Category Archives: Nationalism and internationalism

Hillel Ticktin lambasts John McDonnell’s economic timidity

This is an edited version of a speech given by Critique founder Hillel Ticktin at a London Communist Forum on November 13

Clearly, with the election of Donald Trump, the bourgeoisie is entering a period of difficulty – as is to be expected at this stage of the decline and decay of capitalism.

However, the Corbyn wing of the Labour Party is putting forward a very weak economic programme. It is, of course, difficult for shadow chancellor John McDonnell to openly propose what he has held in the past (and may continue to hold till the grave), because he believes it to be unacceptable – the Labour right is in fact attacking him as a fantasist.

McDonnell’s programme begins, as does Trump’s, with investment in infrastructure – something like £500 billion. £250 billion would be invested directly, and £150 billion would be spent through a nationalised bank, plus £100 billion to be raised from taxing the capitalist class. To give you some idea of what £500 billion means, it is close to the total spent in the government budget every year. Trump, of course, is putting forward a figure of $600 billion, but in the context of the United States this figure is trivial. The GDP is $16-18 trillion a year; while the official arms budget alone is $700 billion.

At the present time the bourgeoisie has realised that the policy of austerity cannot continue as it is. It has been the policy since the downturn and has been enforced worldwide, whether the government imposing it is conservative or ‘socialist’. That is obviously true in France, Britain and Germany, and effectively it has been the same thing in the third world, with certain exceptions.

So a switch to infrastructure represents a change – and, of course, Trump presents it as a very big change. It is not new, however: it was in a sense Barack Obama’s policy, but he could not get it through congress, and it has been the policy of the International Monetary Fund for the last few years. Since the IMF is an institution largely controlled by the US, this is not so surprising. The IMF has been insisting on the importance of infrastructure, which should be built up in all countries. You do not need to be familiar with Keynesian economics to know that if you expand your budget and invest in the economy then you will have growth and increase the number of people employed. The result being that the tax take will grow – and it can grow very considerably. That is elementary logic – you do not need to know anything about economics to understand it.

But economics has become a huge industry in itself. Lawrence Summers, who was Bill Clinton’s treasury minister in the 1990s and is now professor of economics at Harvard, keeps writing in the Financial Times along the lines of what I have just said: there is no reason not to spend on infrastructure, since it would not cost the bourgeoisie a single penny. Employment and the tax take would rise, and consequently there would be no increase in the budget deficit, so technically it could have been done a long time ago.

But, of course, it was not really about a budget deficit at all. The reason they did not adopt such a policy was because they preferred austerity – they actually wanted large-scale unemployment. They wanted a reserve army of labour, which would hit the working class hard, in order to control it. They wanted to re-establish commodity fetishism – the eternal, permanent nature of the market. They wanted to re-establish the ideology. That was the intention. But could such a policy succeed? One could argue – and this obviously is what a section of the capitalist class, and whoever advises May, must think – that it just does not work. The working class voted for Brexit because it was antagonistic to the establishment, in the words of Nigel Farage. If that is so, clearly austerity is not actually working, or working sufficiently. That is what this government believes and what the far right has been arguing in its own, anti-establishment language – it is what Trump is arguing.

Capitalist ‘socialism’

In fact McDonnell is actually far less radical than Trump in terms of what he is proposing. And in the context of the new May government he is not that radical either. The fact that rightwing Labour says it is a fantasy shows the nature of rightwing Labour – it does not understand the system it is supporting. So there is no reason for McDonnell to back down – indeed he could go very much further. But he has not put it in this overall context. So, while Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell both talk about socialism, they are not even very radical, let alone socialist.

Indeed they both talked of socialism at the Labour Party conference in October. But it was simply amazing – deputy leader Tom Watson came out with a speech about the wonders of capitalism and afterwards was congratulated by Corbyn! This must be a new type of socialism. In a recent TV interview Corbyn was asked if he was in favour of a socialist, planned society. And he said no: that went out with the Soviet Union, and Labour was in favour of the market. So what on earth is he talking about? On the one hand he talks about socialism, and on the other hand the market. Obviously McDonnell is anxious to distance himself from Stalin’s regime, but he is not prepared to explain the difference between that and what a socialist society would be like.

The case for a socialist society starts with the abolition of abstract labour. Obviously Corbyn and McDonnell are not going to use those words, but what it amounts to is abolishing the measurement of, and control over, labour. A society where such control exists is a society marked by an economic force which socialism aims to abolish. You might put forward a demand like, ‘There should be control from below, and managers should receive the same wages as ordinary workers.’ If McDonnell did that he would be laughed at, of course. But it would be a necessary feature of socialism, which entails self-management throughout society, from top to bottom, and movement between positions, whereby people are trained to take part in the planning and management apparatus, as monotonous, soul-destroying jobs are abolished. This is not just an ultimate aim: it is one which needs to be brought into being.

Quite obviously McDonnell does not go near it. Yes, he says he will tax wealth, but it is not very clear to me why he does not propose a very heavy tax on incomes. Why should anybody get £5.5 million, the average salary of a CEO today? I looked at the income tax statistics for 2010, and what they show is that there were around 11,500 people who ‘earned’ more than £1 million a year, the average among them being £2.5 million. Since then, the average has gone up to £5.5 million – their salaries have more than doubled. If you multiply 11,500 by £5 million, you get close to £60 billion and the budget deficit is £70 billion!

So McDonnell could produce these statistics to really back up his claims for ‘higher levels of equality’. Of course, the reply would be: ‘There’d be no incentive for the wealth-creators, the entrepreneurs, those who come up with the ideas.’ One could argue in reply that such capitalists are actually a hindrance, but if he did that he would be viciously attacked and derided as an idiot.

So instead he proposes a fairly anodyne wealth tax, which is opposed using the argument that old people – usually women – who have big houses should not be penalised in that way. Along with this he has put forward a £10-an-hour minimum wage. I do not understand why he is being so miserly – the government itself is proposing £9 and there is still inflation. McDonnell clearly wants to be seen as a ‘moderate’ leftwing shadow chancellor, whom the newspapers will take seriously. But the result is just incoherent and stupid.

Even on the obvious question of the full nature of austerity, why he does not commit to restoring all benefits I do not know. The argument in 2010 was that Britain had to go for austerity because it would go bankrupt otherwise, and there were comparisons with Spain and Greece. But Britain is not actually in the same position, even though it has a huge budget deficit. In the case of Greece and Spain, the largest percentage of the deficit is owed to external lenders; in Britain two-thirds is owed internally, to various pension funds and so on. The fear was that investment in Britain would cease, but that has not happened, and was not likely to happen. There was no reason to assume that pension funds or asset management funds would go under and that is even more true today.

It is hard to see how McDonnell’s programme gets anywhere near appealing to the majority of the population. He does say that Labour would repeal the anti-trade union laws passed by Tories, but he does not go beyond that. The laws were not exactly pro-union before that. It really is a case of ‘extreme moderation’.

There is the usual statement about corporate greed and the need to deal with tax avoidance and evasion. Personally, I do not think socialists should bother with that. It is absurd. What you need to do is raise taxes, full stop. If a corporation refuses to pay tax, then you deal with it. Tax avoidance is deliberately built into the budget statement: it is 100% legal. You cannot argue against it except by arguing against the whole budget and the philosophy behind it – which is what McDonnell should do. But to talk about cracking down on tax avoidance … well you can’t: a considerable percentage of the population takes part in it. ISAs (individual savings accounts) are legal tax avoidance, built into every budget, so talk of cracking down on it is extreme reformism, of an absurd kind. If you are going to propose a budget at all, then you need very high levels of taxation on the rich. If someone has a £5.5 million salary, charge them £5.4 million in tax: if they refuse to pay it, put them in jail!

