Boris Johnson is shaking the magic money tree again and finding £16.5 billion (and the rest) for ‘defence’ spending. Savings obviously have to be found and so public-sector wages are to be frozen again. The exception will be the NHS - for public appearance purposes - though there may be a way round that later; and foreign aid too, though some British companies may complain about missing out on the contracts they get out of that. Johnson had to U-turn on school meals, so somebody has to pay.
Some parts of the economy will be safe: friends of Conservative MPs, and donors too, will continue to get untendered Covid contracts. But some ‘less pressing’ bills will have to wait, like compensation to Windrush generation victims and safety measures for people living in Grenfell-type accommodation. They’ve been waiting a long time, so they can carry on waiting.
But Britain - sorry, England - must be kept safe. The “defence of the realm must come first”, Johnson tells us; and, further, the international situation is “now more perilous and intensely competitive than at any time since the cold war”. However, Britain will be the “foremost naval power in Europe” - so watch out, EU. ‘You Frenchies, Krauts, Icelanders … won’t stand a chance’ (though perhaps he should put Priti Patel in charge of defence).
But at least Britannia will rule the waves again: we will be safe from Russia, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela - in fact any country that the United States tells us poses a threat. Apparently what exactly the money is to be spent on is a bit vague, which is just how defence contractors like it. They probably have a sweepstake going as to how much over budget it will it be and how long over forecast it will take.
The Labour leadership has approved the extra to be spent on arms - well, there’s a surprise! It seems that it’s “a welcome and long overdue upgrade to Britain’s defences after a decade of decline”, in the words of Keir Starmer, who is plainly keen to make sure that Conservative voters in the north of England can be certain of Labour’s patriotism. After all, it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who got us those aircraft carriers, and one day we may have some aircraft too - if the US lets us.
I have long thought that the main difference between Conservative and Labour foreign policy is the competition as to who can get their tongue the furthest up the American fundament. Donald Trump would be pleased, but then I’m sure that Joe Biden will be too. Sir Keir will also look forward to another purge of MPs - if any should dare to vote against the arms budget.
But we’ll be all right: Britain has got Trident - the sub that lets us ‘punch above our weight’, as Douglas Hurd put it. Or to not go ‘naked into the conference chamber’, as Nye Bevan might have said. I’m sure that if some tosspot were to send a nuclear missile or two to Siberia we would all be saying, ‘Thank god we have Trident’, as we sat together under the stairs (having taped the windows and filled the bath and a few buckets with water).
Meanwhile poor benighted folk in places like Portugal, Peru and Togo will be saying, ‘Oh dear, if only we had some nuclear weapons’. Mind you, given the number of US bases around the world, they might find that they do have them.
Sinn Féin was once Ireland’s leading revolutionary political party alongside the Irish Republican Socialist Party - both of whom laid claim to the legitimacy of James Connolly’s legacy. The rhetoric and the war-cry was ‘Onward to a 32-county socialist republic!’
Like many others I believed in that vision of national reunification under a socialist government, putting the needs of the people before the profits of big business. After all, had not the Irish been exploited long enough by British capital and British occupation? When Sinn Féin was running for council elections prior to the restoration of devolved local government at Stormont as part of the Good Friday agreement, people were voting for a revolutionary republican party, demanding a withdrawal of British troops from the island of Ireland and an end to partition. The hunger strikes of 1981 propelled Sinn Féin into the electoral battlefield with an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other.
The transition from militant armed insurrection to electoral politics, oftentimes championed by the British government, led eventually to two ceasefires and one agreement between two warring combatants. The gun in many respects was taken out of Irish politics and replaced with manifestos, stirring speeches and a call to rally the troops (as it were) into constitutional politics.
The latest instalment of Sinn Féin in power in 2020, in the devolved power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland, has seen a call for the public housing body - the Northern Ireland Housing Executive - to have legislation enacted to enable it to borrow private monies to build public housing. The need for adequate public housing provision is undeniable. It is an ever-present sore for many who live in overcrowded homes or privately rented accommodation, without secure tenure or living with substandard facilities. But this is not the first time that New Labour-type policies have been put forward for consideration at the regionally devolved assembly.
