Harlow Labour Party has issued a call for the immediate reinstatement of Jeremy Corbyn as a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The motion calling for the reinstatement of the former leader of the party was passed at an all-members meeting of Harlow Constituency Labour Party on Monday November 15.
Mr Corbyn was suspended from the PLP following his comments on the report of the investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. He stated that the scale of the problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”. A comparison of the EHRC report with the coverage of anti-Semitism in Labour by the mass media shows that the extent of the problem was indeed of far smaller magnitude than had been alleged by those hostile to Corbyn’s politics.
Speech that is insulting, intimidating or bigoted has no place in the Labour Party, but Jeremy Corbyn’s comments were not of that ilk. They were not in any way anti-Semitic or Judeophobic. They were fair comment. He was suspended from the PLP without a hearing and with no right of appeal, in clear violation of the principle of natural justice. It is an attack on the right of members of the Labour Party to engage in legitimate free speech.
It is also an attack on democracy. For there cannot truly be democracy within the party if members are not allowed to engage in legitimate free speech without fear of sanction. Labour cannot truly claim to uphold free speech and democracy while Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended.
Members of Harlow CLP had submitted similar motions following Corbyn’s exclusion from the PLP on October 29 last year, but these had been ruled out of order, following instructions issued by Labour Party general secretary David Evans. The officers of a number of constituency parties were suspended when they defied these instructions and allowed such motions to be discussed.
Now that this motion has been passed by Harlow, it is to be hoped that other CLPs will follow suit, and that Jeremy Corbyn will be once more be allowed to take his rightful place in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Member, Harlow CLP
Jim Nelson and Tony Greenstein are missing the point (Letters, November 11). The choice we face isn’t whether or not the Labour Party is an appropriate site for Marxists, but whether the left should focus on winning people over to Marxism or to the idea of a democratic socialist society. The two are not the same thing.
For instance, seeking to win the Labour Party over to ‘Marxism’ is a sectarian approach, whereas the latter is more inclusive. Also, seeking to win people over to ‘Marxism’ without any clear definition of what is meant by it raises the question of a choice between leftwing totalitarianism, as the negative side of the former Soviet Union shows, or democratic socialism. In the former case, it is important to understand that all meta-narratives, like Marxism, lend themselves to a totalitarian mindset, where any criticism of the narrative is regarded as heresy, due to the fact that meta-narratives tend to be viewed as above science, which must conform to the narrative rather than the other way round.
Those who want to win Labour Party supporters over to Marxism should at least define what they mean by it. The communist movement has a serious problem, which few presently understand. The problem is that for over 170 years communists have repeated the mistakes of Marx. They were unaware that the positive side of Marxism conceals a negative side. At the political level this relates to Marx’s theory of dictatorship, taken from Joseph Weydemeyer. Based on the Paris Commune of 1870, Marx turned an emergency measure of the Communards into a universal principle of the transition from capitalism to communism.
In other words, for Marxists, dictatorship is not an emergency measure, but a principle of the transition period. Clearly this is a perversion of socialist rule, and a misrepresentation of the idea of dictatorship, which Marx is responsible for on the left. For Marxists like Lenin, dictatorship was at the heart of Marxism and, accordingly, for him a Marxist was a person who extended the recognition of the class struggle to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This view of Marxism undermines the idea of the democratic rule of the working class: it is a political regression even lower than bourgeois democracy.
For Lenin, dictatorship was rule untrammelled by any law, regardless of class content. In other words, a lawless government. Dictatorships, in other words, are above the law and don’t have to obey any law. That is why they are dictatorships. Consequently, we ignore the negative, totalitarian side of Marxism at our peril. This is so, even when we defend the positive elements within Marxism.
This is not merely an academic issue with no political implications for the struggle for socialism. For instance, Marx’s misrepresentation of the term ‘dictatorship’, which communists repeated, contributed to the historic defeat of the German working class, when the communists failed to fight for a united front with social democracy in Germany on the grounds that Germany was already a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, so why defend it against fascism? The German communists soon learned the difference between liberal democracy and fascism in Hitler’s concentration camps.
Even today communists repeat the mistakes of Marxism by claiming that we currently live under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This ultra-left narrative comes from Marx’s misrepresentation of the term ‘dictatorship’ - a term which he confused with state coercion.
Today most of the radical left, even with the experience of the Soviet Union behind it, is unaware that the negative side of Marxism can lead to totalitarianism because the political root of the latter is dictatorship. While defending the positive side of the Soviet Union and calling for its defence in any war with imperialism, Trotsky was forced to break with Soviet totalitarianism and begin a struggle for democratic socialism, while being demonised by the ‘official’ communist movement - whose project collapsed in 1991, when Gorbachev’s attempted reforms failed to articulate the need to fight for a democratic socialist society.
