Jeremy Corbyn’s statement on a customs union is welcome, but insufficient. Don’t forget that the European Union referendum was anti-democratic, in that two million-plus members of the working class in Britain were denied a vote - the very people who were under direct attack from the leadership of the rightwing ‘leave’ side.
The fact that the labour movement accepted this with little protest is shameful. Brexit is obviously a reactionary project and it is a big error for anyone on the left to give it support. What is needed is a European-wide movement for pro-working class reforms and for a socialist Europe. Socialists fight to unite the working class, not divide it on the grounds of nationality. Leaving the EU in present conditions, and under the leadership of the Tories, will be a disaster for the working class. Corbyn should oppose Brexit and fight to build a European-wide movement against austerity.
There are probably 100 different ways to leave the EU. But the referendum question was simply to leave or to remain. Since many people are sick of the status quo, they voted to leave, but they had no say on what leaving would actually mean. It is like asking someone who has been hard at work all year if they would like a holiday. They say ‘yes’ and then you tell them that the holiday will be two weeks in Airdrie in January, in a tent at the side of the M8. But since they said ‘yes’ to a holiday they are not allowed to change their minds.
After leading minority Labour governments in 1924 and 1929-31, Ramsay MacDonald notoriously became the prime minister of a government of national unity dominated by Tory MPs, which imposed the worst of the economic depression on the shoulders of working people from 1931-35.
With his speech in Coventry on February 26, Jeremy Corbyn took a significant step towards the coalition that will be necessary to form a similar government after the next general election. In the speech, he pledged Labour to a customs union with the EU and to vote with Tory wets, Lib Dems, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, and the Greens against the weak Tory government’s Brexit bill when it arrives, if it does not include such a commitment.
Of course, if such a government came into being, it would be Labour-dominated, but it would impose a compromise agreement on Britain that props up austerity and neoliberal capitalism in the interests of the corporations and super-rich. But the tactic will backfire. Corbyn’s stance has almost certainly made a Boris Johnson or a Jacob Rees-Mogg government after the next general election a much greater possibility. As he has adopted more and more Blairite positions on Brexit, his claims to being a radical alternative are fading. He is becoming Britain’s Hillary Clinton to Rees-Mogg’s ‘make the British empire great again’ Trump.
Corbyn’s response to Rees-Mogg is to offer the status quo and it will not wash. He has made the classic error of intervening when he should have stood aside and allowed our enemies to tear each other apart, offering his radical socialist programme and vision for a post-Brexit Britain and a new European settlement that favours the interests of workers over bosses.
But now he has almost taken ownership of what will be a disastrous capitalist Brexit and socialism has been replaced by endless yammer about single markets and customs unions. Forty years of membership of the EU and its predecessors, of neoliberal capitalism, mass economic migration and now austerity have seen traditional working class communities and jobs wiped out, the welfare state and NHS hollowed out, and Britain become a nation of poverty-paid, zero-hour servants. But staying in the - or ‘a’ - customs union is supposed to protect workers’ jobs and living standards.
The labour movement needs to understand this: Britain voted Brexit because UK capitalism is finished. It cannot compete any longer in the single market against superior and more productive economies. ‘Remain’ offering only continued economic strangulation is simply not an option for workers, who are being transformed into impoverished slaves, as austerity and dissolution start to really bite.
A Tory Year Zero capitalist Brexit is obviously not an answer either, which leaves only a socialist Brexit as the rational response that can protect the UK economy from the asset-strippers, price-gougers, speculators, cartels and corporations that currently have it by the throat and are squeezing it for all they are worth. Only a Brexit with a radical programme for working class power and the transition to socialism can save Britain - and indeed Europe - from this capitalist impasse.
Peter Manson’s letter in last week’s paper (February 22) attempts to fill the gap left by Moshé Machover in justifying the CPGB’s support for the proscription of Socialist Fight from Labour Against the Witchhunt in January.
In earlier letters, I pointed out that, in doing so, they had effectively proscribed the application of the Marxist theory of the state to the factual material available today concerning the disproportionate representation of Jewish bourgeois in the US and other western ruling classes, compared to the Jewish population in the imperialist countries. Combined with the Israeli law of return, which gives Jews in general Israeli citizenship rights that can be easily exercised by the wealthy, this creates a substantial overlap between the ruling class of the US (and to a lesser extent other imperialist ruling classes) and that of Israel. The Marxist theory of the state says that the state is a weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie - both against other classes, such as the proletariat, and against rival groups of capitalists; those groups of bourgeois which control and thereby effectively ‘own’ which bourgeois state being defined by rights of citizenship.
