Steve Freeman’s attempts to defend his ridiculous decision to stand in Bermondsey are getting beyond bizarre (Letters, April 30).
He points out that he has been a reader of this paper for many years, and “broadly supportive” of it - very good, Steve. That does not mean anything in and of itself, however. We have a - shall we say - colourful readership, as recent missives from believers in extra-terrestrial lizards have made clear.
More to the point, he does not seem to have read us with any particularly high degree of attention. He poses a load of questions, which essentially amount to pettifogging over our motives. For clarity’s sake: no, we do not believe it is “always correct” for revolutionaries to stand down for reformists.
We believe that the Labour Party is an important site of struggle, and one such aspect of that struggle is comrades like Kingsley Abrams breaking with it to the left (we would prefer his like to stay in, but understand why they may find it very difficult). Steve boasts that he was not a member of the Labour Party during the Blair-Brown years, as if that is supposed to impress us. Quite the opposite, Steve: while you have spent most of that time fiddling around with your ‘republican socialist’ project, which has never existed outside your own mind, it would have been preferable had you had a Labour card.
He suggests that we are blacklisting him because he has criticised us. This is laughable. We called for votes for Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates in the last general election despite having been banned from Tusc, among innumerable other examples. We are not precious. We know that our project is not particularly popular on the left at the moment.
Most beautifully, he has the gall to accuse us of sectarianism! Having set himself up as a vote-splitting candidate in Bermondsey, in a flagrant act of sabotage against comrade Abrams’ campaign, his throwing that particular epithet around is utterly laughable. Sectarianism, in the mind of Steve Freeman, means not cheering on Steve Freeman when he decides to do what he wants.
As usual, he fudges the political issues at work, claiming to stand for ‘Marxism’ against reformism; but we know that Steve’s ‘republican socialism’ mutates radically according to his mood (and opportunistically according to who he’s talking to) and presently amounts to vapid left-nationalist nonsense. Pulling a stunt like this would need a very, very good reason to be politically justified: participating in the political collapse of the British left into nationalism is quite the opposite. We refuse votes to openly left-nationalist candidates in Scotland, and we see no reason why Steve should be any different in Bermondsey.
The biggest issue, however, is precisely that this is sabotage. Steve is a member of Left Unity. Left Unity decided, at local and national level, to support comrade Abrams as a candidate. Steve has decided to actively undermine that decision. He is in breach of his duties as a member of LU, and indeed would be in breach of his duties in any serious political organisation. We believe that the left needs to unite in a party, which means (shock, horror!) sometimes losing votes and having one’s personal ambitions frustrated, and putting up with that. Steve’s behaviour is antithetical to the very idea of the party.
So, if LU was supporting Satan himself in Bermondsey, we would think seriously about offering critical support to the Lord of the Flies before Steve. Hopefully, he will not be a member of LU for much longer, though it is an organisation ill-designed for expelling people. Certainly, if Steve had accepted our now long-expired invitation to join the CPGB, any behaviour like this would see him out the door before you can say ‘republican socialism’.
We hope that’s clear..
The May 4 bank holiday evening saw 50 to 60 left activists at the final election campaign rally for Tusc at the Novotel in Sheffield.
The attendance was largely composed of local and regional members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, with a smattering of Socialist Workers Party comrades, a couple of ‘positive money’ eccentrics, local activists and trade unionists - and two members of Left Unity, myself and comrade Lee Rock, who delivered fraternal greetings to Tusc.
On the top table were the two local SPEW Tusc parliamentary candidates, Ian Whitehouse and Alan Munro (the SWP’s Maxine Bowler, standing in Brightside and Hillsborough, was a notable absence), a Socialist Students speaker and SPEW’s deputy general secretary, Hannah Sell, to talk about the need for Tusc, the fight against austerity, the traitorous role (post-Militant) of the Labour Party, nationalising the 150 monopolies and a planned economy, as well as more local and immediate issues.
SPEW comrades were friendly, both when we turned up as Sheffield Left Unity to help leaflet the city centre the previous Saturday and also in this meeting - and indeed in the pub afterwards.
