Never mind Brexit?

When I wrote against Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum I noted that one of the strongest motivators of many in the Yes campaign was the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the campaign itself, not the actual goal.  The latter promised wonderful things but these were free floating and detached from reality, and no amount of wishful thinking could make up for the lack of any realistic case.  Instead, the campaign itself gave tangible reality to the demand for independence.

It is now apparent that this is a cause that has to have such a movement, now through Indyref2, or it starts to crumble. The Scottish working class dodged a bullet when the majority of people in Scotland voted No.  Even prominent supporters of independence and erstwhile opponents of austerity are now saying that independence would need five years of austerity to work.  Of course, we’re told it would only be temporary, but then so is Tory austerity. When is austerity not temporary?

I was reminded of this when I read Owen Jones article in today’s ‘Guardian’, whose headline said it all – ‘As the media obsess over Brexit, they’re missing Labour’s revolution.’  In other words – forget about Brexit and look at the movement for change in the Party.

If you think my characterising this position is not really forgetting about Brexit, then consider the report – again in ‘The Guardian’ – that, “on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, McDonnell said it could not be guaranteed that Labour’s position on the single market would be finalised if there was an election in six months.”

When Theresa May made her Florence speech last week much media coverage concentrated on her ‘change of tone’ from the bombastic declarations of her Lancaster House speech. The usual in-depth reporting perhaps.

The media repeatedly tells us that Brexit is fiendishly complex while generally ignoring this complexity; although now and then it makes pathetic attempts to explain it; that is when it’s not wallowing in the knockabout political manoeuvring at Westminster and, as it has done from the start, treating Brexit as mainly an intra-Tory fight.  On this occasion however, the obviously superficial attributes of the speech were indeed the most significant thing about it.

Where the media failed yet again, was to explain why this change of tone came about. Or how the rest of the speech was actually a continuation of the La La Land Tory dream of Brexit, which some more informed commentators think will, to the Brexiteers delight, be delivering Brexit before Christmas.  Again unfortunately, before the Labour Party might decide to get its act together.

What appeared as the most significant policy initiative was May’s statement that there had to be a transitional phase, which she couldn’t even force herself to describe as a transition.  In this transition she hopes that some unspecified super trade deal, unlike any other, can be negotiated; one that will save the UK from the consequences of Brexit.

This reflects simply that Brexit is a looming disaster, with the hope that it can be made less so by postponing it, perhaps similarly to the way it is said that justice delayed is justice denied.  Unfortunately for her, and for us, Brexit won’t be delayed, or at least not by anything she’s doing.

May’s transition assumes more or less continued EU membership, perhaps without EU judicial authority continuing, which even the most ignorant must surely know is not possible.  Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator has made it clear again and again, immediately before and immediately after May’s speech, that the UK is leaving the EU in March 2019.  If it wants to discuss anything else, it has to first sort out the rights of EU citizens in the UK, agree the financial settlement for leaving, and propose a special deal to avoid a new border in Ireland.

May made unspecified promises on citizens’ rights, offered £20 billion – which I’m sure the EU welcomes although that is quite beside the point – and said nothing about Ireland.  In other words, the UK is heading for the exit with no deal unless it practically addresses these three issues, and that includes any deal on a transition.  They have been calling it a cliff edge for a while now.

Clearly the bitterly divided Tories are drowning and trying to take everyone down with them, if allowed.  Their position on Brexit is incoherent.  They cannot possibly get the trade deal they say they want, one that gives them more or less the same arrangements as retaining single market membership while leaving the EU.  To get the former they must ditch the latter, or rather to get the latter they must ditch the former.

The problem is that the Labour Party’s position, in so far as it has one, is now perhaps even more delusional than the Tories’.  Certainly, the Labour Party demanded a transitional deal before the Tories, but only the blind could have believed that the exit terms could be agreed, and then new arrangements negotiated, within Article 50 requirements.  These requirements were written precisely to ensure it made no sense to use them.  A classical Catch 22 – to get out you must use them but if you use them it shows it makes no sense to get out.

But Labour too wants just the same sort of wonderful trade deal as the Tories while leaving the EU.  ‘The Guardian’ article reports the following – “Speaking later at an event with Labour’s MEPs, Starmer said he believed a Brexit deal could be achieved that would be as good as being in the EU.”

This is as much a ‘have your cake and eat it’ policy as the Tories.  Leaving the EU means the UK becomes a third country, so it will have to face barriers to trade.  New trading arrangements will take potentially years to negotiate and the EU will not allow the UK to cherry-pick what it will buy into and what it will not.  There is no point looking at existing comparators because the UK is the only country ever to seek to leave.  It is both too important to let cherry-pick the power wielded by the EU bloc and too weak to impose its demands.

What sets the Labour Party position apart is not the claim that it can have a Brexit that cherry-picks the best bits, but one that appears to believe that you can have a Brexit that puts “jobs and living standards first.”  Such a Brexit does not exist.  Trading barriers and their consequences will hit both – that’s how capitalism works.

Socialists opposed to Brexit have argued that socialism cannot be built in one country, cannot arise by separating the UK or any other country from the international capitalist system, but can only arise from an international struggle for international socialism based on existing global development.

in more immediate terms however, socialists will not build an alternative by acceding to a Brexit policy that can only damage jobs and services and reduce wages, processes already in train, while blithely claiming the opposite.  No amount of social democratic intervention by the UK state can ameliorate the effects of increased isolation from the world capitalist market, or the alternative of supplicant trade deals with major power blocs.

The traditional socialist value of international solidarity is based on the identity of interest among workers in all countries because these interests can only be defended successfully together.  We are not talking merely of identification of common interests, but the identity of circumstances at the most basic level.  Socialist advances cannot be successful if not extended internationally, or imposed, for example at a European level, from the very start.

Just as in Scotland, celebrating the movement while ignoring the goal is a mistake; a Brexit Britain under a Corbyn Labour Party will fail, just as similarly if not identically, a separate Scotland would also fail to advance the interest of workers there.

There is still time to dodge the Brexit bullet; but if or when it comes don’t ask why everything is turning to shit – “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  How appropriate this passage starts with “no man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent.”

How the Many struck back against the Few

It’s only when you consider the situation on 18 April that you can truly appreciate the dramatic advance taken by the British working class during the general election.  Theresa May called the election when the Tories had a poll lead of over 20 percentage points and when her personal approval ratings were even higher.

It followed a Brexit referendum that had unleashed a wave of xenophobia and racism which the Tory Party planned to milk in order to crush and overwhelm any opposition.  We would then face Brexit negotiations where every rebuttal of Tory Brexit delusions would be used as an opportunity to whip up anti-foreigner rhetoric that would cement Tory hegemony.

