I note the mini-interview with delegate Hudson Leigh at the Public and Commercial Services union conference, but have to say it is unfair and also inaccurate in parts (‘Fudging the Labour Party’ Weekly Worker May 25).
Hudson has missed that the original intention of the standing orders committee was indeed to have a general debate between three motions on Labour, as he (and conference in the main) would have preferred. But, because the branch submitting motion E328 succeeded in getting it ‘A-marked’, the danger to the Socialist Party-dominated NEC was clear: we might end up passing a motion calling on PCS to write to all members recommending they vote Labour on June 8. So the SOC decided to have each motion debated one at a time.
The running order was revealing. The NEC’s emergency motion A304 recommended branches be supplied with election campaign packs. This meant that activists had just two weeks to write to the NEC to get permission to campaign for a particular Labour candidate and to then do so.
Next was emergency motion A305 that had the strange and stilted wording, “Conference instructs the NEC to offer as much support to Labour candidates as is allowable under current PCS policy. This should include issuing correspondence to members highlighting how they will benefit from Labour’s manifesto commitments.” This is not actually a recommendation to vote Labour, but seems close.
It is important to note that A305 had a number of ‘E-marked’ motions included in it, which did instruct PCS to write to members urging them to vote Labour on June 8. Only in response to a question from a delegate did the president make it clear that the NEC will only act on the instruction in the leading A motion and not in any E motions grouped under it. That shocked me and a number of delegates, who now realised that the carriage of A305 would not result in PCS urging all members across Britain to vote Labour after all.
The only motion that would secure this was A328, which was limited to members in England and Wales (as Hudson states, this motion was avoiding the Scottish question and surrendering to Scottish nationalism), but it would fall on the carriage of A305. The problem then was that time was fast running out and A328 was clearly not going to be debated.
The SOC had delivered what the NEC wanted - a debate that was not going to see conference pass any motion recommending a historic vote for Labour. If all three motions had been listed for a general debate, that outcome could have been the result, but the SOC craftily listed the motions to be debated one at a time, with the one I suspect conference would have endorsed being placed last.
I had spoken in the debate opposing A304 and supporting A305 (as we wrongly thought the E motions within it meant the policy would be to recommend that members vote Labour). I made the point that if Labour loses on June 8 we would not get another leader like Jeremy for a generation, nor would we get a manifesto like the current one for a long time. A PCS recommendation for a Labour vote would really be a significant boost to Jeremy - everyone knows that Labour-affiliated unions will recommend any Labour leader/policies to their members, but PCS, which is not affiliated, was only doing so whilst Jeremy is leader and on his manifesto.
It was not to be. We are all unclear why the SP, having decided not to stand Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates, could still not agree to support Labour under Corbyn. Mark Serwotka was disingenuous in his speech supporting A304 - he did not explain why PCS would not recommend that members vote Labour. Despite some delegates trying to make the situation clear, such is the high regard delegates have for Mark, they were happy to endorse a motion that was pretty useless in helping Labour win. Maybe most delegates are against PCS publicly calling for a vote for Corbyn’s Labour, yet Jeremy got a standing ovation when he addressed conference in 2016.
I cannot understand why the SP are so opposed to urging a vote for Corbyn. Perhaps, as the Weekly Worker has continually argued, to do so would be an admission that their portrayal of Labour as a thoroughly bourgeois party is wrong. Interestingly, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty did not like the call to vote for Corbyn’s Labour - they were calling for a Labour vote, so clearly they are Labour loyalists, no matter who leads Labour or how rightwing their policies.
Hudson expressed surprise that no branch submitted a motion calling for PCS to affiliate to the Labour Party, stating this showed how painfully weak the left is. Hudson seems to be unaware that the NEC had carried out a recent consultation with branches on this question and two thirds stated they were dead against this. In PCS we respect consultations. We are well aware of how Momentum has been neutered and there is no point talking of affiliation until we see the state of the Labour Party after the general election.
I now turn to three other motions readers may be interested in. A72 was a reactionary motion calling upon PCS to disaffiliate from the Abortion Rights organisation. The two males supporting it argued it was not about whether abortion was right or wrong: PCS should not have a stance on an issue that is very divisive amongst our members, they said. Many female delegates were not having this and angrily opposed the motion, which was defeated.
A73 called upon PCS to affiliate to Stand Up To Racism, with the usual narrative about there being a “racist offensive against refugees, immigrants and Muslims” and “rising levels of Islamophobia”. Phrases such a welcoming refugees also appeared throughout the motion.