It is the same with tax havens, even though Britain itself is one of the top tax havens in the world anyway. And it is not that the Channel Islands, Bahamas, etc simply act on their own: tax havens are part of the capitalist system as a whole. The idea that an isolated Labour government can do anything about it on its own is a fantasy, but there is no attempt to look for an international response: it is just Britain and its ‘tax problems’.

However, McDonnell has never held a revolutionary position, although it is understandable that the bourgeoisie attacks him so viciously (and, in its own stupidity, the Labour right has turned Corbyn into a hero). But what they are proposing has very little to do with socialism – except in one important sense. We are living in a period of crisis for capitalism, which is why the bourgeoisie has reacted to Corbyn in the way it has. It really does not have a way out. So, even though McDonnell is a confused reformist who is not going very far, people may force him, in spite of himself, to go further. He has obviously decided to try and conciliate the people attacking him, but in time he will discover that will not work, unless he capitulates completely.

His first demand should have been for full employment; after all, the recent results of votes in the US and Britain precisely reflect current high levels of unemployment. He ought also to have made a statement on pensions, which for most people are appalling at around £8,000 a year. But some in the Labour Party seem to go along with the idea that the cost of pensions is getting too much. The Labour MP, Frank Field, has expressed this view and was not repudiated. Nor has McDonnell proposed anything near enough regarding the national health service, which is clearly cracking today.


And in terms of the overall system, he should have stood up and said, ‘We don’t believe in competition. Competition is not part of socialism. On the contrary, we stand for equality, including equality of power. We stand for people working because they want to work, because work has become humanity’s prime want.’ But he did not do so; he is clearly prepared to accept the overall capitalist philosophy.

Although Corbyn and McDonnell at various times have talked about control from below, now there is no mention of what some people call economic democracy. Nor, what is crucial, did he attempt to take on Tom Watson’s line, which is basically that capitalism is highly efficient, more so than any other system. He ought to have explained that only socialism is efficient, and then given examples of how inefficient capitalism is. The meaning of the socialisation of production – that he does not touch upon. Socialism is a very different system which is bound to come about, which is in the process of coming about.

Both The Economist and the Financial Times have recently made the point that today we have a level of monopoly higher than it has ever been, even though bourgeois economics disputes this. Today, according to The Economist, there are three finance-capital firms, which control 40% of the stock exchange – and that 40% accounts for 80% of output. So there are three firms effectively in control – I do not think such a situation has ever existed before. One would not expect the Labour leaders to really understand what that means, but one would expect, perhaps, that their economists will eventually catch up with reality.

Capitalism is going the way Hilferding and Lenin predicted, even if some on the left say they were wrong. That is the way it is, and yet McDonnell seems to be in some other space.

Boycott the AWL’s “Stop the Labour purges” scab conference

Should we call on members of the Labour left to attend the forthcoming ‘National conference to fight the purge’, organised by the campaign, ‘Stop the Labour Purges’? It does sound like a good idea to do something to fight for the rights of the thousands that have unjustly been suspended, expelled or denied a vote in the recent Labour leadership election, surely?

Our answer in short: no.

Stop the Labour Purge has been set up by members and supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. For a long time, the campaign concentrated exclusively on those being suspended and/or expelled from the Labour Party for their association with the AWL. However, they show less solidarity when it comes to others experiencing the same fate – especially those painted with the scandalous ‘anti-Semitic’ brush.

Jackie Walker is the prime example here, of course. When the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement leaked the secretly taped contributions from comrade Walker to the media and Labour’s unelected compliance unit a few weeks ago, members and supporters of the AWL went into witch-hunting overdrive. Although she had just been suspended by the Labour Party – for the second time! – they made no efforts to defend her.

Instead, they posted old articles about “left anti-Semitism” (which is a title they stick on anybody who opposes the state of Israel or Zionism), called her comments “unacceptable” and argued that she should be removed as vice-chair of Momentum.

As is now well known, the two AWL supporters on Momentum’s steering committee, Jill Mountford and Michael Chessum, wholeheartedly supported the move by Momentum chair and company owner Jon Lansman to remove Jackie Walker from her position of national vice-chair – in fact, they proudly reported it online. As an aside, Jackie Walker, on the other hand, has stuck to the request of the steering committee not to comment on her demotion and simply pointed to its mealy-mouthed statement (see LPM bulletin No3). A mistake, in our view. Outrageous decisions like the one taken by the steering committee should be openly discussed and debated by Momentum branches up and down the country. Her view on the matter and on the process of her demotion would help.

The organisers of the Stop the Labour Purge conference have tried to cover their backs by publishing a statement on comrade Walker, in which they now ask that the Labour Party should “reinstate” her … on October 7 – ie, more than full week after her suspension. This is too little and way too late to convince anybody.

In our view, members and supporters of the AWL have behaved in a truly treacherous way. They have given ammunition to the right wing in the Labour Party and the mainstream media. By supporting and pushing for comrade Walker’s demotion, they have given credence to the ludicrous notion that the Labour Party is ‘overrun by anti-Semites’. In effect, they are sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left.

And this is not the only scab campaign they are involved in. They are also pushing the open letter, entitled ‘Speak out on Syria’, that criticises Jeremy Corbyn on his “silence” on the war in Syria, urges him to support an unenforcable no-fly-zone and “condemn, clearly and specifically, the actions of Assad and Russia in Syria, which have caused the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths and which present the biggest obstacle to any workable solution to the Syrian crisis”. Click here for a good article by Yassamine Mather on the role that imperialism has played in bringing about the disastrous situation in Syria – and now we are supposed to call on US and UK imperialism to sort it all out again?

Again, the AWL are playing right into the hands of the rightwing media, the right in the Labour Party and even Boris Johnson, who seemed to have been paying attention to the AWL in his speech in the House of Commons this week: “There is no commensurate horror, it seems to me, amongst some of those anti-war protest groups. I’d certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop The War Coalition at the moment? Where are they?” (Daily Mail October 10).

We urge all Labour Party members and those purged to boycott the AWL’s conference. Instead, we call on the Labour left to move motions in Labour Party and Momentum branches and Labour organisations that condemn the purges, the demotion of Jackie Walker by Momentum and call for democratic structures in our organisations. There are a number of model motions available on the LPM website.

Carla Roberts, Labour Party Marxists
(letter to the Weekly Worker)

Against all predictions

The job of American socialists is to channel the opportunities opened up by the Sanders campaign into the fight for class independence, argues Jim Creegan

Ever since Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, his supporters have been set upon by numerous paladins of practical ‘progressive’ wisdom, from the left-Keynesian economist, Paul Krugman, and the editorial pages of The New York Times and Boston Globe, to myriad celebrities and prominent liberal elected officials, such as New York mayor Bill De Blasio and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown. Sanders, they incant along with Hillary Clinton, has some admirable goals, but the country is not ready to elect a Brooklyn-born (Jewish) socialist.

Even if elected in November – which despite his stunning win in Michigan still seems unlikely – Sanders stands no chance of getting his proposals for universal government health insurance, free public-university education and breaking up the big banks through a Congress of any party make-up, let alone the current Republican-controlled one. Especially in light of the growing possibility that the right-populist demagogue, Donald Trump, will get the Republican nomination, it is urgent for ‘progressives’ to rally behind a Democrat who is electable and knows how to ‘get things done’ in Washington, instead of wasting one’s vote on an impossible dream.

