William Sarsfield (Letters, June 22) seems to have wilfully misread my letter of June 15. Nowhere can it even be inferred that I expected Labour to lose on June 8 “and lose badly”. William avoided answering the question I posed - if the major unions affiliated to the Labour Party have not pulled it left, why would PCS, the NUT, the RMT affiliating succeed (as various writers in the Weekly Worker ask us to do) where they have totally failed? In fact the super-unions haven’t even tried. Unions affiliate to Labour and expect them to promise some modest benefits for their members rather than fight the employers. Knighthoods follow for those union barons.
William is silent on my contention that PCS (and NUT and RMT) affiliating to the Labour Party would simply see us leaned on by Unison, Unite, GMB and told to shut up and not risk Labour’s electoral chances by calling for united industrial action over anything!
Next William dismisses my concern that the Labour left did not argue Jeremy should stand for Labour leader nor did they get him the necessary nominations. William’s attitude is ‘so what?’ Corbyn is the leader now. Well, this matters. The left did not put him up nor get him there, so to whom is Jeremy accountable?
Also not answered are my points about the intended castration of Momentum, that the barring of thousands of leftwingers still stands, whether the left is growing in the Labour Party (given the 800,000 members he crowed about) whether the new joiners are actually getting involved in their local parties or are simply just Corbyn worshippers rather than serious activists. Again, all this matters if people like me (and their union) are expected to join Labour and act to pull it left. These questions are damned as my being gloomy and pessimistic.
Also unanswered is the key question of how on earth the organised revolutionary left can actually reach and win Labour Party new members over if they are not active? Thought waves perhaps, William? As for who will be the delegates at the next Labour conference it won’t be any of the new joiners if they are not active in their CLP! Perhaps William thinks the new young members can just turn up on the day?
William asserts we have an historic opportunity to remake the Labour Party. Er, how and who will do this and remake it into … what? The tired old and failed project once again.
I do not believe that the humble pie eaters have changed their stance on Corbyn’s principles - they have just accepted he looks more electable now. I did not say the civil war was over - I was being ironic, William. The (unadopted) Chartist demands I referred to also matter, as they determine whether a party’s MPs are accountable to their members. By design, from the early days of the Labour Party the PLP is not. Jeremy is doing nothing to change the system of patronage.
As for my accepting the situation today as it is, William clearly does not know me. I am a veteran attender of protests, I agitate for my branch members to get more involved, I put motions to conference on key issues of the day. My main stance is that trade unions are failing to fight back precisely because they are affiliated to the Labour Party. I do not accept that Labour councils should impose Tory cuts, but Labour-affiliated unions clearly do, as they accept the job cuts, the outsourcing of services without a serious fightback.
Next we come to the letter of Alan Johnstone (Socialist Party of Great Britain), where he castigates me for opposing open borders and free movement of labour (as did such ‘racists’ as Arthur Scargill and Bob Crow). Aside from him not being able to quote anything by Marx, Lenin or Trotsky advocating open borders, Alan even goes so far as to declare we should advocate this under capitalism - now! He proudly declares he is more advanced than the CPGB, whose position is that this would be deliverable under world socialism (on that I agree).
Alan is heavy on patronising comments, but totally silent on how this can actually be achieved under capitalism. This vacuousness is common to all open borderists I come across who, once they start being asked the most obvious questions, accuse you of racism and excuse themselves never to discuss the issue with you again. When did so-called Marxists turn into Oxfam humanitarians and guilty white liberals?
Alan resorts to the usual predictable insults rather than answer my simple question about how he would deal, as a Polish shop steward, with a factory being relocated from Britain to Poland, on lower wages with local Poles queuing up for jobs faced with the displaced British ‘workers following the movement of capital’ being willing to work for even lower wages than those Poles. The trite answer: ‘Everyone joins a union and argues for higher wages’. Erm, you cannot join a union usually unless you are employed. Is the Polish shop steward to tell his local fellow Poles, ‘We are internationalists - let this employer choose who they want to employ. We are not nasty nationalists and if they choose all these British workers who have come here, so be it.’
Peter Manson did not answer that question either.
I am greeted with the usual silence on whether indigenous people born in a country have any rights whatsoever over those foreigners entering their country. Arguing that Geordies and Scousers are just smaller units like nations is disingenuous. National borders are a reality now. I accept it may be different under world socialism.
