The recent general election result appears to put off yet again the much fabled parliamentary road to socialism. The only real positive is that it gives us all an opportunity to reflect and regroup.
The Brexit question is interesting. At a UK level the Conservatives only increased their vote share by 1%, Labour plummeted by 8%, while pro Remain parties in total (SNP, Lib Dems and Greens) increased by over 6%, the Brexit Party obtaining 2%. Whilst these are net figures with a degree of “churn” within each, these numbers don’t tell me that Labour was insufficiently pro Brexit, or “not respecting the result of the referendum.” The Lib Dems actually did extremely well but because under our bizarre and undemocratic electoral system they actually lost seats, they were deemed as having a very bad night! This is Alice in Wonderland politics.
The question of whether the UK is in or out of the EU is relatively marginal for the condition of the working class. On balance, it is better to be in, as part of an integrating economic, political and monetary entity, for the advantages of European unity in general and because it creates larger economic units and helps bring the working classes together. It is obvious a working class movement of 400 million plus is of immensely greater potential power than one of 40 million and capable of taking over an immeasurably more powerful economic unit.
Given none of the actual Brexit options available corresponded to what was claimed in 2016 and given the passage of time, it was entirely principled and democratic to propose a further referendum to decide the issue finally and irrevocably. Such a referendum must allow the people to make a sovereign choice and had to include Remain as well as the actual Brexit options.
The failure of Labour was not in proposing a further democratic exercise but in failing to take the agenda away from Brexit and onto the terrain of class. For this the weak, feeble and ineffective Labour leadership has to carry the major responsibility.
The great majority of the socialist and revolutionary left, including the Weekly Worker Group, seems to have been completely disorientated by Mr Corbyn and Corbynism, and there is frankly little rational justification for that. ‘We’ collectively seem to have bet the entire farm on Mr Corbyn becoming prime minister and bringing about a socialist transformation of the state and economy. Yet another failure by the Labour Party to win a general election is treated as a disaster for the whole class and the left.
Under face to face scrutiny Mr Corbyn appeared vague, uncertain, defensive and petulant. He has become infamous for not answering questions. Is that because he has become a “good” politician or that he simply didn’t know the answer or his own mind? Many think the latter. Mr Corbyn just never appeared to have the intellect, the grip or clarity or firmness of purpose to take on the role of Prime Minister. As candidate for PM he was an embarrassment.
Mr Corbyn never seemed to have a political philosophy, a political strategy or a political programme. Under any form of pressure or challenge, he buckled and bended time and time again. He has a reputation of supporting some “international” causes but usually not where the socialist and communist left have actually taken state power. In his dreadful biography, Tom Bower strongly hints that Mr Corbyn was recruited by Cuba as a secret communist!! Je souhaite....!! Cuba was one international cause Mr Corbyn has never much identified with, make of that what you will.
Mr Corbyn’s famous “support” for the Palestinian cause and for Hamas and Hezbollah seemed to be more motivated by superficial dislike of the State of Israel than the establishment of an inclusive, democratic, unitary and secular Palestinian state. If he was, he would have been more identified with Marxist Leninist formations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Of course under pressure, he now declares his full support for the existence of the State of Israel.
Why do so many on the socialist and revolutionary left think the road to socialism in Britain has to be, must be, via the Labour Party?
The Labour Party was founded by trade unions in order to elect to parliament and other assemblies trade union and working class representatives to press for legislative changes to benefit working people in this country. Its role is to win elections and then use those elected representatives to press for changes. It’s inherent purpose and function is to achieve reforms within capitalism.
Yes, the Labour Party has allowed socialists to join, both as affiliated organisations and individual members, but it is always clear the aim of socialism was a small minority view within the Labour Party and subordinate to the aim of trade union representation.
Yes, Lenin described the Labour Party’s federal and affiliated structure as unique, not uniquely good or bad, just unique. It is incredibly positive that millions of “ordinary” trade unionists and workers are affiliated to the Labour Party and have some opportunity to influence its policy direction and leadership, although how far this happens in practice is questionable. On the flipside, this builds an inherent conservatism into Labour as those millions are by no means radical, let alone socialist or communist.