So reads the Democratic establishment script. And it is being dutifully recited by the party’s elected officials. Not a single mayor or governor has thus far endorsed Sanders. Of the 535 combined members of both houses of Congress, including its black and progressive caucuses, only two members of the House of Representatives – Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raul Gijalva of Arizona (respectively black and Chicano) – have offered their support to the senator from Vermont.

In response to arguments based on pragmatism, Sanders acknowledges that he would be unable to achieve his programme merely by occupying the White House. He says it will require a “political revolution”, with millions in the streets, to generate pressure for sweeping reforms and the election of a new Congress. Sanders, in other words, presents his campaign not simply as a chance for a new face at the top, but as a vehicle for deeper political change.

It is thus highly significant that just about a third of Democratic electors in Texas, Virginia, Minnesota, Ohio and Florida, around 40% in Nebraska, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri and about half in Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Iowa and Michigan, 60% in New Hampshire, 67% in Kansas and 86% in Vermont voted for the “socialist”. The lesser-evilist Realpolitik, on which the party hierarchy has leaned for so long to contain left impulses from below, is obviously losing its grip on a growing portion of the Democratic base. A breakdown of the Massachusetts, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, etc results by age and income tells us who is defying the precedents. Sanders is clearly winning caucus-goers between ages 17 and 39, and those on lower incomes.

New Hampshire paints an even clearer picture. There, Clinton could only break even among voters from 45 to 64, and won only among those over 65. When it came to income, only those earning $200,000 a year or more gave Clinton a majority. Sanders won in every other demographic, including women. One important thing these numbers tell us is that Sanders’ appeal is hardly limited to university-educated young people and comfortable middle class liberals. He is obviously drawing in working class voters as well – and, as shown by Michigan, he is beginning to get a hearing from Afro-Americans.

Another time-worn Democratic stratagem that wilted in the snows of Michigan: the use of identity politics as a counter to any signs of class-based voting. The Democrats habitually invoke their professed support of racial-minority, women’s and LGBT rights – issues on which the ruling class is as divided as other social groups – to hide their corporate loyalties and burnish their ‘progressive’ credentials. Thus Hillary and her supporters have lately accused Sanders of conducting a one-note campaign that emphasises income inequality and the influence of big money in politics, to the neglect of what they say are the co-equal evils of racism and sexism. (And it is true that the Sanders campaign, while not eschewing these themes, was a little slow off the mark in taking up the now volatile issues of immigration and police brutality.)

Campaigning on Clinton’s behalf, her husband’s former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, declared on the hustings that there is “a special place in hell” for women who do not support female candidates out of gender solidarity. But the prize for bourgeois feminist fatuity must go to Gloria Steinem, the 81-year-old founder of Ms Magazine (and unapologetic 1950s CIA operative), who has also been hitting the boards for Hillary. On a television talk show, Steinem explained the surge in young women’s support for Sanders by saying that they were flocking to his campaign because that’s where the boys are. The programme’s host, Bill Maher, replied that Steinem would have immediately branded any such remark coming from him as crudely sexist.

Steinem’s subsequent apology was insufficient to stem the tide of female indignation that greeted her remarks, and, secondarily, those of Albright. Sanders supporters of what the media have called the “post-feminist generation” were highly insulted at the suggestion that their political choices should be governed by their gender instead of their overall views. Never has an attempt to invoke identity politics in opposition to nascent class-consciousness been more crass, and never before has it backfired so badly.

Whatever the final outcome of the primary process, a new constituency – one that first announced its arrival with the Occupy movement of 2011 – has now demonstrated that it has grown and is here to stay. Class disparities have become so palpable that standard Democratic Party tropes are failing to work their diversionary magic on a growing portion of the electorate. A division has opened up between an older, more comfortable layer of the party base, which continues to think pragmatically, cautiously and incrementally, and a younger cohort – students under mountains of debt, workers with ever slimmer prospects of upward mobility – whose conditions are bleak enough to warrant the casting off of old taboos and the taking of political risks. The feeling of having less and less to lose can be the germ of revolutionary consciousness. Will these malcontents remain within the Democratic fold?

Bernie Sanders has evinced a willingness to keep them there with his endorsement in advance of the Democratic primary winner (read: Clinton). But whether he will succeed in bringing them out in great numbers to vote for Hillary in the general election remains an open question – one that is causing the Democratic establishment more than a little anxiety. The grievances that moved them to throw the common sense of party elders to the winds in January, February and March will still be there in November. Sanders might have a harder time liquidating his campaign back into the mainstream party than did Jesse Jackson after his failed presidential bids at the head of his Rainbow Coalition in 1984 and 1988. These are leaner – and angrier – times.

Besides which, the party brass are not quite as certain of Sander’s loyalty as they were of that of Jackson, a committed Democratic politician. Up until the primaries, Sanders always stood for election as an independent. Although he is part of the Congressional Democratic caucus, he also ran unsuccessfully against a Democrat for governor of Vermont in 1986. There is still some doubt as to whether his decision to run this time was an earnest indicator of his loyalty or a tactical move to gain access to voting lists, increase his exposure by participation in the candidates’ debates, and avoid the political oubliette into which Ralph Nader was cast after running for the Greens in 2000. At 74, Sanders is not likely to begin a new phase in his political career. But there is uncertainty as to whether he will stump enthusiastically for Clinton come autumn, or make a merely pro forma endorsement.

But the bourgeoisie’s uncertainty is the revolutionary’s opportunity. The American two-party system is now in greater crisis than it has been at any time since the 1960s, and perhaps even the 1930s. Both parties are in disarray. For the first time since Jimmy Carter moved the Democrats decidedly to the right in 1976 – ie, in the adult memory of most people now alive – the party’s leading contender is being forced to posture, however disingenuously, to the left. The Sanders bid has shaped the politics of the entire campaign. Many on the Democratic side see through Hillary’s hypocrisy, and have suggested through their primary ballots that the lesser evil may no longer be good enough, and that they are not put off by the socialist label (though we know it is misappropriated by Sanders). They could form a constituency for an independent party of the left, in which Marxists would be able to fight for their politics.

But there is also another – more likely – possibility: that dissatisfied Democrats will strive to maintain a coherent presence of some kind within the party, and, following in the footsteps of Max Shachtman and Michael Harrington in decades past, attempt to channel the rebellious energies of 2016 into another vain effort to ‘realign’ the party to the left. Socialists must answer that those who control the party are far too tightly tethered to the country’s ruling class and its empire ever to be transformed, and too well financed ever to be removed. Past practitioners of realignment have most often been realigned themselves – toward acceptance of the existing order.

We must reject the argument that whether to work inside or outside the Democratic Party is a purely tactical question. For socialists, political independence must remain a question of principle, not for the sake of being true to dogmas, but because beating the bourgeoisie on its own turf has been shown to be impossible. Those who said that the Sanders campaign reveals new possibilities clearly have a point. But the job of socialists is to channel those possibilities into an independent fight for socialism, and prevent them, like the hopes of past electoral insurgencies, from being interred in the graveyard of social movements that the Democratic Party has been accurately called.