Machover could not argue with these theoretical postulates without arguing against the Marxist theory of the state. He did so not by denying that the state is the property of a particular class (the bourgeoisie), but by effectively denying that the bourgeoisie is a national class defined by citizenship. He has now given up the argument in a subjective manner, complaining that he has been misquoted. But, if he had, it would be easy to expose in theoretical terms. Instead, he has to rely on damagingly saying that his most egregious errors were sarcasm and frivolity. I cannot think of many occasions when so eminent a figure - at least by reputation, if not real substance - has so meekly thrown in the towel on an issue that he presumably initially felt was important enough to try to debate.
Peter Manson’s letter is not much more serious. He postulates about US and other overseas Jewish bourgeois who exercise their right to Israeli citizenship that “in reality they will only become part of the Israeli bourgeoisie by concentrating their business operations in Israel, not merely by becoming citizens”. But this is not true at all. All they need is a business presence in Israel, which does not have to be ‘concentrated’. In fact, they are very varied, from a fairly nominal presence, involving financial investment or owning a share of something, to the extreme level of US-Israeli integration in hi-tech fields. This is taken to an even higher level in the hi-tech military field, where the extreme level of cooperation and interdependence in the past prompted Machover to ascribe an independent role to the ‘military-industrial complex’. In fact, this military-commercial cooperation was precisely a function of the overlap of the ruling classes.
Their status as citizens still gives them the right to come and go as they please, and access to bourgeois institutions in both Israel and their original home state. Why should their business operations be ‘concentrated’ in Israel? The business operations of bourgeois in the imperialist countries in general are not ‘concentrated’ in only one state; the tendency of imperialist capital to invest in semi-colonial countries, and in each other’s economies, is well-known. Nissan is a Japanese company; Apple is an American company; but their actual operations are far flung. But that does not mean Apple is not American, and that Nissan is not Japanese, which is what Machover’s argument implies.
It’s incredible that, after the exposure by Al Jazeera of Shai Masot’s activities in The lobby, in trying to ‘take down’ Tory minister Alan Duncan, that Manson should say that Socialist Fight is promoting a “conspiracy theory” that Jewish-Zionist social power has the ability to destroy the careers of bourgeois politicians who are non-cooperative with Israel. There the planning was captured on film; it is quite rare that attributable material should come into the public domain by high-placed individuals plotting to ‘take down’ a bourgeois public figure. How wilfully complacent and obtuse for Manson to deny this.
Other Tories who have been ‘taken out’ by pro-Israel forces in the media for being critical of Israeli crimes include David Mellor, who confronted Israeli troops in 1988 brutalising Palestinians on the West Bank during the first intifada, and was brought down by a lurid, concocted 1992 sex scandal. His real crime then was association with a Palestine Liberation Organisation official. This is someone who, according to Manson, as an imperialist politician, should have a natural interest in supporting Israel. Then there are Lib Dems such as Jenny Tonge and David Ward, who have been driven out of mainstream political activity by the Israel lobby. Again, as bourgeois politicians, according to Manson, they should have just as much interest in supporting Israel’s crimes as any Jewish bourgeois.
In the US, there are far more illustrious cases. George Bush, the president of the US from 1989 to 1993, believes that he failed to get a second term because of the actions of the Israel lobby, because of his 1991 withholding of loan guarantees to Israel if they refused to cooperate in freezing settlements on the West Bank. It is not at all clear that this is true; however, he was defeated by the scandal-ridden Bill Clinton despite winning a major war (against Iraq) the year before the 1992 presidential election. However, this was a period when in the UK John Major, affected by the same recession as Bush the elder, managed to retain power. So, Bush’s belief is not outlandish. It does appear to have affected his advice to Bush junior to keep in with the Israel lobby, which has the power to defeat a presidency.
A much clearer case of this was the defeat of ‘moderate’ Republican Senator Charles Percy of Illinois in 1984 for advocating American negotiations with the PLO, and supporting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which was then regarded by Israel as a potential threat, somewhat unlike today.
As a liberal Zionist who published an early, somewhat boastful study of the Israel lobby noted, “Defeating Percy for re-election in 1984 became virtually a national crusade among pro-Israel activists. His opponent, Representative Paul Simon, reputedly agreed to enter the race only after being promised by a Chicago Jewish businessperson that the Jewish community would give at least £1.5 million in campaign donations. In all, Simon raised $5.3 million to Percy’s $6 million ... Another $1.6 million was spent by a California Jewish activist, Michael Goland, who ran his own independent ‘Dump Percy’ campaign. Percy lost by a narrow 89,000 votes, many of them from conservative Republicans who saw him as a leader of the hated moderate wing. Jewish voters in fact gave him 35%, more than Ronald Reagan got that year” (JJ Goldberg Jewish power Boston 1996).
