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George Galloway and Claire Fox: Left cover for Farage’s Brexit Party

Nigel Farage is back. Again. And it looks like his fourth (or is it his fifth?) incarnation might be his most successful one yet. A YouGov poll for the May 23 European Union elections has his Brexit Party on 27% (sharply up from 15% the week before), followed by Labour on 22%, the Tories on 15% and the UK Independence Party on 7%. The Greens are on 10%, the Liberal Democrats on 9% and the saboteurs of the snappily titled ‘Change UK’ – formerly known as The Independent Group – are languishing at 6%. There was an expectation that Change UK and the Lib Dems would get it together in some kind of ‘remain’ alliance – perhaps with the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party. After all, fighting for a second referendum was officially one of the key reasons for TIG’s split from the Labour Party (along with Labour’s alleged widespread anti-Semitism, of course).

But, somewhat surprisingly, it is not to be, as Chuka Ummuna explains:

Change UK-TIG has not been formally approached by any of the other pro-EU parties with a view to running one list of candidates. That is because it is impossible to run one list of candidates unless you merge to form one party, which, not unreasonably, none of us are prepared to do.

Various disappointed bourgeois commentators have already pointed out that there were other methods with which pro-‘remain’ parties could have presented a more effective challenge: for example, by dividing up regions between them.

Overconfident public schoolboy that he is, Ummuna tries to assure them that “there is already a grassroots, ‘remain’ alliance – Change UK-TIG is it.” But, as they have also buggered up their application to stand in the local elections, these anti-Corbyn rightwingers continue to make headlines only for their ineptness: in the first 24 hours after the launch of its EU election campaign, two of Change UK’s European candidates have already been forced to step down for posting racist tweets. The only real ‘success’ they can claim is the fact that they got the Corbyn leadership to take yet another step back: in the hope of stopping other MPs from splitting because they fear being deselected by the local membership, Labour HQ has still not published a timetable to implement the reformed trigger ballot system – the only realistic way local Labour members can get rid of their sitting MP.

The undemocratic selection method for Labour’s EU candidates underlines the problem: ordinary members had zero input. In a brief email they have been informed – after the fact – that, “sitting MEPs who wished to stand again have been re-selected. Candidates for remaining places on the list have been appointed by joint NEC and regional selections boards following interviews earlier this week.” That means 16 out of Labour’s 20 sitting MEPs have automatically been reselected. The newcomers include Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand woman, Katy Clarke, and Momentum organiser Laura Parker, who has been heavily promoted by her boss, national executive member Jon Lansman. But overall the selection process has demonstrated yet again that the Corbyn leadership is continuing to try and appease the right in the party – even though this demonstratively does not work.

It seems unlikely that those elected on May 23 will remain MEPs only until October 31; we expect there will be more ‘deadlines’ and more extensions of Britain’s EU membership. And the fact that we are the middle of a huge constitutional crisis clearly makes this an important election. When have candidates for MEP positions ever received so much coverage in the national press?

Only one thing seems clear: unless the Tories get shot of Theresa May pronto – replacing her with somebody who looks like he/she could make Brexit work (a miracle) – they will receive an absolute trashing on May 23. A questionnaire of Tory members for the Conservative Home website found 62% were planning to vote for the Brexit Party, and only 23% intended to vote for their own. And a poll of Conservative councillors for the Mail on Sunday found that 40% of them were planning to vote for Nigel Farage’s party, and only 52% for the Tories. Sure, a lot can happen in six weeks and these polls are clearly biased – but undoubtedly they are telling a certain truth.

Nigel Farage’s latest organisation certainly has a lot of forward momentum. Former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe is the latest ‘celebrity’ to join the former Ukip leader. All things being equal, it looks as if the party will do as well as – if not better than – Ukip did at the last European elections in 2014, when it came first with 27.5 % of the vote. The Brexit Party already has a sizeable fraction in the European parliament – 14 of the 24 MEPs elected as Ukip members have already switched allegiance since it was launched in January.

Nigel’s former party, Ukip, meanwhile, has Tommy Robinson, Carl Benjamin (he who “wouldn’t even rape” Jess Phillips MP) and Mark Meechan, also known as Count Dankula – the man who was fined £800 for teaching his dog to perform a Nazi salute when he shouted things like “Sieg Heil”. They seem to be aiming to win the votes of – how to put this? – a particularly narrow and alienated section of the working class, which tends to be male and very white.

Compared to those clowns, the Brexit Party really does look rather sane. Farage is, of course, a Tory at heart, albeit a very rightwing one. He has assured people that he is “sorry to be taking votes from the Conservatives” and that his main target are “disappointed Labour voters in the northern heartlands”.

And a certain Claire Fox is supposed to be covering his left flank. Fox was a leading member in the Revolutionary Communist Party and all its transformations since: Living Marxism, Spiked and the Institute of Ideas, which is now the Academy (!) of Ideas. Her sharp move to the right has been characterised by the belief that capitalism is a really good thing and that the world needs more of it (for example, to end hunger in Africa). For the last decade or so, the output of Fox and other co-thinkers like Frank Furedi and Mick Hume could at best be described as rightwing libertarian.

Another candidate on Farage’s list is Spiked contributor Alka Sehgal Cuthbert. She unconvincingly explains how she, “as an Indian”, can support a party committed to keeping out refugees and foreigners:

The EU is not a haven of social justice – it is a thoroughly racist institution. In order to maintain EU free movement, it has to ensure its borders are kept tightly sealed against non-EU people.

She is obviously aware that Farage happens to be the guy who during the 2016 referendum campaign unveiled his ‘Breaking Point’ poster, which depicted threatening masses of Syrian refugees bound for the UK. So she quickly and unconvincingly points out: “That poster, or anything else Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage may have said, pales into insignificance compared with the egregious racism of the EU.” So Farage is not quite as bad as the EU then. Not much of an endorsement.

Claire Fox, on the other hand, overplays her leftie credentials just a little bit when she assures us in an article for the Daily Mail that she has been a “leftwing campaigner for 35 years. I’ve been arrested on picket lines, led anti-imperialist demonstrations and spoken at anti-deportation protests outside police stations.”It’s been a while though, hasn’t it, Claire?

She leaves out the fact that Spiked has been arguing for years that the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’ are oh so wrong and old-fashioned, because, don’t you know, “We live in a world beyond left and right politics”. In her article, she briefly references this position by claiming that, “the left-right divide has been replaced by democrats vs anti-democrats”, before describing herself as a “lefty” a few more times. To top it all, she claims to be acting in the tradition of the “Levellers during the Civil War, the Chartists in the 19th century or the suffragettes in early 20th”.

For Claire Fox and her ilk, “sovereignty” is the key, because we “remain shackled to Brussels”. She cannot see any problem with standing alongside Farage, because this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to save “our democracy” from those evil foes in the EU. Fox has a problem only with the EU version of capitalism, because it is too regulated and Spiked very much believes in the free market – free for the capitalists, not for immigrants, obviously. Some “lefty”.

Slightly more sad – though not entirely surprising – is George Galloway’s support for Farage. On April 17, he declared on Twitter:

Given the nature of Labour’s Euro-fanatic candidates list and the crucial juncture we have reached in the fight for the full implementation of the Brexit referendum result and for one time only, I will be supporting Nigel Farage in next month’s elections.”

Clearly, he has given up hope of ever getting back into the Labour Party. Galloway seems to agree with Farage on the need for tougher immigration controls: “Being opposed to mass immigration is not (necessarily) racist,” he writes – “only Trotskyites and globalised capitalists really believe in ‘open borders’.”

This is nothing new, of course. He already outlined his reactionary beliefs in 2005 when he was still allied with the Socialist Workers Party in Respect. The SWP kept schtum when he wrote an infamous article in the Morning Star, where he called for “an economic-social-demographic plan for population growth based on a points system and our own needs” (ie, the needs of British capital). He claimed that the scrapping of immigration controls would mean “urging all the most accomplished and determined people to leave the poor countries of the world and come to the richest, [making] the poor countries even poorer and the rich countries richer”. 1)Morning Star February 12 2005

No doubt, Farage will have some success in appealing to Brexit-supporting members of the working class who usually vote Labour and would probably do so in a general election – in fact, we have been rather disturbed to see evidence of that in Corbyn-supporting Facebook groups. Not because of Claire Fox posing unconvincingly as a leftwinger, but because the Labour Party will have to continue to ‘sit on the fence’ for as long as possible, if it does not want to seriously alienate large sections of its electoral base on either side of the Brexit divide.

In the EU poll (as well as the local elections), we urge our supporters to vote Labour – despite the many, many shortcomings of the Corbyn leadership. There remains a window of opportunity to radically transform the Labour Party into a united front of a special kind.

