Rex Dunn’s article, ‘Lessons of Corbynism’s defeat’, is overtheorised and radically misleading (January 23).
To begin at the end, comrade Dunn supports Andrew Northall’s view that it is necessary to choose between fighting for the Labour Party to be turned into a united front, on the one hand, and fighting for a Communist Party, on the other. Comrade Northall is, of course, a supporter of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, and hence of this group’s view that the Labour bureaucracy should be left undisturbed in their control of the trade unions and the Labour Party - the communists uniting with the bureaucracy in “united front” (actually people’s front) politics, while pursuing “building a Communist Party” externally. This policy is, in fact, shared by the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Socialist Workers Party.
‘Turning outwards’ in this conception produces not a Communist Party, but a multiplication of sects. The reason why it does so is that the policy proposed is precisely to attempt to engage directly in dialogue with broad masses in competition with the Labour Party, the trade union bureaucracy, the Morning Star, Socialist Worker and all the rest. Since the working class’s major organisations - the trade unions and the Labour Party - remain dominated by the loyalist bureaucracy, the terms of discourse in the dialogue with the masses remain dominated by the ideas of the loyalist bureaucracy.
All that can differentiate the several groups - CPB, SWP, SPEW, etc, etc, etc - is different tactics. Thus comrade Dunn’s proposal to “reach out to key sections of the working class: eg, tech workers ... on this basis revolutionaries could then raise the transitional demand for a Green New Deal ...” This is on a par with SPEW’s attempt to breathe life into the National Shop Stewards Network, the SWP’s Stand Up To Racism and so on. The result of the centrality of tactics, as opposed to programme, is that bureaucratic centralism is inevitable - and the result is competing sects and dumbing down the ranks, contrary to comrade Dunn’s aims.
The CPGB has set out to try to do something different: that is, to try to engage with the actual left where it is, and fight for an alternative approach to the line of competing sects: a party based on a political programme. Where a large part of the actual left is, at the moment, is in the Labour Party.
Secondly, the present situation is that the capitalist class through its state and its media is fighting a fierce class battle to get back full control of the Labour Party, having accidentally partially lost control in 2015, and/or to destroy the party as a mass force (as has happened in Scotland, in France ...). Any ‘revolutionary’ who thinks that the outcome of this battle is immaterial to their politics is under as much of an illusion as those who imagined that the outcome of the 1984-85 miners’ strike was immaterial to the future course of the class struggle. The idea that revolutionaries should stand on one side in relation to this class battle, because the Labour Party is chauvinist and parliamentarist, makes as little sense as the argument that leftists should stand aside in 1984-85, because the miners’ leadership was chauvinist (and so on).
Moving a step back from this, comrade Dunn offers two columns of ‘theoretical’ explanation of Labour’s electoral defeat in terms of a combination of the idea of capitalist decline, with István Mészáros on alienation, Karl Marx on commodity fetishism, Theodor Adorno’s ‘culture industry’ and Guy Debord’s ‘society of the spectacle’. The articulation of this argument is extremely feeble. Mészáros’s Marx’s theory of alienation and Marx’s Capital Vol 1 were concerned not with the decline of capitalism, but with the general features of capitalism as such (alienation, commodity fetishism). Adorno and Debord thought they were concerned with the decline of capitalism, but were in fact merely seeing the introduction into Europe of the “pristine culture of capitalism” (Ellen Meiksins Wood) from the consumerist and advertising-funded, media-spun societies of 18th century England and the 19th century USA. People have been “willing to vote on the basis of personalities rather than programme” since John Wilkes in 1760s London and Andrew Jackson in the 1820s-30s USA, if not before.
From these illusions we move to the role of the “subjective factor” - the betrayals of social democracy “in the run-up to 1914” (unexplained, as opposed to betrayal in August 1914) laying the basis for the Russian civil war and hence Stalinism; but spontaneism is to be rejected, on the basis of Lenin in What is to be done? (in the passage quoted, following Karl Kautsky’s polemic against the German trade union bureaucrats’ attempt to censor the Neue Zeit, because it was produced by ‘middle class intellectuals’). None of this really has any explanatory value in relation to the election outcome.