Now that strategy lies in tatters, that project is in chaos and the initiative lies not with Brexit reaction but with a left-wing counter-offensive.  Far from being the impregnable leader and worthy inheritor of the mantle of the “Iron Lady”, May has rather quickly become a figure of fun.  In the campaign “Strong and Stable” came to be considered as the first words of a child – repeated endlessly in all the most out of place circumstances.  Maybot became the battery-driven toy that bangs into the wall and continues to bang into it because it cannot know any better.

Instead of the Tories’ Brexit hero, one Tory MP has described her thus – “We all fucking hate her. But there is nothing we can do. She has totally fucked us.”

The most important point of this little articulation of Tory comradeship is the bit where he says “but there is nothing we can do.”  Labour is now ahead in the polls and the Tories are terrified of another election that they simply can’t go into with Maybot in charge.

So how did all this happen?  First, it’s necessary to accept that the Tories huge lead in the polls was not a mirage, even if it may not have been so commanding as it appeared.  The polls were correct to show a narrowing of the Tory lead as the campaign went on and while some were ultimately more accurate than others, all showed an initial huge lead that in previous general elections would have meant a certain Tory victory.

The answer lies in understanding that Jeremy Cobyn’s success shows the correctness of the Marxist conception of politics, even if this was proven by a non-Marxist party.  In contrast, the media pundits have been floundering and cruelly exposed, not that you would have noticed it.  With a brass neck a blow-torch couldn’t mark they simultaneously expressed shock at the result and know-it-all opinion pieces on how they got it wrong.  As the saying goes: opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one, although it’s not everyone who expels such quantities of shite.

Even after the vote I came across this from the ‘Financial Times’ lead journalist covering the election.  When speaking of a possible Tory-DUP coalition he writes – “But all coalitions, formal or otherwise, require horse trading and compromise – something May is not naturally suited to. Her trademark skill is to decide on a policy position and stick it to.”  Bias becomes so ingrained it becomes an unthinking habit that kicks in when the world is not as you believe it is and you are unable to process the meaning of events.  Thus you end up with nonsense like this.

Now the media is attempting to undermine Corbyn by giving space to those Blairites and soft left figures in the Party who got it so spectacularly wrong but now claim that having won the left vote he now needs to tack to the centre.  While some of these people just denigrate his achievements others offer praise only to bury him later.  Meanwhile the media want to know is he going to give these losers prominent posts in the party now that their plans for another coup or for setting up a rival organisation are blown out of the water.

The election showed the impact of media bias and the effect of the relaxation of such bias that general elections allow. Election coverage means less filtered access to the policies and personalities of the parties so while Corbyn soared, Maybot tanked.  That the bias continued during the campaign also confirmed the limits of mainstream media spin.  It remains a barrier but one that can be overcome.

More importantly the elections showed the importance to politics of political programme, political leadership and mass mobilisation of workers.

For the first time in decades, and the first time ever for many younger voters, there actually appeared to be a difference in the policies being proposed by the different parties.  There can be no denying the impact and importance of the Labour manifesto; it became a reference point that exposed the vacuity of the Tory ‘alternative’ and its policies became the content of the campaign day after day.

It became the meat in the sandwich of the slogan ‘for the many not the few’.  It set out exactly what the Party’s policies were, which people could consider and make up their mind about, and made for something positive that they could read about or hear presented in television debates.  Presented properly it shone like a beacon set against inane Tory slogans and an empty Tory manifesto whose few policies that grabbed the headlines were either ditched quickly (sort of, like the dementia tax), were unpopular and divisive (grammar schools) or evoked a WTF reaction (foxhunting).

That the policies were presented properly was because of the Corbyn leadership.  He dominated the Labour campaign for the right reason, that he personified these policies and the principles that they were intended to proclaim.  As people got used to him his presentation became both better and less important as people didn’t expect slick presentation à la David Cameron and concentrated on what he said rather than on how he said it.

Early opposition by the most incorrigible Blairites more or less dissolved as the instinct for self-preservation kicked in and the BBC etc. realised it would not be possible to give equal coverage to the policies presented by the Conservative Party and the uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn as presented by the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party.

Only near the end of the campaign did more and more talking heads acknowledge the staying power of Corbyn and his attraction for many young people, and older Labour voters who had previously given up on Labour due to its Tory-lite policies.  Most of all, they were forced to acknowledge the massive enthusiasm his campaign had generated even when they covered two men and a dog ‘rallies’ by Maybot and ignored rallies of ten thousand held by Labour.  Despite paper talk that Labour candidates would fight local campaigns while claiming Corbyn was ‘nuthin to do with me guv’, it more and more became clear that a vote for the Labour Party was a vote for Corbyn and more and more an endorsement of his leadership of the Party.

Finally, the generation of a mass campaign, whose most prominent features were the Corbyn rallies, had an effect way beyond the large numbers attending.  Speaking in Scotland made the Scottish Labour Party relevant and his rally in Gateshead is reported to have rippled right across the North-East of England.  The rallies were designed not to be photo-ops for the TV but were genuine engagements with voters.

‘For the many not the few’ became more than a slogan but became reality in the infectious participation of working class people in the rallies and meetings.  Reports surfaced of Labour party activity in towns and villages that had not seen Labour Party activity before.  The participation of the young, the participation of working class families that don’t normally attend political events, and the extension of the Party to parts of the country not previously reached all demonstrated that this was a mass phenomenon.  And it was this mass sentiment that appeared in TV audiences that led Tory papers to accuse the broadcasters of bias in audience selection.

So, if these are the factors that led to the massive increase in the Labour vote not seen since 1945, it is obvious how further steps forward must now be taken.

Mass participation in the labour movement cannot depend on elections but must involve activity to build the movement and build the Labour Party, including a youth wing.  This includes union organisation, campaign groups and tenants and residents’ associations.   In one way the Corbyn movement has been lucky that one failed challenge to his leadership and then a general election have provided the opportunity to build upon his initial election. The real prospect of another election soon will provide another opportunity but relying on such events is not enough and the movement in and around the Labour Party has the chance to set the agenda and push through victories through building a permanent mass movement.

Political leadership of this movement is also a continuing process of political campaigning and democratic organisation.  Above all, the potential for the right and ‘soft’ left of the Party to usurp control of the party arising from any, even  minor, setback should be removed by a campaign to democratise the Party and the labour movement as a whole.  A truce with the right on the basis that the Labour Party is ‘a broad church’ should not come to mean tolerance of machine politics, undemocratic practices and rules, and open attempts at sabotage.

Finally, the most important question is one of politics.  Less than a week before the end of the election campaign the media suddenly woke up to the fact that the Brexit election had ignored Brexit.  But as the old adage goes – you can ignore Brexit but Brexit will not ignore you. The complexities of Brexit have been a foreign country for the mainstream media from the beginning and the issue is presented more and more as one resolved by opposition to the best trade deal possible on the grounds that the primary objective is limitation of immigration.

