The rebellion against Keir Starmer inside Labour is gaining strength. Members across the country are forming ‘ghost’ local parties to resist what’s widely seen as a purge on the left by the leadership.
Since Starmer became leader last year over 70 party officers and hundreds of ordinary members have been suspended or expelled for expressions of support for former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Terry Deans, who was punitively suspended by the party last year, said: “I believe Starmer was hoping that by suspending or expelling people he would drive many others on the left to leave the party. But most have decided to stay and fight - many by setting up ‘ghost’ Labour parties.”
Following an investigation by Labour’s national executive committee, Falklands War veteran Deans was sentenced to a 12-month suspension and denied the opportunity for a hearing. Now he’s joined the new group, the Labour In Exile Network (LIEN), which includes people both inside and outside the party working to change and democratise Labour. LIEN is holding its first public ‘Fightback Meeting’ at 6pm on Saturday March 27. (Join and/or register for the meeting at labour-in-exile.org.)
Deans said: “The meeting will bring together people from across the country who have set up ghost or shadow local Labour parties. These parties will allow them to keep on fighting for the policies and ideas championed by Jeremy Corbyn, but outside of interference by Starmer’s officials.”
People will share their experience of setting up parties and discuss the possibility of national cooperation. Deans said: “This is the real prize - setting up a national, linked-up, shadow Labour Party, but this will be real Labour - the real grassroots party, working on a truly democratic basis.”
The Fightback Meeting will also set up a number of working groups, in which members will be able to advance the cause of changing the party. These will include groups to fight the witch-hunt, racism and disability discrimination, as well as ones on the media and transforming the Labour Party.
Deans said: “Changing the Labour Party is, of course, a massive job and we are looking to members to come and join the working groups they think they can most usefully contribute to. We have proposals for groups for socialising and for using craft skills to protest. Everyone can do something. And we are open to ideas for new working groups, too.”
Labour In Exile Network
Tam Dean Burn and Al Thomas both ask for elaboration on the CPGB’s position on federalism (Letters, March 11 and 18). They want flesh put on the bones.
This is to misunderstand the purpose of the Marxist programme in general and the CPGB’s Draft programme in particular. The programme consciously avoids the fine details of the day, passing facts, let alone the temptation of drafting laws and constitutions. None of that has any place in the programme, which outlines main aims and principles, presents our assessment of the different social classes and maps out the broad strategy needed to overcome capitalism and make the transition to communism.
Because various national questions palpably exist in the British Isles, we are obliged to provide answers in the immediate - the minimum - section of the programme:
- When it comes to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, we are for British withdrawal and unity of the island of Ireland. That fight establishes working class independence from the British bourgeoisie and is the best way to overcome sectarian divisions.
- When it comes to Britain itself, the working class must fight for a federal republic that embodies the right of Wales and Scotland to self-determination. If the Scottish parliament or the Welsh assembly votes for separation, then there ought to be separation.
We are not in power, nor even on the threshold of power, so it would be stupid - very stupid - to give more details. Not because we have some hidden blueprint up our sleeve ready to whip out at the appropriate moment. How things turn out in Britain depends on the future - on the class struggle here, mainland Europe and world wide.
As a general principle we are actually opposed to federalism. We seek big states that are both centralised and democratic. So, to the extent that the struggle of communists is successful in Britain, the extent that working class unity replaces working class disunity, federalism becomes less and less relevant. In other words, the demand for federalism is about the immediate situation. Not the long-term future.
If the CPGB were in government, then we would be obliged to present concrete answers to concrete questions. But that is not for today.
Despite my three recent supplements on Scotland there still remain some other points of confusion.
Comrade Burn worries that a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales would still see English domination simply because of the huge imbalance in population numbers between the English and the Welsh and Scots. A legitimate concern, given the nationalism that clouds minds in Scotland, Wales … and England.
The same could be said even with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Ukrainians, White Russians, Georgians, etc had good reasons to resent and fear Great Russian domination. Even Ukrainian, White Russian, Georgian, etc Bolsheviks expressed strong reservations about the centralised state proposed by Stalin, commissar of nationalities. Hence, to overcome fears, to encourage trust, Lenin pressed for unity in what became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was advisable to temporarily put aside centralism in favour of federalism. Established in 1923, each republic had self-government - limited only when it came to matters such as war and peace - and each republic had the right to secede.
