Crisis? What Crisis? – part 5 Brexit? What Brexit?

supertrampGeorge Monbiot wrote an article on Brexit for The Guardian that was subsequently reprinted in Village magazine.  In it he says that we should not only accept the Brexit referendum vote but “should embrace it.”

Yes, the Brexit campaign was ‘led by a political elite, funded by an economic elite and fuelled by a media elite.  Popular anger was channelled against immigrants but the vote was also a howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority.’ That is why the Brexit slogan “take back control” resonated.  “If the left can’t work with this, what are we for?” he said.

But, like the old Irish story of the response to someone who was lost and needed directions to a particular place – if I was going to there I wouldn’t start from here.

What the left is for, hopefully, is not to pretend that we can work with reactionary politics to sugar the pill, which is altogether different from having to deal with a reactionary situation and trying to make the best of it.

‘Working with it’ first of all means understanding that the “howl of rage against exclusion” was captured by those seeking their own exclusion of foreigners.  Alienation is of no use unless it can be overcome and not displaced onto the wrong target, and blaming a remote authority in Brussels just gets us back to the “rage against exclusion” and blaming foreigners.  As for “take back control”, this was a reactionary nationalist response that showed incredible levels of ignorance of the power, position and role of the British State.  Even if this power were not severely diminished; even if its position of weakness were not more and more exposed, and even if its supplicant role is not becoming more pronounced, it would still be a reactionary commitment to nationalism that we ‘cannot work with’ except in the sense of attempting to undermine and defeat.

Monbiot presents Brexit as a land of opportunity – “If it is true that Britain will have to renegotiate its trade treaties, is this not the best chance we’ve had in decades to contain corporate power – of insisting that companies that operate here must offer proper contracts, share their profits, cut their emissions and pay their taxes? Is it not a chance to regain control of the public services slipping from our grasp?”

But who exactly is going to exert control in this way, assuming for the moment it’s possible?  We can be sure that, in any Brexit negotiations, containing corporate power will not be an objective of Theresa May.  We can even be confident that, in negotiations between the greater capitalist power wielded by the EU and the lesser power of Britain, the weaknesses of the latter will be exploited by the former.  And this balance of forces would weigh to an even greater extent on any sort of left Government in Britain facing a much more powerful EU.

Only with allies in the EU, primarily in the shape of a European-wide workers’ movement, would it be possible for the balance of forces to tilt towards the workers.  But this obviously points in the direction of staying in the EU.  As part of the EU there would at least be the beginnings of a political unity within which the workers’ movements of the various European countries could achieve some measure of unity and seek to exercise power at an international level.

But such a perspective would mean rejecting Brexit and continuing to fight it.

I looked at the arguments surrounding such an approach before and said that “there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about. Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.”

I further said that “it could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims – about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.”

Except of course unlike a general election, in which the winning party takes office immediately, we do not have Brexit immediately and it has become increasingly obvious that the Brexit campaign has no idea how it will deliver on promises it is still making, promises that become ever less credible.

There are some steps to limit the damage that the Tories have taken, such as the secret deal with Nissan, but this exposes any notion of taking back control.  We don’t know the cost or even whether it involves state support the EU could sooner or later simply nullify, whether Britain were in or out.

But there have been and will be consequences which no Government can do much about; such as the depreciation of the currency, inflation and rising interest rates.  When the Governor of the Bank of England says that he will let inflation overshoot the target of 2% to save jobs that’s really very good of him, because there’s nothing short of cratering the economy that he can do about it.

So to give up on fighting Brexit is to put British workers at the mercy of the most reactionary and frankly stupid sections of the Tory party.  It is to accept their risible promises and seek simply to expose them through their failure, a failure whose heaviest price will be paid by workers.  It is to accept the drastic fall in living standards that has already begun and it is to accept the secrecy necessary to cover up the unfolding disaster.

In this respect the demand for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s plans and their progress, including sweetheart deals, is important.  Not just to expose the policy of Brexit but also the nationalist alternatives that will flourish in the twilight of Brexit failure. Such nationalist intervention will come from the SNP pointing to a betrayal of Scotland or a UKIP narrative that accumulating failures of Brexit come from an insufficiently committed Brexit Government.  So far it has been the Treasury mandarins who have led the fight against Brexit and we can expect further leaks if, or rather when, the current trio of Brexit ministers demonstrate the failure of their policy.

However, the perspective of the Labour Party is not opposition to Brexit but to fight for a “people’s Brexit” as opposed to a “bankers’ Brexit.”  John McDonnell has argued that:

“Britain voted to leave the EU, and that decision should be and must be respected.

We should not pretend that the referendum result can be undone.  If we do that, and walk off the field, we will simply be allowing other forces to give their own answers to those questions it has posed

The simple truth is that the Tory establishment cannot be trusted to make a success of Brexit. Labour in government is the only party that would be prepared to take the necessary measures to make a success of Brexit

We are also committed to making sure that Brexit works for everyone not an elite few. Labour would work with our European neighbours to protect our key industries like steel, and negotiate deals with the EU to make sure big multinationals like Google pay their fair share in tax.”

On the other hand –

  • If the vote for Brexit means severe cuts to working class living standards, why should a vote based on lies and deception be respected?
  • The Labour Party is assuming that there are progressive answers possible to the questions posed through accepting Brexit.
  • It assumes that there can be a “successful” Brexit.
  • It assumes that the protection of industry and jobs and fair taxation of multinationals is possible in Brexitland.

But Brexit puts up barriers to trade and it puts up barriers to effective taxation of the wealthy and international companies.  Were a Labour Government outside the EU how could they enlist the support of other European countries to increase taxation of the rich?

When France increased its taxation in 2012 to 75% on those earning above €100,000 the number moving abroad jumped 40 per cent.  Between 2000 and 2014 42,000 millionaires left France, many of them moving to London, and particularly to South Kensington, referred to by some as Paris’s 21st arrondissement.  Many of its banks and its bankers also moved, although thanks to Brexit this has now stopped.

Inside the EU such tax increases have a greater chance of being coordinated.  Outside, the competitive position of weaker countries often drives them to lower taxation on multinationals and the wealthy. And as we have seen, there are economic effects which are largely outside the control of Governments to prevent.  What they can do is take offsetting measures such as increased public expenditure and investment, and this is what Labour promises, but this can only be offsetting and the weakening of Britain’s capitalist economy also weakens the capacity to do this.

Of course Labour’s model of Brexit is very different from the declared objective of the Tories.  John McDonnell declares that “Labour will insist that any deal with the EU includes, at least as an interim, tariff-free Single Market access. Full Single Market access implies freedom of movement, as in Norway’s European Economic Area deal.”

Without the xenophobic hang-ups of the Tories Labour is happy to see free movement alongside as much access to the EU single market as the EU is prepared to allow.  This is one possible transitional deal that the advisors to big business, in the shape of ‘The Economist’ and “Financial Times’ are pointing to.  A transition that might, like those of Norway and Switzerland that were initially temporary, prove more permanent than first intended and that might be open as much to a transition back to full membership as complete exit.

However, once again all this will be in the gift of the EU.  All the calculations involved in a permanent divorce apply to such a separation – whether the interests of the remaining EU are better protected and advanced by accepting a relationship with Britain on these terms or whether a clean break is preferable.  Once again it is necessary to note that given its size, Britain is not Norway or Switzerland and it makes no sense for it to pay into the EU and be subject to its rules without any say in those rules.  Such a transitional arrangement is the very opposite of ‘taking back control’.

