Labour Party Marxists is not surprised to learn that our appeal against disaffiliation from the Labour Representation Committee was not upheld by the January 21 meeting of the LRC’s national executive committee, even though LPM has played an active part in the LRC for years, without any objections (see ‘Disaffiliation by stealth’ Weekly Worker October 27).
What has changed? Is it the election and re-election of Labour’s new leader? Evidently the LRC leadership shares with the controller of Momentum the same morbid fear of open debate and leftwing criticism getting ‘out of hand’ and spoiling the hopeless and wrongheaded attempts of Jeremy and John to make peace with Labour’s right wing.
Bureaucratic exclusion is the wrong way of resolving political differences between socialists, and is counterproductive for an organisation trying to democratise the Labour Party and win it for socialism. Hypocritically, the LRC is, at the very same time, complaining about the trashing of democratic structures in Momentum “without proper discussion and without even consulting” (LRC NC resolutions: http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/momentum-and-the-lrc).
While a new Momentum constitution has been imposed on an ‘accept or resign’ basis, the LRC has gone one better: you’re out, and now we will compose the required rules. Or, as LRC secretary Michael Calderbank ‘explained’ in his January 21 email to me, “We accept the criteria for national affiliate status need to be made clearer and this is being attended to.”
We look forward with interest to the retrospective rules.
Labour Party Marxists
Devolution is not just going in reverse - the devolution settlement is a dead duck, swept aside by the Brexit counterrevolutionary steamroller. In a moment of crisis it turns out the Scottish parliament has no power and Scotland can look forward to a decade of Tory rule as a prisoner of the greatest neoliberal trader and tax haven on the planet.
There is no democratic mandate for the crown to take Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the European Union. In 2014 Scotland voted to remain in the UK and in 2016 voted to remain in the EU. This is a contradiction which overturns assurances given to Scottish voters in 2014 that the only way to remain in the EU was to remain in the UK. It may be possible to patch it up with a dirty deal between Sturgeon and May. But the democratic solution is for the Scottish people, not politicians and bureaucrats, to vote and decide in a referendum.
There must be a second referendum in Scotland. This must ask the Scottish people if, in the light of England’s decision to leave the EU, they want to remain in the UK or in the European Union. This is too important to leave up to Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party. This is not a repeat of the 2016 Tory referendum, but is consequential to it. Ireland faces the same problem.
The situation in Ireland has its own logic. In the north 53% voted to remain in the EU and there is even larger support in the republic. Yet once again, as it has been for centuries, the position of Ireland will be decided by the British crown. The ending of the Stormont government by Sinn Féin because of the ‘cash for ash’ corruption scandal reflects the worsening relations between it and the Democratic Unionist Party. Bring into this explosive mix the border question, and the carefully constructed ‘power-sharing’ house of cards may be in serious trouble.
The constitutional problems continue to mount. Devolution is not federalism, but a barrier to it. It is not self-determination but a road block against it. In devolving some powers, the crown retains what it needs, whenever it needs it. It must seize all the power it can get right now, taking back from the Westminster parliament and from the devolved assemblies. It is a power grab brought on by the crisis of Brexit.
The supreme court has partly derailed that. The judges ruled that the powers of the crown - the so-called prerogative powers - cannot be used to bypass parliament. They decided by eight to three that article 50 requires parliamentary approval. However the devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have no powers or rights in this matter. Her Majesty’s judges were unanimous on this. Lord Neuberger said that “Relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions.” Assurances given were not worth the paper they were written on.
Lord Neuberger recognised that “Withdrawal from the EU will alter the competence of the devolved institutions, and remove the responsibilities to comply with EU law.” Blair’s devolution settlement has been exposed as a hollow shell. The Scottish people and Scottish parliament have to wait to be told their fate, as the biggest constitutional and economic change is forced on them against their will. Christian Allard, a French Scot, who served as an MSP for the SNP between 2013 and 2016, said: “Devolution is an illusion, devolution is no more. And the ruling is proving that devolution is just an illusion. Devolution died today. No surprise, just a proof that power devolved is power retained.”
