Our flag is not red, white and blue
Jack Conrad surveys the confusion over No2EU and flipping from auto-Labourism to auto-anti-Labourism
Mixed messages have come from the organised left over whether or not to support Bob Crow’s left nationalist No2EU coalition of “trade unionists, political parties and campaigning groups” in the June 4 European elections. If not that, what exactly should the left advise voters to do?
Naturally Bill Benfield’s Morning Star is more than enthusiastic about No2EU. The paper’s editorial jubilantly promotes No2EU as a “principled leftwing alternative” which has the British National Party “on the run”.1 As would be expected, no trace, no hint of honesty here.
Nonetheless, No2EU is a triumph for Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. He not only tops the list in Wales. His wing of the deeply divided CPB promotes the idea of a “party of labour” in place of the Labour Party. No2EU is seen as the first solid move in that direction. A dry run, if you like. The other wing of the CPB doggedly hangs on to the reformist illusion that the Labour Party can be transformed into the main vehicle for socialism in Britain. Despite that, its factional leaders are also standing for No2EU. John Foster, the CPB’s international secretary, heads the No2EU list in Scotland.
Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, is likewise fully on board. SPEW’s leadership considers No2EU “a big step forward”.2 True, there are a few private ifs and buts from SPEW in order to cover itself from left critics. Audible grumblings in SPEW can be heard by those who know where to listen. Comrade Taaffe’s organisation has, nevertheless, undergone a broadly similar journey to the Griffiths wing of the CPB - in its own particular way, of course: from deep entry in the Labour Party when it was Militant to a position today where the Labour Party is contemptuously dismissed as just another bourgeois party.
The International Socialist Group, British section of the so-called Fourth International, is embedded in George Galloway’s Respect. And yet, though Respect has kept its distance, the ISG is backing No2EU. Indeed the ISG has Dave Hill - an opponent of open borders - topping No2EU’s list for South East England.
Similarly the ISG has flipped from auto-Labourism to auto-anti-Labourism. Though for some in its ranks this has involved undergoing a rather longer journey politically. Not only do we have resigned acceptance of immigration controls by comrade Hill. Other ISG comrades seem to have abandoned the class perspective altogether. There is endorsement of the Greens - as against No2EU and Labour - on June 4 in North West England.
What of the Socialist Workers Party? Having scuttled the Socialist Alliance, split Respect and sired the stillborn Left Alternative, the post-John Rees leadership argues, amazingly, that a leftwing electoral challenge is unfeasible under present circumstances. Nevertheless, the SWP must come out with some kind of a line for June 4. Otherwise it would make a mockery of itself. An organised expression of ‘damn them all’ abstentionism. A sure sign of political bankruptcy.
Socialist Worker’s editor, Chris Bambery, therefore admits his predicament. There “is not one clear and united choice that we can point to as an alternative to the free market agenda”. No New Anti-Capitalist Party, as in France, no Die Linke, as in Germany. So comrade Bambery vaguely tells readers to “vote for candidates of the left”. What exactly does he mean? No2EU? Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party? Scottish Socialist Party? All are standing on June 4. The SWP is quite clearly fudging. That notwith-standing: no vote for Gordon Brown’s party of “unemployment, cuts and pay freezes”.3
The social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, headed by the irascible Sean Matgamna, has the virtue of being clearer. But not much. It gives no support for No2EU. Damned as backward-looking, little England and under the leadership of Stalinites. The AWL has, though, given up on the Labour Party. It is “dead.”4 That is the official line. Paralleling the CPB and SPEW, the AWL has committed itself to a Labour Party mark two.
Our main opponents on the left might send mixed messages when it comes to No2EU. When it comes to Labour, however, they speak as one. No vote for Labour on June 4.
The CPGB’s position is by contrast consistent when it comes to strategy and tactically hard-edged. No2EU must meet all our conditions - No to Fortress Britain; yes to the abolition of the monarchy and the second chamber; yes to annual parliaments with recallable MPs on a worker’s wage; yes to an end to the secret state; yes to a popular militia and the constitutional right to bear arms. We want to drag No2EU to the left. Kicking and screaming if necessary. Failing that, we say workers would be well advised to vote Labour. Let us be quite clear: that means the biggest vote possible for Blairite and Brownite clones on June 4.