Carla Roberts


1 Morning Star February 12 2005

The revolutionary left: Still on the sidelines

Organisations such as SPEW, SWP, CPB and Left Unity are not only draining members, says Robert Matron: they are profoundly disorientated politically

Having dismissed the Labour Party as nothing more than a British version of the US Democrat Party, having backed the left-nationalist Scottish Socialist Party, having fought for trade unions to disaffiliate from Labour, having promoted the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition as a Labour Party mark two, Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, has been busily backtracking. Now he says, quite rightly, that Labour should open up to affiliation by the likes of SPEW.

Yet comrade Taaffe cannot frankly admit that for nearly two decades he has been wrong about the Labour Party. That for nearly two decades he has misled his organisation. Hence, instead of urging his members and supporters to join Labour, join in order to defend Jeremy Corbyn from the right, join to fight alongside other leftwingers to transform it into a permanent united front, comrade Taaffe resorts to all manner of ultimatums, posturing and subterfuges.

Labour councils should stop blaming the Tories for austerity; they should agree illegal budgets. Labour should allow the RMT union to support whatever election candidates it happens to like. Labour should accept the collective demand for readmittance from Militant members expelled in the 1980s. Labour should issue an affiliation invitation to SPEW.

Till such demands are met comrade Taaffe will claim the necessity of standing “against rightwing, cuts-inflicting Labour candidates”.[1] Till such demands are met SPEW will continue with the farcical Tusc project. Till such demands are met SPEW will continue to oppose the growing numbers arguing for the RMT to reaffiliate and PSC to affiliate. Till such demands are met SPEW will stand aloof from the historic battle that is raging ever more fiercely inside the Labour Party.

Comrade Taaffe seems to imagine himself akin to Mohammed, the prophet of Islam – that he can order the Labour mountain to come to him. But, of course, so the story goes: “If the mountain will not come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain.” In other words, Mohammed, as recounted by the philosopher Francis Bacon, was a lot cleverer, a lot more realistic, than comrade Taaffe.

However, comrade Taaffe is a towering genius compared with Robert Griffiths, the general secretary of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. When not promising to shop “entryists” to our witch-finder general, Iain McNicol, what he displays is a completely imbecilic attitude towards Labour’s civil war. He says there are more important issues … like routine strikes and protest demonstrations.

Echoing him, Morning Star editor Ben Chacko is just as witless. He sees “a task far bigger than the Labour Party”. Fighting for a mass revolutionary party? No. Forging the links necessary for establishing a new workers’ international? No. What comrade Chacko, laughably, wants is “organising at a local level in groups such as the People’s Assembly, Keep Our NHS Public, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and many more”.[2]

Where we in LPM strive to elevate local struggles to the national and the international level, comrade Chacko’s sights are set on “saving an A&E or a youth club”. That he does so in the name of Marxist politics and creating a mass movement on the scale of the Chartists shows an inability to grasp even the A in the ABC of communism.

Left Unity condemned itself to irrelevance in February 2016 when it rejected any active involvement in the Labour Party. In fact, many prominent members believed the election of Jeremy Corbyn was a total disaster. Their illusory project of building a left-reformist “alternative to the main political parties” had just hit the rocks of reality. Since then one resignation has followed another. Many who once greeted Corbyn’s election as a total disaster are now members or want to be members of the Labour Party.

Under national secretary Felicity Dowling, what remains of Left Unity is reduced to voting Labour – except maybe in Scotland – and issuing banal calls to support this campaign, that protest: Another Europe, Stand Up to Racism, the People’s Assembly demo, etc. No wonder its entire London membership now meets in the snug little room provided by Housman’s bookshop.

Then there is Charlie Kimber – indicating the Socialist Workers Party’s crisis of leadership, he is now joint national secretary and Socialist Worker editor. Anyway, showing a modicum of common sense, the SWP “suspended” its involvement with Tusc (reducing it in the process to just two affiliates – SPEW and the RMT).

As might be expected, comrade Kimber called for a Labour vote on June 8 – except in Scotland – but, the more SWP members leave for the Labour Party, the more he too stresses localism, the latest demonstrations, economic strikes and fake fronts.

In his ‘Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter’, comrade Kimber warns that “there’s a great danger that you could be drawn into endless internal battles”. The “crucial arena” of struggle is not “the long slog” of “endless meetings to (perhaps) get rid of a rightwinger”.[3] No, its is economic strikes and street demonstrations.

Evidently, comrade Kimber does not have a clue about transforming the Labour Party or even how it could be opened up to affiliation once again. How the Parliamentary Labour Party could be made into the servants, not the masters, of the labour movement. How Labour could be armed with Marxist principles, with a new clause four. How Labour could be made into Britain’s version of soviets: ie, a permanent united front of all working class organisations.

Comrade Kimber’s myopic claim that what really matters is not changing the Labour Party through the long, hard slog, but the “fightback in the workplaces and the streets”, is a Bakuninist, not a Marxist, formulation. For the 19th century anarchist leader, Mikhail Bakunin, direct action – ie, strikes and protests – were the key to revolution. By contrast, Marxists have always placed their emphasis on programme, consciousness and the patient work of building a mass party and digging deep social roots.

In Marxist terms, because the Labour Party is historically established, because it is a class party, because it involves all big unions, because it has a mass electoral base, because it has drawn in hundreds of thousands of new members, what is now happening in Labour is a far higher form of the class struggle than mere economic strikes, protest demonstrations – let alone the ephemeral fake fronts established by this or that small left group.

In point of fact, the ongoing civil war in the Labour Party is a concentrated form of the class struggle, because above all it is a political struggle. Labour’s leftwing mass membership is confident, is learning and is determined to take on and defeat the smug middle class careerists, the pro-capitalist warmongers, the defenders of Zionist oppression in Palestine and, behind that, the Anglo-American imperialist alliance.

To belittle what is happening in the Labour Party, to abstain from the struggle to transform the Labour Party, is inexcusable for any socialist.

[1]. ‘What we think’ The Socialist September 20 2017.

[2]. Morning Star September 10-11 2016.

[3]. Socialist Worker September 20 2016.

The left and the snap election: Total intellectual collapse

Theresa May’s snap election call brought forth no end of statements, editorials and rallying cries from every little group going. e details di er, but the overall picture is of dreary homogeneity. May has called the election because she is in a position of weakness. Never mind the polls: Jeremy Corbyn can lead Labour to victory. His policies are popular. All he needs to do is take a strong line on such-and-such an issue which is our group’s particular hobby-horse, and the great escape is on.

Take, for example, the Morning Star and its ebullient April 22 editorial. “When Theresa May says that the general election result is ‘not certain’ despite opinion polls giving the Tories a huge lead,” writes (presumably) editor Ben Chacko, “for once her words can be taken at face value.” May is bottling debates with the leaders of other parties because she is scared: after all, “many Labour policies are popular with the electorate”; better to concentrate “on flimsy pretexts such as parliamentary frustration of the ‘leave’ decision”. “Corbyn and his team have hit the ground running”, and “[May’s] lead may dwindle more quickly than expected.”

On closer inspection, Chacko does not seem sure – may dwindle more quickly than expected – how much more, and expected by whom? You know the polls are looking bad when this is the best the Star will do; anyone who got all their news from this grovelling daily could be forgiven for thinking that the last two years have consisted entirely of a single, continuous red tide of Labour success, and a statue of Jeremy was already on order for Parliament Square.

The final words of the editorial – “all labour movement activists need to give full backing to Corbyn, move beyond media obsessions with establishment obsessions and image and argue the case for a Labour victory” – at least nod to the problem, which is that the whole labour movement is not at all united in giving full backing to Corbyn, but instead riddled with saboteurs. All along, of course, the Star has acted as a mouthpiece for the leader’s office line of compromise, which is what has landed us here, with Labour’s electoral campaign beset constantly with outright and unchallenged sabotage.

Bold tendencies

The Star seems to think that Corbyn’s programme is acceptable in itself: abolishing grammar schools, raising the minimum wage and four entire new bank holidays – a cornucopia of socialist progress! Backsliding on Trident is, at least, regretted, although blamed on “an anonymous party official”.

Other groups, in the grand Trotskyist tradition of positioning oneself a meagre few seconds of arc to the left of the prevailing Stalinist wisdom, demand more. From the Socialist Party in England and Wales comes the call for a “bold socialist campaign” (The Socialist, April 25). Socialist Resistance cries out for a “radical left programme” (April 19). Socialist Appeal wants a “bold socialist alternative” (April 18) … and so on.

What counts as a socialist programme nowadays? SPEW provide some details, as comfortingly familiar as a pair of slippers – “renationalisation of [all] privatised public services”, and the banks, and the pharmaceutical industry, all of which should be “linked to the need for fundamental socialist change”. The last phrase sounds radical, but is actually entirely meaningless – linked how, comrades? When Theresa May ‘links’ such plans to the gulag, will that count? If the ‘link’ is so important, why not just demand Corbyn puts the actual transformation in his programme?

