Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And our time has come.” (France 24)
Benoît Hamon and the Renewal of the European Left.
With 58,88% of the ballot Benoît Hamon’s triumph in the French Parti Socialiste led ‘Belle Alliance’ primary was decisive (Libération). The election, whose second round attracted over 2 million voters, was not only a defeat for Manuel Valls – François Hollande’s Prime Minister up till this year.
In his victory speech Hamon announced, “Ce soir, la gauche relève la tête, elle se tourne vers le futur et elle veut gagner.” This evening the left has lifted his head high, looked towards the future, and wants to win.” (Nouvel Observateur)
This victory is first of all a disavowal of the Socialist President’s record in government. Valls lost for many reasons, not least his own record as an authoritarian (a prolonged state of emergency) an inflexible supporter of market economics (labour law ‘reform’). His harsh words against opposition from an “irreconcilable” left earned him rebukes from the moderate social democratic current, led by Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille. She ended up backing Hamon. High levels of support for Hamon in the poll came from her region, many other working class areas, and in urban centres, both Paris and its banlieue. It was also strong amongst young people.
The balance-sheet of Valls’ years in power since 2014 is thin: some liberal social reforms (gay marriage, le marriage pour tous), budgetary ‘discipline’, an inability or unwillingness to reform the European Union, and to come to the aid of those, like Greece, who had to submit to austerity and privatisation imposed by the Troika.
Above all in 2016 Prime Minister Valls’ reform of labour laws, la Loi Khomri, which, under pressure from the employers’ federation, weakens employees’ rights (Code du Travail) and unions’ national bargaining power, marked a break with the left and the labour movement. It was opposed by strikes and mass demonstrations. Accompanying them the Nuit Debout movement, organised public occupations and debates on an alternative to “la souveraineté du capital” in the terms of the philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon, briefly looked as if might parallel the 15 M protests that led to the formation of the Spanish Podemos.
The Loi Khomri was adopted. Active opposition drained away last summer. But one might note that Nuit Debout was not a replication of Occupy Wall Street protests against liberal globalisation. It raised wider issues about what the theorist and others have called the “tyrannie du salariat” – the tyranny of wage labour. Lordon advanced a politics of “affects” (attachment) to new collective sovereignty, “décider en commun” through a participative state. His attempt to illustrate how ‘belonging’ to such a community, that could ‘de-consitutionalise’ the EU and return issues of “political economy” to the national collectivity has been met with criticism from the left. It is equally hard to see what economic sense it makes. The growth of internationalised production and distribution networks, indicates the need for EU and transnational regulation, and, in the longer perspective, European, cross-country, social ownership and labour movements. It is hard to see what is new or, in view of the rise of the sovereigntist right, about promoting national sovereignty. This stand resembles the arguments of the British Brexit left, whose claims, in the age of Trump and new protectionism, are unravelling by the day. (1)
Hamon views on the French state and the EU are much less abstract. They focus ion a new republic where Parliamentary power is asserted and on a Union in which an economic relaunch is undertaken. By contrast the questions the Nuit Debout radicals raised about the nature and the status of work, “repenser le travail”, have been at the centre of the contest between Hamon and Valls. (1)
Hamon’s proposal for a Revenu Universal (Basic Income) – to which is added the 32-hour week has caught the most attention. Jean-Marc Ferry calls it “une utopie réaliste” in the sense that it a source of hope that is not beyond legislative possibility. (Le Monde 25.1.17). But not only the financial realism of paying everybody 750 Euros a month (estimated to cost between 300 and 400 billion Euros), has been questioned. For some (including the union federation the CGT) it undermines the value of work. The satisfaction many feel they accomplish in their jobs and their achievements. Reducing the working week is, on the evidence of the 35-hour week, unlikely to share out employment. Hamon himself has compared the scheme to the French National Health Service, the principal part of La Sécurité Sociale. Everybody rich or poor is entitled to have his or her health protected, and to be treated when ill. A Basic income would protect people from poverty, without the bureaucracy (and local version of ‘sanctions’). It would enable people to explore new employment opportunities, to experiment on their own if they so wish, take risks, while offering a ‘safe home’ in case they don’t succeed.
This far from the liberal idea that Basic Income would replace all social allowances, in the shape of ‘negative income tax’. For social democrats it is, as above, a completion of social protection for some Marxists it would give works extra bargaining power, for supporters of “décroissance” (alternatives to growth), echoing the writings of André Gorz, it is a way of managing the “end of work” in its traditional form. (Anne Chemin. La Promesse d’une Révolution. Le Monde, Idées 28.1.17)
Hamon has offered, then, an innovative way of coming to terms with the spread of information technology and robotics, in which work in the traditional sense is changing and full employment (despite misleading UK figures) may well not be possible. Philippe van Parijs talks of how Basic Income would help people cope with the increasing ‘fluidity’ of employment – in other words the rise in part-time, short-term, jobs. (Le Monde 25.1.17). Valls’ alternative, a “decent income” (revenu décent), effectively some strengthening of the lower floor of social protection, struggled to win an audience. Basic Income may not perhaps answer those for whom work is a “form of citizenship”. Nor does it respond to the charge that it would create a form of ‘revenue-citizenships’ that would exclude migrants.
