Category Archives: Elections

A tale of three by-elections

Kevin Bean looks at the state of bourgeois politics and the controversy over so-called green policies

Last week’s by-elections show that sometimes in politics events do not always follow the widely predicted course.

On the basis of the opinion polls, the expectations were that the Tories would lose all three seats up for grabs on July 20, with Labour gaining Boris Johnson’s old seat in Uxbridge and Ruislip, as well as overturning a large Tory majority in Selby and Ainsty, while the Liberal Democrats would regain their previously-held Somerton and Frome constituency. In the end it did not turn out like that: the Tories held Uxbridge (albeit with a tiny majority), allowing Rishi Sunak to claim that the long-foretold Tory defeat at the coming general election was not “a done deal” and reassuring his supporters that it was still ‘all to play for’. The weekend press headlines and the lines coming from the political shows followed up on the surprising Uxbridge result and focused on why Labour had not made the expected breakthrough.

What quickly emerged as the widely-held explanation for the Tories holding on to Uxbridge was Ulez (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) – a scheme to reduce air pollution from older vehicles by imposing a charge, which is planned to be extended from central London to outlying suburbs. The Tories had made the charge the single issue in their Uxbridge campaign and essentially turned the by-election into a referendum on the policy. The Tories claimed to be standing up for the poorest sections of society, who own the oldest vehicles, along with those like taxi drivers, small businesses and others who need to drive for work in an area with poor public transport. On polling day, the anti-Ulez campaign and the focus on the London mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, paid dividends for the Tories and ensured that since the by-election Ulez and ‘green policies’ in general have been the centre of political interest.

For Sir Keir the focus on Uxbridge and Ulez seemed, at first sight, something of a setback, if not a PR disaster. While he was up in rural Yorkshire doing a photo-call with the successful candidate (a young, aspiring hack and Labour careerist, conveniently also named Keir) to celebrate overturning a huge Tory majority, all everyone back at Westminster wanted to talk about was Uxbridge. If the Tories and the media were more than keen to big up the success at Uxbridge, sections of the Labour bureaucracy and the Parliamentary Labour Party also tried to turn the situation to their advantage, shifting the blame for the reverse onto Sadiq Khan or the local conduct of the campaign. Starmer and his immediate circle also let it be known that that they were unhappy with Ulez and, in light of the Tory attacks, were considering scaling back even further on Labour’s green policy commitments.

So far, all very Westminster bubble gossip and kite-flying in the op-ed sections of the sympathetic media, which is quite easy to dismiss as mere froth. However, both the by-election results (remember, there were two other seats apart from Uxbridge!) and the reactions of the Tory and Labour leaderships to the outcome do tell us a lot about how the general election campaign might develop and the sort of result that it could throw up.

The general trend in all three by-elections was a swing against the Conservatives, which reflected the widespread anti-Tory mood that has been shown up in the opinion polls and local council elections in May this year. Following the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than the opposition winning them, these results continue to point to a Labour government with probably a working majority.

With the Liberal Democrats posing a challenge in both the West Country and the formerly safe Tory seats in the so-called ‘Blue Wall’, and Labour regaining its ‘traditional’ seats in the north and the Midlands – along with possible gains in Scotland, combined with victories in marginal seats throughout Britain – the chances of the Tories staying in power appear slim. However, this anti-Tory feeling does not correspond to any great enthusiasm for Sir Keir and his Labour Party. By-election turnout remains low and the evidence suggests that the mathematical ‘swing’ was a largely notional one, with previous Tory voters staying at home rather than being sufficiently enthused by Starmer to go to the polls and actually vote Labour. On this showing the next election will be an unpopularity contest between parties and programmes for which the electorate shows no real passion or deep support.

Facing both ways

Is Sir Keir concerned by this lack of electoral momentum? Will the failure to gain Uxbridge dictate a change of course? Not at all! It is all factored into his strategy and will actually confirm an important part of his approach towards the election, which has been to dampen down expectations and warn of the dangers of complacency. Far from Starmer’s spinmeisters trying to hype up the opinion poll leads in recent months, they have been extremely cautious in their news management and, in this regard, Uxbridge suits them just fine. It keeps the troops in order and helps to silence even the mildest of criticism, on the grounds that electoral victory is not guaranteed and we all need to rally behind the leader.

Some critics from the official left – yes, a few still exist and can still be heard muttering off-stage, if you listen hard enough – say that Starmer’s lack of radical policies on energy and transport renationalisation or his mean-spirited support for Tory benefit caps will cost Labour a few leftwing votes. That may be so – Starmer’s aides, like his ‘fixer’, Morgan McSweeney, or polling and focus group guru Deborah Mattinson, would doubtless agree, but these are not the voters Starmer’s Labour Party are after nowadays. In a world of focus groups and triangulation, team Sir Keir calculates exactly what will appeal to the ‘target voters’ in the ‘centre ground’ and he duly sticks to the script at all times.

Anyway, channelling their inner Peter Mandelson of the 1990s, his supporters argue, where else do these voters critical of the benefit policy or the other underwhelming positions have to go? Starmer is determined to win the election – but on his terms. That means adopting the most openly pro-capitalist programme in Labour’s history and convincing his two audiences – the centre-ground electorate in Britain and the capitalist class in London and Washington – that he really is a safe pair of hands, who can be relied upon to steady the ship and not be diverted into ‘dangerously radical’ experiments.

Even by the historically low standards of Labour leaders, it is a pretty timid and uninspiring prospectus. Although Labour has been a bourgeois workers’ party from its very beginning and its leaders have faithfully followed the dictates of capitalism at home and imperialism abroad, for the quite mundane purposes of electoral politics the party leadership had to inspire and mobilise its supporters and voters with some kind of radical vision – think of ‘the New Jerusalem’ of Clement Attlee in 1945 or the ‘white heat of technology’ summoned up by Harold Wilson in 1964. Playing the game of bourgeois politics required more than mere competence: Labour leaders had to at least pretend to offer some form of challenge or alternative to the status quo, however token this proved to be in reality.

Not so Sir Keir! His electoral strategy is one of responding to perceived shifts in ‘public opinion’ or the clamour of the media. Instead of trying to shape politics and alter how people see the world, even within the limited options offered by the framework of capitalism, Starmer simply fits in and presents himself as a diligent and conscientious custodian of bourgeois society and the constitutional order. His whole career in the law and the service of the state at the highest level makes him perfect for the role, and it is one that he will play to perfection, when he does finally enter No10. So this will shape his electoral strategy and allow him to take minor upsets like Uxbridge in his stride; indeed, he will even turn them to his advantage to consolidate his position – as we saw at Labour’s National Policy Forum last weekend, where he saw off the rather puny criticisms of left trade union leaders. For Starmer the course is set fair for the next election and so he is determinedly continuing on his way, ignoring what remains of the disorganised and bankrupt official left in the PLP and their faint echoes in the Constituency Labour Parties.

Pause for thought

However, before we wave off Sir Keir on the road to Downing Street, we should also consider the Tories’ reaction to the by-elections and how this might shape politics in the 18 months or so before an election must be called. Rishi Sunak has tried to keep up the flagging morale of his party by suggesting that the retention of the Uxbridge seat was a sign that the tide might turn in the Tories’ favour, while some Conservative MPs argue that the success of the anti-Ulez campaign might be repeated more generally at a general election.

This approach has been broadened by some on the Tory right into a wider attack on green policies and zero targets – claiming that ‘greenery’ is mere virtue signalling, which voters might approve, but are unwilling to pay for through Ulez charges and higher taxation. This all neatly fits into a well-established culture war, based on the claim that metropolitan elites and middle-class greens are waging a war on the motorist and hard-working families. Other elements in this strategy to win back both ‘traditional’ Tory voters and the supposedly socially conservative former Red Wall voters who came over to them in 2019 are a focus on stopping illegal migration, waging a ‘war on woke’ and standing up for traditional values, whatever they are.

Sunak himself has played with some of these themes and they will probably appear in some form in the Conservative election manifesto. But will they be enough to win back disillusioned voters in a period of falling real wages, rising prices and increasing interest rates for homeowners? Uxbridge showed that in a by-election it is possible to mobilise a protest vote around a single, polarising and locally important issue. But will voters feel the same, when it comes to choosing a government in a general election? Will issues like Ulez and cutting back on green policies cut through to an electorate who have more immediate cost-of-living issues on their minds?

While at this stage it seems unlikely that such an amalgam of Tory prejudices and scare stories could offer an effective and plausible manifesto and erode the very deep anti-Tory mood that has been building up steadily since 2021, the Uxbridge result should give the party leaders and all those analysing British politics and the public mood some pause for thought. While the by-election results confirmed what the polls have been saying quite consistently for a few years now, they also show the lack of real enthusiasm for either the Tories or Labour, and certainly no firm preference for Sir Keir as an alternative prime minister.

Understanding and discussing the possibilities for the short term are important: the working class movement should obviously take a sharp interest in the high politics of bourgeois society and adopt its own distinct and independent position towards the parties and the policies of the capitalist class. However, Marxists need to go beyond these immediate issues and point the way to the real politics of transforming society. Above all in the current hiatus for the left, that means not only considering how electoral politics might develop, but also seriously thinking about and actively working to build the type of revolutionary party and programme we need to fight for.