Remarkably, neither Resisting Socialism’s Alan Thornett nor the relevant issuers-of-statements of Socialist Appeal have anything much to say on the matter of “radical left” or “bold socialist” policies. Both, however, urge Corbyn to permit the Scottish nationalists their second referendum (and indeed both endorse a ‘yes’ vote, though neither say so in their election statements). Socialist Worker went further in an article prior to May’s election call, suggesting that Labour’s poll ratings could in part be repaired by “backing Scottish independence”.

The SWP version of this is useful as an extreme point of the sheer madness of this method. If Jeremy Corbyn came out tomorrow with a statement backing Scottish independence, the immediate response would likely be a unilateral declaration of independence of the Scottish Labour Party. Theresa May would gladly cash the blank cheque, and denounce Labour on the basis of English chauvinism. Labour would be crucified both sides of the border.

We need to be clear about the point of all this. If it were a matter of principle to support Scottish independence, then that might be a sacrifice worth making. But Socialist Worker sells it not as a sacrifice at all, but as a sure means of victory; and likewise do SA and SR sell their milder versions of the same as a promising electoral gambit; and so also does SPEW claim that wide nationalisation is the royal road to popularity … This logic is so common on the far left that it barely passes notice, but under the circumstances we must insist that it is nonsensical; for it consists of utterly marginal forces in society imagining that their particular combination of shibboleths already possesses enormous mass support which has somehow heretofore gone unnoticed.

A particular case of this syndrome is Brexit, where our comrades are at sixes and sevens, having taken entirely different lines on the matter. Thornett demands that Labour “present an alternative to the hard Brexit being planned by May, including the retention of free movement in the event of access the single market [sic – presumably this should be ‘losing access to the single market’ – PD]”. In similar mood the ultra-remoaners of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty call “for opposition to the Tories’ Brexit plans, for defence of free movement and migrants’ rights, for remaining in the single market” – otherwise “Labour will go into the election echoing, or scarcely contesting, the Tories’ main message” (April 18). Equal and opposite are the left Brexiteers of the Morning Star and SPEW.

Both sides argue that a clear line on Brexit is fundamental to success – their line. And for both sides the argument is substantially negative, in that choosing the opposite line is an error. For the AWL, a firm perspective for Brexit will leave Labour indistinguishable from the Tories; for The Socialist a ‘soft’ Brexit or ‘remain’ position would alienate “workers who voted for Brexit [who] did so primarily because they were in revolt against all the misery they have suffered over the last decade”. The problem is that they are both right: if Corbyn drifts towards the remainers, he will be torn apart for being ‘out of touch’ with ‘ordinary people’, in his ‘cosmopolitan elite bubble’. If he hardens on Brexit, the pace of Blairite sabotage will be accelerated, and he will be lambasted for losing control of his party.

In short, the game is rigged, and all this ‘tactical advice’ from well-meaning lefts is utterly facile. It reveals the serried ranks of Britain’s Marxists as what they are, which is to say, merely pale echoes of Labourism. What has Corbyn been up to, after all, if not casting around for wizard wheezes and gimmicks to shore up his short-term popularity? The Corbyn office’s strategy has been to give all the ground asked of them on issues of ‘high politics’, and fight purely on a platform of modest economic reforms. The result is that he and his allies refuse to confront the actual arrangement of power against him, leading to the present situation, where he must fight a general election under constant assault from his own side. The far left does not seriously confront this problem, merely recommending a different slate of gimmicks.

We live in strange times, and it may be that there is a startling reversal before June 8. Yet that is in many respects besides the point. The left so fears defeat that it refuses to even think it possible, insisting that May could come unstuck, or isn’t as strong as she looks, or whatever other comforting delusions are available. But, on the basis of all currently available evidence, the left will not wake up on June 9 with a friend in Number 10. What then, comrades? Do we go back to our papers, and write in sadness that everything would have been different if Corbyn had promised to nationalise Pfizer under democratic workers’ control? Or do we fight to purge the labour movement of traitors and build it into a social force that can withstand the attacks of the bosses’ media?

We would hope for a renewed commitment to the latter. Yet we must admit it is probably a more forlorn hope than the most dewy-eyed Corbynite expresses for June’s election. The Morning Star and its Communist Party of Britain are incapable of political lines that seriously oppose the left wing of the bureaucracy; SPEW prefers to obey the orders of the RMT union rather than actually get involved in the Labour Party struggle; the SWP actively discourages its members and periphery from engaging in such internal struggles; the AWL involves itself, but often on the wrong side; Socialist Appeal has fallen so utterly into flighty eclecticism and millenarian crisis-mongering that we cannot be sure when their attention will stray elsewhere; and Resisting Socialism is reduced to hopeless liberal philistinism, and will abandon Labour as soon as they deem something else sufficiently attractive to ‘the youth’ they (and, these days, most of us) so conspicuously lack.

Thus the paradox of the situation: the greatest opportunity the left has had in a generation coincides with its political nadir.

Momentum – through the looking glass

Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists wonders if the bourgeois press thinks their readers are sheep 

We are barely two weeks into Momentum’s existence, and already the British media is terribly excited – bringing to bear the fearless pursuit of truth, attention to detail and scrupulous fair-mindedness for which it is famed.

There is, of course, nothing more suspicious than a group of persons associating together in pursuit of common political objectives. There must, surely, be some hidden agenda. And our brave hacks have done a stand-up job assembling as much evidence as possible to demonstrate that all those participating in Momentum have, unbeknownst to themselves, joined a lunatic Trotskyist cult.

Representative of this tendency is, first of all, Dan Hodges writing in The Daily Telegraph. Hodges cut his teeth as, according to his former byline in the paper, a “Blairite cuckoo in the Brownite nest” at the fag-end of the last Labour government; though he no longer calls himself a Labour member, his agenda has not significantly changed since departing (which really ought to tell you something about how closely his ‘values’ were aligned to the labour movement in the first place).

Anyway, for Hodges, “Momentum [is] spelt M-I-L-I-T-A-N-T”.1 It seems you cannot turn over a rock in the Labour Party without finding some swivel-eyed, ranting leftie beneath, and Hodges is fixated on one Jon Lansman, associated with such sinister ventures as, er, his blog (Left Futures) and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Hodges’s ‘smoking gun’ is an article by Lansman noting that Jeremy Corbyn’s rightwing opponents have not gone away, and it will be necessary to defend the leftwing leadership “when they strike”. Very militant-sounding, of course – but surely little more than a statement of fact. How dare the Corbynistas not abandon their leader to the carnivorous affections of his enemies!

Momentum is thus described rather grandly as Corbyn’s “Praetorian guard”, when – inasmuch as it has any success getting off the ground – it will resemble not some elite military unit, but rather the same bundle of naive, excitable human material that so spectacularly swept aside the cynical Brewers Green machine people this summer. If one were so minded, one could call such an agglomeration a ‘mob’; and, indeed, Hodges comes close when he declares mandatory reselection of MPs to be a “protection racket” (how dare those little people in branches and CLPs presume to interfere in promising careers!). Praetorian guard, not so much.

It paints a pretty picture, though – on one side, a vast invading force of hardened warriors (or, otherwise, a Mafia family – if only Hodges could make his mind up); and the other, a rag-tag militia of simple-hearted Labour ‘moderates’, with only parliamentary salaries, corporate backing and the entire bourgeois press to defend them. Will our plucky heroes survive, against all the odds?

Hodges is not the only journo with Militant on the mind. While he can only manufacture silly conspiracy theories about Jon Lansman, however, The Sunday Times at least managed to find some kind of tenuous connection – in the person of Dave Nellist, former Militant MP, and still a leading light in Militant’s modern incarnation, the Socialist Party in England and Wales.

The first sentence – which, as any journalism course will tell you, is the most important, since it is the most likely to be read – reads: “Trotskyists are being urged to join a new group for Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in a fresh effort to purge moderate Labour MPs and shift the party further to the left.” Those who make the effort to read a little further are rewarded with the subtle clarification that comrade Nellist supports … mandatory reselection, “which moderates fear will lead to a purge”. By “moderates”, they mean rightists; by “fear”, they mean ‘are telling the press’; by “purge”, they mean a reckoning with their treachery. Other than that, entirely fair and accurate.

Lest the reader imagine that this sort of fanciful material is restricted to august mainstays of the rightwing press, we cite, finally, the Huffington Post: a terribly modern, web-only bunch of liberal clickbait peddlers. Breaking with the pattern observed so far, HuffPo’s Owen Bennett discovers the hidden hand not of Militant, but the Socialist Workers Party. What’s the skinny here? That the SWP’s Party Notes – forced into the open by this paper – calls for its members to attend Momentum meetings, make their political affiliation clear and see if any of those present would be interested in attending the Next Really Important Demonstration.

