Left and Livingstone

Contrary to what Tony Blair and Trevor Phillips might think, the 'hard lefts' (as the media likes to call the 57 varieties of left groups and journals) are far from united behind Livingstone or in admiration of him as Don Preston pointed out in the Weekly Worker (December 16).

An example of a particularly anti-Livingstone left-winger is Barry Bidulph who writes regularly in the Weekly Worker. I also understand that some of the comrades around Labour News, despite being Labour Party members, believe Ken to be a Blairite and therefore see no point in building his campaign. In addition to this, Scargill's SLP is insisting on a sectarian line of standing against Livingstone, which is, I am reliably informed, a total reversal of their position in the 1997 election.

Scargill seems to be under the illusion that although before 1995 the Labour Party was a 'socialist' party, now it is no different to the Liberals or Tories. But he faces some problems on this score.

One of the SLP's most prominent supporters, Bob Crow, is assistant general secretary of a Labour-affiliated union - the RMT. And he is recommending that RMT members vote for Livingstone.

In an interview in December's Labour Left Briefing under the heading, 'Ken's policies are just the ticket', Crow expresses a completely different view to king Arthur. Scargill says that Livingstone's policies for the tube are just a "gimmick" from someone totally committed to the market economy, yet Crow says that Ken should be supported "as the best way to stop the privatisation of the underground." It seems that even some of the Scargill faithful realise that the SLP is not in any position to have any impact on the mass consciousness - unlike Livingstone who is supported by the majority of Londoners and almost certainly most trade unionists.

He clearly represents a leftist anti-Blairite mood in London where he is fondly remembered, rightly or wrongly, as 'Red Ken' who stood up to Thatcher. Dobson and Blair are always pointing out that the SWP supports Ken. The SWP have, as usual, latched on to the 'Red Ken' bandwagon hoping to poach a couple of new recruits. This is despite the fact that during the bombing of Yugoslavia, the SWP ran around tearing down all their 'Let Ken stand' posters, feeling that supporting Livingstone was a 'line in the sand' that could not be crossed.

But now they have a reasonably correct position on Livingstone as pointed out in the Weekly Worker. This is despite their various antics/stunts which seem to be causing Ken more harm than good. For example, they have been collecting money for Ken despite the fact that he has made it quite clear that he will not accept it. Indeed, it would be a golden propaganda opportunity for Dobson's campaign if he did accept such money.

Nonetheless, November's Socialist Review correctly pointed out that "Livingstone is committed to more resources for public transport and this is anathema to New Labour" and Lindsey German concludes that "his candidacy can provide a focus for all those who want to fight against those (pro-business) policies." In the article Lindsey German also quoted this passage by Margaret Hodge which is very telling: "A brief glance at his (Ken's) manifesto shows the seeds of what he intends. The mayor will not have the money to deliver.

That will bring him into immediate and direct conflict with the government. And he'll seek to blame the government. Or he'll seek to impose higher taxes on businesses to pay for his grandiose schemes. A mayor of London must work with business, not against it."

This is yet another example of how Blairites are worried about the class interests that Livingstone represents and the potential of a Livingstone mayoralty.

Indeed the hysterical reactions of the Blairites to Ken's candidacy are a rebuff to those who claim Livingstone is nothing better than a Blairite himself. The SWP's support, although opportunist to a degree, is based on not only what Livingstone represents (a form of anti-Blairism) but the potential of a campaign for Livingstone against New Labour.

As John Rees (according to the December 2 Weekly Worker) said at the recent London Socialist Alliance meeting, even if Livingstone is drifting to the right (which is highly disputable), the movement below him is moving to the left. This presents fantastic opportunities for socialists. But of course if groups such as the SWP had not ruled out working in the Labour Party, then they could have a far bigger effect on the results of the result of this contest than they can from shouting outside where the real contest is taking place - which is amongst rank and file Labour members.

