are provided by the much-maligned George Galloway, whom Murdoch has not sacked, and who is a friend and comrade of mine and of Neil Clark’s. As the proprietor of the whole of Sky, Murdoch might even do some good.
Thirty-six people packed into the Red Shed meeting room in Wakefield last Saturday (March 11) to discuss the Spanish Civil War and to remember those who so bravely fought against fascism.
The first speaker was the author and campaigner, Granville Williams. Granville noted that the Soviet Union, through the Comintern, was urging young workers to go to Spain. However, between 1936 and 1938 there were massive purges in the Soviet Union. This “terror in the Soviet Union was projected into Spain”, with the “persecution and extermination of Trotskyists”. Granville paid particular tribute to POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unification), which had “brilliant leaders” and activists, who had led struggles, including mass strikes.
The second speaker was Bob Mitchell, a former councillor and mayor of Wakefield. He said the “democrats of Spain were defending an elected government” and “defending reforms against a fascist and military coup”. All wars generated poetry, he said, but the Spanish Civil War in particular spawned an “immense body of work”. Bob then read a moving selection of poetry by John Cornford, Frank Ryan, Frank Edwards and others.
The final speaker was the environmental campaigner, Tim Padmore. Tim spoke in particular about a new production of the play, Dare devil rides to Jarama, which tells the story of two volunteers, Clem Beckett and Chris Caldwell, who went to fight with the International Brigades in Spain.
The event was organised by the Wakefield Socialist History Group. Our next event is on Saturday April 1 at 1pm, again at the Red Shed, when Dr Martin Crick and Paul Bennett will speak at a meeting on ‘British socialism and World War I’.
Wakefield Socialist History Group