What was most of note during the session, with the lone exception of comrade Hannah Sell, was the response from members on both sides of Tusc, both SPEW and SWP, to the points made by Lee Rock in his intervention from the floor. After delivering fraternal greetings from Left Unity and congratulating the efforts of Tusc and the scale of its campaign, he argued the need for Tusc not to disappear again after the election, as it usually does, wasting everything that has been achieved, with the SWP and SPEW going their own separate ways once again, but instead seeing continued cooperation locally between SPEW and SWP activists and also Left Unity. It was especially important, said comrade Rock, that Tusc continue as a working unity of socialists from different groups, so that, in the first place, the work that has gone into the largest left-of-Labour electoral challenge since World War II was not wasted and, in the second place, the liquidation of the Socialist Alliance should show us how the first fruit of left cooperation has been repeatedly and deliberately destroyed by the leaderships of the organisations present, and that the time for the unity of the far left was more pressing than ever, with Left Unity choosing to go the Omov route, which he believed to be preferable to a federal approach. Nonetheless, it seemed to him that closer cooperation between all parties was a necessity.
To my pleasant surprise, successive SPEW and SWP comrades then stood up to agree with comrade Rock on the need to see continued joint political activity between the SPEW and the SWP and also bringing in Left Unity, as well as a reluctance to pose Tusc as simply the single solution that the movement needs. It also seemed clear that there was an acceptance of the unlikelihood that any more trade unions will join the RMT in backing it. Instead the SPEW comrades in particular appear to be pinning their hopes on pushing ‘disaffiliation from Labour’ motions at upcoming union conferences, hoping for little more than simple disaffiliation.
For her part, comrade Sell delivered a little slap on the wrist to her comrades present, complaining that she had not heard the strong arguments in favour of Tusc from the room that she would have expected to hear, and had nothing to say on the issues of generalised left regroupment or of continued joint action locally, other than that it was far less important than SPEW’s own trade union work - which will be really decisive - implying that the left working together is ‘nice’, but simply a waste of time, in reality.
The SWPers present also took a tentative pro-unity line, paraphrasing the tag line finish on recent Callinicos articles in the International Socialism Journal that the far left is too fragmented and something ought to be done about it. More than once, comrades stressed that they didn’t want to see their own hard work in this historic campaign merely wound up and that the 95% where we agree as socialists is more important than the 5% where we disagree.
Hopefully, this spirit of openness to others on the left and the sense of the objective need to overcome our disunity is the seed of something good to come.
Peter Manson’s article, ‘Gambling on a government - or bidding for an opposition?’ (April 30), is comprehensive and informative, but I have a difficulty understanding the concept of “a bourgeois workers’ party” which is “a strategic site of struggle”.
Historically, the inheritance is from the Liberal Party, through the Labour Representation Committee, so the heritage is those bourgeois, reformist, state-interventionist politics. Those politics carried along the trade unions, which had the loyalty, ideological adherence and following in the UK working class. But the politics were, with few exceptions, never proletarian working class politics. So is the designation a sociological one and, if so, why should that link confer the necessity of support in UK parliamentary elections as part of the struggle to win the Labour Party to revolutionary communism?
Support by the hangman’s noose is recommended in our history, but that was almost a century ago. The subsequent history of workers’ engagement with reformist, parliamentary, state-socialist byways has surely taught us that, while a relationship of some sort must be undertaken with the Labour Party, it should hardly be one of simple voting. And entanglement with an outfit like Left Unity, whose intentions, however radical, are far from wanting to give space to revolutionary communists, is hardly going to get us very far.
What we should be doing I am obviously not sure of, and my remarks are really a form of questioning; I genuinely am baffled by the formula of the ‘bourgeois workers’ party’, but I read the Weekly Worker to keep up some sort of clarification and questioning of the present configuration of events and organisation.
In the Morning Star of April 29, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty member Jim Denham had a letter titled ‘Shame on the Star for its defence of Rahman’ published. It has no original thoughts on the matter, merely demanding we submit to the political prejudices of the arch-Zionist, Eric Pickles, and the election commissioner, Richard Mawrey.