Comrade Dunn’s central error of analysis is his belief that Labour’s 2019 manifesto proposed a realistic alternative to the Tories’ Brexiteering - “a set of rational proposals” - and that the Corbyn leadership failed to effectively promote this alternative because it was “shackled by a chauvinist ideology [meaning left Brexiteering], as well as being congenitally incapable of breaking with parliamentarism”.
In the first place, the Corbyn leadership’s proposals were radically unrealistic. The UK is a declining imperialist power, now in a situation analogous to 18th century Venice or Genoa: it has a massive deficit in material balance of trade, especially in food production, and lives primarily off the income from international financial (plus legal and consultancy) services and tourism.
‘Industrial’ capital - or, for that matter “the ruling class or the more grounded sections of it, as reflected in the FT”, as comrade Dunn puts it - now actually means a combination of foreign firms: eg, BMW, Honda, Nissan ... To pick up just a few recent headlines, British Steel - currently in receivership - is to be bought either by the Chinese company, Jingye, or the Turkish firm, Cengiz (BBC News January 26); German firm Siemens and the French Alstom have an effective duopoly of railway signalling equipment (The Times January 28); Canadian firm Bombardier is selling its UK rail interests to Alstom (The Times January 22); the train-operating companies are mostly owned by European railway companies; even small niche producers such as Morgan and McLaren motors have foreign owners (Italian Investindustrial and the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa); BP is selling off its North Sea oil assets to a smaller operator; and so on. Neither group can possibly have political weight comparable to City financial operators, or even the ‘magic circle’ law firms or ‘big four’ accountants. The division within the British capitalist class about Brexit was about access to the EU for financial and other services - as opposed to the (reasonable enough) objections of the German, Japanese and US car manufacturers, etc, who are only here for the anti-union laws, together with access to the single market, but because they aren’t British couldn’t intervene politically.
In this situation, British capital doesn’t have real choices. The British state has elected to continue the policy it began in summer 1940 of handing over world leadership to the USA and (since the disaster of Suez in 1956) US loyalism. This US loyalism took it into the European Economic Community in 1972 - and has now taken it out, as the US has moved away from the post-war international architecture towards promoting nationalism and protectionism.
The consequence is that no amount of ‘British national’ reform can get out of the underlying dynamics. The working class could act on a European continental scale (not identical to that of the European Union) to seize the actual physical means of production and communication, move large-scale industry and so on into central planning, and thereby take the continent out of the regime of capitalist control. But a Corbyn government in Britain - always very unlikely, as we have pointed out - would have produced merely a flight of capital, a run on the pound, etc, and either some sort of coup or a political collapse à la Syriza in Greece.
I have no illusions either that the Labour left will move towards a politics of radical opposition, or that Johnson and co will actually deliver ‘rebalancing the economy’ towards the north.
I made the point in my article, ‘The great moving right show’ (January 9), that the polls make it perfectly clear that Labour taking a clear ‘remain’ position would have produced the result which actually happened - and, conversely, Labour taking a clear ‘leave’ position would have meant perhaps holding some of the northern and Midlands seats which were lost, but, on the other hand, losing a lot of urban seats which they held in this election.
The problem is not lack of class-consciousness on the part of workers who voted ‘leave’ - or, rather, there is just as much lack of class-consciousness in supporting ‘remain’ under the illusion that the EU is some sort of bastion of social democracy. Voting ‘leave’ was an act of class defiance against the London ‘establishment’ - a mistaken one, but nonetheless a real one. Yes, a mistake, but it was neither stupidity nor ‘false consciousness’ for some older northern and Midlands working class voters to imagine that the best course of action was to “get Brexit done”.
In dark times such as these, it is sometimes a good idea to go back to similar periods in history to get a sense of perspective.
As an avid fan of the writings of US socialist and writer Jack London (Call of the wild, White fang and The iron heel), I believe there is much we can learn from his life. He used his fame and wealth as a popular writer of novels to help socialist causes. Unfortunately, in 1916 he succumbed to despair and committed suicide. He was therefore not alive to witness the February and October revolutions in Russia in 1917. However, in January 1917, Lenin had despaired and famously told his fellow Bolsheviks that he wouldn’t see socialism in his lifetime, yet within nine months the Bolsheviks were in power.
