On September 16 Tory MP Justine Greening came out in favour of a second referendum. She proposed three questions and a system of preferential voting. The Labour Party is not in favour, but did not rule it out. Theresa May said it would not happen under any circumstances. Politicians and parties are split between ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’.

There will be a Tory deal with the European Union. There will be a process of ratification. The only question is, who will be able to vote to ratify or reject it. It could be ratified by the crown - perhaps by the privy council. It could be endorsed by the Westminster parliament with its 1,450 MPs and lords having a ‘meaningful vote’. It could be ratified or rejected by 46 million people in a ‘people’s referendum’.

Opposing a people’s vote means supporting the authority of the crown-in-parliament. There may be a case to oppose a ratification referendum, but it is not based on general principles. This would find the Weekly Worker automatically opposing the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion and the Scottish referendum on self-determination and separation. We cannot hide from the working class behind a big wall of ‘principles’.

We are not dealing with any old referenda at any old time, but specifically in relation to the fight over the United Kingdom leaving the EU. It is essential to distinguish ‘repeat referendum’ from ‘ratification referendum’. The term ‘second referendum’ is often used to confuse or obfuscate. We need to cut through that.

A repeat referendum means asking the same question from 2016 - “Do you want to leave the EU?” It is claimed by the right that ‘leavers’ in the ruling elite want to overturn the result by running it again. The Irish case is cited. After the Treaty of Lisbon was voted down, the Irish government ran it again to get the result they wanted.

In principle there is no reason why a given nation should not be asked the same question again. People are then free to give the same answer or change their minds. Democracy is a process which involves learning more of the truth and thinking again. Elections every five years could be annual events. They are not ‘once in a lifetime’, as Cameron described the 2014 Scottish referendum. Scotland’s IndieRef2 would be a repeat referendum asking the same question as in 2014.

A ratification referendum is different. It is not seeking to repeat the first EU referendum. It is asking a different question for the first time: ‘Do you support or reject the deal negotiated between Her Majesty’s government and the EU?’ The 1976 Common Market referendum was in effect a ratification of Ted Heath’s actual agreement to join the EU on known terms and not a decision to join in principle.

In England, ‘leave’ supporters often describe a ratification referendum as a ‘second referendum’ to suggest it is an attempt by anti-democratic forces to run the same event for a second time and get a different result. In January 2018 Nigel Farage mischievously called for a “second referendum”. He wanted to repeat the same question to put an end to the “moaning of politicians who had not accepted the previous vote” (The Independent January 11 2018).

Recently the University and College Union circulated its members to consult on a ‘second referendum’. General secretary Sally Hunt explained: “At its recent meeting the national executive committee (NEC) agreed to my recommendation that the union consult members on whether to support a second referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the UK government.” Since there has not been a first referendum on the final deal, this displays a Faragean level of confusion.

We must be absolutely clear. Our slogan must be ‘No to a second or repeat referendum - yes to a ratification referendum’. Justine Greening called for a second referendum, containing both repeat and ratification-type questions. It must be opposed, but not on the grounds that we oppose every referendum on principle, everywhere, on every occasion.

In England there is a democratic case to oppose a repeat referendum and support a ratification referendum. The 2016 EU referendum divided the working class in England. A repeat referendum would deepen that divide and play into the hands of the Tory right, Ukip and the fascists. Jeremy Corbyn is correct to rule out a repeat referendum, but wrong to oppose a ratification referendum.

In Scotland the argument is different. A majority voted to remain - an important distinction between ‘leave’-voting England and ‘remain’-voting Scotland. There is no reason for Scottish ‘remain’ supporters to repeat this - although Scottish ‘leave’ supporters may have a reason to call for a repeat, hoping Scotland may have changed its mind.

At the end of the day the issue of a referendum is a tactical question in a struggle that has divided the country into ‘leave’ and ‘remain’. We need to locate the case for a referendum in the struggle between reactionaries and ultra-lefts, on one side, and liberals and democrats, on the other.

Steve Freeman


If one relies on an incorrect method, the temptation to misrepresent the position of another increases, especially if the latter relies on the correct method: ie, dialectical and historical materialism.

