WeeklyWorker

23.05.2019
SPEW: for Corbyn’s policies, but - shush - don’t vote for them

Take a class stand

Peter Manson condemns leftwing traitors - both of the open kind and the silent kind

In the lead-up to the May 23 European Union elections, the focus of the mainstream media was primarily on the expected results of both the Tories and the Brexit Party - for related (but opposite!) reasons.

But what about the non-Labour left? Well, there was, of course, George Galloway, who called for a protest against the establishment’s failure to deliver Brexit by voting for Nigel Farage’s party. In the same treacherous spirit, support for Farage came from the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). And clearly Farage himself was attempting to present a ‘broad’ image through running candidates such as Claire Fox and James Heartfield - both former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. While, in fact, Fox and Heartfield lined up with the libertarian right decades ago, they are being used to provide a ‘left’ cover.

However, when it comes to the two largest non-Labour left groups - the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales - they were strangely unforthcoming about a clear, consistent and programmatically coherent call to vote Labour. On the one hand, they are for a British withdrawal from the EU - that would be a blow to the ruling class, wouldn’t it? But, on the other hand, they could not possibly recommend a vote for Farage or - worse still - the even more rightwing UK Independence Party.

And, while both groups are formally for a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government, things were not so simple, it seems. Firstly, these were not UK elections, and would not result in any kind of ‘progressive’, let alone ‘socialist’, administration in Britain (or the EU, needless to say); and, in any case, we had voted to leave, so we should not even be holding EU elections. Secondly, the majority of Labour EU candidates were against Brexit - some were openly pro-‘remain’, while others were prepared to go along with the official party line of abiding by the 2016 referendum, while at the same time demanding a ‘Brexit in name only’ (continued membership of the single market and a customs union), together with a ‘ratification referendum’ (that would hopefully overturn the 2016 decision). So how could the SWP and SPEW unambiguously recommend a Labour vote?

For us things are rather more straightforward. Labour continues to be riven by an ongoing civil war, in which the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party is still aiming to remove Corbyn and return the party to the control of the Blairite, pro-capitalist right (very much second best would be to completely tame the current leader, but it is extremely doubtful he could ever be regarded as a safe pair of hands for capital in view of his past record).

It is vital that the right wing is defeated, so that the process of transforming Labour into a genuine party of the working class - a united front of a special kind - can begin in earnest. We cannot stand back and refuse to intervene in this internal battle. We must encourage individual workers to join Labour, and all trade unions to become affiliated, in order to help win it. And, of course, except in exceptional circumstances, we must campaign for Labour electoral victories, so as to strengthen the leadership’s hand and help it see off the attacks of the right.

No to racism

However, for the SWP there is a rather different priority: to build its own popular front, Stand Up To Racism, from which it hopes to recruit to itself. So, with this in mind, the pre-election period saw it focusing on demonstrations and pickets against Ukip and, in particular, Tommy Robinson, who was standing as an independent in the North West constituency.

So, for example, the SWP’s internal Party Notes (May 20) led (as it had in previous weeks) with the need to organise against the candidates of the racist right. Its main headline read: “Stop fascist Tommy Robinson and the far right in the Euro elections”. It reported how the “day of action” it had organised in Manchester “finished with a SUTR rally, where over 100 people packed in to hear speakers”. The SWP was proud to announce that these included several Labour figures, including mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, as well as Wendy Olsen of the Green Party.

On Robinson, it stated:

The danger is that a low turnout on Thursday could help boost his chance of winning. We have to go all out to stop Tommy Robinson. Manchester SUTR has a programme of action up until Thursday evening and have called a protest at the vote count on Sunday.

This poses several questions. First, and most important, how was Tommy Robinson to be defeated and prevented from winning one of the eight seats in the constituency? Under the proportional representation voting system, his vote would need to be well under 10% to ensure he was not elected. So obviously it did not matter who electors voted for - anyone but Robinson, it seemed, including the Greens’ Wendy Olsen, the Liberal Democrats, Tories, Brexit Party ...

Was keeping Robinson out of the EU parliament really the priority for the working class then? Whatever happened to building a working class alternative to capitalism? Oh I forgot - campaigning around SUTR helps recruit to the SWP, doesn’t it? And what is the purpose of the “protest at the vote count on Sunday”? Demand that votes for Robinson be annulled?

It was the same story with Socialist Worker. Its front-page headline in the pre-election issue read: “Hit back at the racists” (May 21). The online version was slightly different and its headline was: “As Tories face wipeout, make the most of their Euro election disaster”. But both versions end: “We need to urgently fight to force May and the Tories out - and to stop the right from gaining from their crisis.”

Another article was headlined: “Anti-racists take action against Robinson in North West”. It declared: “Robinson is a Nazi whose aim remains to build a violent street movement. He must be stopped.” This article reported how people had been encouraged by SUTR to “vote against Robinson” - without, of course, specifying who to vote for.

However, the same edition of Socialist Worker carried another article, penned by Alex Callinicos and headed ‘Ruling class split is to Farage’s benefit’, which looked at things from a different angle. It examined the Tory Party crisis and ended by discussing the likelihood of a Boris Johnson premiership:

This will probably mean a no-deal Brexit. It will in the short term also mean a rightwing Tory government aligning itself as closely as possible to Donald Trump. Also in the short term, the only force standing in the way of this prospect electorally is Labour under Corbyn. Therefore what we need to see on Thursday is the biggest possible Labour vote.