Mr Corbyn and Corbynism never really seemed to be about advocating socialism as a replacement of capitalism. At best, it was for an ameliorated, reformed, more corporatist capitalism, along the lines of the West German economy and state from the 1950s. Mr McDonnell was brave enough to talk of a capitalism “transformed” into something he might call socialism, but probably nothing Marxists and communists would accept as such. Not one single capitalist was going to be expropriated, let alone shot. If Corbyn and Corbynism is really as best as it is going to get in the Labour Party, my question would be why should communists focus so much continued effort and attention on it?
The Labour Party is very, very bad at winning general elections. If we exclude the Blair/Brown New Labour period, it has not won a general election in 45 years. If it can’t win elections it becomes rather useless as an institution as that is its primary raison d’être.
The Weekly Worker Group used to criticise those, especially in the Socialist Party of England and Wales, as wanting to create a Labour Party Mark II. That criticism made a lot of sense. It is (rightly) clear on the imperative to establish a united and ultimately a mass communist party. But it projects this objective alongside an aim to “transform the Labour Party into the united front of the working class and its organisations”. The Group is clear the Labour Party itself cannot become that Communist Party.
Has the Weekly Worker Group (or socialists and communists more generally) really the time, capacity and energy to both be part of the Labour Party and to seek “to transform it into a united front and with a Marxist leadership” and build a single united ultimately mass Communist Party? Is not the “transform Labour” agenda another version of the Mark II or halfway house, this time with regard to the aim of a mass Communist Party? I think you have to choose comrades.
The post-mortem on Corbyn’s disastrous defeat has already begun. This will obviously include the CPGB and supporters of this paper. Hard questions need to be asked and answered.
First, was Brexit and its hold over Labour’s traditional working class the principal reason? Answer: yes. As Labour MP Richard Burgon said, with the same leader and a similar manifesto in 2017, Labour picked up three million more votes. In the meantime, austerity continued, and there were more closures and job losses in the deprived north. To play devil’s advocate, once again Corbyn proved incapable of revamping his 2017 manifesto - ie, from Keynesianism light to heavy - until it was too late. Instead of sitting on the fence over Brexit, he should have come out fighting for an election at the first opportunity, based on a message that a Labour government would end privatisation of the NHS, improve nurses’ pay, along with social care, education, plus a plan to build hundreds of thousands of new council homes, and nationalise transport, water and the energy companies, etc.
Labour’s manifesto was greeted with incomprehension and incredulity by many working class people, especially in northern England. They had succumbed to Brexit tribalism, fed by the festering sore of English nationalism, so they voted Tory on December 12. As a result, Labour lost seats it had held for almost a century.
Added to that, Corbyn failed to deal with the anti-Semitism smears, which reinforced the general perception that he is a weak leader. The Jewish actress, Miriam Margolyes, was able to distinguish between criticism of Israel for its oppression of the Palestinians and anti-Semitism. But Corbyn could not manage to do that.
Should Labour have its own independent media? Answer: yes. But that is not going to be easy in the age of social media. Public platforms are being used to create echo chambers for identity politics, which allows people to hear only what they want to hear - or see. This also exacerbates their obsession with pointing out how different they are from the ‘others’. Therefore the left finds itself in a morass of competing identity groups, ranging from LGBT+ to white supremacists.
Given the Tory landslide, the bourgeois media is overjoyed, of course. The Financial Times editorial (December 14) proclaimed: “Labour’s experiment in hard-line socialism under a fatally flawed leader has failed spectacularly”. Already sterling has bounced back to its 2018 value and shares are on the rise. But now “a modern social democratic party” needs to be forged by “breaking the Marxist grip on Labour” (the Blairites are already getting ready to deal with that!). On the other hand, Johnson’s “thumping majority means he is no longer held hostage by hard-line Tory Brexiteers. The PM has the opportunity to pursue a closer relationship with the EU”. And, given the fact that the EU makes up half of British trade, this will protect the British economy, as opposed to a trade deal with the US, which is never going to be easy. Public outcry over the prospect that the NHS - “this marvellous British institution”, as Johnson describes it - would be held to ransom by US pharmaceuticals must have come as a shock to him. But let’s wait and see what happens to that one.