These proposals are only some of the best known of Hamon’s innovative and forward looking programme, which includes a raft of ideas from an “ecological transition” to the legalisation of cannabis. Hamon’s views on reforming the European Union parallel those of Another Europe is Possible. He promotes an open Laïcité (Secularism) and is strongly anti-racist. It hardly needs saying that he has promised to repeal the Loi Khomeri.
Socialism and Power.
Alain Bergounioux, the author with Gérard Greenberg of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir (2005), has complained that the French Socialists may emerge from the Primary incapable of becoming a “party of government” committed to the “exercise of power”. He warns of following either the path of Jean-Luc Mélenchon whose own rally, La France Insoumise, does not aspire to be in power, but to be a tribune of the people and the centrist Presidential candidate Philippe Macron, and his “parti-enterprise, that seeks power for, one might suggest, his own sake (Le Monde 27.1.17) What is at stake, Bergounioux point out, is the ability, of the Socialists, to form a viable electoral alternative, a role they have fulfilled since François Mitterrand’s victory in 1981. Faced with a tri-polarisation, between Right (François Fillon), far-right (Marine Le Pen), we have a left with its own tripolar divisions, Hamon and Mélenchon and former member of the Socialist Cabinet, Emmanuel Macron. That up to 50 Valls supporters in the National Assembly and Senate are reported to be switching to Macron is not a good sign.
Yet Hamon comes from currents inside the French Socialist Party (Nouveau Parti Socialiste onwards), which have hotly contested the record of their party in government. Dubbed ‘frondeurs’ (trouble-makers) for their opposition to budget cuts in the first years of the Valls government (in which Hamon served as Education Minister, before being sacked in 2014 for his criticisms) they come from a side of the party which has not accepted the party leadership’s adaption to markets and liberal economics. To cite a distinction well-known to the author of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir they are concerned not just with what Léon Blum called the “exercice du Pouvoir” but with the “conquête du pouvoir”, that is the revolution in society’s make up, socialism. The conquest of power implies more than forming a cabinet after an electoral triumph, it requires a social movement and a strategy to change the world. (2)
Does Hamon offer such a strategy? The immediate dilemma of the French Socialists is how to make their voice heard in a coming Presidential election in which they figure as also-runs. Yet an opening and gathering of the left is taking place. Inroads into the Green party, EELV, and their electorate, already divided about their candidate, Yannick Jadot, who struggles to appear in the opinion polls, can be expected.
Hamon’s victory has already had one result: at 15% of voting intentions he has at a stroke reduced Mélenchon to 10% (a loss of five points). Hamon was selected in a competition in which 2 million voters took part, the leader of La France Insoumise only responded to the Call of Destiny.
Hamon has proposed that these wings of the left unite, offering Mélenchon and Jadot places in a future cabinet.
Hamon faces a deeper underlying difficulty, another inheritance from Léon Blum. This is the belief that the French republic already contains the instruments for radical reform that a movement and a party can “capture” and use. In the process the distinction between occupying Ministerial posts and effecting genuine change is blurred. Hamon’s own background as a life-long professional politician, suggests that he will find this legacy harder to overcome. (3)
For the European left, not least the left in the Labour Party, Hamon’s candidacy is welcome news. An experienced politician, fiercely intelligent, whose team offers serious new thinking about socialism, ecology and social issues – often far more forward looking than any other mainstream European left, social democratic or labour, party – is now on the French political stage. He has a message of hope. It will help all us to listen to it.
- Pages 332 – 225. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2015.
- Page 133. Alain Bergounioux, Gérard Grunberg of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Fayard. 2005.
- Page 125. Léon Blum. Un Portrait. Pierre Birnbaum. 2016.
Written by Andrew Coates
January 30, 2017 at 1:20 pm
After Cameron Us, Say pro-Brexit ‘left’.
I am a European democratic socialist, an internationalist, a Labour Party member, a trade union activist.
The Tendance has nothing but love and solidarity with our European comrades and their – our – fight for a better EU and a socialist Europe.
David Cameron’s resignation (Prime Minister David Cameron is to step down by October after the UK voted to leave the European Union.) will only bring more reaction in its wake.
It will do nothing to help our battle for a better world and advance the interests of the workers and the oppressed.
Those who backed the Brexit campaign are the least able to offer an alternative.
Like many on the left the result of the referendum does not means abandoning our democratic Marxism for populist talk of a rejection of “metropolitan elites” and poisonous anti-migrant language.
To underline this point it is profoundly worrying that a reactionary campaign, marked by racism and xenophobia had been joined by some of the left – the so-called Lexiters – who mobilised people against “cheap foreign labour”.