Putting capital and careers first

Starmer’s purge of left candidates shows he is serious about governing ‘responsibly’, says Kevin Bean

Although much of the focus lately has been on the psycho-drama playing out amongst the Tories, on the other side of bourgeois politics Labour leaders have been giving some clear pointers about the shape of the next Labour government, should they win the next election.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, this seems increasingly likely and certainly most commentators and many Tories appear to think that within 18 months Sir Keir and his team will be seated around the cabinet table in Downing Street. It seems that, in this one aspect of bourgeois politics at least, the conventional wisdom that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them still appears to hold. Although Labour’s lead over the Tories could well narrow as the election campaign hots up, and there are a number of uncertainties which could impact on the actual result, such as new constituency boundaries, most recent polls point to a Labour majority, with some even suggesting a “landslide”.[1]

Another barometer will be the forthcoming by-elections caused by the resignations of Boris Johnson and Nigel Adams – probably followed by another in the autumn, when Nadine Dorries times her departure to cause maximum political embarrassment to Rishi Sunak. Although the unusual circumstances of the by-elections will probably encourage protest votes and so maximise an anti-government vote, which may benefit the Liberal Democrats, the Labour leadership will undoubtedly play up their successes and stress that the electoral momentum now lays with them.

It is important to remember that it is this electoral perspective which dominates the politics and the strategy of Sir Keir Starmer – shaping both his recent policy shifts and the continuing attacks on what remains of the Labour left. As a fully paid-up member of the British bourgeois political class, with a long record of loyal service in the law, Starmer has shown he will always act in the interests of the state, and of capitalism more generally. Reinforcing this image and reminding his main audience – the capitalist class in Washington and London, and their allies in the media – of his proven record as a reliable, safe pair of hands has been absolutely central to Sir Keir’s leadership from day one.

The Labour leadership has also carried out a charm offensive, targeted at the City and ‘the markets’, to dispel any lingering fears that a Labour government would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ and would undermine the public finances by either raising taxes on the wealthy or borrowing extravagantly to fund its manifesto commitments. The Starmer project has generally been positively received by the key sections of the capitalist class, although, as ever, they want the Labour leader to go further in order to make the party even more ‘electable’ in their eyes.[2] So close has this relationship become that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves rowed back last week on a major plank of Labour’s economic policy – the £28 billion ‘green prosperity plan’ – because of hints that it was unacceptable to ‘the markets’.[3]


If Sir Keir’s main audience – the capitalist class – are more than happy to see him as prime minister (especially after the bizarre chaos and farcical musical chairs at the heart of the Tory government since 2017), his other audience – the electorate – seems less than impressed by what is on offer. The coming election is unlikely to set anyone on fire, so we can expect both lacklustre political campaigning and widespread apathy on the part of voters. Given this, one possible outcome could still be a Labour victory, but, rather than the predicted landslide, it could instead be a much more modest majority which, some commentators have suggested, would make a Starmer government potentially susceptible to pressure from left MPs.[4]

The model for this scenario is the role of the Labour parliamentary left during the late 1960s and 1970s and its ability to restrict some of the more anti-working class policies proposed by the Labour governments in this period. Whilst there are obvious and striking differences between that period and today – not least the considerable influence exercised by the ‘official’ CPGB over the Tribune group in parliament, the trade union left and rank and file activists in the CLPs – Starmer is not leaving anything to chance. He is getting his retaliation in first by ruthlessly purging the left during the candidate selection process.[5] Changes in constituency boundaries and thus the possibilities of ‘deselecting’ existing left MPs are also being used to weed out anyone deemed unreliable by the leadership, as the recent examples in Birkenhead, Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon show. Reports also suggest that a similar stitch-up will be attempted to get acceptable candidates in place for the by‑elections caused by Johnson and co’s resignations.

After the Corbyn years, it seems to be a case of ‘never again’. The selection of candidates has been handed over to Matt Faulding and Matt Pound – with able assistance provided by NEC member Luke Akehurst. Faulding was once deputy director of the Blairite think tank Progress, while Pound used to run Labour First under Akehurst. These three are the Machiavellis of the Labour Party. Behind the scenes they are deciding the composition of the PLP in the next parliament.

Akehurst is a driven man. A fervent Zionist, he is a director of British Israeli Communication and We Believe in Israel. Combining stints with being a Hackney councillor, working for the Labour Party and the BBC and running Weber Shadwick, a global PR company, it is clear that he enjoys extraordinarily good connections … presumably including with Mossad, the CIA and MI5. But what really marks him out is his deep, enduring almost visceral animosity towards the left. The IHRA so-called definition of anti-Semitism has been a weapon wielded with the greatest passion. As a current NEC member – he topped the poll in 2022 – Akehurst, of course, chairs many of the panels which bar the objects of his hatred.

Naturally, Labour First is pro-Nato, pro-Israel, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-constitution and pro-Ukraine – so Paul Mason would find himself at home. Labour First is not just rightwing, it is militantly rightwing and considers the left an obstacle to achieving what it calls ‘Clause one socialism’; ie, a Labour government fit to serve capitalism and which puts good career politicians like themselves first. Labour as a broad based party has no place for the irresponsible, unpatriotic, left.

Right unite

Directly after the election of Sir Keir as party leader, Labour First combined with Progress to found Labour to Win, and under that umbrella they dominate the NEC politically and, naturally, promote their pals as parliamentary, assembly, mayoral, etc, candidates.

More than that, Labour to Win is attempting to “fundamentally reshape” the culture and politics of the Labour Party. Take that to be something like completing the Blairite counterrevolution, delabourising Labour, repairing the split in liberalism.

Sadly, Sir Keir, Labour to Win, Akehurst, Faulding, Pound and the Labour right are having it easy – because of the supine nature of the official Labour left. During the Corbyn period there was a willingness to sacrifice leftwingers to appease the pro-capitalist right in the PLP. This resulted in waves of suspensions and expulsions. Perhaps more importantly, it provided the ideological ground for Starmer’s current purge by conceding what should have not been conceded: the big lie that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

The record of the official left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs in collaborating with the witch-hunt and generally keeping their heads down does not inspire us with confidence that they would do very much to resist Starmer’s pro-capitalist agenda, even if the parliamentary arithmetic were to give, say, 30 determined MPs a greatly enhanced leverage.

Starmer can probably rest easy on that score, although it seems he is taking no chances when it comes to parliamentary or other selection contests. In the new north-east region mayoral constituency, Labour’s long list excludes current Labour mayor for North Tyneside, Jamie Driscoll – a pretty mild municipal socialist who supports the IHRA and whose only crimes are to be tagged ‘the last Corbynista in office’ and to appear at an arts event in a Newcastle theatre with that ‘non-person’ Ken Loach.

It is possible that the SCG really is keeping its powder dry and waiting for the day when it can call the shots in parliament. Perhaps its MPs are secretly a very disciplined and highly organised group who are only awaiting the right moment to strike and sound the clarion call for socialist politics. We all may yet be surprised, but, if their record and narrow Labourist politics tells us anything, I would not hold my breath!






Witch-hunt grows

While some on the disorientated left will support ‘anyone but Labour’, writes Carla Roberts, Momentum and what remains of the official Labour left beg Sir Keir for unity

Labour did well in the local elections – but not well enough to avoid the potential of a hung parliament at the next general election. For John McDonnell this presents a golden opportunity to once again bang on about the need for Labour to become – you guessed it – “a broad church”, where “there is respect for a whole range of views across the political spectrum within the Labour Party”.[1] He rather amusingly describes how “young left radical MPs have appeal across the board. If we don’t use that resource, we lose the opportunity of mobilising some of the key votes”.

Who are those mysterious ‘young left radical MPs’ that he wants to see on the front benches? Well, there is Nadia Whittome (fellow traveller of the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), the tame Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the middle-of-the-road Olivia Blake and – last not least – Zarah Sultana. The latter is the only one of this bunch who could be described as potentially radical – but Realpolitik in parliament has certainly made her a very quiet warrior. All of these ‘radical’ MPs are members of the so-called Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs – which has still not managed to put out a statement in support of its own Diane Abbott, now suspended from the party. Clearly, none of them fancy ending up next to Diane Abbott or Jeremy Corbyn. Better to keep heads down then.

From a careerist point of view, this is entirely understandable: the swift disciplinary action taken against Abbott for her admittedly extraordinarily stupid letter to The Observer shows that Sir Keir continues to be on the warpath against the left. Politically of course, the despicable opportunism of the SCG is exactly what has put the left in the position it is today – entirely defeated. Instead of at least trying to take on the right, the official Labour left has tried to appease it, begging for forgiveness for the entirely fake ‘mass anti-Semitism problem’ of the party. It is now so weak that Starmer can pick the remaining ‘left’ MPs off one by one, without little or no opposition.


Last week’s coronation stressed this fact once again – not only did the Labour Party’s official social media outlets sycophantically declare that “Labour celebrates the coronation of His Majesty The King”, while crying “God save His Majesty The King”; we were also reminded that the anti-monarchy group, Republic, is part of Labour’s new blacklist of 12 organisations that Constituency Labour Parties have been banned from affiliating to “without approval from the NEC”, since “To do so would breach party rules.”

The email goes on to list the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War Coalition, London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Jewish Voice for Labour, Somalis for Labour, Sikhs for Labour, All African Women’s Group, Health Campaigns Together, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group, the Peace and Justice Project – and Republic (more on the latter below).[2]

This list clearly contains a few innocent bystanders who are being hit by ‘friendly fire’, so to speak. It is chiefly Jewish Voice for Labour and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign that had to be dealt with, because they continue to be a thorn in Starmer’s side by challenging the big lie that ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’. As both contain large number of Jewish members, Starmer probably felt that he could not simply add them to the growing list of organisations that have been proscribed outright, which means that members, sympathisers or anyone liking one of their Facebook posts are automatically expelled: he could and would have been accused of anti-Semitism (something that JVL has pointed out many times). This blacklist is a more ‘elegant’ weapon.