We are committed not only to a united Europe ruled by the working class, but to the transition to communism via a World Union of Socialist Republics. Maybe each state formation would involve federalism for a limited period, maybe not. Our goal is the closest unity: ie, democratic centralism. A united Europe will see Britain making up no more than an eighth of the total population. There are a lot of French, Italians and Spanish … even more Germans. So what?
When it comes to a world union, the percentage of Britons is tiny. Indians, Chinese, Americans, Russians, Brazilians and Indonesians would have the most votes. So what?
Today Scotland and Wales resent what they see as English domination. Problems are explained with reference to nation, not class. Similarly, a majority of English people resented and still resent the EU. However, our answer is not to advocate disunity and small states - a recipe for impotence, deindustrialisation, population loss and political reaction. No, the communist answer is the fight for unity and consistent, extreme democracy.
Finally, comrade Thomas asks about the theoretical basis of our federalism? Well, the CPGB bases itself programmatically on the theory of Marxism and applies it to the specific conditions of 21st century Britain.
Many readers will have seen the Communist Party of Britain’s take on the electoral commission this week. Social media has been full of uncharacteristically fiery condemnations of a decision made by the commission - what the CPB has claimed is an underhand political act designed to destroy its election campaign.
General secretary Robert Griffiths fumed that “There is a whiff of sabotage about this”. Although “it is not the first time that the electoral commission has treated the Communist Party unfairly and incompetently”, it is in his view an outrageous and unprecedented attack. He appealed to “trade union general secretaries, leaders of devolved governments where communists are contesting seats and to cross-party, democratically-minded MPs and members of the Lords” to assist them to have the decision overturned.
So what is the problem exactly? Well, the electoral commission has told the CPB that it must use its full title - Communist Party of Britain - on the ballot paper in the May 7 council, regional and assembly elections. Pretty uncontroversial, you might think, for a political party to use its own name. But it is anathema to the CPB to be forced to do so. The party claims it is being “banned” from using names other than its officially registered one.
The CPB had planned to ditch ‘Britain’ and instead describe itself as the “Scottish Communist Party” in the Holyrood elections, the “Welsh Communist Party” in the Welsh Assembly elections and simply the “Communist Party” in English regional and council elections. Griffiths protests that “the electoral commission must know that forcing us to describe ourselves as the ‘Communist Party of Britain’ in Scotland and Wales is a vote-loser”.
Griffiths makes no effort to hide this blatant opportunism. His organisation essentially wants to conceal the fact that it is an all-Britain organisation in order to win nationalist votes. It is in the process of creating three separate sections on its website: ‘Welsh Communist Party’, ‘Scottish Communist Party’ and one for ‘England’. Although “What we stand for” on the CPB home page reassures us that the party is committed to building socialism in Britain, there is no mention of that offensive geographical term in the Welsh and Scottish sections. All quite confusing … but then nationalism is like that. The CPB will do whatever it takes to win votes.
Griffiths gives the impression that the CPB has always had a difficult time with the electoral commission. Not true. Back when the Register of Political Parties was set up in 1998-99, the CPB was determined that it would be the only ‘communist party’ with ‘Britain’ in the title allowed to stand in elections. Indeed its people often boasted afterwards about how they had prevented us in the CPGB from standing in elections under our name - they had been anointed with the legal title by a committee of rightwingers. This was despite the fact that we had stood as the CPGB in a number of national elections by then, including the 1992 general election in Scotland, Wales and England - to plant the flag for a reforged all-Britain Communist Party. It should be said that we never objected to the CPB being on the register - we thought the question of legitimacy was a political question, not one to be decided by establishment politicians and their bureaucratic side-kicks.
Now it seems that the CPB does not want its legal title any more. And it is crying salty tears about being made to use it. Is it wrong to enjoy the sense of Schadenfreude so much?
Each morning, my neighbour raises the St George’s flag up his flagpole. Meanwhile my mum’s cousin is chairman of the local St George’s dinner club, while my brother thinks that Nigel Farage should receive a knighthood for services to Brexit.
To understand this growth in English nationalism I have recently been reading Gavin Esler’s excellent new book, How Britain ends: English nationalism and the rebirth of the four nations. Esler was a presenter of the BBC’s Newsnight for 12 years until 2014. As a soft ‘remainer’, he explains in his book how Brexit was an expression of English nationalism.