This is not the ground on which a working-class alternative can be built and it is not the common ground of those who voted Labour in the election. The implicit blaming of social ills on foreigners facilitates the explicit blame expressed in xenophobia and racism.  The identification of outsiders as those to blame for ‘our’ problems becomes the need to identify and suppress those inside who are ‘agents’ of these outsiders because they won’t blame immigrants for poor public services and won’t scapegoat immigrant labour for local capitalist exploitation.  It leads to paper headlines such as “Crush the Saboteurs”. If curbing immigration is part of a solution then it provides excuses for Tories, Blairites and racists to excuse their support for austerity.  Most importantly it undermines the unity of working people that is needed to take us forward.

The challenge to the Labour Party political leadership is to demonstrate that its policies are incompatible with racism and anti-immigrant scapegoating, is incompatible with an isolated country cut off from potential allies in the rest of Europe and is incompatible with the harm to be caused, being caused right now, by leaving the EU.

Just as during the election, this will mean confronting and largely bypassing the Tory media and mobilising Party members to convince uncertain supporters ,or even those opposed, that the social-democratic programme put forward by Corbyn that they support cannot be enacted in a Brexit Britain.

The election has opened up opportunities for British workers, but they must seize them like they grasped the election.  When Marx was asked what his idea of happiness was, he said “to fight’.  And that is what we must continue to do.

 

 

 

Question Time

I’ve just finished watching Question Time and the performances of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  I can’t remember the last time I watched it and I haven’t a clue when the next time will be after having watched this one.

The expectations of May were so low she exceeded them – damned by faint praise I think it’s called.  Not quite so robotic but incapable of smiling without facial contortions that reveal she is anything but genuine in any emotion she shows; itself revealing she is anything but genuine in anything she says.  As time went on her answers became less credible and her performance less impressive.  Tonight, she was helped by a relatively healthy dose of predominantly old reactionaries in the audience.

Six weeks ago I wrote a post that said that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”.  Tonight, for the umpteenth time, she did exactly that.  Asked what a bad deal was like, that made no deal more attractive, she said nothing.

But I got it wrong – she has hardly said anything about anything and performing a U-turn on what she has said. Her strategy has been to pretend that Jeremy Corbyn is such a disaster that she looks good.  Unfortunately for her, the media has been forced to give Corbyn greater opportunity to present both himself and his policies without distortion; the political classes and its media have therefore been shocked to find that millions of people actually like him and like his policies even more.  Not only that, but the BBC has been unable to continue to report on Corbyn through has-been Blairites claiming that he’s a disaster; mainly because the Mandelson’s of this world and Blair himself no longer matter now that people have a real decision to make.

The claim that Theresa May should be Prime Minister because she is Theresa May has therefore worn out rather quickly.  What she has been forced to rely upon is Brexit and the right-wing swing in British politics that Brexit has represented and accelerated.  Reactionary nostrums against immigration, foreigners, the EU – because they’re foreigners –  the peculiar virtuousness of the British as the counterpoint to aggressive foreigners; all this has been presented with her own unique dead as a robot delivery, in a reactionary nationalist stew that relies on prejudice and ignorance to fill in the gaps where a coherent narrative should be.

It has to be said, that in this she has been assisted no end by the cluelessness of the British media.  Like its treatment of Corbyn, this is not simply due to establishment prejudice and conscious antipathy to socialist ideas.  It is also due to its own ignorance of the clusterfuck that Brexit will entail.  Despite all the dramatic changes in world politics over the last few years, the British chattering classes simply cannot conceive of Britain not being the country that it now is with its rather prominent role in the world.

So, it is when Theresa May is pushed into a corner about Brexit and she comes out with ‘we are not afraid to walk away with no deal – no deal is better than a bad deal’, that total incomprehension switches on.  The next question is perfectly obvious – so what happens when there is no deal?  Paxman and all the rest can go no further than this response because they simply cannot conceive that no deal means the cutting off of Britain from the rules and regulations, the trade deals and agreements with other countries that allow Britain to trade and exchange with the rest of the world.  From being allowed to fly over other countries airspace to landing at their airports to being credited with having safe food and medicines, all these collapse with no deal.

The absence of such mutual recognition threatens the UK being thrown off the proverbial cliff with no rubbish about this also being the fate of the EU – none of this “the UK and EU will both lose”, because one will indeed lose but it won’t find itself isolated.  The threat of no deal always assumes unthinkable that there will really be no deal, but actually assumes that the EU will offer concessions after being threatened and cough up a better compromise.

The virus that has engulfed the Tory Party is not simply a Tory pathogen but is one that resides in British society as a whole.  Especially the privately educated journalist profession that is parasitical on the Westminster village and the privately educated politicians who went to the same schools the journalists went to twenty or thirty years before them.

I had naively assumed that May and Corbyn would be asked the same question at the same time and would take turns in answering; instead it was a programme of two halves.  It was hard not to conclude that May left the first half pleased that she managed not to have parroted ‘strong and stable’ – yet another U-turn, which of course was yesterday’s inane drivel.

So, if May exceed expectations only by not being so crass, so robotic and so contorted, she nevertheless remained unimpressive.  She is a very limited politician who has looked even worse than these limitations might normally have revealed by moving decisively outside her comfort zone, where lies being Prime Minister and leading her country at a decisive turning point in its history.  What a pity she sells herself on her supposed unique innate ability to do just this.

If Jeremy Corbyn slightly disappointed it is only because (1) he has performed so well so far and (2) I’m a Marxist who believes there is such a stronger case for socialism than he can make.  Partly his weaknesses are those of his party and his very incomplete transformation of that party and its programme, but partly it is due to the limitations of his own politics.

During the questioning he was put on the back foot most when he refused to answer directly whether he would press the nuclear button if Britain itself was under nuclear attack.  At one point this looked like it might get quite frenzied – testament to a number of reactionaries in the audience who seemed to be fully paid up members of the fan club devoted to the film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’.

It took one young woman to make the point that there was something wrong with so many people demanding the murder of millions of people.  Presumably these reactionaries would have been satisfied with an answer something like this – ok, we’re about to be vapourised by a nuclear attack but don’t get angry that I might not press the button because I’m going to kill millions of people as well, people who, just like you, had no hand in this attack and who don’t deserve to die.  Oh, and another thing, don’t worry, our missiles will hit the intended target and not go off in the wrong direction like one did recently.  Such is the degenerate politics of the Tory party and the diseased prejudices of its die-hard support.  There can be no doubt the nasty party is back.

