Tony Greenstein boasts of his powers of prediction (‘The Corbyn phenomenon’, July 6). Though he has not read the 36 theses agreed by the joint meeting of CPGB and Labour Party Marxists members, he sees “an attempt to defend a previous position which has become untenable.” Nevertheless, he quotes me saying, “Yes ... we thought there would be an increased Tory majority and we were clearly wrong.” But what was really wrong, according to comrade Greenstein, was our fear that a bad defeat for the Labour Party would cause demoralisation amongst Corbyn’s supporters. He calls this position “a non-sequitur”. For the life of me I cannot see why.
But comrade Greenstein’s real cause of complaint seems to be that the “CPGB went along with the analysis of charlatans and bourgeois pundits, who predicted that Labour would get hammered.” He then quotes himself. On the one side he suggested that Theresa May’s election call was a gamble “she may yet come to regret”. Obviously that has turned out to be a sound, well-founded prediction. On the other hand, he also warned of the “danger” of Corbyn continuing with “his ‘strategy’ of appeasing the right and appealing to all good men and women ... a recipe for disaster”. He also pointed to what he called Corbyn’s “disastrous performance” since he became Labour leader.
Comrade Greenstein criticises us for taking opinion polls seriously. OK, if he has another, better, more accurate method of judging the public mood outside a general election, he ought to let us into the secret. The Tories began with a 21% lead and, at least in my view, we would be stupid to ignore this salient fact or pretend that opinion polls are lies or tell us nothing. And yet we find comrade Greenstein, again quoting himself, this time from a June 3 article entitled ‘General election - is Labour on the threshold of victory?’ Here we are told that the “Tory [opinion poll - JC] lead has shrunk.” There could, therefore, possibly be “a hung parliament” and a “coalition of the Lib Dems and Ulster Unionists-DUP”. Not that a “majority Tory government” can “be ruled out”. Hence, comrade Greenstein seems to follow opinion polls … when it suits.
Either way, he brilliantly predicted a “disaster” for the Labour Party, a Labour “victory”, a “hung parliament” with a Tory-led coalition government and a Tory “majority”. Nevertheless, in his Weekly Worker article, comrade Greenstein triumphantly proclaims: “My analysis from the start was that there would be a hung parliament.” He also has the chutzpah to say that he was “right” and the CPGB was “wrong”.
Well, I will readily admit that the final result took me by surprise. Opinion poll gaps were rapidly closing, true, especially in the last few days of the campaign - though till the exit polls were announced I still thought the Tories would get a slim majority. I am certainly glad to be wrong. Nonetheless I make no apology in saying that the main prize we can win is a thorough-going transformation of the Labour Party, not a Corbyn-led Labour government, in six or seven months time.
Comrade Greenstein describes Labour’s For the many, not the few manifesto as “radical”. He thinks a Corbyn-led Labour government will be attacked from the right. In fact For the many amounts in total to nothing more than the undeliverable promise to manage capitalism in the interests of the working class using various Keynesian stimulus measures. For the many is not even reformist.
It is certainly true that if there was a Corbyn-led government it would come under strong and immediate attack from the right. But there is the distinct danger that such a government would face a strike of capital, a run on the pound, militant strike action, etc, leading it to attack the working class. Indeed that has been the sorry history of such governments.
Comrade Greenstein goes on to claim that “the CPGB has not fully understood the Corbyn phenomenon and what catapulted him into the leadership in the first place”. Apparently, “those who newly joined the Labour Party represented much larger forces in society as a whole - forces which could go to the Ukip right and vote to withdraw from the European Union; but equally they could go to the left and vote for Corbyn.”
Well, the truth is that in the Weekly Worker we were predicting that Corbyn would win the Labour leadership contest as soon as he got onto the ballot paper. As to those who joined the Labour Party, comrade Greenstein is badly wrong. The vast majority who joined, either as full members or supporters, were from the left. They joined in order to vote for Corbyn and in order to support Corbyn.
