Tag Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

The media mincer

Jim Grant looks back at the Labour leadership’s attempts to conciliate the media

One of the benefits of receiving dozens of emails from various layers of the Labour Party during this election campaign is a clear sense of the leadership’s overall pitch to its own members.

The impression you get is of a siege mentality, particularly in relation to the media. Thus a mass email with Jeremy Corbyn’s name all over it the morning after the leaders debate, noting that £100,000 had been raised after the performance. “If we’re going to take on the billionaire media and Boris Johnson’s billionaire backers, it’s going to take more than that,” the Dear Leader wisely noted. At the manifesto launch, Corbyn openly challenged the bourgeois media to do its worst.

This attitude is welcome and appropriate, of course, and, as I write, the possibility is not excluded that it will ‘work’ and cause a dramatic upset. There is a real danger, however, that it is too little, and far too late – at least to make much difference to the result of the December 12 election, or to the shape of the government that emerges from it.

For the Corbyn leadership’s attitude to the bourgeois media has been conciliatory and occasionally cringe-inducing. We have sat through far too many attempts to appear ‘responsible’, when it comes to the economy, promises to ‘balance the budget’, apologies for their more hair-raising bits of past leftism.

On the other hand we have had attempts to ingratiate, rather than detoxify, of which Corbyn’s appearance on The last leg in a full-length, snowy-white pimp coat is the most striking; but more generally the Corbyn movement has attempted to make use of ‘non-traditional’ outlets of various sorts, from social media in general to encouraging an ecosystem of Labour-supporting news sites of varying quality (Skwawkbox, The Canary and so on). Corbyn and McDonnell even showed up in the football magazine When Saturday Comes, to promote their football-related manifesto pledges and make awkward banter about their Arsenal and Liverpool commitments.

It must be said that this strategy has not, in the end, succeeded in seriously threatening the mainstream media narrative. The recent absurd non-scandal about whether Corbyn watches the queen’s Christmas message or not is a case in point: if he does not, he is hardly alone in the Britain of 2019, so why even respond to such frivolous questions? But, even if he had demanded the ITV presenters stick to serious matters, it would have been pitched as his being ‘evasive’. The Skwawkbox-type operations will denounce this absurd deviousness on the part of the mainstream media, but they are nonetheless dragged into treating such absurdities seriously by responding to them.

The clearest example, however, is the hysteria over the Labour Party’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ problem. Though the agenda issues ultimately from the US state department and – concurrently – an Israeli establishment facing a pile-up of bad PR from small matters like the collective punishment of Gazans and unending far-right governments, it is the media that retails the lies. And lies they are: despite years of dragnet-fishing, even Jesus could not feed so many hungry hacks with such a meagre catch of actual anti-Semites.

Throughout this sorry saga, Corbyn and co have capitulated again and again. These lies have never been denounced. Natural justice was left in smoking ruins, for the sake of looking sufficiently penitent before the degenerate persons in the press gallery. There might have been a rationale for justifying this if capitulating had actually worked, and the sting had been drawn from the issue of Zionism and by extension Corbyn’s state-loyalism. It might then have gone down in the history books like other dishonourable compromises, like the mouths Nye Bevan stuffed with gold to get the national health service set up. Instead, lies gave way to grovelling, and grovelling to new lies; and ally after ally was thrown under the bus. It did not work. It was worse than a crime – it was a mistake, as was once said of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.


This all goes back to the contradictions at the heart of the Corbyn moment, and thus to the beginning of his run at the leadership four and a half years ago. A complacent Labour right helped put him on the ballot to make the whole affair seem more democratic – they had already taken steps to turn leadership elections into something resembling American primaries. This turned out to be an epic tactical blunder, and years of pent-up frustration – fuelled by anger at the manifestly unjust aftermath of the financial crisis that saw the elite shake out fine, while the rest of us suffered – spilled into a spontaneous mass movement.

This presented the British labour movement with a historic opportunity, but it did so at a moment of profound weakness. The radical left was divided between the remnants of the various Marxist grouplets and the even-more-fissile identity politics that tended to replace them. Union membership was at a low ebb. The local Labour Party organisations, into which these new members were thrust, were in disarray after decades of bureaucratic obstruction. The leadership now belonged to the left, but the machine and the parliamentary party to the right, and so life at the grassroots was choked off by the desperate police actions of the old guard. In Labour Party Marxists, we called – indeed, starting before the Corbyn movement – for the democratic transformation of the Labour Party, but the priority for everyone else was a Labour government with Corbyn in No10, with the result that this institutional disrepair has never been addressed seriously.