There are disagreements within the CPGB’s membership. No secret. My last article explored the basic lines of argument. The most common being objections to voting Labour.
Here the key difference in terms of our political culture compared with the rest of the left is that the Weekly Worker will publish the various viewpoints. Obviously Socialist Worker, The Socialist, etc, will do not such thing with their minorities. They are advertising sheets. Not serious working class papers. Which, of course, is why they are so boring and so little read, even by those who sell them.
Origins and politics
What is No2EU and what are its origins and politics? Infuriated by New Labour, fearful of the growing success of the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party, driven on by the inability of the Labour left to mount an effective challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadership, acutely aware of the failure of Arthur Scargill’s SLP, the Socialist Alliance, the SSP and Respect, and pained by the absence of a viable leftwing alternative to the mainstream parties, comrade Crow began to take active soundings about launching a “party of labour” in 2008.
He is, it ought to be pointed out, general secretary of the RMT trade union and a former member of both the CPB and SLP. His politics can fairly be described as Stalinite.
Discussions began in earnest with a tight circle of invitees. The CPB’s Robert Griffiths was included in the loop. Ditto Brian Denny, managing editor of RMT’s journal, RMT News.
In point of fact, Denny is quite clearly a key player in No2EU. A former Morning Star journalist, he is No2EU’s nominating officer. But what above all defines him as a political personality is his fanatical red, white and blue opposition to the European Union. He has a long, devoted and undeviating record of speaking for and promoting Trade Unionists Against the European Constitution and the Campaign Against Euro Federalism. CARF is affiliated to some very dubious outfits, including the “cross-party” Campaign for an Independent Britain and the European Alliance of EU-critical Movements. Anyway, if No2EU has a moving spirit intellectually, it is comrade Denny.
Burnt by the past and fearful of yet another failure, comrade Crow decided not to go for a party … at the moment. However, the June 4 European elections could be used as an antechamber. A wide variety of compliant groups, campaigns and personalities could be brought together. No toying with democracy would be permitted this time, though - even with his personal 3,000 block vote that is the mistake Arthur Scargill made with his SLP, according to comrade Crow. He would be the undisputed dictator.
Comrade Denny was given the go-ahead to draw up his Europhobic platform and this was more or less presented as a done deal. SPEW pleaded for some conscience clauses: internationalism, working people, etc. Because of SPEW’s membership, trade union executive posts and the trust that it has built up with comrade Crow, there was some minor tinkering. No such understanding for Tommy Sheridan, joint convenor of Solidarity, and his dilemma. He faced embarrassment over defence of British industry. Where was the kingdom of Scotland? But like other, lesser players, comrade Sheridan had to leave his “ideological baggage” outside No2EU’s door.
And, putting hope above experience, the lost and lonely trickled in: John Hendy QC, Dyal Singh Bagri, president of the Indian Workers Association, Alliance for Green Socialism, Pete McLaren’s Socialist Alliance, former Labour MP Alice Mahon and Respect’s former national secretary, Nick Wrack.
Most of the left, however, were never tempted. Others decided not to throw in their lot with comrade Crow because of his haughty refusal to seriously negotiate: Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, Alan McCombes and the SSP, George Galloway and Respect, Arthur Scargill and his SLP, etc. And, apart from RMT, no other national trade unions. No Labour Party wards or constituency organisations. Of course, then there were those who were banned and proscribed by comrade Crow’s dictat: AWL, SWP and the CPGB.
Hence comrade Crow has not managed to net much. Either in terms of numbers or political weight. Nevertheless, he is monarch of all he surveys. And with comrade Denny as his dutiful right-hand man and the CPB providing a sense of history, he has a full list of candidates in every region, the Morning Star echoing his every word and SPEW doing his donkey work on the ground.
Comrade Taaffe’s organisation is far more effective at a street level than the decrepit ‘official communists’. That means No2EU will be identified with SPEW and The Socialist in many people’s minds (a cause of bitter internal complaint on CPB discussion lists).
Back to the future
If the politics of No2EU were remotely principled, numbers and political weight would count as secondary considerations. But by no stretch of the imagination can the No2EU platform be described as democratic or socialistic. In fact the whole famished construct is built around mono-obsessive Europhobia.
