Regarding tactics in elections, would it not be a way forward for Left Unity to avoid standing candidates where there is a Corbyn-supporting MP with a proven track record of supporting socialist policies, and standing candidates where this is not the case? Working class people would then be given a chance to support a socialist candidate in all constituencies. It would also put pressure on some Labour Party constituencies to select Corbyn candidates if they knew they were going to face a challenge from the left.
Momentum and Left Unity ought to campaign jointly where there are agreed policies and goals. This will be easier to achieve if Left Unity has been tactically sensible and non-sectarian in elections.
Half a loaf
I am one of those who believe that a Labour government - any Labour government, no matter how impure - is better than any Tory government. Alan Paton, author of Cry, the beloved country, told Peter Hain: “I am not an all-or-nothing person … I am an all-or-something person.” In other words, half a loaf is better than none. It is better to be a weak government than a strong opposition. The Blair governments may have been lacklustre socialist governments, but they were better than the 18 years that preceded them and the years that have so far succeeded them.
The CPGB is a case in point. It is impotent. It may expound pure Marxist principles, but the public don’t want to buy it and it has absolutely no chance of power; sad old revolutionaries dreaming in never-never land. In fact the whole of the British left, fragmented into a plethora of sectarian posturing, is impotent, with no foreseeable hope of gaining political power. The only hope of dealing with the Tories is to get Labour into power. You can then set about trying to get Labour to try to adopt more socialist policies. Half a socialist state is better than none at all.
In 1980, following the 1979 Labour rout that elected Thatcher, Hain wrote the following words: “Of course, all sorts of arguments will be cited in favour of far-left groups, this time, in these particular historical circumstances, facing that specific stage in capitalist development. But then they always are.” And later on: “One of the least appealing attributes of the far left is its self-righteousness: its claims to possess a monopoly on socialist wisdom, on morality and honesty, and in the case of the Socialist Workers Party specifically, its irritating tendency to exaggerate its self-importance and the role of its activists. That sort of approach makes left unity difficult to build. It also reflects a fault of the whole of the left, inside and outside the Labour Party: namely, a desire to posture rather than grapple with reality.”
Later the same year the party elected the hard-left Michael Foot as leader. In 1983 Foot went to the country with a manifesto that later gained the “longest suicide note in history” soubriquet and Labour went down to its most crushing defeat ever, just about managing to avoid third place. Neil Kinnock set about making the party electable and declared: “Remember how you felt on that dreadful morning ... and think to yourselves: June 9 1983 - never, ever again will we experience that.” And we haven’t - not yet anyway. But if we regard Peter Hain’s words as prescient then 2020 beckons. Corbyn is offering “the longest suicide note in history” once again.
The country needs a Labour government that will govern moderately and not ideologically; that puts people before profit, not profit before people; that accepts capital as collateral damage, not people. To get that government you have to deal with Britain the way it is, not the way you want it to be; then maybe you will be able to deal with the world the way you want it to be rather than the way it is.
Dave Vincent raises an important issue in his letter on the relationship between unions and the Labour Party, and how it applies to the Corbyn surge (February 4). He writes: “I have received a letter inviting me to donate to the Labour Party in readiness for the May elections. It is all about getting Labour representatives in and the Tories out. Not a word about unions, or about Labour, even under Corbyn pledging to oppose council cuts.”
I received a similar letter which does mention the Tories’ Trade Union Bill, describing it as “an unashamed attack on our party, our movement and our values”. It does not mention the fact that the last Labour administration was not exactly union-friendly, or that in the not so distant past the Labour leadership was actively distancing itself from the unions.
New Labour omitted to repeal the Tory anti-union legislation of the 1980s, which outlawed much of effective trade unionism, including all ‘solidarity’ action with other workers and unions. As Dave says, “It is crystal-clear that unions bankroll the Labour Party for no obvious benefit, but are pulled to the right due to Labour’s electoral considerations rather than seek to pull Labour left.”