One aspect of that disrepair – and a very long-standing one – is the weakness of our own media. The Labour Party itself has made apparently no efforts on this front at all – the exhortations of the campaigning office into our inbox will have to do. The papers and wider output of the far left are increasingly dominated by delusional cheerleading for ephemeral protest movements, often of very dubious politics (wide-eyed enthusiasm for the protests in Hong Kong and les gilets jaunes in France, despite the obvious participation of the far right, spring to mind). The closest thing to a bright spot is probably the Morning Star, which has improved in quality – admittedly from a very poor starting position – but it is hamstrung by its absolute unwillingness to criticise the Labour leadership at all, even when it contradicts other deeply held convictions of the Star and its Communist Party of Britain, such as over Brexit.

The shiny new Corbynista outlets are not a long-term solution to this problem, because they are over-fitted to this situation. The refusal to confront the question of the party and the labour movement’s domination by the bureaucracy means working around or outside of such structures, and in effect means the multiplication of fiefdoms. The most striking example of this is not a media outlet, but Momentum – or, to give it its proper name, Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd – proprietor: J Lansman. Yet it is equally true of The Canary, Skwawkbox and co, which are basically beholden to one or another member of King Jeremy’s court in completely opaque and unaccountable ways.

Social media is not the answer either, because Facebook and Twitter are no less in enemy hands than The Daily Telegraph; moreover, it is plain that the ‘wild west’ era of content on these platforms is coming to an end, and moral panics over the far right (and even genocide in Myanmar) are the thin end of a wedge that implies far more pervasive policing of content and subservience to the state.

In truth, the bourgeois news media is having a sticky moment. It is broadly untrusted. Quality of output is way down after decades of cost-cutting exercises; hastily rewritten wire copy and industrially extruded clickbait predominate. The most partisan outlets within it do better – the Daily Mail and Fox News, sure, but The Guardian reached profitability recently on the back of an unending drive for donations and, while it is hardly our idea of a leftwing paper, it is more so than any of its competitors – but only within its immediate target markets. Various attempts at cordons sanitaires around ‘unacceptable’ political outcomes – Corbyn, Brexit, Trump – have failed. The backlash against social media companies, meanwhile, is also in full swing.

In theory, this is a promising situation for the workers’ movement to build up its own organs of mass communication. Unlike the bourgeois media, workers’ media are dependent neither on advertisers nor state largesse; they thrive, if thrive they do, on the creative energy of our movement’s partisans in service of our goals and each other. In a vibrant, democratic movement, the possibilities are very great to supplant bourgeois sources as the media of first resort; and there is no reason why we should stop merely at the level of publications. After all, the structure of the new internet platforms – as this paper has argued repeatedly – is determined no less by capitalist political economy. We should take seriously, for example, this question: what would a search engine that did not ultimately make money by advertising brokerage look like?

Just as Corbyn and co took for granted the structure of the Labour Party, and left the right in charge of its little power bases for far too long, so it refused to denounce the structurally necessary lies of the media. Whatever the December 12 result turned out to be, that was an error in the long-term view, and it remains for us to correct it.

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 www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/1907/military-service/index.htm

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 www.marxists.org/archive/jaures/1907/military-service/index.htm
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

Labour manifesto: Within the current order

Win or lose the general election, the fight to transform Labour will continue, writes Peter Manson (first published in the Weekly Worker)

It is clear that Labour’s manifesto for the December 12 general election is considerably more radical than its 2017 programme, For the many, not the few. While that phrase appears in small letters on the front of the new version, the title this time, however, is rather more bland: It’s time for real change could in truth be used by just about any party.

While ‘capitalism’ is not mentioned at all and ‘socialism’ only once – in the claim that the national health service is an example of “socialism in action” (p31) – the notion of class at least makes an appearance, as opposed to being merely implied in the title of the 2017 manifesto. However, while Labour says it will “put class at the heart of Britain’s equality agenda” (p66), that obviously implies the “equality” of all classes within the current order.

Nevertheless, the claim that the party will be “shifting the balance of power back towards workers” through “the biggest extension of workers’ rights in history” (p60) is, of course, welcome (if not a little exaggerated), as is the declaration that “Strong trade unions are the best and most effective way to enforce rights at work” (p63). Labour pledges to “repeal anti-trade union legislation, including the Trade Union Act 2016” (p62) – note that the word ‘all’ is missing, although at least this statement implies that perhaps it is not only the 2016 act that will be repealed.

Another key word that also features is ‘imperialist’, but only in the context of the UK’s previous foreign adventures, which resulted from “outdated notions of charity or imperialist rule” (my emphasis, p103). Similarly the manifesto promises to “conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy” (p96) – in other words, imperialism, like colonialism, is merely a regrettable feature of British history.