Comrade Mike Macnair is not always dialectical. In his article, ‘Irrational optimism’ (July 12) - an extended reply to my article of June 14 (‘Trotskyism and May 1968’) - he tries to discredit my position by misrepresenting me. Apropos May 1968, I did not say that the Parti Communiste Français could have taken power. As he correctly points out, this was impossible because the PCF “had been educating the French working class for 20 years in cross-class coalitionist, pacifism and gradualism”.

Later he asks the primary question: why was Stalinism the dominant material force for most of the 20th century? But he doesn’t answer this one, so I will: in response to the October revolution, imperialism imposed the counterrevolution from outside, aided and abetted by the reformist parties of the Second International. After the German social democrats voted for war in 1914, came the revolution of 1919. This was smashed by the Freikorps, under the orders of a Social Democratic government. That defeat, in turn, led to the ultra-left uprising of 1921, wherein a handful of revolutionaries substituted themselves for the masses, who no longer had an appetite for war of any kind. The betrayals of social democracy during this period left the Soviet Union backward and isolated. During the civil war, it was forced to transform itself into an ‘iron dictatorship’, in order to defend the revolution. Altogether these factors created the conditions for the Stalinist counterrevolution from within.

In his account of the post-war far left, comrade Macnair relies too much on generalisations. For him, the degeneration of the Fourth International is part and parcel of the rise of the new left, whose ‘charter’ was a commitment to Bakuninist politics. But this ignores the real situation: in 1968 the student revolt and the subsequent uprising of the working class in France was a spontaneous event - nine million workers were on strike; tens of thousands of them had occupied their factories. The far left had no option but to support the uprising and do what it could. The Fourth International was forced to place the working class at the epicentre of the revolution again.

We must not forget that, during this period revolutionaries did try to build revolutionary parties, despite the overwhelming social and ideological weight of Stalinism and social democracy.First came the attempt to build new revolutionary parties “in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky”; then came defeat and degeneration. This is what comrade Macnair leaves out.

Despite his denial, his original ‘colours’ article certainly gives the impression that post-war Trotskyism and the far left were all of a piece. Therefore, from the standpoint of dialectical materialism, the “vast bulk” of my June 14 article, discussing the post-war history of the Trotskyist movement, is relevant to the argument which he had offered in his original piece, ‘May 68 to colour revolutions’ (May 31).

I stand by my defence that Mandel’s call for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Europe in 1947 was based on rational optimism, because, how else could the Fourth International distinguish its revolutionary politics from that of Stalinism and capitalism, even though such a withdrawal would have led to the immediate occupation of eastern Europe by US imperialism and its allies?

Comrade Macnair is right when he says that I extend the rational optimism argument to the May events of 1968. But at no stage did I argue that the working class could take power by means of “a general-strikist policy”. Rather I argued that the task of the far left should have been to encourage workers to build factory committees under their own control, as the precursor to workers’ councils, as well as the need to form their own workers’ defence militias (via an attempt to split the French armed forces: ie, by appealing to conscript soldiers to join the uprising).

But this would not lead to another October revolution, since there was no revolutionary communist party in place; hence the need for other demands, such as calling for an end to the fifth republic, the setting up of a constituent assembly to decide a new constitution for France, which could then become a forum for raising the minimum-maximum programme, etc.

Now the world has been turned upside-down. Trump’s bandwagon is gathering pace and threatens to upset neoliberalism’s applecart, which has ruled for nearly half a century: ‘Make Americas great’ via protectionism and anti-immigration policies, versus globalisation, which relies on outsourcing of capital, on the one side, as well as immigration (both legal and illegal), on the other, to maximise profits and depress wages. Who will win? Rightwing populism seems set to trample all over neoliberalism; the masses have had enough of austerity, which can no longer be covered up by a bogus neoliberal social agenda; albeit they put their trust in a maverick billionaire businessman (or Brexit here in Britain). Meanwhile left populism has no answer to the growing crisis and will wither away. It remains to be seen whether another crash like 2008 will produce a new radicalisation of the masses (such as in 1968) or lead to social meltdown and the emergence of a capitalist strong state.

But, to return to 1968, I disagree with Macnair’s analysis. Once again this is a based on sweeping generalisations: “But at the end of the day, when we - the post-60s far left - could have engaged in a serious project of building parties and an international movement to the left of the ‘two internationals in the service of imperialism’, we did not do so. Instead we collectively engaged in endless efforts to be the single spark that ignites the prairie fire.”