As a committed Zionist himself, Jim makes a few pedestrian points: that leftists had criticised the Catholic church for telling people how to vote in Liverpool and Glasgow, that Mawrey had made some good judgements in the past and therefore this one must be OK too, etc, which merely serve to bolster Eric Pickles. And the final, devastating point, “there is real racism at work [apart from the bogus kind peddled by petitioner, Ukip member Angela Moffat, the Tories and Tower Hamlets Labour, we must assume] - the racism that believes the immigrant poor deserves no better”.
They are about to find out how much “better” the new anti-racism of the Eric Pickles commissioners really is. Lutfur Rahman reinstated the education maintenance allowance, he did not implement the bedroom tax, he retained council tax benefit and he celebrated St Patrick’s Day. He defended LGBT culture, his was the first council to take active steps to oppose the blacklisting of building workers by refusing to use firms guilty of this illegal practice and he mobilised the whole council to oppose the fascist English Defence League. These are his real ‘crimes’.
The commissioners will be kept in place, so the establishment, via Price Waterhouse Cooper, can be absolutely certain these heinous practices, which benefited the undeserving poor to some degree, cease immediately; austerity will be imposed without let or hindrance, even if they lose a third election on June 11 to Rabina Khan.
In the AWL’s Solidarity No362 (‘Restore secular politics in Tower Hamlets’, April 29), Jean Lane begins somewhat more circumspectly. She just could not decide whether he was corrupt on not - “Neither Galloway nor Pickles, but secular politics” seems to be the new third camp slogan. Only, of course, there is no neutrality in a vicious class struggle where there are no angles on any side. And she quickly reveals her sympathies by an outright lie: “Some also deny the judge’s finding that 101 imams said ‘that it was the duty of faithful Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman … with religious duty being mentioned in canvassing before the polls and to voters attending polling stations on election day”.
But the 101 imams did not say “that it was the duty of faithful Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman” in that letter or anywhere else. Paul Demarty likewise make a similar and equally false claim in ‘Court protects Labour corruption’ (April 30), referring to “a letter from 101 imams urging voters to back Rahman as part of their religious duty”. In fact, the letter was entirely secular with no religious reference whatsoever. What Jean and Paul are quoting is Mawrey’s judgement on what he assessed as the implicit content of the letter, although the letter itself says the exact opposite of what he claims it implies. I would refer the reader to the legal interpretation of Frank Cranmer, for the text of the letter and Mawrey’s outrageous judgement on it. One extract in particular can be cited to demonstrate the falsity of the claim:
“We observe that some people are targeting the languages, colours and religions and attempting to divide the community by ignoring the cohesion and harmony of the citizens. This is, in fact, hitting the national, cultural and religious ‘multi’ ideas of the country and spreading jealousy and hatred in the community. We consider these acts as abominable and at the same time condemnable.”
Nonetheless, despite the fact that he can find no quote in the letter itself to back his interpretation, Mawrey concludes in section 551: “… the imams’ message is clear; our religion is under attack, our enemies despise us and wish to humiliate us; it is your duty as faithful sons and daughters of the [church][mosque] to vote for candidate X: only he will defend our religion and our community. As the imams’ letter puts it: “[Our opponents are] spreading jealousy and hatred in the community. We consider these acts as abominable and at the same time condemnable’…”
Of course, this is what his bigotry wishes to infer. The Church of England, ‘the Tory party in prayer’, is the established church in England and Wales, all manner of explicit ‘spiritual influence’ are used every day by every faith in Britain, but are only a crime now if you are a Muslim.
The law, according to the Pickles hatchet man’s own criteria, requires him to find that “A person shall be guilty of undue influence (a) if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or by any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting.”
He can point to nothing akin to that on the imams’ letter. And he gives us his own Tory interpretation of Irish history to justify likening that judgement, which rejected a Tory establishment witch-hunt against Parnellism, with a judgement which supported a Tory establishment witch-hunt against Rahman: “Although the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland were in general supportive of home rule, they were appalled by the conduct of Parnell and none more so than Dr Nulty, the bishop of Meath.”