True, Labour will “end the ‘bomb first, talk later’ approach” to foreign policy (p95), but it is committed to “protect our security at home and abroad” (p8). And that means we must “maintain our commitment to Nato”, not to mention “the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent” (p101). In fact, “Labour’s commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence will guarantee that our armed forces are versatile and capable of fulfilling the full range of roles and obligations.” Well, at least under Labour we will ‘talk first and bomb later’, even if it means the obliteration of an entire population, thanks to nuclear weaponry.

Would you believe it? – the manifesto implies that Labour can be regarded as more reliable on ‘defence’ than the Conservatives, under whom “Trained army personnel have been cut from 102,000 to just over 74,000” (p100). Similarly Labour will “restore total prison officer numbers to 2010 levels” (p46). However, the commitment to the armed forces is totally in line with Labour’s vision for a ‘new’ global order, whereby it will “use Britain’s influence within the World Bank, IMF and WTO to transform the rules of the global economy, so they work for the many” (p101). It is difficult to imagine a more naive ‘socialist’ illusion than this commitment to a ‘fairer’ form of global capitalism.


There are several positive pro-worker commitments, such as the banning of zero-hour contracts, and the pledge that “Within a decade we will reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy, with no loss of pay” (p62) – although the promise to “rapidly introduce a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over” (p59) falls far short of what is now needed.

Then we have the entirely supportable policies relating to state ownership of essential public services. Gas, electricity, water, the railways and Royal Mail are all to be renationalised, and Labour will also take over BT’s internet division, in order to provide free broadband to every household, in addition to “taking public ownership of bus networks” (p19). It is claimed that all this will help “make Britain’s public services the best and most extensive in the world” (p29).

When it comes to the NHS, Labour will be “taking back all PFI contracts over time” (p30) and in general it will “end and reverse privatisation” (p32). What is more, while it does not go into detail, it will “establish a generic drug company” (p35) – presumably as an integral part of the NHS, in order to ensure that healthcare is no longer the victim of the private drug companies’ blatant robbery through their monopolistic overcharging. Labour will also “abolish prescription charges” (p35).

Then there is education, with “free school meals for all primary school children” (p40) and the pledge to “abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants” for further education (p41). In relation to housing, the party has committed to building at “an annual rate of at least 150,000 council and social homes, with 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent” (p78). Labour also claims it will “end rough sleeping within five years” (p80).

However, taxation of the rich and big business is not to be increased by a huge amount: “We will reverse some of the Tories’ cuts to corporation tax, while keeping rates lower than in 2010” (p29). Which means that much of the increased spending will have to be financed by borrowing.

This, of course, has opened the way for the usual charges of an irresponsible failure to balance the books. However, it is hardly unusual for bourgeois states to raise funds through borrowing. In fact, depending on the overall political and economic situation, it is considered perfectly normal to do so – the aim, particularly during a downturn, being to boost the market and thus increase production (and therefore income from taxation). It is ironic that, at the very time the usual charges of irresponsibility were being levelled against Labour, the newly appointed president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, was calling on EU governments to raise their spending in order to stimulate the economy.


In line with others, Labour is now committed to “reducing the voting age to 16” (p82) – good. But what about its attitude to the second chamber? It states: “We will act immediately to end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords in favour of Labour’s preferred option of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions” (p81).

Well, first of all, the abolition of the Lords is an absolutely fundamental requirement, so why the delay? What is this “work” that needs to be done before it can be entertained? And in the meantime the existing members – including those who are there as a result of the “hereditary principle” – will continue as before. All those who say they are democrats must oppose not just the current monstrosity, but any second chamber – whose purpose is to impose ‘checks and balances’ against the democracy of directly elected representatives.

However, while it is all very well to state your opposition to the “hereditary principle” in relation to the Lords, aren’t they overlooking something? What about the monarchy, which does not get a mention in the manifesto? This is the biggest affront to democracy of all. Every piece of legislation requires the monarch’s assent – and there is no doubt that they would actually exercise that power of veto in the event of a genuine threat to the ruling class being posed by the elected parliament.

And, of course, as we have pointed out on numerous occasions, it is the monarch who formally appoints the prime minister, and there is a distinct possibility that, if Labour were to be the largest party after December 12, the queen would summon someone other than Jeremy Corbyn to the palace to head ‘her’ government (no doubt with the acquiescence of sections of the Labour right). The principled position is clear: abolish the monarchy, abolish the second chamber!