As for the CPGB failing to “understand” that those “who had first put Corbyn into the leadership of the Labour Party were quite capable of voting for him in the general election”, this is just plain silly. Of course, people who joined the Labour Party before and after Corbyn was elected as leader were going to vote Labour in a general election.
Comrade Greenstein closes his article by commenting on what he believes to be our position of Labour “not forming a government”.
Here I think it is worth citing the last three theses agreed at our June 25 aggregate:
“34. If a Corbyn-led Labour Party wins a House of Commons majority and forms a government, we will defend it against attacks from the Labour right, the capitalist press, the City, big business, the secret state, etc. However, while it would be quite right to place specific demands on a Corbyn-led government, we need to bluntly state that a Corbyn-led government based on carrying out the For the many manifesto is not only to chase an illusion - the left-Keynesian illusion of a fair, just, equal capitalism: a Corbyn-led government based on For the many will be a capitalist government that, because of the exploitative inner logic of capitalism, will sooner rather than later attack the working class.
“35. The danger is that this would demoralise Labour’s voter and activist base, put the Labour right firmly back in control and lead to yet another, even more reactionary, Tory government. However, that scenario can be avoided if the left - crucially the left in the Labour Party - commits itself, not to be a Corbyn fan club, but, instead, stands firmly on the principles and perspectives of working class rule, socialism and the transition to a stateless, moneyless, classless society. Of course, those principles and perspectives have to be given solid, well defined organisational form. The left needs to be reconstituted as an alternative Labour leadership and therefore an alternative government.
“36. Under conditions of government, a thoroughly democratised Labour Party, a Labour Party that is open to the affiliation of all socialist organisations, a Labour Party that has been remade into a permanent united front of the working class, would deselect en masse wayward MPs, including a wayward Labour prime minister.”
Tony Greenstein’s article was a bit mealy-mouthed and on the incoherent side. The man is in love with his reflection - he was quoting from himself.
It doesn’t matter really what people thought would happen with the election. We can be certain that the opinion polls were giving the Tories large leads. It hardly ever wavered. I don’t think their poll rating ever went below 40% - maybe once and that was well over a year ago.
The Weekly Worker has done nothing wrong. Your analysis was and is as good as any others. You wanted them to do well - that’s the main thing. You’re not anti-Labour Party. You support the exciting change in Labour since Jeremy Corbyn took over. You must be as overjoyed as the rest of us.
We had faced a bombardment of hostility to Labour and to JC. The news coverage was extensive and hate-filled. Labour had suffered from its own members and MPs who led the witch-hunt against anyone they could lay their nasty hands on.
Your coverage since September 12 2015 has been upbeat and enthused on Labour’s behalf. We can all be forgiven for having doubts as to how well Labour would do. We were scared that we might be given a real thumping and the Tory filth would rule over us for another five years. You were wrong in the best possible way. You used your resources to help Labour and that’s what matters in the end.
Forecasting a victory for Labour in the next general election, Tony Greenstein (July 6) warns: “The opposition that Harold Wilson faced will be as nothing to the deliberate sabotage by state forces of a Corbyn-led government.”
This is surely right. I have heard it argued that today’s military would think twice before organising some kind of mutiny against a democratically elected Labour government. Maybe. But, if we want them to think not just twice, but indefinitely, the best policy is to warn them in advance of the consequences of any military adventurism. They need to know that we were not born yesterday, have learned a few things from history and so won’t be following the example set by Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. Admittedly, there is no imminent threat. But the best way to ensure things stay that way is to begin placing the movement on standby to defend our democratic institutions and elected government by all necessary means.
Labour Briefing (personal capacity)
In principle, comrades Alan Johnstone and Darren Williams of the Socialist Party of Great Britain make correct criticisms of Dave Vincent (Letters, July 6). Their tone is a little off, however - particularly Darren’s. He simply brands comrade Vincent’s opinion that the demand for open borders is objectively anti-working class as evidence that “left nationalist bigots are just as stupid as their counterparts on the political right”.
