Election at last
In the Weekly Worker back in July I argued that “The election of Johnson as prime minister is a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the European Union on October 31. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election” (Letters, July 25).
How could this happen? “We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool, etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course, Johnson will have to throw the Democratic Unionist Party under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn.”
In October The Sunday Times editorial came to a similar conclusion: “A prime minister who has delivered Brexit would be in a strong position to inflict a heavy defeat on a hopeless Labour leader, particularly one around whom the vultures in his own party are already circulating” (October 13). The birds of prey - Swinson, Watson, Blair, Starmer, Thornberry and McDonnell - were seen in the skies squawking for a second referendum to finally finish Corbyn off.
Rachel Sylvester in The Times noted that “most Labour MPs would prefer to have a [‘remain’] referendum first. Some of them hate the idea of campaigning for a hard-left Labour leader to become PM; others fear that the party’s position on Europe is so confused that they would haemorrhage votes” (October 15). So the last battle in the Commons had Corbyn securing Labour backing for a general election, not a second referendum.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Corbyn’s victory came in the same week that the People’s Vote campaign split. The underlying or unseen tension is between two polar extremes - a democratic demand for a ratification referendum and the liberal demand for ‘remain’ question in a ‘second referendum’. The democrats confront the liberals.
The demand for a second ‘remain’ referendum has no majority in parliament and no majority support in the country. The liberals are trying to overthrow the 2016 referendum without the backing of the majority of the working class. This is straight from the anarcho-liberal playbook of Swinson, Watson, etc. The only purpose of this nonsense on stilts was, like the Zionist campaign, to undermine or destroy Corbyn.
The tension between the more democratic and more liberal sides of People’s Vote campaign burst out into the open this week, as confrontation between millionaire businessman Roland Rudd, who wants an ultra-‘remain’ campaign, and James McGrory, Tom Baldwin and Patrick Heneghan, who want to appeal to ‘leave’ voters (which a second referendum slogan cannot!)
It is a long time since prime minister David Cameron told Corbyn he should resign - “For heaven’s sake, man, go!” Every day since then the mainstream national media has attacked Corbyn as the worst Labour leader ever (sic), opposed even by his own MPs, many of whom say he is not fit to be PM. Yet Corbyn has seen off Cameron and May and had a central role in keeping the UK in the EU by the absolute deadline of March 29 2019.
Then Labour led the fight to stop no deal by building a giant barricade. Despite Johnson getting his deal by selling out the DUP, he was blocked from his “die in a ditch”, total, absolute deadline of October 31. Thwarted again, Johnson was forced to get an extension until January 31 2020. If Labour wins the general election we will still be in the EU by September 2020.
This is surely the greatest example of guerrilla warfare since Fidel Castro - with only 19 supporters, more than Corbyn has in the Parliamentary Labour Party - conducted a brilliant campaign in the Sierra Maestra mountains. No wonder Corbyn hailed Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice” (The Independent November 26 2016), whilst Boris Johnson compared Corbyn to “Fidel Castro, Goldilocks and Count Dracula” (Andrew Gimson, Conservative Home).
By pretending to be useless, Corbyn has lured or even forced the Tories into two general elections in two years despite having a law which only allows it once every five years! He held his nerve and has now come out fighting for an election. While he is doing that, he has at least a chance, with an army of close to half a million ready to go to war against a Tory Brexit and their anti-working class austerity policies.
Who would have a chance against the combined leadership of Castro, Goldilocks and Dracula? Not many. So the last word belongs to the Tory, Andrew Gimson: “Corbyn, the disregarded Corbyn, may turn out to have greater affinity with Middle England than opinion polls suggest. He could be the underdog who was underestimated.” Soon we will find out the next twist in the Brexit revolution.
Gerry Downing has kindly explained my trajectory from revolutionary politics (in the Workers Revolutionary Party?) to the exit, from reading Hannah Arendt and books about sects. Apparently what I should have done was note “the defeat of the miners’ strike, the fall of the Berlin Wall and restoration of capitalism in the USSR and China (1985-92)” (Letters, October 24). However, I felt that I had been taken for a ride for 11 years and wanted to understand something about why.