His book is a warning to the ruling class of what could happen if it does not take English nationalism seriously. Such nationalism was embodied in the UK Independence Party - and now in the Tory Party under Boris Johnson, which is now an English Nationalist Party.
Esler’s solution to ‘How Britain ends’ is to call for a federal United Kingdom, whilst keeping the monarchy. He also calls for an English parliament with multi-member constituencies elected by single transferable vote. At the same time, as he explains in his book, Brexit has done more towards the creation of a united Ireland than the IRA ever did.
Marxists must take English nationalism seriously and therefore neutralise the reactionary side of this nationalism by supporting the call for an English parliament, whilst also devolving power downwards from Whitehall to the regions and local councils. Marxists must also support the establishment of a socialist federal republic of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as part of a socialist United States of Europe.
Gerry Downing says: “... the organised working class is the only force that all serious revolutionaries must address in the struggle to defeat fascism and make revolution; they are the sole enforcers we must ultimately rely on …” (Letters, March 18).
OK, so why make demands in the Campaign for Free Speech like “End the prosecution of journalists and whistleblowers like Julian Assange, who expose state crimes and attacks on democratic rights”; or “Oppose the interference of the state in the running of political parties”?
There were others: it might well be that none of them are achievable without working class power, but they are still demands on the state and demands for freedom of speech - along with freedom of association, etc. Why add to them a demand to restrict the free speech of some? If the working class (to continue Gerry’s sentence above), “because they are the repository of the future workers’ state and communist society”, has taken power, then why would we worry about fascists speaking freely?
Replying to my letter of March 4, Gerry found a passage that leapt out - the main leap seemed to be in reference to a Louis Theroux documentary, in which a woman said: “When in the Ku Klux Klan she was treated as an equal for the first time in her life and given respect”. She seemed, to me, to be rather pathetic and some might consider it a shame that she had not been treated with respect by others more worthy. In fact, the whole crew that Theroux filmed and interviewed seemed rather pathetic.
I’m not going to check it all out again, but, as I remember it, they distributed some pamphlets in Ferguson when there were protests in 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police. They were identified, I believe, and got some blow-back, at which point the whole crew collapsed. This is contrary to Gerry’s assertion: “Nonetheless the great side effect of all this was that the ‘personal development’, ego and self-esteem of Louis Theroux’s KKK interviewee was greatly enhanced.”
Not really - as I said above, they seemed to come over as a bit, to say the least, pathetic. So was Theroux wrong to make and show this documentary and thereby allow viewers to come to their own conclusions? For Gerry, “Should we silence her by any means necessary? Definitively yes!” Presumably these means include the popular (at the Free Speech conference) ‘pavement connection’.
As Gerry points out, the KKK lynched people and there are many who would love to carry on doing so. Nazis, including women, murdered millions. Should they be fought and opposed? Of course! Are we currently facing lynch mobs? Do we have a rising Nazi party ready to wage war on the working class? There are no doubt some who would like to do all this, but I would suggest that there are far, far more who are ignorant and just confused enough to join fascist groups - or join in a football terrace chant.
We are, still, currently, in a situation in which we can engage, even with fascists. For instance, we can argue with them; this can be quite useful if we have others present who we can hopefully convince of our position. A physical attack on them may not prove to be so enlightening.
I found a piece a while ago (‘Organizing white workers when the Klan is in the shop’ Counterpunch February 19), which included the following:
“One day we got a lead about an electronics factory in Jamesburg NJ. There seemed a reasonable level of interest after a few days of handing out flyers; we called our first meeting. About halfway through I noticed a group of three workers (two men and a woman), wearing KKK shirts beneath their unzipped jackets. My heart sank. The meeting went well enough, but I was ready to move on to better prospects.
“The next day I reported to Frank Engelberg, the director of Organizing. Frank was a radical Jew and a great person, loved by the members for his rabble-rousing speeches against the boss. And he had no illusions about what fascism really meant.
“I went into his office and said: ‘Frank, we’re fucked, we’re done. The Klan is in the shop and in our meetings.’ He turned to me with a look far more intense than usual. In his gruff Jersey voice, he barked out: ‘No! Richie, you get your ass right back in there and you organize the Klan right into the union.’
“After a moment of stunned silence, I thought to myself: ‘So this is what it means to organize the working class. Man, this is no picnic. ‘OK, Frank,’ I said, trying to muster some courage. ‘Fuck the Klan, we’ll go back and give it a shot.’
“What Frank was telling me is that we have to engage with workers the way they really are, not the way we want them to be or imagine them to be.