Nation, class unity and political strategy

Despite the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum the national question has not gone away. Roger Freeman argues for self-determination and a federal republic

Unlike the narrow economism that passes for common sense on too much of the left, the LPM does its best to take a Marxist approach to the UK state. As a minimum demand – ie, within the technical limits imposed by the capitalist system – we emphasise, bring to the fore, class (as opposed to sectional) demands that challenge the logic of the market, such as the provision of health, education and benefits based on need. We give no less emphasis to political demands which challenge how we are ruled. Hence we demand the abolition of the monarchy, the secret state and the House of Lords; we demand a people’s militia, disestablishment of the church of England, election of judges, etc.

What about the national question? Once again we take an approach which seeks to forge class unity and challenge how we are ruled. Hence the demand for the abolition of the acts of union, self-determination for Scotland and Wales, and a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales (the initial form we envisage working class rule taking in Britain).

Doubtless, John Major, Tony Blair, Peter Hain, Gerry Adams and Alex Salmond have unwittingly done us a great service here. They have shown that the UK constitution is neither timeless nor natural. It is plastic, a product of historical making and contemporary remaking. What has been rearranged from above can be transformed from below.

While there must be an objective dimension when it comes to assessing what is and what is not a nation – eg, a common territory – that hardly means discounting what people think. The coming into being of a British nation in the 18th century cannot be put before the palpable feelings of masses of people in Scotland and Wales today. Millions sincerely believe they are nationally disadvantaged, held back or even oppressed. A subjective factor that only a hopeless dogmatist would discount and therefore fail to harness by offering positive solutions.

Those who rigidly adhere to third-worldist anti-imperialism cannot possibly bring themselves to countenance self-determination for ‘unworthy’ peoples – the most obvious example being Israeli Jews and the British-Irish in the six counties of Northern Ireland. Given its junior role in founding, administering and exploiting what was a vast British empire, that should logically include Scotland too. After all, historically even “left-of centre”1 Scottish nationalists sought not to end that empire, but demanded, as a “mother nation”, equal rights with England to rob and plunder it.2

Interestingly, though the motivations are transparently different, a similar argument can be heard coming from cosmopolitan liberals. According to the ethical philosopher, Allen Buchanan, self-determination for non-oppressed nations risks endless fragmentation. Unless there has been “a long train of abuses”,3 there ought to be no justification in international law for the “right of self-determination”.4 Only if “serious injustices” have occurred can a case be made for secession as a “remedial right”. Without that safeguard, without that restraint, every region, every community, every street could claim their right to self-determination and thus bring about the complete breakdown of society. Territorial integrity must therefore be upheld.

Marxists are not interested in preserving the unity of capitalist states, but in winning allies and neutralising enemies. After all, the Bolsheviks were prepared to grant self-determination even to the Cossacks. Not, of course, because the Cossacks were deserving, kind and suitably oppressed. No, on the contrary, they were the tsar’s chosen oppressors. A privileged military estate or caste. But that is exactly the point. The Bolsheviks needed to split, if possible win over, the Cossacks. Hence they started to treat them as “an ethnic or national group”.5 Without such a shift the camp of revolution could only but be weakened and the counterrevolution strengthened. In March 1920 Lenin can be found delivering a thoughtful speech on the international situation to the first all-Russia conference of working Cossacks.6

So the demand for self-determination is not some unwarranted sop to petty bourgeois reactionaries, or an unrealisable panacea, a cure-all for capitalism’s national antagonisms. Rather self-determination is one of many weapons in the armoury of Marxists. If properly applied, it advances the interests of the working class.

One can legitimately debate whether or not the Basque country, Kosovo, Quebec, Kurdistan or Scotland tick all the boxes of a classic bourgeois nation. The main point in each and every such case is what people inhabiting each specific territory think. We neither invent nor ignore national movements. We positively deal with problems where they exist, overcome national resentments, conflict and antagonisms by ending involuntarily unity and move towards voluntary unity through the struggle for socialism. That is how the positive dialectic runs, and through winning a wider and wider democracy the majority needed to secure the proletarian revolution is engaged, organised and made ready for decisive action.

Having left no room for doubt that the right to self-determination is fundamentally a political, not a moral question, let us proceed. To state the obvious, when Marxists advocate Scottish self-determination it is not the same as advocating independence.

An oft used metaphor is divorce. Saying a woman should have the legal right to split from her husband is not the same as recommending that contented wives should end their marriages. Of course, as shown by the September 18 referendum, Scotland is far from contented. If Scotland is really ‘better together’ with England why did 45% vote to finish the 300-year union? What was a marriage of convenience has clearly soured.
Scotland, as a matter of principle, ought to have the right to freely decide its own future. That is elementary democracy. However, it does not follow that Marxists are indifferent to how that right is exercised. The unacceptable status quo must be ended. Nowadays it fuels division and disempowers the working class. That is why the various left-loyalist ‘no’ campaigns were so badly mistaken. The marriage has to be renegotiated and renewed on a democratic, socialist basis.

Marxism favours the closest possible voluntary unity of people in general and workers in particular. That means accepting the right of people in Scotland to vote for whatever constitutional arrangement they happen to choose. But at every stage Marxists should resolutely fight for their programme.

Under our specific circumstances the federal republic slogan fits the bill perfectly. It encapsulates the democratic right to self-determination and the radically transformed unity of the working class in Britain against the Cameron-Miliband-Clegg devo-max constitutional monarchy. In addition, the demand for a federal republic encapsulates the unity of the working class in Britain against the divisive nationalism of Salmond, Sauter and Sheridan.


1 .
2 . The policy committee of the National Party of Scotland – one of the forerunners of the SNP – passed the following resolution on November 17 1928: “The party, having regard to the large contribution made by Scotland in building up the British empire, is desirous of increasing the affairs of the empire to the extent her contribution warrants and, as a mother nation, thereby demands complete recognition of her rights as such in the empire … the party cannot, in these circumstances agree to acquiesce in any situation that does not permit of a mother nation excursing her right to independent status and her right in partnership in that empire on terms equal to that enjoyed by England.” In other words, Scottish nationalists wanted a partnership based on the model of Austria-Hungry after 1867 (resolution quoted in C Kidd Unions and unionism: political thought in Scotland 1500-2000 Cambridge 2008, p287).
3 . American declaration of independence 1776.
4 . AE Buchanan Justice, legitimacy, and self-determination Oxford 2003, p331.
5 . P Holquist Making war, forging revolution Harvard Mass 2002, p121.
6 . See VI Lenin CW Vol 30, Moscow 1977, pp380-400.


For a federal republic
Motion proposed by Labour Party Marxists

As declining post-boom British imperialism attacked post-war concessions, in the absence of a viable socialist movement resistance in Scotland and Wales often took a nationalist form, deploying a mythologised past.

We socialists stand for:
● working class internationalism, not cross-class national unity; unity with the world’s working class, not with our ruling class;
● opposition to all forms nationalism, exclusiveness or superiority; in particular, British/English national chauvinism and Scottish or Welsh nationalist narrow-mindedness: these obscure the fundamental antagonism between labour and capital;
● replacing the hierarchy of capitalist states by world socialism – working class rule – in transition to classless, stateless, communist society: socialism cannot survive in one country or continent;
● the voluntary merging of nations; the right of all peoples to fully develop their own culture; a democratic solution to the national question, wherever it arises, through upholding the right to self-determination, including the right to merge, stay together or separate.
As the immediate democratic solution to the national question in the UK, we socialists stand for:
● unconditional support for the right of the people of Ireland to reunite: the struggles for socialism in Britain and national liberation in Ireland are closely linked;
● replacing the existing UK constitutional monarchy, along with its House of Lords, established church and secret state, with a radical federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, with the right of Scotland and Wales to secede.