Though the other groups on the list are mostly quite harmless they do have a symbolic value. Stop the War Coalition, for example, stands for social-pacifism in the midst of a Nato proxy war in Ukraine that is supported just as much by His Majesty’s loyal opposition as his government … and it is only a step, a logical one, from suspending branches affiliated to StWC to expelling MPs speaking on StWC platforms, signing petitions or acting as sponsors. Having CLPs sign up to Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project would, of course, be a minor embarrassment for Starmer, but if Corbyn stands as an independent it sets the stage for witch-hunting anyone who dares to leaflet, canvas, post or even speak in his support.

Labour CND and Abortion Rights, are, of course, run by the shadowy Socialist Action sect, which also effectively steers the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. It might strike some as curious that, just like Momentum, they have both been left off any blacklist … so far.


The Guardian quotes a “Momentum source”, who says that the organisation “is making a ‘strategic’ retreat to local government, focusing less on the parliamentary party and more on a ‘growing appetite for change and ambition in local communities’.” According to the article, Momentum also wants to “focus on renewing a broader alliance of the left and soft left within Labour”. If Whittome and Blake are the “left”, we shudder to imagine which MPs they might consider on the “soft left”.

Momentum is, of course, picking up on the fact that most leftwingers have now left the Labour Party, with some celebrating ‘anyone but Labour’ candidates winning seats in the local elections (or even standing against Labour). The political confusion on the left following the defeat of the Corbyn movement is so immense that it matters not that most of these candidates stood on a localist programme which can only aspire to the heights of ‘motherhood and apple pie’.

Mandy Clare – former leading lady of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy before jumping ship to join Chris Williamson in the Socialist Labour Party – has won a council seat as part of the ‘Winsford Salt of the Earth’ group – which has campaigned on the slogan, “People before politics”. It has taken control of the local town council, wiping out Labour.[3] Let us see what ‘non-political’ things our ‘Salt of the Earth’ friends do with their clear majority.

Jo Bird, the well-known former JVL member and a supporter of Labour Against the Witchhunt, has won a seat in the Wirral council on the Green ticket (she now wears only green clothes instead of red ones!). She is one of many former Labour members who have joined the Green Party, especially in the wake of Corbyn’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is, sadly, an indication of the lack of appreciation on the ‘left’ of the Green Party’s role as a pro-capitalist, pro-business organisation.

We might also take issue with Alan Gibbons, who, together with Sam Gorst (another former supporter of LAW) and Lucy Williams (who has not been known for her leftwing politics), won council seats as Liverpool Community Independents. As a former CLP secretary of Liverpool Walton, Gibbons was known for keeping his mouth firmly shut during the witch-hunt of the Corbyn years and refused to speak out (or even table motions) in support of the Wavertree Four, who were expelled on fake anti-Semitism charges. When he was the leading member of Momentum’s national constitutional committee on the Forward Momentum ticket, he refused to stand in solidarity with those expelled over the anti-Semitism smears and only criticised the suspensions of those who were victims of the ‘second’ wave of the witch-hunt, after Corbyn’s defeat. And, when he himself was finally expelled, he had to, of course, leave Momentum because of the witch-hunting rule he himself had continued to enforce! He now says he left Momentum because it was becoming ‘ineffective’! The man is clearly no hero of the left.

Of course, socialists and communists engage in local politics. But without a UK-wide, mass Marxist party of the working class that can effectively tackle bigger issues and engage coherently with national and international politics, such local ‘leftwing’ councillors are likely to end up focussing on issues that do not go much beyond the ‘litter-picking and dog-poo’ category. Even the much-celebrated ‘Preston project’, while useful in some respects, suffers by necessity from severe limitations.


The inclusion of Republic in Labour’s blacklist deserves a closer look. It is rather puzzling, seeing as it is hardly a radical organisation or one which has caused Sir Keir any problems whatsoever. Perhaps he is trying to overcompensate for his former republican views by stressing his monarchist credentials – which is rather tricky when there are video clips out there of him calling for the abolition of the monarchy.[4]

In the wake of the coronation, Republic happily reports a massive growth in membership and donations. No doubt fuelled by the heavy-handed approach of the police, which arrested almost a dozen Republic organisers (as well as at least one royalist bystander), the group’s membership has almost doubled from 5,000 to about 9,000 in a few days, with donations of over £100,000 coming in.[5]

The fact that Republic has a chief executive, Graham Smith, and no democratic structure shows what kind of organisation it is – more like a charity. Its website has a cross in the patriotic colours of the Union Jack. Tame campaigners like citizen Smith might have learnt a sharp political lesson over the police arrests of them and other anti-monarchist protesters, but the group’s programme is very limited indeed, focussing its critique on the cost of the monarchy and replacing the king with a president, as in the US and France – ie, an elected monarch – while leaving pretty much the rest of the state and the capitalist mode of production untouched. If The Guardian were to launch a party, it would look like Republic.

Nevertheless, its recently published short statement on ‘Why we protest’ is interesting.[6] It starts, sickeningly enough, with the platitude that “This great country of ours is full of creativity, potential and possibility” and that democracy is important “in creating a prosperous and fair society”. Capitalism would just work a lot better without the preposterously expensive and irrational monarchy, you see.

However, the next sentence is interesting: “The campaign for a republic is about democratic reform, democratic principles and ridding the country of an institution that serves itself and those in power – the few, not the many” (my emphasis). Now where have we heard that one before? It is, of course, based on Percy Shelley’s poem, ‘The mask of anarchy’, but has gained immense popularity by its use by a certain Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s 2017 and 2019 election manifestos. Perhaps this explains the inclusion of Republic in Labour’s ‘naughty list’.

[1]. The Guardian May 15.

[2]. The Guardian May 4.



[5]. The Guardian May 14.


On course for №10

Labour had a good night, the Tories a horrible one. But, asks Kevin Bean, should we aim for a Labour Party mark 2 or should we aim for something higher, something far more useful?

The May 3 local elections in England generally went as expected, with Labour making big gains both in seats and the number of councils it controls. Yes, the Lib Dems did relatively well, so did the Greens, but what interests us here is the coming general election and who will be the next prime minister. That is much more important than who will implement cuts and closures at a local level.

The outcome of the local election was fully in line with the opinion poll lead that Labour has built up in the last 18 months and suggests that Labour under Sir Keir is on course to win the next general election. Although he routinely warns his people not to be complacent, it is clear that the Labour leader believes his political strategy is working and that he expects to get that invitation from Charles Windsor to form a government sometime in 2024 or early 2025.

In this Sir Keir is probably correct. Despite the usual caveats and warnings from the pollsters and political analysts about how far trends in this year’s local elections in England could follow through into a general election throughout the country, the story of Labour gains and Tory losses does seem set to continue. Although the elections did not include Scotland, Wales, London and many areas of England, the pattern does seem clear, with Labour regaining support in areas of the north and the Midlands, where it had lost out to the Tories in 2019 – whilst also making gains in the south, such as in Medway and Swindon. If repeated across the country, this could well produce a Labour majority, although its size remains unclear.

While doubts about the extent of a Labour victory have raised the possibility of a hung parliament or some form of coalition, formal or otherwise, this seems unduly cautious – or perhaps part of a political strategy by Conservative supporters to flag up the possibilities of a minority government and a ‘coalition of chaos’ resulting from Labour advances at the polls. So, as per the normal conventions of parliamentary and electoral politics, Sir Keir is justified in having his moment of glory and enjoying Tory discomfort about the failure of Rishi Sunak to restore Tory fortunes.

It seems that on all sides the political course is set fair for the next 18 months or so: despite predictable calls for the return of Boris Johnson or tax cuts from the Tory right, Sunak’s ‘sensible’ strategy of ‘sound management’ and ‘stability’ will continue, while Starmer will also carry on doing something of the same by demonstrating to both the ruling class and the electorate that he, too, is a safe pair of hands who can be trusted with the affairs of the nation. After the alarums and excursions of the last few years, for both the Tory and Labour leadership it is boring ‘competence’ and ‘safety first’ all round.

If the campaigning and results point to the broad patterns of politics up to the general election, there are a number of features that might be emphasised. Starmer is right to warn about complacency: for all the talk of Labour’s ‘triumph’, the results show a widespread anti-Tory mood rather than a positive endorsement of Sir Keir’s politics. Labour’s share of the poll did not actually increase and Tory losses in parts of the south resulted from their voters switching to the Liberal Democrats and Greens. Leaving aside any ‘natural laws of political science’ that posit voter hostility to governments in their mid-term, the cost-of-living crisis, the bleak economic outlook and the housing crisis facing both renters and mortgage-holders alike would suggest significant losses for the Tories, irrespective of the alternative posed by opposition parties. So, rather than any positive endorsement of the main opposition party, that is what happened in these elections.

But the low turnout and the rather underwhelming response of the electorate will not deter Sir Keir from his chosen path. He will continue his cautious way, stirring up apathy and dampening down any expectations of radical change. The Labour leader’s two main audiences are the bourgeoisie and the largely mythical ‘centre ground’, and it is to these targets that he will continue to appeal, as the general election gets closer.

The arguments of the official Labour left that Starmer was so obsessed with ‘factionalism’ and smashing what remains of the Corbynista rump that he preferred to risk electoral defeat rather than ‘unite’ the party are wide of the mark. What is actually central to his electoral strategy is creating the widest distance between yesterday’s Labour Party and today’s, establishing his credentials with the state and the capitalist class generally, and so confirming that Labour is an acceptable second eleven once again. His ‘transformation’ of the Labour Party seems to have paid off handsomely for him.

As with Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 general election, Sir Keir has worked hard to positively guard against any enthusiasm about the prospect of the next Labour government. Unlike 2017, and to a lesser extent 2019, there is no possibility of a ‘crisis of expectations’ for the bourgeoisie to fret and worry over with Sir Keir. Boring is reassuring.