“And why bring the Klan into the union? Because better pay and the benefits of a union contract was good medicine for everyone - including racists. Frank knew that the boss was our real enemy.”
In this way too, racists can be won over and the far right can be defeated. Yes, there are many in the working class who are ignorant and confused - if there weren’t, they might have taken power decades ago. But, as above, the boss is our real enemy. The ruling class is our real enemy and it has many weapons, including miseducation and misinformation in the mainstream media. Many fall for all sorts of dead-ends, shit-creeks and dangerous diversions, and shutting them up isn’t going to help us at all.
Who do we want to shut up anyway? All fascists? All racists? People who lynch or people who speak? How do we track them down? How about a witch-hunt? But Gerry says: “... we do not fight for the political souls of individual fascists, but, having assessed the movement as a whole as fascist, set out to smash it.” And how are we to do that? Ah yes, “Should we silence her by any means necessary? Definitively yes!”
Finally, “contrary to Jim, the taunt is not ‘liberal’, but ‘libertarian’,” he says. I must have missed that in the conference. I heard quite a lot of ‘liberal’ but no ‘libertarian’. I would assume that the “taunt” of ‘liberal’ was a gibe at those who are ‘soft’ on fascists - those who hold back from connecting faces to pavements as the only tactic. I’m sure I’m not alone in waiting impatiently for the list of faces and pavements that comrades have connected to date.
Germany, once viewed as an exaggerated model of exactitude and discipline, is currently in a muddle.
Above all it’s the Covid mess. Seen last spring as a model of swift, effective response, Germany is now torn by controversy, with its 16 states and dozens of politicians squabbling about when to send which kids (if any) back to school, with or without masks, with or without self-testing. Shopkeepers and restaurant owners protest: “When can we open our doors or at least serve outdoor tables?” But if they can open in April, why can’t hotels do the same? What about the tourist trade?
At Easter, but mostly in the summer, huge waves of Germans surge toward the surf at the Baltic and North Sea, but especially along the Mediterranean coasts. What about theatre people and musicians? Or sex workers? All are clamouring for more government funds for survival.
All hopes were based on vaccines, first for old folks and medical staff. But who next? Teachers, cops? Secretive arrangements for vaccine purchases were in turmoil, both financially and medically. Just as Europe seemed to be under control, there were unpleasant rumours about AstraZeneca shots. Then the minister of health announced an “all clear, (nearly) all safe”. But many were sceptical about vaccination.
Some people joined motley groups marching on weekends to claim the whole virus story was phony, aimed at curtailing freedoms. Some threw in QAnon accusations or carried rightist flags. Often rejecting legally-required distancing and masks, they occasionally got dragged away and registered by masked (often visored) police. Guesses were on as to where such groups would head politically: right, left, up or down.
A new question arose, hitherto unthinkable: might Germany copy India, Mexico, Hungary, Slovakia and others and resort to Russian vaccines - or even Chinese ones?!
Into this Kuddelmuddel (a nice German word, hardly requiring translation) plopped some scandals, which ripped into the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Two legislators’ hands were caught deep in the cookie jar - contracts for supplying anti-virus face masks. It seems that they were moved so deeply by early shortages that they used their business connections, cultivated despite public service in the Bundestag, to arrange very lucrative deals from friendly producers - friendly enough for little ‘thank you’ gestures for the sales: €250,000 for Nikolas Löbel of the CDU, and €660,000 for Georg Nüsslein of the CSU.
Of course, party leaders were “totally shocked” at such nefarious goings-on. They hastened to undo the damage, ejecting the two from their Bundestag seats and demanding that all their colleagues swear in writing that they were not involved in any such bribery (at least not in Covid-connected business). All of them solemnly signed.
But before the ink had quite dried another CSU man - this time in the state legislature (again, luckily, not in the Bundestag) - was also caught. Alfred Sauter, once minister of justice in Bavaria, was unable to account properly for the handy sum of €1,200,000 - also for overcharged face-masks! As yet unclarified: how much went into his pockets, how much to his party, how much was not paid in taxes. All three gentlemen had to resign from their party and all posts, but will hardly face greater harm than to their reputations - if that.
Scandals are not new for the Federal Republic, but this one had an almost comical side, hitting just days before two important elections. Despite almost frantic assurances that only a few ‘bad apples’ had been involved, the CDU got hit hard twice - not only due to the scandals, no doubt, but also to dismay about the Covid mess and growing woes and fears of current and potentially future jobless, moneyless, maybe homeless persons when (and if) the disease has run its course.