Then there is Scotland. The manifesto states:

Scotland needs the transformative investment coming from a Labour government, not another referendum and not independence. A UK Labour government will focus on tackling the climate emergency, ending austerity and cuts, and getting Brexit sorted. That’s why in the early years of a UK Labour government we will not agree to a section 30 order request [for a second independence referendum] if it comes from the Scottish government (p85).

While communists are opposed to separatism in principle, and call for the greatest possible unity between different nations and peoples, we are adamant that such unity must be entirely voluntary. There must be self-determination and, if the democratically elected representatives vote for independence, that decision must be accepted, however much we may regret it. In other words, it should not be up to the “UK government” (quite apart from the fact that we are for the replacement of the United Kingdom by a federal republic, in which Scotland and Wales would have the right to secede) to decide this question.

European Union

Labour’s official position on Brexit is spelled out, making it entirely clear that the party is for Brino (Brexit in name only). After the UK leaves the EU following a deal negotiated by Corbyn, it would remain part of both the customs union and the single market – not to mention the fact that there would be “continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes” (p90).

In other words, just about everything would continue as before – except that the UK would no longer take part in EU decision-making. Of course, it goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs, and of the active membership, would oppose withdrawal and campaign for ‘remain’ in the second referendum proposed by the party.

However, the manifesto states:

If in a referendum the British people decide to remain in the EU, this must not mean accepting the status quo. Labour will work with partners across Europe to make the case for radical reform of the EU – in particular to ensure that its collective strength is focused on tackling the climate emergency, tax evasion and ending austerity and inequality (pp91-92).

Thus the same illusion as in relation to capital’s global institutions is displayed. There is no notion of the need to fight for the transformation of the current EU into a workers’ Europe – once again it is a case of a more ‘progressive’ form of capitalism.

Then there is the problem of the leader’s position in the event of a second referendum, where we would be asked to choose between the Corbyn deal and ‘remain’. The Labour leader only – not the party – would stay “neutral” during that campaign – although, as he stated on the BBC’s November 26 The Andrew Neil interviews, he hoped that some “people would argue it’s a reasonable deal” that should be accepted.

While it is fine in some circumstances for a leader to stand aside from the choice between two acceptable alternatives, in this case, as many have pointed out, it would be problematic – the choice in practice would be between remaining within the EU with or without a vote: who in their right mind would vote for the latter?

The manifesto makes several positive points about the right of free movement – and not just in relation to the EU. It states: “Labour recognises the huge benefits of immigration to our country” (p91) and continues: “The movement of people around the world has enriched our society, our economy and our culture” (p70).

Therefore, “We will end indefinite detention, review the alternatives to the inhumane conditions of detention centres, and close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House” (p71). So it appears that ‘non-indefinite’ detention centres – with more ‘humane’ conditions – will remain open. In fact, Labour’s policy will be to “review our border controls to make them more effective” (p45). What was that about free movement?


Rather strangely, in view of the ongoing smear campaign being waged against Labour for failing to ‘root out’ its ‘institutional anti-Semitism’, there is no mention of anti-Jewish prejudice in the manifesto. The substantial section on ‘Women and equalities’ makes clear the party’s opposition to all forms of racial and religious discrimination, but neither ‘anti-Semitism’ nor ‘Jews’ is specified – an absence that has not been pointed out by any mainstream media outlet, as far as I know.

On one level that omission is fair enough, but, in view of the absurd allegations levelled against the party under Corbyn’s leadership on precisely this question, surely it would have been worthwhile not only to mention anti-Semitism, but to make a clear statement condemning the totally false slurs and explaining what lies behind them. But, no, Labour’s position has been to say as little as possible on those slurs – apart from repeating ad nauseum its total opposition to all forms of prejudice and its absolute intolerance of such prejudice within the party.

Of course, the idea has been to keep quiet about it, in the hope it will go away, and, instead of tackling such controversial matters head on, concentrate on issues like workers’ rights and public ownership. But the hope that the whole thing would die a death if you ignore it was totally misplaced – the anti-Corbyn establishment is not going to drop something that has him continually on the back foot. And it was only a matter of time before Labour’s alleged ‘anti-Semitism’ would feature in the general election campaign.

And now we have the latest furore – sparked by the statement of chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis that Corbyn is “unfit for high office”, as he had allowed the “poison” of anti-Semitism to “take root in the Labour Party”. Just for good measure, Mirvis was supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

On The Andrew Neil interviews Corbyn once more failed to condemn the malevolent campaign of slurs. All he would say was that he was “looking forward to having a conversation” with Mirvis, so he could clear up the misunderstanding, since only “a small number of members” have been accused of anti-Semitism. He politely disagreed that he had been guilty of “mendacious lies” about its extent in the party and, after all, he had now “toughened up the rules” to prevent it.