SWP national secretary Charlie Kimber was happy to offer a few ‘damning’ quotes to Bennett (who, somewhat ungratefully, calls him “Mr Kimble” for most of the piece – whoops!), suggesting that the SWP might perhaps consider standing candidates against Labour “when you have a rightwing Labour council sticking two fingers up to Jeremy Corbyn”.3 Displaying an uncharacteristic sense of caution, “Mr Kimble” insists that any such action would have to be considered “very carefully”. Very wise – not that Owen Bennett is able to judge.

Wrong for 20 years

In truth, none of the far-left bogeypersons advanced by the media are really plausible. We may return to SPEW, née Militant: it would be a wonderful thing, truly, if it were leading its members decisively into battle against the poor beleaguered souls of the Labour right. It is, alas, doing no such thing. It is plain enough at this point that its leadership has come round – grudgingly – to the idea that the fight is worth having. Very good.

However, it has spent the last two decades committed more staunchly than anyone to the idea that the Labour Party is dead and it is necessary to break all remaining pro-working class forces from its allegiance, to form a new workers’ party in the idealised image SPEW has of old Labour. Instead of merely admitting the plain truth – that, in the light of newly available evidence, those 20 years were spent committed to a wrong theory – SPEW instead chooses to contort reality, claiming that it was correct all along, and a full and final victory for Corbyn would represent in reality the founding of the new workers’ party it had always envisioned!

This is a notably lithe theoretical dodge, but advancing it among people who have not already drunk the Kool-Aid will provoke laughter at best, and a discreet phone call to the men in white coats at worst. The confusion does not stop there – SPEW has called for affiliations to be opened up to its like, but still opposes the re-affiliation of the RMT and FBU unions, and still insists that it will run candidates against Labour in the next local elections – SPEW supremo Peter Taaffe is evidently not as circumspect as “Mr Kimble”.

In short – ladies and gentlemen of the press – Militant is not back from the dead, and is not presently the danger you remember it to be. But without Militant running things in secret, and without SWP infiltration, just what is there left to be scared of? Fortunately, Sam Coates – deputy political editor of The Times, no less – has discovered another insidious threat.

Labour Party Marxists has published a six-point plan to ensure that Mr Corbyn’s agenda is widely adopted: “As the hard right begins its civil war, the left must respond with disciplinary threats, constitutional changes and reselection measures,” it said.

Indeed, we did – and do. These people are traitors, and need to be ushered – politely but insistently – out of the Labour movement. This is not their place. It is not clear how many people are listening to us, if that matters. We do not exaggerate our influence in the wider movement; after all, we have the deputy political editors of eminent daily papers to do that for us, apparently.

There are three possible explanations for these egregious stupidities. The first is that they are honest, if severe, mistakes. The deputy political editor of The Times has mistaken our small propaganda group for a large organisation that will rise, rampant, should mandatory reselection be placed on the Labour Party rulebook. Its Sunday sister is genuinely under the illusion that the modern successor to Militant still has the wherewithal to take over city councils and get people onto the Labour benches. (Simple error, if nothing else, almost certainly accounts for the “Mr Kimble” business.)

Number two: these papers are actively and deliberately lying. Their activity is equivalent in substance and form to the forged ‘Zinoviev letter’ – a cynical and dirty trick to delegitimise the Labour leadership.

And finally, the middle way: the elementary errors of research and fact are to be explained by an indifference to the truth of the matter. This is the mode of communication defined by philosopher Harry G Frankfurt as “bullshit”.4 The bullshitter cares not if what he says is true; only that it convinces enough people enough of the time.

The common thread among all three is contempt for the readership. Either these stories are deliberately deceptive; or they are advanced in the confidence that nobody will check either way; or those commissioned to write them are incompetent. None of these options shines glory on the papers concerned. The condition for any of them working is uncritical acceptance of untruths by the people they purport to keep informed.

Well, if anybody is curious enough to find this article as a result of all this free publicity, and patient enough to read all the way to the end – socialism is, above all else, about not treating the general population like morons. It is this dangerous idea that rankles both the careerist technocrats of the Labour right and the demagogues of the press.


1. The Daily Telegraph October 10.

2. The Sunday Times October 18.

3. www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/10/16/momentum- swp-jamie-reed-entyists_n_8312330.html.

4. HG Frankfurt On bullshit Princeton 2005.


Recruit, win new affiliates, transform

Jeremy Corbyn’s election presents the left with a historic opportunity. James Marshall of Labour Party Marxists outlines a programme of immediate action and long-term strategic goals

First the background. Once Jeremy Corbyn got past the gatekeepers of the Parliamentary Labour Party and made it onto the ballot he was always going to be the winner. There are millions out there who are angry, who, no matter how vaguely, want a better world, who feel alienated from and unrepresented by the pro-austerity Labour right. They found their weapon in the person of comrade Corbyn.

Already, even in the early stages, pollsters had him way out in front: eg, on 53%. And, of course, on the very last day, on August 12, when people had their final opportunity to sign up and vote in the leadership contest, the Labour Party’s computer system crashed. It was obvious why. Corbyn supporters were desperately trying to register. So the 59.5% vote came as no surprise to me. Frankly, I was expecting something a little over 60%.

Anyway, there can be no doubting the scale of Corbyn’s victory. He ended miles ahead of Andy Burnham (19%), Yvette Cooper (17%) and Liz Kendall (4.5%). And the fact that Tom Watson, the Brownite deputy leader, only won after three rounds means comrade Corbyn possesses immense authority. So fuck Watson’s doubts over Trident, etc. Our Jeremy gained a crushing first-round mandate in all three categories: registered supporters: 83.8%; affiliates: 57.6%; individual members: 49.6%. To rebel against Corbyn is to rebel against these figures.

Despite that, at the well publicised prompting of Peter Mandelson, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett and above all Tony Blair, the hard right have already launched what will be a protracted, bitter, no-holds-barred struggle to overturn the September 12 result. Blair’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ opinion piece in The Observer had nothing to do with the former prime minister trying to swing votes in the closing two weeks of the leadership campaign.1 Corbyn had already won. No, its purpose was perfectly clear. Rally the Blairites and their corporate, state and international allies … and declare war.

As I have argued, under present circumstances it is unlikely that the hard right will go for a breakaway. Another Social Democratic Party is an outside possibility. But, unlike the early 1980s, the centre ground is not on the up. At the last general election the Lib Dems were decimated. They remain marginalised and loathed. Hence the Blairites have nowhere to go except the government benches. Being dedicated careerists, they are hardly attracted to that – their constituents would turf them out at the first opportunity. Instead of the glories of high office it would be a suicide jump. Knowing that probable outcome, most of the right will therefore stay put and fight hard … until we send them packing.

The announcement by leading members of the right that they would refuse seats in comrade Corbyn’s shadow cabinet needs to be understood as an act of civil war. Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Liz Kendall, Shabana Mahmood, Mary Creagh, Jamie Reid, Chris Leslie and Rachael Reeves have in effect constituted themselves a shadow, shadow cabinet. Obviously this parliamentary gang of 10 do not share the same values as the mass of Labour members.

In that context, Corbyn is absolutely right to maintain the power to hire and fire. After all, he faces not just 10 rebels, No, it is more like 100. We Marxists want the abolition of the Bonapartist position of leader.

But these are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. The idea of having the PLP electing the shadow cabinet was being touted by the right. But thankfully Corbyn thought twice about his early pronouncements on this subject. Instead he wisely opted to keep the dictatorial approach long favoured by past Labour leaders.

Appointing the shadow chancellor was a litmus test. Many timid leftists as well as members of Corbyn’s inner circle were reportedly urging him to opt for someone from the centre. Instead he chose John McDonnell. Excellent. So there is in effect a Corbyn-McDonnell leadership.

Offering shadow cabinet seats to the likes of Andy Burnham, Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle, Lucy Powell, Lord Falconer, Rosie Winterton and Chris Bryant was always going to happen. Corbyn is a natural conciliator. And the fact of the matter is that there are simply not enough leftwingers in parliament. Unless, that is, Corbyn went for a pocket-sized shadow cabinet and appointed shadow ministers from outside parliament. That is what we LPMers advocated.

Nevertheless, equipped with his left-centre-right coalition, Corbyn can claim the moral high ground. He is reaching out to all sections of the party. Meanwhile, in terms of internal perceptions, it is the hard right that will be blamed for starting the civil war. That will play badly with traditional Labour loyalists. They do not take kindly to anyone damaging Labour’s chances at the polls. After all, for most Labour councillors and would-be Labour councillors, most Labour MPs and would-be Labour MPs, the be-all and end-all of politics is getting into office, no matter what the programme.

However, the hard right will have the full backing of the capitalist media, the City of London, the military-industrial complex and the secret state. And Corbyn’s much publicised admiration for Karl Marx, his campaigning against US-led imperialist wars, his opposition to Nato, Trident and nuclear weapons, his commitment to increase the tax take from transnational corporations, the banks and the mega-rich, his republicanism – even his refusal to sing the royal anthem at St Paul’s – mark him out as completely unacceptable for Labour’s hard right and the business and state establishment.

