Mood for ‘unity’
An interesting exchange took place at the June 28 membership meeting of Eltham Constituency Labour Party in south London.
The MP for Eltham is Clive Efford, who, although he was the prime mover behind the refounding of the Tribune group of Labour MPs last year, is more of a centrist than a leftwinger. For example, he was one of the so-called “morons” who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for leader in 2015, even though he had said at the time, “I’m not going to vote for you, Jeremy”, according to what he told the CLP.
However, like many other MPs to his right, in the general election he campaigned on the basis that he is an “independent-minded” MP fighting in a constituency where “only Labour can keep out the Tories” (in fact the Labour majority in Eltham had been 2,600 in 2015 and this increased to 6,300 on June 8).
At the meeting, following Efford’s election report, the first speaker from the floor queried this “negative message”. He pointed out that in fact Labour under Corbyn had done better in terms of total votes than any leader since Tony Blair back in 1997, yet, reading between the lines, Efford’s message had been: “I know you don’t like Corbyn, but just grit your teeth and vote for me if you want to keep out the Tories.” The comrade asked Efford if he now regretted putting out that message.
Immediately the election agent sprang to the MP’s defence, saying that the campaign had been a “team effort” and he himself “wouldn’t change anything”. But, to his credit, Efford actually dealt with the accusation made against him. Rather immodestly he described himself as “one of our strongest assets”, so it was only right that his own credentials should be highlighted. In fact he had always been an “independent-minded” MP, voting against Blair over Iraq, for instance. Secondly, in the early stages of the campaign Labour had been “projected to lose Eltham” - which was why it was necessary to put over that “negative message” apparently.
Later Efford did claim that a consistent response on the doorstep had been, “I usually vote Labour, but not this time”, which made him now wonder about the identity of many of those who had voted for us - “we don’t know who they are”. However, he recognised that Corbyn’s performance had been “outstanding” - he “surprised everyone” and ran a “fantastic campaign”. He also praised John McDonnell and his team, who had dome “a good job” on “costing” Labour’s pledges, while at the same time he thought the performance of general secretary Iain McNicol was “the best ever” - for example, he “moved people around” to help out in places like Eltham.
Efford ridiculed the claim that For the many, not the few was a “leftwing manifesto” - it was “nothing of the sort”. In fact in some ways it was “not as radical” as what Emmanuel Macron had put out in France. It contained “pretty standard socialist [sic] policies” that were common all over Europe, and these had “shifted Labour back onto traditional ground”. Looking at the comrade who had challenged him, he said: “I know you’re not going to like this”, but, he said, the more the campaign went on, “the less it mattered” about Corbyn’s past links with Hamas and the IRA. He said he had taken the initiative to issue a statement after the election, as chair of the 80-strong Tribune group, declaring that Jeremy had now definitely “won the right” to lead the party.
He strongly disagreed with Chuka Umunna’s pro-single market amendment to the queen’s speech the previous day - not particularly its content, but its effect: we must be a “disciplined party” - and a “disciplined parliamentary party” from now on, if we are to “take the traditional values of Labour into government”.
However, he did think that the mood in the Parliamentary Labour Party had “completely changed” - most MPs now recognised that “all this stuff has got to stop”. If only the Tribune group had been “as strong as it is now”, we “could have stopped that coup” against Corbyn in 2016. Referring to the next general election, Efford said: “As long as Labour looks like it’s going to win, I’m happy.”
I think Efford’s attitude sums up that of much of the PLP now - under Jeremy we can win the next election (and maybe we can curb Corbyn’s remaining leftwing ‘excesses’ in the process). And it also struck a chord with most members in a constituency where the left has been pretty marginalised - for the majority of those who spoke at the meeting Jeremy Corbyn should be the next prime minister. One comrade said that we had “ripped ourselves apart” thanks to an “unnecessary leadership challenge”, while another said we must “not do anything to damage the momentum” - there should be “no more infighting”.
Only one person expressed his disagreement with this consensus. He said we had “not started 20% behind” in the opinion polls “because of infighting”, but because Jeremy was “not a good leader in parliament”. Yes, he had “grown” during the campaign, but he must now “learn to be better in parliament”. We have to face the fact that “hundreds of people” had told us during campaigning, “I’d vote for you but for Corbyn”. But he too thought that the manifesto had been “mainstream” - “people on the right of the party [like himself] were happy with it”.
