In Scotland, if you are a supporter of Scottish independence, you would be better voting Labour than Scottish National Party in the June 8 general election.
The way ahead for independence is another referendum called by the Scottish parliament. I don’t think the nationalists would win such a referendum, but it is a democratic right for the Scottish parliament to call one if it so desires. Theresa May is blocking the right of the Scottish parliament to call such a referendum. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he supports the right of the Scottish parliament to call an ‘indy ref 2’. Hopefully, that will be in the Labour manifesto. Therefore, the road to indy ref 2 leads through a Corbyn-led Labour government, which will agree to such a referendum.
With an SNP government at Holyrood, there is really no point in the 50 SNP MPs at Westminster. If May wins, indy ref 2 will be blocked for the foreseeable future. So Scottish nationalists should vote Labour to help Corbyn form the next government. The bigger the Labour vote, the more likely that Corbyn will remain Labour leader and the present unionist Labour leadership in Scotland will be removed by the Labour membership as part of a move to the left. This is, of course, a separate argument from the obvious socialist case to support a Corbyn-led Labour party in this general election.
Those in the Scottish Labour Party leadership who think Labour should compete with the Tories for the ‘unionist vote’ are deluded. We are not unionists, but socialists. We are for the political unity of the working class, not the unity of the British state. We think such unity is necessary if the working class is to advance anywhere on this island. Indeed, history shows us that this is the case. We win when we struggle together for pro-working class reforms, such as the national health service and the welfare state.
Corbyn and Labour should state clearly that if the Scottish parliament votes for indy ref 2, they should have it. We oppose any block by May to the Scottish parliament calling another referendum and will fight any such block throughout Britain. Vote Labour for the right of national self-determination.
It is a British-wide election, so don’t waste your vote on the SNP, who can’t form a government. Labour has no need to oppose indy ref 2. Indeed, quite the opposite - bring it on. The sooner it is shown that Scottish independence does not have the support of the Scottish people, the better. In effect, Brexit has killed the economic case for Scottish independence. Labour has to reach out to that section of the working class that is supporting independence. We have to overcome their despair that social advance on a British level is impossible. We have to champion the right of the Scottish people to decide on independence, while pointing out that Scottish independence is not a viable option for working class people and that it would lead to national conflict over the divorce terms and to austerity-max.
As well as fighting for jobs, houses, the NHS, etc, we must also support the democratic demand that it is up to the Scottish people to decide if they want independence, and Westminster should have no veto on that decision.
The BBC’s Laura Tory Kuenssberg asked Corbo the classic trap question: ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ It was wrapped up as “Will you leave the EU under all and every circumstance?” Any sensible person would have to think before answering that hypothetical. Corbo repeats, “We are leaving the EU.” ‘Yes, but,’ says Tory, ‘what if it is really, really bad? Will you back a totally shit Brexit? Yes or no?’ So here is headline news for the BBC and the Tory press.
It is not the sort of question anybody would ask May, who says we are leaving the EU, the single market and the customs union, no matter how disastrous. If necessary we will have a trade war with Germany. Don’t forget we have the nukes, just in case! This is the measure of the ruthlessness of the Tories. They would sacrifice anybody and anything for the good of their party.
At least that is how they want to harvest the votes of all the Anglo-British chauvinists. Nothing like ‘war’ and warmongering to ignite the Ukip wing of the Tory Party. As we know ‘party’, is merely a metaphor for their class and hence the bankers, bosses and billionaires. So it is not as simple as the BBC and the Tory press claims.
The Tories will leave the EU. Reading the fine print on page 267 of their top secret document, it says: ‘As long as there is a secret deal for the City of London, the “hard-working” workers (the only kind the Tories and the bosses love) can go hang.’ So who do you trust to be in charge of the real deal, the secret one to be done behind closed doors? This takes us to the essence of the general election.
There are really three separate elections going on in parallel universes, which only become one because we vote on the same day. The first two elections are in England and Wales. The Tories are running a plebiscite on “strong and stable leadership” provided by a weak and unprincipled opportunist. Why does the country need an elected dictator? Because of the dangers of Brexit, silly! This is the Tory Brexit election plebiscite and so Laura Tory was on message with her question.
May’s record of twisting and turning is there for anybody to see. Never forget her two London vans with adverts on the side telling any immigrants to ‘go home’. It was a publicity stunt for May. She didn’t actually use the second van. It was only there so she could say there was more than one. The Tories are experts in wasting taxpayers’ money for the sake of vanity and a bit of racist publicity.