It’s likely that Alan or Darren encounter trade union activists in their political work. But their organisation is a propaganda sect par excellence; a fossilised little ‘moment’ from the early history of socialist and Marxist groups in this country. Hence the inability to actually engage with solid, hard-working and dedicated union activists who hold to Dave’s viewpoint. Simply labelling them “bigots” akin to rightwing chauvinists, does not generally straighten out heads, in my experience.
The point I would make is that comrade Vincent’s hostile attitude to immigration is a product of the exact same political flaw that manifests itself in his dismissive attitude to developments in the Labour Party - ie, a narrow, semi-syndicalist sectionalism. Concretely in relation to the Labour Party, Dave exhibits the prejudice of many good militants when he treats his union almost as a substitute political party.
On Dave Vincent himself, I’m sorry if he gets the impression that I “wilfully misread” his letter of June 15. To bring some clarity to the discussion, here’s a rundown of what I’m saying and why.
First, my honest apologies if I took his rather passive/aggressive comment that “there is no point talking of affiliation [to Labour] until we see the state of the Labour Party after the general election” as an expectation that Labour was in for a drubbing in the polls (Weekly Worker June 1). He would have hardly been alone in having a downbeat assessment of Labour’s chances - but I stand corrected if this was not his opinion.
Second, Dave asks me a rather strange question - “if the major unions affiliated to the Labour Party have not pulled [Labour] left, why would PCS, the NUT, the RMT affiliating succeed?” (June 29). Isn’t this a tad moot now, comrade? The Labour Party has moved dramatically to the left - at the level of its leadership and in the form of its new, mass influx of members. Surely, today’s challenge is what Dave’s PCS and other unaffiliated unions are going to now do to consolidate and develop this inspiring new opportunity that has landed in our collective lap?
Third, Dave tells us that “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!” But then in our June 15 letters page, he tells us that “PCS has the best politically aware activists of any union”. The reason he gives for this is instructive: “Because we are not affiliated to the Labour Party” (Dave’s emphasis)!
This is a very odd argument and is, ironically, reminiscent in its way of the type of unsullied sectarian isolationism that has allowed the coelacanth-SPGB of Dave’s critics, comrades Johnstone and Williams, to survive for so long. Here’s the logic - a cadre force of the “most politically aware activists” in the entire trade union movement (in Dave’s estimation) must not join a Labour Party in the throes of a bitter internecine war between the established right and an insurgent left because they might be “leaned on” by some nasty, big union bureaucrats and - the implication is - cave in.
He won’t like the parallel, but Dave’s attitude also mirrors the startled responses of sects like the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales. For flimsy and transparently self-serving reasons, the leaders of such groups hold their people back from joining the battle in the Labour Party, although they (formally) recognise it is full of opportunities to advance Marxist ideas. Why? For the simple, squalid reason that allowing their members to join a mass organisation in a period of flux and change would open them to new pressures, new temptations … and new opportunities to become leaders in their own right. Jumped-up sect potentates like Alex Callinicos and Peter Taaffe fear that real engagement with Labour would weaken the oppressive tutelage they have over their respective rank and files, that the sect barricades would be breached.
Comrade Vincent clearly regards his union as akin to a political organisation in some ways. But, even worse, not like a genuine party of the class, but a sect that - in the interests of self-preservation - has to be kept clear of messy and complex struggles. (Dave, if PCS comrades are indeed the “most politically aware activists” in the entire trade union movement, where would these talents best be deployed today? Surely an influx of “politically aware” PCS cadre could make a huge difference to the outcome of the Labour Party civil war?)
With this abstentionist political template in his head, the comrade must talk down the huge opportunities that are clearly manifest in today’s Labour Party. This is not to say he doesn’t point to real problems.