The same person later gave the membership report, in which he stated that 49 people had joined Labour in Eltham since the last meeting, while, on the other hand, 17 had “resigned”. However, when he was challenged on this, he admitted that the latter figure included people who had simply not renewed their membership. But he insisted that some had resigned, although “I don’t want to get into the same argument as before”.
No, for the moment, the majority of the right, together with centrists like Clive Efford, will be all for ‘unity’.
On June 24, Left Unity members met in conference to consider the way ahead in the next period. Members are aware of the powerful forces pulling the party to the right. But conference revealed a struggle over whether the party should respond by moving to the right or shifting to the left. The general election sharpened up the issues. Should Left Unity carry on as before, or join the ‘Corbyn revolution’, or become the party of ‘democratic revolution’?
A resolution from Birmingham says: “The ‘Corbyn revolution’ has for the foreseeable future closed the electoral space to the left of Labour.” It has “unleashed expectations which can’t be met within the confines of the existing structures of the Labour Party”. This will spill onto the streets, in campaigns and communities. Like a whirlpool, this ‘revolution’ is pulling LU down the plug.
There is no doubt that the movement led by Jeremy Corbyn took off during the election campaign. At the start Corbyn was under siege from the Tory press, his own backbench MPs, the BBC and the Tory election machine. By June 8 Corbyn had led a very effective campaign against Theresa May’s “strong and stable” leadership. Although the Tories got most seats, Labour had won the battle for hearts and minds.
If the Scottish National Party vote had held up in Scotland, Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister. Instead of a rightwing coalition of the Tories and Democratic Unionists, we would, or could, have had a more social democratic coalition of Labour and the SNP. It was the unionist offensive in Scotland, led by the Tories and supported by Scottish Labour, that pushed back the SNP and kept Corbyn from Downing Street.
The excitement and enthusiasm, which followed Corbyn all the way to Glastonbury, is a ‘revolution’ in hope. This is not to be disparaged. But we should not get carried away by the sight of JC walking on water or feeding ten thousand with a few fishes. Political revolutions overturn constitutions and politicise the class struggle. But the ‘Corbyn revolution’ has not overthrown the British constitution or even the constitution of the Labour Party.
After World War II the Labour government established Britain’s social monarchy. Over the last 30 years the Elizabethan welfare state has been steadily privatised and handed to the market. Since the 2008 financial crash, the policy of austerity has squeezed it to death. Today its most potent national symbols - the queen, the NHS and the BBC - have been undermined or hollowed out.
The destruction of the social monarchy began with the ‘Thatcher revolution’, followed by the ‘Blair revolution’, and supported by George Osborne’s ‘devolution revolution’. The ‘Corbyn revolution’ makes sense in the context of the struggle between neoliberalism and social democracy. Left social democracy opposes neoliberalism with reference to the 1945 Labour government, just as neoliberals accuse Corbyn of dragging us back to the ‘dark’ days of the 1970s before the Thatcher ‘revolution’.
The Labour manifesto is about restoring the social monarchy by investing in the public sector and redistributing income. The means of carrying this out is by Labour winning a parliamentary majority and becoming Her Majesty’s government and working within the laws and institutions, based on the sovereignty of the crown-in-parliament. Whilst the impossible and unbelievable has now become likely, it does not constitute a ‘revolution’.
Something else is brewing. The tectonic plates of UK politics are shifting under our feet. We can even find smoke signals coming out of the Labour manifesto. This identifies the UK’s “democratic deficit”. It calls for federalism, an elected House of Lords and even a minister of the crown for England, to plug the constitutional vacuum here. But the main demand is for a constitutional convention to discuss a new constitution.
Had the general election been conducted by proportional representation (a little known Left Unity policy), Corbyn would now be moving his jam jars into 10 Downing Street. The LU conference went further and voted for a resolution saying, “we are committed to internationalism ... and democratic revolution”. A resolution from Wigan and South London went further in support of democratic revolution both in Europe and the UK.
Democratic revolution is a process, not a theory, even if we need theory to understand it. It begins with society recognising a ‘democratic deficit’, out of which grows a ‘crisis of democracy’ and a democratic movement. We can see this process currently underway in Hong Kong. In the UK the ‘democratic deficit’ is a slow burner, long recognised and practically ignored, except in Ireland, Scotland and Wales with the new devolution settlements after 1997.