Of course, the distinct danger is that the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership will have their agenda set for them by the need to maintain PLP unity. Put another way, in what is a coalition cabinet, it will be the right that sets the limits and therefore determines the political programme. Why? Because they are quite prepared to walk. That is what Burnham has indicated over Nato and nuclear weapons. The decision by Corbyn to kneel before Elizabeth Windsor and accept a place on her privy council is therefore more than a symbolic gesture.

Watering down, abandoning, putting principles onto the backburner in an attempt to placate the right, if it continues to happen, will prove fatal. Such a course will demobilise, demoralise and drain away Corbyn’s mass base in and out of the party.

Hence the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership faces both an enemy within the PLP and an enemy within the shadow cabinet. That is why Marxists will, at the first politically appropriate moment, be agitating for the removal of rightwingers from the shadow cabinet. An obvious target being Tony Blair’s old flatmate and co-thinker, Lord Charlie Falconer. He has already threatened to quit over the EU referendum.


The left in the Labour Party faces three immediate tasks.

Firstly, there must be a concerted drive to win registered supporters to become full individual members. There are now well over 100,000 of them. If they want to bolster Corbyn’s position, if they want to ensure that he stays true to his principles, then the best thing that they can do is to get themselves a vote when it comes to the national executive committee, the selection and reselection of MPs, MEPs, councillors, etc. Card-carrying members can also attend ward and constituency meetings and vote for officer positions.

Secondly, within the affiliated trade unions we must fight to win many, many more to enrol as Labour supporters. Just over 70,000 affiliated supporters voted in the leadership election. A tiny portion of what it could be. There are 4,414,929 who pay the political levy.2 Given that they can sign up to the Labour Party at no more than a click of a button, we really ought to have a million affiliate supporters as a minimum target.

Thirdly, the constituency, branch (ward) and other such basic units must be revived and galvanised. Everything should be done to encourage new members and returnees to attend meetings and elect officers who oppose austerity and want to support the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership. Labour’s constituency and branches can be made into local centres of organisation, education and action. As such they would be well placed to conduct a mass campaign to get local people onto the electoral register. The election commission estimates that nationally “approximately 7.5 million individuals are not registered”.3


As the hard right begins its civil war, the left must respond with a combination of disciplinary threats, constitutional changes and reselection measures. Those in the pay of big business, those sabotaging Labour election campaigns, those who vote with the Tories on austerity, war or migration, must be hauled up before the NEC. If MPs refuse to abide by party discipline, the whip must be withdrawn. We should democratically select and promote trustworthy replacement candidates. If that results in a smaller PLP in the short term, that is a price well worth paying.

Obviously, the party must be reorganised from top to bottom. A special conference – ie, in spring 2016 – should be called by the NEC with a view to radically overhauling the constitution and rules, and undertaking an across-the-board political reorientation. We need a new clause four, we need a sovereign conference, we need to be able to easily reselect MPs, MEPs and councillors. We also need to sweep away the undemocratic rules and structures put in place by Blair. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums – the whole horrible rigmarole should go.

Clearly it is going to take time to transform the PLP and subordinate it to the wishes of the membership. But with a combination of threat, reselection and rule change it can be done.

A particularly potent weapon here is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker. A principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. From memory even the Italian Communist Party under Enrico Berlinguer applied the partymax in the 1970s. With the PCI’s huge parliamentary fraction this proved to be a vital source of funds.

Our MPs are now on a basic £67,060 annual salary. On top of that, they get around £12,000 in expenses and allowances, putting them on just under £80,000 (yet at present they are only obliged to pay the £82 parliamentarians’ subscription rate). And as leader of the official opposition Jeremy Corbyn has just got himself a £6,000 pay rise.4

We in the LPM say, let them keep the average skilled workers’ wage: say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). They should, however, hand the balance over to the party. That would give a considerable boost to our finances. Even if we leave out MEPs from the calculation, it would amount to a roughly £900,000 extra. Anyway, whatever our finances, there is a basic principle. Our representatives ought to live like ordinary workers, not pampered members of the upper middle class. So, yes, let us impose the partymax.

In the three days following Corbyn’s election 30,000 joined the party.5 Many more should be expected. But we need to reach out to all those who are disgusted by corrupt career politicians, all those who aspire for a better world, all those who have an objective interest in ending capitalism. To do that we need to establish our own mass media.

Much to the chagrin of the fourth estate, comrade Corbyn has shown his “contempt” for the capitalist press, radio and TV.6 Relying on them worked splendidly for Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell. But our newly elected leader will get nothing but mockery, hatchet-jobs and implacable opposition. While there will doubtless be an attempt to court The Guardian and the Mirror group, his turning to the social media is understandable and very much to be welcomed. However, tweeting, texting and blogging has severe limits. They are brilliant at transmitting short, sharp and clear messages. But, when it comes to complex ideas, debating principles and charting political strategies, they are worse than useless. To set the agenda we need our own full-range media.
Once we had the Daily Herald. Now we have nothing. Well, apart from the deadly dull Morning Star (which in reality is still in the hands of unreconstructed Stalinites).

We should aim for an opinion- forming daily paper of the labour movement and seek out trade union, cooperative, crowd and other such sources of funding. However, we need to be brave: iconoclastic viewpoints, difficult issues, arguments, must be included as a matter of course. We should also consider internet-based TV and radio stations. With the riches of dedication, talent and ideas that exist on the left, we can surely better the BBC, Al Jazeera and Sky.

Branding people as ‘infiltrators’ because, mainly out of frustration, they supported the Greens, Left Unity or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the last general election does nothing to advance the socialist cause in the Labour Party. Such a jaundiced response smacks of the cold-war bans and proscriptions. We should be proud of being a federal party. Therefore securing new affiliates ought to be at the top of our agenda. Indeed we should actively seek to bring every leftwing group or party under our banner. Labour needs to become the common home of every socialist organisation, cooperative and trade union – the agreed goal of our founders.7 In other words, a permanent united front.

Yet sadly, so far, apart from the CPGB, there has been a distinct lack of imagination from those outside Labour. Instead of a banging on the door, there is a cowardly disengagement. A runaway approach designed to preserve sectarian interests and reputations.

Showing his profundity, his prostration before Scottish nationalism, his unconscious English nationalism, the media darling, Tariq Ali, assesses Corbyn’s victory as “England coming to life again”.8 In that same blinkered spirit, he privileges protest politics, as against parliamentary politics. Of course, comrade Ali is one of those freelance socialists: a typical dilettante. The idea of actively engaging in our civil war does not seem to occur to him nowadays.

The same goes for Charlie Kimber, national secretary of the Socialist Worker Party. Our Charlie boasts that he, and his much reduced band of followers, did not take up the opportunity of registering as Labour Party supporters. Why do they impotently stand aloof? After all, a Corbyn vote cost a mere £3 … and for levy-paying members of affiliated trade unions it was gratis. So why did the SWP refrain from giving Corbyn voting support? Comrade Kimber pathetically explains.

The right is set to trigger a firestorm. The PLP is dominated by the right. Corbyn has the active support of no more than 20 MPs. Tom Watson is a Brownite. Lord Mandelson is advising a protracted war. The trade unions are dominated by a self-serving bureaucracy. There will be internal struggles and attempts to introduce constitutional and programmatic changes.9

What ought to be a challenge to join the fight becomes an excuse to opt out.

Having been torn by splits and divisions in the 1970s and then again in the 2010s, the SWP apparatus wants nothing to do with anything that carries even the whiff of factional strife. So, as with Tariq Ali, there is the call for marches, protests and strikes … as counterposed to the Labour Party, PLP battles and taking sides in a concentrated form of the class war. In other words, the SWP stays true to its modern-day version of Bakuninism.

Then we have the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Having wrongly classified, dismissed, the Labour Party as an out-and-out capitalist party since the mid-1990s, it is busily rowing … backwards. The old Militant marker has been cosmetically introduced onto the masthead of The Socialist. Despite that, the politics remain idiotic. Peter Taaffe expects Corbyn to come to him and his floundering Labour Party mark II project otherwise known as Tusc. Showing the same sort of myopic vision as comrade Kimber, SPEW informs us that Tusc will stand against Labour candidates in the next round of council elections. A blundering stance supported by Nick Wrack’s Independent Socialist Network (along with SPEW and the SWP a Tusc

If Tusc stood on something that resembled a Marxist programme, that would be tactically inadvisable under present circumstances. But what passes for Tusc’s programme is barely distinguishable from Corbynism. Despite that, whereas the Corbyn Labour Party will get mass votes, even with many questionable candidates, Tusc will hardly register. Its votes are uniformly homeopathic.