I spoke in opposition, having to first waste precious time stating my record of anti-racism (the presumption is that white delegates speaking against must be racist). I was opposing the persistent attempts to redefine racism to mean anyone concerned about the unprecedented levels of immigration we have seen in recent years. I made the point that 77% of Britons (and 34% of BME people) consistently say they feel there has been too much immigration. I said that under the Socialist Workers Party/SUTR redefinition of racism even Corbyn and the Labour Party are racist, as he has pledged to manage migration.
I stated this was really code for getting PCS to adopt a no-borders, no-immigration-controls position - I called upon supporters of the motion to come clean about this. The impressive leader of the National Galleries dispute, SWP member Candy Udwin, who spoke for the NEC, looked awkward and totally avoided my points. Like SPEW cannot admit they were wrong about the Labour Party, the SWP cannot admit that people concerned about the level and impact of immigration are not all racists. The motion was easily carried, of course, but I’d made my point.
A75 was a wide-ranging motion (most of it fully supportable), which mentioned that the Brexit vote had seen a huge rise in racism. Amongst a number of demands was “promoting the benefits of migration” and supporting “the free movement of workers”. I got up to oppose, pointing out that all immigration and all cultures are not to be celebrated without question. I suggested we ask native Americans and aboriginal peoples what they thought of European mass immigration and the effects of the culture imposed on them.
I argued that freedom of movement of workers is the means by which bosses import cheap labour to undermine trade unions and the rate for the job. Having a limitless pool of cheap labour as competition is the enemy, not ally, of organised workers. I mentioned I was with Bob Crow and Arthur Scargill on this and it was not the case that all socialists support free movement.
Speaking for the NEC, Zita Holborne, a leading member of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, dealt with none of these points in her brief reply and said absolutely nothing in defence of free movement of workers! Once again, conference overwhelmingly supported the motion despite hearing no answers to the questions posed.
The easiest thing is to keep your head down, or else get up and support such motions. Few delegates that agree with your points will dare say so - such is the resentment shown to anyone daring to disagree with today’s shibboleths: ‘All immigration good, all refugees welcome - no checks’. A debate avoided by the left (and the Weekly Worker) is whether indigenous peoples have any rights over those coming into their country. There is the typical declaration of support for self-determination for a nation, but no support for indigenous people’s rights to control immigration.
Industrially, PCS has survived the Tory government’s various attempts to break PCS - whether by attacking facility time (delegates had to use annual leave to attend conference) or by forcing us to re-sign all members onto direct debit after having subscriptions from wages barred. Membership is finally rising again.
However, there still looks to be no united action with other unions over anything. Some may say everyone is waiting for June 8, but I doubt it. If Corbyn wins, but delays a public-sector pay rise, the unions will argue that any action will undermine Jeremy. I don’t know why so many unions, having seen large membership increases in the run-up to the one-day united action over pensions in November 2011, still think doing nothing will encourage workers to join unions.
All the odds predict Jeremy Corbyn is not going to be the next prime minister. However, there are only two ways the impossible can happen. First Scottish Labour wins back Scotland, and Corbyn confounds his critics in England and Wales. We then have a Labour majority in Westminster. Alternatively the Scottish National Party keeps Scotland from the Tories and Corbyn wins enough seats in England and Wales.
If the latter happens, Corbyn could become prime minister at the head of an anti-austerity coalition or, as the Tories call it, a “coalition of chaos”. If we are talking realistically about a Corbyn government we have to take this seriously. The fact that Corbyn seems to be doing well means we have to take a view on a Labour-SNP government.
The Cameron Tories played the ‘coalition of chaos’ line against Ed Miliband and it worked then. So play it again, Sam. Either we will have a hard anti-working class Ukip-Tory government, led by a weak bully prepared to play the race card, or a Labour-SNP anti-austerity government.
No matter what criticism we can have of these two capitalist parties, Labour and the SNP, a “coalition of chaos” means the likely Ukip-Tory government - the real merchants of chaos - has been defeated. It is definitely preferable from a working class perspective, not least in encouraging working class direct action.
The Labour manifesto has ruled out an anti-austerity coalition. Since the entire Labour Party knows Corbyn cannot win, then boxing yourself into a corner is no problem. But if Corbyn does well in England and Wales then Labour will have to get out of the hole it has dug for itself.
However the right wing of the Labour Party will prefer a Tory minority government than Corbyn, as PM, leading an anti-austerity coalition. We have to remember that Labour is an Anglo-British chauvinist party. The 2017 manifesto confirms this if that was ever in doubt. Labour has inevitably crashed on the rocks of the Scotland question in 2014 and 2015 and will continue to do so.
Now let us turn to the left. Labour Party Marxists says: “Organisations such as … Left Unity are having a hard time of things at the moment. Not only are they haemorrhaging members: there is profound political disorientation ….