Whenever we look at the relatively weak position that Britain is in we can also see the weakness of the Tory Brexit policy – when even speeches at Conservative party conferences occasion steep declines in the currency.  The pound has hit a 168-year low and this is before Article 50 is triggered, the lousy terms of the exit start to be revealed and the two-year exit timetable has been exhausted.

This weakness is also reflected in the political weakness of those seeking Brexit.  UKIP, which spearheaded this policy, is in disarray.  The political leadership of Brexit in the Tory party includes someone who was considered a star before imploding and heading for obscurity before being given a plum job at the Foreign Office; another who was already discredited and already in obscurity before being given a job in Trade, and a third who was also a twice loser in contests to lead the Tory party.  The majority of MPs are opposed to Brexit but they have no idea of how to make popular a campaign against Brexit that would make its reversal legitimate.  That task lies with others.

The referendum was largely portrayed in the media as an inter-Tory dispute and the struggle that big business will put up to resist Brexit and/or to deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit may also seek to do so primarily through that parry.  Once again the struggle could come to be seen as primarily an inter-Tory argument.

Considerations that this may severely damage the Tory party are secondary to the necessity that the struggle against Brexit is open, clear and honest.  In this sense the instincts of the primarily young Remain Voters who demonstrated and signed petitions immediately after the referendum were all these things, which an inter-Tory dispute will not be.

In order for the Labour Party to truly defend working people it is necessary for Brexit to be stopped – to nullify the dire effects that no amount of negotiation for a ‘soft’ Brexit may put right.  If this is to be done it must be done openly or charges that democracy is being subverted will appear to have some truth.  The defeat of Brexit is still possible but it should be done openly and on a progressive basis of defending the living standards of working people; defending EU workers and other immigrants who live in Britain; defending those British people who live in other EU countries and in defence of international unity.  A lying, xenophobic referendum result with reactionary consequences deserves no respect and should be reversed.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6

Crisis? What Crisis? part 2 – the Tories become the workers’ friend

theresaSome people might object to the view expressed in the previous post that the Tories are intent on even more drastic austerity – after all hasn’t the new Chancellor scrapped the target for achieving a budget surplus by 2020?  And as one Tory official is reported to have said – “perhaps only a Tory government can save capitalism from itself.”

And hasn’t Theresa May gone even further than this?  Hasn’t she said she will make capitalism fairer for workers, crack down on corporate greed, promote state intervention, provide for more workers’ rights and put “the power of government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people.”  Hasn’t she criticised uncaring bosses, tax-avoiding multinationals and directors who took out “massive dividends while knowing the company pension is about to go bust”?

Yes of course, she has gone further, but none of these steps are necessary for a Tory government “to save capitalism from itself” and the chances of a Tory government putting “the power of government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people” is zero.  So what is going on?  Is it just a case of ideology being employed, not to unconsciously blind the beholder, but consciously to blind those naive enough to believe Tory lies?

Before I answer this it is useful to make two observations. First, the language of the Tories shows how bankrupt the anti-Corbyn forces in the Labour Party are – afraid to mention class while the Tories outflank them from the left.  Just how much of a future would the Labour Party have if it stood permanently exposed on the left by a Thatcher Mark II?  What future would it have to endlessly repeat an approach symbolised by allowing cuts to disability benefits to go through only for the Tories to then scrap them?  Would the Labour right have wanted to abstain on scrapping them as well?

The second point is that this Tory rhetoric is described, by the same political commentators who got Brexit wrong, as the Tories moving against the Labour Party by ‘moving to the centre ground’.  This is almost as funny as their voting for Cameron while opposing Brexit.  Since when did promoting workers’ rights and cracking down on corporate greed, even if only verbally, been the centre ground – surely this is moving to the left?

And to answer the question – of course it’s moving to the left, and its only became the centre ground since Jeremy Corbyn arrived from Mars to become leader of that part of the British people regarded as swivel-eyed-mad-lefties by the media.  But of course it is also claimed he leads an ineffective opposition – despite him causing the ‘centre ground’ to shift leftwards.

It’s difficult to know whether this ridiculous view of the Tories’ approach is unconscious ideological self-deception – that the political battle is always fought on the centre ground –  without pausing to think just where this ground might be; but I tend to think that it’s more likely to be cover for the fact that the political commentators who write such rubbish know that it’s all Tory rhetoric without any chance of being implemented.  If the Tories have moderated austerity it is only because they fear they have to because, as we have seen, a Tory government is necessary “to save capitalism from itself”, or rather a new Tory government is necessary to save the country from the last Tory government.  But then, even the last Tory government carefully implemented austerity and extolled its virtues only to ensure it could continue as a political weapon and as an economic policy option that fitted an ideological agenda.  They were well aware, or at least some of them were, of the limits of a policy that involved bleeding the patient to death.

The case for this new Tory tilt to the left being a conscious attempt to blind those naive enough to believe Tory lies is supported for two reasons.  First, a ‘sovereign’ UK outside the EU will slip down the global power rankings like a stone.  It will be too big to ignore but too small to decisively shift its environment to its benefit.  The EU cannot afford to indulge its delusions of greatness because it’s big enough to matter but not big enough to influence the EU to submit to its claims or demands.  Some Tories might believe it can trade with the rest of the world while turning its back on those next door – that it already has almost half its trade with – but it requires outside investment to pay its way and this can only come through modelling itself as an attractive centre for foreign investment.

To do this will not entail the reassertion of British sovereignty but will expose its weakness and expose its lack of sovereignty.  The inability of relatively small and even medium sized states to interact in the world mainly to their benefit is precisely why larger economic blocs like the EU were formed.  The world will not change its rules because the British don’t like them.  The British state will therefore become weaker with less capacity to intervene and the economy it has to intervene into will be even more in need of assistance.

to be continued

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Fight for Jeremy Corbyn!

corbyn imagesIn one of the post-Brexit debates on Irish social media a supporter of the Socialist Party in Ireland claimed that one of Corbyn’s two mistakes was that he hadn’t tried to build outside the Labour Party.  For sheer blind chutzpah this isn’t bad.

Immediately after the UK elections I wrote the following:

“Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests.  This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party.  It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism.  But what could ever lead anyone to expect that?  This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.  Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate?  Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.”

Of course the left organisations ignored the Corbyn phenomenon until they noticed the world was passing them by, whereupon they suddenly discovered that the world was passing them by.  Now Corbyn and his supporters are criticised for not creating a mass anti-austerity movement and not kicking out all the Blairite MPs immediately.

In a world in which the fundamental problem for working people has been a “crisis of working class leadership”, i.e. workers have not found their revolutionary leaders (for nearly 80 years now – how on earth could this be possible?); for this view all that is required is for a political leadership to decide something and it sort of happens, just like that.  Think of the US TV series ‘Bewitched’ (look it up if you’re too young).

Having contributed nothing, not even awareness of what was at stake after the election, they think Corbyn can magic up a mass movement and upend the whole Labour Party in less than a year.  We’re expected to believe the push to kick him out has been a surprise to him.

Now the immediate and medium term fate of socialist forces in Britain is overwhelmingly being determined by the fight to keep Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.  All the criticisms that he is an electoralist is so much irrelevance because this fate will likely depend on an election, one in which the left group members don’t have a vote.

Of course it is correct to criticise Corbyn for being a reformist who is opposed to a total transformation of a capitalist society that can only be achieved in a revolutionary fashion but this is the sheerest hypocrisy from the members of these groups, and here’s why.

For the last few decades these parties have claimed that the problem is a crisis of working class representation arising from the move of social democracy to the right, leading to the political death of the Labour Party; no longer a working class party in any sense and no longer a viable vehicle for workers to struggle from.