Not only is Corbyn’s failure to oppose the campaign misplaced: it could well cost him the election. Of course, as in 2017, he could still head a pro-Labour surge, but this is now looking increasingly unlikely.

Nevertheless, we must be clear: the place for all Marxists and socialists is within Labour, aiding the long-term struggle to defeat the pro-capitalist right and transform it into a genuine party of the entire working class.

Joining with the witch-hunters

Stitching up Chris Williamson marks a turning point for Corbyn and McDonnell, writes Carla Roberts

It is not often the case that a court judgment is reported in entirely diametrically opposed ways. So did the suspended Labour MP, Chris Williamson, lose or win his case against the Labour Party? The entire bourgeois media claims the former, whereas lefty news outlets like The Canary or the Skwawkbox say it is the latter. Both sides have based their reporting more on wishful thinking than reality.

Williamson sought two rulings from the judge. Firstly, that the June 26 decision of the NEC’s three-person anti-Semitism panel, which reinstated him to full membership after his February 27 suspension, should stand. Keith Vaz MP, Gerald Howarth MP and Momentum’s Huda Elmi had voted to issue Williamson “with a formal warning for the heinous crime of, among other similarly ludicrous charges, stating that Labour had been “too apologetic” in response to the right’s allegations of anti-Semitism.

They did not refer him to the national constitutional committee, which is what the right was hoping for and what the unnamed “internal investigator” on his case had recommended.1)The full judgment is available here: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/court-overturns-labour-re-suspension-left-wing-mp  The NCC richly deserves its nickname as ‘national kangaroo court’ – despite its recent enlargement from 11 to 25 members, it is still dominated by the right and a referral usually results in expulsion.

Readers of the Weekly Worker know that all hell broke loose in the hours following the decision to reinstate the comrade: Tom Watson, as ever acting as witch-finder general, orchestrated in record time a public letter signed by 90 MPs and peers, which demanded that Jeremy Corbyn should remove the whip from Williamson. This was followed by a letter of 70 ‘concerned’ Labour Party staffers and much-publicised rants by the usual suspects like Margaret Hodge MP, who claimed that the decision proved that “the party is turning a blind eye to Jew-hate”.

This is when Keith Vaz remembered that he had been undergoing a mysterious “medical procedure” when making this decision, which meant he was actually “not fit” to do so. He asked Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby to set aside the panel’s decision. And, lo and behold, on that same evening of June 28, Formby informed all members of the NEC that the next meeting of the NEC disputes panel on July 9 would have to make a decision on this. The disputes panel (which in fact includes every NEC member who can be bothered to show up) proclaimed that, yes, the anti-Semitism panel’s decision could not stand. On July 19, the same body referred Williamson’s case to the NCC.

But Justice Edward Pepperall, delivering his judgment at Birmingham Civil Justice Centre on October 10, agreed with Chris Williamson: he ruled that “the party acted unfairly” – when resuspending Williamson on July 9 “there was no proper reason for reopening the case against Mr Williamson and referring the original allegations to the NCC”. Judge Pepperall declared the resuspension “unlawful” and that “the Labour Party is no longer able lawfully to pursue the original disciplinary case against Mr Williamson”.

So far, so good. But then it gets rather Kafkaesque. Most of us had been unaware that on September 3, comrade Williamson had been slapped with yet another suspension – one week before his hearing against this resuspension started (which we shall call his second suspension). So his lawyers worked overtime to include in their case a challenge to this new, third suspension. However, as the party had followed its own constitutional procedures correctly when it comes to suspension number three, the judge could find “nothing inherently unfair in investigating these fresh allegations”. This is why Chris Williamson remains suspended from the party.

This is the trouble, of course, with going to a bourgeois court to sort out issues which are, in effect, matters of political disagreement and discourse. The judge stressed:

“This case is not about whether Mr Williamson is, or is not, anti-Semitic or even whether he has, or has not, breached the rules of the Labour Party. The issue is whether the party has acted lawfully in its investigation and prosecution.”