“Having rejected any active involvement in the Labour Party at its 2016 conference, what remains of Left Unity is also reduced to issuing its own thoroughly unremarkable list: Another Europe, Stand Up to Racism, People’s Assembly demo”, etc (‘Aim to be a party of extreme opposition, May 18).
The allegation is that LU’s action programme is no more than supporting an eclectic mix of progressive campaigns. This is not true, or at least not the full picture. At present LU is critically supporting Labour in England and Wales in this election. The party has no position on what to do in Scotland - beyond, by implication, being anti-Tory.
In Scotland politics is now British unionism versus anti-unionism or the constitutional future of Scotland. Sitting on this fence is, like Theresa May, weak and wobbly. LU has less than a week to come off the fence. The party has decided not to have any executive committee meetings during the election because we are too busy out campaigning on the front line. So if we are stuck on the fence, we have no ladder to climb down off it.
Now the position of LPM has been clarified. It has two programmes, which I will call Number One and Number Two, to avoid all the ideological baggage of minimum, transitional and maximum and the war of words between Leninism, Stalinism and Trotskyism.
Number Two programme is a republican-communist programme. It is headed up by the demand for a British republic (or federal republic). It is a unionist programme because it does not include abolition of the Acts of Union except for Ireland. This programme would ensure “genuine equality for women, extending popular control over all aspects of society”. The aim of this is “a federal republic”, which will include “Irish unity, abolishing the monarchy, the second chamber and MI5, and disestablishing the Church of England”. It sets the goal of communism as a “society which aims for a stateless, classless, moneyless society”.
This programme is, like a tin can, to be kicked down the road. The CPGB is for “not taking power till it is in a position to realistically carry out its full [Number Two] minimum programme”. This full programme needs “international coordination” and, since this is not realistic, “our task is to act as the party of extreme opposition. Hence our perspective of transforming the Labour Party.”
The aim of turning Labour - a party opposed to republicanism and communism - into a republican communist party is truly revolutionary in its ambition. Therefore LPM turns to its Number One programme as the means of winning a “democratic republic”, since “re-establishing socialism in the mainstream of politics means committing the Labour Party to achieving a ‘democratic republic’”. Hence LPM comes forward with a bold “Ten-point platform”. These are:
1. Fight for rule changes. 2. We need a sovereign conference once again. 3. Scrap the hated compliance unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up”. 5. Securing new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. 6. Every constituency, ward and other such basic unit must be won and rebuilt by the left. 7. Our goal should be to transform the Labour Party. 8. Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder, not a way for university graduates to secure a lucrative living. 9. We must establish our own press, radio and TV. 10. Programmatically, we should adopt a new clause four. Not a return to the old, 1918, version, but “a commitment to working class rule and a society which aims for a stateless, classless, moneyless society”.
This is the real practical action plan of LPM. The republican programme is for show and propaganda. Any militant or revolutionary republican socialist cannot take this too seriously. We need a republican Number One programme which takes into account the present political dynamics. It has to start from the reality of the 2014 Scottish referendum and the reality of the 2016 Tory EU referendum.
The republican Number One programme has to start from the vote for leaving the EU and be built on: 1. Democratic exit from the EU. 2. Repeal the Acts of Union. 3. For a parliament for England. 4. For local people’s assemblies. 5 For a commonwealth of England. This is a programme to be developed for now and for after June 8. It will be relevant if we end up with a Tory government or if we have a Labour-SNP coalition. It does not box us into an Anglo-British chauvinist corner.
Left Unity and Rise
A friend of mine was surprised to learn that Islamic State hadn’t existed before the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq. Just so, they were Sunni Muslims who came together out of several insurgent groups in Iraq during 2006. The emotional and strategic justification for their actions is retaliation. As the IS command loses ground in Syria and Iraq, and with reference to dead children in Arab lands, they focus on the encouragement of supporters in the west to strike.
Since the British mandate in Palestine, the rulers of the modern west have intervened in the Middle East for their own purposes and with dire consequences, switching alliances when tactics demand, supporting Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Syria, and decrying them in Paris and London, smearing Gaddafi as insane in the 1970s, approving a visit to him by Tony Blair in 2004, and then aiding the Libyan coup in 2011 with a Nato air offensive.
It is known that Salman Abedi, responsible for the recent atrocity in Manchester, had been part of the anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group rumoured to have connections with MI5. Perhaps something here explains his status of not being regarded as a threat on British soil, despite his visit to Syria, where he witnessed the casualties of drone attacks. In the UK there were warnings about Abedi made to the authorities by people at college with him, two community leaders and others from his mosque, but they all seem to have been ignored or downplayed.