Left Unity, seems to me to be essentially no different. And, as with SPEW and the SWP, LU members are peeling away to join the Labour Party as individuals. Obviously this project, as with all halfway house attempts to recreate the Labour Party, is doomed. Unless it votes for the motions of its Communist Platform, Left Unity has no future.

We Labour Party Marxists unapologetically take our programmatic lead from the CPGB. Having been demanding the right to affiliate since 1920, we demand that the CPGB ought to have the same rights as the Cooperative Party, the Fabians, Christians on the Left, the Jewish Labour Movement, Scientists for Labour, etc.10 However, we also extend that demand to include the SWP, SPEW, LU and all other such organisations.

Then there are the trade unions. Those who have disaffiliated or been expelled must be brought back into the fold. In other words the Fire Brigades Union and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. They actively supported the Corbyn campaign … from the outside. So, comrades, now do the same, much more effectively, from the inside.

The same goes for unions which have never had an organised relationship with us. Regrettably, Mark Serwotka, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary, was one of those turned away in the Harriet Harman-organised purge. But, instead of impotently complaining about it on Twitter, he should turn the tables on the Blairite apparatus by bringing in his entire membership. Mark, fight to get PCS to affiliate.

I heard him interviewed on BBC Radio 4 on this. He enthusiastically supported Corbyn’s September 15 speech at the TUC. However, he excused himself from getting the PCS affiliated. Apparently it has been illegal for civil servant trade unions to affiliate to the Labour Party since 1927.

When we moved a motion to the effect that all trade union should affiliate to the Labour Party at the last AGM of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, we met with exactly that sort of legalistic objections. However, as NEC member Christine Shawcroft, who was sitting next to me, said, “What does that matter?” Here comrade Shawcroft, a close ally of Corbyn, shows the exact right spirit of defiance. Comrade Serwotka and other leaders of non-affiliated trade unions should take her lead. Laws can be defied, laws can be changed. They key, however, it is win the PCS’s membership to want to affiliate. It would be great if the 2016 annual conference was addressed by Jeremy Corbyn and had a raft of branch motions calling for the union to affiliate to the Labour Party.


Real Marxists, not fake Marxists, have never talked of reclaiming Labour. It has never been ours in the sense of being a “political weapon for the workers’ movement”. No, despite the electoral base and trade union affiliations, our party has been dominated throughout its entire history by career politicians and trade union bureaucrats. A distinct social stratum, which in the last analysis serves not the interests of the working class, but the continuation of capitalist exploitation.

Speaking in the context of the need for the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain to affiliate to the Labour Party, Lenin said this:

“[W]hether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers, but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only this latter determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat.

“Regarded from this, the only correct, point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns.”11

Despite all the subsequent changes, this assessment retains its essential purchase. Labour is still a “bourgeois workers’ party”. However, with Corbyn’s election as leader, things have become more complex. Labour has become a chimera. Instead of a twofold contradiction, we have a threefold contradiction. The left dominates both the top and bottom of the party.

That gives us the possibility of attacking the rightwing domination of the middle – the councillors, the apparatus, the PLP – from below and above. No wonder the more astute minds of the bourgeois commentariat can be found expressing deep concern about what will happen to their neoliberal consensus.


1. The Observer August 30 2015.
2. D Pryer Trade union political funds and levy House of Commons briefing paper No00593, August 8 2013, p8.
3. The Guardian February 24 2015.
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaries_of_ Members_of_the_United_Kingdom_Parliament.
5. International Business Times September 15 2015.
6. See Roy Greenslade in The Guardian September 14 2015. Chris Boffy, online special advisor to the last Labour government, has also been bitterly complaining about Corbyn’s supposed lack of a media strategy – see The Drum September 15 2015.
7.At the 1899 TUC, JH Holmes, a delegate of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants moved this resolution:
“That this congress, having regard to its decisions in former years, and with a view to securing a better representation of the
interests of labour in the House of Commons, hereby instructs the parliamentary committee to invite the cooperation of all cooperative, socialistic, trade unions, and other working class organisations to jointly cooperate on lines mutually agreed upon, in convening a special congress of representatives from such of the above-named organisations as may be willing
to take part to devise ways and means for securing the return of an increased number of labour members to the next parliament.” (www. unionhistory.info/timeline/1880_14_Narr_Display. hp?Where=NarTitle+contains+%27The+Labour+ Party%27+AND+DesPurpose+contains +%27WebDisplay%27).
8. The Independent September 12 2015.
9. Socialist Worker September 8 2015.
10. www.labour.org.uk/pages/affiliated- organisations.
11. VI Lenin CW Vol 31 Moscow 1977, pp257-58.

