What happens after June 8?
Peter Manson reports on last weekend’s meeting of CPGB members
Jeremy Corbyn: neither a reformist nor a sub-reformist
On May 7 comrades from the CPGB gathered in London for an aggregate meeting. Unsurprisingly, the main item on the agenda was the forthcoming general election, although towards the end of the day we also debated the new global situation in view of Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
But first up was Jack Conrad, representing the CPGB Provisional Central Committee. He was moving a motion drawn up by the PCC in relation to our key tasks in the coming period (see opposite for the final, amended version). After the general election, he said, the stakes will be high. Comrade Conrad stressed that the result of the election was not really in doubt, as shown by the May 4 local elections, where the Tories gained 563 seats, while Labour lost 382.
Other big losers were, of course, the UK Independence Party, which lost all but one of its previous 146 councillors, and the Liberal Democrats, who lost 42 seats. The game is almost certainly up for Ukip, continued the comrade. Theresa May, with her hard Brexit stance, has stolen Ukip’s ground, without risking the votes of Conservative ‘remainers’, who have nowhere to go - very few will switch to the Lib Dems.
So, barring some unforeseen development, the result of the general election seems pretty clear. Thanks to Labour’s rightwing saboteurs, with the support of the media, the party cannot win under Jeremy Corbyn under current circumstances, and we should be honest about that. But the left is deluded. For example, Labour Briefing believes that the election offers an “unprecedented opportunity to take a clear socialist message to voters” - meaning Corbyn’s “clear socialist message” apparently - and that Labour can therefore win.
In this context comrade Conrad mentioned the fact that the Rail, Maritime and Transport union has come out for a blanket Labour vote - a welcome move from an organisation that had previously wanted the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to continue standing candidates against Labour. In view of the RMT’s previous position, the Socialist Party in England and Wales had rowed back on its line of calling for the suspension of Tusc contests. But now, despite SPEW comrades standing for Tusc on May 4, it seems the coalition will not be contesting on June 8 after all.
Corbyn’s victory was always contradictory, continued comrade Conrad. As a rebel within mainstream Labourism, he was unacceptable to the establishment. Which means that, although he is no revolutionary socialist, his victory has presented us with the opportunity of fulfilling a vital task - the transformation of Labour into a united front of not only the trade unions, but the entire left.
At the moment the rank-and-file Labour left is very weak. It is politically uneducated and easily swayed by the media. That is why the experienced comrades in the Socialist Workers Party as well as SPEW could play a valuable role if they took Labour’s internal battles seriously.
To sum up, comrade Conrad stated once again that the real question was not about what we do on June 8, but what happens afterwards. According to a recent poll, 57% of Labour voters say that Corbyn should resign as leader if Labour loses. Yet amongst the so-called left there are elements supporting the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’, including the Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and even the Lib Dems.
The right will continue to dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party and, if Corbyn resigns, they will ensure there is no left candidate for leader on the ballot paper. That is why, after the election, a key task facing us is to persuade Corbyn to stay - the likely heavy defeat is the responsibility of the rightwing saboteurs, aided by the media.
Just to be clear about what this meant, comrade Conrad said that previously we had urged Labour members to give Corbyn their critical support. However, he has constantly sought accommodation with the right. Today he says nothing about questions like abolishing the monarchy, withdrawing from Nato and scrapping Trident; he even refused to condemn the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign and defend those falsely accused. In fact all he promises to do is manage capitalism better than the Tories. He is, in other words, neither a reformist nor even a sub-reformist. So we should still defend Corbyn against attacks from the Labour right and the media. But there can be no support for his political programme.
While all comrades present were broadly in favour of the PCC motion, comrade Carla Roberts had proposed a few amendments aimed at strengthening it. Comrade Conrad said he did not think any of the amendments were particularly necessary, although he was not going to oppose all of them.
However, although comrade Roberts herself was unable to attend, several comrades spoke in favour of some of her amendments during the following debate. Bob Paul thought they “added something” - he mentioned in particular comrade Roberts’ call to “maximise the vote for left candidates”.
Mike Macnair did not like comrade Roberts’ first amendment much, which recalled the original CPGB position on critical support for Corbyn. But he agreed with another: that we should state in the motion our call for a Labour vote - although he disagreed with comrade Paul about “left candidates”. Comrade Macnair also made the point that the local election results did not necessarily point to a disastrous showing for Labour on June 8, but he still thought we were looking at a “very substantial Tory majority”.