So their bright idea was to replace the Labour Party with themselves as the social democratic alternative: in effect a new Labour Party still standing on a Keynesian economic programme.  All the while displaying their new found talent for bourgeois politics by failing to openly present what is supposed to be their real politics, or what they consider to be Marxism, rather like bourgeois politicians who promise one thing but mean quite another. It’s almost as if they stole the Labour party’s old clothes only to find Corbyn appear on the stage with the Labour Party’s genuine old clothes.

Now they have the cheek to criticise Corbyn, who in less than a year has inspired a movement that dwarfs the fruits of their years of effort, on a programme not qualitatively different from their own, while still failing to register the importance of what is happening.

We all make political mistakes but we learn from them.  Since the left organisations never admit to political mistakes they never learn.

Worse still, they have contributed to the disastrous threats that now threaten British workers by having supported Brexit and the tide of reaction it has unleashed.  Like cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing they know, or rather think they know, how to destroy capitalism but not a clue how to create socialism.  They know what they are against but are incapable of saying what in the real world, the world that exists now, they are for. They now prattle on about a political crisis oblivious of the nature of that crisis and how well placed the working class is to resolve it in its interests.

Once again they remain blind to the real world, describing the referendum as a workers revolt, “a revolt . . against the people at the top of society”.  This overwhelmingly nationalist ‘revolt’ heavily saturated by racism and xenophobia can, according to ‘Socialist Worker’, “be dragged left or right.  The right will ty to use the Leave vote to deepen racism.”  All this in a leaflet entitled ‘Unite to Shape Revolt against Establishment.’

Once again they’re a bit late.  The Leave campaign started off very right wing but managed to shift even further right the longer it went on.  The Leave campaign has already deepened racism – turn on your TV and watch the news to see its effects.  So who exactly are they going to unite with? Who?  Even ‘Socialist Worker’ had to admit that “#Lexit – the Left Leave campaign we were part of – had only a marginal effect” and that’s being generous.   So who do they think did have an effect?  How did “the campaign get dragged to the right?  Through whose influence?

And what’s their alternative?

They think that Labour should have joined the Leave campaign, a ‘tragedy’ it didn’t.  Apparently it would have “transformed the debate to be far more about democracy, breaking from austerity . . .” an admission of the real character of the real Leave campaign that wasn’t about democracy and wasn’t about breaking from austerity.   Their alternative is the next ‘big’ demonstration in October at the Tory conference and “a general election now.”  But who on earth would they vote for?

The referendum campaign demonstrated the growth of reactionary sentiments in some working class areas presided over by Blairite MPs, in other words demonstrated the importance of that Party, and the importance of a victory for Corbyn as leader of that Party.  The struggle in the Labour Party is not therefore simply an internal matter even if it is the fight inside the party that will decide.

In this fight the Blairite careerists have launched a premeditated and calculated campaign using a mass media that brazenly shows little pretence at balance.    The purpose of this mass media is to make people feel isolated, alone and despondent; that their left wing views are marginal and that all they can do is accept whatever media friendly candidate the Blairites finally unite around.

As I type these words Channel 4 news reports on a demonstration in Edinburgh in favour of Remain and some nationalist says he feels zero per cent British.  Immediately the camera cuts to an unofficial demonstration at Westminster by predominantly young people also demanding Remain.  The obvious lesson – unity, the obvious lesson for nationalists – separation; although now they will find it a tad more difficult to use ‘London’ as some sort of swear word and they will be fighting with that dirty label ‘unionist’ as supporters of the European Union.

The only credible vehicle of such unity now is a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn but that party is now split and will split.  The mass membership will not stay in a party that overturns its democratic decision, that seeks to turn its back on opposition to austerity and seeks to join the movement that scapegoats immigrants.  Equally there is no room for careerist MPs in a Corbyn led Labour Party, MPs who would rather see the Party lose than see it win under Corbyn.  This being the case there is no room for unity.

If the Left wants to do something useful it should re-evaluate its disastrous association with a reactionary cause and throw its weight into fighting in the Labour Party to defend the movement that has given hope to many millions.  Millions that they otherwise have no hope of reaching.

Their Marxism should be the most internationalist, the most alive to the needs of young people, of the workers and its movement; in so doing being the most attractive to all those seeking an alternative to the current system.

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

(Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto)

John McDonnell’s IRA apology

Brent-Hosts-Question-Time-1If you relied on the mainstream media to know what was happening in the world you would be mightily confused.  Some bearded, deluded and dishevelled guy has just become leader of the Labour Party.  Even worse, the BBC Six O’clock news led its programme with the announcement that he had just named a guy called John McDonnell as shadow chancellor, someone, the voiceover immediately told us, who once supported the IRA.

Who he was, what he had previously done that made him qualified for the job, what his economic policies were, none of these were the foremost issue for the BBC.

Now, John McDonnell has apologised for saying “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.”

He explained the remarks by saying that  “I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.  There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise.”

A number of things should be said about this.

Firstly, there’s little point complaining about the obvious bias that pervades not only the Tory press but also the BBC.

This is fuelled by the social background of those in the organisation and their political views.  Their commitment to a view of objectivity and balance embraces such a narrow conception of what is acceptable that Corbyn and his supporters are clearly beyond the pale and don’t fall within the normal rules.

Along with this there is an inability to fully comprehend their politics, partly as a result of their limited experience of political debate that doesn’t stretch back beyond the Thatcherite consensus imposed on society during the 1980s.This means for example that the idea that the leader doesn’t make all the decisions is not seen as an example of democracy but as a weakness, causing confusion and division. And of course, there is fear of the Tories who have put the squeeze on the BBC as an organisation.

Complaining about bias is not going to change any of these.

What would change the situation is the British labour movement building its own mass media which, given modern technology, does not need to immediately seek to replicate the scale of the capitalist media.  Within the hundreds of thousands who voted for Jeremy Corbyn and the many more millions who support him there is the basis to do this.

The second thing to note is that the media presentation on this issue is only one example of a barrage of attacks that reveal not only bias but the current weakness of the Corbyn led movement.  It is not a surprise that Jeremy Corbyn and his support have not been prepared for the tasks of leading the opposition to the Tories.  They will obviously for example have to build a team to deal with a hostile media.

The greatest weakness however is not in this lack of media preparedness but in the weakness of their support among the mass of careerist Labour MPs.  It is this that has allowed the media to present the new leadership as shambolic.

There’s nothing that can immediately be done about this either.  In one ironic sense it is to be hoped that this right wing shower are actually motivated by careerism and not ideological fidelity to their rotten right wing politics.  If they are simply careerists they might understand that if they attempt to destroy Corbyn they will in all likelihood so damage their party that they would scupper their own careers as well.

In contrast the great strength of the Corbyn phenomenon, which put him where he is, is invisible, or invisible to the mass media anyway.  While appearing to recognise his mandate the media presents the world from ‘the Westminster bubble’, the same bubble it claims everyone else is outside of, although not apparently themselves.

Even in the case of John McDonnell’s apology on ‘Question Time’, the reporter in the local BBC Northern Ireland news noted that his apology seemed to go down well with the audience.

This support will be tested and its cohesion and growth depends not so much on Jeremy Corbyn himself but on what these people do.  In order to resist and fight the media as part of rebuilding the labour movement they must organise for this objective.  The arguments and political activism of hundreds of thousands will be the only effective response to a hostile media.

What Corbyn and McDonnell’s are now in a position to do is deliver political leadership, with arguments that can effectively galvanise, educate and rally their supporters.  Organisation of their support is the number one objective because only this support can convince the millions who can be won to their cause.