The bulk of the present Labour Party is a Blairite/Brownite rump, schooled in the perspectives, compromises and class allegiances of New Labour, swallowing and regurgitating the ruling class narrative on the economy, defence, and foreign and domestic policy, ready to participate in imperialist adventurism and precipitate the nation into far-flung conflicts at the drop of a hat.
Corbyn faces a monumental task to turn the party around, to undo almost two decades of Blair-Brownite New Labourism, and set the party on a new course. He must do all this, with a handful of allies, in the teeth of strident opposition and hostility from the bulk of the party, to say nothing of the class hatred of entrenched Toryism.
Corbyn is a Fabian. As such he subscribes to the concept of a gradualist transformation of bourgeois society to socialism and rejects the achievement of this by revolutionary overthrow. Fabianism extols the virtues of chipping away at the edifice of capitalism in the forlorn hope that the facade will crack and disgorge a veritable cornucopia.
To have even a moderate chance of success in the next general election he needs more than his party behind him. He needs the unions. He must promise to do what Blair and Brown neglected to do: repeal the anti-union legislation imposed by the 1980s Thatcher regime. This also includes whatever anti-union legislation imposed by the present government. He must also promise to reverse the changes pushed through by Brown at the 2007 conference, disenfranchising the unions and local Labour parties.
So far he has said little or nothing on this vital issue. The reality is that the Fabianite Labour Party was always an anvil around the necks of the working class, the greatest obstacle to its self-emancipation. It has always been so, but now more than ever. No matter how able and sincere the MPs and members of the Labour Party may be, they cannot succeed in making the existing social system work in the interest of the great majority of the population: the wage- and salary-earners.
Just supposing Labour under Corbyn acquires a majority in the 2020 election, the question remains, will he go to Buckingham Palace to kneel before her maj, kiss her hand and ask permission to form her loyal government? Refusing to do so would probably trigger a constitutional crisis, which would be interesting, but I cannot believe the outcome of such would be favourable to the working class.
In his article, ‘Things don’t look good’ (January 21), Peter Manson reported on the London Left Unity members aggregate. He says: “Steve Freeman preferred to talk about matters other than the question of Labour. He thought it was more important that our policies on democracy, Scotland and Wales, and the European Union were correct.”
Some clarification is needed here. I was discussing how to fight Labour, not the incessant chatter of comrades fawning over or liquidating into the Labour Party. Peter is right that I didn’t mention ‘Labour this’, ‘Labour that’ and ‘the next thing for Labour’. I leave all that to the CPGB and all those desperate to join the Labour Party.
I spoke about the political issues and policies the working class needed to build a militant party ready and able to fight the Tories (remember them?) andLabour on democracy, Scotland and Wales, and the European Union. On these issues, so important for the ruling class, both parties line up on the same page.
My point was about getting LU policies correct. This is the litmus test. Has LU got anything useful, important and distinct to say against the Tory-Labour consensus? Too many LU members have spent too much time ‘talking’ about how best to ingratiate ourselves with the Labour Party, before throwing themselves under the Corbyn bandwagon. The Weekly Worker has done much to encourage this mood of liquidationism.
Take, for example, the popular front extending from Cameron, via the Liberal Democrats, Corbyn, Labour, TUC, the Green Party to Left Unity to vote ‘Remain’ in the EU referendum. How can Left Unity back Cameron’s negotiated pro-City and anti-worker deal? We need a special meeting to review the policy as soon as Cameron’s negotiations are finished, and then get stuck in to a national referendum campaign. This will be more important for LU than a few local elections because it is a national electoral campaign. A weak LU is suffering from too much localism.
Then we have Scotland and Wales, where LU have been the feeblest of unionists, refusing to criticise or oppose the Labour Party for defending Queen Anne’s anti-democratic Act of Union. How can anybody have confidence in a party so bereft of any commitment to fighting for popular sovereignty and self-determination?
