Every popular rebellion or revolution produces its equal and opposite reaction in counterrevolution. England’s national uprising against the EU was won and lost on June 23 2016.
No sooner had victory had been declared, than the Brexit counterrevolution began. The crown took control with May at the helm. She declared, “Brexit means Brexit”. As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, in Brexit wonderland a word “means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less”.
The Brexit counterrevolution has only one real aim - make the working class pay for the mess the Tories have got us into, with the City and big business avoiding any collateral damage to their profits. May has told us we are leaving. But don’t take that at face value. It is a ‘clean break with exceptions’. Some are happy with the clean break and others have hope invested in the exceptions.
The words ‘clean break’ are directed to the Tories and Brexit voters. But it tells the European Union that the UK is ready to play hard ball. We are ready and willing to walk away and leave the EU with heavy debts still payable to the City of London. ‘We don’t need you and can live without you’ is a good negotiating position.
‘Clean exit’ is code for immigration control. It allows the Tories to play the race card by openly rejecting free movement. However the phrase ‘with exceptions’ keeps the door wide open to special deals for the Tories’ friends in the City. The devil is in the detail and this is where crown secrecy begins and ends. Neither parliament nor people will uncover the real deal between the French, German and British ruling classes.
May flagged up the new model of “global Britain” - not Little England, but Greater America. We will become a Singapore in the North Sea, flying the Stars and Stripes with low tax, low social spending, and anti-union policies. Singapore is described as an ‘authoritarian democracy’, a dictatorship of the free market. The state controls the show and relies on US multinational corporations. This is a social calamity for the working class.
Global free trade is being heavily marketed to the working class, who will have to pay for it. As Donald Trump might say, it is going to be “great”. It will be so great as to be unbelievable. There will be limits on workers’ rights to come from or go to the EU.
This will encourage and build even greater divisions amongst workers. There is the empty promise of ‘workers’ on company boards, which the Tories will never agree to.
Of course, the Tories know their Achilles heel is Scotland and Ireland. May recognised this by promising to “listen” and consult with the Scottish, Welsh and collapsed Northern Irish governments. As we have already argued, there was one revolutionary outcome to the Tory referendum, if Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales voted to remain and England voted out.
So the UK referendum has given the ruling class a “clear and ever-present danger”. That danger is the possibility that England’s Brexit may trigger a democratic revolution. If there is going to be a democratic future, the battle begins in Scotland and spreads to Ireland. All this puts a rocket under English chauvinism of the right or left variety which is ideologically committed to ‘Britain’ and the ‘British’ and hence to unionism.
On July 13 Theresa May, the new PM, stood at the podium outside Downing Street. She “vowed to be a unionist and lead a ‘one nation’ government” (Daily Star July 13 2016). She explained that “not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party and the word ‘Unionist’ is very important to me. It means we believe in the union - the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” That is something for Jeremy Corbyn and all the Marxist Corbynistas to ponder.
Left Unity and Rise
Not face value
Our esteemed British government have laid out their position and ambitions to Johnny ‘Eurozone’ Foreigner, seemingly doing so in an open, honest, clear and frank manner. But nothing from these Tory gangsters and gargoyles should be taken at face value.
Obviously times have changed and so this is not the ‘good old days’ - in other words with no bayoneted platoons of ‘our brave boys’ or gunboats capable of achieving things (as quietly as possible, but otherwise with any amount of blood plus destruction required!).
However, it would be wise for those European adversaries of Theresa May’s to remember that our ‘golden era’ of British empire was built upon cunning, crafty and indeed multi-hypocritical systems, many of which achieved an equivalent Mission Impossible of having your cake and eating it, squaring myriad interlocking circles, etc. Most pertinent to mention here would be the methods employed to run the entire sub-continent of India with a mere handful of civil servants, for the most part by either bribing or otherwise coopting local greedily flexible plus morally pliable potentates.
If your readers replace in their mind Pasha kings with European pharmaceutical corporations; if they swap over African tribal chiefs with Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen or Renault, probably my own drift of thinking in this letter will become more clear?
Johnny Foreigner, beware! They are both scurrilous and poisonous in their pursuit of profit, these deftly amoral establishment Brits. Just remember the so-called ‘judicial’ enquiry and notionally public report into the Iraq war. Is Tony Blair behind steel bars? Has mammoth compensation for our imperialist barbarity been paid to the workers and peasants of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, potentially also Yemen?