Why didn’t I just leave, as so many others did? Any criticism of the party line, which might come out inadvertently in a discussion ‘unconsciously’, was deemed to be a betrayal of the party and hence of the working class - why did I swallow this bullshit? And why do so many to this day - in sects, political parties and leader-adoration groups of every political, national and religious flavour - swallow it too?
In his long letter the previous week (October 17) Gerry draws out the lineages of those who got it right - Spinoza, Paine, Babeuf, etc - and those who got it wrong - Kierkegaard, Benjamin, Sartre, etc. That must make it easy to decide who can join Socialist Fight and who can’t; when you move on from Aristotle, you must take the right line of travel.
I too studied philosophy as an undergraduate, though I’m afraid that I did a lot more drinking than I did studying, in that portion of my misspent youth before I joined the WRP. Since leaving them I have read far more of Marx and Marxist thought than I did in it; I won’t list any books or authors for fear of seeing in a future edition of the paper Gerry’s much longer list. I’ve read more philosophy than I did at university too - and not all of it Marxist! I particularly enjoyed Mary Midgely, not least her stabs at Richard Dawkins, and also Ted Honderich.
The latter is an avowed non-Marxist, but he does question why human beings can only do good accidently, as it were - an attack on the ‘invisible hand’, I believe. I can recommend his Conservatism and Punishment: the supposed justifications revisited. You don’t have to agree with everything that a writer says, whether Marxist or not. There are quite a few non-Marxists who have, I believe, interesting things to say: for instance, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Thomas Frank - to name but a few. I’ve also read quite a bit of Lee Child and Jo Nesbo, but I feel no impulse to join either the US military or the Norwegian police.
To go back to my political history: it took me a few years to decide that I was no longer a Trotskyist and a few more to decide that I was not a Leninist, though I still believe that they both contributed much. I retain my belief that I am a communist and a Marxist, though Marx would no doubt disown me. After all, I haven’t accomplished much in the field of revolutionary politics. But then neither has anyone else lately - with the possible exception of Gerry, of course.
Gerry points correctly to “inspiring working class uprisings” (though there may not be enough Trotskyists in Hong Kong apparently) and I’m sure that he would agree that there are also individual examples of extraordinary courage around the world, by journalists and activists - mostly not Marxists.
We need “the theory and practice of the revolution itself”, as Gerry says - and aren’t we lucky to have his pure version to guide us. Gerry is also happy to explain the resumption of the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. Apparently, and I may have misread him, it was so that they could cooperate in providing a “rationalism for capitalism” - very romantic.
Arendt was and is not an answer to our prayers, but I believe that she was not a Zionist or a Nazi either.
It’s not every day you get the opportunity to ask a direct question of your country’s leader. I was lucky enough to do just that at an event in this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival. Following an interesting chat between Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Booker Prize winning Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, the former opened up the discussion, inviting questions from the audience. My arm shot up and I asked, “Do you think the idea to twin Edinburgh with Gaza is a blessed initiative?”
Who has the time and energy to worry about Palestine? We’ve Brexit, possible extinction and Scotland’s latest fiasco attempt to qualify for a major football tournament on our collective plate. What’s more, even those who support Palestinian rights can’t agree: one state, two states …? It seems that this dispute has no solution agreeable to both sides. Of course, twinning with Gaza is not a solution, but a very modest proposal for the people of Edinburgh, or any city that thinks itself enlightened, to concretely and positively affect the lives of a people long in dire need of our help.
Today, what remains of Palestine is either under military occupation or what David Cameron characterised as an “open-air prison”. Two million people are crammed into one of the most densely populated regions of the earth. According to the World Bank, it has an economy that is 90% dependent on government expenditure, UN and other external donations. 95% of the water is not fit to drink and access to electricity is confined to just a few hours daily. 70% of Gazans are refugees.
The Balfour declaration was a 1917 policy of the British government declaring support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman empire. It effectively promised the support of the most powerful state on the globe at that time for a Jewish state on land where 90% of its then population were non-Jews. And it was pioneered and bears the name of one Arthur Balfour - a Lothians man.