Scathing criticism

It seems pretty clear that Labour’s lawyers were well aware that they would have lost the original court case and that this was the reason for the Kafkaesque ‘double suspension’. And indeed, the judge makes a number of scathing criticisms of the process:

  • He states that it was “not difficult to infer that the true reason for the decision [of July 9] in this case was that [NEC] members were influenced by the ferocity of the outcry following the June decision [to reinstate Williamson].” He references Tom Watson’s campaign and quotes various ‘enraged’ politicians.
  • The judge also clearly does not believe Keith Vaz’s story, who “by June 27 appears to have had second thoughts about the matter” by raising “issues about his health”. “It would be surprising if, as an experienced parliamentarian, Mr Vaz (a) had taken part in an important meeting if he felt himself unfit to do so; and (b) then failed to clearly make that point in his subsequent email.” Further, the judge thinks it “surprising” that neither George Howarth nor Huda Elmi “raised the issue of his fitness either at the time or subsequently”.
  • The judge was also critical of the fact that, while Williamson had to sign a confidentiality agreement, the party was briefing against him all the way through: “The proceedings of the disputes panel are supposed to be confidential. Nevertheless, the decision of this panel was immediately leaked to the press, together with the views expressed by the individual panel members. Indeed, Mr Williamson says that he learnt of the decision not from the party, but from media reports.”

Much of Pepperall’s judgment rests, however, on technical issues around the role of the “NEC organisation committee”, which is apparently the only body that could have overturned the decision of the NEC anti-Semitism panel, and not, as actually happened, the NEC disputes panel (though we would like to challenge anybody to tell us who exactly sits on this organisation committee). According to the rules, it is “a sub-committee of the NEC, appointed by the NEC and comprising of NEC members”. But the rules also say that the “NEC disputes panel [made up of all NEC members] is a panel of the NEC organisation committee.”

No wonder then that in terms of Williamson’s third suspension, the party was extra careful not to leak anything to the press. We can, however, glean the new charges from the judgment. They are, to put it mildly, laughable:

  • “Sending an email to a member of the public who had complained to you about your criticism of Margaret Hodge MP that referred her to a video” which was critical of Hodge.
  • “Publicly legitimising or endorsing the misconduct of members or former members” who have been found “grossly detrimental or prejudicial to the Labour Party” – ie, standing up for and speaking on platforms with Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Stan Keable, Tony Greenstein, etc.
  • “Publicly characterising the disciplinary process of the party” as “politically motivated and/or not genuine”.

But that is exactly what it is. Apparently, Williamson’s lawyer agreed that these were entirely new charges. We disagree. To us they look pretty similar to some of the charges in the first suspension (which the party is not allowed to present any more). These included, according to Pepperall’s judgment:

  • “Allegations of campaigning in favour of members who have been formally disciplined by the party for anti-Semitism.”
  • “Sharing platforms and giving public praise to people with a history of allegations of anti-Semitism against them.”

Of course, we know that very few people have actually been expelled for anti-Semitism. According to Jennie Formby’s report in February 2019, it was a mere 12 members, while in July she reported another eight. But comrades Walker, Wadsworth and Greenstein are not among them. They were all done for the catch-all charge of “bringing the party into disrepute”. So, by pointing out that these comrades have been wrongly smeared as “anti-Semites” – thanks, in part, to leaks from the party – Williamson has himself become guilty. If anything, this entire saga demonstrates how correct Williamson was to characterise the disciplinary process as “politically motivated”.

One of the reasons for this rushed third suspension is, of course, to stop Williamson from standing again for his seat of Derby North, should a general election be called soon (suspended members are barred). We have no doubt that the NEC will not make the same mistake twice and that his third suspension will result in the required expulsion. Judging from the harsh words that Williamson has for the “Labour bureaucracy” in his video explaining the verdict, he too seems to have little hope of his reinstatement any time soon.

Going right

The real tragedy in all of this is, of course, the role of the Labour leadership and their allies. We learn from the judgement that, apparently, Jennie Formby was at first reluctant to issue the third suspension, but was persuaded to do so by the people working in ‘Governance and Legal’ (formerly the compliance unit). She should have stood firm.

The same goes for the leader’s office. Indeed, set on achieving the ‘next Labour government’, what we are seeing is the politics of ambiguity becoming the politics of treachery. A shift more than symbolised by the nauseating chitchat between John McDonnell and Tony Blair’s spin-doctor, Alastair Campbell (the video is here).

We watched open-mouthed as McDonnell declared: “Tony Blair is not a war criminal. I’m hoping he will go down in history for the wonderful thing he did in Northern Ireland and not for what he did in Iraq.” Oh, that would be lovely. Shame that it won’t happen and that instead we will be reminded over and over again how poor old Blair sadly fell for the old ‘weapons of mass destruction’ lie and how that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

We are also relieved to hear that McDonnell is still a “republican”, although a pretty funny one: “I respect the constitutional settlement and it has to be protected.” That includes for him protecting “the monarchy” and “the rule of law”.