When we put Trotsky’s mistakes aside, although not aware of the political roots of totalitarianism, he was correctly pointing to the contradiction facing the left today. This is a choice between a totalitarian and a democratic socialist future. One of the mistakes of Trotsky is that after he broke from totalitarianism he failed to see any connection between leftwing totalitarianism and Marx’s mistaken dictatorship theory. Trotsky saw Stalinism as leading to totalitarianism, rather than totalitarianism leading to the negative sides of Stalinism. To repeat, dictatorship is not a principle of socialist rule, but an emergency measure which communists may resort to if the need arises. We must not confuse the term ‘dictatorship’ with state coercion, as previous communists did and many still do. It is certainly possible to criticise the flaws in Trotsky’s views, but it is clear that he was right to oppose totalitarianism in favour of democratic socialism.
The most important choice facing the left is not whether to remain in the Labour Party or not: it is rather the choice between totalitarianism and democratic socialism - a choice Orwell forgot to mention when he wrote 1984. Although Trotsky’s talk about political revolution and overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy was ultra-leftist, the Soviet experience led him to begin the struggle for a democratic socialist society against totalitarianism.
Understanding the contradiction between the two is the essential task the left faces today, whether in or out of the Labour Party.
The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated clearly that people everywhere comprise one single and vulnerable humanity living in a global city - and comprising a great range of national and regional suburbs. It also highlighted the grotesque gulf between rich and poor in a way that justifies the trade union dictum, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’.
At least, that is what it should have done. Unfortunately, politicians, backed by many compliant and sometimes sycophantic media outlets, have used the pandemic to excuse lack of foresight and to disguise incompetence and corruption. And far too many in the labour movement have reacted to the ongoing and heightened crises by falling into the trap of nationalism or even blatant xenophobia.
And this is not a problem restricted to here in South Africa. After spending the past month in Britain I observed that there are lessons to be drawn from that little European island that still has pretensions to global greatness. A classic example concerns transnational trucking that is now, once again, a focus for protest in South Africa.
Admittedly, the major transport union here, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, has officially called for only “undocumented foreign drivers” to be barred from our roads. But there should be no “undocumented” drivers on any roads: the only documents required for transnational truck driving across our relatively open borders are certificates of competence (licences) and passports - along with, of course, proper authorisation for goods carried.
The same applied in Britain before that nation’s exit from the European Union. And when those transnational ties were broken, thousands of migrant workers in Britain returned to their homes on the European mainland. Among them were many men - and a few women - responsible for the transport of everything from fuel to fresh produce around the country. The consequences are now being felt with something of a vengeance.
The fuel crisis - the result of massive panic buying by commuters fearful of shortages because of delivery problems - is now over, at least for the time being. But the driver crisis continues, although the government has now made available thousands of temporary visas for non-British heavy goods vehicle drivers to work in and out of Britain. Few have so far been taken up.
A major reason for the low take-up is pay and conditions. Trucking, despite its critical importance to the economy, is generally relatively low paid and conditions can be onerous, with days or even weeks on the road. Now, with a ‘hard border’ in place between Britain and the EU, the amount of additional paperwork necessary - and consequent delays - makes any such jobs even less attractive.
But where are the British HGV drivers? Quite simply, not enough were trained, because qualified ‘foreign’ workers were cheaper to hire. The government and, to some degree, the unions were complicit in this. Now there is a quite frantic attempt underway to provide training for local drivers, along with promises of better pay and conditions.
For South Africa, there is a direct echo here, where unions - and not only in the HGV sector - maintain that South Africans are being kept out of jobs because ‘foreign’ workers are prepared to accept lower wages and worse conditions. In many instances - often because of our history and appalling education system - it is these migrant workers who are better qualified to do the jobs.
The Brexit example has shown how vital are workers to the functioning of any society and how capital will always seek to pay the lowest wages for required skills. It also seems to show that when workers are as free as capital to move, societies tends to benefit.
Given this reality, trade unions - all at least nominally wedded to the concept of worker unity and internationalism - should campaign for equivalent and decent pay and conditions for all workers. In the South African HGV context, this should mean a regional - even pan-African - agreement on wages and conditions and a halt to targeting workers on the basis of nationalism.
Brexit Britain, as an island, has gone beyond that point and may suffer a Christmas season of some scarcity. So, for all the power cuts and political coalition chaos here, I’m happy to be home.