In the BBC news channel’s review of 2019, Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, was interviewed. He mentioned a recent conversation with his mum, who had said, “Things have never been so bad”. Ian replied: “Look, you were alive in 1939 - that was a really bad time to be growing up.” In the late 1950s, Tory prime minister Harold ‘Supermac’ Macmillan often used the phrase, “Events, dear boy, events”.
As Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy recently quite rightly pointed out, “Labour needs to change, or it will die.” She obviously has her eye on what has happened to Pasok in Greece and the Socialist Party in France. Whilst I hope Lisa becomes Labour leader - Rebecca Long Bailey’s campaign is faltering and Sir Keir Starmer is part of the Blairite London elite - I cannot see her being able to turn around Labour’s fortunes in the small to middle-sized towns of the north and the west Midlands. As the Financial Times recently pointed out, just as Trump represents blue-collar workers in the so-called ‘rust belt’ in the US, Boris Johnson’s Tory Party is now the party of the blue-collar working class of the so-called former ‘red wall’ in Britain.
As the title song to the James Bond film Spectre goes, “The writing’s on the wall” - and has been for some time now. This is clearly shown in North East Cambridgeshire constituency - more commonly known as Fenland - where the Tories control all four town councils, in addition to Fenland district council, and all 11 Fenland seats on Cambridgeshire county council. Of the 39 seats on Fenland council, the Tories have 26, independents 11, Lib Dems and Greens one each. Labour has no seats in Fenland on the parish, town, district and county councils. The fastest growing party here is now the Green Party, which has, in addition to its district council seat, two on the town council and one on the parish council.
The CPGB Provisional Central Committee seems to currently set a lot in store by its call to work within the Labour Party. If the PCC seems to think that activity in the workplaces and on the streets is wasted, as pointed out by Jim Cook (Letters, January 24), then I suggest it must make a turn towards replacing not just Blairite MPs, but Blairite councillors as well. However, although I think the PCC is wasting its time with the Labour Party, I wish it luck.
The best thing the PCC can do is to prepare for a split, like the breakaway Independent Labour Party in 1931. This could then link up with Chris Williamson’s proposed new party of currently expelled and excluded Labour members. If Starmer becomes Labour Party leader, this split will be a distinct possibility.
Tony Clark doesn’t like dictatorships and believes that Marx failed to understand their Roman origins (Letters January 23). For a start, I would suggest that Marx, as a classics scholar, was well aware of where the word came from.
Tony appears worried that a dictatorship of the working class might involve the ending of both democracy and the law. To quote: “The two characteristics of a dictatorship are that it not only dispenses with democracy, but it is also above the law.” Apparently Lenin got it wrong as well, but Lenin also asked, ‘who, whom?’ - possibly not in this context, but it’s apposite anyway. It’s a question of who makes the laws, who rules in a democracy, which class has the dictatorship, and which class gets dumped on.
A small example: Corbyn suggested, to great consternation in some quarters, that Grenfell survivors might move into some of the empty houses and apartments in Kensington and Chelsea. With a dictatorship of the working class I would suggest that the housing crisis could be resolved in double quick time by opening the empty houses and apartments in this borough and some of those around it to those that need housing.
A Labour government attempting this (in our dreams) would quickly find people (or rather their lawyers) saying, ‘That’s mine!’, ‘Get out!’ and legal argument would go on for several years, as homeless numbers grew and people decided not to bother voting Labour again.
Similar would be the resistance to nationalising the railways, energy, water and so on. The law would come down - accompanied by German lawyers, French lawyers, Italian lawyers … plus the IMF, World Bank, the USA, the police, the military: ie, the dictatorship of the ruling class.
Some other examples: it is now legal for corporations to pump as much money as they like into US elections and for states to discriminate against black people, Latinos, students, poor people, etc. This comes down from on high - the supreme court - and US democracy will keep it there until a lucky coincidence of dead judges and fair elections.