This divisive campaign will paralyse their response to the Tory crisis.
It leaves a bitter legacy.
Democratic socialists will not forget the role they played in the promotion of the agenda of the most reactionary elements in British capitalism.
I can only echo the views of these statements:
Another Europe is Possible.
‘It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness’
Statement in response to the Leave vote.
Another Europe is Possible worked tirelessly over the past few months to forge a movement that could progress an alternative vision for Europe. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union opens a world of uncertainty that campaigners in the UK must now try to steer in a positive direction, in spite of the divisions that have been stirred. We don’t pretend that this will be easy. The mainstream campaign to leave the EU has pandered to nationalism, has encouraged a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment and has fostered a notion that outside the EU we can return to an age when Britain was the world’s foremost ‘great power’.
We understand and share the distrust many people feel towards the institutions of the EU. The EU lacks proper democratic accountability, negotiates exploitative trade policies like TTIP, visits economic destruction on its own member states, and at times has treated refugees as if they were criminals.
Our argument for remaining in the EU was that, together with the hundreds of millions of fellow Europeans, we have the power to transform Europe and, in so doing, to control corporations, halt climate change and overcome the nationalisms that have haunted our continent for centuries. The campaign to leave the EU has demonised some of the poorest people in Europe. We share the sense of fear that many of those people must now feel.
That’s why many of us who have worked to build “Another Europe is Possible” will not stop working towards forging a better Europe, and a better country, with allies and friends across the continent. We commit ourselves to fighting the rising tide of nationalism and racism across Europe and building a campaign to defend the rights and dignity of immigrants in Britain. We will work for the most just transition out of the EU possible, campaigning against the erosion of human and workers’ rights and the type of extreme free trade deals which the leaders of the Leave campaign have threatened.
We will not give up in our attempts to build a very different sort of world based on equality, democracy and humanity. In this new Britain, we believe our movement is even more important. In coming weeks we will revisit our work and propose new priorities with those who have worked so tirelessly in the past few months, pounding the pavement across the UK to make our voices heard. We hope some of those who campaigned for a left-wing exit will also join us in this work.
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. In the months ahead we will try to ensure that we lay the foundations for a better country. We must prove to the world that Britain will not become a byword for intolerance, insularity and despair. Another Europe is possible. Another Britain is necessary.
Yesterday, the British people voted to leave the European Union. Momentum, which campaigned to remain in the EU to transform the EU, respects the decision taken by the electorate.
We recognise that people voted ‘Leave’ for many reasons. Much of this vote reflected anger in communities which have experienced many years of industrial decline with the subsequent loss of secure employment. Many such working class communities have been utterly neglected for years by those in power. Millions appear to have chosen ‘Leave’ to vote against the unfettered globalisation that has seen living standards stagnate or fall, as the cost of living rises. We share this scepticism of big business dominance, austerity and distant elites, be they British, European or Global, and share that demand for a country where working people have control.
Many ‘Leave’ voters usually vote for Labour or are working people Labour should represent. Now the Party and the whole labour movement needs to show the country that it alone can offer working people genuine control over their lives, workplaces and communities.
Labour must clearly demonstrate how it will improve lives through policies that will increase wages, tackle the housing crisis, and give people a greater say at work and in their communities.
If we do not, we will not only be failing to advance the policies that will benefit working people but also could enable the populist right, who blame immigrants, not the powerful for the problems in our country. Part of the Leave campaign empowered these racist, reactionary forces, who peddle hatred and offer false hope. We must redouble our efforts to stop migrant scapegoating, focus our attention on the needs and desires of the overwhelming majority, and offer a real programme of hope for our people.
Although we will leave the EU, our movement remains an internationalist one. We must continue to work with our friends, partners and allies across Europe in the shared struggle against austerity, to tackle climate change and to build a sustainable economy with full employment for all the peoples of Europe.
Lexit: Desperate last-minute Flailing.
As the left and the labour Movement, from the trade unions, the Party to the majority of radical groups, stand increasingly united behind a Remain Vote the Brexit ‘left’ is desperate.
They are scrambling round for self-justification.
From whingeing about the ‘absence of a working class voice” in the referendum, Socialist Worker has been reduced to asserting that, “A socialist Europe is not on the ballot paper and there is no method for reforming the EU.”
Oddly this a Referendum about membership of the EU, and it does not include an option to vote for the SWP either.
Nor does saying three times that the EU cannot be changed make the claim true.
John McDonnell says,
Labour is pushing for an ambitious programme of reforms that will make the EU work for the best interests of working people here and across Europe.
For example, all the EU member states have a share in the European Investment Bank (EIB). The UK’s share is 16 per cent, equivalent to its size inside the EU. But the Tories have failed to make the most of it, with the UK only receiving 11 per cent of funding. If we took our fair share of the extra funding that the EIB has offered, that would be £35bn of additional investment. That’s more than double the entire UK public investment spend for a year.
The SWP’s position would have us not even try to get this ideas on the practical agenda.