In general the audience showed greater sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn and those in sympathy showed more enthusiasm.  I am reminded of the reaction of football players scoring a goal for my football team – they smile and cheer – expressing joy at scoring; while when those of their erstwhile rivals score they almost invariably snarl and gesticulate as if venting a deeply pent-up rage.  The supporters of Jeremy Corbyn applauded declarations of hope and promises of a better society while the Tory supporters acclaimed declarations of ‘toughness’ and meanness.  You know when you’re on the right side when the warmest of human emotions best expresses your political views.

When I wrote that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”, I also continued – “and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.”  The major weakness of the whole Labour campaign is the same as that of the Tories – the claim that there can be a good Brexit.  For the Tories this has a massive plus side – the opportunity to burn workers’ rights and slash taxation for big business.  For workers Brexit has no up-side.

Brexit will entail economic dislocation and deep attacks on working people.  Victory for Jeremy Corbyn would see him inherit a policy that will do nothing to assist his social-democratic programme – he cannot decisively reverse inequality and improve the standard of living of British workers while leaving the EU.  Not because the EU is so wonderful but because exiting it is to step back from the current level of economic development and invites an alternative model that the Tories have correctly identified as an off-shore dumping ground of low corporate taxes, de-regulation and super-exploitation.  In such an environment taxes for workers will rise, wages will fall and welfare and other public services will shrivel while inequality will increase.

A Corbyn Government, if it was to attempt to increase living standards, increase public services and reduce inequality would also have to prevent the damage that Brexit would inflict.  It would also have to fight the xenophobic demands that immigration be strangled.  While much attention has focused on the damage to living standards arising from reductions in trade, reductions in immigration will have just the same effects, if not worse.

If young people do not come out to vote, as the pundits claim they might not do, and they are the key to a Labour victory as the pundits also claim, then the Tories will be leading us into Brexit and straight towards their deregulated ‘free-market’ utopia within a few days.  One commentator has called it a new ‘charge of the light-brigade’ and he is right.

Either way, it will be the task of socialists and everyone roused during the election to continue to mobilise and organise the enormous energy and enthusiasm evoked by the promise of a different society.  Already, the threat of a return to Blairite control of the Labour Party should be buried.  Corbyn must remain leader and the process of creating a mass, active Labour party truly representative of its members and supporters should be the task of everyone who considers themselves left.  The elections will signal the end of the Brexit phoney war and there will likely be no dress rehearsal allowed for building a workers’ campaign to ensure we win the real one.

 

The Manchester bombing and Politics

Years ago ‘The Guardian’ ran an interview with celebrities on the last page of its Saturday magazine and always finished with the same question – how would you like to die?  The answer that I remember, the only one, was “after a long time and before my children”.  I thought then that this was the best answer that could be given.

It is thus harrowing beyond words for so many parents to lose young children to an act of random terrorism.   How can one reason this catastrophic event so that one might attempt to come to terms with it; to explain in even a small way to oneself what has happened and in so doing lessen the pain suffered, however little this might be?

In the finality of death many people turn to religion, to belief based on faith, which may be defined as to believe without justification, to believe in the most incredible things without any need to present argument or evidence.  Of course, these are often given, but they are all ultimately irrelevant for those that believe.

Tragedy thus invites inconsolable acceptance because it is irreversible, what has happened cannot be undone no matter how inconceivable or improbable and no matter how unjustified it has been to everyone affected.  Politicised religious fundamentalism can sanction the most barbaric acts while less radical religious expressions substitute consolation for comprehension for its victims.

The statement by religious fundamentalists in support of the Manchester bombing present a rationale based on killing ‘Crusaders’ but the declarations of support for it have also claimed that these ‘Crusaders’ are suffering in the same way that the children of Mosul and Raqqa have suffered.  In saying this they parade admission of their own barbarity on equal terms with the hated Crusaders without a single reflection on such identification.

Within the circle of religious responses there is only moral condemnation that accepts the other-worldliness of the action, which is often comforting for those grieving from indescribable loss but is precisely useless in every other respect: because of its divorce from reality, from this world, from the reality that created the bomber, the bomb, the pain inflicted and the future possibility of its repetition, who knows how many times.

While after such tragedies general moral statements are always to the fore, and the rituals of religious observance play a prominent role, the major response is one rooted firmly in this world.  From the work of the emergency services, hotels and taxi drivers helping the injured, rallies to express sadness and respect for the victims and their families; all these are the practical things that allow people to suffer with some purpose and some hope that they can continue to hold on to whatever they can of those they have lost.

However, to look beyond the immediate need to digest the shock of the attack and to focus on it as a singular event, as a way of giving due recognition to its magnitude, is often seen as to be passing too quickly over it and therefore to belittle its horror.  That is why the immediate instinct is to suspend discussion of everything else, to abandon the rolling cycle of news with its discussion of politics and the election.  While life must go on, it cannot go on as if nothing has happened and time is an essential aspect of doing so.

But not going on as if nothing has happened means quickly picking up the real-world nature of the bombing and determining who did it, how they did it, why they did it and whether there is anything to be done to stop it happening again. To attempt to ignore these questions and substitute general moral condemnation and police action only is an attempt to avoid reality and falls below what must be demanded by the living on behalf of the dead.  It is an insult to argue that inevitable questions thrown up by mass killing are off-bounds because of some rule of decorum that benefits none of us, but conveniently shields those responsible for security from scrutiny and accountability.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech about the Manchester bombing did no more than express his revulsion against terrorism; express his opposition to scapegoating the wider Muslim population and draw the blindingly obvious lesson that the so-called ‘war against terror’ has failed.  He drew the lesson stated beforehand by Boris Johnstone, the Director General of MI5 and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee – that British foreign policy has increased the threat of terrorist attack on Britain.  This is not new, is not startling and is not irrational but is expressed in the statements of the Islamic fundamentalists themselves.

Andrew Neil spent an important part of his interview with Jeremy Corbyn quoting Islamic State that it was western values that it hated, as if western imperialist intervention in Arab countries was irrelevant.  Irrespective of just what exactly ‘western values’ are – food banks for the poor but palaces for royalty, colonial empire and genocidal slaughter – it is clear that unwillingness to face the foreseen and foretold consequences of intervention into Iraq and Libya etc. is itself deeply cynical and political.

Theresa May has accused Jeremy Corbyn of giving ‘excuses’ for terrorism and Boris Johnstone has accused him of attempting to’ justify’ or ‘legitimate’ terrorist attacks.

Lies, lies, lies.

To peddle such untruths in the wake of the attack demonstrates the contempt the Tories have for the lives of working people and their children who now deserve nothing more than that they hear the truth.  Without it there can be no justice and no closure, if such is possible. To pass over their loss with cynical lies is to belittle their suffering with the view that this is a thing to be twisted in the cause of mendacious political calculation. The Hillsborough inquiry has been one long and agonising lesson on the need for justice and the conspiracies within the establishment that have existed to deny it.