In our own backyard there is universal credit, the ‘hostile environment’, the bedroom tax. It would take several sessions of parliament to follow our legal and democratic pathways and make a start on getting rid of these. The ruling class has plenty of practice at using the law for their own devices. Giant corporations kill and injure people and use the courts: wait long enough and people lose the will and the money to fight, and either die or take what little is on offer. Oh, and the corporations don’t like paying taxes either.
The question here is: Whose law? Whose democracy? These things are not sent down to us by god - like rain or sunshine (allegedly). They are human constructions, built and developed over millennia to keep us peasants down.
A dictatorship of the working class will be an urgent and international task brought about by crisis. We don’t know which crisis - hopefully not World War III or terminal environmental destruction. It may, for all we know, grow from the self-immolation of a street vendor somewhere; but battle will commence and nobody - working or ruling class - will be waiting for the next election.
“Time is of the essence”, as Rex Dunn says in the same issue of the paper and so, he believes: “Thus Andrew Northall is right when he says that “the Weekly Worker group” has to choose between its aim to “transform [the Labour Party] into a united front … with a Marxist leadership” and “the need to build a united, mass Communist Party. Clearly we must focus on the latter, before it is too late”.
Well, where are we to find the masses for this Communist Party? “In the streets” has been suggested, along with “the trades unions” so one by one we can recruit members to whichever little group we want. There exists a sadly inadequate organisation with over half a million members and which recently acquired over 10 million votes. Leave them to it? We need to intervene where people are; that is with all of the above plus. How we do it? We have to work for that one.
I think we probably agree on the need to change the world, but we also have to recognise some of the obstacles, such as ruling class law and democracy, and some potential allies.
No union support
I am a member of the GMB union, but the treatment they have subjected me to is an utter disgrace and an affront to the founding principles of the trade union movement. Since 2014 I have been unable to work, initially through injury - I have had three operations and am facing further of the same,
As the injury occurred at work, I initiated an industrial injury claim, but, instead of supporting me, the union accused me of fraud! At a meeting with the union lawyer in January 2015, he produced a document containing such claims, but refused to give me a copy. When I explained I had had surgery and sent my employer all the relevant details, he couldn’t change the subject quickly enough.
I successfully initiated a claim against my employer for constructive dismissal through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), but rather than supporting me as a union member, the GMB and their law firm pulled out all the stops to support the employer. The legal ombudsman has upheld my complaint of poor service.
Rather than investigating my complaint, union officials attempted to intimidate and silence me - they actually reported me to the police. At the same time they refused to subject me to any disciplinary measures at all, thus avoiding an official union hearing, where my treatment and their conduct would be recorded and be open to scrutiny.
Since I have counter-complained, the police have dropped their investigation and are claiming this to be a civil matter, but the fact is this was never a police matter in the first place and should have been handled by the union at branch level. GMB general secretary Tim Roache is well aware of this, but he is refusing to investigate - strange conduct, when you consider that he is always making statements concerning ‘fighting injustice’ and ‘supporting his members’.
I am asking for a fair and unbiased investigation into my complaint and for general secretary Roache to practise what he preaches. I sincerely hope that you will support me in this.
Stoke on Trent
As we enter the 2020s, remember the dialectic. Society may be unjust, but it’s not static. All over the place there are contradictions, opposing forces, clashes of logic, many of which get more obvious by the year. Such as global warming, where the way we live - the economic system - threatens the very quality of the planet we live on.
Then there’s the demand for equality (anti-sexism, anti-racism), while we are still subject to a ‘star’ system, a class system, of ‘unequal pay’, not to mention claims of democracy made amongst assertions of power and a privilege that holds itself even above the law.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the process will go smoothly and in one direction - the 20th century is proof of that - but the very least we need is a party, a movement, a network, and each and every committed individual pointing out: (1) those contradictions and the pain they involve; and (2) that most of the solutions proposed are meagre sectional reforms, which don’t get the job done. Things are complicated - proof that there’s a lot to confront - but most of this is mainly down to our lack of equality and freedom; and this is likely to be at least sensed by more and more people.