This argument in today’s The Socialist, plumbs the depths of delusion.
voters – particularly working class voters – are increasingly seeing the referendum as a chance to protest both against Cameron and everything they have suffered in recent years: low pay, zero-hour contracts, benefit cuts, the lack of affordable housing, and public services cut to the bone. One poll shows that 60% of ‘blue collar’ workers intend to vote for exit.
What is the basis of this ‘blue collar’ (not a Marxist category) support for Brexit?
There is no mention in this article of something too obvious, er, to mention.
Socialist Party ‘aligned’ Trade Unionists Against the EU leaders Enrico Tortolano and Ragesh Khakhria (both part of the PCS which officially has a neutral stand during the referendum) get to grips with the issue of what motives this support in the Morning Star.
They observe, in arguing for something now called a ‘People’s Brexit‘ that,
….millions of working-class voters are unrepresented by the mainstream political parties and large chunks of the trade union movement.
The stance and position of those who are supposed to represent labour is at odds with the experience of the working class in Britain as well as the rest of the EU.
Working-class people are experiencing unemployment or insecure jobs, low pay, no pension with little prospect of owning their own home, or living in secure council housing.
It’s nonsense to pretend that the movement of more people into these communities is having no impact on their lives.
Rich Tories have already cut schools and hospitals they use to the bone.
For the metropolitan liberal elite, far removed from such concerns, the prospect of a people’s Brexit simply violates their sense of entitlement and jeopardises the prospect of middle-class benefits that the working class will never see.
So ‘movement of more people’ – free movement of labour in the European Union – is a problem which has created support for Brexit. Only the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ – do not see this reality.
This is clearly at odds with Socialist Worker’s charges against “Fortress Europe”. They charge the EU with putting up barriers to refugees and migrants from outside the Continent. SW notes that the Official Remain campaign is led by those who want to “regain control” of Britain’s borders.
Does the Socialist Party and Trade Unionists Against the EU want to regain “control” over UK frontiers, stop the flow of “cheap labour” that is having an “impact” on “communities”?
If so, how?
And if the SWP opposes such moves, why are they backing a vote for those whose entire project in recent weeks has been centred on a hate campaign against migrant workers
Perhaps we should consider not just migrants and refugees on the frontiers of Europe but “people” in “movement” who have come to Britian. Khakhria and Tortolano, whose own forebears were no doubt in “movement” have no answer to this issue.
The pair note, no doubt wistfully, that,
Historically, the labour movement and Labour leaders such as Clement Attlee and Hugh Gaitskell felt a much greater affinity with the Commonwealth countries than they did to the capitalist Common Market.
Yes, New Zealand Lamb and butter, that’s the best reply to the ‘capitalist’ EU.
The Popular Front (Front populaire) was an alliance of left-wing movements, including the French Communist Party (PCF), the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO) and the Radical and Socialist Party, during the interwar period. Three months after the victory of the Frente Popular in Spain, the Popular Front won the May 1936 legislative elections, leading to the formation of a government first headed by SFIO leader Léon Blum and exclusively composed of Radical-Socialist and SFIO ministers. Wikipedia.
L’Humanité reminds us this month that the achievement, the bright sides of this past, still inspire:
Musée de l’Histoire vivante
31 bd Théophile Sueur – 93100 Montreuil.
This is how our enemies reacted:
Le juif Léon Blum, est au pouvoir et avec lui, tout ce que la France contient de youpinerie.
The Jew Léon Blum, is in Power, and with him, all of France’s Yids.
L’avènement au pouvoir du Front Populaire, émanation des juifs et des francs-maçons, pose, pour nous Français, dans toute son acuité, le problème juif.
The victory of the Front Populaire, an emenation of Jews and Free-masons, creates for us the French people, in the sharpest form, the Jewish problem.
La France restera française si elle se débarrasse des sémites, ou elle sombrera dans la décadence et la bolchevisation si elle reste sous l’emprise des hébreux.
France will remain French if our land gets rid of Semites, otherwise, under the reign of the Hebrews, it will fall into decadence or Bolshevism.
Yes: But can Momentum Help?
Many on the left, including this Blog, welcomed the attempt to create new spaces of activism and debate on the left, outside of traditional political structures. But some people expressed the fear that Momentum, set up to expand Jeremy Corbyn’s political support, and to create a “new politics” would run quickly into the biggest reef of the British left-wing: the activities of small leftist organisations, parties and factions.
The wrecks littering these rocks are too numerous to count, but it was obvious that the intention of the Socialist Workers Party |(SWP) and the Socialist Party to get involved in Momentum would not be universally greeted.
Apart from the fact that the SWP is soemthing of a bugbear on many parts of the left, the SP’s belief that it had a right, indeed a duty, to participate oin Momentum to inform its supporters of the correct views of the party, which stood, with the SWP and others, as part of TUSC in the General Election, against Labour. They won, 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote.