Of course, her behaviour contrasts with the everyday Tory story of ‘Corbo the Weak’. For a man who has had more bombs dropped on him than World War II and emerges smiling from his bunker, it is truly remarkable. ‘Strong leader battles on against all the odds.’ No wonder they hate him. Nobody is more dangerous than a man, or women, who doesn’t know when they are beaten. Corbo will not be the next prime minister or I will eat my porridge. If the polls are right it will be a heavy defeat. But a score draw would be a great result for Corbyn and equally bad for May. So it is all to play for.
Labour are running a different - and in some ways a more normal - election. They are focused on issues like health, education, taxing the rich and “For the many, not the few”. We have yet to see the manifesto. Whatever its finer points, we have to recognise that Corbyn is currently the political leader of the working class movement. However, we should give no support to Labour’s fifth column of rightwing (or New Labour) MPs, whose main aim is to sabotage Corbyn at every opportunity. So we should give critical support to Corbyn and oppose all his rightwing enemies - in the Tory Party and the Labour Party.
A third election is taking place in another country. The battle lines are drawn up in Scotland around the constitution and the related issue of a second independence referendum. On one side are reactionary or simply conservative unionists, who include the Orange Order, the Tories, UK Independence Party, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour. The present period has seen the growth of the Tories, who under Davidson have become the hard-core militant fighters defending the British union against ‘nationalism’.
On the other side are the national democrats and internationalist democrats, or anti-unionists. All are demanding more democracy and self-government for Scotland, including the right to decide on remaining in the EU. These include the SNP, Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party, Rise, Left Unity and the Socialist Workers Party. Looked at from England, there is only one position to take. We must critically support anti-unionists and totally expose and condemn the Anglo-British chauvinists, especially the English social chauvinists.
So, in conclusion, the socialist movement needs to fight this election with its own independent, democratic manifesto and not see it as simply or primarily about ‘supporting’ this and ‘opposing’ that. I would propose the following democratic demands for consideration.
- Democratic exit from the EU.
- Repeal the Act of Union.
- Parliament for England.
- Commonwealth of England
- Democratic NHS and public sector.
- Democratic, republican United States of Europe.
Left Unity and Rise
In the election for the West Midlands combined authority mayor on May 4, the Communist Party of Britain’s candidate, Graham Stevenson, obtained 5,696 votes - a 1.1% share of the vote. I think this is quite significant. In six out of seven local authority areas, Graham’s vote share was pretty consistent - between 0.9% and 1.5%. Only in Solihull was there a significantly lower share, at 0.5%.
In the 2015 general election, the nine Communist Party candidates obtained rather paltry shares of the vote, averaging between 0.2% and 0.4%. Only general secretary Robert Griffiths obtained a relatively higher share, at 0.57%. Graham’s vote share seems consistent with the 1% support achieved by No2EU (backed by the Communist Party) in the 2009 European parliament election.
The consistent and significantly better results in the West Midlands mayoral election are unlikely to be the result of Graham’s personal reputation and personality or the work of local branches, as these are quite varied over the patch. My interpretation is that the very name of the Communist Party and of communism is capable of resonating with a relatively significant number of the population, who are unlikely to have had direct personal contact with the party or with members.
I think it quite remarkable that more than one in 100 of voters in the West Midlands are prepared to vote communist. To break through that one-in-a-100 barrier means the name ‘Communist Party’ is starting to register - albeit mildly on the Richter scale of political awareness and consciousness in the electorate as a whole. Capitalism itself creates the working class and it also creates the material basis for ideas of socialism and communism.
The 5,696 votes are somewhat greater than the national membership of the Communist Party and therefore gives the Midlands district and local branches a significant opportunity to connect with wider sections of the population and start to build both in terms of numbers and wider influence and standing. The next immediate targets must surely be to increase vote shares to 2%-3% and then to breach the 5% barrier, which is the next step change in wider impact and awareness - one in 20 voting communist - and enabling deposits to be saved.
The lessons of recent electorally insurgent parties in the UK, such as the Green Party and Ukip, suggest that electoral strategy needs to be planned, painstakingly implemented and gradually built on over years and decades. Ukip focused on the national share of the vote, ensuring that every household had an awareness of the existence of the party by being a consistent presence over 20 years on the ballot paper and in election campaigns.
Nigel Farage has talked of the importance of ensuring the maximum number of people and households were leafleted in each and every election, gradually building up the awareness of the party and what it stood for. Ultimately, after years of painstaking work and ridicule from the establishment parties, Ukip broke through, winning the 2014 European election with nearly 27% of the popular vote.
None of this is about entertaining illusions in some sort of parliamentary road to socialism. However, democratic structures, institutions and processes are important gains for the working class, and any serious socialist or communist party should make maximum use of them, both to defend those democratic gains and to engage with the maximum number of people.
