I feel intense frustration with the Labour leadership of Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbott, Long-Bailey et al, and those who seem to have been swept up in the euphoria of both leadership elections. Is this really the best this gets? Is this really the high watermark of leftwing advance in the Labour Party?
It seems that the announced 2017 general election will result in a complete rout of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and then a complete removal of Corbyn and co from the leadership.
The fundamental problem with Corbyn is that no-one, least of whom himself, expected that when he stood in 2015 he would do better than last in the first ballot. Corbyn has since then, and not surprisingly, appeared completely out of his depth and really just along for the ride. It seems that after his surprise election the ‘master plan’ was to survive for a couple of years, make some necessary changes to the organisation and policies of the Labour Party, and allow a younger and higher-calibre leftwinger to take over.
It is interesting and instructive that Corbyn has been very happy to accept the additional £62,000 salary for being leader of the opposition, on top of his MP’s salary of £75,000, to survive for as many months as possible and put away a very nice little nest egg.
Corbyn has lacked energy, flair and commitment in his role as Labour leader. He looked relieved when the 2017 general election was announced, knowing that he would soon be able to retire from the high-pressure cauldron of continuous mass and social media politics. Even when pre-prepared, he was unable to say he thought he could become prime minister, let alone that he wanted to. Diane Abbott, of all people, placed him on 15 months’ notice from December 2016.
Momentum appeared for a brief passage of time to represent a new form of political organisation, a possible embryo for an inclusive and unifying mass, democratic, socialist party. Yet we have seen it descend and implode into one of the most traditional and self-destructive faction fights for control and direction.
I am both saddened and angered by the consequence of the actions of the traditional leftists leaving the literally hundreds and thousands who have joined the Labour Party as part of the Corbyn surge high, dry and impotent. If, as expected, the Labour Party gets completely hammered, worse than in 1983, what are the prospects of a complete refoundation and rebuilding of a mass, democratic, socialist party of labour? The trouble is we have been here many times before.
Will this be the formal end of the concept of a British road to socialism via the Labour Party? I hope so.
Theresa May’s shock announcement that she will trigger a general election on June 8 must be one of the most amazing U-turns in recent political history. Earlier this year she announced there were no such plans until 2020. This opportunist about-turn may well backfire on the Tories with party members already talking about moving to vote Liberal Democrat because of the hard-line rightwing agenda she is pursuing.
Labour could provide a real challenge to the Tories if it gets its act together and unites behind Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist policies.
This general election should be fought against the Tory government’s horrendous attacks on working class people: the £30 billion cuts to the NHS that will decimate healthcare, the massive cuts to welfare benefits, the underfunding of education and the increasing moves towards even more privatisation of public services, putting profit before people.
Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Given the Labour Party’s problem with the media in getting its message out there, a new way must be found to get a lot of new people to resonate with what Labour and the wider left want to do.
Labour needs to diversify its argument to reach more people. Relying on class loyalty/generational/area specific voting only goes so far and will only reach most people at a very low level. The phrase, ‘Vote Labour or the Tories will get in’, isn’t going to be enough.
First, we need to look at Labour’s target audience. In theory, this should be working class people - the largest group of voters out there. These are people who are in low-paying, precarious jobs; on benefits, disabled, carers, public-sector workers, etc. Those who don’t have much and have a lot to gain if Labour and others get into power. It’s not rocket science to identify these people; they are us.
The trouble is how to get our ideas and policies through to these people. Take a lesson from us Greens. In 2015, a blind survey was conducted to see what policies people thought were best when not labelled to a certain party. The Green Party’s policies were the most popular, but when it came to the election, where most, it not all, of these policies were seen through the prism of the mainstream media, policies like basic income and a £10-an-hour living wage were too much of a leap to imagine in reality, compared with the other parties - in addition to the inherent media bias towards the neoliberal centre, making our manifesto hard to get through to many people.
There are two ways we can learn from this:
l Tone - hope sells better than fear. The ‘leave’ campaign relied on hope (in reality, a very misguided version), but hope nonetheless won. The ‘remain’ campaign peddled fear and lost. Labour’s old veiled threats and portraits of what would happen if the Tories remain in power are very much devoid of hope. They need to concentrate on giving their target voters hope that their personal situation will improve if Labour wins. Higher wages, a more secure welfare system, a 100% publicly-funded NHS. Less ‘We will defend this, we will oppose that, we will stop this’ and more ‘We will create this, we will make this better’. Sell hope, not fear.
l Method of delivery. This goes for the whole left. We’ve always been good at giving the facts, the statistics, etc, and the right has always told stories (whether true of not). We need to combine these methods and wrap our policies in true stories that will hit hard with the right presentation. Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake worked so well because it told true stories about those dealing with the welfare system. He did the research and brought in real-life experiences that not just tugged at your brain, but also your heart.