Of course, Britain and the US continue to trade with the Saudi royals, those misogynist fundamentalists who support Sunni supremacy in the region; even Donald Trump now condemns Iran, the Shia state to which his original enemy of choice, IS, is also opposed.
The consequence of the west’s endorsement of hard but ‘friendly’ regimes to protect the oil is that we have come to the point where a minority of Muslims will hit out at almost anyone. When imperialists intervene, the results will be obscene - for all of us.
As people develop and then reach adulthood, in the perfectly normal way of things they search for individuality, meaning, direction, purpose; maybe what could be called a ‘resonant substance’ in life. For many of us this involves the selection of role models from amongst our co-habitants of the globe.
However, the society (and consequently its norms and values) under which we live usually have an even more powerful part to play in that multi-faceted process - in fact, for many youngsters ending up as the dominant one. Moreover, some of them will wholeheartedly embrace that societal ‘messaging’ they receive during this period; some will question it to the point of intelligently constructive rejection; whereas some react angrily or even self-destructively - in other words becoming downright deviant or delinquent.
The young man who forever will be remembered as the ‘2017 Manchester bomber’ grew up and lived in a country plus bonded social system that not only officially and enthusiastically participated in, but heavily and remorselessly propagandised about, the virtues and indeed glories of invading, bombing, destroying, dismantling, overthrowing, and thus ‘changing’ existing regimes and governments and rulers around the world. All of that crap perpetrated purely for their own distorted, perverted and indeed evil state terrorist purposes. Of course, I’m referring to the multiple capitalist/imperialist ‘coalitions of the willing’ that invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, etc; previously Vietnam and Chile, amongst innumerable others.
In the case of this deeply confused, spiritually rambling, certainly wildly disorientated, but in absolute terms also the sadly ‘lost’ soul concerned - namely Salman Abedi - the most pertinent example of this type of murderous activity and brutal behaviour by a ‘homeland’ state was the UK’s co-conspiratorial toppling of Gaddafi in Libya. Apparently that being the country his very own family hailed from, and thus for him no doubt representing personally central importance. In other words, quite understandably having a Libyan and therein Muslim background was a core element of both his emotional and spiritual ‘heritage’.
So bearing all of these facts in mind, how can it come as any surprise whatsoever to anyone that this young man concerned ended up adopting precisely the same atrocious, abhorrent, even crazily revengeful perspectives and attitudes as British society itself operates quite routinely - those that ended up regurgitated as his own particular terrorist actions? How could he be expected to do anything other than absorb those deliberate and determined messages, as received from our loudly promoted and relentlessly marketed ‘British way of life’?
Reading Will Brown’s letter (May 25), I wondered if his enquiry about the CPGB’s stance on the European Union had confused us with the Communist Party of Britain. The similarity of the two organisations’ names lends itself to such cases of mistaken identity, but the CPGB and the CPB have quite different positions on this issue and many others.
The CPB - a group associated with the Morning Star newspaper - has long advocated withdrawal from the EU, whereas the CPGB opposes such calls, as it reflects a ‘socialism in one country’, Stalinist approach to politics, which we reject.
Genuine communists are internationalists who strive for the closest unity and agreement of working class parties and organisations of all countries. As the experience of the Soviet Union demonstrated, socialism cannot be achieved by one state in isolation. The working class needs to be organised globally if it is to make progress.
We say: “Communists want not a quasi-democratic, confederal EU, but a united Europe under the rule of the working class. Abolish the EU commission. Abolish the council of ministers. Power to the EU parliament. For a democratically controlled European Central Bank. Towards indivisible European unity.”
For more information on the CPGB’s approach, see section 3.1.6 (Europe) of our Draft programme at http://cpgb.org.uk/pages/programme.
In ‘The music inside ourselves’ (May 25) we are presented with a glowing book review penned by Max Grierson, who introduces himself as a Marxist. The subject matter is a novel: The noise of time by Julian Barnes, who is not a Marxist - Grierson describes him as a “good cosmopolitan liberal”. The novel in turn is a fictional biography of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. It concentrates on the times when his relationship with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was most strained.
To put it another way, we have a bourgeois author making up a story about the darker periods of Soviet history, and receiving heaps of praise from a Marxist for being “spot on”.
As a communist since 1973, I’ve had to seriously redefine my Marxist politics, but this is not how I approach the crimes of the Soviet period. It is important to base an assessment on facts, taking on board the political issues inside and outside the party at that time. Praising second-hand fiction is not a good starting point - citations are, by definition, non-existent. In this case, Grierson also avoids citations when filling in ‘the facts’ in his review.
The Barnes novel may be a good read, but can the content be divorced from the cold war narrative it appears to be based on?