Here he appears to be tarring the International Marxist Group, circa the 1970s, with the same brush as the International Socialists and Workers Revolutionary Party. But, as I have already said, for all of its mistakes at that time, the IMG was not such a group.

I must now ask comrade McNair, precisely what is the “serious project of building parties” today? We are living in a period following the historical defeat of the British working class. On the one side, this started under the Labour government (1974-79), which culminated in ‘the winter of discontent’. On the other, this laid the basis for Thatcher’s victory in 1979. This opened the way for the ultimate defeat of the miners, which ended with the severe degradation of the trade union movement, as well as the loss of working class communities.

Of course, I agree with Macnair’s remark that “the task of building a real communist party still faces us”. No doubt he supports the idea that the struggle for a Communist Party can be achieved on the basis of the CPGB’s current strategy towards the Labour Party, which roughly translates as join it in order to transform it into a “real party of labour”.

On the one hand, comrade Macnair argues that “to call for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from eastern Europe [in 1947] ... could lead the masses to power [amounts to] irrational optimism”. On the other, what about the CPGB’s strategy towards Labour, whereby “the microscopic forces” of its own supporters live “in the hope” that they can somehow transform it into a united front of the left, whilst at the same time withstanding the enormous pressures of opportunism and revisionism. But the party has already got the better of all previous attempts to defeat its bureaucratic leadership; both in the party and in the unions - not just the right, but the left also!

Rex Dunn


London to Durham was a long journey so that I could attend Momentum’s one-day “conference” on July 15. Especially as it was not a conference at all - no motions to debate, no elections, no plenary session, in fact no voting whatsoever. Just 20 separate meetings, or ‘workshops’, in four categories: political discussion, activist training, skills training and networks, climaxing at 4pm with the “World Cup Final on a massive screen”. Each session was “led” by an MP or other well-known figure, followed by three-minute contributions from the floor - each of which gave a fresh opportunity for more platform comment. Very frustrating!

Unfortunately I missed most of the “Momentum’s Story” session with Richard Burgon MP and Laura Parker, so I don’t know how they described the murder of Momentum’s budding democracy in Jon Lansman’s January 10 2016 bureaucratic coup. The developing regional committees were abolished at a stroke (I was a Hammersmith and Fulham delegate to the London committee) and the promised first (real) conference was scuppered to suppress embarrassing debate, with Jeremy Corbyn’s blessing. The silencing worked, disorganising the left and hobbling what might have been an effective fightback against the ongoing witch-hunt of Corbyn supporters, in which the neutered Momentum has become complicit. The ensuing “digital democracy” has predictably proved its worthlessness. Local groups may continue to organise, but Momentum’s “leadership”, the national coordinating group, seems to be no more than a rubber stamp for Jon the owner.

Nevertheless, there were some detectable signs of recognition that blind loyalty to Corbyn and McDonnell might be a blind alley (pun intended) for Labour’s rank and file. Richard Burgon, reminding us of Tony Benn’s “fundamental shift in wealth and power”, warned that “the nearer we get to office”, the more intense will be the media attacks. Laura Parker MP timidly suggested that we might go from “unadulterated” backing for Jezza and John to the role of “supportive friends”, being careful not to damage them (and, of course, a true friend is critical of one’s faults).

Emma Lewell-Buck MP, speaking on ‘The first 100 days of a Labour government’, claimed naively that the 2017 Labour manifesto had been “very radical” and promised that the first queen’s speech under Labour will include “something” that will put clear water between us and the Tories. She promised “immediate recognition of Palestine” and “no second referendum on Brexit” - Jeremy is talking to our European friends. But when Scott Reeve (Fulham, and Labour Republic) suggested that the queen might not ask Jeremy to form a government, Emma responded that she quite likes the queen and does not want to abolish the monarchy.