The nature of the power-sharing assembly allows the parties elected to be represented in the ministerial positions as reflecting their mandates. The more members of the legislative assembly you have elected for your party, the more ministerial seats you will be allocated. Sinn Féin at various junctures in the past have held many, if not all, of the various ministries, including finance, and it was Máirtín Ó Muilleoir who previously promoted the policy of reducing corporation tax in Northern Ireland, thereby seducing big-business cartels and corporations to invest in the local economy - placing their headquarters here in order to take advantage of these lower tax incentives.
It was portrayed as a great idea, a win-win for all the people here. The companies would relocate, the local exchequer - now with tax-raising abilities -, would have money flow directly into the finance ministry, thus allowing major public works schemes to commence. Sounds great doesn’t it? ‘Any problems?’ I hear you say. Well, actually there were a few teething problems - 20-30,000 problems, to be exact.
In order to sustain the shortfall in the public purse caused by lowering corporation tax, the government finance minister proposed to eradicate permanently 20-30,000 public-sector jobs across the whole of the civil service and public bodies. The people employed in these positions would be offered redundancy terms and the jobs would simply disappear. A loss of 20-30.000 secure government jobs with benefits and trade union-won agreements, such as maternity leave, paid sick leave, statutory holidays, incremental wage increases were to be abandoned. These safe and secure jobs were to be replaced by insecure private-sector jobs - call-centre and financial service-type jobs, for instance.
Destroying the public sector to fuel insecure jobs in the private sector is not socialism, it is the capitalisation of the workforce. It would in effect have placed 20-30,000 new entrants into the job market. A combined loss of 40-60,000 jobs between those lost in the public sector and those now lost in the private sector to many who could not compete with the education, job skills and working track record of the newly unemployed civil servants.
Eventually, this scheme was abandoned due in no short measure to the public outcry from workers and trade unions. This should have been a warning cry to those who still thought Sinn Féin believed in the socialist republic. It was for me.
Now we have Carál Ní Chuilín, Sinn Féin minister for housing, proposing that the department should be allowed to borrow monies from banks or the markets or perhaps even the government to build social housing and repay the loans. Did not Tony Blair instigate this very policy of allowing hospitals and schools and other public bodies to borrow monies from private equity?
The public-private finance initiative proved to be a colossal mistake. The education and health sectors will be paying interest on the loans on these shameful deals for decades to come. The loan interest in many cases is larger than the loan itself! This was a dream come true for big business and the banks - a government-backed scheme with no chance of payment defaults, creating millions in revenue for private business. Fill your boots.
We are informed that the rates to borrow are historically low, but what happens when they rise again, which inevitably they will? What is the amount envisaged to be paid back? Over how long will these payments be made? Are we burdening our public bodies with private loans that will bleed the coffers dry?
We have no left or right politics here in the Northern Ireland government - just centrist and right politics, as espoused by the cabal of Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party. In many respects they are two polar-opposites, reverse mirror images - one of which is for ending partition and national reunification.
Comrade Tam Dean Burn has clearly misunderstood why the CPGB champions the federal republic as a solution to the national question in Britain (Letters, November 19).
First of all, let me say that we favour the unity of all peoples and nations, and the abolition of all borders - and indeed states themselves - in the long term. But such unity must be voluntary: in other words, nations must be able to make the choice between unity and separation. Clearly we advocate the former, which means that - barring exceptional circumstances, where separation on a temporary basis is the only way to promote such unity in the long term - we oppose separatism.
How in Britain can the national question be relegated in order to advance working class unity? By fighting in the here and now for the democratic right of Wales and Scotland to separate, while arguing strongly for exercising that right in favour of voluntary unity. That is why our call for a federal republic is amongst the “immediate demands” in our Draft programme (communistparty.co.uk/draft-programme, section 3.1.4).
We demand the abolition of the monarchy and second chamber, the separation of church and state, etc, in favour of genuine democracy. In a federal republic, the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly would have the right to vote for separation. But why would they do so - especially if all nations within Britain enjoyed genuine equality?