When it comes to the question of Ireland their position needs to be better.  The original political position of McDonnell arose because he put solidarity with the political leadership of the resistance to British rule before opposition to his own country’s oppression of Ireland.  And he did this at a time when this political leadership was surrendering its opposition.

So McDonnell claimed that armed struggle forced the British state to the negotiating table.  So it did, but once it got there this armed struggle showed how useless it was at getting anything from it.  It also showed that there wasn’t going to be any real negotiations unless the armed struggle stopped.  This is always the demand of the British and they get their way.  In fact it is more accurate to say that armed struggle gets them to the table which only becomes a negotiating table when they stop it.

But even in the recent ‘peace process’ this is to overstate its importance.  The Provos had to make significant political concessions before the British would get into substantive political talks, including accepting the supposed neutrality of the British state.  This is before we even consider the capitulation required before unionists would talk to them.

The result of these negotiations and the so-called peace process is something that the British Labour Party should not support.  It should reject the argument that an end to political violence is predicated on a sectarian and increasingly corrupt political settlement.  The political deal, one that has been in crisis since it was born, appeared after the ceasefires.  Of course the rotten nature of this settlement will pass the vast majority of British people by, but then so did the North of Ireland for decades before 1968.

The primary role of a Labour party is to support the independent organisation of workers and this is true of the Labour Party in the imperialist country.  This can best be done by solidarising with Irish workers’ own attempts to do this and campaigning to remove the foreign state presence that frustrates this.

In the North of Ireland the British state does this in a number of ways, including the sponsorship of loyalist paramilitaries and political policing of republicanism, where it has found ‘good’ republicans in the form of the Provos, for whom it will attempt to cover up violence, and ‘bad’ republicans who are labelled dissidents. (See here )

But even if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister he would be able to do little to prevent the British military continuing its criminal conspiracies.  It swears loyalty to the Queen not parliament and certainly not to the people and it does so for a reason.  Marxists make the distinction between being in Government and being in power, between sitting on the top of a state and controlling and directing it.  The example of the British state’s operations in Ireland is graphic proof of the difference.

And there is yet another problem, as a comrade of mine put it last weekend at a rally in support of the refugees: Corbyn is more left wing than anyone in Ireland.  Who would be his political allies here?  Even if he wanted a united Ireland there is no significant political force in Ireland demanding it never mind in a position to do anything about it.

And don’t give me a response of ‘what about Sinn Fein’.  We have been at the stage for some time that when Sinn Fein politicians appear on TV claiming that they’re ‘for a united Ireland’ the reaction is one of – what?  Really?

What Sinn Fein does, its support for sectarian partitionist institutions and its ideological capitulation to unionism, betrays what it sometimes says about being republican.

The truth is that today there is no significant political force fighting for an end to imperialist rule.  Sinn Fein ‘support’ for a united Ireland is on a spectrum of such support declared by every nationalist party in the country and just as empty as the rest.

The task for Irish socialists is therefore very like the one for British socialists – rebuild a working class movement committed to democracy and socialism independent of their respective capitalist states.  That these are essentially the same is why socialists are internationalists.

For British socialists a democratic policy on Ireland is nothing to apologise for and nothing to hide from the British people, but it does not involve hitching their banner to the failed organisations of Irish nationalism including Provisional republicanism.

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s economics 1

corbynimages (12)I hadn’t even gotten out of my scratcher yesterday morning when I looked at my mobile and the BBC news web site to see what was happening in the world, only to see yet another attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour party leader.  This time the Brlairite was Blair himself, looking skull-like and definitely not very well – all that chasing after money mustn’t be good for his health.  “Labour must come to its senses” he apparently said.  I didn’t read any more.

Corbyn has been criticised in just about every way imaginable, from the Mail prophesying a return to the “dark ages”, riots and intervention by international peace keepers, to the oh so condescending approach of Janen Ganesh of the ‘Financial Times’: that Corbyn’s policies, “eccentric” and a “joke” as they are, are not really the problem, it’s the “soft left” and Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper who are the ultimate problem.  Poor Jeremy, he’s either responsible for a new dark ages or he’s such a joke he doesn’t deserve consideration, even as a problem.

At the centre of all this dismissal is contempt and ridicule of Corbyn’s economic proposals for “quantitative easing for people instead of banks.”  Our local biggest daily ‘The Irish News’ had its own columnist to hurl his own critique, this time mixing both dire prediction and condescending ridicule.

The author, Newton Emerson, thinks that fewer than 1% of the population will understand “why Corbynomics is ridiculous” even though “it takes little more than an A-level to understand why.”

Emerson is normally an acute commentator on politics in the North of Ireland, frequently exposing the hypocrisy of political culture here and the rottenness of the political arrangements.  Unfortunately he has two problems.  First, when it comes down to it he actually supports the rotten political arrangements, and secondly, he gives every indication of having been educated in the dismal science of economics as taught in the universities.

He is undoubtedly correct that the general population is seriously under-educated in economics and this is a real problem for them identifying their interests in any debate.  On the other hand I don’t believe that Corbyn’s ideas are very radical and certainly not ridiculous, so going to university or doing an A-level really isn’t the answer.

So let’s see if we can understand what the issues are in this case.

Quantitative easing as practiced by the Bank of England involves the bank loaning newly created money (created as an electronic entry in the bank’s accounts) to a fund which has to pay it back, so theoretically it’s a loan and not just giving away newly created money.  This fund then uses these loans to buy government issued bonds (IOUs payable by the Government) that are held by pension funds.  These pension funds now have money instead of these bonds.

The theory is that these pension funds will then want to use the money to buy other assets from banks such as bonds to replace the ones just sold back to the government or buy other sorts of securities such as private debt instruments (IOUs issued by private corporations to raise money for investment).

The end result is that money has been created electronically by the Bank of England and it now rests in the banks which, it is hoped, will use the new money to buy debt issued by private firms that will in turn help them invest directly through the money just received.  This investment will create jobs and economic growth.   That’s roughly the theory anyway.

However, once the banks have the money they can do what they want with it.  They could buy bonds or securities issued by other countries; they could buy existing shares or securities which would give no more money to firms to invest but simply increase the price of these pieces of paper; they could buy commodities or property and cause inflation in these assets or they could simply sit on the cash.  In each case there would be no increased employment or contribution to economic growth.

Even if they bought newly issued debt from private companies, these too could decide not to invest the money in new factories, offices or equipment and instead do any of the above and join in the great speculative boom in property or share prices etc.  Many banks and companies appear to have done just this, which has made them richer but not helped economic growth.

In other words the ‘money printing’ that has been carried out has helped the banks and made the rich who hold financial assets richer by increasing their price.

Hence the alternative proposed by Jeremy Corbyn in which the newly created money, which is also in the form of a loan, is given to a State investment bank who then loan it out to state agencies which would invest in state-owned infrastructure such as “housing, transport , digital and energy networks.”  The objective would not only be to create jobs in the short term and promote economic growth, so reducing the debt burden, but also contribute to the longer term productivity of the economy, which is recognised as going through something of a productivity crisis.

To be continued.

The UK general election part 2: DIY austerity

8841963_origDuring the election, instead of selling themselves as a vote for independence the SNP presented themselves as the leaders of Scotland’s opposition to austerity who would make the new Labour Government keep true to its word of opposing austerity.  As I have and others have said, this was a lie.  The SNP opposed a vote for Labour in England and Wales since they supported the Greens and Plaid Cymru.  So where was this Labour Government to come from?