Finally, LU seems very serious about debating its own constitution and its own governance and has no interest in the government and constitutional laws which enable millions of working class people to be robbed and oppressed ‘democratically’ and ‘legally’.
LU will never be fit to govern because it is not interested in government. It should be fighting to change the UK’s corrupt, broken and outdated ‘democracy’, in which government is run by the crown on behalf of the City, with Westminster as an irrelevant side show, like the European parliament.
Peter concludes: “Despite the fact he [me] had stood against the LU-backed candidate in last year’s general election, I thought the reception he received was strangely polite and receptive.” This paradox may be explained by the fact that LU members are politer or more thoughtful than the CPGB credits them.
In the Bermondsey 2015 election, I stood as a republican socialist and anti-unionist and was opposed by the Labourite Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Left Unity simply fell in behind Tusc, backed by the CPGB, and supported economism and unionism against democracy and self-determination. The CPGB claim I betrayed Left Unity and I claim they betrayed the programme of working class democracy.
I like to think that the idea of a militant republican socialist party, linked with the democratic revolution of 1649, is Left Unity’s Plan B. That was before Jeremy Corbyn blew Left Unity’s Plan A (Spirit of 45) out of the water and stole many LU members, including all the LU candidates in south London. So Left Unity has lost Plan A and hasn’t found a Plan B. How long will this continue? Watch this space.
Left Unity and Rise
Voting to leave
I see from Paul Demarty’s article, ‘Cameron’s chauvinist chicanery’ (February 4), that the CPGB will be calling for a boycott of the European Union referendum. Whilst I can see where the CPGB is coming from (sort of), in my locality a call for a boycott will be laughed all the way out of town.
Nearly all the people I talk to will be voting for the UK to leave the EU. The number one reason given is that doing so is the only way of stopping uncontrolled mass immigration of workers from eastern Europe. My home town has grown by 50% since 2004. There are now more than 11,000 migrant workers here. Thirty years ago unemployed local people could always get a job working shifts in local factories. Today that is almost impossible. Local workers are gradually being replaced by migrant workers, as the older generation of local workers leave or retire.
Most migrant workers are now employed through four big local employment agencies. The advent of employment agencies has helped destroy most union organisation in the factories and sheds - migrant agency workers don’t join trade unions.
A couple of years ago the Weekly Worker published an interview with a female Polish organiser working for Unite in the Greater Manchester area. However, it is unlikely that Unite will be taking on any more Polish organisers any time soon, especially in areas like my home town. At the same time, trade unions’ ‘servicing’ model of organisation does not lend itself to recruiting large numbers of migrant workers to its ranks.
I think there is much we can learn from the experiences of the socialist pioneers of the general unions 120 years ago. We can also learn from the experiences of the Wobblies - the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the USA 120 years ago. We cannot rely on the trade union bureaucracy to rebuild the unions. Socialists will have to step up to the plate here.
The least the trade unions like Unite can do is have recruitment leaflets printed in Polish and other migrant worker languages. Just as in the past Irish, Jewish and black migrants became the most militant trade union members, so can Polish and other eastern European migrant workers today. The Labour Party has an important role to play in rebuilding the trade unions amongst both British workers and migrants.
In the meantime, I’ll be voting to leave the EU when the referendum is held.
As yet again expressed in Paul Demarty’s article, it seems to me that the official position of the CPGB on the matter of UK membership of the EU is one of implied ‘immutable weakness’ on the part of any leftwing involvement or intervention, alongside simple defeatism. It could almost be said weakness plus defeatism, to the extent of lying down in front of our neocon masters and mistresses and asking to be kicked to death.
Surely, it can amount to nothing much more than that self-fulfilling prophecy if socialist organisations elevate some potential, theoretical or even just darkly imagined horrors and abuses of a perceived ‘heightened’ capitalist rampage (namely one that might take place if the UK were to leave the EU) over and above principled Marxist-Leninist rejection of a system which exists in order to further the socio-political and cultural agenda of our capitalist elites and, of course, primarily to increase and protect their corporate profit margins?