Both parties also backed the No2EU slate in the European Elections 2014 which totaled 31,757 votes or 0.2%. It declared it was an “internationalist platform. The UK state, free of the capitalist EU and in control of its own destiny, would means more solidarity with workers overseas. Some of the forces involved in the later bloc are known to be ‘sceptical’ about the free movement of labour inside the European Union.
One can see the potential there for disputes about Labour’s position in the coming referendum on membership of the European Union.
When efforts to thwart the possibility of small left wing groups lecturing Labour party members on how they act, run councils (setting illegal ‘anti-cuts’ budgets), remove right wing Labour MPs (deselection) the Socialist Party replied by stating,
If they exclude real fighters against austerity with experience on the ground – particularly Socialist Party supporters and others – they will weaken the ability of Corbyn and his forces to defeat the right. They will not succeed in fully harnessing the huge pro-Corbyn anti-austerity mood outside, which is not yet a real organised movement.
This letter appeared in the Weekly Worker seven days ago.
As part of the ongoing coverage of the divisions in the Labour Party over the issue of air strikes on Syria, Nancy Taaffe of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (formerly known as the Militant Tendency, covertly as the Revolutionary Socialist League) was interviewed on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on December 3.
Comrade Taaffe hardly helped dispel the common image and depiction of the far left in this country as a bunch of swivel-eyed loons. Her facial expressions switched constantly between one of apparent ferocious hostility and a version of the rictus grinning we perhaps last saw from Gordon Brown. Although her head remained aimed at the camera, her eyes and attention seemed to be constantly distracted by something happening very high to her left, which added to the unsettling effect.
Comrade Taaffe identified herself a number of times as a member of the Socialist Party and that she had stood as a candidate in the general election on behalf of “Tusc” (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition), without explanation of what that was or stood for, which must have confused and mystified the audience.
She ‘demanded’ that the Labour Party deselect the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, and went on to ‘demand’ that Labour convene an immediate special conference to reintroduce mandatory reselection for MPs, and also that the Socialist Party be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party in the same way as does the Cooperative Party.
The breathtaking hypocrisy, impertinence and arrogance of the ultra-left never fails to astonish me. SPEW was formed after its leading members were out-performed by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s and expelled from Labour as a ‘party within a party’. They then declared that Labour was henceforth dead as a bourgeois workers’ party with any potential for being transformed into a workers’ party (because they were no longer in it!), and took no part whatsoever in the recent Corbyn leadership campaign, on the basis of that being a complete waste of time, it being impossible to “resurrect a corpse”.
Having been proved completely and utterly wrong, you might have expected some humility and reflection, but, no, SPEW is apparently now placing demands on how the Labour Party should conduct its internal democracy, calling on individual CLPs to deselect their MPs, and for it be allowed to affiliate.
It all reminded me of the set-piece debate of the decade in the early 1980s between the self-styled ‘revolutionary left’ and the then Bennite Labour left, when people like Paul Foot and Tariq Ali were demanding the Labour Party transform itself into a socialist party, get rid of rightwing Labour MPs, adopt in effect Trotsky’s Transitional programme and then, after doing all that hard work, open it up to allow outside groups like the SWP and International Marxist Group to come in and join. As Audrey Wise MP, speaking for the Labour left at the time, said, “Big deal, big deal, big prizes … Not.”
Tony Benn during that debate denounced the “socialist groups” as not being genuine revolutionaries at all, but as “left-talking revolutionists” – ie, they talk the talk, shout and criticise from the sidelines, raise ‘demands’ which can never be met, but have very little connection or engagement with the very real and ‘actually existing’ labour movement and wider social forces which will be required to bring about genuine social change and revolutionary transformation.
I think socialists and revolutionaries who are outside the party should treat the Labour membership – especially its new membership – with considerable respect. It is fine to have political, strategic and tactical differences, but these need to be debated and worked through in a spirit of constructive engagement, and not through the placing of impossible ‘demands’.
This may allow some of the socialist groups to become part of the Labour Party, providing they show respect and adherence to its aims and values, as well as its constitution, and do not try and subvert its democracy, or its basis as the mass political party of the organised labour movement.
As Chris Knight suggested in the recent reprints of his two extremely interesting and thought-provoking articles (September 24 and October 8), the Labour Party can and should become the “parliament” of the labour and working class movement. It cannot itself become the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and the socialist groups should not attempt to make it so.
We should also be aware the Labour Party needs to increase its support by millions of votes by the time of the next election, if it is to form a government, and these millions are likely to be people who are motivated by values of respect, tolerance and solidarity, rather than by hostility, aggression, dog-fighting and point-scoring between the sects and factions.
There have been many reports of “problems” in Momentum groups – difficulties which are not the invention of those hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.
This has just appeared.