The next Labour government looks set to be the most rightwing and most openly pro-capitalist in history. Starmer and his leading shadow ministers have constantly flagged up a ‘pro-business’ agenda and reassured the City and the capitalist class that there will be no dangerous experiments or straying from the established consensus, whether at home or abroad. Whether it is ‘reforming’ the national health service, law and order, dealing with ‘excessive’ trade union demands, implementing ‘responsible’ fiscal and public spending strategies or supporting Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine, Starmer’s government can be relied upon to do the right thing, as far as British capital is concerned.

Although Labour will benefit from the general anti-Tory mood and hopes of some concessions on living standards and democratic rights, from what we know about the state of British and global capitalism the incoming Labour government has very little room for manoeuvre. So the ‘spirit of 2025’ will not echo the ‘spirit of 1945’. If anything, Sir Keir’s government will be closer in spirit to the dismal 1924 and 1929 governments of Ramsay MacDonald.

Such a prospect has led many on the left to argue that, because Starmer has shifted Labour much further to the right than Blair ever attempted and, in so doing, has effectively ‘de-Labourised’ the party, it can no longer be described in the classic formulation as a bourgeois workers’ party. While that outcome is possible, if Starmer continues on his present course, so long as the organised working class – crucially in the form of the big trade unions – remains affiliated, and it retains its mass working class electoral base, whatever the overtly pro-capitalist nature of its leadership, it still has the contradictory character of precisely a bourgeois workers’ party, which it has had since almost its inception.

Although currently hardly featuring in terms of initiative at the moment, the trade union link does at least raise the possibility that in the future there will be a revival of the Labour left. At the moment though, the trade unions, despite the rash of strikes and ongoing pay disputes, have been content to leave high politics to Sir Keir and his shadow front bench. Unite, GMB, Unison, RCN, PCS, NEU, RMT, Aslef, etc, have largely confined themselves to the narrow trade union-type politics one would expect from a self-interested bureaucratic caste … but serious rank-and-file organisation and pressure could bring about dramatic change. It is, of course, an open question.

So what are the options and possibilities open for the left? Firstly, it is clear that the official Labour left – whether in the form of the misnamed Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, the Labour Representation Committee, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy or what remains now of Momentum – has been safely neutered. Membership has declined massively – indeed in the case of the LRC it now more or less exists in name only. Momentum activity, where there is any, consists of a few dozy apparatchiks giving election advice, plaintively asking for suggestions and boasting about how x, y and z ‘leftwinger’ got under the radar of the Blackfriars Road HQ and became councillors in the May 4 landslide. That is what passes for hope.

In light of this, the elections also underlined once again that putative attempts to establish a Labour Party mark 2 to replace the actual existing Labour Party mark 1, have proved stillborn. Tusc, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, stood quite a number of candidates, but generally recorded a very low percentage vote. On average 2%-3% – the normal level of statistical error. Of course, that is not the main point. No, it is the piss-poor politics of Tusc that are the problem. What we have is the narrow politics of trade unionism: opposition to pay cuts, the call for house building, reducing the energy consumption of schools, etc. In and of themselves, all perfectly worthy and supportable. But nothing, not a thing, on Nato’s proxy war, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords or the fight for republican democracy and socialism.

Undaunted, Hannah Sell, general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, Tusc’s principal sponsor, continues to call for trade unions to disaffiliate from Labour (Socialism Today May 3 2023). As if the lesson of the brief years of the Corbyn leadership was that things would have gone swingingly if only Len McCluskey’s Unite had followed the example of RMT and PCS. The idea of Sharon Graham’s Unite disaffiliating from the Labour Party is not inconceivable. But to what effect? Sir Keir might actually be perfectly happy with such a move. We might finally see the de-Labourisation of Labour and a return to Lib-Labism – the two-capitalist-party system of the 19th century.  Hardly a step forward in historic terms.

But would a disaffiliated Unite throw its weight into Tusc and, if it did, what would be the political effect? It would surely be, once again, the trade unionist politics of the working class: ie, the “bourgeois politics of the working class” (VI Lenin What is to be done?). Again, hardly a step forward in historic terms.

Wherever the forces of the left develop in the next few years (more likely to be outside Labour rather than inside), the issue of programme and party will remain the central question. So, while we would undoubtedly support Jeremy Corbyn if he stood as a non-Labour Party candidate in Islington North, there should be no illusions that this would constitute a real step forward for the working class. Naturally, we oppose Sir Keir’s ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ purge, which went on entirely unopposed under Corbyn till he himself, inevitably, fell victim. Nor do we give any truck to auto-Labourism.

But life demands more. We have had enough of halfway houses, lowest common denominators and the senile disorder of broad frontism. Respect, the Socialist Labour Party, Left Unity and Tusc each provided, at best, a site of struggle, but in reality they were barriers to what is really needed: a mass Communist Party committed to a programme of republican democracy and the global supersession of capitalism.

Without such a party, without such a programme, there is the risk that a generalised nuclear exchange or runaway global warming will, in the not too distant future, see what passes for human civilisation give way to an almost unimaginable barbarism.

Hollow man for hollow times

With Labour facing a string of defeats on May 6, Derek James looks at the continuing problems facing Keir Starmer

It has not been a good few weeks for Sir Keir Starmer. On April 19 he was unceremoniously booted out of a pub in Bath, with the landlord reportedly saying that Starmer “has completely failed as the leader of the opposition.” He has “completely failed to ask the questions that needed asking …”1

This very public PR disaster, straight out of the classic political comedy, The thick of it, could not have come at a worse time for the Labour leader, as the party faces a series of important elections on May 6. But Starmer’s altercation with an irate publican is not his only problem. As he was marking the first anniversary of his election as Labour leader, rumours and press speculation suggested that senior figures in the Parliamentary Labour Party were dissatisfied with his performance as leader of the opposition and that moves were afoot to oust him. Various names were put forward as possible replacements, including Angela Rayner, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.2 Although there were the usual public declarations of support and disavowals of any leadership ambitions, it is clear from these well-placed stories that ‘leading figures’ are involved in manoeuvres and jockeying for position in any future contest.

This discontent at the top of the party is not coming from what passes for the left in the PLP – the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs has long been cowed into acquiescent silence. Rather the unease about Starmer’s leadership, and Labour’s electoral prospects, comes from the Labour right, who see their own careers and opportunities for personal advancement stalled by yet more ‘wasted’ years in opposition. So these rumblings of discontent are not about matters of principle or political direction: leaving aside the obvious differences in personal style and image, there are no fundamental disagreements between Starmer and his potential rivals in the PLP. The ‘responsible opposition’ and ‘quiet radicalism’ that are the hallmarks of his strategy are still widely supported by Labour MPs.3

The main problem for the Labour right is the opinion polls and what they tell us about the party’s electoral chances next month. Thursday May 6 will be the first major electoral test since the general election of December 2019, with elections being held for local councils in England, local and combined authority mayors, the mayor of London and London assembly members, police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, the Senedd Cymru/Welsh parliament and the Scottish parliament – not to mention the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election.

The latest opinion polls give the Tories a nine-point lead over Labour (43%-34%) – a gap which has been opening up over the last three months as the Johnson government’s ‘vaccine bounce’ has become clearly apparent in the figures.4 Similarly, Boris Johnson’s personal approval ratings have grown over the same period (54% approval, 46% disapproval), whilst Starmer’s have ‘tanked’ into negative territory (33% approval, 42% disapproval) after a strong showing last year following his election as Labour leader.5

For a new leadership that plays up Starmer’s quiet competence in contrast to Johnson’s showy boosterism and Corbyn’s extremism, these figures are worrying. For all the promises ‘to bring Labour home’ and regain its lost ‘traditional’ supporters, Starmer’s appeal to the mythical ‘centre ground’ so beloved of bourgeois politics has appeared, for the moment at least, to have largely fallen on stony ground.6

This strategy, targeted at so-called ‘Red Wall’ voters who went over to the Tories in December 2019, will be put directly to the test in the Hartlepool by-election on May 6. This North East constituency has almost the classic ‘Red Wall’ profile of a ‘left-behind town’ which voted heavily for Brexit and where Labour’s electoral base has been declining steadily over the last 30 years.7 In line with the national picture, the latest opinion polls give the Tories a seven-point lead in the constituency – a result that, if translated into votes on polling day, would be a disaster for the Labour leadership.8 Although opinion polls are only a snapshot, not an infallible guide, and given that the wide variety of electoral contests, from devolved parliaments down to district councils, will inevitably produce different local variations on May 6, it is still likely that the results will be disappointing for Labour.9


How will the Labour leadership react to a poor performance? More importantly, given the media speculation and the well-placed stories about unease on the back benches, will Starmer face a leadership challenge if there is an electoral setback next month? What are the options open to them?

A leadership challenge is not really on the cards and, should anyone from the Labour right attempt it, it would be a career-wrecking folly on their part. From the point of view of further ascending the greasy pole, far better to wait, especially if Johnson maintains his opinion poll lead and calls an early election in autumn 2022 or spring 2023, when the Tories can still benefit from ‘the vaccine bounce’ and before the post-Covid economy moves back into recession.10 So any manoeuvres currently being undertaken by the aspiring careerists of the Labour right are directed at the medium term rather than immediate gain – a jockeying for position, following what is expected to be another general election defeat for Labour, whenever it comes.

For the Labour right – the overwhelming majority of the PLP – these careerist calculations are inextricably linked to their wider political function in bourgeois politics. Labour’s historical role as a bourgeois workers’ party has been to maintain the capitalist status quo by containing and diverting working class struggle into safe, constitutional channels, The Labour leadership, the PLP and the trade union bureaucracy act, in Daniel de Leon’s memorable phrase, as labour lieutenants of capital within the workers’ movement, and police its politics to create a reliable ‘second eleven’ for capitalism.