Yes, we have the becalmed organised Labour left and the democratic deficit in Momentum; the inactivity of many of the new recruits (although this is qualified by Momentum’s contribution to the huge spike in young people voting Labour); the fact that the bureaucratic machine remains in the hands of the right and this will mean that the new political make-up of the party’s membership will not be properly reflected in September’s conference, etc.
I assure the comrade, I could add a few more ‘snags’ to his list. But instead of taking these as starting points for action and serious engagement, the comrade uses them as checkpoints to intercept any of his PCS comrades who are thinking of piling into the fray.
Dave, this is worse than useless - as is telling us how many demos of yesteryear you’ve been on, or how many motions you have put to PCS conference back in the day. I am trying to shake you out of your current passive and complacent attitude to a war that’s on, here and now, for the future of an organisation you recognise as a working class party.
Wake up, comrade.
I think the SPGB comrades are wrong in portraying Dave Vincent as a bigot. The problem he refers to - cheap labour undercutting living standards - is a real one. Workers are competing against each other for jobs in a way that strengthens capitalism and weakens working class unity. Something needs to be done to bring this situation to an end.
A resolution of the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International in August 1907 agreed by a majority vote that border controls were reactionary by nature and offered advice on how socialists should respond to this highly problematic issue. The resolution can be found in full in the Weekly Worker (‘Reactionary by nature, April 4 2014). It is certainly worthwhile trade union activists having a look at it to see how the issues could be addressed in detail. Avoiding chauvinism and national sectionalism, on the one hand, and protecting hard-won trade union gains, on the other.
Dave and his ilk have no desire to harm foreigners, but they regard themselves as trade unionists with a duty to protect their own members’ interests. Trade unions bargain with employers over working conditions and find themselves on one side of a conflict that capitalism creates and recreates. In the present economic and political conditions, trades unions are weak and the most militant members are desperate to do something to protect organised workers, which they correctly argue are an asset to working class power. On the other hand, the penniless individual who confronts Mr Moneybags alone gets a bad deal for themselves and creates a bad situation for everyone else.
A partial answer would be to abolish all the anti-trade union laws and impose statutory regulations against unfair employment practices. This is possible for a Labour government under leftwing pressure and influence. So I am concerned by Dave’s refusal to call on his union to affiliate to Labour and start influencing its behaviour. But for a more effective answer we need to be active across Europe and beyond.
I agree strongly with the SPGB comrades that nationalism is not the answer, but neither is the SPGB’s maximum programme of socialism now. What is required is a minimum programme that recognises that capitalism cannot be overthrown now, but, nonetheless, workers can be formed into a class that is ready to take power.
Does anybody know what the SPGB is for, other than writing letters to the Weekly Worker? Their sect has nothing to say and has been saying it very quietly for over 100 years. One really has to wonder how they rationalise their continued existence, whereby they repeat the same methods over and over and still get the same results - mass indifference to their existence!
When will we all see the light and sit the entrance exams to become a member of their elitist little safe space? As Lenin didn’t say, ‘If they had manure for brains, it would be a major software upgrade.’ That comrade Dave Vincent isn’t an expert on their particular shibboleths and positions is hardly worthy of their great sport in last week’s paper of proclaiming how amused they were.
Surely, the amusing thing is that, after all these years of plugging away at their quaint little version of socialism, they have never registered as an organisation of any influence, and that in terms of impact on British politics they flounder behind the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, let alone the achievements of the political traditions that quote dead Russians now and then.
On Thursday July 6 I attended a Marxism session on ‘Corbyn, Labour and the struggle for socialism’, which was led by Mark Thomas in a packed meeting of more than 200.
Mark quoted an interview given by Tony Blair to the Mail on Sunday in 1996, which came to light recently, in which Blair said: “You really don’t have to worry about Jeremy Corbyn taking over.” Labour’s 12.9 million vote - more than Blair gained in 2005 or 2010 - is not rightwing, he said. It showed that Britain is “not a rightwing country”. It was a rebellion against austerity, proved that post-Brexit Britain is not all reactionary. It was a huge blow to the doctrine of neoliberalism and the power of the mainstream media.