We do not know the links between the British state’s foreign policy interventions and this particular terrorist attack.  Instead we get repeated advocacy on behalf of the security services that they cannot keep tabs on every threat.  Listening to interview after interview on television and radio we hear repeated again and again the same unchallenged defence of the security services by a media supposedly tasked with revealing what is happening but which instead seems more intent on seeking to hide it.

Yet the more we learn of this particular attack the more obvious it becomes that credulity is stretched to breaking point when we are called upon to accept that it is perfectly understandable why this particular threat could not have been prevented.  How convenient to denounce the reasoned words of Jeremy Corbyn from a Government that sells massive quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia, the ideological inspiration of Islamic terrorism, and which has supported the same radical jihadi group in Libya that may well have carried out the attack.  ‘Move along, nothing to see here’ will not wash.

We do not know the exact connections between the bombers, the groups supported by the British state in their opposition to the Gaddafi regime, and the role played by Saudi Arabia, which Theresa May has made a particular point of patronising. It is impossible for us to know the truth, and that is the problem.  To point to the obvious links and connections that we do know of and to demand the truth is to open oneself up to shrill denunciations of conspiracy theory.  Yet to accuse MI5 and MI6 etc. of conspiracy is like accusing publicans of selling intoxicating substances or brothel keepers of selling sex.

It is not Jeremy Corbyn who is disrespectful of the victims of the Manchester bomb.  It is those who wish to close down an honest reckoning with the attack and bury it under ritual denunciations.  Behind these persists continuing collaboration and support for the reactionary Islamic radicalism which supports and defends western imperialist interests in the Arab and Middle East region.

The establishment, through its media and politicians, has a well-rehearsed procedure: it declares an issue to be ‘above politics’ or ‘above party politics’, often because it raises fundamental questions that it does not want people even to consider.  But this is precisely what politics is about.  The bombing of children in the name of a political cause screams as loudly as the explosion itself that this is a political issue, and Jeremy Corbyn is to be congratulated for speaking out against the Tory omertà.

On issue after issue, from Brexit to terrorism, the more Theresa May says nothing more than ‘trust me’ the more people turn against doing just this.  We are told that she is going to make security a central issue in the election but again it is one more issue upon which she has declared that we can say nothing.  It is not acceptable in relation to Brexit and it is certainly not acceptable when children are slaughtered.  Questions must be asked and answers pursued and Jeremy Corbyn has done a great service by creating the potential for this to happen.

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 2

 

HARLOW, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, addresses supporters and members of the media as he launches his party's local election campaign on April 5, 2016 in Harlow, England. Mr Corbyn visited the Essex town to meet supporters and to officially launch the Labour Party's local election campaign ahead of voting on May 5th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The argument that we can do nothing about Brexit except make the best of it is presented in a lucid argument on this blog.  Three reasons are advanced in support of the view that for the Labour Party to oppose Brexit “would be disastrous”.

Firstly, it would fail.  The Tories will vote for it as will the early pioneers of Donald Trump – the Donald Unionist Party.  And so will those Labour MPs in Brexit-majority constituencies who show much more readiness to oppose their leadership than the disaster that awaits their working class constituents.

This may or may not be true, although it certainly will be true if the opposition to Brexit itself refuses to oppose it.  The mantra that “the people” have voted for Brexit will be made official if those MPs supposedly opposed join in making the slim majority in the referendum an overwhelming vote in parliament.

The typically arrogant and supremacist claim of the Brexit right will be confirmed, that the only people who matter are those led by bigots.  The loyalist slogan “we are the people”, to be understood in the sense that everyone else is a lesser being, sits perfectly with the declarations of Farage and Trump that they alone speak for the people, because those who do not support them do not count.  Not voting against Brexit confirms the strident demands of the bullying reactionaries that their vote based on lies, fantasy and prejudice is unimpeachable.

On the other hand a vigorous campaign led by Labour against Brexit, which explains the real effects that are already visible, could compel reluctant Labour MPs to vote against Brexit and provide the cover for Tories opposed to Brexit to do the same.  We have been ‘warned’ repeatedly that a majority of MPs oppose Brexit, what matters is the political environment to make this a reality; and while the vote in parliament will decide the matter, the combination of disastrous consequences and political mobilisation outside parliament can determine it.

And if we are talking about numbers – what about the 65% of Labour voters who voted to Remain or do concerns about losing support only apply when bowing down to the most reactionary segment of support?  In terms of sheer numbers it makes no sense to alienate 65% in order to placate 35%.  ‘We can’t neglect to take on board the concerns of our working class supporters’ doesn’t really cut it when you look at it this way, unless you accept the nonsense that Remain voters were the metropolitan elite who, guess what, are not part of ‘the people.’

The second argument is that Labour cannot be seen to be “gifting the Tories, UKIP and the majority right-wing media the narrative of it  ‘seeking to subvert the will of the people’.  Absolutely everything it had to say on Brexit after a vote against triggering Article 50 would be met by this message being hammered home again and again and again.”

This is no doubt true; it is also true, although I do not know to what extent, that some Labour voters supporting Brexit will vote against Labour or abstain if it seeks “to subvert the will of the people”.   But it must again be recalled that the majority of Labour voters voted Remain!  And it really is internalising defeat when you vote with the Tories against the wishes of a majority of your own supporters.  However true the argument is that the strident claims of the Brexiteers will gain traction if Labour doesn’t bow before their demands, the contrary argument put here is also true, true to our principles and true to our future:

“The Tory MP, Ken Clarke, is quite right when he says that he has supported membership of the Common Market, and EU for fifty years, and that it would be ludicrous to suggest that just because of the referendum vote, he now had to act as though he was an opponent of it. Or, if Trump were currently, to hold a referendum, in the US, to garner support for his ban on Muslims entering the country, Labour would say,“Oh well, we lost that vote, so we will have to tag along behind Trump’s racist and reactionary policies.”

The parallel drawn here is not merely similar to the Brexit vote; in the immediate sense it is identical.  The Trump measures against refugees and the citizens of seven countries is a clear attack on peoples’ ability to move and to seek a better life in another country.  The Brexit vote was led by just the same sort of xenophobic and racist politics that motivated the reactionary Trump campaign, even if not all who voted for Brexit were xenophobes or racists, just like Trump voters, who weren’t all bigots and racists either.

The parallel is identical because a core principle socialists are trying to defend by opposing Brexit is the freedom of movement of working people in the EU, just like the freedom of movement of refugees and citizens of mainly Muslim countries to the US.  Working class solidarity is hardly a credible proposition if you don’t defend the ability of workers of different nations to work together.  It is much harder to make it a reality if it is prevented.  We know this, amongst other reasosn, because we know that the Brexit vote did not succeed in areas with the largest number of immigrants but often in areas with low numbers.