The SNP vote cannot therefore be characterised as any sort of left vote except in the sense I mentioned earlier: that workers often express their interests in very distorted form.  In this case in the form of nationalism that put forward the idea that Scots are uniquely opposed to austerity and the English not.  The SNP vote can also be said to be a nationalist one because a nationalist solution to austerity was proposed, even if it was supported by some who would not want to go as far as independence.

If the Scots were uniquely opposed to austerity they would also have demonstrated opposition to the cuts transmitted by their own Scottish parliament led by the SNP.

This party has slipped seamlessly from standing in order to put a backbone into a new Labour Government to the election being “a vote to make Scotland’s voice heard loudly” in Westminster.  Those who think there isn’t really any difference should read the last sentence again.  They should also consider if the SNP in any way contributed to getting the Tories out.  As I have also said before the only Tories they wanted out was the ‘red’ variety.

The absence of Labour in Government, which they said would be reliant on them, now means their real reliance on those in power in London is exposed.  Like the nationalists that they are the SNP demands privileges that they would not even consider for others.  So the new Tory Government has to listen to the ‘voice of Scotland’ even though they are 50 per cent of Scottish voices with 1.45 million votes.  UKIP on the other hand won 3.88 million votes, over two and half times the SNP vote. Should their voice not be louder?

However, now that the Conservatives are in Government the SNP will be seeking to cut a deal with them to increase devolved powers – so much for excoriating Labour and their promises not to do deals with the hated Tories.  The Guardian on Saturday reported an SNP advisor saying that Sturgeon will now negotiate with the Tories and that all the repeated promises that the party would never work with the Tories were based on the Conservatives forming a minority coalition government – not an outright majority.

Perhaps this approach seems obvious to SNP supporters but it isn’t at all obvious to anyone else.  If, as it claimed, it stood in this election against austerity why isn’t it trying to cut a deal on reducing austerity instead of more constitutional powers?

The election demonstrated that the SNP and Conservative Party were good for each other.  The inherently anti-English message of independence produced an anti-Scottish response led by the Tories and UKIP who were able to argue that a Labour Government in hock to a party bent on destruction of their nation was a mortal danger.  Both the Tories and SNP knew what they were doing in this mutual loathing.

Now, as the mutually beneficial conflict between the rival nationalisms continues to play itself out, it will become clear that English nationalism is bigger and uglier – because England is bigger and nationalism throwing its weight about is always ugly.

Boris Johnson has advocated giving the SNP greater devolved powers for the Scottish parliament – “some kind of federal offer”.  This is not such a novel departure since the Tories were already more radical than Labour before the referendum in what they promised as devolution in place of separation.

An offer by the Tories of full fiscal autonomy would call the SNP’s bluff since they know full well that Scotland could not afford such an arrangement given the fall in oil prices.  In effect it would be DIY austerity.

The SNP will argue that it wants any new arrangement to maintain current levels of financing.  In other words a settlement that allows Scotland the benefit of higher oil prices should they return but no down side when they don’t.  The English oppressors in the meantime will have to subsidise higher levels of public expenditure in Scotland.

When the Tories make mincemeat of these demands the SNP can then make the case that the dastardly anti-Scottish Tories are at it again and only independence will allow them to borrow more, make savings on Trident and make the independence sums add up again irrespective of the oil price.  Something they haven’t been very convincing at doing so far.

In the meantime increased tax and spending powers may allow the SNP led Scottish parliament to cut corporation tax, as will the Stormont administration in Belfast with the new tax varying powers that the Tories have already promised.  They can then unite with their Celtic cousins in the Irish State in a joint project of cutting each other’s throat.

The debate has begun on what the lessons are for Labour with the Blairites already dominating the media agenda that Ed Miliband was too left wing.

Such an argument hardly squares with the Labour rout in Scotland and nor with Labour gains in London.  It was obvious when Miliband became leader that he had to distance himself from the Blair legacy of the Iraq war and the obsequious defence to the city of London and the financial interests behind the crash.  We’re now asked to believe that a return to this politics is the way back.

Such a policy would have led the Labour Party into an even more confused message than it already had and would have left it with little or nothing to distinguish itself from a Tory Party promising deficit reduction, tax cuts and more money for the health service.

Even the rise of UKIP and the part of its vote that was taken from Labour cannot be seen as an endorsement of a move right.  In this case just how far right would you have to move to rival the xenophobic policies of that lot?

I remember two weeks ago listening to a vox pop on radio 4 from a constituency in the North of England.  A young man was saying he was voting UKIP as a protest against Labour even though he did not at all agree with UKIP policies because he wanted Labour to be more left wing!  I’m not for a moment suggesting that the working class UKIP vote is a left wing protest but some of it is a working class vote that is Labour’s to win.  These voters are not all irredeemably reactionary.  It is rather another example of some workers expressing their class interests as they see them, in a very distorted and disfigured way.

They are demoralised workers who blame immigrants, foreigners or Europe, or simply the establishment understood in some vague way, for the precarious position they find themselves in.

These people did not vote Tory and they did not do so because demoralised or not they don’t confuse their interest with those of the Tory classes and their smarmy representatives.  They just can’t identify their position with an uninhibited and robust defence of their class interests from a socialist perspective.  Perhaps because they haven’t been presented with it or because they have grown cynical with promises of it in the past that haven’t been delivered on.

There is no Blairite answer to workers who blame immigrants for lack of affordable housing, low wages, unemployment and failing health and education services.  There is a left wing answer and however weak it may be from a Marxist perspective it certainly makes more sense than voting UKIP.

The parliamentary arithmetic looks very bad for Labour, behind the Tories by almost 100 seats and suffering almost complete wipe-out in Scotland.  But that is only half the story.

Their vote increased by more than the Tories, and that despite the losses in Scotland.  They may trail by 99 seats but they lag only by 6.5 percentage points of the vote.  The Tories are not in as strong a position as they appear.

First they have a small majority and second they are about to go through a debate about Europe that has the potential to split them extremely badly.  This will take place most likely against the backdrop of gloomy economic news and growing unpopularity as the reality of their election promises come home to roost.  Cameron may seek to provide raw meat to the most Thatcherite elements of his party in order to provide himself with some room to keep the UK inside the EU.

Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests.  This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party.  It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism.  But what could ever lead anyone to expect that?  This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.

Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate?  Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.

The UK general election – part 1: ‘they’re all the same’

images (9)“Were you watching the election last night?” the doorman asked me when I walked into work on Friday morning.

“Yeah, five more years of Tory cuts”, I answered disconsolately.

“They’re all the same”, he said.

A common enough view.  Certainly the view of the left who stood for election, hoping for a vote while realistically knowing that they had no chance of being elected and discounting the effect of taking votes away from the Labour Party.

But not the view of others.

‘The Guardian’ reported that once the result became clear bank shares went up as the threat of more restrictive regulation receded and higher taxes on bankers’ bonuses loomed less large.

Around £1billion was added to the value of the energy company Centrica with the disappearance of the prospect of tougher rules in the energy sector.  The share value of companies that provide outsourced services (privatisation to you and me) also rose, as did those of Sports Direct, whose shares rose by £95m without a Labour threat to their use of zero hours contracts.

“Enquiries came in just after midnight” said one London estate agent, from prospective clients who no longer had to ‘worry’ about Labour’s ghastly mansion tax.  Even bookmakers did well, with Ladbrokes share value rising as the plan to crack down on fixed odds betting terminals, the ‘crack cocaine’ of the industry, disappeared, as Labour’s promise of a crackdown became a ripped up betting slip.

But the report in the ‘Financial Times’ on Saturday put it best, beginning its article like this. .