Europe and the politics of fraud

John Fuller Carr examines the divisions that plague establishment politicians and takes to task the Labour Representation Committee for its cowardly, nationalist retreat

Europe continues to enrage, divide and confuse politicians of both the right and left. The present situation is easy to summarise. Under severe pressure from the United Kingdom Independence Party, David Cameron has committed the Tories to an in-out referendum, but not until after the 2015 general election. If returned to No10, he solemnly pledges to negotiate a root-and-branch reform of Britain’s relationship with Brussels. A forlorn hope. François Hollande crushingly informed him at their January 2014 summit, that renegotiating EU treaties “is not a priority for France”.1

Smelling blood, Nigel Farage says he will turn the May 2014 European election into a referendum against Bulgarian and Romanian migrants and continued EU membership. Worryingly, an Open Europe poll puts Ukip on 27% – significantly ahead of Labour (23%) and the Tories (21%).2 Meanwhile, Ed Miliband made a show of expressing contrition over the last Labour government getting it “wrong” over EU immigration. Prompting some Labour MPs – eg, Rochdale’s Simon Danczuk – to join the “send people back” campaign. Tom Harris (Glasgow South) even declared himself a member of the “Romaphobe club.”3

Clear direction

Establishment politicians find themselves confronted with a fundamental fault line. European integration has advanced qualitatively since the Treaty of Rome was signed by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1957. What was a mere customs union – born of the cold war – has become a German-dominated giant, embracing 500 million people and 28 countries, with free trade and the free movement of labour. It is the world’s biggest home market, with a combined GDP of about $17.2 trillion – as compared to $16.7 trillion for the US and $5.9 trillion for Japan.

Politically, however, the EU resembles something like the creaking Austro-Hungarian empire, which straddled 19th century Mitteleuropa. The EU is an amalgam of unevenly developed state units. But the direction is clear. Wider, in the form of candidates like Iceland, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Deeper, in the form of politico-legal institutions. The EU has a council of ministers, the European Commission, an elected parliament, a European Court of Justice … and then, of course, there is the euro: a currency which unites 18 countries.

Behind the integration lies a blood-drenched past. Twice in the 20th century Europe has been the cockpit of global conflict. Both times Europe was left devastated, exhausted and much reduced. World War I saw the collapse of the Russian, German and Austro- Hungarian autocracies. The main focus of world economic activity shifted from Europe to the Atlantic and America. Twenty-five years later, under the terms of the Yalta agreement, half the continent was incorporated into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence and, through bureaucratic revolution, ‘sovietised’.

As to western Europe, it was shorn of the glories – and booty – of empire. Humiliatingly it had to rely on the US nuclear umbrella to counter the much exaggerated threat from the east. However, avoiding another internecine conflict and creating a bulwark against bureaucratic socialism drove the states of western Europe, in particular Federal Germany and France, towards an historic compromise.

There is, needless to say, another factor at work. Europe both cooperates and competes with the US and Japan. They might have smaller home markets, yet, due to an historically constituted nationality and an economically centralised territory, they are blessed with a single working class and a single political and business elite. Labour power, like every other commodity, can easily move and therefore be bought and sold anywhere within the US or Japan. Europe is divided not only by history, but culture. Commodities can freely circulate – but not the special commodity, labour-power. Language constitutes a material barrier, except for those with higher education (worst- paid labour being a not insubstantial exception). A multinational, and therefore fragmented, political and business elite constitutes a similar handicap. To be successful the EU must, as a minimum, therefore, forge a federal superstate, from where its transnationals can survive against the rising legion of foreign rivals.

The ongoing process of European integration has caused deep divisions in Britain. There were, in the late 1940s and early 50s, hubristic dreams of rebuilding the British empire. Suez 1956 put a stop to that. The US had unmistakably become top dog and would permit no imperial rivals. Barred from the Common Market in 1963 by de Gaulle’s veto, the British ruling class hung onto the conceit of being a major world power and actually managed to keep Europe divided through the European Free Trade Area. But that did not amount to a viable strategy. Britain eventually entered the European Economic Community in 1973 under Edward Heath’s Tory government (along with its Danish and Irish Efta allies). The unwritten agreement with Washington was that Britain would play the role of a US Trojan horse.

Apart from our far right around Roy Jenkins, the Labour Party was critical of the terms and conditions. Nonetheless in 1975 Harold Wilson’s government successfully fought a referendum on the issue of continued membership. The main opposition came from a Tony Benn-Enoch Powell popular front. Nevertheless, we remained officially uneasy about Europe till the leadership of John Smith and then the government of Tony Blair. A parallel shift occurred in the TUC with the appointment of John Monks.

New Labour and its coterie of middle class career politicians loyally and openly served the interests of the most competitive, most internationalised, sections of British capital. Despite his tack to the left, Ed Miliband and ‘One nation’ Labour does exactly the same.

Of the two main parties, it is the Tories who are organically split today. Though Cameron now calls for a “fundamental renegotiation” of Britain’s relationship with EU, everyone knows that, come his referendum, he will call for continued membership. That cannot be said of his revolting backbenchers. As with Ukip, his Poujardists articulate the xenophobic fears and prejudices of ‘middle England’ and uphold the interests of the least competitive sections of capital.

If the British establishment is divided, the groups, factions and sects of the left – Labour and non-Labour alike – have proved utterly incapable of providing anything like a serious alternative. In fact, the reformist and national socialist left adheres either to the most gullible or the most chauvinist positions on the EU.

Instinctively the national socialists recognise that European integration makes a mockery of their utopian British road to socialism. Take the No2EU election bloc – uniting the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. It is virtually indistinguishable from the Tory right, Ukip and the British National Party. No2EU wants to save the pound sterling, restore British sovereignty and re-establish immigration controls to bar European incomers.

Naturally, when it comes to the likes of Peter Taaffe, Robert Griffiths, Bob Crow and Brian Denny, this is all done in the name of socialism … but it is the socialism of fools. The best that these advocates of “workers’ rights” could achieve is a British version of Stalinism – ie, state slavery – and that imposed onto a capitalistically advanced country fully integrated into the world economy. What costs the lives of millions in the 1930s could only but be repeated as a still greater tragedy.

Civilisation would not be advanced, but barbarically thrown back. And, unfortunately, where the CPB and SPEW have led, Socialist Resistance, Respect, the Alliance for Green Socialism, Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, etc, have followed – to the point of a horribly self- defeating common sense.

Of course, for Marxists, proletarian socialism – as the first stage or phase of communism – is international or it is nothing. There can be no socialism in one country, because capital, as a social relationship, exists not within the nation-state, but internationally, at the level of the global economy. Bureaucratic or national socialism just brings back all the old crap, albeit in different, highly contradictory forms. That is why as long ago as 1845 Marx and Engels emphatically rejected all localist schemes and insisted, on the contrary, that: “Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples ‘all at once’ and simultaneously.”4


Sadly, the leadership of the Labour Representation Committee seems to be readying itself to adopt an approach barely distinguishable from Taaffe and Griffiths. Having agreed a generally sound resolution on the EU in 2011, at its November 2013 AGM the LRC narrowly voted down a virtually identical motion in the name of “beginning” a debate on the EU. The manipulative hand of Graham Bash, Peter Firmin and co was clearly visible.