Vernon Price liked the idea of the PCC motion, aimed at helping us to clarify our differences, but thought that the final sentence of point 11 represented a “chicken and egg” situation, implying that we first had to establish a mass Communist Party before we could aim for the transformation of Labour.
For her part, Sarah Stewart largely agreed with comrade Macnair on the amendments. She went on to report that SWP delegates at last month’s conference of the National Union of Teachers had voted against a motion calling for NUT affiliation to Labour, which was as a result defeated narrowly. Like other comrades, she wondered what on earth the SWP was playing at.
Yassamine Mather noted Corbyn’s continuous watering down of his positions, meaning that he was not, as he claimed, “anti-establishment”. She noted the lack of any clear Labour position on Brexit - an absence that was emphasised later that day, when Corbyn in an interview repeatedly refused to answer whether under his premiership the UK would definitively leave the European Union, whatever deal was on offer. Comrade Mather also agreed with some of comrade Roberts’ amendments - in particular, it was important to specify our call for a Labour vote within the motion, she said.
In his contribution, Stan Kelsey pointed out that, although Labour had been on a pre-election “war footing” since November, the right had ensured that there had been no process in place for selecting candidates, meaning that Corbyn supporters would remain a tiny minority in the PLP after June 8.
Following this, I responded to comrade Price’s point about the “chicken and egg” situation: the fight to transform Labour and to build a mass Communist Party were two complementary tasks, in my view. I also pointed out that the left’s false optimism about the likely general election outcome, plus its exaggerated praise for some of Corbyn’s positions, were hardly helpful in assessing where we were at in the fight to transform Labour.
Simon Wells wondered about a possible contradiction between points 6 and 9: has there really been “one step forward organisationally” within Labour? And Phil Kent thought that we should only recommend a vote for Labour candidates who supported Corbyn - otherwise it was illogical to call for the expulsion of the saboteurs, he said.
Replying to the debate, comrade Conrad stressed that, while obviously we differentiate between left and right candidates, we should call for a vote for and canvass for all of them. The point was to engage with Labour members. However, the task was not to maximise the Labour vote, irrespective of the left-right balance, but to “fight for socialist politics”. Nor was it inconsistent to call for a vote for Labour rightwingers and then fight for their deselection.
The meeting then went on to vote by a clear majority in favour of some of comrade Roberts’ amendments - namely the clause contesting the idea that “The worst Labour government is better than any Tory government”; and the insertion of our call to vote for all Labour candidates. But the meeting decided that two other amendments - one stating our position since Corbyn was elected, and the other naming particular saboteurs - were unnecessary. After this the motion, as amended, was carried unanimously.
In the final - rather shorter - session of the aggregate, comrades discussed the wide-ranging presentation by Yassamine Mather on Donald Trump’s foreign policy, which is published elsewhere in this paper.
In her opening, comrade Mather pointed to the contrast between the Trump of the presidential campaign, promising less foreign intervention, and the reality of his threats against North Korea and his bombing of Islamic State targets in Afghanistan. She thought that the ‘globalists’ had won out and what we were seeing was in reality a continuation of Republican, neoconservative imperialism. So US foreign policy was not that different under Trump, she concluded: the US was “still calling the shots”.
In the debate that followed, Moshé Machover, a friend of the CPGB, pointed to the fact that US policy was “riddled with contradictions”. In fact Trump had been busy back-pedalling on Israel-Palestine - he seems to be shying away from recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a position which would have meant de facto acceptance of the incorporation of the West Bank.
Comrade Macnair noted in particular the change in US policy on the EU, which the nationalists had always wanted to undermine. But now Theresa May’s Brexiteering was aiding Trump’s old aim of reducing the EU to a free-trade zone. For his part, comrade Conrad said that Trump was enjoying some success in getting the likes of South Korea, Japan and Germany to pay for US hegemony. He stressed that the aggressive noises against North Korea reaffirmed that “we are living in a dangerous world”, where the role of individuals is right now more pronounced.
Comrade Mather pointed out in her response to the debate that it would not look good for Trump to say, ‘We’re fighting Iran, but the Saudis are paying!’.