Reading the Labour Party Marxists response to recent developments (‘Reduced to a corpse’, January 13) confirms my wariness about working inside the Labour Party and orientating towards Momentum - that comrades will be sucked into faction fights and lose the wider plot.
Lansman is probably doing the wrong thing and the demands of Labour Party Marxists are right. However, for the wider world of activists, potential activists, inside or outside the Labour Party, the prioritisation of the struggle with Lansman must seem like a sectarian obsession. Given the negative scrutiny that anything Corbyn-related attracts from the media, it is not tremendously useful either when these things are knocked about in the papers.
In the meantime, the movement seems to have lost the plot with regards to immigration and the Labour Party. There is enormous pressure on Corbyn and his leadership team to give ground on immigration. Now we see him doing just that - saying that freedom of movement is not a principle to be defended and some re-examination of controls may need to be looked at. It seemed pretty confused.
This is the sort of thing that Marxists inside Labour, Momentum or outside should be linking up to fight about. No, this won’t make us popular either, but it will be an issue of substance, which those who have joined Labour on the Corbyn wave and activists in Momentum can understand. I am sure there are others.
In a New Statesman article, Michael Chessum challenges the bland, and untrue, assumption that Len McCluskey is the best supporter of Jeremy Corbyn in the Unite union: “But on the key thorny issues facing the Labour leadership, Corbyn supporters might find they have more in common with [Ian] Allinson. Many Unite activists may share Allinson’s frustration with the union’s lack of mobilisation over the NHS, or its stance on immigration. When launching his campaign last year, McCluskey’s first policy was support for border controls in the wake of Brexit. Unite has played a role in influencing the PLP against free movement” (‘Len McCluskey’s grip on Unite is far from assured’ New Statesman January 13).
The single most important issue facing the British working class after the NHS is the cuts in the local authorities. On top of the £100 billion cuts already imposed since 2009, a further £12 billion of cuts, and the phasing out of the £18 billion central government grant to local authorities; councils will face a further cut of 6.7% in real terms by 2019-20.
Local authorities imposing savage cuts up to now, mentioned in an article by Margot Miller on the World Socialist Website (January 16), include Newham, Croydon, Lewisham, Birmingham, Manchester, Knowsley, Sheffield, Glasgow, Torfaen in South Wales, Lincolnshire, Bath and Southend - most Labour controlled. She adds: “Just months after his election in September 2015, Corbyn and his closest political ally, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, sent a letter to all Labour councils demanding they abide by the law and impose austerity cuts demanded by the Conservative government.”
If these cuts continue in the local authorities and the NHS up to 2020, both these causes will be lost; the welfare state and the healthcare system will be damaged almost beyond repair.
Unless a serious fightback begins here, electing Corbyn in 2020 will be futile. That is why a rank-and-file revolt in the unions, linking up with the new mass Labour Party membership, is vital.
And for that two things are vital:
1. A successfully launch of the democratic Momentum conference in February. This is now looking inevitable. According to Jackie Walker, already the conference arrangements committee and nine Momentum groups have opposed the Lansman coup: Kirklees, Leicestershire, Leeds, Liverpool (Riverside Caucus), Southwark, Thanet, London LGBT+ and Northern Momentum (regional committee). Red Labour have declined a place on the national coordinating group. Momentum groups in favour of the new constitution are Manchester and Trafford Momentum, the national steering committee and the Youth and Student Momentum (committee).
2. The election of Ian Allinson as Unite’s general secretary and the launch of a powerful rank-and-file movement in Unite and across all unions.
Both are possible. And we do need both.
The London meeting of Ian’s campaign took place on January 14. Ray Morell reported what the meeting agreed:
1. Encourage reps and activists to win nominations to ensure we get Ian on the ballot paper. Details of how this can be done are available here: www.ian4unite.org/arrange-your-unite-general-secretary-nomination. The vital nomination meetings must take place between January 16 and February 17. Ian needs 50 nominations, but, knowing the eagerness with which nominations for Jerry Hicks were refused the last two times, he will need at least 100 to get on the ballot paper. We are confident he will get far more than that. We want to collate details of up and coming branch nomination meetings to help us arrange for a speaker to attend and put the case for the campaign. We need more volunteers for speakers at branches. Nominations began this week. Can you help us by agreeing to speak at a nomination meeting? If you’re not confident or are unsure of the main arguments, then contact us and we will meet up and help you prepare for the meeting.