The same is true of the CPGB, who have surprised many people by adopting a pro-Livingstone position on this question, although a minority of members seem to be viciously opposed to supporting any Labour left-winger. The CPGB have even received the attention of The Evening Standard for saying that they are supporting Livingstone in order to wreck the Labour Party. Unhelpfully for Ken's campaign and socialists fighting inside the Labour Party, the Weekly Worker said this interpretation of their position was "quite right." In reality, the battle (as other reports and articles in the Weekly Worker have confirmed) is about the future of the Labour Party.

Ordinary Labour activists do not see the need to wreck their own party but to reclaim it. Our aim should be to 'wreck' the 'project' to fuse the Labour Party with the Liberals and/or 'one-nation' Tories.

The Ken campaign has already played a helpful role in this process. It has put a strain on the cosy relationship between Blair and the leaders of the trade unions.

In my opinion, at this stage in the process it is unclear whether Blair will qualitatively transform the Labour Party or not. But either way, the CPGB is right to point out: "A vote for Livingstone is a revolt against Blairism." However, it must be emphasised that this 'revolt' has taken place inside the Labour Party.

Left and Livingstone
Left and Livingstone


When this 'British-Irish' thesis first made its appearance in Weekly Worker, I asked you where you were going, as the road you were on had been trod before, with reactionary conclusions. I think we can see without doubt the logic. The loyalists constitute 'a nation', that nation does not wish to be part of a 32-county island of Ireland. We support their right to sovereignty and self-determination. It must follow that they also have the right to fight against being part of a 32-County Ireland, and against those fighting to take them into one.

The only logical conclusion you could possibly draw would be to support the loyalist military in its fight against incorporation into a united Ireland. This being the case the difference between you and the British-Irish Communist Organisation seems now nil. De facto you support the loyalist cause.

Are the lunatics running the asylum?



No reader with the slightest interest in jazz should pay any attention to Phil Watson's pretentious - and yes, banal - undergraduate philosophy essay purporting to review Kofsky's marvellous book on John Coltrane (Weekly Worker December 6).

Phil adduces little evidence, beyond simple assertion, for his fundamental charge - that the author somehow essentially equates jazz with reality, rather than seeing in it an artistic mediation or reflection of the world.

Indeed, when one of the scandalously few passages from the work that the comrade can actually be bothered to cite is quoted in full, Kofsky clearly emerges as not guilty.

When Kofsky speaks of the cross pollination that takes place between jazz and the black community, he immediately continues by adding that both the music and the musicians will either anticipate or at the very least reflect the mood, concerns and aspirations of the ghetto.

Moreover, the cultural context of listening to jazz in Britain in 2000 could not be further removed from the US of the early sixties. Almost 40 years of bowdler-isation have obviously blunted much of hard bop's musically revolutionary qualities. Harlem or Watts, circa 1964, must have been a radically different proposition to a night out in Pizza Express, comrade.

The only way to understand the emergence of the genre is precisely as a musical response to the emergence of civil rights struggle and the colonial revolution. Kofsky does sterling work in setting this out so that we - living in another time and place - can catch some of the flavour of the phenomenon.

This work is without doubt a pioneering text in the historical materialist analysis of music, and not only because there is very little else available on the question. It has many substantial merits from a Marxist standpoint.

Not least of these is its focus on the disparity between white ownership of jazz's means of production, distribution and exchange and its production by almost entirely black labour.

There is also thought provoking discussion of the classical form as a creation of Europe's bourgeois revolution, through such developments as so-called equal temperament standards of tuning for musical instruments and the codification of harmony, backed up by the suppression of precapitalist musical forms.

Certainly the book is not without its political faults, primarily an accommodation to black nationalism deriving from the author's adherence to the US SWP. How odd that Phil did not mention Kofsky's affiliation, which is surely salient.

In addition, it is badly edited in certain places, and some of the material - for instance, the stuff on polyrhythms - is difficult to follow, even for those with some musical training. But do not let any of this put you off. All socialists who take music seriously will enjoy this book.

On a more general point, I know from my own experience how difficult it is for leftwing publications to maintain anything like consistent cultural coverage. But I for one would like to see more such articles in the Weekly Worker. What do other comrades think?