To my mind, an attitude and position such as yours is putting the most enormous of horses in front of the most massive of carts. You can’t see the common-sense wood for the intellectually ‘correct’ Marxist trees, so to speak. Put yet another way, you’re flipping an astutely analysed and properly comprehended reality 180 degrees onto its head and regrettably ending up in the dust. Furthermore, all of that remaining true, even if couched in your advice to passively ‘abstain’ from the fray, most notably in the upcoming referendum on EU membership for the UK.
At least in this precise context, it seems to me this overall policy in relation to the EU puts the CPGB pretty much in the same boat as dyed-in-the-wool reformist-style trades unions, who completely oppose the scrapping of Trident or indeed the dismantling of our entire nuclear arsenal, simply on the basis that it will ‘destroy jobs’ for their members. An abdication of both socialist principles as well as working class internationalism at its absolute finest!
Earlier this week in its so-called mother of parliaments, our bourgeois government has been laying modified and enhanced plans to compensate ‘more promptly and more equitably’ any future ‘victims’ of ‘riots’, such as those triggered over recent years in many of our cities. In other words, they are putting in place the means/preparing the ground to mollify, placate or quite simply buy off the more comfortable elements of our population in relation to any forthcoming blow-back or maybe even fully organised insurrectionist activities from its otherwise entirely powerless ‘non-stakeholder’ citizens.
New EU movement
There seems to be a growing awareness that the left in Europe needs to mount an effective challenge to the status quo in the EU on a continental scale, in addition to whatever steps it takes to champion popular causes in individual countries. Some recent pronouncements by two prominent personalities in the aftermath of the Syriza debacle in Greece (which dramatically exposed the inadequacy of an attempt to push through radical measures in one single European country in the face of opposition from other European governments and the infamous ‘Troika’) point in this direction.
Truthout published an interview with Noam Chomsky on January 25 under the heading ‘Is European integration unravelling?’ While the bulk of Chomsky’s remarks are about the current refugee crisis, the interviewer also asked him for his views on the ongoing tragedy in Greece. Chomsky had this to say: “I do not feel close enough to the situation to comment on Syriza’s specific choices, and to evaluate alternative paths it might have pursued. Their options would have been considerably enhanced, had they received meaningful support from popular forces elsewhere in Europe, as I think could have been possible.”
The interviewer then asked him about the project announced by the former finance minister in Alexis Tsipras’s government, Yanis Varoufakis, for the formation of a new European political movement - scheduled for launch in Berlin on February 9. Chomsky was asked, specifically, “How far can one ‘democratise capitalism?” His response was: “How far reforms can proceed under the existing varieties of state capitalism, one can debate. But that they can go far beyond what now exists is not at all in doubt. Nor is it in doubt that every effort should be made to press them to their limits. That should be a goal even for those committed to radical social revolution, which would only lead to worse horrors if it were not to arise from the dedication of the great mass of the population who come to realise that the centres of power will block any further steps forward.”
This was followed by a piece by Varoufakis himself which appeared in The Guardian on February 5, broadly spelling out what he has in mind. He writes:
“Today Europeans everywhere, from Helsinki to Lisbon, from Dublin to Crete, from Leipzig to Aberdeen, are feeling let down by EU institutions. Many are attracted to the idea of tearing up the EU, except that they remain wedded to the single market. Brexit campaigners are promising voters that they can have their sovereignty and access to Europe’s single market. But this is a false promise.
“A truly single market, a genuinely level playing field, requires a single legal framework, identical industry, labour and environmental protection standards, and courts that will enforce them with the same determination throughout the single jurisdiction. But this then also requires a common parliament that writes the laws to be implemented across the single market as well as an executive that enforces the court’s decisions.”