In this process, maintaining tight control over the politics and the organisations of the Labour movement is vital – which is why the Corbyn movement and the potential challenge it might have posed to politics as usual was such a fright for both the ruling class and the Labour right. A strong, determined Labour left, committed to democratising the party and clearing out the openly pro-capitalist politicians from its ranks, would have meant the end of the careers of the Labour right and the loss of Labour as a pliable instrument for maintaining capitalist constitutionalism. That, of course, did not happen, but the memory of that potential remains as a warning to both the capitalist class and the Labour right to never again relax their grip over the party.

Starmer is perhaps the personification of the determination to heed that warning, with his numerous political and personal connections with the state and the legal system: his whole career to date has bound him hand and foot to the ruling class and the higher echelons of the state establishment more openly than any previous Labour leader.11 As far as capitalism is concerned, he is the safe pair of hands par excellence.

At the moment the same goes for the Labour right: although he has not turned out to be the Wunderkind they hoped would revive Labour’s electoral fortunes and reset their parliamentary careers back on the right track, Starmer is the best that they can hope for at present. He has proven effective in corralling what remains of the official left in the PLP and maintaining the right’s control of the party machine. He has kept up the attack on the left in the Constituency Labour Parties and continued with the smears and slanders against socialists and anti-Zionists. On that score there is little for either the Labour right or the ruling class to complain about – job done!

However, the problem that Keir Starmer and the Labour right now face is much more fundamental than the swings and roundabouts of opinion polls and normal electoral cycles. It is that Starmer and his ilk offer nothing to working class voters, other than pious platitudes and a ‘programme’ that is a pale imitation of that of the Johnson government.12 He does not even pretend that he can offer us even the most limited social democratic reformism.

So, despite all the talk of ‘new leadership’ and rejecting ‘business as usual’, Starmer has revealed that he truly is a hollow man for hollow times, and that the bankruptcy of the Labour right and its pro-capitalist politics really has found its perfect embodiment in the shape of the Right Honourable Sir Keir Starmer, PC, QC.13

Meanwhile, albeit with a heavy heart: vote Labour on May 6, but redouble efforts to build a viable revolutionary alternative to all the rotten manifestations of Labourism.

  9. It is clear that this wide range of quite different electoral campaigns will throw up quite different results on May 6. For example, in Scotland, and to a much lesser extent in Wales, questions of independence and the nature of devolution will be important, whilst in England the local elections can be taken as a verdict on the Johnson government’s performance. Alongside this, many contests will also have a specifically local flavour. Thus, the Liverpool mayoral contest will give voters a chance to express their opinions on Labour’s record in governing the city and the crisis following mayor Joe Anderson’s arrest. For events in Liverpool see ‘Careerism on the Mersey’ Weekly Worker March 11.↩︎
  13. See ‘Hollow man for hollow times’ Weekly Worker February 25.↩︎

2019 elections: Not impossible for Labour to win the most seats

What seems to happen in elections nowadays is that Labour starts off way behind and then catches up over the course of the campaign – the reasons are doubtless complex, but a combination of dogged class loyalty and surging hope for the future delivers millions of unexpected votes. This current election seems to be conforming to that pattern – the commanding lead previously held by the Tories appears to be dwindling, meaning that it is quite conceivable that Labour could end up with the most seats in the House of Commons.

Going back just a bit, the near sensation on November 27 of YouGov’s constituency-by-constituency poll made seductive reading for the Tories and appeared to be very bad news indeed for the Labour Party – it predicted a big win for the Tories with 359 seats (an extra 42), giving Boris Johnson a majority of 68 to “get Brexit done”. As for Labour, it was back to 211 seats – a result in line with the fairly disastrous 1983 election.

As pointed out by YouGov’s political research manager, Chris Curtis, the “only silver lining” for Labour is that there are still 30 seats where it is currently 5% or less behind the Tories – meaning it might be able to “paste over the cracks” in the so-called “Red Wall”.

But, rather wisely, perhaps, Dominic Cummings – the supposed cunning mastermind – warned about the dangers of complacency in a typically lengthy blog post: “Trust me,” he writes, “as someone who has worked on lots of campaigns, things are much tighter than they seem and there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament.” Cummings recommends that the “most useful thing” people can do is “make the time to speak to friends and family” and convince them to vote for Boris Johnson – anything else means a “Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance controlling Downing Street”, which would be a “disaster”.


Cummings’ fears can be seen as realistic when we look at a couple of the latest opinion polls, which represent quite a contrast from the week before. Of course, the unexpected can always happen – the same for spectacular cock-ups or idiotic gaffs (here’s looking at you, Boris). Events can undermine even the most brilliant-looking strategy.

Coming out just after the YouGov MRP survey, a poll conducted by the BMG group for The Independent paints a different picture. The Tories are now on 39% – down 2% compared with the last BMG poll published on November 23 – while Labour is on 33% (up by 5%). Then the Lib Dems are down 5% to 13%, with the Brexit Party languishing on 4% – coinciding with the general picture of the party more or less disappearing for the purposes of this election. Needless to say, this was precisely the calculation of Team Boris and Dominic Cummings – which is turning out to be a pretty reasonable assessment. Lastly, in terms of the BMG/Independent poll, the Greens are stuck on 5% (out of kindness we will not even bother mentioning the UK Independence Party or Change UK).

Clearly, 39% is a significant drop for the Tories – going from a fairly consistent 14%-15% lead down to a mere 6%. Journalists who had been writing confidently about a Tory majority of over 50 are now penning articles discussing how we could be facing a repetition of the last election – it being generally accepted that a lead of 7% or less for Boris Johnson means we might be heading towards another hung parliament.

This poll suggests that Labour’s bounce, if that is what it is, is attributable to a growth in support among ‘remain’ voters, with 49% saying they will vote for the party – a 10-point rise on two weeks before. By contrast, just 21% of ‘remain’ backers say they will vote for the ‘revoke now’ Lib Dems, down from 24% in a fortnight. Not that surprisingly, there has also been a solidifying of Labour’s support among those who backed the party at the last general election, with 77% of those who previously voted Labour now saying they will do so again – up from 69% in the previous Survation poll. Maybe crucially, 13% of Labour’s 2017 voters remain undecided, compared to 8% for 2017 Tory voters – figures which could make all the difference, when it comes to who ends up in No 10.

Making the election result even more uncertain, BMG found 30% of people said they would be “voting for the best-positioned party/candidate to keep out another party/candidate that I dislike” on December 12 – which is a lot of people going for the ‘lesser evil’. This is significantly up from 22% at the start of the election campaign, and 24% in an identical poll last week. Only 51% of voters said they would pick “the candidate/party I most prefer, regardless of how likely they are to win”. The pro-EU campaign group, Best for Britain, calculated last week that just 117,000 voters in 57 constituencies have the chance to change the course of the election by voting tactically. In 27 of these seats, it seems, it would take less than 2,000 tactical votes to prevent a Tory victory. Best for Britain believes that, if anti-Brexit voters deny the Tories victory in all of these 57, Johnson would wake up on December 13 with just 309 seats – a dozen short of a majority (whilst Labour would be on 244).

With a week to go before election day, it is timely to remember that in 2017 there was a last-minute surge towards Labour. We also have to take into account that between the election announcement and the deadline more than 3.1 million people have registered to vote. According to official government statistics, 660,000 people registered on the day of the deadline – of these people the vast majority were young, with 252,000 in the under-25 age bracket and another 207,000 between 25 and 34. Now, were these young people frantically registering at the last moment in order to vote for Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, heroes for their generation? The question answers itself – no, it is highly likely that Labour will benefit.

Either way we say this: vote Labour but without illusions.

What if?

Things could still go disastrously wrong for Labour, it goes without saying, but the line of march seems pretty clear. For a perspective, look at the strategy pursued by Team Boris – which was based on the premise that the Tories are prepared to lose some seats in the south-east, but that would be more than compensated for by gaining Labour seats in the Midlands and the north. That is beginning to look decidedly ropey, especially when it comes to the northern seats.

What seems to be happening is that Labour’s much derided “ambiguous” stance on Brexit seems to be paying off, though by how much is yet to be decided. Rather than securing the vote of the 51.9% who voted Brexit, the Tories are losing ground to a Labour Party promising a second referendum and a ‘Brino’ (Brexit in name only) – which effectively means staying within the structures and regulations of the European Union. But, of course, the argument is not just about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s professed neutrality on the issue, but also Labour’s manifesto – its ‘extravagant’ spending promises and ‘broadband communism’ garnering a level of support from the electorate – certainly not antipathy. Jon Cruddas helpfully reminded us recently that Harold Wilson effectively ‘did a Corbyn’ during the 1975 referendum, letting the cabinet fight it out, whilst taking an Olympian view himself – nobody at the time thought Wilson was crazy or a cowardly fence-sitter.

As this paper has pointed out on many occasions, the main question we face, should Labour emerge as the largest party – or even it were to win an overall majority – is, would that necessarily mean a Corbyn government? The two main fears of large sections of the ruling class are, firstly, even if Corbyn can now be largely controlled from their point of view, would his election provoke a ‘crisis of expectations’ among the working class? Secondly, if Labour’s proposed second EU referendum produces a victory for his proposed Brino deal, how would British capital view such a removal of UK influence in EU decision-making? Surely a safer option would be a straightforward ‘remain’?

If it turns out there shall be a clear ‘remain’ majority in the new parliament – why not install a cross-party national government that will not only reverse Brexit, but ensure that Jeremy Corbyn cannot be prime minister? And there might well be more than enough rightwing members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who would be prepared to go along with that. After all, they too not only oppose Brexit, but are desperate to see Corbyn removed as leader.