In the session on “people’s public ownership”, Tony Kearns of the CWU - one of four trade unions affiliated to Momentum - indulged in some competitive recruiting from the chair. Arguing for the nationalisation of BT and Royal Mail, he quoted Noam Chomsky (“Privatisation always undercuts democracy”) and urged everyone to join CWU, which “wants to be the union for the fourth industrial revolution”. He proclaimed the CWU’s call to “repeal all the anti-trade union laws” (ie, not just the most recent one, as promised by Corbyn). Boasting of the CWU’s special relationship with Momentum, “the union which backed Corbyn from day one,” comrade Kearn proudly proclaimed that CWU’s decision to affiliate to Momentum had been taken by a “full delegate conference” of the union - not realising the contrast with Momentum’s non-conference.

The Momentum membership now stands above 42,000. At the registration desk I learned that 200 people had registered to attend, and around 150 attended. And these are individuals representing only themselves, not delegates.

Stan Keable

Real communism

Weekly Worker readers may be interested to read this letter to The Guardian, which was not published.

Suzanne Moore writes (‘Fun communism’ The Guardian July 24) about the issues with ‘communism’ - cults, authority, centralisation; never mind gulags, secret police, rape, the imprisonment of intellectuals and mass killings. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has opposed these (principally Leninist) conceptions for over a century. We do not even believe that any party could lead to communism: only that a class-conscious working class wanting socialism will establish this for themselves - most expediently, and least precariously, accompanied by electing the Socialist Party to parliament.

What communism is, who it killed and seeing that as a moral equivalence with the deaths caused by capitalism hasn’t been glossed over by us, but we have been glossed over by Moore. Nonetheless we look forward to her application, since she writes, “When communism connotes liberty, I will sign up.” There will be no refusal to criticise Putin, or see the misery of Cuban peasants, Chinese workers or those starving in Venezuela, but equally there will be no brooking of our permanent opposition to the Labour Party.

Jon D White
Socialist Party of Great Britain


It seems clear that Labour are busy driving away good members, whilst simultaneously chasing their illusory Shangri-La of parliamentary so-called power.

Having waited for more than nine months for a decision, then having been readmitted to Labour after the disputes panel on the party’s ruling national executive committee found that his case did not meet their ‘threshold’ required for it to be referred for expulsion, MP Jared O’Mara has quit Labour, saying he was “made to feel like a criminal”.

In his letter to his constituents, O’Mara said: “I would be lying to those of you whom I represent … if I continued under the pretence that I feel there is a place of acceptance and empathy for me as a working class, underprivileged, disabled man within the Labour Party. I have experienced little to make me feel welcome, understood and accepted during this last year. There is no doubt that I made mistakes as a young man, using distasteful language as a clumsy attempt at satire and sarcasm online. But that does not mean that is who I am today.”

If by some strange twist of fate I had found myself in the situation of this young man, for my part I’d have added something along the lines of this to any such statement:

“Both shame and ignominy lie thick as well as poisonous within the very fabric of our British so-called Labour Party. Neither petty bourgeois morality nor its imposition via small-minded/arbitrary methods of enforcement will have any attraction whatsoever for genuine socialists. What an utterly hideous mentality they possess - one which will project less than zero appeal towards sophisticated, history-informed, modern-minded fighters, who have at heart the rights and values - and indeed the ‘iridescent spirit’ - of Planet Earth’s working people!”

If by some further twist of fate I were to have the ear of this freethinking as well as intuitively ‘unshackled’ young man, I’d urge him to stand as an independent but true socialist at the next general election. Not necessarily with any hopes for immediate parliamentary ‘success’, but rather with the overriding purpose of connecting with working people on an honest basis; with the sole and essential intention of presenting our socialist truth in an undistorted, uncompromising, indeed an unpolluted manner. A truth that contains appropriate humility, but one formulated from what we know to be its unique blend of Marxist and thereby solidly scientific analyses in harmony with soulful humanitarianism.

‘Our truth: a universally magnetic iteration of soulful, communistic opalescence’, as it could be expressed in distinctly more poetic language.

Bruno Kretzschmar

Russian rights

Pressure and overt repression against activists of independent, militant trade unions is not new in the world today, certainly not in Russia. Even so, the situation of Maxim Balahshov, professor of higher mathematics and chairperson of the Universitetskaya Solidarnost union (an affiliate of the Confederation of Labour of Russia), at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), stands out for the extraordinary cynicism of the administration. Moreover, this case poses the broader issue of labour relations in Russia’s institutions of higher learning, in which repression of various sorts is the sad norm today. The recent action of the administration of MIPT against him is noteworthy for the fact that the rector made his motives very public and clear.