“. . as the surprise exit poll results came in shortly after 10pm on Thursday night, the mood in the Cavalry and Guards club on Piccadilly turned from funereal to one of incredulous celebration.”

“Earlier in the evening , diners at the Mayfair gentlemen’s club had wallowed in gallows humour as they declared that the election result could mark a fin d’époque for the wealthy in London. . . This stiff upper lip turned to genuine joy as it transpired that the fortunes of the Conservative party had exceeded both the opinion polls and the party’s wildest dreams.”

“This could turn into the biggest celebration ever”, said one Tory supporter. . “We can cancel the removal vans. Non-doms watching the exit polls are unpacking their bags”, said his friend.”

All overstated of course, but those who won’t acknowledge any truth in the report are blowing out of the wrong end.

In some ways I find such reports reassuring.  The super-rich, the real capitalist class, are daily invisible and even the reports of their reaction to the result are through their minions who sell their shares for them or sell them houses or advise them and the rest of us that higher taxes for the rich are a jolly bad thing.

These reports reveal the existence and power of those behind the system, who benefit most from its inequality, and provide glimpses of the class structure within the capitalist mode of production.

While the thought of champagne-popping celebrations in London gentlemen’s’ clubs are valuable because they provide an instinctive and visceral view of what the election victory means it really is no more than that.  The existence and power of the capitalist class, which can appear rather abstract and esoteric in Marxist analysis, is impersonal and largely invisible not only because we don’t run across the mega-rich every day but because it is the system itself which is the problem.  The super-rich are just the personalised expression of the social relations of the system, just as the rich hangers-on of these people such as the estate agents, city dealers and tax advisors represent themselves as the appearance of their mega-rich clients.

Understanding the system and how it works and what the alternative to it is are therefore fundamental.  Understanding the class nature of society and what side you’re on is what’s called class consciousness and it is oddly reassuring that at least one section of society understands theirs.

However the impersonal and systematic nature of capitalism makes this difficult for workers and in so far as they do recognise their own interests this is often expressed in distorted ways. Sometimes very distorted ways, as shown in the election results.

So a lot of the explaining of the election result takes off from the appearance that, for example, Miliband was a bit of a geek and Cameron much more Prime Ministerial.  While Sturgeon, a career politician in the Scottish parliament since 1999, is genuine and sincere and not like the other career politicians; one who could be trusted not so much despite the record of the SNP in Government but sometimes in more or less total ignorance of it.

At only a slightly more sophisticated level of analysis it is claimed that the election was lost because Labour did not have a coherent narrative.  They allowed the Tories to get away with lying that the recession was a ‘Labour recession’ caused by excessive Government spending instead of a financial crisis that affected the world.  They had a confused message that promised to reduce the deficit but also to protect public services and they appeared to both stand for and not stand for robust social-democratic politics.  All very true of course but hardly convincing by itself.

After all, if Labour sent mixed messages the Tory story was beyond belief. They waved the big scary deficit monster in everyone’s faces while promising to pass a law that appeared to prevent them from putting up taxes.

They were going to cut welfare, and not in a nice way either, but nobody would really get hurt, or rather they refused to say who would get hurt.  They had done it before they said and therefore could be relied upon to do it again.  Their record spoke for itself they said, except their record on welfare cuts didn’t at all support their claims.

While the deficit was their number one priority and hard choices had to be made they were still going to cut taxes and give the NHS an increase of £8 billion!  Was anyone supposed to believe this rubbish?

If they looked like they were confident of winning, while almost no one believed they would, it had to be because Eton and all the other posh schools they go to teach smarmy self-confidence and born to rule self-belief, while their management of the economy would appear to reflect that PPE at Oxford now means a piss poor education.

At a more persuasive level it has been argued that the improving economy allowed the Tories to claim that their austerity policies were working, and Labour appeared to have no convincing rebuttal to such claims.  In some respects therefore the Tories got lucky.  The recent upturn is very likely to be very temporary as the most recent figures for economic growth herald the downturn to come.  The recent upturn has therefore been based on short-term cyclical movements and one-off factors.

To really be able to rebut the Tories on this point would therefore have required a more advanced understanding of economic development than Labour was ever going to argue for, and frankly a more advanced understanding than many workers show themselves ready for at the moment.

It is nevertheless true, that despite these problems, the fact is that for many austerity has not ‘worked’ and has still led to the longest period of falling living standards for a very long time regardless of the latest limited improvement.

Finally it has been argued that the Labour party was caught between competing nationalisms in Scotland and England.  This would appear obvious but if you really believed the claims of the SNP it’s not.  This is because the SNP stated that the general election was not about independence.  They stated this because despite all the hype, the SNP lost the referendum, they might lose it again if they tried to have another one soon and they know they have perhaps only one more chance.  The sharp drop in the price of oil since the last one means the independence sums don’t add up.

Getting the ‘Red Tories’ out?

Sun Scotland England Tory SNP divide and conquerI was walking down Buchanan Street in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon when I came across a group that all had large red stickers on them saying ‘Red Tories Out’, which is Scottish nationalist-speak for the Labour Party.  The leaflets they were giving out called for a vote for the Scottish National Party so that it could ensure that a new Labour Government was socially just.  What on earth is going on?

‘Red Tories Out’?? The Labour Party is not in office in Holyrood in Edinburgh and equally obviously not in office in Westminster in London, so what exactly do this group of nationalists want Labour out of?  Since they assume (for the sake of their argument) that they are utterly opposed to the real Tories being in power and the only real alternative is the Labour Party, the only answer consistent with their proclaimed strategy is that of no Labour MPs in Scotland but a majority in England and Wales, one big enough to allow their favoured scenario of a Labour Government dependent (or so they want) on SNP support.

No matter how they dress it up the reactionary nationalist logic of division surfaces each time the left in Scotland trumpets its supposedly radical political credentials.  The Labour Party is shit; Scots need an alternative but Labour’s good enough for English workers, and we’ll just ignore the fact that we need it as well in order to defeat the hated Tories.  But just to show how this isn’t really our strategy we’ll support other parties in England and Wales standing against Labour.

‘Red Tories Out’ turns out to be not just out of Scotland but everywhere.  Except if successful this would let the real Tories in as Labour voters supported the Greens and Plaid Cymru, assisting the Conservative Party to capture marginal seats where Labour is the only conceivable alternative.

Of course this would mean that these nationalists wouldn’t be open to the charge of hoping to foist Labour on the English while it wasn’t good enough for them, but then they would have to explain to everyone what’s left of their supposed overriding priority in this election of getting rid of the Tories.

Something in their argument has to give and what gives is their proclaimed support for a Labour Government supported by the SNP.  What you see is what you get and when you see ‘Red Tories Out’ stickers it means what it says, no more and no less.  When you see aggressive heckling of Labour in a Glasgow street you’re seeing the real vitriolic hatred of the Labour Party.

It is the Labour Party that has stood in the way of the SNP objective of ‘speaking for Scotland’; the SNP having some time ago captured swathes of Scottish Tory support.  It is a Tory Government in Britain that strengthens their claims that only independence can rid Scotland of the Tories and it just such a Government that would provide the grounds upon which another tilt at separation might be launched.

So the ‘Scottish Sun’ newspaper calls for a vote for the SNP while the English version supports the Tories.  The Tories demonise the SNP, making their nationalism more attractive in Scotland in the process, and the SNP ride the wave of increased nationalist division by decrying opposition to their participation in government in England as anti-Scots while basing their whole rationale for existence on the baleful influence of the English.

So it turns out that it is the position of the Sun that is the most consistent of the publicly proclaimed stances – Tories in England and Wales and the Tartan variety dressed in ‘anti-austerity’ clothing in Scotland.