Corbyn did not create mass discontent - he connected with it, mobilised it and focused it. Mark asked the question: what would be the fate of a Corbyn government? He quoted Alex Nunns, author of The candidate, about the flight of capital and sabotage by all branches of the state. We would need to go beyond electoralism and organise mass resistance and class confrontation.
In discussion, only one SWP comrade brought his revolutionary credentials to the optimistic excitement by pointing out that Corbyn is a left reformist wanting to run capitalism. SWP national secretary Charlie Kimber corrected him: things have changed; millions now think that the left can win; there is a surge of confidence. The political degeneration of Hollande in France and Tsipras in Greece was not inevitable. They did not campaign as the pawns of financiers which they became.
Everything depends on what happens outside parliament. We need a movement which focuses on the streets and workplaces. “Corbyn is now more important than any trade union leader,” he argued. “If JC called for a mass demonstration outside the Tory conference”, then his followers would be there (an oft-repeated wet dream over the weekend event).
In my three-minute contribution to the discussion, I challenged the view often expressed by my SWP comrades in Unison that joining Labour was a “cul de sac” of time-wasting meetings and that Marxists should stay safely outside.
I quoted Keir Hardie - that Labour is not purely about elections, but should be “a great movement for socialism”. When Karl Kautsky moved and Lenin seconded Labour’s affiliation to the Socialist International in 1908, they regarded the founding of the party as a great step forward. There is nothing inevitable about the domination of the party by rightwing careerists, and no reason why the left must always lose. The left must organise to open Labour to affiliation by all socialist groups, including the SWP.
In his reply to discussion, Mark Thomas disagreed. It would be a mistake to differentiate ourselves from Labour, he said, but it “cannot become a revolutionary party because of the bureaucracy”. It is true that Labour cannot become a revolutionary party, but “the bureaucracy” need not be a permanent feature. If that were true, neither could the working class be won for socialism - “because of the bureaucracy”.
It seems that Jack Conrad believes that peak oil is basically a myth. In other words, there is no danger of oil production peaking any time soon. We can therefore continue our love affair with oil into the indefinite future (‘Fossil fuel era continues’, July 9).
The problem with this thesis is that peak oil refers to the peaking of conventional oil production. Conventional oil production has already peaked, or is very close to peaking. It is this peaking of conventional, cheap oil production which explains the turn to unconventional oil supplies like oil from tar sands, shale oil, not to mention drilling for oil from deep under the seabed. Why turn to these sources if we were not depleting conventional oil?
The crucial point that Conrad misses is that modern capitalism was made possible by cheap energy. Capitalism cannot exist on the basis of rising energy costs, no more than feudalism could, when its primary source of energy, wood, in England began to deplete, leading to a rise in prices. It was this depletion and the turn to coal which unleashed the real power of the industrial revolution, which was being held back from lack of energy.
Marxism teaches that the development of the productive forces led to the decline of feudalism, but in fact it was the opposite: the decline of the productive forces started the whole process. Feudalism could not survive rising energy costs, nor should we expect capitalism to do so. Cheap energy - first coal and then oil - gave birth to capitalism.
Is anyone seriously suggesting that capitalism will survive rising energy costs indefinitely? 19th century economics, including Marxism, ignored the primary role of energy in society. Energy was treated as just another commodity, while money made the world go around. This found its classic expression in Marx’s M-C-M’ formula.
Often peak oil discourses tend to focus on the timing of the peak, but retired oil geologist Colin Campbell made a pertinent point in his book Oil crisis, when he wrote: “Identifying the precise date of the peak itself is not that important, although it attracts much attention. What matters more is the recognition that the first half of the age of oil, which was characterised by growing production, is giving way to the second half, when production declines without reprieve, along with all that depends upon it.”