England’s crisis is Ireland’s opportunity. If Ireland is ready to fight to remain in the EU, then the battle over the Irish border is set to commence. Together Scotland and Ireland can finally end 300 years of British unionism, which is no more than an excuse for English chauvinism and bossy Thatcher-type bullying. Brexit is the greatest crisis that England has faced since World War II. Devolution saved the union, but Brexit has wrecked it.
We are in a period of phoney war like early 1940: no bombs have started to fall, there is a war of words and various war plans are being put in place. Corbo is leading his troops into the Tory trenches. Very soon, in the next year, all hell is going to break loose.
Left Unity and Rise
Strictly speaking, Theresa May is not Brexit - that is, not Ukip - but a response to Brexit: a careful conciliation (‘Deal or no deal?’, January 19).
May is no populist-nationalist, like Trump. The magic words for her are ‘trade relationship with the EU’. She recognises the EU as an institution useful to British capital and acknowledges that the UK government cannot do deals with each of the member-states separately. There is no ‘liberationist’ rhetoric here about being the first to leave and beginning the dissolution of this supranational body, as Le Pen hopes for. Nevertheless, the prime minister backs an aspiration to do a deal, as Corbyn pointed out, with a tough-sounding threat of separatism, echoed by her foreign secretary - that ridiculous adventurer, Boris Johnson.
Trump, on the other hand, offers his hard-up Americans - mainly white - a liberation from the establishment (‘You are now in power’) as well as protection from the ‘other’: that is, migrants, criminals, Muslims and foreign capital, especially German and Chinese. However, to what extent he’ll be allowed to construct his walled town remains to be seen. Some of his policies will be a continuation - after all, Obama bombed Islamic State, but the globalist establishment hasn’t gone away: they’re still in Congress, in both parties. The very founders of the United States framed the constitution to inhibit Julius Caesars. It’s one thing to limit the migrant workforce and put tariffs on foreign manufactures; quite another to suppress the effects of profitable automation and the need for global trade. Trump is a Mussolini without a fascist state.
Both May and Trump may yet disappoint their own voters - those waiting hopefully for their leader to make things safe from the world and its dominant corporations.
UK Marxists are involving themselves with the Machiavellian machinations of Momentum, in all of its introspective, unproductive and self-serving glory - ie, inexplicably treating that outfit as warranting any such intellect, respect or energy. In an ever more embarrassing and even tragic manner, mealy-mouthed Jeremy Corbyn and thereby also Corbynism itself sink deeper into their sticky, black tar-pit destiny.
A gargoyle Tory government is attempting to put in place their cunning plans for post-Brexit ‘divide and trade’ on behalf of their power elites - commercial and market-penetration/control techniques inherited from their golden age/empire-style abilities to divide and rule.
Meanwhile, with all such undemocratic crap blended with anti-working class nonsense both stumbling and stalking outside our hard-leftist enclaves, for their own part both ‘new-spawn’ fascist Trumpism and apartheid-like Israel (hand in hand with deep state forces from within their respective military-industrial complexes) are positively surging forward with their ghastly pro-ignorance. Unashamedly, they’re slamming back into first gear that dangerous retro-primitivism the USA and Israel so ruthlessly and gleefully share.
In cultural, social, ecological and equivalent humanitarian terms, what disgracefully wasteful, fundamentally diversionary stuff it all is! By which I mean not only from Theresa May’s gangsters and Trump and his sordid Trumpism, but also from those other elements concerned.
Time for a major overhaul of our Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist ideas and activities, comrades - for an in-depth, vibrantly adventurous and indeed soul-searching rethink about meaningful objectives and purposeful targets, maybe?
I enjoyed Rex Dunn’s review of the Ensor and Rauschenberg exhibitions, but one aspect needs further consideration (‘Apples and pears’, January 19).