With the current prevalence of fake news, the truth is an important commodity at the moment. And we can use it to place our target audience in the shoes of the teller and resonate with aspects of their own lives. We do this in a way where there is as little filter and distortion as possible; the more direct, the better - rallies, public meetings, small group discussions in person and online, talking to people in the doorstep.
The issues with the mainstream media are going to be hard to solve and we can’t do it in six weeks. But we can help ourselves.
Over the last couple of years, the word ‘socialism’ has reappeared in political discourse in the United States in kind of a big (and positive) way.
Not surprisingly, the more the term is used, the greater the range of meanings attached to it. Recently, I’ve seen ‘socialism’ used to describe things ranging from public libraries and fire departments in a capitalist economy to a social welfare system in a capitalist economy; to a ‘mixed economy’ of private corporations, public enterprises and worker-owned cooperatives; to a planned economy of state-owned enterprises.
We can debate which of these best describes or is really socialism, but, taking a step back from labelling economic systems, I think it’s valuable to consider an assumption that is (or should be) at the heart of the modern conception of socialism.
Simply put, in every industrialised economy the production of virtually everything that has value is the result of socialised labour. Whether a product is grown and harvested, extracted and processed, manufactured, assembled or created, the product or its materials and components have passed through many hands. And even those parts of our economy that we may think of as services rather than products are socialised. A teacher teaches in a building made from bricks and beams, using textbooks (or computer screens) manufactured by others. A doctor uses equipment and administers medicines that were designed and made by hundreds and thousands of human beings. And both teacher and doctor learned their craft in institutions of learning that concentrate the work and study and understanding of other human beings.
Everything that has value in an industrial economy is the result of socialised labour. And yet virtually everything that has value in a capitalist economy, even though it was produced by all of us, is the property of only very few. Production is socialised, but ownership is privatised.
Any variant of socialism worthy of the name must start from this premise: that what is produced by all properly belongs to all, and that the effort to hold as private property that which has been socially produced is nothing other than theft from society as a whole.
One wonders just what is Jon D White’s problem with Vanessa Beeley’s exposition in the Marx Memorial Library on March 1 (Letters, April 13) and why it took him so long to complain. Socialist Fight and the New Communist Party organised the event and the packed meeting concluded rightly that Aleppo had been liberated from reactionary jihadists in the pay of the CIA and its regional allies. If Jon disagrees, he should say so, instead of demanding a debate without contributing to it himself.
So he thinks that the Marx Memorial Library was “forced” to issue a statement defending democratic rights. That is, they rejected the demands of some imperialist stooges to cancel. The meeting itself was besieged by jihadists bussed in on a luxury coach, as they had been to the Bristol and Birmingham meetings. These jihadists from the Syria Campaign issued death threats and the police had to be called, because,, as everyone knows, these are MI6 and CIA-sponsored terrorists and the likely outcome would be that we would be investigated for ‘terrorism’ for opposing the agents of the west in Syria.
Vanessa spoke very well in exposing the fraud of the White Helmets and the nature of the struggle in Aleppo, what the jihadists had done to the population they held in captivity and the lies of the western media.
The Marx Memorial Library did the correct and courageous thing in holding this very important meeting, and their members, including Eddie Dempsey and Alex Gordon, together with some of our own supporters, kept the jihadists at bay, although a few did get into the meeting. We thank them for their principled stance - maybe Jon has a problem with that?
One wonders if his sudden concern is related to the false-flag sarin gas attack in Idlib and Trump’s Tomahawk attack on Syria and the sudden beating of the drum for war on North Korea? He might also express his concern for the apparent lack of patriotism of Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who had the effrontery to refuse to take Syrian president Bashar Assad’s guilt on mass-media hysteria say-so and outrageously demanded proof. But those Hawaiians may be as unpatriotic as those at that Marx Memorial Library meeting in refusing to hum hope and glory. There is a small but growing movement for self-determination on those islands.
And how is that ‘revolution’ going in Syria anyway, now that Donald Trump is on their side at last? Perhaps the most enthusiastic and ‘scholarly’ supporter of the “revolution” in Syria from a so-called Trotskyist standpoint is Michael Pröbsting of the Austrian-based Revolutionary Communist International Tendency. In a recent post on his website he explains the problems of the “revolution” are that it is opposed by the “great powers” - a perfectly nutty notion that Assad, Putin, Netanyahu and Trump are ganging up together against this great “revolution”.