No future

Has the left a future? In spite of recent SSP success, the left continues to be small, fragmented, factionalistic and substantially sectarian. It is not an accident that this is the case and important for the left to talk openly about why if this situation is to change. Clearly in the last century the identification of Marxism with Stalinism was central. It allowed both Stalinists and capitalists to marginalise and isolate the genuine revolutionary socialists and their tradition.

Post-Trotsky Trotskyism assimilated much from Stalinism. Popes and bishops who led the groups might not send disloyal members to the gulag, Instead there was a milder form of rule by fear. Dissent meant expulsion, expulsion meant the wilderness, the wilderness meant private life, isolation, purposelessness.

The consequences, all be it in difficult post-war conditions, has been the existence of a culture of blind faith and conformism on the left. The line would be memorised by the rank and file and regurgitated as gospel without much, if any, critical thought about whether the guru who had come up with the line really knew what he or she was talking about.

The Socialist Labour League/Workers Revolutionary Party, Revolutionary Socialist League/Militant and SRG-IS-SWP traditions have been the worst offenders. All were at various times characterised by blind faith, treatment of pamphlets and papers as sacred texts, a lack of honest political accounting for mistakes and a misplaced bragging about being "the socialists". The degenerated chest beating stage was usually followed by a split.

Of course, if you have the combination of membership blind faith and leaderships who ensure their line is different from each other on each issue at it arises you have a lethal combination. Disunity and enmity are then inevitable.

Attempts at rank and file unity over issues by small numbers of genuine revolutionaries are going to fail. The popes have acted in a particularly damaging way. They knew shared common experiences by revolutionaries at a rank and file level would end their own project and ambitions for their own organisation.

The desire for greater organisational unity would have found greater expression by larger numbers of people putting more pressure on them to unite. This Stalinist, authoritarian culture has criss-crossed with a tradition of sectarianism on the British left in the classical Marxist sense of the term. The existence of groups putting their own interests before the interests of the working class has meant failure to relate seriously to the working class organisations as they exist and continued marginalisation.

A serious left would find mechanisms to unite on the issues of the class struggle that focussed on empowering our class. Success around the issue of the repeal of the anti-trade union laws to take one example would, ironically see recruitment to all left groups dramatically increase in the new heightened level of class struggle.

In reality, sectarianism has meant a constant high turnover of members as many of those convinced of the arguments about the need for workers' revolution and workers' parties become demoralised when nothing gets any better in the real world in spite of all their self-sacrifice. The real crime is that sections of the left, most notably the SWP point blank refuse to learn from this sorry history. Mass workers parties have never been built by one by one recruitment.

Irony is heaped upon tragedy when their members routinely denounce all left critics as 'sectarians'. In the 21st century we need a new 'new left' which bases itself on honest dialogue about differences, unity in action on the basis of democratically run ad-hoc committees (as a bridge to further realignment), political accounting about mistakes and being honest about how bad things actually are.

If this culture can be developed then we can shorten the road to the formation of a democratic mass workers party and a socialist society in which human beings interests are primary.

No future
No future

Little Moscow

It was reported last week by journalist Peter McCusker in the Newcastle regional newspaper The Journal that to mark the millennium, the Chopwell lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers will parade its traditional banner featuring portraits of Marx, Lenin, and Keir Hardie for the first time in years at next July's Durham miners gala.

While the General Strike lasted only a few days nationally, in Chopwell it lasted over a year as "coal was stolen, officials intimidated, property damaged, and blacklegs abused" and striking miners went poaching at night for goods which were then distributed equally around the village by the highly organised Council of Action.

There are two streets in Chopwell named after Karl Marx and VI Lenin. It now appears that, just up the road, Northumberland's last working mine at Ellington Colliery will be lost with barely a whimper, so it is important that we, as communists entering a new millennium, learn the lessons of our militant past in order to build our revolutionary future.

Little Moscow
Little Moscow