And yet apparently McDonnell still sees himself as a “9” on a left-right scale from 1 to 10, while his good mate, Alastair, is a solid “6”. When Campbell asked him if he agreed with his own expulsion from Labour (for publicly boasting that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats), McDonnell quickly replied: “No. Your expulsion was done under a stupid rule brought in by New Labour. You should submit your reapplication, just submit it.” We have no doubt that it would be approved. Should Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone or Stan Keable try … we can guess that outcome too.

As an aside, the clause in the rule that Campbell was expelled for is well … “stupid”:

A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member” (chapter 2, clause 1, point 4B).

The rule is clearly aimed at the left. Specifically the CPGB, which in the 1920s had much of its membership holding both Labour and Communist Party cards. Many CLPs supported CPGBers as official Labour candidates. Later, as the anti-CPGB witch-hunt proceeded, many CLPs supported unofficial Labour-communist candidates. So the rule should go. But so too should Alastair Campbell. Because he called for a vote for an openly capitalist party.

Bowing and scraping before the odious Campbell, the shadow chancellor also announced that he himself and Corbyn would resign if Labour loses the next general election. Because, you see, that is “the tradition”. Nonsense, of course. David Lloyd George did not resign in 1922. Nor did Winston Churchill in 1945. Nor did Harold Wilson resign in 1970. And we hear that Corbyn himself is less than keen to do so. After all, he did not resign when Labour lost the 2017 general election and it would have been ludicrous if he had.

Despite all our criticism of Corbyn’s lack of a backbone, his collapse over issues like Trident and his silence in the face of the witch-hunt, his leadership campaign did see hundreds of thousands flocking into Labour’s ranks and in the process trigger a bitter civil war. Offering Corbyn’s resignation is like waving a white flag. McDonnell is clearly interested in appeasing the right rather than in transforming the Labour Party in a socialist direction.

He thinks the next leader has to have only one qualification: “It should be a woman”. He has previously been singing the praises of the very moderate and very tame Rebecca Long-Bailey. But how about if the next leader was a socialist, preferably one with a backbone?

Tom Watson speech:
 Delegates plan protests

There have been some interesting ramifications since the Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, briefly faced the prospect of his job disappearing from under him. The threat to Watson’s livelihood came in the form of a motion from Momentum’s number one, Jon Lansman, to abolish the post of deputy altogether (precisely the type of bold ‘revolutionary’ method that Corbyn should be deploying in the inner-party war).

Comrades who read us yesterday will be aware that we were profoundly sceptical about the real motivations of this rather strange move by Lansman. The specific issue of the disappearing deputy leader quickly vanished. However, we are left with some interesting developments in the aftermath of the original spat.

First, we have the response of Corbyn himself. In yesterday’s bulletin, we characterised his general approach to the concrete question of the post of deputy and the threat to Watson as “supine” and Ghandi-like. Sadly, but predictably, this dismally timid method was carried over into the ‘positive’ solutions that he proposed for the structure of the leadership henceforth: ie, two deputy leaders … with the stipulation that one must be a woman. ‘Underwhelming’ would be an overstatement.

In contrast, Tom Watson pin-pointed precisely the key issue that political life in our organisation revolves around – there is a “battle for the future of the Labour Party”, he stated, in which members must “resist the destructive, corrosive impulse of factionalism”. (For ‘factionalism’ read ‘fighting for principled working class politics’.)
Thus far in this crisis in Labour, the members have been passive observers. So it is very encouraging that word reaches us of provisional plans for some sort of protest against Watson when he rises to his feet on Tuesday to address conference. Even better, there are reports that this may include not simply individual delegates, but also CLP and union blocks. Much like the reaction to the original Lansman/deputy leader incident, these provisional plans have caused dissent and divisions on the left.

The essential lines of demarcation were delineated in an exchange between two comrades online. First a member expressed the worry that the walkers would “look like those Brexit MEPs turning their backs at the EU”. No, came back the answer – “there’s a civil war going on and one side is doing all the attacking!”

The world view of our readers will probably not shatter if we tell you that we support the fighting stance of the latter, rather than the timid approach of the former. However, we do understand that comrades are sensitive to the danger of providing the venal media with more ammunition with which to smear our party and thus are wary of scenes of division and conflict on conference floor.

Understandable, but wrong. In fact, we should think of the battle within Labour as being over a project of political hygiene rather than some self-indulgent “factionalism”, as the deputy leader puts it. We urge comrades to support any protest that may be organised against the treacherous Tom Watson – a man who has been intricately involved in the witch-hunt against members of the party and attempts to undermine the leader. He is a disgrace and should be shamed not simply out of the Labour Party, but the wider workers’ movement too. He should be given the heave-ho, pronto!

