As you mean to go on

SPEW on a rightward trajectory allies with an increasingly red-brown CPB, writes Jim Moody

Shortly before elections to the EU parliament this week No2EU held its climactic rally in London. Nearly 200 people heard three platform speakers from its component elements: Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union; Socialist Party in England and Wales councillor Dave Nellist; and Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain. They were joined by Janice Godrich, president of the PCS union. Crow heads the No2EU list for London, Nellist for the West Midlands, and Griffiths for Wales. Janice Godrich is a member of the International Socialists, SPEW’s sister organisation in Scotland.

As meeting chair, NUT ex-president and CPB executive committee member Bill Greenshields opened by emphasising that No2EU was partly intended to sop up support that would otherwise go to the far right: Ukip and the BNP. He claimed: “We’ve seen the removal of all the bits of democracy we’ve got in Britain, by the process of the bosses of Europe coming together and saying that they run this part of the world and that we should not have a say in it.” He picked out low wages and what he labelled the “forced movement of labour” as two things that “are going to compound the crisis”.

So the chair set the scene for the rest of the rally, which combined asides against migrant labour with the usual crowd-pleasing remarks about MPs’ pay. The chair announced that the meeting’s organisers would have no truck with “BNP fascists” or “Ukip racists”. However, there can be no doubt that the CPB (which wrote the No2EU programme after all) sees its left nationalism as essentially undercutting extreme right nationalism in a bargain-basement price war of the ideologically bankrupt. It is competing from the left in a field of nationalist ideas.

In the CPB’s dystopic vision of ‘socialism’ in one country, Cuba shines as a beacon; Greenshields said he had just returned from the “free Americas - Cuba”. It could only go downhill from here.

Unpublicised extra speaker Robert Griffiths likes to ring the ‘official’ communist angelus by peppering Marx’s and Lenin’s names in his speech (to murmurs from the faithful), even while the grotesque ideology he espouses becomes more red-brown each day. He complained that the Lisbon treaty has “set in concrete” the “free movement of capital, goods, services and super-exploited labour” - they are “irreversible in any constitutional sense”.

Griffiths confirmed that, as far as he was concerned, any No2EU MEPs elected would not take their seats - any payment received would be donated as appropriate. Griffiths, like the chair, dwelt upon the menace of the BNP and how No2EU would turn those disgusted with the three main parties away from the extreme rightwing non-solution. Indeed, according to Griffiths, No2EU members in Carlisle have been so keen to distance themselves from the BNP that, in a stand-off between left and right nationalists, they drove its stallholders out of the city centre recently, he claimed.

Headlining the SPEW leaflet encouraging attendance at the rally was, “MPs and MEPs snouts in the trough - We need workers’ representatives on workers’ wages.” And indeed when Dave Nellist came to address the rally he was at pains to underline that he and any other Socialist Party members elected as MEPs would continue the policy he had adopted when a Labour MP 17 years ago and take no more than a worker’s wage. Comrade Nellist stated that it was one of the “cardinal pledges” of No2EU candidates was that they would “not be joining the gravy train” (although for SPEW, of course, that does not mean refusing to take up their seats). He joined in the refrain against corrupt MPs who are feathering their nests, even going so far as to say that some should be imprisoned for life for their crimes.

It was curious, then, to say the least that comrade Nellist (like comrade Godrich) failed to take the SPEW leaflet’s headline sufficiently literally to raise the question of how it should be applied equally to the rally’s keynote speaker and No2EU supremo, Bob Crow. After all, the century-old call for a workers’ representative on a worker’s wage was always exactly that: applicable to all representatives, whether an MP or a trade union official. As general secretary of the RMT Bob Crow received in 2007, according to the official certification officer (www.certoffice.org), £79,564 gross salary, plus employer pension contributions of £26,115. This is far from the average RMT member’s income level and appreciably above an MP’s salary.

So the situation cried out for SPEW to make good on its promise. But it was not to be. It was much easier to jump on the anti-MPs bandwagon, along with The Daily Telegraph (but sitting at the other end of the carriage from the BNP and Ukip, of course).

No, diplomatic niceties prevailed. So, even if Nellist believes that trade union leaders should receive a worker’s wage or salary, he did not say so. Why not? Was the SPEW leaflet for the meeting a lie? If not, workers need to know the full SPEW position, even if it discomforts those who sit on the same platform.

Holder of the No2EU purse-strings Bob Crow might have railed against the corrupt politicians in the same vein as other speakers at the rally. However, he bore not a trace of understanding that ‘a workers’ representative on a worker’s wage’ might apply to him, which was a shame. It was almost irony.

Communists do not desire that comrade Crow or any other workers’ representative live in poverty, but we do want them all to share in the lifestyle of those they represent in order to maintain real contact with their conditions of life. Why should he or any other union leader swan around as if they were directors skimming off the social product? They are where they are thanks to organised members of the working class, and need to be reminded that that is the case.

Clearly there are tensions within No2EU, as some of the results of interviews carried in the Weekly Worker over the last two weeks show. Obviously, though, both SPEW and the CPB are too diplomatic to mention their differences on a public platform (apart from SPEW’s ‘re-interpretation’ of No2EU’s commitment for elected candidates not to take up their seats). For example, comrade Nellist, described No2EU as “the best working class collaboration I have worked in in the last 10 years”.

He went on to highlight the Socialist Party’s positive role at the Lindsey oil refinery, praising the strikers for not being “mesmerised by anti-trade union laws” by going on strike illegally. He said he was opposed to the EU’s movement of capital and labour only when it “makes great profits for multinationals” - a phrasing designed to draw a veil over his difference with the CPB’s support for immigration laws.

Comrade Nellist dealt exhaustively with privatisation, pensions, unemployment and so on, and included a short mention of how multinationals are bringing in foreign workers to undermine British workers’ conditions. He concluded with the bald statement that, “The EU is Thatcherism writ large.” But he did not answer the implicit question that this raised: do we then campaign to withdraw from the EU, as the CPB would wish?

You can be sure that any No2EU-based party will suffer no democratic nonsense - even to the extent that labour dictator Arthur Scargill permitted' for a short while in his Socialist Labour Party. Having served his political apprenticeship in the CPB and later moved on to the SLP, Bob Crow would have none of it in his version of old Labour. No2EU’s CPB-written programme was sanctioned by him (although he did permit SPEW’s request for a few less than face-saving changes paying lip service to internationalism), and its labour dictator in waiting, comrade Crow, calls the tune organisationally. No time-wasting ultra-lefts like the Socialist Workers Party and CPGB can be allowed in. Who knows, they might ask awkward questions and demand a democratic organisation ... even openly oppose the CPB’s little Englandism and then where would we be?

As for SPEW, it is clearly on a rightward trajectory. It not only failed to challenge the CPB’s left nationalism: it pretended it did not exist. No doubt Nellist and co believe things will be different in their No2EU Labour Party mark two, but they are very much mistaken. For comrade Crow, and the CPB elements who favour a new “party of labour”, it is a case of ‘start as you mean to go on’.

And that will apply just as much to such a party’s nationalist politics as to its bureaucratic form of organisation.