But for Tam, a federal republic is regarded as a long-term aim, not an immediate demand. He confuses self-determination with independence, when he says that communists should “support the exercising of the right to self-determination, whilst calling for the swiftest possible coming back together of all the peoples of these islands in a federal republic”. It is Tam, not the CPGB, who is creating “another hurdle to jump”, with his insistence that Scotland must first become independent before it can come “back together” with “all the peoples of these islands”.
In order to combat the poison of nationalism, we advocate that revolutionaries in England continue to stress this right to self-determination, while in Scotland and Wales they emphasise the unity of workers across Britain and oppose separatism. To facilitate unity and advance the working class cause the federal republic must be an immediate demand amongst revolutionaries of all three nationalities.
Fabulous and exciting - fresh ideas from (at least presumably) fresh blood! Oh yes, indeed: what adventurous, yet coherent analysis from comrade Jonah Martell, and how truly laudable of the Weekly Worker to provide space for it to be carefully considered (Supplement, November 19).
Whilst not regarding myself as equipped to pass comment in detail or depth, a stand-out takeaway is the need to abandon tired preconceptions about how a mass 21st century socialist/communist movement can be spawned and then developed - including the constant benefits of looking outward. Attitudes such as these - dare I say also their embracing of ‘holism’ - without doubt represent the future for Marxist politics, with its currently unappealing, self-evidently failing practices and structural forms now heading off down the lane to their retirement plot under the trees.
A respectful plaque should be placed to indicate their location, but that era is representative of our past circumstances, not of any inevitable evolution. Alongside the maintenance of more conventional ‘repositories’ for Marxist knowledge, the building of interactive networks by a variety of nonetheless serious and dedicated and solidly socialist/communist forces must now be the focus. That should include enthusiastic ‘localism’ as both a valuable and valid element - whilst, of course, always rejecting any self-limitation via more generalised ‘peasant’ mentalities. All as comrade Martell illuminated in his piece, so clearly and with such vitality (these being my own slight reinterpretations).
One final corollary to be gleaned, surely, is how the UK Labour Party as it is now definitely deformed (ie, having become cynically and ruthlessly post-Corbynist/freshly pro-Kafkaesque under the management of a certain Keir Starmer) must now be understood as almost wholly equivalent to the US Democrats - in any event, profoundly anti-working class.
Incidentally, the irony will not have been missed by many, in that comrade Jack Conrad (‘What Keir created, Keir can destroy’, November 12) may rightly have pointed out how nothing is guaranteed to last forever - most pertinently the UK Labour Party - but he stopped short of applying that same potentiality to our current methodologies, etc as communists. No shame whatsoever in that, of course: after all, human beings can be relied upon not to recognise their own faultlines and deficiencies, where quite expertly - even downright brilliantly - they manage to spot those within others!
SPEW is right
Both “Labour Party member” (Letters, November 19) and Jack Conrad (‘Our strategic orientation’, November 19) show how far the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ has affected the left inside the Labour Party. The regime within the Labour Party is so bad that your correspondent does not use his real name, or even a pseudonym, and, whilst Jack often uses the term ‘Stockholm syndrome’, he forgets that the only way to overcome it is to escape from one’s captor and get the necessary therapy and rehabilitation.
There are now several reports coming out which suggest that upwards of 200,000 (yes, 200,000!) members of the Labour Party have cancelled their direct debits. This is rapidly approaching the 300,000, which Tony Blair has said is the number needed to be purged in order that the Blairites can control the Labour Party at all levels.
It is also being heavily reported that staff at Labour Party headquarters in London and at the membership processing office in Newcastle are now working flat out to process the huge number of people who have cancelled their direct debits. Given that most former members were paying by monthly direct debit, the effect on Labour Party finances cannot be underestimated.
At the same time, Len McCluskey is coming under huge pressure from his members, including his national executive, to cease all contributions from Unite to the Labour Party. Hence McCluskey’s backroom deal with Jon Trickett to get Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension rescinded.
Jack Conrad often says that he is not a Trotskyist and I believe him. As such he does not believe in dialectics and dialectical materialism. Hence why Jack remains buried within the straitjacket of the Labour Party, although he now seems to be hedging his bets. Hence the Labour Left Alliance having an emergency meeting in January to discuss its future, in or out of the Labour Party.