Balfour was a Tory foreign minister under Lloyd-George and then prime minister. Like many of his class, he was also an evangelical Christian who believed that a return to Palestine by the Jews would herald the second coming of Christ and their conversion to Christianity - or their burning in hell. The fact that Zionism was originally a Christian ideology surprised me, as did the demonstrable anti-Semitism of its adherents. Nonetheless, it was later picked up by a small minority of Jews and, especially after World War II, attracted many Jews of widely disparate values.
For me, Ilan Pappe got it right when he described the Edinburgh-Gaza twinning campaign as a “blessed initiative”. ‘Blessed’ can be used to refer to something welcome, and in these divisive times, what could be more welcome than a proposal that brings people together - one-stater, two-stater, Brexiteer and remainer?
Could the twinning of Edinburgh with Gaza, though to an extent symbolic, not at least recognise and begin to make amends for the role played by a son of the former in the plight of the latter? Potentially, it could mean much more than mere gesture, however. It would promote cultural and commercial ties, certainly, but it could also provide practical assistance to a people under siege.
Unbelievably, the initiative has not received backing from those who you might expect it to. Neither Edinburgh Action for Palestine nor the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign have lent it support - doubtless the shades of sectarianism and egotism that often plague progressive movements. But the support of pro-Palestine Scottish politicians too has yet to venture beyond mere rhetoric.
At least part of the psychology behind these jitters among politicians and activists almost certainly lies with the fact that Gaza is currently governed by Hamas. Another consideration is the fear of being labelled anti-Semitic, given the current ludicrous claims about the British Labour Party. Fortunately, ordinary people still have a voice and can still make a difference. They can take three minutes of their time to add their names to our petition.
If you agree, please sign the petition at www.tinyurl.com/gazatwinregister. Note that it is only open to Edinburgh citizens.
CP of Africa
I agree with Michael Roberts that the global proletariat is continuing to grow (‘Global and national inequalities’, October 17). This is clearly shown in Africa, where the working class - both industrial workers and those in ‘service’ industries - has never been larger in human history. Trotsky’s famous theory of ‘combined and uneven development’ applies to Africa. To some extent there are similarities between Africa today and pre-revolutionary Russia.
What is needed is a Communist Party of Africa (because of the advanced nature of the economy in South Africa, the South African Communist Party will play a major role in such a development). The population of Africa is predicted to double by 2050 and quadruple by the year 2100, making the possibility of a socialist revolution in Africa more likely. At the same time, Nigeria will have a population of 300 million by 2050, making it the sixth biggest country in the world by population. The working class in Nigeria, that of alongside South Africa, will be the key to the African revolution.
In Africa, from what I can make out, the international revolutionary left only has small groups in South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Egypt - the latter being a bridge between the African revolution and the revolution in the Middle East. The International Marxist Tendency has a few members in South Africa and a section in Nigeria - Workers Alternative. The Committee for a Workers’ International has sections in Nigeria (Socialist Party of Nigeria) and in South Africa (Workers and Socialist Party - Wasp). The British Socialist Workers Party’s International Socialist Tendency has a small group in Egypt (Revolutionary Socialists) and a small group in Zimbabwe (International Socialist Organisation).
However, in my opinion, the key to the African revolution is for Marxists to carry out systematic work within the South African Communist Party, which has more than 180,000 members. As the Weekly Worker has pointed out, the SACP needs to break from the African National Congress and stand its own candidates in elections to all levels of government in South Africa.
Whilst I’m not a fan of Martin Jacques (former Eurocommunist editor of the now defunct Marxism Today magazine), Spiked Online and the Academy of Ideas, I do agree with them that Africa needs more capitalist development. The Chinese bureaucracy is playing a positive role in Africa. In return for the supply of raw materials, China is helping many countries in Africa with the development of public services, especially infrastructure in the form of roads and ports. The isolationist policies of the Trump administration in the USA gives China a golden opportunity to spread its influence across Africa. China’s activity in Africa will lead to the further development of capitalism in that continent and its gravedigger, the African proletariat.