As proof that it is forging ahead, we are told of the marvellous work of the local coordinating committees (LCCs), who organise schools and hospitals in “liberated” areas. These are proto-soviets, apparently, getting there with a few problems, which they will surely overcome shortly. But you might think that the problem cited here is the mother and father of all problems: executive authority belongs not to the LCCs, but to “the militias, among which the petty-bourgeois Islamist forces”.
And who are they? The jihadist militias - paid, armed and directed by the CIA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, etc. So, the “revolution” is organised by the USA and the toothless LCCs must do as they are told under sharia law in administering schools and hospitals, etc. Or get instantly and publicly beheaded.
Michael Pröbsting hilariously tells us: “Yet an additional dissimilarity between the LCCs and soviets is the sharing of power [a minor matter! - GD] between them and the militias in the liberated areas. While the local coordination councils provide the civil administration, the militias - among which the petty bourgeois Islamist forces constitute a strong segment - wield executive power [ie, mass beheading power]. Obviously, this represents a problem, as the militias are less under the direct control of the local population [in fact, they are completely under the control of the CIA and allied forces, but he forgot to say].”
A vehicle for a “revolution” they certainly are not. Organisations more dissimilar to the soviets of the Russian Revolution era it is impossible to imagine. Could we really conceive of imperialism funding the Petrograd soviet led by Leon Trotsky in 1905?
The launch of South Africa’s fourth major labour federation is at last upon us. Over the weekend of April 21-23 the inaugural congress of the tentatively named South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) will be held.
Headed by the 350,000-strong National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and claiming a membership of about 800,000, the grouping has some 20 affiliates - a number of them breakaway factions of unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). Numsa itself, in controversial circumstances, was expelled from Cosatu in 2015.
The launch of this new federation was originally scheduled for March, but was delayed until April 21. The inaugural announcement noted that this “paves the way for the birth of a vibrant, independent, democratic and militant workers’ champion”. And, with more than a touch of hyperbole, it went on to add that Saftu “will turn the tide against exploitation, mass unemployment, poverty and inequality and take us forward to the total liberation of the working class”. As a trade union movement it could certainly make a contribution to these goals, but, in the final analysis, this is the role of a political movement or party.
Trade unions should be, first and foremost, democratic. This means they should unite workers as workers, irrespective of gender, language, ethnic background, religion or political affiliation, with every worker having equal rights and responsibilities. Unions are the shields for worker rights and comprise a massive reserve army that can, when united, press for political and economic change, as well as for better pay and conditions. But they are not, in themselves, the agents of social change.
However, the potential power of the labour movement makes it a prime target for influence and even capture by business interests, political parties and ambitious individuals. The main protection trade unions have against such manoeuvrings and manipulation is to be intensely democratic: power must remain with the workers on the shop floor and not be allowed to gravitate to an often self-proclaimed, ‘politically conscious’ elite, let alone to political or business puppet masters.
The “total liberation of the working class” implies an egalitarian society, a society without bosses, whether of unions, governments or industry; where all managers or coordinators are elected by their constituencies and answerable to, as well as being recallable by, them. In such an environment no-one in elected authority should earn more than the highest paid constituent.
This form of organisation developed to a degree among some of South Africa’s emergent and militant unions of 30 years and more ago. It can - and perhaps should - be applied now. However, given the level of bureaucracy that has developed, and the competition that exists between unions, this is unlikely in the short to medium term.
There is also a lot of baggage, both political and personal, that has been carried forward within the labour movement, especially at a leadership level. Besides Cosatu, the two other major federations - the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) and the Federation of Unions (Fedusa) - have for years campaigned for unity on the basis of non-party political affiliation. For this purpose, they set up the SA Confederation of Trade Unions as an apparent ‘off the shelf’ federation for all. “But they just want us to collapse into their new federation,” a senior Fedusa official noted. It is a view shared within Nactu, where the largest affiliate is the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
Underlying such wariness is the claimed bureaucratic nature of Numsa and the fact that the union - the main driver behind the new federation - continues to refer to itself as a “Marxist-Leninist” organisation, while still maintaining an apparently lucrative investment company.
These and other arguments are certain to surface in coming months, as what promises to be considerable turmoil in the labour movement starts settling down. Will this herald a new era for local trade unionism or will it merely signal the arrival of just another federation in the existing mould - a new wheel or simply a retread? Time alone will tell.