Talking about dialectics, perhaps the CPGB/Labour Party Marxists could learn from the application of dialectical materialism to today’s Labour Party. First, the euphoria of Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015 has turned into its opposite of demoralisation in 2020. Second, a qualitative change has taken place in the nature of the Labour Party - the watershed being the suspension of Corbyn by Sir Keir Starmer.
As in the US, a new mass workers’ party is needed in Britain. The alternative is to leave the electoral field open to far-right populists like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. “Labour Party member” says that all left projects outside the Labour Party “usually” fail. This shows an ignorance of dialectics. Qualitative change means, in spite of trade union backing, that the Labour Party is no longer a bourgeois workers’ party but a party similar to the US Democrats.
It must not be forgotten that the Bolshevik Party started out as a faction in the centrist (revolutionary in name, but reformist in practice) Russian Social Democratic Labour Party - a halfway house so despised by Jack Conrad. Today’s Labour Party left is not even centrist. Hence the caving in to the anti-Semitism witch-hunt by Jeremy Corbyn in order that he could get his Labour membership back. The Socialist Party in England and Wales is therefore right to work towards the building of a new mass workers’ party, which would then lead to the development of a revolutionary wing and mass Communist Party.
The problem, in contrast to “Labour Party member”, is not that new left formations outside the Labour Party “usually” fail, but that the time has not been ripe - until now. There are now between 200,000 and 300,000 Labour Party members who have gone through the experience of Corbynism - and parliamentary cretinism, as Marx would put it. They are wide open to a revolutionary organisation outside the Labour Party.
It is therefore a significant coup for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to have recruited former Labour MP Chris Williamson to its steering committee. Like me, Chris did dabble with George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain, but fortunately we have seen the error of our ways. The problem I have with Tusc is its name. Better to call itself ‘Left Party’, ‘Working Class Party’, or even ‘Socialist Alternative’, albeit the latter being the electoral name of SPEW.
I’ll end this letter with a little anecdote from Facebook. I recently asked a young comrade how he was doing. His reply was: “I’m no longer a member of the Labour Party, and don’t call me comrade any more.” This disillusionment is widespread. Marxists must do all we can to stop the 300,000 mainly young people caught up in Corbynmania from being dispersed to the four winds.
Regarding a previous letter I sent to the Weekly Worker, I know that my theory about the coming energy crisis leading most of the bourgeoisie to break from capitalism and abandon ship is controversial. However, this is not some new dogma I am presenting to the left. It is a theory based on my research of the energy crisis since I became aware of it in late 2007. If it is wrong, events will show it to be. If it is correct, it will come to pass in due course. Only events will prove if the theory is true or false. The veracity or otherwise cannot be proved by abstract debate alone.
The theory also takes into account what Marx said in the Communist manifesto about a section of the bourgeoisie turning left in a profound revolutionary crisis. Although Marx wasn’t aware of a coming energy crisis, he still argued that a section of the bourgeoisie can turn left. What I have done is updated Marx on this matter and applied his argument to the coming energy crisis. In my view that won’t lead to the bourgeoisie turning to the left immediately. They will begin to turn left when they realise capitalism can’t be revived without cheap energy.
To purists or ultra-left elements, the idea of a united front with the bourgeoisie is enough to make them choke on their pint. But the Comintern came over to the policy of a popular front with the more progressive sections of the bourgeoisie, after the failure of the ‘class against class’ tactic in Germany led the KPD (German Communist Party) to disaster and the victory of Hitler.
The old popular front was an alliance with the progressive sections of the bourgeoisie against the rise of fascism. It was not aimed at ending capitalism. A new, future popular front would combine opposition to fascism with moving towards socialism. In my view the internal contradictions within such a new popular front must be resolved in the correct manner in favour of a democratic socialist society.
In response to Jim Nelson’s letter about how abysmal The Guardian is, I agree (Letters, November 19). Why waste your time, when there is a perfectly reasonable, daily socialist newspaper: the Morning Star, published by the Communist Party of Britain. It can be purchased from any newsagent or found online.
Kent Socialist Alliance