In a public letter, the chair of the department of higher mathematics, Grigorii Ivanov, gave clear expression to the rector’s dissatisfaction. He cited the active relations the union has entertained with the press and its allegedly insufficiently constructive position: it defends not only its individual members, but also the collective interests of MIPT’s teaching staff.

Particularly offensive was Ivanov’s ultimatum to Maxim Balashov, calling on him to resign as chair of the union, to withdraw the union’s lawsuit against the administration (undertaken against consistent violations of union rights), to apologise and to forego any further relations with the press. There is no doubt that this text relayed the position of rector Nikolai Kudryavtsev. Missing only was the demand to repent on bended knee.

As one could expect from the foregoing, the procedure for filling the post of professor of higher mathematics - a post occupied for five years by Balashov (who has worked at MIPT for 19 years in various capacities) - which had to be renewed through a formally competitive procedure, took place amidst gross violations of various local normative acts, the constitution of the Russian Federation, and the federal law on trade unions, not to speak of common decency. During that meeting, the rector, former assistant rector Volkov, and others close to the administration expressed their many criticisms of professor Balashov, including talking to the press and being active as head of the union locally.

It should be emphasised that the decision of the academic council, despite the administration’s extraordinary pressure, was adopted by a slender majority: Balashov’s competitor for the post received 51% of the votes. And it is no coincidence that the votes for Balashov coincided closely with the number of active scientists and teachers on the academic council, as can be judged by the number of its members holding the degree of doctor of science. Moreover, since the professor chosen to replace Balashov is 80 years old, an additional person had to be appointed to the department of higher mathematics to give Balashov’s lectures.

The union has for several years now been fighting for the rights of MIPT teachers. Under union pressure, salaries at MIPT have risen significantly from their former miserable level. The union has blocked inordinate increases of professors’ teaching loads, as well as the introduction of the so-called ‘effective contract’ - a measure that has had catastrophic consequences in universities across Russia. The union has also actively fought the rector’s initiative to end the election of department and faculty heads (a right provided by article 332 of the labour code). It is especially the union’s resistance to the latter authoritarian tendencies of the administration that has aroused the rector’s ire.

We urge you to send the following declaration to the rector of MIPT, N Kudryavstev, at rector@mipt.ru, plus a copy to the union at mipt@unisolidarity.ru:

“We declare our solidarity with Maxim Balashov, professor of higher mathematics at MIPT and union leader. We express our profound protest against the blatantly unjust treatment of a colleague. We demand an end to persecution of union activists and the reinstatement of M Balashov as professor, with a contract of unlimited duration, as provided by the law of the Russian Federation.”

We would also ask you to request your university to limit any contacts with the administration of MIPT and its rector until this conflict is positively resolved.

Universitetskaya Solidarnost


Thanks for the report of Stan Keable’s sacking (‘A Labour council’s inquisition’, July 18). That is an appalling decision of the disciplinary committee.

It appears that if anyone is offended by something it is ground for dismissal, regardless that equal numbers of people might not be offended. In any event nothing in the evidence could possibly lead a person to say that Zionists collaborated with the holocaust. Half of the BBC would have been sacked in the 1960-70s with the antics of Mary Whitehouse’s narrow view of the world.

A worker can get sacked for expressing an opinion forcefully. An MP (Margaret Hodge) does the same and her solicitor sends a seven-page letter demanding retractions and claiming she has been victimised. Kafkaesque.

Pass my support and good wishes to Stan.

Gerry Glyde

Rabid dogs

The laughs keep on coming.

Earlier this year the CPGB was boasting about the amateurish Weekly Worker being a “peacock” and its supposed high quality. Last week we read the editor saying: “Due to a technical error, footnote numbers were inadvertently omitted from all articles last week. We apologise and are trying to ensure that this error is not repeated” (July 12).

If the Weekly Worker is a peacock, then it is one that has been mauled by rabid dogs on at least three occasions. Perhaps the editorial team should cut down on Night Nurse and brandy cocktails. Or take up watercolours.

Victor Jenkins