The failure of the Labour leadership to give the membership the power to deselect these pro-capitalist traitors means that such an outcome would be more than possible.

Labour Party manifesto: Our alternative perspective

James Marshall critiques the ‘defence and security’ section of the 2019 manifestoApart from a few tweaks here and there, the ‘official’ Labour approach to what is euphemistically called ‘defence and security’ is an unmistakable continuation of the Tories’. True, the 2019 manifesto, It’s time for real change, complains about the reduction in “trained army personnel” (ie, professional soldiers) from 102,000 to just over 74,000, the below-inflation pay rises and how members of the armed forces and their families are obliged to live in substandard accommodation.Similar comments have, though, come from the mouth of General Lord Richard Dannatt. The former head of the army decries the “smallest navy, army and air force we have ever had”.1)Sunday Express November 24 2019 What about pay and conditions? A few years ago we find him saying that “pay was the most important issue facing the armed forces” and that the “appalling” accommodation has to be improved.2)The Daily Telegraph June 5 2008

Needless to say, there is nothing remotely radical about Richard Dannatt, a GCB, a CBE, a MC, a DL as well as being a Lord. Though nowadays sitting as a cross bencher, revealingly, breaking normal army conventions, he served as David Cameron’s advisor on military affairs when he was leader of the Tory opposition.

As for socialists, while we should criticise low pay and bad accommodation in the armed forces, a shrinking standing army is surely another matter entirely. In principle, we cannot object.

It’s time for real change condemns the fact that Boris Johnson’s government “refuses to publish the report into possible foreign interference by Russia in UK democracy”. Nevertheless, Dominic Grieve, Jo Swinson, Financial Times Europe editor Tony Barber, even Hillary Clinton, have said the exact same thing. So, once again, nothing controversial in bourgeois terms.


Perhaps the most contentious proposal contained in It’s time for real change – well, at least when it comes to ‘defence and security’ – is the suitably vague promise to “consult on creating a representative body for the armed forces, akin to the Police Federation”.

Trailed earlier this year, inevitably the proposition resulted in lathering condemnations: Corbyn is a threat to army discipline, a friend of terrorists, a hard-line Marxist, etc. Needless to say, though, there is nothing remotely Marxist about the proposal. The Police Federation model is a giveaway.

Established by the 1919 Police Act, it replaced the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, which – and this is crucial – in August 1918 and June 1919 organised nationwide police strikes. The government put infantry and tanks onto the streets. Yet a “combination” of economic concessions, repression, political manoeuvring, union blunders, police divisions and the failure of organised labour to support the police “ensured the failure of the 1919 strike”.3)O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next? No31, November 2007

Liberal Party prime minister David Lloyd George saw the defeat of the 1919 strike as a decisive “turning-point in the labour movement, deflecting it from Bolshevist and direct-actionist courses to legitimate trade unionism once again”.4)Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007 His Liberal-Conservative coalition proscribed NUPPO and made sure that strikers were summarily fired and then blacklisted – a cruel act of revenge, which faced only “half-hearted” opposition from the Labour Party in parliament.

Unlike NUPPO, the Police Federation is barred by statute from affiliating to the TUC. No less vital, it represents all ranks, from ordinary constables to chief inspectors, and is legally forbidden to take strike action. With good reason, the Police Federation has been described as “amounting to a sort of company union” (Owen Jones – writing when he was a leftwinger).5)Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007


Showing that a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government would act fully within, not against, the US-dominated world order, there is the pledge to “maintain our commitment to Nato and our close relationship with our European partners”.

Nato is an unmistakable product of the cold war. A US-sponsored grand alliance designed to anathematise the Soviet Union, hegemonise the fading British and French imperiums, incorporate West Germany and serve as a bulwark against mass communist parties in Italy, France and Greece. US bases were established throughout western Europe. Simultaneously, counterrevolutionary institutions were embedded and the social democratic settlement promoted.

Under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, US strategy underwent a significant change. Out went social democracy and containment; in came neoliberalism and “rollback”. Hence the feeble complaint that Nato membership locks Britain into “American superpower manoeuvres” and makes it “impossible to pursue a principled international course” (Peter Hain – writing when he was a leftwinger).6)P Hain The democratic alternative: a socialist response to Britain’s crisis Harmondsworth 1983, p96

Following the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – and with it the US victory in the cold war – “was the obvious time for Nato to have been disbanded” (Jeremy Corbyn, 2012). 7)J Corbyn Morning Star May 23 2012 Instead, Nato expanded to Russia’s very borders: a violation of the “host of assurances” given to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that Nato would not go beyond what had been the German Democratic Republic.  So no protective buffer zone. And eyes are set on further eastern expansion. Ukraine and Georgia have been in Nato “membership action plan” (MAP) negotiations. A recipe for war.

The Labour leadership’s Nato pledge is clearly designed to appease. Donald Trump, the largely undiminished Labour right, big business, the City, the capitalist media, the generals, need not worry about the next Labour government … “Jeremy has been on a journey” (Emily Thornberry, 2018).8)Daily Mail September 12 2018

Then there is the commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on “defence”. This was demanded by Barack Obama back in September 2014; he wanted all Nato members to take a greater share of the “burden”. David Cameron’s government eagerly agreed. In his financial statement of July 8 2015, George Osborne promised to meet the 2% target “not just this year but every year of this decade”. So, when it comes to ‘defence and security’, what It’s time for real change says comes straight from the Tory songbook.

To leave not a shadow of doubt about the class nature of the “next Labour government”, we read this truly disgusting passage: “Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.” Naturally, this goes hand-in-hand with pieties about global peace, the UN, “multilateral efforts”, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and creating a “nuclear-free world”. But the same can be said of every modern UK government. Against left demands to unilaterally abandon nuclear weapons – Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn – Tory and Labour prime ministers alike claimed that they were multilaterally working towards a ‘nuclear-free world’.

Suffice to say, each of the four Dreadnought submarines being built under the Trident renewal programme (total cost – some £40 billion) will carry 12 Trident II D-5 missiles. Each missile has eight independently targeted warheads, each with an explosive power of some 100-475 kilotons – or, put another way, more than five to 25 times the A-bomb that levelled Hiroshima in August 1945. Without a doubt, Trident is an “indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction” (Jeremy Corbyn, July 2016).9)The Daily Telegraph July 19 2016

There are those who somehow still manage to pass themselves off as leftwing, who give this dismal narrative a radical, anti-capitalist spin. Speaking at one of Momentum’s World Transformed events, Paul Mason outlined his case for a “battle of rational ideas”. Basically, what his rationality boils down to is Labour striving to prove its “economic competence” and promising that there will be an “essential continuity, that there’s going to be an army, nuclear weapons and a police force”. In other words, a Labour government which will seek to manage capitalism better than the Tories and do nothing to take the “toys” (Paul Mason’s word) from the top brass boys. Yes, he calls the weapons that killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people in Hiroshima and between 39,000 and 80,000 people in Nagasaki “toys”. Obnoxious. So, at least when it comes to ‘defence and security’, it is clear that the advice offered by this repentant Trotskyite has been accepted.

It is, of course, completely useless denouncing It’s time for real change from the sidelines – the position of dilettantes, dogmatists and brittle sects. No, Marxists must learn how to lead masses of people, even if at the moment most possess only an elementary level of class-consciousness.

Not to actively take part in the “real workers’ movement”, not to even to try to push the struggle being fought out in the Labour Party to the point where Marxists transform it into a united front of a special kind, and thereby secure a commanding control over CLPs, the NEC, the PLP, etc, is not merely foolish: it is criminally irresponsible. The immediate task of any worthwhile leftwing group or trend is to engage with the Labour Party’s rank and file at the closest possible quarters. Marxists must win the real “battle of rational ideas”. In the context of this article, we seek to convince this hugely expanded mass that we not only need a genuine socialist economic programme. We need a genuine socialist military programme too.


Despite Donald Trump’s sanctions and bellicose threats, China’s imperial Belt and Road initiative, the defensive expansionism of Russia and Emmanuel Macron’s call for a common European arms budget and common armed forces, there is no immediate prospect of an all-out World War III. With the certainty of mutually assured destruction (MAD), who would fight whom and why?

Nevertheless, there is the obvious danger of a regional conflict sucking in rival big powers with all manner of unpredictable consequences: Iran, Venezuela, Israel-Palestine, North Korea, Ukraine, Syria, Taiwan and the South China Sea all spring to mind. A direct clash between the US and Russia or China could quite conceivably rapidly escalate. Even a limited nuclear exchange would exact an almost unimaginable human toll.

However, what distinguishes Marxists from others on the left who oppose the danger of war is that we emphatically reject all varieties of pacifism. And, when it comes to the left, there are all manner of daft nostrums on offer. A few representative samples.

The Labour Representation Committee touchingly suggests appointing a “UK minister for peace”, and a Labour government which will “progressively withdraw the UK from the international arms trade”. 10)LRC Programme for a real Labour government no date or place of publication Banal gloop, which obviously has nothing in common with socialism.

Will gushing praise for the UK’s “worldleading” defence industry and the promise to “continue to work with manufacturers, unions and export partners” cause a change of heart? Unlikely. The LRC has constituted itself as a fan club for the existing Labour leadership, not a principled critic. Hence, at the time of writing, the LRC’s complete silence over the ‘defence and security’ section in It’s time for real change. Instead, the LRC heaps fatuous praise on Labour’s programme for the NHS, broadband, housing, universal credit, etc.

Nor can any decent leftwinger agree with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s studiedly vague “Cut arms spending” formulation. The AWL is a social-imperialist outfit and typically adopts a ‘who are we to oppose’ attitude towards US-UK led operations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc).