This settlement was disrupted by the 2008 banking crisis and recession. The 2014 Scottish referendum was the first breach in the wall. The insurgent Scots were repelled. In 2015 the SNP brought up more artillery, as 52 Scottish MPs began pounding Tory unionists in Westminster. In 2016 the ‘democratic deficit’ widened, when England and Wales voted to leave the European Union, as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. It put national self-determination at the heart of the European debate.
The ‘Corbyn revolution’ is not a programme for democratic revolution or indeed any revolution. If anything, it is the last attempt at restoring the post-war social contract through a bankrupt two-party political system. It is nevertheless massively significant as skirmishing in the foothills of the democratic revolution. It is part of a ‘crisis of democracy’, as young people try to find their way out of our constitutional prison by first trying to open all the doors.
Left Unity and Rise
With reference to Peter Manson’s report on the recent CPGB and Labour Party Marxists meeting (‘Bringing out our differences’, June 29), I admire and respect the almost supranatural efforts of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB in keeping the embers of a ‘pure and correct and solid’ version of communism glowing, whilst all around the working populations of the developed world are duped into believing that capitalism can simply be reprogrammed or recalibrated into becoming something nicer; something a bit more fair.
In other words, they are fooled by capitalism’s own disgustingly hypocritical but also crafty, grand, all-pervasive to the point of supersaturative ‘marketing and branding’ exercise that its system for running affairs (despite its immutably exploitative/innately brutal imperialistic needs) can somehow be modified or reformed, thereby enabling it to become beneficial, desirable and indeed fully efficient both for mankind and our planet Earth as a whole.
Capitalism cannot be fundamentally changed in that manner - not to any great extent anyway, and certainly not on a permanent basis, as the residents of Grenfell Tower recently have discovered.
Any attempts whatsoever by Corbynist Labour, People’s Alliance or equivalent others to sell such a ‘message of hope’ is both diversionary and dangerous, not to mention sadly doomed, but most importantly thereby outright treacherous to the historical needs of all decent and good, resilient but long-suffering, working citizens.
Dave Vincent refers to me “not being able to quote anything by Marx, Lenin or Trotsky advocating open borders” (Letters, June 29).
A member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain not quoting Lenin or Trotsky is no mystery to any informed leftist and Dave’s ignorance of the SPGB is patent when he assumes that I am a supporter of Corbyn, who I am more than happy to label as a British nationalist.
However, to answer his question on Marx’s apparent silence, I shall throw Dave’s own words back to him: “Phil Kent states that Marx didn’t advocate open borders because at the time he wrote border controls didn’t exist. So no-one can definitively assert what he would have said then” (Letters, March 13 2014). Perhaps Dave might avail himself of the website’s archive and refresh his memory with my reply (Letters, April 4 2014), where I did quote Marx and the First International responses to immigration.
Dave accuses me of expecting countries in capitalism to open their borders. I apologise if I conflated open borders with another of the SPGB’s immediate demands - the abolition of capitalism. What I am promoting is a workers’ free movement to achieve the best market value for his or her labour as unhindered as possible under capitalism and without regard to his or her birthplace. Which ultimately means workers’ unity.
As for organising newcomers to join the unions, I don’t think anyone underestimates the challenge, particularly since the unions are struggling to even recruit native-born workers (who would imagine that last year’s strike figures were dominated by the junior doctors?).
But, let us be clear, the trend of stagnant wages and worsening working conditions cannot be blamed on migrant workers. We are confronted by more powerful forces out of capitalism’s requirement to expand and accumulate, using automation and the gig economy, which hurts all workers across all borders. I suggest our priority must be to revitalise the unions so as to resist the encroachments of capital, not to oppose the arrival of foreign workers.
I will argue that excluding large numbers of fellow (migrant) workers from any benefit of intensified militancy is not going to be a successful strategy, especially if Dave alienates them further by describing them as scabs. A shameful slur that he has not withdrawn, so I now ask, in turn: Dave, when did so-called socialists turn into bigots and xenophobes? If the right wing is growing it is from the ‘legitimacy’ given to them by the Labour Party’s past immigration policies, Bob Crow’s No to the EU/Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition campaigns and by yourself.