The third argument is that the Labour strategy of seeking to amend the Brexit process “will seek to ensure parliament has oversight of and influence over the kind of Brexit we get” and “does not lend power to the idea that Labour is ‘opposed to democracy’ and actually offers the prospect of pro-EU Tories supporting amendments which could make a real difference in preventing what is being called ‘hard Brexit’.”

Aside from the strength of an opposition that ultimately promises to vote in favour of triggering Article 50 it is unfortunately the case that a hard Brexit is the only one on offer.  An end to the free movement of workers in the EU is already a given, as is the exit from existing free trade arrangements, the disruption of which will impact on British capitalism and thereby on British workers, not to mention those in the EU.

As I have already argued, the strategy of a low-tax, deregulated and low wage Britain is the most credible one for an isolated nation seeking to insert itself into an international system in which every other large economy is part of a free-trade arrangement.  The exposure that Britain will impose on itself was illustrated by an article in Monday’s ‘Financial Times’, which reported a study that 46% of goods and services exports from the UK’s 62 cities went to the EU.  In contrast China accounted for only 4%, so that in order to make up a drop of 10% in EU exports would require a doubling of them to China or an increase by nearly one-third to the US.

Given that we know that a hard Brexit is coming it makes no sense to pretend the Tories will deliver anything else.  Could anyone seriously believe the Tories want to exit the rules and regulations of the EU because they want to make the regulations governing working conditions and employment rights better?

To pretend they will do anything else is a stand-out illustration of the weakness of an approach that tail-ends the Tories confusion and incompetence and that has allowed them to get away with taking over six months before even giving the broadest of outlines of what they wanted.  Leaving opposition to some final vote that the Tories can ignore is to play parliamentary games with workers’ futures when you aren’t in control of the rules.  There appears no guarantee that even defeating a Tory Brexit deal will not allow them to exit with no deal, as they have threatened.  A movement that would make this outcome politically unacceptable might prevent employment of such a device.

The only honest approach is to explain that a hard Brexit is inevitable and to build opposition to it on this basis, not wait for it to happen.  Having (sometimes) stated that the Tories will deliver a hard Brexit, the Labour Party is open to increasing incredulity and anger that they are not now opposing it.  The shadow-Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has told everyone that it is now impossible to oppose Brexit, making it clear that a single consideration trumps every other concern, while it took the old Tory Ken Clarke to make the points Starmer would not:

“Let me give an analogy in explaining the position for members of parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public in their wisdom have occasionally failed to take my advice and they have actually by a majority voted Labour. And I have found myself here facing a Labour government.”

“I do not recall an occasion where I was told it was now my democratic duty to support Labour policies under Labour governments on the other side of the House. That proposition would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. “

“We are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with this great new globalised future, which offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”

“Don’t let me be too cynical – I hope that is right. I want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

This third argument has been put most pithily by Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman – “accept the result.”  Except the real result of the referendum is not yet in and it would be criminal to accept it.

The third argument on accepting Brexit relies on the undoubtedly true argument that the referendum result “has been decades in the making. Parties across the political spectrum have happily blamed the EU as an easy scapegoat for domestic decisions (even the SNP blamed the EU in the row over privatising Calmac) while politicians have at best ignored popular hostility towards immigration and at worst fanned it.  In my lifetime it has been common for politicians to use the rhetoric of the far right on immigration, push increasingly intolerant policies on asylum and immigration and engage in a perverse arms race on who can be ‘toughest‘ on the issue.”

However, while true, this can hardly be an argument not to fight back now and, as I mentioned at the end of the first post, “in some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.”  This is because the reactionary politics of nationalism and racism which has created Brexit will not benefit workers, and their continued pursuit of them will hurt them rather quickly and rather directly.

Brexit allows the reactionary import of nationalism and racism to be demonstrated through the attacks on workers’ rights, conditions and living standards that Brexit will inevitably involve.  It provides the grounds to clearly separate the hardened ideological bigots from workers mistakenly attracted to false and simple-minded solutions that are nor in their interest.  Now is not the time to entertain the idea that restrictions on immigration and deference to reactionary nationalism can be combined with protection of workers to produce a mildly progressive ‘soft’ Brexit.

There is no combination of nationalism and racism with state ‘national’ socialism that will be in the interests of workers.  By pointing this out and fighting for an alternative the Labour Party will be proved right if or when Brexit either becomes a reality, or its disastrous effects become visible and palpable before this happens.  To prepare for this means opposing Brexit now and being best placed to build the movement that stops it and inflicts a defeat on the forces of reaction behind it.  Which leads to a final argument put up against opposition to Brexit now.

“This brings us to probably the most profoundly scary reason why Labour (and indeed other politicians) trying to prevent Brexit in parliament is such a terrible idea. As we’ve seen, rhetoric around ‘elites’ trying to ‘subvert democracy’ has been common in the aftermath of the referendum and we’ve heard how bigotry has surged. Yet if politicians were to actually prevent the result of the referendum being implemented as the worst extremes of the right keep suggesting they want to, this would provide a founding myth for the far-right of the kind we have not seen in my lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that not only would UKIP surge dramatically in this scenario but that less ‘respectable’ fascists like the EDL would explode in popularity, emboldened by the simple and powerful narrative that the ‘elite’ were ignoring ‘the people’.”

There is no doubt some truth in this as well but it is rather like the truth that Brexit will be shown to be the shitshow predicted when it comes to pass.  Will the working class and the socialist movement be better off for having been proved right or will we have suffered a bitter defeat from which we will have to struggle to recover?  And similarly, if we defeat Brexit – the right of the Tory party and UKIP plus their ‘respectable’ fascists – will they be stronger or weaker for their defeat? The right can have its myths and its narrative if the labour and socialist movement can have its victory.

Back to part 1

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 1

gettyimages-628009410-e1485368657171-640x481In an interview last November Jeremey Corbyn was reported to have set out his “bottom lines”, without which he would vote against Article 50, which included access to the 500 million customers of the single market; no watering down of employee rights, currently guaranteed by EU law; consumer and environmental safeguards and pledges on the Government making up any shortfalls of EU investment.

However in January he said that “Britain can be better off after Brexit.  “Only a Labour government, determined to reshape the economy so that it works for all, in every part of the country, can make Brexit work for Britain.”

As he went on to say: “as far as Labour is concerned, the referendum result delivered a clear message.  First, that Britain must leave the EU and bring control of our democracy and our economy closer to home.  Second, that people would get the resources they were promised to rebuild the NHS.  Third, that people have had their fill of an economic system and an establishment that works only for the few, not for the many.  And finally, that their concerns about immigration policy would be addressed.”