The first meeting in Manchester of ‘Momentum’ may be the last. We hope not, and many there meant well, but activists who have lived in the Labour Party a long time as well as the hopeful newcomers were caught in a contradiction, between structure and an attempt to avoid it. A young career-track politician from London called ‘Sam’ quickly told us what we all knew – that Momentum was set up to organise in the Labour Party in support of the new Jeremy Corbyn leadership – and then the splits started to open up. Each division revolved around the very questions of democracy and ‘new politics’ that Corbyn’s election promised. And each bitter attack was made in the name of a new ‘openness’ in the Labour Party that recalled the old debates prompted by anarchist feminist activists nearly half a century ago over the nature of ‘structure’ and what Jo Freeman in a classic little pamphlet once called ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’.
An apocryphal story is circulating now in the north of Britain about a young woman comrade who joined a Left Unity branch to find that many of the activists were there to promote their own little organisation. Escape from this wretched situation opened up with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, so she gave up on Left Unity and joined her local branch of the Labour Party to find that same little organisation spouting the same line, they had now moved in with a new front organisation. There were those who ridiculed ‘safe spaces’ in Left Unity, and put their theory into practice in almost every meeting, ensuring that only those with very thick skins – or those with bodyguards around them who were from their own organisation – returned after being subjected to what these very structured sectarians like to call the ‘cut and thrust of political argument’. These people can be friendly enough chatting before and after the meeting, but behave very differently when following orders from the leading group inside their own organisation when they think they should be implementing a ‘line’
No further comment is needed.
Left Unity Conference: Leading Figures Leave, LU to Remain a Party, but not Stand Parliamentary Candidates.
Influential Republican Socialists Predicted Split.
At its Conference Left Unity had decided to remain a party but for time being will not stand in any parliamentary elections, in order to support Jeremy Corbyn.
In the lead-up to the debates Steve Freeman, the leader of the important Republican Socialist tendency, argued, in his hebdomadal column in the Weekly Worker, that,
Left unionists and anti-unionists cannot be in the same party – that much is obvious. It is also clear that Labourites and republicans should not be in the same party. We have mixed and matched these politics in one organisation for a while. That time has now come to an end. Objectively it is time for a split. I do not see this happening at Left Unity conference. The most likely outcome is that the hard right will defeat the soft left and LU will agree to try to affiliate to the Labour Party. This will prove one more step on the road to dissolution. Better to have a clean break.
Left Unity, Rise and Old Southwark Against the Corn Laws.
On Friday the Morning Star reported.
A LEADING member of Left Unity has called for the party to be dissolved in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.
Salman Shaheen, one of four principal speakers, has tabled a motion ahead of tomorrow’s party conference that would pull the plug just two years after it was founded with the support of director Ken Loach.
The motion calls for Left Unity to “dissolve itself as a political party which contests elections at any level” and form a network of activists that could include Labour members.
Mr Shaheen said: “We are committed to doing what we can to support the politics Jeremy Corbyn stands for, and that we have in common with him.
“The question is how best to do it and that is what we will be discussing.”
It is more likely though that Left Unity and CND general secretary Kate Hudson’s motion will be passed.
She suggests the national executive should “reassess” the party’s electoral strategy but continue as a party.
On Slugger O’Toole, Barton Creeth comments on the Conference itself,
Despite an acknowledgement of common cause, Left Unity, the party that last year tabled a motion to recognise the “progressive potential” of ISIS, decides not to formally dissolve and join Labour.
Left Unity, a far-left political party set up with the help of filmmaker Ken Loach, debated today whether to dissolve and join Labour. The party, set up in 2013, stood candidates against Labour in May, but since Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election victory, Left Unity has experienced mass resignations.
Noting similar aspirations and common cause, Motion 2A states that “We believe the movement that swept Jeremy Corbyn to victory has its manifestation both inside and outside the Labour Party and this will continue to be the case.” Some Labour Party activists on Twitter expressed support for Left Unity to join forces as part of Corbyn’s Labour. Despite this, only 10 Left Unity members voted today to dissolve the party, as reported by party secretary, Tom Armstrong on Twitter.
During the conference last year, members of Left Unity debated a motion recognising the “progressive potential” of Islamic State. The motion added that the Islamic State’s call for a pan-Islamic caliphate to replace other Muslim states was “an authentic expression of … anti-imperialist aspirations”. The motion, which noted that the Caliphate represented an alternative political vision to other “brutal regimes” in the region, argued “the European Left has to acknowledge and accept the widespread call for a Caliphate among Muslims as valid and an authentic expression of their emancipatory, anti-imperialist aspirations.” The motion was voted down.
The conference also saw a motion today calling for the dissolution of the army the the formation of popular militias. The motion reads, “Left Unity is against the standing army and for the armed people. This principle will never be realised voluntarily by the capitalist state. It has to be won, in the first place by the working class developing its own militia.”
As of writing, I’m not sure which direction the party has chosen take on this issue.