Comrade Dunn says that the works of both artists were turned into commodities through being bought and sold on the market. Yes, but … in a capitalist society all products, from labour-power to the finished object and everything in between, such as a piece of legal advice provided by a solicitor, are commodities. It is a central feature - maybe the central feature - of our market economy.
When artists shifted from patronage by church and nobility to producing standalone artworks for a new middle class, they were responding to the ascendency of capitalism. On a visit to the 17th century low countries, English diarist John Evelyn remarked on the number of paintings offered for sale at ‘kermasses’ (market fairs) to the wealthier farmers who wished to adorn their houses with them. It’s remained ever thus.
Rex Dunn ends his review with an assessment of Rauschenberg’s work, which “like all art, both good and bad, … ends up as a commodity - its value is determined by the price tag that goes with it”. This is not true, or not necessarily true. The set of values which determine the price of an artwork may or may not correspond to the aesthetic merit which art history places on it. The most expensive auction price for a living artist, Jeff Koons, was reached recently when one of his works sold for $58 million, but Koons is not held in high esteem by art critics. His lavish New York Whitney Museum retrospective attracted sustained criticism from the same heavyweight reviewers, commentators and journals which normally favour the contemporary avant-garde. The 19th century artist whose market commanded the highest prices, Frederic Lord Leighton, is now relegated to the backwaters of auction sales, despite his fine museum, Leighton House in London, and - incidentally - Leighton being the only visual artist ever to have been ennobled.
If it is of any consolation to comrade Dunn and others angered by the market’s appropriation of good artworks, the historical record is that without exception, eventually they end up in public collections.
I am not usually one myself for fiction - I generally can’t see the point, given how exciting and utterly unpredictable real life is! John Swain’s Digging up the pitmen is the exception, however. I could not put it down - it is so full of places so well known to the miners and mining communities of Doncaster: names, locations, work, dialect, attitudes, peoples, culture and history - our history.
Not that this is simply fiction. The book is set against a moving, illustrated background, which is rich in real, living events - the real lives of miners and their families generation on generation. Time and again the story runs back to work, life and death, which have touched and shaped the lives of generations of coalminers. The ethnicity of the book is also well observed - the crossover of Northumbrian and Durham pit families, intersecting the Doncaster coalfield back and forth, reflects the lives of countless mining families in the coalfield. The story is largely based at Brodsworth pit and the Woodlands community, but touches Bentley and many other villages as it unfolds, and reflects on tragedy and union struggles across coalfields and across generations.
The book tells the story of Nigel North, who, out of the blue, lands a large sum of money as a result of a will. He had only vague knowledge of his family’s coalfield connections and the ‘other family’ down in Donnie. He is mystified as to this side of his family, how the money was accrued and why he had landed the bonanza, being as far as he knew the stranger - even the black sheep, as he came to discover, among the tight family relationships. John knows the joys and trials of such family relationships (who was it who said, “Where there’s a will there’s relations”?) and not everyone in his family is ready at first glance to welcome home the prodigal son, or congratulate him on his windfall. Pit families can, he discovered, sometimes be queer, even nasty, buggers - it’s not all back-slapping, sweetness and light. Family relations are like much else in the book: very well observed.
The story reflects the epoch year of the miners’ Great Strike in 1984-85: the huge impact on tight-knit communities and internalised values; the veritable occupation by outside and alien forces, which oddly tightened further the closeness of those communities and at the same time opened them up to outside, challenging influences, threats and opportunities.
I heartily recommend Digging up the pitmen (Lodge Books, 2016, pp316, £8.99). It will be particularly appreciated by the South Yorkshire coalfield communities, as well as their northern cousins, but I am also certain non-mining punters down south and elsewhere will enjoy this journey into a far-distant time and place. It presents a realistic, non-rustic image of the coalfields and some of the factors which shaped them.
David John Douglass