In terms of the Democratic Party, Jimmy Carter is now a hate figure of the Israel lobby for his work Peace: not apartheid. However, as a former president, there is not much that can be done to him. Unlike the fate of Andrew Young, the illustrious former associate of Martin Luther King, who was hounded from office as America’s UN ambassador by the Israel lobby in 1979 for meeting with the PLO on his boss’s (ie, Carter’s) behalf.
This is only a sample. And in a sense, Manson is lazy and demagogic for demanding examples that many people - certainly any politically aware observers - already know about. Manson, like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty he professes to despise, is still involved in Jack Conrad’s crusade against ‘left anti-Semitism’, which involves denying that there is anything Jewish about Zionism and the Israel lobby. As Norman Finkelstein stated when being upbraided for correctly noting that the Israel lobby is an ethnic lobby at Communist University in 2016, “I can’t deal with this politically correct denial of reality. It’s not socialist.”
Manson’s ignorance is also shown by his point about Trump and Israel. Trump’s embrace of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not just appear out of the blue. It is embodied in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and projected moving the embassy - itself a conquest of the Israel lobby. As Trump noted, previous presidents - notably Clinton, Bush and Obama - promised to implement it when seeking election, but delayed it over and over again for ‘national security’ reasons when in office. This is hardly the sign of a coherent imperialist policy: more the mark of a ruling class wavering in the face of a powerful lobby that indeed is somewhat in contradiction to rational US interests.
So what if liberal Jewish media commentators consider Trump’s partial implementation of the 1995 act disastrous? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which JJ Goldberg’s study definitively characterises as a Jewish organisation, does not. And Aipac is the major organisation of the Israel lobby in the USA. Trump’s move to finally implement it simply shows the increasing strength of the lobby in US politics, as shown by Netanyahu’s associate and supporter, Trump, being able to get the Republican nomination and inveigle the presidency in the first place. There’s nothing mysterious about it.
Many thanks to the Weekly Worker and Dave Douglass for last week’s review of Cowie miners, Polmaise colliery and the 1984-85 miners’ strike, newly published by the Scottish Labour History Society (‘Determined to win’, February 22).
Dave’s distinguished record as a participant and analyst of the strike has contributed significantly to its literature, as we hope does our publication. The bulk of the book comprises reprints of two pamphlets written by local socialists, Steve McGrail and Vicky Patterson, in the heat of the struggle by the miners of Cowie, Stirlingshire, to save Polmaise colliery - the first to take strike action.
Mining community historian and editor of Scottish Labour History Jim Phillips contributes an introductory retrospect, and victimised miner Jim O’Hare an afterword. Sadly, both Steve and Vicky are now deceased, but the SLHS has reproduced their remarkable record of the strike.
Copies of Cowie miners can be obtained for £6 plus £1.50 p&p, payable to ‘Scottish Labour History Society’, from S Maclennan, SLHS, 0/1, 64 Terregles Avenue, Glasgow G41 4LX (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Scottish Labour History Society
Comrade Victor Jenkins responds to my criticisms of his original published statements by saying I regard him as a “loonie”. His word - certainly not mine; I implied no such empty-souled insult, whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with him that any such diversionary crap is the hallmark of both filthy fascism and the anti-working class poison of Stalinism. In turn, I could get severely pissed off with that calumny he peddles about my motivations, but nothing productive would result.
The comrade may or may not be interested to know that I share some elements of his original doubts about the CPGB’s annual get-together. For instance, for them to report a “low quality” of cadres coming forward in current times, as well as scornfully to reject any adaptation of posture/any modification of practices as being mere caving in to “accessibility”, is both foolish and shameful. Overall, things sounded an awful lot like the workman blaming his tools for a shockingly bad job done!
However, where categorically I part company with comrade Jenkins is in relation to his coldly unsympathetic tone. All of it somewhat reminiscent of a disruptively angry adolescent or ‘schoolyard loudmouth’, as approximately I expressed it in my original letter. Irritatingly “rambling” of me, I realise, but when it comes to the comrade persisting in his habit of reading a Weekly Worker he despises so very much, I just cannot escape the image of a homophobic man spending time in gay clubs each and every weekend - just in order to reconfirm his outrage and utter scandalisation, which he hopes everyone will be in no doubt about!
In summary, then. Sad to say, by deliberately plunging even further into the dingy depths of his close-minded bunker, comrade Victor Jenkins only brings further ignominy blended with derision upon himself. All that in dazzling contrast to alternative pathways available to him - as they are to anyone with a free spirit, plus desire for learning, growth, expansion of consciousness and vibrant Marxist development.