In the March election in Rheinland-Pfalz, Social Democrat Malu Dreyer won with almost 36% of the vote, leaving the once-proud CDU with only 27.6%. She will almost certainly continue her coalition with the Greens and the even more business-friendly Free Democrats. Since their symbol-colour is yellow, and Malu’s SPD claims red, this is called a ‘traffic light coalition’ - red-yellow-green.
In neighbouring Baden-Württemberg the leading personality - and only Green premier in Germany - is Winfried Kretschmann. On the right edge of his once seemingly radical but now right-tending Green Party, and a close friend of the two auto giants dominating his state, Daimler-Benz and Porsche, his loud aggression and the relative, auto-based prosperity in his state got him a 32.7% vote - his party’s best result anywhere. And here too the CDU was handed the worst result in its history (24.1%) in a state it had dominated for decades. In the past 10 years they had been humble junior partners to Kretschmann’s Greens. After this fiasco he might ditch them and form a three-party traffic-light coalition like Milu in his neighbour state.
Two other election items need mentioning. The good news first: the fascistic Alternative for Germany (AfD) - once an expanding menace - remains a threat, but a rather reduced one. Rent by factional strife, it skidded downward, missing its 10% goal in both elections.
The bad news: the results for Die Linke were not surprising, but disappointing. A paltry 2.5% in Rheinland-P, even a bit less than five years ago, was hardly balanced in Baden-W by a 3.6% vote - just 0.7% more than five years ago. Both results were far from the 5% needed to gain a single seat in their state legislatures. The party has not been able as yet to lead any popular struggles or catch many people’s imagination. Perhaps the new leadership will have more success. It is badly needed.
Understandably, the Covid pandemic worries people immensely - not only the possibility of illness or death, but their jobs and financial troubles awaiting so many. But, real as these problems are, they are dwarfed by an overriding, far greater menace, about which far too few are concerned: the danger of war, even atomic war. How many good souls will be marching two weeks from now in Germany’s traditional Easter peace marches? Maybe more than in recent years, maybe less, but certainly far too few - even though about two-thirds of the population favour a policy of peace with Russia (and China). Many others are undecided or disinterested.
But the belligerent remainder is powerful. It includes those who dream again of Germany’s power and glory, of its ‘proper place in the sun’, of high returns on African cotton, coffee, cocoa for its good chocolate, for coltan, uranium and gold diggings. And some dream of boots and guns like those which once advanced and blasted to within 19 miles of Moscow’s Red Square.
Many elderly people recall their shock at learning the facts when over 100,000 Japanese women, children and seniors were incinerated within minutes in 1945, with others suffering the effects until today. How many feel shock that 15-20 US atomic bombs are still stored near the small German town of Büchel - alongside special German planes ready to speed them eastward. Each bomb has an explosive power up to 13 times as murderous as the Hiroshima bomb.
In a world pocked with 700 or 800 US bases, with mistakes or accidents all too common, any talk of asserting ‘American world leadership against its adversaries’ would seem to border on insanity. Will Joe Biden’s cabinet heads and generals choose this path? In Germany, will those hoping for peace or at least mutually advantageous business connections weaken and succumb to those (the loudest, sadly, are often the strengthening Greens) who angrily denounce pipelines or any other peaceful lines, preferring warplanes, tanks, armed drones instead?
Every country is important, but the USA and Germany may well be the most important. That is why the forces of sanity, the pressure on the Biden government and on whichever forces win out in Berlin next autumn are so crucially important. In Germany, Die Linke must always play a forceful role (despite some weakening around its edges). It must learn to grow and reach out in popular ways to all those who desire peace. It still has a voice!
With or without masks and vaccines, with a new government in the USA and one in Germany after September, two things will remain important: vigilance and action!
Wants us dead
There was yet another diatribe from David Douglass last week against “well-heeled, middle class, green liberals” (Letters, March 18). “Middle class”, of course, has nothing to do with the Marxist concept of class: it just means ‘I don't like it’.
Some of us are old enough to remember when Douglass was an ardent supporter of Juan Posadas - a self-styled Trotskyist, whose main ‘transitional demand’ was to call for a Russian pre-emptive nuclear strike. At least Douglass is consistent: he wants us all dead.