Both on the face of it (‘Red Tories Out’) and looking at underlying political calculation, it is clear that Tory little-Englandism and SNP nationalism is seeking to exploit nationalist division to their own benefit while undermining the causes they say they aspire to – unity of the UK in the case of the Conservative Party and anti-austerity in the case of the SNP.

Reading ‘The Herald’ newspaper on Saturday it reported from focus groups that voters have stopped listening to the political arguments and have bought into the narrative of empowerment, derived from the independence referendum, and the perceived possibility of standing up for Scotland in the General election. ‘No’ referendum voters are therefore voting SNP.

This doesn’t look like a simple unthinking or emotional vote to me but a buying into nationalist assumptions that don’t withstand political analysis and argument.  And the most fundamental of these is that there is a ‘Scottish’ interest oppose to that of ‘London’.  The conflation of nationalism with the interests of workers allows promotion of nationalism to appear as the promotion of workers’ interests even while it does exactly the opposite.

The double standards and scarcely conscious hypocrisy of the Scottish left are symptoms of this nationalism and an apparent disengagement from political argument an expression of the soporific effect of nationalist illusions.

But it would be wrong to blame the nationalists alone.  The Labour Party, that object of nationalist hatred, deserves its own fair share of blame.  For a long time it has channelled Scottish workers opposition to what is now called austerity into nationalist and constitutional demands in order to avoid a response based on workers’ own struggles and socialist policies.  In this way it could pioneer the conflation of workers’ interests with Scottish interests, when the latter might be seen to be reflected in their own political dominance in the country.

This could be seen in their impotent opposition to Thatcher and support for devolution and now in the appointment of Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour Leader and his proclaiming of the Labour Party as the party best based to fight for Scottish national interests.  When it comes to fighting for national interests it’s hard to out-do nationalism.  It has taken Ed Miliband to make the most prominent case for workers interests irrespective of nationality.

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While over in Glasgow I took in the Celtic match and logged on to a fans blog.  One poster derided concerns over the barracking of Jim Murphy while canvassing in Glasgow city centre, saying the guy was a Blairite and had responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had blood on his hands and deserved no sympathy.

Fair enough point you might think. As far as it goes. But where is it supposed to go?  A bit of shouting and obstruction hardly seems sufficient punishment for mass murder, does it?  But what would be appropriate punishment if that was the purpose of the barracking?

Well, for a socialist it is not this or that particular bourgeois politician that is the problem (and certainly not the answer).   So the SNP is opposed to ‘illegal’ wars?  Is legal mass murder any more acceptable?  Does a UN mandate legitimise imperialist murder? Just what sort of alternative is the SNP that the protestors against Murphy support? Just what sort of political mobilisation is it that rallies round a nationalist party whose fiscal manifesto is not essentially different from Labour’s yet considers itself self-righteously anti-austerity?

What matters for the future is building an alternative not only to bourgeois politicians but to the system itself that creates the social basis for these politicians, one which relies precisely on workers lack of engagement in political argument and analysis.

Right now such an alternative requires opposition to nationalist division.  It therefore means voting for the best option, given the choices available.  A vote for the Labour Party can be justified as one that will provide the best circumstances for fighting austerity, both by virtue of rejecting Scottish nationalist illusions and facing a reduced austerity offensive.

Nationalist separation on the other hand is a counsel of despair, one that asserts that British workers can never fight for an alternative.

  1. A friend has alerted me to an interview in Jacobin magazine with Neil Davidson, a supporter of Scottish separation, and I will take up the arguments raised by him in a future post.

The UK General election, the Labour Party and the SNP. Who’s calling the shots?

snpWhen the Independence referendum was lost by the nationalists I noted that this created something of a problem for left supporters of Scottish separation.  Their claim not to be nationalist looked threadbare when set aside rallies festooned with Saltires but now they had questions to answer.  Today the questions are even harder.

If the pro-independence campaign that they hailed as a genuine left-wing grass roots movement was not nationalist how do they explain that it is the nationalist Scottish National Party that has reportedly grown enormously since the referendum?  How do they explain that even within their ranks large chunks of their supporters are now members of the SNP?  How are they to explain that figures like Tommy Sheridan are calling for a vote for the SNP in the UK General election?  He wants to wipe out the ‘Blue, Yellow and Red Tories’ but not of course the Tartan ones.

The SNP are now regularly reported to be in position to wipe out the Labour Party in Scotland which would be quite a reversal.  In fact such a reversal that it overturns one of the claimed grounds for Scotland’s independence – that Scotland is more progressive because it elects predominantly Labour MPs.  Shortly it may predominantly elect a party that has gotten to this point by first taking over and assimilating a large part of the Scottish Tory vote, and it will be England and Wales upon which a Labour Government may be elected.

This is excused by the claim that the Labour Party of today is not the Labour Party of yesterday and indeed with the advent of new Labour this is to an extent true.  However, it is also true that the Labour Party of 2015 is not essentially different to that of 1975 or even 1945 and the view that it somehow is exhibits a flawed understanding of that party.

And there is another problem.  The SNP is making the claim, on the face of it ridiculous, that it will ensure that Ed MIliband becomes Prime Minister through Scottish voters voting not for the Labour Party but for the SNP.  How is Tommy Sheridan to justify opposition to the Labour Party, or ‘Red Tories’ as he prefers to call them, by voting SNP?  Perhaps it is because depriving the Labour Party of a majority might allow the real Tories into Government again, through some sort of new coalition with what’s left of the Liberal Democrats and support from the Democratic Unionist Party?

The SNP are making this type of claim because on their own they are incapable of offering any alternative effective opposition to the austerity that is the main issue in the campaign.  This has already been made clear by their imposition of austerity as the party of Government at Holyrood. Their projections for the financial position of an independent Scotland have already been blown out of the water by the collapse of the price of oil.   Their call for full fiscal autonomy is similarly exposed.  As I pointed out after the referendum result the only effective opposition to austerity can come from an all-British alternative but the ‘non-nationalist’ ‘left’ has seemed oblivious to this.

The SNP however being a serious bourgeois party is not.  That is why Nicola Sturgeon has moved the SNP to take up a UK-wide approach, at least rhetorically, projecting the SNP as a necessary part of a united front against austerity, for example in a possible alliance with the Greens and Plaid Cymru.

Knowing equally that this is not any sort of real alternative has forced her to make a virtue out of necessity and claim the need for the Labour Party to rely on SNP support.  It is backhanded recognition that only the Labour Party can blunt the Tory inspired austerity offensive and its intensification should they lead the next Government again.

So the SNP must claim opposition to Tory austerity as its priority when its real goal is to destroy the Labour Party in Scotland, so making continuation of Tory austerity that more likely.   That other serious bourgeois party, the red, white and blue Tories, also know this, which is why they have been bigging up the SNP and Labour’ so-called dependence on it, in order to undermine Labour.  They do this even while it also undermines the union they support; yet one more illustration of their incompetent character.  At least Thatcher’s strengthening of the forces of Scottish nationalism can claim it was unintended.

The two parties feed on each other, illustrating the divisive role of nationalism for the British working class. As this excellent post here points out, a plurality of SNP voters would rather have a Tory Government than a Labour one if it meant more SNP MPs.

The nationalist left’s opposition to ‘Blue, Yellow and Red Tories’ reduces to opposition to Labour since in Scotland the first has only one MP, the second is stuffed across Britain and the third is the single existing disproof of their claim that only nationalist separation offers an alternative to the Tories.  It is mightily embarrassing when an election comes long in which it is clear that this is patently untrue.  Except of course, as the post recommended above describes, the SNP is on such a roll that nothing will embarrass it, at least not at the minute.