The good bishop was not making a moral judgment on Parnell, but pursuing a political agenda. This was in the midst of a British empire Tory loyalist witch-hunt against Charles Stewart Parnell’s followers (he had died in 1891) to break his alliance with Gladstone and prevent Irish home rule. It succeeded in winning over almost the entire Whig landlord class to the Tories and partially reinstated the old alliance between the Catholic church and the Tory supporters of absolutism in the English Civil War. The voided elections made no difference to that; the Catholic church was only too willing to cooperate in defence of the British empire. Parnell was a Protestant who was ‘living in sin’ with Kitty O’Shea; hence they had the excuse to get the bigoted bishops on board.
The witch-hunt against Lutfur Rahman is in defence of the bankers’ programme of austerity promoted by the entire establishment - clearly a totally opposite situation to that of 1892. It has been pursued over the last five years to prevent popular resistance to austerity from spreading. Limited and weak though that resistance is, nonetheless, we must support it and oppose the Islamophobic bigotry used against it to divide the whole working class.
Last week I attended the rally in support of Lutfur Rahman, who was dismissed as Tower Hamlets’ mayor following the decision of high court judge Richard Mawrey. Around 2,000 people attended the packed meeting in Mile End Road - it started 45 minutes late, such were the numbers.
There were speeches and contributions from residents, local interest groups, representatives of trade unions, John Rees, Andrew Murray and Weyman Bennett. There were also video messages of support from one-time Bethnal Green MP George Galloway and former mayor of London Ken Livingstone. There was a sizeable media presence.
All of the focus though was on the former mayor - the person everyone wanted to see. When he did appear halfway through the meeting, the audience erupted into chants of “Lutfur, Lutfur”, as the media immediately surrounded him, and the person speaking at the time gave up until the roar of the crowd died down.
The contributions were, of course, directed at the judgement, the 200-page document, Price Waterhouse Cooper’s ‘dodgy dossier’, Eric Pickles and the takeover of Tower Hamlets council at the expense of the ordinary residents, whose democratic rights are being ridden roughshod over. There was humour, seriousness and outrage. However, the answer the audience were waiting for was, what next? The chair telegraphed this by saying that the former mayor had an important announcement to make. But first we had to go through speaker after speaker. It never seemed to end. Some were uplifting, others mundane. The chair asked the contributors to keep it short, but this was not possible, given the mood created by the judgement.
Eventually Lutfur Rahman did speak. He reiterated the sentiments of the previous speakers, but also saluted the courage of three people who have “journeyed” with him during his time as mayor. But only one of those would get his vote to carry on the legacy, and he announced that was Rabina Khan, former Labour Party councillor who ‘travelled’ with Rahman after the latter was removed as the Labour Party mayoral candidate in 2010-11. Tower Hamlets’ mayoral elections will take place on June 11, but she will not be a Tower Hamlets First candidate due to “so-called financial irregularities”. His announcement was met with cheers and excitement. She was a popular choice.
In the meantime, there is the judgement of Richard Mawrey to fight and funds are being raised for an appeal. The fight goes on for those who voted for Rahman, and Khan’s supporters will be doing everything they can to continue the popular policies of the former mayor. The mayoral election will be the ‘real’ judgement of Pickles’ interference, not that of an unelected and unaccountable judge.
I had agreed with Stephen Diamond in my first letter (April 16) that the collapse of capitalism is not imminent. However, regarding his reply that we have simply been in a state of permanent crisis and not a decline (Letters, April 30), I’d say that this recent period has not exactly been crisis as usual.
A former level of crisis, the depression, which may have made some Marxists expect that collapse was imminent, was one in which the state ultimately resorted to the ‘redistribution’ of surplus value by taxation to the social good. This indeed was a break with classic laissez-faire and, to use comrade Diamond’s phrase, a possible adaptive strength.
But what do we find in our current conjuncture? Not only a fall in the rate of profit, but a culture in the financial sector (see Michael Roberts’ ‘Close down financial casinos’, April 30) that encourages a short-termism which is self-destructive of any society, a culture which has been growing in hegemony since the deregulation and globalisation of the 1980s.
I agree again that in this situation there is still no crisis of working class leadership (meaning a turn to an alternative leadership), but there is a decline of belief in politics as usual. This can certainly mean quietism or insularity, where internationalism is dismissed for dreams of autarchy, as in Greece, the unworkableness of which could lead many to transfer their allegiance to nationalism and fascism. No, this is not revolution, but it’s not business as usual.