Democratic organisation needed

Stan Keable attended the January 17 meeting of Unison activists 

Unison members must be wondering what happened to the superior strength, the greater protection against government attacks, that would result from the merging of three public-sector trade unions into one mega-union in 1993, when the National and Local Government Officers Association, the National Union of Public Employees and the Confederation of Health Service Employees joined forces. With almost 1.3 million members, Unison is second in size to Unite, whose 1.4 million members are mainly in the private sector, and twice as big as the next largest union, the GMB.
Today, however, faced with continual public-service cuts, job losses and increasing workloads, instead of feeling the strength of the union around them, Unison branches are, it seems, left to fight alone.
A privileged, unelected, overpaid and unaccountable bureaucratic caste enjoys the comforts of the union’s plush Euston Road offices, imploring lay activists to ‘recruit, recruit, recruit’, while giving little or no help to the embattled branches on the frontline of austerity. Speaker after speaker at the unexpectedly packed Reclaim the Union meeting (around 120 attended) in the Mechanics’ Institute in Manchester confirmed what it means to be a Unison branch secretary today: “loads of stress, no money and no support”, as Kirklees local government branch secretary and would-be left general secretary candidate Paul Holmes put it. Comrades gasped in shock and disbelief when Paul told us that incumbent general secretary Dave Prentis had turned down invitations to appear on the BBC’s Question time panel 17 times. We expect our gen sec to seize every opportunity to fight our corner.
The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate left nominations for Unison’s national executive council elections, which branches must submit before the February 20 deadline. In the first half of the meeting, left slates were agreed, or were in preparation, for each region and each service group (local government, health, education, water, police and justice, etc) as well as for ‘self-organised groups’ (unfortunately referred to as SOGs) of black and young members.
The process of adopting left slates of NEC candidates was carried on harmoniously, with chairperson Max Watson, convenor of the NEC left caucus, telling people to “get together in the break and sort it out”, wherever there were too many, or too few, candidates for the available seats. However, the “open discussion on the nature of the campaign: slogans, demands, etc” was totally unfit for purpose. Speakers were allowed two minutes each, so it was impossible to develop, or challenge, an idea adequately. No motions were proposed, so the campaign has no concrete policies. The level of unity achieved was simply the elimination of competition between left candidates, but with no explicit agreement at all about exactly what the campaign stands for.
Of course, everyone was against the coalition government, public- service cuts and austerity, and wanted a fighting, democratic union, instead of one suffocating under the “dead hand of the bureaucracy”, as one comrade put it. But democratising the union so that its officials are controlled by the membership, and winning rank-and- file support for a positive socialist programme, will require much more than an ephemeral election campaign to replace one set of bureaucrats by another. It will require the building of a membership organisation, where the politics and tactics of the campaign can be argued out openly and determined democratically, by voting – not left in the hands of the NEC left caucus to resolve elsewhere, after the meeting. The opportunity was missed to launch such an organisation.
Incidentally, I am still a member of Unison United Left, but it is evidently now defunct, and no-one even mentioned it. It was never able to achieve real unity of the left in Unison, after the Socialist Party in England and Wales withdrew in 2004 rather than subordinate itself to the larger Socialist Workers Party. Despite this UUL struggled on, at the time the SWP was engaged in its disastrous Respect popular front. However, it seems to have finally come to an end in 2013, when Marshajane Thompson and other feminists pulled out over the SWP’s handling of the rape allegations against ‘comrade Delta’.
They attempted to relaunch the Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic Unison1 left network based on the divisive ‘safe spaces’ principle: “What we won’t do is seek, jointly, to be the ‘leadership’ of the ‘left’ or ‘rank and file’ alongside those who can tolerate the treatment of women by the leadership of the SWP. We will not organise alongside nor devote any energy to promoting those who support the SWP Central Committee.” These are Marshajane Thompson’s words.2 Excluding what is still the largest group on the British left is not the best way to build left unity, which requires toleration of the views of others, alongside unity in action. Needless to say, no-one mentioned the CFDU either. It was stillborn – the most recent post on its website being October 28 2013.
Gen sec candidate
The second half of the meeting consisted of hustings for the single left general secretary candidate which everyone desired. Unlike the NEC elections, this is not urgent, as no timetable has been set, and the contest may take place late in 2015. Unfortunately, this was not explained at the start. Had the lack of urgency been made clear, and had an alternative timetable and procedure been proposed for adoption of a candidate, the meeting might have opted to postpone a decision. As it was, the meeting voted (68 for, 22 against, 24 abstentions) in favour of adopting a candidate by majority vote of those present. This would seem to indicate (roughly, of course) the presence of a solid group of 24 SPEW members or disciplined supporters, a non-aligned group of 22 or more who preferred delay, but were not acting under SPEW discipline, and a substantially larger bloc of SWPers, perhaps Labour left supporters and others who had come expecting a vote.
The three runners on offer were given 10 minutes each to present their case, followed by two-minute “questions” (or ‘contributions’) from the rest of us, and two minutes each for the prospective candidates to reply at the end. A frustrating experience, and the wrong way to approach the matter. Surely, agreed policies for the Reclaim the Union campaign should be adopted first, and then a candidate chosen who would promote those policies.
The prospective candidates were: Paul Holmes, a Labour Party member for 35 years (but “very angry”), who stood in 2010 as the candidate of the so-called ‘United Left’, coming third with 13% of the vote in a 14% turnout3; established leftwing front runner Roger Bannister of SPEW, who came second last time with a respectable 20%; and the SWP’s Karen Reissman, a first-timer.
In the 2005 and 2010 contests, the left had failed to agree on a single candidate – as may yet be the case this time – and Roger Bannister, although nominated by fewer branches than his ‘United Left’ rivals, had gained by far the biggest vote. He bluntly announced that he would stand again this time, no matter what this meeting decided, unless he was convinced (in other words, unless SPEW was convinced) that another left candidate stood a better chance of winning. SPEW’s Glen Kelly backed this up by announcing that their supporters would not participate in a selection vote, if one was taken at this time.
Needless to say, this did not go down well, and does not augur well for the prospects of uniting the left in Unison, which can only be based on voluntary, democratic unity – the acceptance of decisions by majority voting, not the “consensus” which SPEW speakers claimed to be seeking. One speaker asked if we really wanted a president like comrade Bannister, who puts two fingers up to democracy. Isn’t that what we are trying to overcome? Another speculated that SPEW had done a count, estimated that their candidate did not have majority support in the room, and then cynically announced they would not accept a vote.
Decision-making by “consensus” necessarily means behind-the- scenes negotiations (not transparent democracy) – in this case between the little ‘revolutionary’ bureaucrats of the two groups which currently dominate the Unison left: SPEW and the Socialist Workers Party. It excludes, disenfranchises, depoliticises and demobilises socialists who do not belong to these two groups and the mass of rank-and-file Unison members that must be organised into the Reclaim the Union campaign if it is to be effective – not as voting fodder to elect an alternative bureaucracy, but as active members with equal rights to determine the politics of the campaign. And to develop an ongoing struggle beyond a single round of elections. Promoting ‘revolutionary’ bureaucrats is an unconvincing and ineffective way of challenging the bigger Labourite bureaucrats in control of the union.
In his defence, comrade Bannister pointed out that SPEW had made it quite clear, throughout the preparatory discussions of the NEC left caucus which convened the meeting, that it did not want, and would not accept, a vote to select a single left candidate at this time. Such a vote had not been put on the agenda of the meeting, the actual wording being: “General secretary left candidate debate”. This agenda item, of course, contributed heavily to attracting the unexpectedly high attendance, and many comrades said that they had come expecting a vote to select a single left candidate.
But, whereas SPEW had instructed its members not to participate in any such vote, the SWP’s leaflet, A united left to meet the challenge, primed its members to force the issue – in the full knowledge that SPEW would not accept the result if it lost the vote: “We have to hold a measured debate today with the aim of reaching agreement on a united candidate.”
At the end of the hustings session, the votes were as follows: Roger Bannister – nil; Karen Reissman – 61; Paul Holmes – 15; abstentions – 41. So despite the total abstention by SPEW supporters, who will evidently not accept the result anyway, the SWP’s candidate gained an absolute majority of those present. Arguments made in her favour included that she is a woman like 84% of Unison members, and there has not yet been a woman gen sec; that she is a leading health service activist, and the fight to defend the NHS will be of key significance both in Unison’s general secretary election and in the general election.
Against comrade Reissman were those claiming that the SWP is toxic. In fact, not only is she an SWP activist, but, in the words of Labour left activist Jon Rogers, she “chaired the session of a conference of her discredited party, at which a victim of rape was denied a platform”.4
Cryptically, Paul Holmes said that he expects to see four candidates for the position of Unison general secretary, as there has been a “tear” in the union bureaucracy. So he is expecting the right wing to be divided this time, but he is also expecting the left to remain divided, fielding two rival candidates, as in the previous two elections. However, the election has not yet been called, so there is still time to put things right, as comrade Rogers suggests: “Neither Roger nor Paul indicated that they felt bound by this avoidable foolishness – and the ‘left’ (such as we are) will need to meet again at national delegate conference to try to take the decision which we should not have pretended to take today”.5
1. https://fightingdemocraticunison.wordpress. com. The original CFDU was one of the groups that came together to form the United Left in 2001.
2. www.workersliberty.org/story/2013/10/25/ workers-liberty-statement-split-unison-united-left: see comments after the article.
3. Incumbent ‘moderate’ gen sec Dave Prentis gained 67% in 2010, which means that less than 10% of those eligible to vote backed him.
4. http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/ one-step-forward-one-step-back.html.
5. Ibid.

Threat of witch-hunt averted

Stan Keable reports on the Labour Representation Committee’s November 8 annual conference (this article first appeared in Weekly Worker No1034, November 13 2014)

Thankfully, the “thoroughly bureaucratic, intolerant and dangerous” proposal1 put before the Labour Representation Committee’s annual conference was pulled at the last minute.

Michael Calderbank, on behalf of the LRC’s national committee, agreed to remit the ‘LRC culture’ section of the NC statement that had been presented to the conference in Friends House. This, amongst other things, threatened to “suspend or terminate” the membership of individuals, affiliates or local LRC groups that are guilty of “wilfully misrepresenting the views of the LRC, its elected national bodies or officers, whether to other LRC members or the wider public, by any means” (item (c)).

So neither the ‘LRC culture’ section, proposed by the NC, nor the Labour Party Marxists amendment to it was voted on. This amendment would have deleted all but the first two paragraphs, and listed examples of “bureaucratic tendencies” which “we must guard against” in order to defend freedom of discussion and the “open, inclusive and mutually supportive atmosphere” which the NC statement claimed to defend.

Moving the section, comrade Calderbank had reminded us that the first priority is “getting the politics right” and stated, quite rightly, that “the culture of the organisation is important too”. Debate is essential “within a shared viewpoint”. I agree. Interestingly, he explicitly upheld the right to heckle, praising comrade Walter Wolfgang of Labour CND – who was present – and had been manhandled out of the 2005 Labour Party conference for heckling Jack Straw over the invasion of Iraq. As James Marshall wrote recently, heckling is a “time-honoured way for the weak to challenge the power of the strong”.2

Accepting the right to heckle was not the view of all, however. Communication Workers Union activist Gary Heather, who had been chair of Greater London LRC for a number of years, “reluctantly” supported the NC’s proposal, and was “disappointed that it was necessary”. He could not “see why heckling is necessary”. Likewise Susan Press, who had “chaired the worst meetings of the national committee, where people were shouting each other down” (I believe this must refer to the notorious April 2012 NC row, which broke up in disarray, and was never minuted). She said: “Heckling is not acceptable in any shape or form. It is the last refuge of those who have no rational argument.”

I would ask comrades Press and Heather to reconsider this one-sided, negative, fixed view of heckling, evidently born of bad experiences. A heckle can be a quick way of contributing to a debate without wasting time, whether in support of a speaker or critical of what they are saying, and is not always and inevitably disruptive of the discussion.

Of course, heckling might sometimes be unacceptably disruptive – the chair should intervene when appropriate – or it might be off-putting for a particular speaker, who is certainly entitled to say ‘No heckling, please’. But a blanket ban would be overkill, and accusing those who do not want such a ban of being in favour of disruption, as some do, is inaccurate and unfair.

Bad behaviour

Explaining why the NC had found it necessary to make its proposals, comrade Calderbank surprised me by referring to “bad behaviour” in the Workers Revolutionary Party and Socialist Workers Party. Both of them, he said, had “covered up bad behaviour” – something the LCR must not do, if it is to be a ‘non-sectarian’ organisation, free from the deficiencies of the ‘sectarian’ left. The reference to the SWP is, of course, its cover-up and mishandling of the ‘comrade Delta’ rape accusation.