Campbell is here referring to cheap, conventional oil production. For “all that depends upon it” read modern capitalism. Can technology save the day, as suggested by Conrad? The answer is yes, if backed up by cheap energy.
I do not agree with the view that declining oil supplies will necessarily lead to the end of civilisation. What I can say for certain is that if capitalism doesn’t find a new source of cheap energy comparable to cheap oil, the growing contradiction between rising energy cost and capitalist profits, which depends on cheap energy, will lead to the collapse of capitalism. The left must therefore unite around the struggle for a democratic socialist society.
My partner works full-time as an NHS community nurse. Her particular unit is both understaffed and underfunded, as demonstrated by the fact that she and most of her colleagues on the ‘frontline’ of patient care are routinely obliged to work far beyond their contracted hours.
This overtime takes the form of actual clinical nursing, as well as time spent on completing daily computer notes of their medical practice whilst at the home of patients, etc. Those extremely detailed, and thus unavoidably time-consuming, records of care and practice are a statutory obligation for all nursing staff. A failure to complete them would be regarded as a neglect of duty - an offence that might well result in dismissal or even prosecution.
Out of the blue - ie, with no discussion or consultation whatsoever - last week the management of my partner’s unit laid down an edict that overtime pay will no longer be available for those excess hours of work, as up to now has been the case and arguably as is an obligation under the terms of their contract of employment. (Going even further, they informed staff that they should learn to “better manage their time”!)
Although being perpetrated by none other than our beloved/sacred NHS, this disgracefully super-exploitative and anti-democratic cost-cutting exercise is an example of ‘austerity’ (aka capitalism in crisis) in the raw, with no fancy or clever weasel words acting as a smokescreen or crafty sweetener.
Rather than acting out their role as plain-clothed policemen or otherwise dodgy bailiff for the establishment power elites, Jeremy Corbyn and his crew should be making detailed public plans to remove or replace capitalism altogether, while ruthlessly exposing all apologists and enablers of our current toxic system for running the affairs of hardworking UK citizens.
An absolutely perfect example of that collaborationist function of reformist politics is Corbyn’s recent effusive defence of and praise for our “highly professional and globally respected armed forces for the job they do”, as his response to media ‘revelations’ that SAS operatives systematically assassinated Afghan civilians during our invasion of their country.
Assassination and other ‘illegal’ practices are precisely why the SAS were created by the British state in the first place, Mr Corbyn. It’s exactly what all such ‘off the books’ clandestine operations of imperialism are supposed to do. The personnel of our British armed services are nothing more than brutal and historically blood-soaked enforcers of subjugation and repression - albeit extremely well organised and trained.
Get real, all you well-intentioned but nonetheless foolish Corbynistas! Simply grow up before it’s too damned late for your left-Labour project and your thoroughly admirable and fabulously ultra-enthusiastic supporters. They deserve not a single or solitary jot less than that!
I would like to let you know about a young relative of mine. He is 23 years old, dyslexic and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a serious drink problem - the latter causing him to spend four periods in prison for robbery and abusive behaviour.
My young relative and all his friends are not members of the 50% of school and college leavers who go on to university. They are part of the forgotten 50% of young people who have been abandoned by the government with no help to find work. They are all long-term claimants of jobseekers’ allowance or employment and support allowance. When they can afford it, they pass their time smoking cannabis and drinking vodka and cheap lager.
For the last few years the government’s Universal Jobmatch website has had around 400 vacancies in a five-mile radius of where I live, but now this has declined to just 100. But a major council-house-building programme run by a local authority direct labour organisation would create full-time training opportunities for my young relative and his friends.
Whilst Lord Peter Mandelson works every day to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, I work day and night for the election of a Corbyn-led Labour government. For my young relative and his friends such a government would have practical consequences in putting an end to their boredom and despair.