2. We agreed to leaflet major workplaces in London. We will soon be circulating a map of key Unite workplaces in London. You probably already have a fair idea of the major workplaces near where you live or work. Why not try and organise a leafleting with a friend or colleague? Contact us if you want any leaflets.
3. Ian spoke about the successful hustings meeting he attended last week in Derby with all three candidates putting forward their cases. We want to organise as many meetings like this as possible. If you are able to win a nomination, why not ask your branch to organise a hustings with other branches in the area?
4. We decided to elect Ian Bradley and Raymond Morell as joint convenors of the London group.
5. A further campaign meeting will be organised at a date agreed by the group.
Finally, we collected £124 at the end of the meeting as a contribution towards the costs of running the campaign.
The January 14 Labour Briefing readers’ meeting - organised to hear Corbyn supporter Alex Nunns speak about his book, The candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s improbable path to power - attracted a small crowd of about two dozen Labour Representation Committee stalwarts. Comrade Nunns gave an entertaining run through of key points of his story, showing how Corbyn’s unexpected sudden rise to prominence was produced by a ripening of three factors.
- Firstly, Labour Party members - the existing ones, not subsequent recruits or £3 supporters - were thoroughly fed up with Blairism and turned against it at long last. This was evident when Corbyn was ahead in the voting only three weeks after being nominated, and ahead in Constituency Labour Party nominations after only one month.
- Secondly, Maggie Thatcher had broken the “corporatist alliance” between trade union bureaucrats and the Labour Party, and the dimming of trade union economic power had produced a 15-year shift to the left in the unions.
- Thirdly, the social movements were looking for a lead after the “failure of Occupy”, and after the route through the Green Party was “blocked” by the first-past-the-post electoral system.
When these three streams coalesced in the summer of 2015, this was “the end of spectator politics”. The 2008 economic crash had “rattled the buildings of the establishment”, but not demolished them. In May 2015, John McDonnell wrote in Labour Briefing that this was the left’s “darkest hour”. Then the opportunity to democratise policy-making in the Labour Party sucked in new blood.
A key moment in making possible Corbyn’s victory as party leader was Ed Miliband’s Collins review - the result of a number of “miscalculations”. After Collins, the right thought they had won - but so did some of the left. Owen Jones advised against standing a left candidate for leader, and McDonnell agreed, explained Nunns. But Corbyn was put forward. He was “the nicest man in politics, and had no enemies”. Huge online lobbying succeeded in achieving the required 35 MP/MEP nominations within two minutes of the June 15 2015 deadline.
Comrade Nunns rightly pointed to the instability of the Corbyn movement, consisting as it does of an amalgam of diverse trends, but insisted that the genie cannot be put back in the bottle - the Corbyn movement is “real, tangible and fulfils a need”. And he reminded us that Corbyn’s position as party leader depends on the continuing support of the trade unions.
In the following discussion, comrades touched on Jon Lansman’s January 10 bureaucratic coup in Momentum, and I recalled the possibility, tentatively fielded by the LRC leadership, that the LRC might dissolve itself if Momentum’s promise of “democratic governance” was fulfilled. That particular fish is now dead in the water, of course.
Pete Firmin pointed out that the celebrated ‘one member, one vote’ method of decision-making had not been used to adopt the imposed constitution, and said that Momentum was now an “ineffective stage army”. Mike Phipps, on the other hand, voiced the naive, philistine arguments of Owen Jones and Paul Mason. We must not “refight the old battles of the left”: we are “interested in taking power”. Corbyn is under pressure from the right - he “needs a stage army and a fan club”. Jeremy’s integrity is “bigger than the left” and we must “focus on winning power”.
However, Alex Nunn, replying to discussion, argued that “process is important” and “means produce ends” - which I can only interpret as criticism of Lansman’s undemocratic coup. But all is not lost - the Corbyn movement in the party is 400,000-strong, and the Momentum membership is only 5% of it.
Unfortunately, the task of writing up a report of the meeting for Labour Briefing was left to ... comrade Phipps.
Pete McLaren of Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition give a long list of woes about the current universal credit pilot in Rugby (Letters, January 13).
It does sound grim and heart-breaking, but you could write an equally depressing list for any government that has been in power in the UK. They all try to drive down welfare spending and claw back as much money as they can.
As for the ridiculous statement, in the same letter, about “our NHS”, surely it’s not run in the interests of the working class, but in the interests of British capitalism. Only if these two are the same thing, can it ever be described as that.