Comrade Calderbank here spectacularly misses the point of the SWP’s deficiencies in respect of the Delta case, in my view. The SWP did not have a policy of tolerating rape – or sexual abuse or discrimination: quite the opposite. It did, however – and still does – run an extremely bureaucratic regime – by which I mean a regime which restricts debate to such an extent that anyone expressing a dissident viewpoint soon finds themselves subject to a silencing order or even summary expulsion. It is precisely the outlawing of free speech, and the forbidding of public criticism, that creates fertile conditions for cover-ups by a ruling or dominating bureaucracy. It is precisely the open reporting of NC meetings, and Labour Briefing editorial board meetings, which can help to guard against bureaucratic cover-ups and keep our leadership accountable.

“A lot of nonsense” has been written about the NC proposals, said comrade Calderbank, and assured us that the NC was not “preparing for a witch-hunt” – but, there was “no place in the LRC for sectarian activity”. Not very reassuring. Now “sectarian activity” must certainly be a very bad thing, not to be tolerated, but in case anyone wondered what he meant by “sectarian”, he went on: “Telling lies to discredit the LRC or to build their sect” might help to sell “sectarian gossip sheets …”

Having been explicitly accused of “misrepresentation” in “a deliberate attempt to undermine the LRC” in my report of the October NC meeting3 (an irresponsible accusation not backed up by any explicit quote, nor by ‘putting the record straight’ with a public reply), I cannot avoid the conclusion that he was talking about my article, and the “sectarian gossip sheet” was a reference to the Weekly Worker. Item (c), quoted above, in the NC’s “examples” of behaviour which the LRC will “refuse to tolerate”, fits perfectly with comrade Calderbank’s hopelessly, if unintentionally, sectarian phrases.

Nevertheless, in moving Labour Party Marxists’ amendment, I accepted comrade Calderbank’s, and the NC’s, good intentions. But, I said, “the best of intentions can lead to the worst of outcomes”. They do not intend a witch-hunt, and they do not want to be expelling people – they just want comrades to toe the line and obey their interpretation of acceptable behaviour. Sorry, comrades, no thanks. The inclusive and tolerant atmosphere we all yearn for must, above all, be tolerant of the free expression of minority views (within a shared socialist viewpoint, of course). It goes without saying that violence or the threat of violence should not be tolerated, but the NC proposals are “superfluous” in this regard, I said.

In the discussion, comrade John Moloney also asserted that the proposals were superfluous. Points (c), (d) and (e) (“wilfully misrepresenting” etc, “disruptive behaviour” etc, and “bringing the LRC into disrepute”) were “totally subjective”, while “expulsion for violence or threats of violence don’t need new rules”, he argued. And points (a) and (b) (“physical, sexual or verbal abuse, attacks or harassment”; and “discrimination or abuse on the grounds of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion/belief”), he said, “we do anyway”.

Graham Durham said the NC proposals were “politically motivated”. “The class wants to fight”, he said. “This is a motion to expel those who want to fight.” And the alternative NC slate led by comrade Durham, in their flyer, said: “We support the right of socialist political groups and individuals to have freedom of discussion in the LRC and are opposed to any attempts to introduce codes to allow exclusion or expulsion.”

John McDonnell MP, unusually, intervened in the debate to correct an assertion by comrade Durham that the origin of the NC’s concerns about LRC culture had been an incident in a meeting in a House of Commons committee room, where he had been accused of supporting the “fascist” government in Kiev – but, as he had explained at the time, he had been misquoted, and had never said that he supported the Kiev government (leaving aside whether it is fascist). The misrepresentation had been resolved immediately, in that meeting. In fact, explained comrade McDonnell, the ‘LRC culture’ proposals arose in response to bad behaviour at NC meetings at which he had been absent, due to ill-health.

Any instance of “disruptive”, “threatening” or “bullying” behaviour should, likewise, be dealt with at the time, and not stored up as a perpetual complaint against those you disagree with. The “worst” behaviour was undoubtedly at the April 2012 NC meeting (which I did not attend), and I do not envy Susan Press the extremely difficult task of trying to keep order as chair of that meeting. I understand it broke up in disarray and, as minutes of the meeting were never distributed, I have never seen a proper report of what happened. So we are left with mutual recriminations and vague, unsubstantiated allegations and generalisations. After two and a half years, it is futile to attempt retrospective disciplinary action by inventing an inappropriate catch-all code – which is what the NC’s proposals amounted to.

In the conference itself – despite sharp political “attacks”, difficult moments of heckling, individuals occasionally speaking over or ignoring the chair, sometimes continuing speaking after being told to stop – all these instances were handled with reasonable discretion at the time. The organisation showed itself tolerant of debate, and thankfully did not give way to the few philistine voices wailing against “wasting time” on debate, or complaining about “sectarian divisions” – read ‘political debate’.

Left ‘pressure’

Last year I reported a one-third drop in attendance at the annual conference – it was down to a little over 100 in 2013. This year, however, I am pleased to report no reduction in attendance, with approximately 110 comrades packed into the small hall at London’s Friends House. Perhaps we have passed a low point, and can now start to grow. In any case, tolerance of minority views, debate and majority decisions is the way forward. United action requires that minorities be heard – or else why should they join, and why should they stay?

No NC report was presented to conference, and no membership figures or list of current affiliates were given. But comrade McDonnell candidly reported the views of some affiliates, who have said, “We can’t send delegates, because you don’t do anything”. Sussex LRC, with a record of effective organisation, public meetings and campaigning rivalled only by Brent and Harrow, submitted an emergency motion to “restructure” the NC, which NC member Clare Wadey described as “too large at 67 members, or inquorate” and her admission that “it has been totally ineffective” was not challenged. Political secretary Pete Firmin confirmed that “everyone agrees” that the NC needs to be restructured, but “the question is how to do it”. And, on that basis, conference voted to remit the Sussex proposal to the new NC.

Guest speaker Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union brought “greetings from the TUC general council”, and said that to get rid of this coalition government the only alternative is a Labour government – “but we need to have a discussion about that”. He contended that “Toning down the rhetoric to get Labour elected is a disastrous route” and was very critical of the trade unions’ role in the Labour Party. After a unanimous anti-austerity vote at the TUC congress in September, almost all union delegates at the national policy forum had voted down an “emergency budget” resolution. Instead of posing “austerity lite” against “austerity armageddon”, we need a “socialist renaissance”. He commented: “People are prepared to fight, but do not think the organised left is the answer.”

Disagreement over our assessment of the state of the workers’ movement was brought out in the hustings session, where two of the three rival candidates for the post of political secretary presented their cases. In the event, Pete Firmin was elected with 59 votes to Graham Durham’s 21, while Louise Reece, who did not speak, received 12 votes. Comrade Durham’s oft-repeated charge that Pete Firmin and the LRC leadership are pessimistic and defeatist, while the working class is itching to fight if only it is given a lead, was countered by comrade Firmin’s sober assessment that the “bad state of the movement is reflected in the bad state of the LRC” – the sort of honesty that is necessary to face up to, and remedy, the weaknesses of the organisation and the workers’ movement as a whole. Self-deception does not help at all.

Vicky Morris of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty moved the successful motion, ‘Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory’. This commits the LRC to “advocate a Labour government as the best outcome of the May 2015 election” and to “advocate a Labour vote, at the same time as advancing working class measures as demands for the labour movement to press upon the Labour leaders …” Comrade Morris said that Labour had adopted policies to abolish the bedroom tax and repeal the Social Care Act as a result of pressure, and such pressure could achieve similar results with respect to a Labour government in office. Assessing the “condition of labour movement forces”, she said that the “direness of the Labour Party reflects and feeds back onto the direness of the trade unions, which, in turn, reflects and feeds back onto the direness of the socialist left”. In these circumstances, she argued, “there is no realistic alternative to voting Labour and the election of Labour government”.

The NC statement, moved by comrade McDonnell and adopted by conference with minor amendments (apart from the ‘LRC culture’ section, of course), offered a similar perspective: “Our task is to campaign for the Labour leadership to represent the interests of the working class by offering a real alternative to austerity in the form of socialist policies.” Left MPs, said comrade McDonnell, must resist the attempted rightwing coup against Ed Miliband: “The first meeting of the LRC NC must set about the task of bringing together left MPs and councillors on a socialist platform, so they can become a distinct socialist element influencing the Labour government after the May general election.” The election may produce a small Labour majority – in which case we must ensure “the socialist left is a distinct element in the coalition of forces behind the Labour government”. Labour may be simply the biggest party, in which case we must argue against a coalition with other parties, and for a minority Labour government to “enact policies in the interests of the working class”.

Comrade McDonnell welcomed the Greater London LRC amendment to the NC statement, under which “the LRC will prioritise support for Labour candidates that support LRC policies”. This is an improvement on the AWL’s call for an across-the-board Labour vote, and sensibly allows us to direct our limited forces in support of leftwing and socialist candidates.


1. See http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/the-culture-we-need-comes-with-thorns.

2. Ibid.

3. ‘Inclusivity and intolerance’ Weekly Worker October 9; and http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/lrc-inclusivity-and-intolerance.