I very much like a quote used in Mike Macnair’s article, ‘The Bolsheviks’ success and the “revolutionary” fear of electoralism’ (July 24 2014): “I’m sorry, but the whole ‘electoralism is bad’ argument is daft and is part of the reason the far left struggle. You end up failing to understand how you effectively communicate with normal, depoliticised people.”
In response to some ridiculous SWP luminary who once said, “It will be bullets, not ballots, which decide”, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who do advocate a parliamentary road to socialism, rightly riposted: “If you can’t get people to vote for you, by the simple act of marking a cross on a ballot paper, how are you going to get them to fight and die for you?” Quite.
Paul Demarty, in his interesting article, ‘No concession’ (May 4), acknowledges the French National Front as an unpleasant political party, but doubts that its supposed or imagined links to fascism are of concern. He may be right, but I think it is worth pausing to study the origins and current practice of this party, because there are nuances absent from any UK equivalent - an absence rooted in our respective countries’ wartime situation.
In 1936, a new political party appeared in France, the Parti Populaire Français (PPF). It was anti-communist, anti-democratic, nationalist and corporatist. Beginning in 1938, the party espoused violent anti-Semitism, as well as being anti-masonic. After the occupation of France by Germany, the PPF became openly collaborationist and was the largest of the French pro-Nazi parties. In 1944, it set up a militant wing to assist the German Sipo/SD hunt down Jews and resistance fighters. After D-Day, with the Allies advancing across France, scores of party members fled the country, accompanying the retreating German armies. Installed on German soil, the PPF found itself immersed in the political futilities of the French collaborationist rump eking out its remaining days in the Third Reich.
If the PPF’s demagogic leader, Jacques Doriot, is associated most closely with the party, he was seconded right from the beginning by Victor Barthélemy, who rose quickly in the ranks to occupy the key post of secretary general. In 1944, Barthélemy was the PPF’s representative to Mussolini’s Republica di Salo, where, at war’s end, he was handed over to the French and imprisoned for several years as punishment for acts of collaboration.
Let me link this potted history of the PPF to Le Pen’s National Front, in two important respects. First, on his release from prison, Victor Barthélemy immediately returned to fascist politics. Along with other unsavoury activities, in 1972 Barthélemy set up a new political party, le Front National, with Jean-Marie Le Pen. For five years, from 1973, Barthélemy was ‘administrative secretary’ to the National Front. Plus ça change …
So now we have an historical link between fascism during and after the war - first with the PPF and then with the NF. What of Marine Le Pen? Here is the second link.
In April, Le Pen attracted controversy when she said that the wartime Vichy government was not responsible for rounding up French Jews for deportation. She based her argument on a fiction advanced by general de Gaulle, who pretended that there had been no interruption between the pre-war Fourth Republic and its post-war continuation. What, you might ask, happened to it between 1940 and 1945? Simple, said de Gaulle, the French government resided in wartime London, in the person of de Gaulle himself. On French soil, there was no government - only an administrative entity. Strange, because the US and many other countries maintained diplomatic relations with marshall Pétain and his Vichy ‘non-government’. America only severed links with Vichy at the end of 1942.
We might ask ourselves, why does Le Pen bring up this matter of Vichy’s culpability? The answer lies, on the one hand, in a particular action taken by Victor Barthélemy during the war; and, on the other, in a decision taken by president Jacques Chirac after the war. The single most important charge against Vichy and the collaborationist parties in the round-up of Jews is an event from 1942 known as the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv (the round-up in the Winter Velodrome), when 13,000 men, women and children were herded into a velodrome in Paris, over several days, to await deportation. Assisting the French police in this round-up was one secretary general of the PPF, Victor Barthélemy, who ordered hundreds of his PPF thugs to provide active help in the task.
In 1995, breaking with de Gaulle’s fiction, president Chirac stood in the velodrome and pronounced that France, under its Vichy government, was guilty of collaborating with the occupying force in rounding up and deporting Jews. In assuming responsibility, Chirac angered many on the right and, sure enough, Le Pen has responded by repudiating Chirac’s gesture.
Now you can understand Le Pen’s comments. Although it was important not to bring any direct anti-Semitic taint to her party - and there can be no bigger taint than the wartime activities of its co-founder - as the trailing candidate she desperately needed to muster all possible votes.
For many older French, as well as their younger imitators, there is nostalgia for Vichy and its policies. Even when these nostalgiques acknowledge that collaborationist excesses were committed, there remains the fact, in their eyes, that collaborators were inspired by a desire to rid France of communists, Jews, Roma and other undesirable elements that threatened the purity of la France profonde, with its anti-enlightenment, pro-Catholic traditionalism.