Are the Palestinians racist for opposing Zionist settlers taking over ‘their country’, or isn’t it theirs? Workers do not have a right to go anywhere they want, even for a better life, without any regard whatsoever for those already inhabiting the country they have imposed themselves on - illegal immigrants are seeking to impose themselves on others (queue-jumpers).
They may well be desperate, but the consequences of mass, uncontrolled immigration is to make the indigenous population also desperate. The open borderists are the ones driving people to the far right.
One further point I get no answers to - if advocating controlling borders is racist then Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in pledging to ‘manage migration’ is also racist. So why does the Weekly Worker, Johnstone and co support him?
Paul Demarty’s journalistic prose not only draws the reader in: it scintillates. That, in addition to his keen political insight, is the reason I devour his articles the day they appear, often with a twinge of writer’s envy. His latest piece on the Grenfell Tower is strong on explaining the larger causes of the tragedy, as well as in suggesting programmatic demands socialists could offer in response. Yet I wonder if his criticism of the Socialist Workers Party’s Charlie Kimber for overestimating the political significance of the anger that followed the fire doesn’t err in the opposite direction.
Demarty’s comparison of post-Grenfell rage with indignation over the MPs’ expense scandal of 2009 seems a bit complacent. In a neighbourhood where the luxury flats of executives and bankers stand side by side with high-rise slums; where these slums are prettified on the outside with cheap, flammable materials to protect bourgeois aesthetic sensibilities and property values, and 79 people are incinerated as a result, the reaction cannot be devoid of class content. This is one thing that distinguishes it from general public discontent over political corruption.
]Another distinguishing mark is the unmistakable change in the political atmosphere . Voters in the US and UK, partly from pent-up class resentment, are now defying the ruling classes in referendums and casting their voting ballots for political mavericks, some of whom call themselves socialists. Demarty doesn’t consider the possibility that, against such a background, the protests of Kensington’s neglected half may just resound more loudly than they would have eight years ago.
And, even if Demarty is right to dampen the ardour of those inclined to read too much into the events, I wonder if his tone is a little too detached. It seems to me that Marxist writers should do more than coolly describe the limits of local spontaneous class anger. They should participate in and seek to generalise it. I think Ben Okri’s poem, which he reads in the following video, fulfils this requirement better than Demarty’s article: http://tinyurl.com/y8hog4fb.
There can be no doubt that the hyper-neoliberals and Thatcherites of the Tory Party are planning to use the Brexit process to initiate a bout of ‘creative destruction’ that would shock even the Tory governments of the 1980s.
British capitalism has failed and it cannot compete in the European single market any longer, but the European Union is preventing the elites from opening the economy to the full force of international competition and deregulation that can clear out the old and let in the new. The mass unemployment and bankruptcies that normally accompany failure must be allowed to happen and the Great Repeal Bill and trade deals that open Britain up to China, India, Brazil and the giant corporations will ensure it.
But, of course, the economy will be asset-stripped, tens of thousands of small and medium businesses sent to the wall and millions of workers will be made unemployed and destitute for no good reason, because - even if this was all ‘a price worth paying’, as the charming Norman Lamont said of the mass unemployment unleashed by his government - there is no possibility of capitalist creation following the social and economic destruction.
Capitalism has reached the end of its road. It has passed its sell-by date. It is globally super-monopolised, stagnant, sclerotic, dead and decaying. Imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, while Pax Americana and globalisation, now rapidly unravelling, were the highest stage of imperialism. There are no political-economic arrangements that can replace the current ones that could give capitalism a new lease of life - even a technological leap would now cost jobs rather than create them.
A capitalist ‘remain’ is not an option then, but a capitalist Brexit is not going to solve anything either. This is why a socialist Brexit is the only reasonable option. A Brexit by which the working class takes the means of production under its wing and protection, and thereby offers the whole of society a way out of this potentially catastrophic impasse.
In aNew Statesman article on the British general election, Helen Lewis writes:
“Labour’s success on June 8 was driven by its ambiguous stance on Brexit. To ‘leavers’, it could wink at ending freedom of movement when they worried about immigration; to ‘remainers’, it offered a critique of the immigrant-bashing rhetoric of recent times. But can that coalition hold, as the true shape of Brexit solidifies? Over the next few months, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest decision will be this: which half of my voters should I disappoint?” (June 23).
This article makes some cogent points, but it is ultimately one-sided. It is not wholly true that Labour did so well in the election because it took an ambiguous stance on Brexit. Nor is it wholly true that Corbyn is an instinctive Brexiteer who opportunistically changed his line and then did not campaign in the referendum so as not to alienate one section of his voters. That is only half the truth.