Firstly, Johnson has to decide whether he wants a softer Brexit or not. If so, it will probably take longer than the end of 2020 to reach a satisfactory conclusion. But that isn’t going to be easy, because Johnson wants to protect Britain’s strongest assets - eg, financial services - whereas the EU will want to drive a hard bargain. Yet staying closely aligned to the EU - whilst being outside it - is a good idea, because it might dampen down the disintegrating tendencies within the United Kingdom; such as the SNP’s demand for another independence referendum. If the border down the Irish Sea can also be scrapped, then Northern Ireland’s drift towards economic integration with the south might be impeded.
The biggest question of all for the left is: would the working class have voted for a qualitatively different manifesto - ie, a socialist one? Answer: no. For that to happen, the working class needs a Marxist party and strategy. But why is that proving to be such a difficult task? Whichever way you look at it, this has to be part of our own post-mortem.
‘Brexit fatigue’, just like the ‘Falklands factor’ in the 1983 general election, has given the Tories a substantial working majority in 2019.
Now Boris Johnson must deliver on “getting Brexit done”. He must also keep his pledge that the NHS is not up for sale to giant American health insurance corporations. There is also the approaching world recession, which most economists expect in the second half of 2020. Then there is Scotland. The victorious Scottish National Party, like the nationalists in Catalonia in Spain, are likely to organise a new independence referendum.
Johnson will also have to deal with the five-week wait for universal credit; the 1.2 million people visiting food banks each year; and the 85,000 households in temporary housing (including 125,000 children); not to mention the thousands sleeping rough.
Jeremy Corbyn was also a factor in Labour’s defeat. Corbyn’s job in moving Labour to the left is done and now a new leader - preferably a woman - is needed. My money is on Rebecca Long-Bailey, MP for Salford and Eccles. A new leader must purge the Parliamentary Labour Party of all remaining Blairite MPs.
The results of the 2019 general election are only a snapshot in time. A lot can happen in the next five years. We must prepare for sharp turns and sudden changes.
You know best
As I previously said, Lexit, including the end to free movement, would have resulted in a Corbyn government. Still you know best.
It’s not only the carnage that will now result, including any amount of excess deaths, but we can now guarantee runaway climate change (as of now, 200 species extinct per day).
Love and kisses, comrades!
Dave Vincent returns to the issue of foreign workers, claiming that nobody has answered his arguments against controlled immigration (Letters, December 12). I refer readers to only some of my own letters on migration and let them judge: March 20 2014; April 17 2014; June 18 2015; June 22 2017; July 13 2017.
Dave asks, “Do indigenous peoples worldwide have any rights at all over unprecedented numbers of those coming into their country without their agreement?”
Competition under capitalism leads to false ideas about the burden of newcomers to native-born workers, who claim first pick on ‘our’ hospitals, ‘our’ housing, ‘our’ social security benefits. In fact, bad housing, hospital waiting lists, low pay and bad working conditions are universal problems. They are a consequence of the essential poverty of all people who depend on being employed in order to live. There was never a time when life was easy. Migrants did not create the problems. They arrive here with the false hope of escaping the same misery in their home countries, but find when they arrive here they have to share it and take the blame for it.
Since its inception, capitalism has drawn workers from poorer parts of the country and from abroad to more developed regions in order to satisfy its labour needs. And, as Marx said, capitalists require to also build up an industrial reserve army for the bosses to maintain their dominance in the job market and to control wage levels. All those people migrating are simply obeying the imperative that they must try to find a place to work. No amount of restrictions will change that fact.
The resentment against migrants is a class matter and such prejudice is inflamed by the many sections of the ruling class. Capitalism has sometimes been against immigration restrictions by promoting the free movement and availability of wage labour. But, at the same time, the capitalist social system is a fertile breeding ground for anti-foreigner policies. This may seem like a contradiction, but that is how it is, for capitalism is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. It cannot be a system of human harmony - division and conflict are in its very nature. Capitalism is a ‘dog eat dog’ world and will remain so until it is abolished.
The solution to the immigration crisis lies not with building fences, but with creating the conditions that do not necessitate people leaving their homes, their family, their friends and neighbours. The reality is that the solution is socialism. In the meantime, instead of undermining the ability of migrant workers to cross borders in search of work, migrants need to be unionised, uniting migrant workers alongside local workers in a collective struggle to maintain and improve upon wages and conditions. As long as workers are viewing migrants as the cause of their problems, they leave themselves divided and distracted.