“Labour accepts those challenges that you, the voters, gave us.  Unlike the Tories, Labour will insist on a Brexit that works not just for City interests but in the interests of us all.”

“We will push to maintain full access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs.”

“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”

Meanwhile John McDonnell stated that Labour will help deliver a “sensible British compromise” over Brexit, but also said that Labour would not back a “kamikaze” departure from the EU which hit the economy.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer then claimed a partial victory for Labour in the aftermath of Theresa May’s big speech on Brexit saying that the government had “accepted” many of the Opposition’s proposals, was heading away from a “hard Brexit” and that May will “fall far short of the hard Brexit that many businesses and trade unions have feared”.

This is straight after May admitted the UK couldn’t remain inside the Single Market and limit freedom of movement at the same time, instead proposing uncertain ideas of staying inside some of the customs union and hinting at special deals for certain industries.  Unfortunately the World Trade Organisation rules on such deals would mean that if the EU agreed them with the UK it would have to agree such deals with other countries as well.  We are expected to believe that the UK will succeed in getting the EU to agree a deal not only to its benefit but potentially to the benefit of a host of other countries as well.

May’s speech came days after the chancellor Philip Hammond delivered a threat to EU nations that Britain could cut its corporate tax rates yet again as part of its post-Brexit restructuring.  But as the Tories are doing this anyway we should be clear among all the confusion that Tory threats of a low-tax, low-regulation bargain-basement polity is not a policy consequent on failure to agree a good Brexit deal but will be a consequence of any Brexit deal.

Outside the EU lies tortuous negotiations with those paragons of all things fair, the Chinese State, and the consistently fair-minded, dispassionate and unprejudiced Donald Trump, who has promised to take personal charge of a trade deal with the UK.  May’s grovelling to one Japanese car company; her swift retreat on second thoughts on buying a ridiculously expensive and unproven nuclear power plant partly from the Chinese; and her assault backwards up the alimentary canal of Donald Trump, even pre-empting the Irish in the process, all testify to what “taking back control’ means for the newly to-be-isolated British State.  What both Trump and May now openly share are threats to the EU, even though Britain states its desire for its success.

So what are we to make of Jeremy Corbyn’s current position – that you can have a good Brexit that is good for workers?

As I posted a while ago – there isn’t a progressive Brexit, not on offer and not remotely possible.  Only the national reformist conceptions of the old Labour Party Left can sustain illusions that there is.  That, and the nonsense of some people who call themselves Marxist who supported and still support something called Lexit.  These left organisations, which had the project of replacing New Labour with their very own version of Old Labour, have also adopted wholesale the nationalist illusions of this old left.

Supporters of Lexit will claim that Lexit is not Brexit; that they voted against the EU for other reasons and/or that what they voted for is not exactly what they wanted – they wanted not capitalist unity in the EU but workers’ unity outside it.  But of course what they voted for was what was on offer – capitalist separation – because that was the only conceivable result of their vote being successful.  Their reasons for voting for it are neither here nor there.  If what they and the rest of us now face were sufficiently different from what they say they wanted then they would now be campaigning to stop Brexit, recanting their previous view and with an admission that they had made a mistake.  But they’re not doing any of these things, so what we all face must be sufficiently close to what they consider they voted for them not to oppose it now.

In comparison Jeremy Corbyn stands on a more progressive platform since there is still some, albeit very unclear and very indefinite, claim that he will oppose a Brexit that is bad for workers at some time in the future if that is necessary, but not now.  Or I think that’s his position.

It isn’t very clear what it is, or what could possibly take precedence and transcend his support for triggering Article 50 on the grounds that the “will of the people” should not be obstructed.  Under what circumstances will the Labour Party oppose the disaster for workers that is Brexit and with what arguments that don’t apply just as forcibly now?

Of course it has been the case that the choice between British capitalism seeking an isolated role in the world or as part of the EU is not one socialists would seek.  But we have enough accumulated knowledge of how to progress the interest of the working class and socialism not to get the answer wrong.

The second problem however is that we were defeated and defeat always imposes a cost.  We should of course seek to minimise this cost but more importantly we should seek to continue the struggle on the new, unfortunately more unfavourable, terrain.  For the Labour Party the problem is posed to them by the fact that an estimated 65% of Labour voters backed remaining in the EU while roughly two-thirds of the constituencies with Labour MPs in place voted to leave.  For a Party wedded to electoralism this creates an obvious dilemma while for socialists the need to take a longer-term view means the opportunist and unprincipled, even blinkered, approach that appears to be determined by purely short-term electoral considerations must be rejected.

The third problem was aptly posed on this blog – the defeat has been a long time coming and rests on long standing weaknesses that exist because of the incapacity and unwillingness of the labour movement to oppose British nationalism.  For Labour this has led to collapse in Scotland as a different nationalism has fed off the ideas that British nationalism and all nationalisms take for granted and usurped its leading role.  In England and Wales British/English nationalism also hurt the Labour Party where it had not had to confront it before, including the failure to tackle the worst excesses of this nationalism in the form of anti-immigrant prejudice and racism.

The media reports that despite the obvious confused incompetence of the Tories they are far ahead in the polls and that many Remainers have reluctantly become reconciled to Brexit.  Some strong Remainers believe there is no case for fighting Brexit and that for the Labour Party to try to do so would be utterly disastrous.  But this is a mistake and one that will have greater consequences the longer we refuse to take up a fight that should have been taken up long ago.  In some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.  Why give up when it hasn’t happened yet?

Forward to part 2

Crisis? What Crisis? part 6 – Corbynism and the Labour Party

1bioeqbho4-1oqnvp3ulwqaOne very minor up-side to the election of Trump, which I will post on as soon as I get the time, is that it should be easier for those left supporters of a progressive exit – ‘Lexit’ – to see their errors, although to be honest I’m not going to hold my breath.

With every development of Brexit it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a reactionary project that fully lives up to those who predicted this prior to the vote.  The vicious diatribes from the Tory press have been ratcheted up by Nigel Farage complaining about Brexit being betrayed by judges, predicting that “we will see political anger, the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed.”  When asked if there was a danger of disturbances in the street, he said “Yes, I think that’s right. . . the temperature of this is very, very high. I’m going to say to everyone who was on the Brexit side, ‘Let’s try and get even.”

This is the authentic voice of Brexit.  No wondering, as we are with Trump, whether the reactionary zealots who led Brexit really mean what they said before the vote.  It is reactionaries such as Farage and the Tory right who are leading the process.  It is clear it could not happen without them although it may still not happen with them.  The idea of a left-led progressive exit is even more fanciful now than when ‘Lexit’ was proposed during the referendum.