Nor can Left Unity’s slightly less craven call for a “drastic reduction” in military expenditure be supported. What exactly is the drastic reduction envisaged by the Kate Hudson, Andrew Burgin, Felicity Dowling groupies of Syriza, Podemos, Die Linke? Needless to say, a comprehensively failed perspective.

The same goes for the nudge-down pleas of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain to “cut military spending to average European levels”. Ditto the Scottish Socialist Party’s formula of reducing “defence spending” to no more than the per capita level of the Republic of Ireland. Short-sighted, timid and, when it comes down to it, a banal cost-cutting exercise.

Our military programme does not champion either a 2% or a 1.5% version of the existing armed forces in the name of securing a capitalist peace. Despite the factional variations, that is what the LRC, AWL, Left Unity, CPB, etc actually advocate.

In contrast, Marxists – real Marxists that is – know that wars are inevitable while society remains divided into classes. We recognise that the struggle for international peace is inextricably linked with the class struggle at home – crucially the struggle to raise the working class, so that it becomes the ruling class.

That explains why Marxists stand by the time-honoured demand of arming the working class and disarming the capitalist class. A demand that educates minds, encourages the first tentative steps, till the goal is brought to full fruition. Hence – and this needs emphasising – the demand for arming the working class and disarming the capitalist class is about the now. It is not a demand only to be raised in a revolutionary situation. If we do that, it is too late – far too late. We would already have been crushed, defeated, killed.

Naturally, opportunists instinctively recoil from the very notion of arming the working class. Like the Weimar social democrats, they are infected with constitutionalism. Certainly the case with the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the CPB.11)See Weekly Worker May 21 2009 But, symptoms that begin with a reformist chill and a shiver, if not treated, end in complete breakdown. Confronted by the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85 and the formation of hit squads, the Marxism Today Eurocommunists and their ilk condemned ‘macho violence’. They offered, instead, the mystical, women-only pacifism of Greenham Common. Come the ‘war on terrorism’ – ie, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq – not a few of these former peaceniks were to be found in the ranks of the Bush-Blair warmongers: eg, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Francis Wheen, Norman Geras, Christopher Hitchins and other such types eagerly put their names to the notorious Euston manifesto.

By contrast, we Marxists are convinced that the bourgeois state machine must be broken apart, demolished, smashed up, if we are to put an end to war. So, concretely, in today’s conditions, that not only means scrapping Trident and all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction – indiscriminate and therefore inherently inhuman. We should also be arguing for the scrapping of all standing armies.

To state the obvious, nor will peace be realised through the UN, a commitment to Nato or even an armed forces “representative body”. Paradoxical though it may seem, peace has to be fought for. Specifically, towards that end, the working class has to develop its own fully armed militia. An idea that is not spun out of thin air. No, workers’ militias grow out of the needs of the day-to-day struggle: protecting picket lines, defending Muslims from fascist thugs, guarding our local offices, meeting places and demonstrations, etc. And, of course, with a genuinely powerful workers’ militia it becomes a realistic possibility to split the state’s armed forces. Fear of officers, sergeant majors and court martials can thereby be replaced by the rank and file’s readiness to disobey orders. Yes, a mutiny, or a strike. Certainly, army units, air force squadrons and naval crews declaring for our side provides us with the military wherewithal necessary to safeguard either an expected or a recently established socialist majority – in the House of Commons, European Parliament, House of Representatives, etc.

Programmatically the workers’ movement should therefore champion these demands:

  • Rank-and-file personnel in the state’s armed bodies must be protected from bullying, sexual harassment, humiliating punishments and being used against the working class.
  • There must be full trade union and democratic rights, including the right to form bodies such as soldiers’ councils.
  • The privileges of the officer caste must be abolished. Officers must be elected. Workers in uniform must become the allies of the masses in struggle.
  • The people must have the right to bear arms and defend themselves.
  • The dissolution of the standing army and the formation of a citizen militia under democratic control.


Strange though it may seem to the historically ill-informed, here Marxists draw direct inspiration from the second amendment to the US constitution. Ratified to popular acclaim in 1791, it states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Those who made the American revolution – above all the urban and rural masses – saw a standing army as an existential threat to democracy. Eg, in her Observations on the new constitution (1788) Mercy Otis Warren – the mother of the American revolution – branded the standing army as “the nursery of vice and the bane of liberty”. At great sacrifice the common people had overthrown the rule of George III – some 70,000 Patriots are believed to have died – and the camp of democracy was determined to do the same again, if faced with another unacceptable government.

Naturally Marx and Engels considered the second amendment part of their heritage. Clause four of the Marx-Engels Demands of the Communist Party in Germany (1848) is unequivocal:

Universal arming of the people. In future armies shall at the same time be workers’ armies, so that the armed forces will not only consume, as in the past, but produce even more than it costs to maintain them.

The Marx-Engels team never wavered. Read Can Europe disarm? (1893). Here, in this pamphlet written by Frederick Engels, 10 years after the death of his friend and collaborator, we find a concrete application of Marxism to the dawning epoch of universal suffrage and universal conscription.

Engels concluded that the key to revolution was mutiny in the armed forces. His pamphlet outlined a model bill for military reform in Germany. Engels was determined to show that the proposal to gradually transform standing armies into a “militia based on the universal principle of arming the people” could exploit the mounting fears of a pending European war and widespread resentment at the ruinously costly military budget. For propaganda purposes, Engels proposed an international agreement to limit military service to a short period and a state system in which no country would fear aggression because no country would be capable of aggression. Surely World War I would have been impossible if the European great powers had nothing more than civilian militias available to them.

Not that Engels was some lily-livered pacifist. He supported universal male (!) conscription and, if necessary, was quite prepared to advocate revolutionary war on the model of Napoleon’s grande armée. Needless to say, his Can Europe disarm? was not intended to prove the undoubted military superiority of a militia over a standing army (it can fully mobilise very large numbers with incredible speed, provides defence in depth and is, therefore, capable of successfully surviving a whole series of initial defeats). No, Engels wanted a citizen army within which discipline would be self-imposed. An army where rank-and-file troops would, if necessary, turn their guns on any officer tempted to issue orders that ran counter to the vital interests of the people.

Subsequent Marxist writers took the militia idea for granted. Though marred with various reformist assumptions, Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) elaborated upon the whys and wherefores of a militia system in his L’armée nouvelle (1910). Work and military training had to be brought close together, full-time army cadre would be confined to instructors, etc. 12)As far as I am aware, L’armée nouvelle remains untranslated into English. An abbreviated translation was published in 1916 and can be found on the excellent Marxist Internet Archive, though I think the 1907 dating given is mistaken. See

What went for Marxist writers went for Marxist parties too. Eg, the 1880 programme of the French Workers’ Party, the 1891 Erfurt programme, the 1889 Hainfeld programme of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the 1903 programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, etc.

In the ‘political section’ of the programme of the French Workers’ Party (Parti Ouvrier), authored jointly by Karl Marx and Jules Guesde, we find the demand for the “abolition of standing armies and the general arming of the people” (clause 4). A proposition faithfully translated by the Germans: “Education of all to bear arms. Militia in the place of the standing army” (clause 3). The Austrians too are adamant: “The cause of the constant danger of war is the standing army, whose growing burden alienates the people from its cultural tasks. It is therefore necessary to fight for the replacement of the standing army by arming the people” (clause 6) 13)I am grateful to Ben Lewis for his translation of the Hainfeld programme. Then we have the Russians: “general arming of the people instead of maintaining a standing army” (clause c9).The newly formed Labour Party in Britain too: in its first general election manifesto in 1900, there is this call: “Abolition of the standing army, and the establishment of a citizen force”. 14)I Dale (ed) Labour Party general election manifestos 1900-1997 London 2002, p9

With the word there came the deed.

Amongst the first decrees of the 1871 Paris Commune was the abolition of the standing army and its replacement by the national guard – “the bulk of which consisted of working men” (Marx). By actually constituting a new state, based on a repressive force that did not sit outside the general population, the Commune opened a new chapter in global politics. And Russia took what happened in Paris to new heights. Formed in April-March 1917, the Red Guards proved crucial to the success of the October Revolution. Red Guards, and increasing numbers of army units, put themselves at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee – a subdivision of the Bolshevik-led Petrograd soviet. On October 25 (November 7) 1917 the MRC issued its momentous declaration that the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky “no longer existed”. State power has passed into the hands of the soviets of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ deputies.

The are many other instructive examples.

In 1919 we find Leon Trotsky – effectively the founder of the hybrid Red Army – presenting a set of theses to the 9th Congress of the Russian Communist Party “on going over to the militia system”. Here he proposed the founding of a “Red Workers and Peasants Militia, constructed on the territorial principle”, and bringing the “army close in every possible way to the process of production”. 15)L Trotsky How the revolution armed Vol 2, London 1979, p190 The inspiration provided by the 1848 Demands and the 1910 L’armée nouvelle is all too evident.

Shortly afterwards, beginning in the early 1920s, the two main workers’ parties in Germany built their own non-state militias. The SDP dominated the soft-left Reichsbanner, while the Communist Party formed the much more militant Rotfrontkämpferbund (at its height it boasted 130,000 members). In Austria, despite its 1923 founding statutes emphasising ceremonial paraphernalia, marches and band music, the Schutzbund served as a kind of “proletarian police force”.16)M Kitchen The coming of Austrian fascism London 1980, p116 When it came to strikes, demonstrations and meetings, this workers’ militia maintained discipline and fended off Nazi gangs. Though hampered by a dithering social democratic leadership, the Schutzbund heroically resisted the February 12 1934 fascist coup.