Contrary to the declarations of private individualism, state intervention has become a necessary support for the system, though one realised in bailouts and benefits for the in-work. While we are not in a situation of dual power - with the ruling class still unshaken, if anxious and the hope of reform still abiding (Obama, etc) - not many would deny that most of us rely on the state or suffer from its withdrawal. This then could open the question of why we shouldn’t recognise that we all rely on the community as a whole, and start to provide, as Mike Macnair suggested last week, a living wage for everyone (‘Thinking the alternative’, April 30).
This is a much deeper crisis for this mode of production than before - in its very motive and claim to provide a good life and the basis of a peaceful society. It’s hard to see it just as a trough before another boom or a malaise solvable by a world war. This is a decline, not into extinction or barbarism, but a continued decay and an intensified provocation to seek an alternative.
Andrew Northall’s letter, ‘Wrong party’ (April 30), makes some truly bizarre assumptions regarding the relationship between the CPGB and the wider membership of Left Unity. “Let those who believe in a ‘new model left’ get on and do so,” he says, arguing that we should instead “be talking to other groups who share your different aim of a Marxist party”.
The obvious truth is, he is not alone in these sentiments: in my own LU branch I have seen the passive-aggressive hostility towards CPGB members first hand, particularly from inveterate ex-swappies and other assorted grizzled Trots. I say passive-aggressive, because the dirty laundry is very rarely aired openly, but instead muttered and grumbled with complete disregard for ‘actually existing’ in-branch relationships, which are on the whole quite friendly (along the lines of ‘We like the CPGB, we like you, but we hate the idea of the CPGB, we hate the idea of you being here ... Splitters!’). The main bone of contention seems to be exactly that which comrade Northall alludes to: a general feeling that we are somehow party-poopers, come to rain on everyone else’s sunshine and rainbows and nice things, parading with stony-faced, dour Marxism and (god forbid) principles.
Of course, the flipside of the stance of Northall and co goes completely unexplored - overlooked in the rush to condemn anything that might look like disloyalty or sedition. Very few seem to have considered that the pure-strain party they implicitly desire, far from being a ‘new model party’, is in fact precisely a party of the old type: a sect in the very worst sense of the term; one that demands total ideological fidelity and submissiveness; one that abhors argument and debate on the grounds that it is uncomradely and downright mean. Be it of the ‘new model’ or the very similar old model, the broadness of broad parties has often served as a mask for a ‘sit down, shut up and pay subs’ mentality.
For all the inclusive talk of minority and individual speech rights, of representing “feminism, identity and sexual politics, climate change, free movement of peoples, internationalism and cosmopolitanism”, there is sometimes little tolerance for minority (and what are we if not a minority?) and individual views which don’t fit into that precise, compartmentalised schema: views that might actually contradict, rather than complement, the general party line.
It’s also good to know that comrade Northall thinks that LU as it stands represents the finished article, needs no further improvement or refinement and that we can all lie back and wait for the revolution. Unfortunately, the naysayers of the CPGB don’t share this view. What we see in LU is another theatre of struggle, one that as a whole is a little more receptive to our politics than most. Contrary to what the Pete Greens of this world might suggest, we raise money, regularly attend meetings and go door-knocking - all under the LU banner. Member for member, we pull our weight. We may disagree on what the character of the party should ultimately be, but we involve ourselves precisely because we believe that there is something worth struggling for in Left Unity.
Crucially, part of that struggle necessitates criticising comrades when they go off and do something we see as dumb and counterproductive: criticising fellow socialists when they clamber aboard the bandwagon of a party that can’t even bring itself to use the dreaded S-word (it’s not asking much, comrades). Far from “disagreeing with its very basis”, the CPGB embraces the basis of the party; we embrace the idea that Left Unity provides a forum for a spectrum of socialists to openly debate their politics - to try and win majority support or, as a minority, bank on future fortunes - and that it needs to stay faithful to this basis, to resist the urge to purge away its internal differences, if it is to have any value to the movement as a whole.