There is no competition to turn Brexit into anything progressive and the idea that the small left forces who supported Brexit can either present what is happening as a step forward or that they should still continue to support Brexit (under the banner of ‘Lexit’!) is at first laughable and then atrocious.  Any attempt to make gains for workers out of the Brexit negotiations could only come through agreement from the rest of the EU, which the left supporters of Brexit see as the primary enemy that must be escaped from – so how do they think this can come about?

In the most recent International Socialism Journal the SWP are now scrambling to be relevant; so while they continue to support Brexit they also cling to the Labour Party as the other major factor defining British politics today.  But their arguments around this are not much better.

They characterise the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as “diffuse and atomised” and state that real organisation has to be built on struggle.  They then outline two possible ways forward for these supporters.

The first is “to pursue the weary, highly bureaucratic struggle against the right in constituency and branch meetings.”

The “alternative is a more outward looking orientation towards resistance to austerity, racism and war . . . this approach is far more likely to transform Corbynism into a real mass movement.”  The SWP author argues that having to face down Labour councils and their implementing cuts requires Corbynism to have a “more defined ideological profile.”

The article then goes on to speculate what Corbyn’s Labour would do if it got into office; criticising its “timid programme” and preoccupation with “credibility” and “electability”; condemning it for being “an electoral party” and therefore one that “will be judged, like any other, by its success in winning votes.”

It then raises the spectre of a betrayal, like Syriza in Greece, and the need to avoid the same fate in Britain by developing a mass movement behind Corbyn and “defiance of the rules of the parliamentary game.”  It claims that “the Corbyn phenomenon – like Syriza before it – has not suspended the classic dilemmas of reform and revolution” and that this “truth” “underlines the need to maintain an independent revolutionary organisation that is free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.”  However, it says “the real test for revolutionary socialists will lie in the degree to which they are able to unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour under Corbyn”.

One can therefore say with some confidence that this is a test that the SWP has and will fail, if only because they will not join the Labour party and “unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour.”  Instead it will emphasise the importance of its “ideological profile” by maintaining “an independent revolutionary organisation” that will be “free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.” In other words it will refuse to get its hand dirty and will refuse to join a struggle in which compromises are “imposed” on it, most likely because it would fail itself to maintain its revolutionary purity in such a situation, much like the Militant Tendency did during its long existence in the Labour Party.

Its counter-position of revolutionary politics to reformism is therefore indeed purely ideological with little material basis, not even a revolutionary programme by which it could ground its practice and gauge its fidelity to a revolutionary perspective and policy.  This counter-position is therefore useless for it cannot be a real guide to action.  In the case of the SWP worse than useless since it leads to supporting Brexit even while acknowledging at the end of its article that the referendum result has “given racists more confidence” in a period of a “rising tide of racism”!  While it presents the struggle against racism as the most important struggle there is no hesitation to ponder its own contribution to the referendum result that predictably set the scene and encouraged this “rising tide.”

This absence of the SWP from the struggle inside the Labour Party is to be welcomed, since it belittles the struggle to win votes; its own alternative to Labour’s economic programme is simply greater ‘public ownership’ that is not significantly different in nature from the Left of the Labour Party, and it utterly fails to appreciate the importance of the fight to democratise the party, which it characterises purely as a “weary, highly bureaucratic struggle.”  It utterly fails to understand the importance of creating a democratic mass party of the working class that can be both a site for democratic debate and a forum to determine the politics and struggles of the working class.  This failure is no doubt due to the notorious absence of democracy in its own ranks.  In this respect, as in so many, it is no example to anyone, least of all the mass membership of the Labour Party.

This party doesn’t need another cohort of recruits, however small, who believe that, because they have the predetermined answers, all that is need is more activity without a democratic machinery to decide policy and priorities for activity.

Coverage in the left press in Britain reports disagreements not only about the lack of democratic functioning inside the Party but within the Momentum group that is supposed to be fighting for this democracy.

The radical journalist Paul Mason has announced that he has joined Momentum and given some arguments why he has done so and some ideas on how it should be organised.  Whether he is right to do so is not for me to say – I am not involved in this struggle and am too far away from it to make any half-definitive judgements. He seems correct to say that Momentum should affiliate to the Labour party and work in activity within the party and also on its own account.

However, he has a rather too sweeping dismissal of the experience of the 20th century left that appears to recognise no lessons except negative ones.  This goes with an uncritical acceptance of what he sees as 21st century means of organisation.  He may be referring to particular features or experiences of bureaucratic organisation but he should make this clear and also reference the long struggles against bureaucracy in the workers’ movement, both practical and theoretical.

He dismisses hierarchies in favour of networks without recognising that hierarchy is just one example of a network; the lesson being that you have to be a lot more specific about what you mean by networked organisations.

Likewise he is of course correct when he says that we want to “empower masses of people to take their own decisions through direct democracy” but he says this involves “respecting diversity, proportionality, restraint and the democratic institutions of the UK.”  Having lived through the miners’ strike he should know just how limited the democracy of the institutions of the UK are and needs again to explain what he means by this phrase, as also what he means by “restraint” and “proportionality”, which are relative and contextual and not much use baldly stated outside of this.  Respect for diversity also has its limits – where I live respecting diversity means respecting bigotry, on account of their being so many bigots.  In the context of Brexit this is not a distant analogy to the current situation in Britain.

He says that “today I think the most revolutionary thing we can achieve is to put a left labour government in power: to switch off the neoliberal privatisation machine, to end expeditionary warfare and the arming of dictators, to redistribute both wealth and power to the people.”  This seems to me to have some truth, except that we need to rely on a mass active movement to bring this about and to develop beyond its limitations, including that power is, in the end, taken by the people themselves and not handed down from above.

He recommends “decision making in Momentum should be taken by consensus, using electronic democracy to engage every dues-paying member.  Local branches of Momentum should be free to act as they wish – to focus on caucusing before Labour branches and CLPs, or to do activism under their own banner that the Labour bureaucracy refuses to do – for example defending libraries being closed down by Labour-run councils.”

The use of electronic means to involve members voting is a good one in certain circumstances, but not all, although the current Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ shows that everyone’s ability to do so can’t be taken for granted.  But voting means majorities and minorities so it’s not clear to me what limits are imposed by a requirement for consensus.  Local Momentum groups should have wide autonomy to determine priorities for activity but once again there will be national priorities, such as selection of MPs, conference motions etc that require some coordination and guidance on overall direction.

Mason argues that the basic political programme should be the 10 pledges outlined by Jeremey Corbyn and notes that nuclear disarmament is not one of them.  So as a start it may be more or less fine but there should be nothing sacrosanct about it and if the movement develops the political foundations for it will as well.  In fact it is already inadequate – it does not mention Brexit.  Campaigning against Brexit should be a priority for Momentum and it should not be afraid to take the lead.

concluded

Back to part 5