The concern of working people over wages, unemployment, welfare and public services is totally legitimate. However, placing the blame on migrants does not address the causes of these problems or bring improvements to the situation. The problem is the capitalist system itself. The path to beginning to solve these problems is workers’ unity across ethnic, religious and national lines. It is vital that the trade unions make the recruitment of migrant labour a top priority.
There is your answer, Dave, as painful as it is. No worker, solely by birthright, has a guarantee to a secure, decent life under capitalism. It is wishful, utopian thinking to believe otherwise.
Socialist Party of Great Britain
While he has always been a trade union activist, championing militant working class causes, Dave Vincent does not seem to realise that his progressive side is more than counterbalanced by his instinctive nationalism.
For Dave, it is obvious that national rights come first - which is why he can’t understand when internationalists fail to put the rights of indigenous workers over and above those of outsiders. He claims that we have not answered this point, but in fact it is Dave who has failed to respond to what we have previously argued.
For instance, why should ‘indigenous rights’ apply only to states? Why doesn’t he ask, ‘Do the people of London have any rights at all over those coming into their city from Manchester without their agreement?’ Why is it only the inhabitants of states who should have the right to bar outsiders? Speaking as an ‘immigrant’ to London myself, I am totally opposed to the idea that people who happen to be born in a given locality must have priority over those who originate elsewhere.
What about free movement within Britain? If, for example, half the population of Manchester decided to move down here, think what that would do to our schools and hospitals! Surely that should be prevented - Londoners must come first! My view is that, on the contrary, the entire world belongs to all its people and in order to make that fact a reality we need working class unity across the planet. I am against all forms of sectionalism, whose proponents seek to divide workers - whether on the basis of our trade, our workplace or, in Dave’s case, our country.
It is true that, when it comes to democratic decision-making, it is only those who currently inhabit a given locality, city or state who should have the right to decide on matters that affect it specifically. So, if I happen to be passing through during a local election, I don’t think I should have the right to vote for a local councillor - just as overseas residents with no connection to Britain did not have the right to vote in last week’s general election. However, as soon as immigrants have settled permanently (after, say, six months), they should have full and equal rights to those of all other citizens.
Why does Dave want to stop me from moving freely to a different country if I so choose? Why shouldn’t I have the right to go and live where I want? Of course, many people feel forced to migrate because they just cannot live a decent life where they happen to be, but obviously the answer to that is not to tell them, ‘Tough luck - you just have to stay there anyway.’ The answer once again lies in a united working class movement to end the current system of class-based oppression.
Mike Macnair’s article, ‘Political zombification’, resonated strongly in its analysis of the Socialist Workers Party’s “stunted internal discussion culture” (November 28). As a member of the SWP now for a few years, the sense of being “dumbed down” rings true.
For example, I voted remain in the EU referendum, partly on the basis, however misjudged, that with the UK remaining a member-state (given freedom of movement within the EU, as opposed to just within the UK) then the facilities for unification of a European proletariat can emerge. It was basically an argument that had its basis in the historical parallel of German unification, about which Engels wrote to Marx: “… we have to accept the fact, without approving of it, and to use, as far as we can, the greater facilities now bound at any rate to become available for the national organisation and unification of the German proletariat” (Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx in London, 25 July 1866).
Whatever the merits of this argument, my point is that, once raised, it was either ignored or dismissed, not criticised or discussed, as the central committee line was Lexit. This was quite early on in my membership, and I was lacking confidence and certainly naive, but I was certainly not encouraged to develop it further and potentially stimulate debate.
I’m sure in the aftermath of the election the issue of Scottish independence will largely mirror the Brexit debate, in that the CC line will be obeyed and myself as a member will not be going into too much depth in analysing, understanding and criticising the issue. Instead I will be summoned for paper sales, leafleting and so on, as Macnair highlights: the issue of hyper-activism leading into “political tailism in the name of single-issuism”. How true! How much expended energy is involved in latching onto the latest ‘fad’ and then ‘hitting the streets’.