As every reader of this paper knows, No2EU has a fuller title. Its registered name is ‘No2EU - Yes to Democracy’. Despite that No2EU publicity material is paradoxically notable more because of the complete absence of democratic demands. Apart from railing against the Brussels bureaucracy and exaggerating the threat posed by the Lisbon treaty to trade union rights, there is certainly a void when it comes to British politics.
No2EU’s central plank is withdrawal from the EU. The name says it all. In comrade Denny’s fevered mind Britain is in thrall to unelected Brussels commissioners and our political and business elite have criminally bartered away the nation’s sacred rights to self-determination. Sovereignty must be restored if there is to be any hope of social progress. Hence ‘Yes to democracy’ implies nothing more than a return to the constitutional situation prior to January 1 1973 and a restoration of Britain’s so-called independence. Confirmed when No2EU says: “Repatriate democratic powers to EU member-states”.
That means the constitutional monarchy, the second chamber, the presidential prime minister, the high court, judicial review, the established church, the secret state and the British armed forces are to be liberated from the clutches of the EU’s council of ministers and commissioners and returned to their former glory. No2EU’s holy grail.
Hence the main message coming from No2EU is barely distinguishable from Ukip and the BNP when it comes to the EU and democracy. Sad to say, there is a similar correspondence when it comes to immigration controls. Though camouflaged with a veneer of internationalism and workerism, No2EU implicitly advocates British immigration controls.
No2EU rails against ‘Fortress Europe’, hypocritically condemning EU immigration laws as thoroughly racist. Nevertheless, comrade Denny passionately believes in a ‘Fortress Britain’. He dreams of ending the unrestricted movement of people within the EU. He wants to save the British people from being flooded by unwanted migrants from eastern Europe. With No2EU gallantly showing the way, the state can at long last regain its ability to strictly regulate the flow of economic migrants coming into the country in the interests of the “manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries in Britain”.5
His immigration controls will be ‘non-racist’, of course. The Morning Star’s CPB, let us note, is programmatically committed to abolishing “Immigration, asylum and nationality laws which institutionalise racism” and replacing them with laws that supposedly guarantee “equal opportunities to black people and other ethnic minorities”.6
Such advocates of ‘non-racist’ immigration controls claim to be simultaneously committed inter-nationalists and patriotic defenders of Britain from the threat of “unlimited” EU migration. As we have said before, nationalist internationalism, just like national socialism, is an oxymoron. Immigration controls are immigration controls.
Whether comrade Denny and No2EU like it or not, that means border police, humiliating interrogations, virginity tests, people smugglers, the criminalisation of illegal labour, detention centres, early morning raids, deportations and other such abominations. Not that comrade Denny and No2EU have the political courage to admit it.
Those who have joined No2EU, those who have taken up places on its regional lists, those who have pledged their support and have not openly rebelled against this little-Britain parochialism and xenophobia deserve undying contempt, not a vote on June 4. Hence our demand for No2EU candidates to publicly oppose a Fortress Britain and advocate open borders and the free movement of people.
When it comes to Europe, immigration and protectionism, No2EU makes Gordon Brown and the Labour government look progressive. True, on other issues, such as trade union rights, support for strikes and opposition to privatisation, No2EU stands on traditional left reformist politics. Nonetheless, a strong gravitational pull to the right is being exerted on all component parts of No2EU. The rightist trajectory is unmistakable. No2EU is a testing ground for a “new party of labour”. And, typical of all such projects, it is envisaged as a Labour Party mark two. Organisationally it will resemble old Labour and politically it will resemble old Labour too.
Towards that end, dazzled by the prospect of RMT sponsorship, loyally respecting the bans and proscriptions put in place by comrade Crow, the CPB, SPEW, AGS, Solidarity, etc, have shifted the face they present to the public far, far to the right. There is nothing remotely socialist about No2EU. Yes, it is pro-worker. But pro-worker only in terms of bettering the position of wage-slaves. Hence in the midst of the biggest economic crisis capitalism has experienced since the 1930s No2EU is using the June 4 election to make propaganda not for socialism, not even the CPB’s bureaucratic and national version. The EU is presented as the main enemy. Capitalism goes more or less unmentioned.
1. Morning Star May 12.
2. Socialism Today May 2009.
3. Socialist Worker May 2.
4 Solidarity April 10 2008