Accordingly, Varoufakis is set to launch his new movement, called Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, in Berlin. He declares:
“One simple radical idea is our motivating force: to democratise the EU in the knowledge that it will otherwise disintegrate at a terrible cost to all. Our immediate priority is full transparency in decision-making (live-streaming of European councils; full disclosure of trade negotiations; ECB minutes, etc) and the urgent redeployment of existing EU institutions in the pursuit of policies that genuinely address the crises of debt, banking, inadequate investment, rising poverty and migration.
“Our medium-term goal is to convene a constitutional assembly, where Europeans will deliberate on how to bring forward, by 2025, a fully-fledged European democracy, featuring a sovereign parliament that respects national self-determination and shares power with national parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils.
“Is this utopian? Of course it is. But no more so than the notion that the current EU can survive its anti-democratic hubris, and the gross incompetence fuelled by its unaccountability. Or the idea that democracy can be revived in the bosom of a nation-state asphyxiating within transnational ‘single’ markets and opaque free trade agreements.” [Last sentence: Brexit enthusiasts, plus Scots and Catalan radicals especially, please note.]
In this context, the Weekly Worker is to be congratulated on making once more available a number of relevant recent articles on its website, in particular Jack Conrad’s ‘United States of Europe - theirs and ours’, James Turley’s ‘New vision for Europe wanted’ and Mike Macnair’s ‘Mapping the alternative’. These include certain programmatic demands. I would personally add one or two more, but the important thing is to get an international movement going.
I would also urge readers, if they haven’t seen it, to look at the debate on the EU between John Palmer and Alex Callinicos in International Socialism, no148, autumn 2015, and also, as commentary on the Greek events, Kevin Ovenden’s book Syriza: inside the labyrinth (London 2015).
I don’t think there is any doubt that the response of the majority within the current National Union of Mineworkers NEC is by way of a reply to my earlier article(s) in the paper critical of them (Letters, February 4). The letter doesn’t refer to me by name nor cite any specific piece I’ve written and also seems to lump in unknown “elements on the outskirts of the labour movement”, but I guess I come under the heading of “Some who should know better and have been willing to give air to such defamation”.
There is a problem with replying, insofar as if I take issue with any element of the response it can be said, ‘We weren’t referring to you’ or, worse, ‘If the cap fits’. But let’s deal with the poor wounded pride of the NEC majority anyway.
I have never smeared or defamed the NUM, having been a member of the organisation since I was 17 years old, and remain a retired and active member insofar as I am allowed to be. I have been an active, if not fanatical, member of the union for over 50 years. I have fought within that organisation against political and industrial perspectives my political values and class understanding have concluded are wrong. I did this whether I liked the particular leaders personally and despite personal friendships. This goes back to the days of Lawrence Daly and the social contract, through Arthur Scargill over the handling of the Lawrence Scott dispute when he was Yorkshire president, to Ken Homer over financing of pickets in 1984, to Arthur and Orgreave, to the Yorkshire leadership vetoing women’s support group associated memberships. At the same time, I defended Scargill against attacks by the media.
More particularly, over the last two decades of struggle for democracy within the NUM against the bureaucratic obsessions of the old Scargill leadership, I have defended the NUM and this current leadership in those very bitter and sometimes sadly violent disagreements. None of this has ever consisted of “smears”.
Sadly, what all these respective leaderships - ‘left’, right and centre - have in common is to associate their own views and perspectives with those of the NUM at large, so that any difference with those particular individuals on their political and industrial perspectives become ‘attacks on the NUM’. Yes indeed, we in the NUM do have long experience of those who would seek to divide us, but such a reference has no relevance in this issue, unless the authors are trying to equate my criticism of their recent political judgements with the actions of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers or Spencer’s union - an absurd and defamatory smear.
Facts are, the current NUM leadership isn’t as politically clued up as previously, has chosen the wrong side - the nominations for Labour leader and deputy leader would tell you that. There have been others, but the main question here is of Ukraine.