— Left Unity (@LeftUnityUK) November 21, 2015
— Barton Creeth (@bartoncreeth) November 21, 2015
I am stepping down as Principal Speaker and resigning from Left Unity. I believe we should now support Labour and back @jeremycorbyn
— Salman Shaheen (@SalmanShaheen) November 21, 2015
— Teesside Left Unity (@TeessideLU) November 21, 2015
Left Unity has attracted many respected and dedicated activists. It has had many important policies – including an internationalist approach to backing a transformed European Union and broader opposition to nationalism.
Their decision to work closely with Momentum raises a number of interesting questions.
If LU is not standing Parliamentary candidates against Labour, will it continue to stand council candidates against the Labour Party on a pick and choose basis? How will this help Momentum win support inside the Party?
Perhaps the public threat of rival candidates will both increase its audience amongst the mainstream of the Party and win over wavering councillors to adopt LU’s opinions……
We await for the full report from Labour Party Marxists – in the Esperanto original – explaining the way out of this conundrum.
Much lower turnout for the second day of #LUconf15. Two principal speakers resigned and my branch's treasurer has left too.
— Tom Armstrong (@goatamongsheep) November 22, 2015
Another small group, Independent Socialist Network, to join Labour: is this the way to win backing for Marxism?
Another Group Joins Labour?
Nick Wrack is a respected socialist activist who has long argued for a new Marxist party in Britain.
He is part of the Independent Socialist Network.
The history of that current is extremely complex even by the high left’s standards (for those who so wish they can look at its site, here.)
Like many he is deeply impressed by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, which he describes as a “game changer for left-wing politics in Britain”.
If I may jump over the article this is something he is not impressed with,
We have considered it worthwhile participating in TUSC and standing candidates against Labour in the hope that this could be a springboard to the formation of a new party. However, that is clearly not going to happen. It puts a negative over the whole project, even more so now that Corbyn has won the leadership of the Labour Party. TUSC will obtain even worse votes in the short term and standing to obtain risible votes cannot even be justified with the argument that it is to lay the basis of building a new party. In these circumstances it is time, in my opinion, to draw a line in our participation in TUSC.
A similar situation exists now with Left Unity. Left Unity has politics no different from Corbyn, so why would any of them join it? Why join a party of 1,500 when you can join a party of hundreds of thousands, with millions of affiliated trade unionists? Its perspective for any meaningful contribution to the socialist cause is minimal, if that.
It is unlikely, we note, that these failures are due to the following, causes which he mentions,
- No group will give up its claim to be “the one true socialist party”. As result they cannot achieve, “unification of Marxists into a single organisation.”
- The various socialist groups have sought to limit the nature of the project to essentially reformist policies, while presenting themselves as the ‘real’ socialists.
- In Left Unity, Socialist Resistance and other non-aligned Marxists actively prevented clear socialist aims and principles being incorporated into the party constitution, preferring to blur the distinction between socialists and social democrats because they don’t want to put anyone off.
A simpler explanation is that these ideas have little connection to social reality and popular thinking.
One might say (with reference to, Lars T.Lih. Lenin Rediscovered. 2008) that Wrack’s view is based on the common ground of Erfurt Marxism (which could be said to be shared by the pre-Third International Lenin and social democratic Second International). That is, that the “good news” of socialism has to be brought to people by democratic politics ((Wrack’s group has always insisted on this point, in distinction from vanguardist Leninist groups), debate on Marxist analysis (or socialism more widely) and activism.
In this respect it is clearly false for Wrack to claim that there are “two incompatible political ideologies – revolutionary socialism-communism versus reformist social democracy (which) – have existed in opposition since the second half of the 19th century.”
It would take many pages, of earnest theoretical and scholastic debate to determine what is ‘Marxism’, but the line between “revolutionary socialism-communism” and “reformist social democracy” is pretty minor compared to the distinction between Stalinism and democratic socialism.
In reality there is no one ‘Marxism’. There are Marxisms.
Where there is a fault line on the left and between Marxists, it lies in the difference between those who wish to emphasise the importance of political liberty, before and after the winning of political power by socialist parties, and those who believe that everything – including liberty – has to take second place to gaining and sustaining that power. We could go further and say that some of the latter still believe in the ‘actuality of the revolution’ – its continued presence ready to spring into life and led to victory the right manoeuvres of small left groups. Democratic socialism is the belief that we proceed by consent and by voting to a “revolution” in social structures and culture, not an imposed political leadership, or by violence – which as our founders said, was only justified against “slave holders'”.violent opposition.
That kind of democratic Marxism is only one strand amongst an increasingly bewildering number of other left themes, third-wave feminism, the renewed egalitarian social democracy of the people around Pierre Rosenvallon in France, of the vast variety of Greens, radical democrats, other-globalisation theorists, supporters of décroissance and a host of other other left ideologies, from the broad appeal of democratic secularist anti-racism, to other ideas, with a more limited audience, such post-Negri autonomism and the tradition stemming from Cornelius Castoriadis.
To varying degrees all these ideas exist within trade unions (the ultimate ‘reformist’ bodies), and parties like the Labour Party, the French left bloc, the Front de gauche, and a long list of European left and social democratic parties.