The left nationalist case is that separation is necessary to defeat the Tories and that the UK state is unreformable, in the sense that it will never be social-democratic again.  Their enemy is therefore not the Tories, whose existence seems only to confirm this.  On the other hand, as even the mildly left approach of Ed Miliband threatens such claims, we can glimpse the fundamentally weak foundations upon which the great surge of Scottish nationalism currently rests and the totally spurious grounds on which left nationalism sits.

The actions of Sturgeon and the SNP demonstrate that in this General election the only alternative to Tory austerity, however weak and limited it is, is the Labour Party.

The Left against Europe 2

PUB 193-23 - EuropeIn explaining the opposition of the left in Britain to joining the Common Market in 1971 Tom Nairn argues that the working class had succumbed to nationalism long before and that nationalism had successfully corralled the rising working class movement in the 19th century. This of course eventually led to the mass socialist parties of Europe dropping their internationalist stance and supporting their own state in the slaughter that receives its centenary this year.

Having fixed the class struggle within national limits, within which it “acquired great inertia and the natural conservatism of hard-won reforms”, the bourgeoisie was able to seek new international or multi-national forms more appropriate to the expansion and development of the capitalist mode of production.  “It does so very cautiously, amid great confusion and contradiction.”  However in this movement “the principal asset of the western European bourgeoisies is a simple one: the absence of the left.”

The margin for manoeuvre afforded the leaders of capitalism is relatively large because the class struggle in Europe long ago lost any concrete international dimension.  They are able to pose “questions to which the socialist and communist left simply have no answer . . . that is, except futile opposition, evasion of the issue, or a harmless rhetoric of abstract internationalism.”  Nairn then sets forth how he sees the left’s intervention within the ‘great debate’ in 1971 exhibiting all these characteristics.

Just like today, opposition to the Common Market was de rigueur and taken for granted.  It was opposition to a super-state – one bigger and further away, built in support of the biggest capitalist monopolies.  As we noted in the first of these posts Europe was “somehow more capitalist in nature than Great Britain and the British State.  The Common Market nations are either more capitalist than Britain, or they are capitalist in a more sinister sense; while the Community’s Brussels institutions represent the bureaucratic heart of darkness.”

“It would hardly be correct to call this a theory” remarks Nairn.  He quotes the British Communist Party (CP) stating that the Common Market is ‘anti-planning, anti-socialist, anti-working class’. National governments and their elected Parliaments have no control over its gigantic bureaucracy and the British would be merely represented in the same proportion as the Italians ‘as one sixth of the population of 300 millions involved.’  ‘We would be virtually sunk without trace’ and parliament would no longer be supreme.

The nationalist and statist conception of socialism exhibited here by the CP is hardly a surprise but it is remarkable, despite the categorical collapse of the Stalinist states, how much of this Stalinism is alive today under the banner of many of the supposed Trotskyist organisations – from their bureaucratic and undemocratic internal functioning to their reliance on nationalisation as a socialist measure, their support for popular front types of campaign organisation and electoralism.  And here: their opposition to the EEC.

What this illustrates is the good old Marxist dictum that being determines consciousness, that the material factors at play in society, the power of the capitalist mode of production and its state and the political movements supported and ideologies promoted by it, are more powerful than the purported political theories and programmes of small and isolated revolutionary organisations.  So the revolutionary left organisations in Britain in 1971 opposed entry into the EEC while today there is no campaign to leave it despite the question arising now as a live issue, yet in between there has been no reassessment.

Nairn looks at some of the left objections to the EEC, which are still around today.  On the Brussels bureaucracy Nairn points out that the employees of the Common Market Commission were approximately one fifteenth of the number working in one British Ministry, the Department of Health and Social Security.  On whether the Common Market is capitalist or not he asks the question “how could a union of six or ten capitalist national states be anything else?”   But the rational question for any socialist is “which of these two sets of capitalist conditions, the national or the Common Market, offers the best future environment for revolutionary thought and activity?”

Nairn remarks that, of the left in the anti-EEC campaign, “none of them – with the possible exception of the CP – looked happy inside it.  On every hand one found doubts, qualifications, and reservations.”  Nairn then looks at the arguments of various organisations on the revolutionary left, including the International Marxist Group (IMG).

The IMG opposed entry because “the Common Market is opposed to both the immediate and the long-term class interests of the labour movement.”  “The EEC is a capitalist solution to capitalist problems.”  However it lamented the lack of any scrap of socialist internationalism within the left of the Labour Party and argued that “chauvinism is a vicious enemy which must be destroyed.”  The unity of the Labour and trade union leaders and the mass of trade union members in opposition to entry is a unity that “holds no future for the working class, and one which must be rejected and fought against.”

The IMG posit that millions of workers are discussing the issue and into this debate revolutionaries can insert the alternative of working class unity “and the strategy of a red Europe against the capitalist EEC.”  This would involve “creating living links between workers’ struggles in the countries of Western Europe.”

In the same issue of the IMG paper ‘Red Mole’ Nairn quotes from an article by Ernest Mandel which looks at the EEC as an economic and political mechanism reflecting the internationalisation of monopoly companies and the need for British capital to join their competitors because it cannot beat them from outside.

Mandel concludes by stating that the most important factor in assessing the situation is “the dynamic of the class struggle.”  Joining the EEC would cause immediate material losses to workers but they could compensate for this because entry would not reduce economic class struggle but would exacerbate it. Political radicalisation would be reinforced (although entry was still opposed).

So how could the statement that “the Common Market (is) opposed to both the immediate and the long-term class interests of the labour movement” and the one stating that an increase in economic class struggle and reinforced political radicalisation will arise from joining both be true?

Nairn records the isolation of the revolutionary left in the debate but that they protected themselves from being camp-followers of left nationalist opposition through “a certain degree of intelligent half-heartedness.”  “Honour was saved, mainly by looking both ways at once and saying two different things at once.”  For Nairn this position arose partly from the void where some sense of what internationalism meant practically should have been.

So what was the reason for this lack of socialist internationalism?  Nairn quotes the IMG author: “  It is not the objective conditions that have been responsible for a lack of socialist internationalism in Europe but a failure on the part of the bureaucratically led labour movement to live up to its responsibilities.”  So the alternative is then to build a revolutionary party.

Whatever about the truth of the latter as a definition of the solution there are problems with the explanation of the problem.

For small Marxist organisations of hundreds or thousands the nationalist consciousness of millions of workers is not a subjective factor.  While betrayal of particular struggles on particular occasions has undoubtedly taken place it is hardly adequate to say that workers’ consciousness arises from having been betrayed repeatedly for decades otherwise the working class is essentially stupid.

What is the objective basis of workers consciousness over decades in all the most developed capitalist countries?  A Marxist would look for causes as long-lasting and as deep seated and profound as the phenomenon which is in need of explanation and ‘betrayal’ doesn’t meet this requirement.

It makes no sense to say that reformist and nationalist leaders betray reformist and nationalist workers.  The often contradictory character of workers’ consciousness can see their most radical and militant notions and impulses betrayed by their leaders but what has to be explained is why this radical consciousness does not predominate and why it can be betrayed, repeatedly.

Why is the lack of internationalist consciousness so pervasive among workers?

I will look at how the left has come to these questions in a future post but the next one will continue to look at how the question of the EEC was addressed by the revolutionary left in 1971 through looking at the debate within the International Socialists, forerunner of todays’ Socialist Workers Party.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3