Marine Le Pen’s election results disappointed both candidate and party. Waiting in the wings to replace her aunt, is one Marion Maréchal Le Pen, who is much closer in ideology to the discredited Jean-Marie Le Pen than she is to Marine. Let’s see where this party goes.
In a somewhat knockabout article, where he admonishes us for not “thinking strategically”, Jack Conrad asserts:
“The end of oil was always a complete nonsense. So was peak oil, for that matter. In fact the whole thesis - that there is a certain amount of oil in the ground which will at some point begin to run out - takes no account of reserves, demand or price. Eg, if demand increases then one would expect the price to increase and that would make what are now totally unexploited or marginal fields viable. Exploration would also be stimulated and new sources discovered. Besides that you can make oil from a whole range of different substances - eg, tar sands, coal and methane - if you are prepared to pay the financial and environmental cost” (‘Failed recipes’, April 27).
Conrad completely misunderstands the concept of ‘peak oil’, which argues not that oil is about to run out, but rather that cheap oil - ie, easily accessible oil upon which capitalism was built and upon which it depends - is finite and therefore will run out at some time. (Estimates range from ‘we are already at peak oil’ to ‘the situation will be reached about mid-century’.) Arguments regarding supply and demand have only very limited purchase and will provide only short-term ‘solutions’. For example, no doubt no effort would be spared to ensure that the military have sufficient oil regardless of cost. Obviously a situation which could not apply to wider society.
In “thinking strategically”, it would be appropriate not to distort - peak oil has absolutely nothing to do with Malthusianism - and mock theories which it is obvious Conrad has very little grasp of.
Reading Mike Macnair on the narrowing of education (‘What kind of education?’, May 4), I came up with an appropriate motto: ‘No more John Lennons’.
Post-1945, the Labour Party, and eventually the Conservatives, pushed for innovation as the saviour of British capitalism, while the empire fell away. However, the expanded education system not only brought us a lot of bright technology, but creatives like John Lennon - an art school guttersnipe who had the chance to help grow the music industry and, in the process, encouraged insubordination, especially against establishment wars.
Due to Lennon being a rock musician, the risk was that a large public were prone to be inspired by him, producing Germaine Greers and Bob Marleys galore and the ‘horror’ of the upstart 70s.
When today the media resounds with disapproval at the ‘contempt for experts’, remember that most don’t mean expertise, as in research and grounded argument: they’re simply dismissing people who haven’t passed exams or been taught leadership at Eton.
Meanwhile, Beatle Lennon’s recent equivalents, being academically ‘slow’ or having ‘lazy’ parents, must ‘unfortunately’ scramble for zero-hour contracts and uber jobs, where to speak up is the quickest way of becoming poorer.
Being equally against both sides in the war in Syria is a third-campist position and ignores the fact that the USA is the global hegemonic imperialist power, while Russia and China are not imperialist powers. So, like Trotsky in 1936 over Abyssinia, in 1937 over China and hypothetically in 1938 over Brazil, we are always for the defeat of our own and every other imperialist power, even by reactionary forces. Trotsky referred to Vargas in Brazil as a semi-fascist.
Of course, that did not mean political capitulation to bourgeois nationalist ideology, but always maintaining the political independence of the working class and offering revolutionary leadership. The ‘anti-imperialist united front’ was the term the revolutionary Comintern used for this tactic and, whilst Trotsky avoided it because the Stalinists were using it to promote stagism and socialism in a single country and political capitulation to bourgeois nationalism, nevertheless the three examples given above show he had not abandoned the tactics of the revolutionary Comintern and its first four congresses.
The likes of Cameron Woodford have done very good work in spelling out in detail not only the reactionary character of the ‘rebels’ sponsored by the USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc, but also the reactionary character of Assad - implying that he is unable to fight a revolutionary war because he was an imperialist client before the start of the war and wants to be one again after it ends. But we do have to say that, despite their self-serving motivation, Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia - and China to a lesser extent - are playing a progressive role here in fighting and driving back imperialism and its sponsored jihadist proxies.
That is why east Aleppo did not ‘fall’, but was liberated. And that huge wave of imperialist propaganda against its liberation, the outright lies exposed by Vanessa Beeley and others about the relationship between the al Nusra Front and the White Helmets, shows it was a defeat for imperialism to be celebrated. Of course, Islamic State in Mosul were using civilians as ‘human shields’, as Milosevic, Saddam and Gaddafi had allegedly done before them, but the Russians and Syrians were deliberately targeting civilians in Aleppo and no human shield tactics were employed there, we must believe. Well, we have ample evidence now from several courageous reporters that these were war propaganda lies.
And the mass media campaign of disinformation was simply a repetition of jihadist lies with absolutely no independent verification. Everything turned out to be false, as we have already observed.