We urge comrades to support any protest that may be organised against the treacherous Tom Watson – a man who has been intricately involved in the witch-hunt against members of the party and attempts to undermine the leader. He is a disgrace and should be shamed not simply out of the Labour Party, but the wider workers’ movement too. He should be given the heave-ho, pronto!

Understandable, but wrong. In fact, we should think of the battle within Labour as being over a project of political hygiene rather than some self-indulgent “factionalism”, as the deputy leader puts it.

We urge comrades to support any protest that may be organised against the treacherous Tom Watson – a man who has been intricately involved in the witch-hunt against members of the party and attempts to undermine the leader. He is a disgrace and should be shamed not simply out of the Labour Party, but the wider workers’ movement too. He should be given the heave-ho, pronto!

How to get rid of Tom Watson

With his much-publicised motion to abolish the position of deputy leader, Momentum’s owner Jon Lansman was trying to pose left – but don’t be fooled

The rather startling news broke late on Friday, September 20, that Momentum’s Jon Lansman had proposed a motion to Labour’s National Executive Committee that would effectively abolish the position of deputy leader of the party – and thus give the treacherous incumbent, Tom Watson, the bum’s rush. It came as a surprise to all of us, not least Watson himself who commented that he “got a text in a Chinese restaurant to say they were abolishing me.”

This unexpected development initially divided opinion amongst Labour lefties and a rather confused debate ensued on discussion lists. There was a general consensus that Lansman’s dramatic move was not sincere – the man has played a despicable role in the party since the election of Corbyn and snuffed out democracy in the organisation he lords over. Under his leadership Momentum nationally has politically degenerated to what looks like the point of no return. (Although, of course, there remain good comrades and principled branches in the organisation, doing useful socialist work.)

It is probably not necessary to remind readers of this bulletin of Jon Lansman’s entire shabby record, but particularly grotesque was the recent attack on Jewish Voice for Labour as “not being part of the Jewish community” and his demand that Chris Williamson MP should be summarily expelled from the Labour Party. Sadly, Momentum at a national level has become an organisation that has fully joined the witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

However, while there were no illusions from any section of the Labour left that the Momentum supremo had experienced some sort of socialist epiphany, this odd initiative by Lansman revealed a worrying conservatism on the part on some comrades. For example, leading figures in the Labour Representation Committee were very critical of Labour Party Marxist comrades who celebrated the opportunity – no matter how it had landed in our lap and however unlikely it was to win – to show Watson the door. Strangely, this was castigated as evidence of being in thrall to the bureaucracy, an example of “top down socialism”. In supposed contrast, our critics upheld the need for “a mass socialist movement from below” as the only way to see Watson off.

It seemed to have escaped these (often very experienced) comrades that Corbyn himself initially began his journey to the leadership of the Labour Party not as a result of a mass movement from below – it was gifted to him by the stupidly misplaced largess of the “morons”, as one of their number self-defined in retrospect. A mass movement was the result of this top-table blunder, not its cause. Posturing left and counter-posing an imaginary mass movement to this concrete, totally unexpected political opportunity would have been idiotic.

Tom Watson denounced the challenge to his position as a “drive-by-shooting”. The murder weapon turned out to be was a pea-shooter, however. On September 20, the NEC ruled that the Lansman motion was out of order as it did not command a 2/3 majority. It was referred to the NEC’s meeting on September 21, where Lansman apparently then withdrew it – after a typically supine, Ghandi-style intervention from Jeremy Corbyn, we are told. (Huffington Post reports that the mere threat of Watson’s removal had prompted 35 members of the Parliamentary Labour Party to sign up to demand another leadership challenge if Lansman’s motion passed. Clearly, Corbyn’s serial capitulations to the right win nothing from them in turn apart from contempt.)
Some comrades have dubbed this rather odd moment as little more than “grandstanding” on Lansman’s part. There is a little more to it than that, however.

Lansman’s uncharacteristic lurch left can also be plausibly explained as a reaction to pressure from the internal dissent of Momentum members, the general loss of forward impetus the organisation has experienced and – crucially – the impressive growth of the Labour Left Alliance, a principled organisation of the democratic left that opposes the ‘Anti-Zionism equals Anti-Semitism’ smear campaign in the Labour Party.

While the LLA does not call for individuals or branches to split from Momentum, the mere fact of a new kid on the block – with a political template for members’ democracy, an accountable leadership, and a militant determination to stand against the foul smears and persecution against the Labour left – might well have spurred Lansman to butch up politically to energise and enthuse his rank-and-file. Of course, if this is true, it casts the leader of Momentum in an even more cynical, unprincipled light.

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