Put simply enough, ‘self-determination for Ukraine’ is doublespeak for ‘Nato control of Ukraine’. Ukraine already had ‘self-determination’, had already elected a government and a president, already had recognition of semi-autonomous Russian regions and recognition of the Russian language. There always had been a close relationship with Russia. The Russian trade deal worth billions of roubles was on the table to be signed and this undoubtedly would have drawn Ukraine closer to Russia.
At this point, a Nato-inspired armed coup, led by nationalists and armed fascists, many wearing Nazi uniforms or inspired by them, overthrew the president and the government. Far-right nationalist measures were introduced, withdrawing all recognition of autonomous regions and the Russian language, and history began to be literally rewritten. Within less than a week, on largely German and US urging, the EU recognised the leaders of the coup as the legitimate government despite Russian objections and international law. Within days, it had promised billions of loans and investments.
The autonomous and largely Russian regions, also the greatest centres of the coal industry, were in the vanguard of armed resistance to the coup, and in defending their own area. The front line of Kiev’s armed forces, facing many armed miners, are the fascist and pro-Nazi armed militias. As we know, the rebel areas then held regional referendums and with almost undisputed agreement achieved overwhelming votes in mass turnouts for autonomy despite being shelled and bombed.
Nato from the start started to supply sophisticated modern weaponry to the regime, while moving its air power and military forces up to the very borders with Russia. Now, the call for ‘self-determination’ doesn’t mean for Donbas or the minority areas, or the autonomous regions. It means self-determination for Nato-inspired, EU-funded Ukraine. It is not, as it sounds, a neutral slogan; it is not a unifying slogan.
That the NUM conference adopted this position without any exploration of the big international power game being played out here, or recognition of the long-term Nato goal of militarily surrounding Russia and breaking all previous ‘Russian sphere of influence’ countries away, not to neutrality but to belligerence, is worthy of criticism. What the conference did not recognise was that there were miners’ families being butchered by the Kiev government and it was Donbas miners in the fore of the resistance, whatever the official position of the official miners’ unions of Ukraine. The delegation should have made efforts to visit these miners and listen to their case.
The solidarity of the NUM with the struggle of Donbas miners against the pit closure programme is not in question here, and has not been challenged by me.
So to get feet back down to earth, a political decision on the situation in Ukraine is being disputed. The NUM is not being attacked because “we support fellow trade unionists”, especially the ones killed by fascists in the TUC buildings! I too, believe it or not, support my fellow workers in general and miners in particular. It defies belief that any member of the NUM would suggest I ever did otherwise.
I have no allegiance to Putin - for god’s sake, get a grip - but it is clear Nato and America have unresolved cold war issues with Russia and their aggressive adventure into Russia’s backyard is a game of chicken none of us should be cheerleading from either direction. But the truth is, plans to break up and destabilise former USSR satellites and buffer zones started with the former Yugoslavia and have been ongoing ever since. Not to recognise this overall process is the height of naivety at best.
I welcome the clarification that the NUM condemns both superpower interference within Ukraine and that this is detrimental to the class interests of the working class of that country. What is not clear, however, is where, how and why you think this coup and civil war originated and that was what was missing from the original reports and subsequent resolutions, which made it look and sound like a pro-government, pro-coup statement, which prompted my criticism. I would to welcome your clarification on that aspect.
The NUM letter to the TUC setting out the NUM position, prior to the TUC adopting its own (opposing) policy, spells out that maintaining the total territory of Ukraine - ie, not recognising the right of Russian minorities to secede - and withdrawal of all Russian forces were preconditions to any peace. That certainly doesn’t sound to me like a unifying or inclusive position.
I would also add that wider unity of the working class along class lines and perspectives is always superior to sectional and nationalist divisions, but all peoples, ethnicities and regions have the moral right to self-determination and autonomy if that is demanded, and that is particularly true where such peoples, ethnicities and regions are discriminated against and victimised.
David John Douglass