If Marxist ideas have any value it is not because they are ‘Marxist’ but because there are Marxist researchers and activists who can help develop a democratic socialist strategy and practical policies for achieving – amongst a very very long list:
- an egalitarian and socialist response to neo-liberal economics based on the classical premises of class struggle politics: in the conditions of vastly changed class structures.
- policies that offer a democratic transformation of the European Union.
- policies that democratise the state: end the system of farming public functions (welfare, health onwards) off to private rentiers and take them under democratic control.
- Workers’ rights, social rights, and the whole galaxy of human rights based on popular movements, not NGO’s lists of ideas.
- the goal of the “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
A creative left current, with an input from all these sources cannot be reduced to ‘Marxism’.
- There is no evidence that “true” socialism exists in which the left can unite on the basis of Marxist doctrine. There are varieties of socialist politics and parties, many of which are incompatible No democratic socialist would want to be part of a party based on the kind of democratic centralism practised in the SWP or Socialist Party. Their version of Leninism is not accepted as ‘true’ Marxism either.
- Out of experience many on the left would not touch these parties and their various ‘fronts’ with a barge pole.
We can imagine that it’s the fact that Wrack is part of the movement, and an activist, which had the main pull in the following analysis.
Having said that, there is an enormous battle taking place now within the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. This battle is going to intensify over the next year. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are principled social democrats. They do not, in my opinion, put forward a programme for overthrowing capitalism or for establishing a socialist society. But they are sincere and honest supporters and defenders of the working class and its interests. They support workers on strike; they support workers in protest; they stand up for the poor, the migrant and those on welfare. Arrayed against them is the whole of the capitalist class, the media and their echoes in the Labour Party and trade unions.
Marxists cannot stand aside in this battle and say, “It’s nothing to do with us.” Marxists participate in all aspects of the class struggle. Marxists must do everything we can to defend Corbyn and McDonnell, while engaging in a thoroughgoing criticism of their programme. We must defend Corbyn and McDonnell but fight for socialist policies. I do not have the space here to develop details points of programmatic criticism but fundamentally the issue boils down to what Corbyn is attempting to do differently from Syriza. How can Corbyn succeed where Tsipras failed? In my opinion, the weaknesses of the Syriza approach are present in Corbyn’s programme. How can we alter this to strengthen the movement for change?
Or perhaps not.
Activism seems to get downplayed in favour of, the no-doubt to be welcomed, “through-going criticism”
I spelled out some aspects of disagreement in an earlier article. I think that both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have already made too many concessions or compromises, in a vain attempt to appease their opponents in the Parliamentary Labour Party, where they are in a small minority. But they cannot hope to win the battle they face in the Labour Party on the basis of the PLP. It seems that they have understood the need to base themselves on their support outside the PLP and have set up Momentum to organise that support. Momentum has to develop into a genuinely democratic organisation in which its members can influence policy and tactics.
For all these reasons I am now of the opinion that all Marxists should, at the very least, join Momentum. We can play a key role in helping to defend Corbyn and defeating the right. Where possible, therefore, Marxists should also join Labour. This is best done as an organised group, rather than as individuals. The purpose of joining is two-fold: to strengthen the forces in defence of Corbyn and against the rightwing in Labour and the trade unions and to argue for a Marxist ideas in the mass movement around Corbyn. There is no knowing how long this battle may last or what the outcome will be. Those coming into Momentum and into the Labour Party will include thousands of people who simply want change. But many will have no clear idea of what that change should be or how it can be accomplished. Marxists have to engage with the debate. What change? How can it be achieved? What programme is necessary?
The ISN will seek to organise all independent socialists in and out of the Labour Party who want to fight for Marxist ideas in the labour movement and we will work with all who see the need ultimately to build a mass united socialist party based on Marxist ideas.
It is hard to not see just how far this analysis from the ILN is from reality.
- How is Momentum going to change the Labour Party? Is is going to act as an organised group that will take control over local Labour parties, and Council groups, on the basis of ‘debate’? How will this work within the slow process of Labour Party internal democracy? How on earth will this group actually oeprate within, say Policy Forums, CLPs? As an alternative party or as a simple current of ideas?
- How will they cope with set-backs? The experience of ‘new’ politics, from Podemos onwards, indicates that ‘new’ democratic methods are hard to create, and frankly, the rhythm of Labour Party internal life is going to be an obstacle to anybody wanting instant political gratification.
- How will they appeal to the large centre-ground inside the Labour Party which has to be convinced on solid grounds of the reasonableness of the new politics? The sudden arrival of new people, who campaigned against Labour in the General Election, eager to give advice, is, perhaps not likely to impress everybody. A simple thought: you have show respect for your opponents, even work for their election in councils, and so forth. Will the ILN manage that?
It is hard to not to think that some people on the left, with limited experience of how the Labour Party actually works, and the inevitable disappointments for those with simple and clear goals of “defending” Corbyn, are going to get frustrated and bitter very quickly.