What were the politics of 2011? In contrast to the red-brown left, the LRC stood for “a Europe-wide working class response” to capitalism’s crisis. Instead of opposing “European capitalist integration”, the right answer is to “link up with other European workers in solidarity and struggle”. Moreover, those demanding withdrawal from the EU, or opposing British entry into the European single currency, were condemned for holding to “a British nationalist position”, a blunder “not altered” by tacking on a slogan like “Socialist United States of Europe”. Etc, etc.5

Now, in the name of “kicking the debate off”, we have Michael Calderbank of Brent CLP. Writing in Labour Briefing, he rightly takes to task those who have illusions in the progressive nature of the EU when it comes to labour legislation, social rights, etc … All are being “eroded and undermined”, he feigningly laments. Of course, what comrade Calderbank wants the LRC to do is to vote ‘no’ in Cameron’s referendum and bank everything on a British withdrawal.

As an aside, it is worth noting the objection Marxists have traditionally had to referendums. So-called direct democracy is a chimera in any complex society. Nuances have to be considered, likely consequences predicted and alternatives closely studied. That is why Marxists advocate indirect democracy: ie, the election of recallable representatives who are tasked with debating and deciding political positions and stratagems. Marx certainly denounced – and in no uncertain terms – Louis Bonaparte’s deployment of successive referendums to consolidate his dictatorship and excuse France’s imperial adventures.6

The wording of the referendum question is, of course, everything. Eg, to vote ‘no’ was to declare oneself opposed to democratic reforms; to vote ‘yes’ was to vote for despotism and war. Referendums bypass representative democracy, political parties and careful deliberation. Something not lost on Adolph Hitler. He managed to get a 90% mandate for his dictatorship on August 19 1934 – despite an almost unprecedented campaign of intimidation, there were millions of spoilt ballot papers.


Inevitably, comrade Calderbank gives his endorsement of the ‘no’ campaign a socialistic coloration. Instead of “populist scapegoating” of migrants, he makes a seemingly bold call for “taking back power” and “taking control of our services and economies, on a local and national scale.”7 Does his formula amount to a post-referendum establishment of a workers’ state and the abolition of capitalism? Unlikely. Or is it an empty plea for the restoration of Keynesian economics and the politics of welfarism? Either way, the comrade says that “our membership of the EU” impedes his agenda, so “calling for a withdrawal from an international left perspective would be perfectly consistent”.8

When it comes to the LRC’s old position, the comrade dishonestly rejects any programme of fighting for a workers’ Europe as akin to banking on “adequately reforming” the “existing institutions” of the EU. An obvious non sequitur. Nevertheless, on the basis of this crude falsification, comrade Calderbank feels he can tell us what we all know. The EU is not very democratic … and he thinks it “extremely hard” to see how this can be changed.
The lack of imagination is as sad as it is palpable. Why those of us who want to take as our strategic point of departure not Britain, but the EU are supposed to believe in the reformability of the whole array of existing EU institutions remains to be established.

Apply his methodological approach to the British state. Over the last 30 years or so it has surely “eroded and undermined” the post-World War II consensus. Indeed, it is fair to say, successive British governments – Tory, Labour and Con-Dem – have been at the forefront of the neoliberal offensive both at home and in the EU. Should we therefore conclude with a call for the “dissolution” of Britain, as Welsh and Scottish nationalists do, or even a working class “withdrawal” from it?

Pitiably, comrade Calderbank unintentionally shows a naive faith in the institutions of the UK state: the monarchy, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the judiciary, the presidential prime minister, MI5, the Church of England, the standing army, etc. Can they all be “adequately” reformed so as to pave the way for a workers’ Britain? Clearly, the implication in comrade Calderbank’s polemic is, yes, they can.


Interestingly, prior to the October Revolution of 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks confronted similar manifestations of national socialism. The tsarist empire was a vast prison house of nations. Nevertheless, while fighting for the right of self-determination up to and including secession, the overriding, central strategy was the cementing of the highest and most extensive workers’ unity throughout the tsarist empire – in order to overthrow the tsarist empire.

Unwittingly comrade Calderbank places himself in the camp of Joseph Pilsudski and his Polish Socialist Party. Formed in 1892, it adopted a national socialist programme for the reconstitution of an independent Poland – which had been all but partitioned out of existence at the 1815 Congress of Vienna between the the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. Rosa Luxemburg and Julian Marchlewski split with the PSP in 1893 over this perspective. Objective conditions, they rightly said, demanded the unity of workers – Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Georgians, Letts, etc – against the tsarist empire.

In defence of the past – in particular in defence of the welfare state and the post-World War II social democratic consensus – comrade Calderbank presents a programme that would at best weaken the EU. It would, however, also weaken the European working class movement if its strongest detachments forced upon their capitalists a policy of withdrawal – a road that would lead not to a national socialist paradise, but the hell of increased national exploitation and eventually counterrevolution.

Marxists do not look back fondly to the post-war social democratic settlement. No, our programme emphasises the positive advantages of the workers being organised into the largest, most centralised states. All the better to overthrow them and begin the advance to a communist society and the inspiring principle, ‘From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’.

The working class can only but suffer one cruel defeat after another if it confines itself to the politics of defence. We in Labour Party Marxists therefore raise the perspective of the politics of the offensive. Hence we say, to the extent that the EU becomes a superstate, so must the advanced part of the working class organise itself into a single, pan- European party in order to overthrow it.
The EU is undoubtedly a reactionary anti-working class institution. Amongst consenting Marxists that hardly needs proving with statistics concerning spending limits and welfare cuts. The real question is what attitude we adopt towards it. LPM stands for extreme democracy under capitalism. Concretely that means fighting for the levelling up of wages, substantive equality for women, the abolition of the council of ministers, a parliament with full powers and an armed working class.

Without such an approach, talk of socialism in Britain or a socialist Europe is nothing but a fraud.


1. The Daily Telegraph January 31 2014.
2. set-European-poll-success-powers-ahead-Tories- Labour.html.
3 The Daily Telegraph November 27 2013.
4. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 5, Moscow 1976, p49. 5. LRC Resolutions booklet November 2011, p11.
6. See Marx’s The eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) and The civil war in France (1871). Also there is Kautsky’s Parliamentarism, direct legislation and social democracy (1893).
7. Labour Briefing February 2014.
8. Labour Briefing February 2014.

Oppose nationalism across the board

Use the May 2014 Euro elections to fight for socialism and internationalism, argues James Marshall of Labour Party Marxists

Opposition to the European Union continues to embarrass, vex and divide rightwing bourgeois politicians.

The current situation is easy to summarise. Under severe pressure from the UK Independence Party, David Cameron has committed the Tories to an in-out referendum following the next general election in 2015. If returned to No10 he solemnly pledges to negotiate a root-and-branch reform of Britain’s relationship with Brussels. Smelling blood, Nigel Farage wants to turn the May 2014 European election into a referendum against Bulgarian and Romanian migrants and continued EU membership. And, worryingly, an Open Europe poll puts Ukip on 27% – significantly ahead of Labour (23%) and the Tories (21%).1 Meanwhile, the swelling anti-EU mood gives rise to further rifts within Conservative ranks. Eg, Adam Afriyie – tipped by some as a future Tory leader – has been agitating for a referendum this side of the general election.2

Disgracefully, not a few in the labour movement have aligned themselves with the xenophobic right. Among the Labour MPs who signed up to the People’s Pledge – a cross-party (now semi-defunct) campaign calling for an EU referendum – are Ronnie Campbell, Rosie Cooper, David Crausby, Jon Cruddas, John Cryer, Natascha Engel, Jim Fitzpatrick, Roger Godsiff, Tom Harris, Kate Hoey, Lindsay Hoyle, Kelvin Hopkins, George Howarth, Iain McKenzie, Austin Mitchell, Graham Stringer, Gerry Sutcliffe, Derek Twigg and Keith Vaz. The RMT was the first union to give official backing. Brian Denny of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain sits on its national council, as does Mark Seddon, former editor of Tribune. Other council members include Tory MPs Zac Goldsmith and Douglas Carswell, Nigel Dodds (Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader), Marta Andreasen (Ukip MEP till February 2013, when she defected to the Tories), Jenny Jones (Green Party) and Jim Sillars (SNP deputy leader 1990-92). Bob Crow, Boris Johnson, Caroline Lucas and Bill Greenshields (CPB chair) are prominently listed as supporters.