And to analyse and react to the situation we must see the whole picture. Of course, the EU is a bosses’ club, but the question is: which location leaves the British and European working class best placed politically to fight austerity and the coming recession, alone or in conjunction with their comrades in Europe? A reformist conception would say that alone, under British sovereignty, where we can pass laws in favour of the working class, nationalise the rail and other utilities - and then the leading heights of industry and an Enabling Act, and, bingo, we’re there: socialism! This is the line from the Morning Star, Socialist Party, Socialist Appeal, Socialist Workers Party and Counterfire.
On the other hand, there is the revolutionary and internationalist perspective. The 1917 world revolution one. One continually and progressively being abandoned by the above-mentioned groups.
Corbyn’s stance on the referendum was driven by two considerations. From his reformist standpoint of the reformability of the EU, his seven and a half out of 10 was also based on the reactionary character of the Brexit campaign, its anti-immigrant essence, and the encouragement it gave to the far-right little Englanders, with the surge in attacks on immigrants and Muslims. Lexiteers never could take that character away from Nigel Farage and the Tory far right.
So now we come to the question of why Corbyn did so well in the election less than a month ago despite that rightist surge a year ago - and the disastrous results in the local elections just a few weeks before the general elections. Why the eclipse of the UK Independence Party after their great victory in the referendum and winning the EU elections a few years ago? Is it really true, as this New Statesman article and John Rees, Lindsey German and Tariq Ali say, that it was Corbyn’s acceptance of the ‘will of the people’ and voting to trigger article 50 that mollified and won over the working class Brexiteers in the north?
That again is half the truth. Probably it is correct that constituencies like many in London and Cambridge and Stroud were won because of the soft Brexit stance, but these are relatively wealthy middle class and not working class.
Missing from this analysis is another of those historical accidents, in which reality manifested itself. Because Labour’s Blairites believed Michael Foot’s 1983 leftist election manifesto was “the longest suicide note in history”, they reasoned that another such manifesto would produce the same result. The reasoning was faulty then - it was the Malvinas war and the Gang of Four that cost that election, not the manifesto. They allowed the leftist, Andrew Fisher, to produce the killer document which would hopefully kill Corbyn off and return Labour to the safe arms of Blairite reaction.
The plan went disastrously wrong. Although the manifesto was only a mild social democratic document, nevertheless it reversed the Miliband austerity-lite ‘cuts too far, too fast’ grovelling before the neoliberal agenda, unchallenged since 1997 victory of Blair. It began moving in the other direction - hesitatingly and unconfidently, but moving.
These manifestos and not Brexit issues now determined the character of the election. The Tory manifesto drew howls of outrage even from their own supporters. Many proposals like the dementia tax, free school meals and reinstating foxhunting either had to be withdrawn immediately or did not make it into the queen’s speech.
In contrast, Labour’s manifesto was warmly received and it was this that won back the working class Brexiteers in the north of England and elsewhere, not the fudge over Brexit as asserted by the New Statesman article and the others mentioned above. Abolition of university tuition fees, railway nationalisation, free school meals, social housing, defence of the NHS, etc.
This analysis has serious implications for Labour. If the fudge over Brexit continues, the forward momentum of Labour will be lost over concessions on immigration controls and being forced to accept a final deal without another referendum. All political and industrial struggles are far better tackled on a European-wide and ultimately global basis, not on a little Englander British road to socialism one. That is the Trotskyist, internationalist perspective.
Following Theresa May’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, I’ve seen a couple of women defending the DUP, saying that they don’t oppose women’s rights: they only oppose abortion.
Now, I wish no-one ever felt the need to terminate a pregnancy and know that the decision to do so is only achieved amidst a whole bucketload of soul-searching. But let me explain the DUP stance on abortion. Their rules mean that a woman who finds she is carrying a child with a fatal foetal abnormality is forced to either take her pregnancy to full term and deliver her dead child or until she begins to bleed heavily and spontaneously aborts, putting her own life at considerable risk. Those who become pregnant through rape and/or incest are made to carry and deliver their abuser’s child - heaping systemic oppression right on top of the abuse and oppression those women have already suffered at the hands of their attackers.
Unless, of course, you happen not to be poor as well as female, and have the means to flout the DUP’s ‘Christian’ laws. In which case, you still have to travel abroad to seek a termination in the midst of all your turmoil at finding yourself pregnant in these circumstances.
That is quite clearly not supporting women’s rights and I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise.