In labelling the European parliament an “autocratic dictatorship”, David Douglass makes an egregious error (Letters, February 23). This parliament is the largest transnational, democratically elected body in the world. Its members are grouped by political tendency and not along national lines, while all countries, including the UK, use a system of proportional representation to select their MEPs - a more democratic system that the ‘first past the post’ used here.
Which brings me to my second point. Comrade Douglass translates the 52% Brexit vote as the equivalent, in UK parliamentary terms, of a ‘landslide’ government being elected to the House of Commons. However, thumping majorities have been obtained by countless governments with less than 45% of the votes cast (Thatcher and Blair, for instance); in fact, the last time a government in the UK won a majority of votes cast was in 1931. This invidious situation is one reason why communists are not in favour of the ‘first past the post’ system, as well as rejecting the populist use of referenda.
That the Tories called a referendum was due, on the one hand, to their fear of losing seats to the UK Independence Party - a mirage - and, on the other, because they thought ‘remain’ would win. Tories are not in the business of governing in the interests of the working class, nor in the interests of democracy in general. They are the longest-serving political party in history and their aim is to hold power in lock-step with capital, as well as undemocratic institutions like the monarchy, the House of Lords, a standing army and neo-imperialist military adventures. What the Tories make of the Brexit decision will be in the interests of the Tories, full stop.
The third point is as follows. Comrade Douglass is annoyed that the Weekly Worker has not modified its political critique in light of the Brexit victory. May I remind him that Theresa May’s Tories won a majority at the last election and this has not stopped the Weekly Worker from hostile commentary; nor has the SNP’s blanket win in Scotland stopped this newspaper from regularly inveighing against nationalist solutions. The editorial line was a boycott of the referendum, not a boycott of commentary, critical or otherwise, of the results and the manner in which a Tory government will interpret them.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, addressed the Scottish Labour Party conference to tell them that “seeking to break up the union will only to fuel harmful divisions caused by the election of the controversial US president and the Brexit vote” (The Independent February 25). Khan condemned the Scottish National Party plan for a referendum. He claimed that the right response to the Brexit vote was “to build a more united kingdom”.
Surely a better response to Trump and Brexit is for the people of Scotland to remain in a union with the Germans, French and Spanish, and a few more nations, too numerous to mention. It is what they voted for in the most recent referendum. What is so important about England that it trumps all other considerations? Khan speaks as an English nationalist. What is best for his nation is best for all. It does not enter his head that Scotland might be better off with Denmark, Ireland and Sweden than remaining in Theresa May’s pro-Trump Brexit Britain.
Khan is not the first English chauvinist blinded by his own national arrogance. It is patently untrue that “there is no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we are English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background (he surely means class), race or religion”, as he was quoted as saying. Khan is not the first Englishman to come up with this theory of “no difference” between a bus driver and stockbroker or that supporting Scotland’s or Ireland’s right to self-determination is no different from racism, fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He certainly won’t be the last.
Look no further than David Cameron. On the day of the 2014 Scottish referendum result, Cameron stood on the steps of Downing Street to call for “English votes for English laws”. Here is one “difference”. Scotland has a parliament and England does not. Of course in a federal system there would be an English parliament elected by voters in England. The present constitution is a horrible mess of complexity and confusion, unbalanced by semi-federalism. It cannot last much longer.
But this wasn’t a rational discussion on the byzantine complexity of the UK constitution. Cameron was playing the ‘English card’ as a Tory dog whistle for alienated English people. He was fanning the embers of resentment against enemies on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall. The theme of Tory chauvinist propaganda is that Scottish people are living the life of Reilly at our generous expense. Of course, the Tories love conservative, law-abiding Scots, but hate the ungrateful Scottish nationalists who, in Khan’s words, are “seeking to break up the union”. They love workers as much as they hate ‘divisive’ strikers!
The EU referendum showed that the ‘Prisoners of Mother England’ are angry and some are mad as hell. Some of her prisoners are on drugs and others are into self-harm. Many want to kick the crap out of their fellow prisoners. Her Majesty’s prison warders, in charge of the hell hole, have tried desperately to distract them with fake news about immigrants, the European Union, the troublesome Irish and - last, but not least - rebellious Scots.
Great English chauvinism is a weapon of the British ruling class. Cameron deployed it in the 2015 general election to finish off Miliband’s version of New Labour. The Tories kept their best weapon for Liberal Democrat voters in the key marginal constituencies. They tested Miliband’s patriotic virility by claiming that a vote for Labour would help the SNP. He was not found wanting. There was no way he would have an alliance with the nationalist SNP. He would rather lose the election than suffer that ignominy.
Like fear of immigrants, fear of the SNP caused panic in Labour ranks and persuaded voters in key marginals to back the Tories. It is ironic that Cameron’s anti-Scottish election victory delivered a solid block of 50 SNP MPs, opened the way for Jeremy Corbyn, led the country out of the EU and to the brink of a Scottish exit from the UK. Cameron acted out his ‘Flashman’ role as the upper class, opportunistic English chauvinist. It ‘worked’ for him. As Khan has shown, since Brexit it is a card that desperate Labour is ready to use.
But the real problem is closer to home. The left in England is terrified of the English question and guilty of chauvinism by neglect. In that neglect are the seeds of the radical left’s failure to connect with the people.
Rise and Left Unity
I attended the recent Momentum Teesside meeting, described in Steve Cooke’s letter (February 23), where there was an obviously pre-arranged objection, supported by the chair, to the Grassroots Momentum networking conference being an item on the agenda. I was somewhat taken aback by the almost bullying attitude of several of those who were given the opportunity to speak in objection. Indeed, I would say that one member was particularly aggressive in his tone and manner.
Surely, if we are to call ourselves democratic, then no subject should be off limits for discussion. If supporters of the Grassroots conference are “the enemy”, as stated by the branch chair, citing his supposed correspondence with Momentum HQ, then this begs the question: what will be Momentum’s response to the branches who, unlike Teesside, had open discussions and then delegated members to represent them at the conference?
Of late, I find myself asking what is the purpose of Momentum? Are we there just to defend against the right when and if they decide to move against Jeremy? I hope not! My hope for Momentum at the outset was to change the structure of the Labour Party. Blair built a top-down, bureaucratic, centralised party, where members were just an appendage, no more than cheerleaders.
I believe that, if we want to be a truly democratic party, ordinary members need to be involved in policy making and in electing their parliamentary candidates. But, while the party machinery remains in the hands of the Blairites, then the future of the left is in jeopardy.
Whatever happened to Momentum? Whatever happened to the ‘new kind of politics’ that Momentum was founded on? The support for the awakening of the grassroots activism that had been laid dormant after the rise of Blair and Progress in the Labour Party? The open welcome for fresh, invigorating voices that had seen something new in Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist platform? The ‘welcome back’ to the returners to Labour whom Jeremy had helped to remember why they had originally joined all those decades ago, when unions were unions and being Labour meant you had tens of thousands of comrades to watch your back?
Momentum was formed to facilitate the individuals in these groups to share their passions, skills and talents. It promised to invigorate self-organisation at the grassroots and empower all Labour members to play their own vital part in shaping the party we all want to see in government.
Then we had a few shenanigans about who could call the shots in the organisation and a couple of standoffs between groups of people with strong opinions. All pretty much par for the course, when you bring together the sort of headstrong types who want to change the world (or the Labour Party, at least). Us oldies were going to stand with the new members, or at least try keeping up with them when they ran to the front of the battle against austerity, share with them the comradeship that comes from collective action, embrace the use of digital technology to bring people together and rebuild a Labour Party where members fight to protect public services, to make sure that vulnerable people aren’t the ones who pay the price to keep the balance sheets tallied and are proud to stand up for socialism.
Then someone, in their wisdom, imposed a set of rules with no discussion and Momentum members were told very clearly, ‘If you don’t like it, there’s the door’. Despite this, some members continue to try and hold to those lofty ideals, support each other and continue organising.
Then last week we held our local Momentum meeting. The Teesside branch chair said he’d been in touch with the Momentum office and that they are all in agreement that those organising and supporting the self-organised Momentum Grassroots networking conference were “the enemy”, so any discussion of it was ruled out of order.
That’s what happened to Momentum.
But it’s not the end of the story. What those sitting in the Momentum office, and those riding on their coat tails, need to get used to is that those they now call the enemy still believe in socialism, collectivism, joint action and comradeship. The road ahead is rocky and we hadn’t anticipated so much resistance from those we would call our own.
I left Labour once and regretted not staying to fight when the right of the party rose and started burying those on the left. This time I’m in it for the long haul and, if those supposedly on the same side can’t stand with me and call me their comrade, that won’t make me, or the many others like me, go away. It’ll just make us battle harder. It’s sometimes surprising where your motivation to keep fighting springs from.
Every bit as bad
I was sorry to read of the developments in Momentum’s Teesside branch described in last week’s paper, but the truth seems to me to be that Momentum failed from an early stage at a national level to capitalise on the new wave of Corbyn supporters.
The active membership of Momentum now seems to be only a few thousand people and Momentum appears to be replicating the splits within the Labour Party itself.
I think we all failed to appreciate fully the context in which Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership election victory took place. It was not on based on a mass wave of people moving towards socialist ideas and it took place against the background of all those years of Thatcherism and Blairism, which had demoralised so many people, and where the level of industrial militancy had been at record lows for a very sustained period. Voting for Corbyn was for a lot of people a protest vote based on anger at the existing Labour Party leadership.
It is very unfortunate in hindsight that so many of us have (in good faith) put so much energy into the Labour Party and Momentum at the expense of other political activity. At least I can say that I gave the Labour Party a go, having joined in 2015, but my own Constituency Labour Party proved to be every bit as bad politically as my earlier political education told me it would be!
A comrade has pointed out that Globalresearch - the website I quote in my article, ‘Trump ups the ante’ (February 16) - is an anti-Semitic site.
I have no idea if the accusation is true. All I know is that these days anyone, including any website, that opposes Israel is labelled anti-Semitic. Moreover, in quoting the reasons listed by the website why there is a serious threat of US aggression against Iran, I do not condone or support the site. In fact I expressed disagreement with the second point I quoted in the article.
I often quote from the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, CNN, BBC ... It does not mean I have any illusions about these news organisations, their backers or their paymasters. If they report something relevant I quote them.
Many Marxists, together with HM Revenue and Customs, are very shy when it comes to discussing escorting and prostitution. Lenin and Trotsky wrote that Marxists must have answers to the small questions as well as the big questions, such as war and peace. This aptly applies to escorting and prostitution.
Statistics gained from AdultWork.com - the UK’s premier website for putting female escorts in touch with potential clients - accurately show the extent of escorting in the UK. At the time of writing, there were 17,602 women with profiles on Adult Work, with 4,359 in the London area; 1,037 in Scotland; 511 in Wales; and just 78 in Northern Ireland. The small latter figure is a direct result of the new law, which makes it a criminal offence for a man in Northern Ireland to pay for the services of an escort.
So, what should be the policy of Marxists towards escorting and prostitution? Well, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party paid attention to the activity of brothel owners, whilst supporting those women who worked in brothels. Marxists do not call for the legalisation of prostitution. To do so would result in companies that run brothels being listed on the stock exchange, as happens in Australia. We don’t want to see that in the UK or elsewhere. However, Marxists do call for the decriminalisation of escorting and prostitution. This is the policy of the English Collective of Prostitutes; the GMB sex workers branch; and the International Union of Sex Workers.
The experience of New Zealand, where escorting and prostitution has been decriminalised, is instructive here. Two or three women are able to work as self-employed escorts from the same property. This has put an end to most street prostitution and made it safer for escorts who previously worked alone.