The foul nature of the People’s Pledge can be gathered from the protest it staged outside the treasury on July 21 2011. That was the day when EU leaders launched a second, £96 billion, bailout for Greece. The campaign said that there should be no further contributions from Britain. Bob Crow in particular singled out article 122 of the Lisbon treaty, which “obliges” British taxpayers to “risk” billions of pounds at a “time of cuts to public services at home”.3 Presumably Greece should be abandoned to a disorderly default and forced to exit from the euro zone.

For its part, the British National Party roundly condemns international bankers for “strangling the Greek economy”, demands that the UK “withdraw from the European Union” and wants to reserve government funds for “more useful projects”.4 Sadly, a position which almost passes for common sense on the left nowadays too. Both the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales are set to partner the Morning Star’s CPB in the No2EU electoral front – note the line-up of speakers for the North West constituency launch meeting: Bob Crow (RMT), Roger Banister (SPEW) and Michael Lavalette (SWP).5 According to a recent No2EU bulletin, a break with the EU will allow Britain to “be rebuilt with socialist policies.”6 A clear case of national socialism. And, unfortunately, where the CPB, SWP and SPEW have led Socialist Resistance, Respect, Alliance for Green Socialism, Socialist Labour Party, Solidarity, etc have followed.

What appears to be an incongruous, puzzling and unnatural alignment between left and right in actual fact stems from a common source. Uniting 28 countries, having an agreed legal framework, committed to the free movement of labour and capital, the EU stands as an existential threat to the nation-state cherished by those for whom the future lies in the past. After all BNPers yearn for a white, 1950s Britain with traditional weights and measures and close trading relations with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In a similar way, the nation-state is viewed as the natural vehicle for socialist transformation by left reformists, ‘official communists’ and former Trotskyites alike. The dream is of a referendum which in due course will see a return to Keynesianism, welfarism and “British sovereignty”.

As an aside, it is worth noting the deep distrust Marxists have generally had for referendums. So-called ‘direct democracy’ is a chimera in any complex society. Nuances have to be considered, likely consequences predicted and alternatives closely studied. That is why we advocate indirect democracy: ie, the election of recallable representatives who are tasked with debating and deciding political positions and stratagems. Marx certainly denounced – and in no uncertain terms – Louis Bonaparte’s deployment of successive referendums to consolidate his dictatorship and excuse foreign adventures.7 The wording of the question is, of course, everything. Eg, to vote ‘no’ was to declare oneself opposed to democratic reforms, to vote ‘yes’ was to vote for despotism and war. Referendums bypass representative democracy, political parties and careful deliberation. Something not lost on Adolph Hitler. He managed to get a 90% mandate for his dictatorship on August 19 1934 – despite an almost unprecedented campaign of intimidation, there were millions of spoilt ballot papers.

Standing out

Against this dire background the position of the Labour Representation Committee stands out positively. The November 2011 AGM was presented with resolution 15, which reads as follows:

1. That the Europe-wide capitalist crisis requires a Europe-wide working-class response.

2. That we should no more oppose European capitalist integration than we would oppose the merger of two companies, even though the bosses use mergers as an excuse to attempt job cuts and other attacks. When Britain PLC merges into Europe PLC, the answer is to link up with other European workers in solidarity and struggle.

3. That demanding withdrawal from the EU, or opposing British entry into the European single currency, is a British nationalist position which misidentifies the enemy as ‘Europe’ rather than the ruling class. This is not altered by tacking on a slogan like ‘Socialist United States of Europe’.

4. The road to a socialist united Europe is the road of responding to European capitalist unification by organising for cross-European workers’ and socialist struggle. We advocate the following programme for this struggle:

Oppose all cuts; level up wages, services, pensions and workers’ rights to the best across Europe;
Tax the rich and expropriate the banks, Europe-wide;
Scrap the EU’s bureaucratic structures; for a European constituent assembly;
Against a European defence force; for a Europe without standing armies or nuclear weapons;
For a European workers’ government.

5. In a referendum on British entry to the euro, our position will be to advocate an active abstention and our slogans will be along the lines of ‘In or out, the fight goes on’; ‘Single currency – not at our expense’; and ‘For a workers’ Europe’.

The resolution concludes with a three-point commitment:

1. To organise public meetings and debates about Europe across the country.

2. To initiate a short statement setting out this position and circulate it around Britain and Europe for signatories.

3. To produce a short pamphlet setting out this position.8

Given that the resolution originated with and was moved by the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, it was perhaps surprising that the AGM voted in favour. But, thankfully, it did. True there are some problems with it. Eg, a European workers’ government is perfectly fine as a programmatic position, but is a sad joke when it comes to immediate agitation. At present there is no serious revolutionary Marxist party anywhere in Europe. Nevertheless, the resolution was eminently supportable and it was good to see it gain a clear majority.

That said LRC leaders such as Graham Bash, Andrew Fisher and Mike Phipps evidently thoroughly disapproved of the resolution … and, as far as I am aware, the concluding three-point commitment remains unfulfilled. Of course, this may well be due to the decline and disorganisation of the LRC over the last couple of years.

Next May

However, the AWL has presented this year’s LRC national conference with another resolution on Europe. Noting the 2011 policy, the growth of Ukip and the rerun of No2EU, the AWL’s resolution 13 once again condemns British nationalism and xenophobic calls for an EU withdrawal. The position on organising an “all-European working class and socialist struggle”, etc is also reiterated. Nevertheless, the conclusion is questionable. The AWL calls for a “campaign advocating a Labour vote” in the May 2014 EU elections on the basis of opposing cuts, supporting the levelling up of wages across Europe, striving for the pan-European organisation of the working class, scrapping the EU’s bureaucratic structures, etc. Slogans such as ‘For international working class solidarity – for a workers’ united Europe’ are recommended in that spirit.

Frankly, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Ed Miliband and his candidates for 2014 will hardly be standing on the principles of internationalism and the perspective of a European workers’ government. Nor will they oppose all cuts or advocate a European constituent assembly. No, Labour candidates will be standing on a version of British nationalism barely distinguishable from that of the Tories and the Lib Dems. In the pointed words of deputy leader Harriet Harman, the “top priority” of Labour MEPs will be to “make sure they get the best deal” and “bring jobs and growth here in the UK”.9

That does not rule out voting Labour. Indeed, it has to be admitted, most LRC affiliates and individual members are firmly within the auto-Labour fold. But surely it would be far better for the LRC to use the May elections as an opportunity to make propaganda for its vision of a Europe ruled by the working class. Instead of running a campaign “advocating a Labour vote”, the LRC should challenge British nationalism across the board and spread the message of pan-EU working class unity, democracy and socialism. An election dominated by Ukip and British nationalism needs the input of the LRC and other leftwing organisations.