Workers formed defence corps during the 1926 General Strike in Britain. American workers did the same in 1934. There were massive stoppages in San Francisco, Toledo and Minneapolis. In Spain anarchists, ‘official communists’, POUM, etc likewise formed their own militias in response to Franco’s counterrevolutionary uprising.

Then, more recently, in 1966, there was the Black Panther Party. It organised “armed citizen’s patrols” to monitor and counter the brutal US police force. Even the “non-violent” civil rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, included within its ranks those committed to “armed self-defence” against the Ku Klux Klan and other such terrorism.17)See CE Cobb This non-violent stuff’ll get you killed New York NY 2014


Imagine that a Corbyn-led Labour Party wins a general election majority on December 12. Supposedly because it is constitutionally inappropriate for serving officers to “intervene directly in matters that are of political dispute”, are we really expected to believe that the armed forces will idly sit by and behave in a thoroughly trustworthy manner? 18)Jeremy Corbyn quoted in The Mirror November 8 2015 That would be parliamentary cretinism of the highest order – a disease that infects reformists of every stripe and variety with the debilitating conviction that the main thing in politics is parliamentary votes.

Even given the limitations of It’s time for real change, it is easy to envisage a crisis of expectations. Masses of Labour members and voters are instinctively far to the left of the manifesto. The actual election of a Labour government could quite conceivably set them into motion as an elemental class force. Through their own efforts Labour’s electoral base would seek to put into practice what they think a Corbyn-led government really stands for. Defy the hated anti-trade union laws. Win substantial pay increases. Free the migrants imprisoned in detention centres. Occupy empty luxury properties and solve the homelessness crisis at a stroke. Arm with rudimentary weapons to ward off police attacks.

Any such scenario would inevitably provoke a corresponding reaction. It is not so much that the ruling class cannot tolerate a Corbyn-led government and its present-day programme of abolishing tuition fees, ending tax benefits for private schools, aiming for net zero emissions by the 2030s, introducing some form of rent controls, repealing the latest (2016) round of Tory anti-trade union legislation, nationalising water, the railways, electricity and other utilities, progressively transferring a minority percentage of shares to workers and establishing a national transition fund. Tinkering, safe and, in fact, amongst Keynesian economists, all perfectly reasonable.

No, it is the enthusiastic reception of Marxist ideas, the rejection of capitalism, the dominant position of the pro-Corbyn left amongst the mass membership and the distinct possibility of a yanking, further shift to the left, and consequent mass self-activity, that causes ruling class fears. And, have no doubt, fearful they are.

Hence Tony Blair’s much touted ‘neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Corbyn’ call, but a more “suitable candidate” for prime minister, who will head a government of national unity. 19)Financial Times November 25 2019 Failing that, and a Corbyn-led government, expect other, illegal, or semi-legal, methods. Mike Pompeo’s “push-back”, a politically motivated run on the pound, civil service sabotage, bomb outrages organised by the secret state – even a military coup of some kind.

Say, following the advice of Paul Mason, the Corbyn-led government stupidly decides to leave MI5, MI6, the police and the standing army intact. Frankly, that would present an open door for a British version of general Augusto Pinochet. In Chile thousands of leftwingers were tortured, were killed, and who knows how many, including US citizens, were ‘disappeared’. The September 11 1973 military coup overthrew the Socialist Party-Communist Party Popular Unity reformist government under president Salvador Allende. That, despite its studiedly moderate programme and repeated concessions to the right. CIA fingerprints were all over the Pinochet coup. 20)See P Kornbluh The Pinochet file: a declassified dossier on atrocity and accountability New York NY 2004

There have been plenty of warning omens. Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, labelling Corbyn “a present danger to our country”, who would not “clear a security vetting”. He also singled out Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne – former Straight Leftists and now close Corbyn advisors. They have “denigrated their own country and embraced the interests of its enemies and opponents”.21)Mail on Sunday November 24 2019 Then there is rightwing Tory MP Graham Brady, who said: “We must do everything possible to stave off the risk of a Corbyn government.” 22)Daily Telegraph May 25 2019 The Financial Times too ominously states that Corbyn’s leadership damages Britain’s “public life”.23)Financial Times August 14 2015 The Economist likewise lambasts Corbyn as a member of the “loony left” and “dangerous” to Britain.24) Editorial The Economist June 3 2017 Sir Nicholas Houghton, outgoing chief of the defence staff, publicly “worried” on BBC1’s Andrew Marr show about a Corbyn government. 25)The Mirror November 8 2015 Then there was the truly sinister statement made to The Sunday Times by a “senior serving general”:

There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny … Feelings are running very high within the armed forces. You would see a major break in convention, with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over vital, important policy decisions such as Trident, pulling out of Nato and any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces. The army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.26)The Sunday Times September 20 2015

The army is an agent of counterrevolution, almost by definition. An inability to understand that elementary fact represents an elementary failure to understand the lessons of history.

Legally, culturally, structurally, the British army relies on inculcating an “unthinking obedience” amongst the lower ranks. 27)NF Dixon On the psychology of military incompetence London 1976, p244 And it is dominated, run and directed, as we all know, by an officer caste, which is trained from birth to command the state-school grunts.

Of course, the British army no longer has vexatious conscripts. Instead recruits join voluntarily, seeking “travel and adventure” – followed by “pay and benefit, with job security.”28)M (Lord) Ashcroft The armed forces and society: the military in Britain – through the eyes of service personnel, employers and the public London May 2012 Yet, because they often live on base, frequently move and stick closely together socially, members of the armed forces are unhealthily cut off from the wider civilian population and, hence, from the growth of progressive and socialist ideas in the Labour Party. Far-right views appear to be very common – eg, see Army Rumour Service comments about that “anti-British, not very educated, ageing communist, agitating class-war zealot”, Jeremy Corbyn.29)The Guardian January 25 2016

The best known exponent of deploying the army against internal “subversives” is still brigadier Frank Kitson with his Low intensity operations manual (1971). The left, trade unionists and strikers – they are “the enemy”, even if their actions are intended to back up an elected government. 30)F Kitson Low intensity operations London 1991, p29 Legally, the “perfect vehicle for such an intervention” would be an order in council. 31)P O’Conner The constitutional role of the privy council and the prerogative London 2009, p20 After consulting the unelected privy council, the monarch would call a state of emergency and invite the army to restore law and order.

Remember, army personnel swear an oath that they “will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors”, and that they will “defend Her Majesty … against all enemies”. And, as made crystal-clear by Michael Clarke, director of the United Services Institute, this is no mere feudal relic: “The armed forces don’t belong to the government; they belong to the monarch,” he insists:

And they take this very seriously. When [the Tory] Liam Fox was defence secretary a few years ago, for his first couple of weeks he referred to ‘my forces’ rather than Her Majesty’s forces – as a joke, I think. It really ruffled the military behind the scenes. I heard it from senior people in the army. They told me, ‘We don’t work for him. We work for the Queen.’32)Quoted in The Guardian January 25 2016

In the late 1960s and early 70s there were widespread press reports of senior officers and ex-officers conspiring against the rightwing Labour government of Harold Wilson. Many were unhappy about Rhodesia, many branded him a Soviet mole. However, their pathological hatred was directed squarely against leftwing Labour MPs, such as Tony Benn, Irish republicans, communist trade union leaders, striking workers and protesting students – the background to Chris Mullin’s novel, A very British coup (1982).

If Jeremy Corbyn makes it into Number 10, there is every reason to believe that threats of “direct action” coming from the high command will assume material form. That is why we say: put no trust in the thoroughly authoritarian standing army. No, instead, let us put our trust in a “well regulated militia” and the “right of the people to keep and bear arms”.


1 Sunday Express November 24 2019
2 The Daily Telegraph June 5 2008
3 O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next? No31, November 2007
4 Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007
5 Lord Mayor of Liverpool Archibald Salvidge, quoted in O Jones, ‘The “spirit of Petrograd”? The 1918 and 1919 police strikes’ What Next No31, November 2007
6 P Hain The democratic alternative: a socialist response to Britain’s crisis Harmondsworth 1983, p96
7 J Corbyn Morning Star May 23 2012
8 Daily Mail September 12 2018
9 The Daily Telegraph July 19 2016
10 LRC Programme for a real Labour government no date or place of publication
11 See Weekly Worker May 21 2009
12 As far as I am aware, L’armée nouvelle remains untranslated into English. An abbreviated translation was published in 1916 and can be found on the excellent Marxist Internet Archive, though I think the 1907 dating given is mistaken. See
13 I am grateful to Ben Lewis for his translation of the Hainfeld programme
14 I Dale (ed) Labour Party general election manifestos 1900-1997 London 2002, p9
15 L Trotsky How the revolution armed Vol 2, London 1979, p190
16 M Kitchen The coming of Austrian fascism London 1980, p116
17 See CE Cobb This non-violent stuff’ll get you killed New York NY 2014
18 Jeremy Corbyn quoted in The Mirror November 8 2015
19 Financial Times November 25 2019
20 See P Kornbluh The Pinochet file: a declassified dossier on atrocity and accountability New York NY 2004
21 Mail on Sunday November 24 2019
22 Daily Telegraph May 25 2019
23 Financial Times August 14 2015
24 Editorial The Economist June 3 2017
25 The Mirror November 8 2015
26 The Sunday Times September 20 2015
27 NF Dixon On the psychology of military incompetence London 1976, p244
28 M (Lord) Ashcroft The armed forces and society: the military in Britain – through the eyes of service personnel, employers and the public London May 2012
29 The Guardian January 25 2016
30 F Kitson Low intensity operations London 1991, p29
31 P O’Conner The constitutional role of the privy council and the prerogative London 2009, p20
32 Quoted in The Guardian January 25 2016