The capacity of the Weekly Worker to entertain and inform has not diminished. Last week’s letters page provided both, as David Vincent showed us both that left nationalist bigots are just as stupid as their counterparts on the political right and made me laugh as well! His suggestion that a member of the SPGB might support an argument through reference to “Lenin” or “Trotsky” was particularly amusing.
Almost as funny was his belief that the SPGB would advocate reforms within capitalism - when, of course, our demand for freedom of movement as an immediate one is based on our advocacy of socialism as an immediate objective. What is very clear is just how conservative the capitalist left actually is.
Ben Stimson’s hearing on ‘terrorism’ charges in Manchester Crown Court was brought forward from July 10 to June 30. The charges relate to the fact that he went to Ukraine to support the Donbass militia, where he was filmed by the BBC in 2015. Seven supporters of the local Revolutionary Communist Group, of which Ben had been briefly a member, attended. I travelled up from London for what turned out to be a half-hour hearing.
Ben spoke via video link. His barrister entered a plea bargain on his behalf: guilty on charge 2 - assisting terrorist acts (driving an ambulance) - in exchange for the dropping of charge 1 - engaging in terrorist acts. Sentencing was postponed until July 14, when a psychiatric report will be considered in determining the length of sentence.
The problem with this is it designates the defenders of the Donbass as terrorists and their fascist-infested militia opponents, the Azov battalion, for instance (now part of the Ukraine national army), as legitimate government soldiers, who are attacked by Russian-backed terrorists. Yet there are no organisations in Ukraine which are designated ‘terrorist’ by the home office.
The character of this conflict was determined by four things:
1. The fascist-led Maidan coup itself, backed by the CIA and the EU.
2. The motion in the Ukrainian parliament to ban the Russian language (the Donbass is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking). Although it was vetoed by the president, the intention had been clearly signalled.
3. The shocking Trade Union House massacre in Odessa by a fascist mob on May 2 2014, where at least 46 were burned or clubbed to death - if they survived jumping from the windows of the burning building The whole fascist crew cheered at the death screams of a pregnant cleaner when her murderer appeared at the window to celebrate.
More that any other act this determined the character of the war and drove the Russian-speaking population to rise up and seize control of the state forces in that region to defend themselves against that terrible fate.
4. The banning of the Communist Party, the promotion of wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera as a national hero, the promotion of Nazi-type flags and symbols and the banning of celebration of the defeat of the Nazis by the Red Army in the region in May 1945.
The consequences of having to plead guilty to assisting terrorism for defending Donetsk and Lugansk against fascist onslaught are serious; it might mean that those who went to Rojova to fight Islamic State may also be charged when they return. During the Spanish civil war anti-fascists who went to Spain in the tradition of the International Brigades were arrested on returning home, but the case against them was dropped.
Ben was put in this appalling position by the failure of the left in Britain to oppose the Maidan coup and the fascist-led assaults on the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass. And also by the unexplained withdrawal of the majority of the leadership of Solidarity with Anti-fascist Resistance in Ukraine from any political struggle against the Kiev regime and fascism in general in the region.
Eddie Ford cites the CPGB Draft programme’s demand that “all housing estates and blocks of flats “should be democratically run by tenants in conjunction with the local authorities and relevant trade unions” (‘Seize, occupy, requisition’, June 29).
Presumably these local authorities and relevant trade unions would comprise the likes of you and lead in reality to exactly the same situation we’ve got now. To a separate authority running the show in conjunction with other local authorities. A separated power structure that divides society in order to rule over us.
What we want in fact is full control of our housing estates and we don’t want to share this with anybody in authority or “relevant trade unions”, whatever that means. We’ve tasted outside control by local authorities for the last hundred years. It leads to the abolition of democracy. We don’t want ‘experts’ or super-embellished party leaders serving a distant, centralised government, composed of grey suits. We don’t want rule by a separated apartheid ‘elite’.
We will take charge of our housing estates and, in conjunction with other housing estates, we will take full control of our affairs. We are not liberals; we don’t share power. The people are better running their own affairs. We don’t want to breed a technocratic, managerial ‘elite’. We want a unified people and a unified society. We want self-rule. Heavy industrial societies lead to centralised parliaments and dictatorships, which is what we’ve got in the world today. It needs social division to thrive. We want peace and a slower pace of life. This means we need to rethink the course of history over the last 250 years.