1. Daily Mail May 28.

2. The Daily Telegraph October 12.





7. See Marx’s The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) and The civil war in France (1871). Also there is Kautsky’s book, Parliamentarism, direct legislation and social democracy (1893).

8. Resolutions booklet November 2011, p11.


STWC: Main enemy is at home

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on the September 14 Stop the War Coalition AGM
Despite the war threat against Syria. Despite the temporary boost given to the anti-war movement by the August 29 parliamentary vote against a military attack on Syria. Despite David Cameron’s humiliation, attendance at the 2013 annual conference of the Stop the War Coalition at Westminster University was down to less than 100. This was compared to the 200-plus in March 2012 and over 300 at the 2010 conference. That was the first year in which the Socialist Workers Party no longer mobilised its rank and file to attend, after John Rees, Lindsey German and Chris Nineham split off from the SWP to form Counterfire.

The coalition has been suffering from a lack of foot-soldiers ever since, and the appearance of new faces on local demonstrations immediately prior to the parliamentary vote was not reflected in attendance at conference. Although the SWP’s Judith Orr chaired half of the conference, few SWPers were present and the organisation’s Party Notes circulated two days later made no mention of Stop the War.

The coalition’s lack of numbers, however, is now compensated for by its gain in prestige, with official recognition by the Trades Union Congress. In 2003, although the TUC had opposed the invasion of Iraq, STWC vice-president Andrew Murray explained, it had “stood aloof from the movement”. Now, in its September 11 statement on Syria, the TUC general council committed itself to “strongly oppose external military intervention” and to “work with civil society organisations, including … the Stop the War Coalition.”

As we know, Ed Miliband had agreed to back an attack on Syria, but had a very late change of mind. This, and the rebellion of some Tory MPs, can only be due to the anti-war pressure of public opinion, with sitting MPs fearing loss of votes. No doubt the campaigning by Stop the War over the years has played its part, but it is the transparent horrors of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq which have disabused public opinion of the illusion of humanitarian intervention.

“We stopped Cameron, but Obama still plans war,” proclaimed STWC’s August 30 statement. But by the time they reached conference, the ‘officers group’ had sobered up, tempered their triumphalism somewhat, and recognised that public opinion against an attack on Syria had other sources besides their campaigning. “What produced that vote?” asked comrade Rees. “We helped. But the mass experience of war did not match the media story. And the resistance over there played its part.” STWC had “mounted effective opposition”. It was “not just public opinion,” he argued. “Compare the privatisation of Royal Mail”, which is going ahead despite being very unpopular. And why did opposition break first here, and not in France, not in the US? “Because of the consistent campaigning of STWC,” he claimed.

There were attempts from the various STWC officers to characterise the significance of the August 29 vote. Jeremy Corbyn, chairing, said the vote had been a “mea culpa” for many MPs, who felt guilty about voting for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. “We are into a historical change in relations between the west and the rest of the world,” he claimed – but then hedged: “But not for ever”. Chris Nineham, in similar vein, spoke of “a breakthrough in the movement”. STWC had “mobilised thousands in last few weeks”, he gushed. “Lindsey now gets invited onto TV. We need clarity and unity, to unite all the forces against austerity and war.” All the forces? At last, I thought, Hands Off the People of Iran will be able to take its rightful place in Stop the War – not!

Guardian journalist Seamus Milne said that the western powers are in disarray – “but was this a body swerve, or a retreat?” Public opinion does matter, he said. The ‘war on terror’ had become “an orgy of torture, not human rights”. It had also “revealed the inability of the US to impose its will – the limits of the first truly global empire”.

The British ruling class always and everywhere does foreign policy in its own selfish, exploitative and oppressive interests – never in order to ‘save lives’. What a pleasure it was to see the arrogant bourgeois persuaders, after confidently pumping out their war propaganda, suddenly brought to a grinding halt on the buffers of obstinate public opinion. As Abe Lincoln said, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.

The famous aphorism of Clausewitz is that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. In other words, war is a form of politics. But politics is always class politics. In war, the interests of one ruling class is pitted against the interests of another ruling class. The working class is mobilised in support of our own rulers, thereby strengthening their power over us. The independent politics of the working class means opposing the foreign policy and military adventures of our ‘own’ ruling class, preventing them from strengthening their hold over us by exploiting and oppressing others. The main enemy is at home.

So the struggle against imperialist wars, and to end war once and for all, should be seen as part and parcel of the political struggle of the working class to supersede capitalism and class society. The anti-war struggle needs independent working class politics . And working class politics can only be thrashed out through thoroughgoing democracy – freedom of discussion, unity in action.

Unfortunately, freedom of discussion is not the method of the bureaucratic clique which runs the Stop the War Coalition. It evidently prefers to keep conference – and local groups – free of sharp political debate. God forbid that political differences should be thrashed out openly. But their war on politics can only mean protecting their own politics from being challenged.

‘Guidelines for local groups’, submitted to conference by the ‘officers group’, waxed eloquent about the breadth of opinion in the coalition: “Stop the War represents the opinion of the vast majority of people in this country on foreign policy.” This is indeed a strange phenomenon, since it is led by a variety of self-styled Marxists.

Local groups must “work hard to ensure the widest possible participation in order to reflect this breadth of opinion”. Stop the War has “very wide backing, symbolised by the recent support from the TUC congress”. Groups must “get as broad a leadership as possible, always looking to involve new activists”.

Groups must “maximise the … impact of … our arguments”. While we should “encourage wide discussion”, public meetings should “focus on the key campaigning issues and on the main task of ending western intervention, not on potentially divisive political debates”.

Well, which political debates, I wonder, are not “potentially divisive”? And what exactly are to be “our arguments”, if not ones arrived at through “potentially divisive political debates”? And what if ‘ordinary people’ turn up to our public meetings, and start asking “potentially divisive” questions or expressing “potentially divisive” views?

Several speakers had raised issues which they thought should be linked to opposition to military attack: anti-austerity, anti-racism, immigration, defence of whistleblowers, freedom of information and the stifling of debate.

Chris Nineham, in moving the guidelines, said: “The left will have its political debates, but not inside Stop the War, because that would be divisive.” Matt Willgress from North London, under the rubric of teaching us ordinary folk ‘How to build a local group’, explained that “people would rather lobby MPs than debate about the Syrian left with the usual suspects”. Philistinism rules OK!

Nevertheless, Andrew Murray, agreeing with my assertion that “the main enemy is at home”, conceded that “No-one is saying we can’t debate differences, but we must keep our eye on the ball.”

Sami Ramadani urged us to “distinguish patriotic resistance from terrorism in Iraq (where I was born)”. The most popular platform speaker, he advised us to “celebrate a great victory – but do it quickly, as they will get back at us very soon”. He congratulated the British parliament “for listening to British people, for once”, and the US people “for not listening, for a change, to Fox News”. The more ‘peace president’ Obama preached war, the more the American people wanted peace, he said. And he happily dished out congratulations to the French people, the Syrian people (“Yes, there is a democratic opposition”), the Iranian people and the Egyptian people, who all “forced their government to oppose an attack on Syria”. Congrats to STWC too, he said: “Unity is the key to opposition to imperialist intervention, and support for the struggles of the people for democracy.”

So steer clear of “divisive” debates.