Better late than never! Or did this article represent a last-minute change of line?

Not lifting a finger

Whether that was the case or not, I am afraid to say that there was no such shift within SPEW. Just like the SWP before the appearance of Callinicos’s article, SPEW made no voting recommendation for the EU elections. For example, the May 1 issue of The Socialist carried an article headed ‘EU elections: countering Farage’s rightwing Brexit Party’. Well, at least it was not only Robinson and Ukip that had to be opposed - in fact the article reported how SPEW comrades had been part of a SUTR protest outside a Brexit Party rally in Nottingham last month.

The article ended:

We want to see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government with socialist policies negotiating a pro-worker EU exit in the interests of the 99%.

For a government which supports workers’ struggles against the bosses in Britain, Europe and across the world.

For unity of workers across Europe - no to racism - don’t let the bosses divide us. General election now!

But, as I have said, it carried no voting recommendation - despite SPEW’s apparent illusions in the nature of a Corbyn government if one were elected prior to the defeat of the right. This non-recommendation position, is, it needs to be understood, no oversight. SPEW made a definite decision to take a neutral stand ... but it also made a decision not to tell readers of The Socialist. They were supposed to guess, infer or find out from private conversations. How SPEW squares this line with its call for a Corbyn-led socialist government or the call for Labour to allow SPEW to affiliate goes entirely unexplained.

The comrades correctly state:

… unfortunately, months upon months of concessions to the Blairites, including allowing Blairite remainers like Keir Starmer to take centre-stage on Brexit, has muted Corbyn’s more radical voice and allowed confusion over Labour’s Brexit position.

In fact its article in The Socialist, published on the very eve of the elections - ‘European elections expose deepening political crisis: workers need a party of our own’ (May 22) - was silent on the question. It states:

What is needed is not just ousting the Tories, but to fight for a real working class party. Such a party would mean not just passive voting and expressions of anger, but active participation of working class people in building their own party ... A mass movement and a working class party that can implement socialist policies are essential.

So what about Labour? Is there no connection to its ongoing internal battle and the fight for such a party? We are not told.

Boycott?

Unlike the SWP and SPEW, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain did make a clear voting recommendation: it called for a “people’s boycott” of the EU elections.

The reasoning for this was explained in an article written by CPB general secretary Robert Griffiths, entitled ‘Neither Farage nor Brussels’ (Morning Star May 18-19). The introduction to this article read: “All votes cast in the EU election endorse the existence of the EU parliament - but voting for the Brexit Party is no alternative, argues Robert Griffiths.”

Let us leave aside the contradictory logic of the two halves of that sentence and proceed to what comrade Griffiths argues. He states: “… it is not a question of opposing participation in EU elections in principle, even though the Brussels-Strasbourg parliament has been designed to be one of the feeblest directly elected bodies on the planet.” He goes on: “After all, Britain’s communists have long participated in elections to the Westminster parliament, despite our fundamental opposition to the British state and its flawed institutions”:

Rather, we are urging a boycott because the poll in Britain on May 23 is illegitimate. It is an insult to all those who participated in the June 2016 referendum in good faith, whether they voted to leave the EU or remain … Only a ‘people’s boycott’ next Thursday will uphold the principle that the people have already decided to leave the EU and their decision must be implemented.

Apparently there is a difference between casting a vote in elections to Britain’s “flawed institutions” (where the elections are not “illegitimate”) and in elections to a body of which the UK remains a member, despite the 2016 referendum (which, of course, did not specify any departure date).

Griffiths quickly rejects voting for rightwing Brexiteers, such as the Brexit Party and Ukip, and adds: “Which leaves what would normally be the preferred option in most constituencies in other elections: namely, a vote for Labour.”

So why, on this occasion, must that option be rejected? Well, “most Labour candidates have made clear their support for remaining in the EU.” Yes, but the same applies to Labour candidates for the recent local elections, when the CPB was for a Labour vote.

A Star editorial a few days earlier was entitled: ‘Labour must recapture the anger of working class “leave” voters’ (May 15). It claimed that in relation to Brexit Jeremy Corbyn was “playing a poor hand with great skill”! Nevertheless it declined to help him out by calling for a Labour vote. The editorial ended:

The Labour Party’s big losses are among people where the ‘leave’ vote signified working class anger. This is not a healthy situation. Labour needs to recapture its insurgent spirit and find a shared language with the millions of people it needs if it is to form a government. These are among the millions who seem unprepared to vote for its candidates in next week’s election.

But that editorial did not say whether those “millions” were right or wrong - and there was no mention of a “people’s boycott”. It seems that, like SPEW, the CPB is sometimes just a little too embarrassed to keep spelling out its position.

You might ask, what is the difference between the CPB’s position of a “people’s boycott” in 2019 and our own call for an “active boycott” of the 2016 EU referendum? The answer is simple: in principle we oppose referendums, we despised the motivation behind David Cameron’s 2016 referendum gamble, we despised both the options on offer in 2016 - either the status quo of an EU of capital and the bureaucrats, or an ‘independent’ United Kingdom under a constitutional monarchy.

But May 23 is entirely different. We say, take a class stand. Vote Labour despite the rotten candidates. Vote Labour as part of the civil war to defeat the right.

peter.manson@weeklyworker.co.uk