Global Tremors, British Quakes and Party Fissures

The following is an edited version of my contribution to World and British Perspectives from the Socialist Party South West’s recent Regional Committee which took place on Sunday 4th February.

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Photo: Taken from the Socialist Party website, originally from the Creative Commons

“Before discussing the situation in Britain, it is important to look at some of the trends currently taking place in global Capitalism which provide the backdrop to the economic and political processes currently unfolding in Britain.

In recent weeks we’ve seen the unfolding of demonstrations and protests in Tunisia. This is in part due to the fact that ISIS have been pushed back and are losing their stranglehold over the territory which they had held previously. ISIS formed somewhat of a safety valve to the Tunisian bourgeois as a section of those being radicalised by poor economic conditions were being attracted to ISIS. With ISIS on the retreat the radicalised workers and youth are looking to the government for answers.

Like many countries, political stability is quickly deteriorating with 9 governments being formed within the last 7 years in Tunisia. The situation in Tunisia is being aggravated by the large levels of graduate unemployment. This and many of the factors that fuelled the Arab Spring of 2011 still being present, presenting potential material for revolutionary change.

As in Tunisia, there is a layer of articulate, more middle class, workers starting to draw radical conclusions even if we are not seeing the heavy battalions of the working class being drawn in at this stage. This can easily be exemplified here in Britain with the outbreak of the junior doctors strikes, with UNISON, GMB, RCN and other unions representing the bulk of health workers remaining quiet.

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Photo: Mary Finch

One of the consequences of the ongoing carnage and war in the Middle East is that there are now 11 million Syrian and 4 million Iraqi refugees. This is prompting the less than benevolent response from the EU to become ‘fortress Europe.’ This is despite many countries in Europe directly fuelling the refugee crisis by engaging in bombing Syria such as Britain.

Economic crises are aggravating political and social upheavals. War, famine and natural disasters can often trigger movements and revolutions. This can easily be seen by the recent outbreak of avian flu in Iran. The culling of chickens caused a skyrocketing of the price of eggs and chicken meat, staple foods in the Iranian diet which has led to the outbreak of protests.

Another crisis for capitalism is the development of new technological advancements which are wasted as there is no market to sell them in. As workers are continually squeezed with eye-watering austerity, they are unable to buy back what they are able to produce meaning that new technologies are not able to be utilised to their full potential as profits remaining the driving force within the economy.

The bourgeois are trying to find a way out of the ongoing economic crisis which is leading to ideological splits in their ranks. This is best highlighted by the difference of approach of US vs China.

On the one hand Trump is beating his chest over North Korea and warning China of their expansion into the South China Seas islands whilst opting to take an “America First” approach. On the other hand, Xi Jinping is portraying himself as a poster-boy of globalisation with the One Belt, One Road policy.

This is essentially Chinese imperialism at work, fuelled partly by a desire to weaken US dominance. However, the One Belt, One Road policy is also being prompted by a looming debt crisis which China hopes to export to surrounding countries by providing loans to encourage the development of infrastructure, increasing Chinese trade and influence whilst kicking the can down the road.

Trump is a right populist, opting for protectionist and often xenophobic policies. This is echoed by a layer of bourgeois in the Tory Brexiteer camp. These splits in the bourgeois worldwide over the weakness of the global economy are expressing themselves in a crisis of political representation for the bourgeois. For instance, Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, saw the worst vote for Merkel’s Christian Democrats since 1949. They are losing ground to the more prominently right-wing and anti-EU AfD party.

These ideological splits are also aggravating the National Question. In Spain, the recent push by the bourgeois Catalonian independence parties and the PP government’s repressive reaction for a move to independence has led to a huge defeat for the PP in the Catalonian parliamentary elections.

Brexit has prompted the calling of a border poll by Sinn Fein and the stoking up of sectarian troubles as the Tory party has been forced to go into coalition with the DUP.

We’ve warned of the consequences of taking an incorrect position on the National Question. It can be exemplified by the lukewarm return to Labour seen in Scotland as Jeremy Corbyn does not come out in favour of the still looming question of Scottish Independence which has also been aggravated by the Brexit referendum.

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There is a growth in a broad anti-capitalist mood and the development of a primitive socialist mood. This is expressing itself largely in passive support rather than active engagement in politics that would further a socialist cause. This stems from the economic crisis of 2007/8 and the subsequent austerity. There are little prospects of recovery, especially for the poor. [This is further highlighted by the nosediving of global stock exchanges yesterday and today].

Whilst a small section of the British bourgeois were in favour of Brexit, the Brexit vote has been a huge blow to the bourgeois both in Britain and in Europe not least because it deepens the EU crisis. Wary that they would be cutting their nose to spite their face, the European bourgeois are torn between making an example of Britain to stymie the growing anti-EU mood developing across Europe, or going easy to prevent further economic uncertainty. This is particularly the case as Britain is the 2nd biggest economy in Europe.

In Britain, there is a lack of confidence by the bourgeois in the economy. The fall in the pound won’t have helped this. Yet, there is no desire for the section of capitalists to take advantage of cheaper exports and expand their share in the global markets. Instead, British capitalists are electing to sit on the cash that they are accruing which is widening the already huge chasm of inequality that exists. The British bourgeois are treading water whereas the working class are being subjected through austerity to increasing levels of poverty and misery. This could be a potential flash point in what is already a situation fraught with increasing class antagonisms.

The trigger for political upheaval is just as likely to come from Britain as from countries in the Eurozone or indeed the wider world. There is a seeming quiet on the surface in Britain and the sense that things are not moving very quickly. However, this is partly the product of a weak government that cannot make decisive moves in any direction through fear of going to pieces. Such is the potential for splits in British politics. As one comrade put it, ‘we are paddling in petrol’ with Brexit and the bourgeois reaction to a Corbyn led government providing a potential match to ignite the whole situation.

Corbynism is largely representative of the more middle-class layers. These are layers which we can win to us but working-class layers have not been nearly as motivated into action.

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There are now over 500,000 members in the Labour Party; Momentum [The group set up to support Jeremy Corbyn] claims to have 35,000 members. However, through its determination to purge itself of political debate, Momentum has largely become a moribund organisation whose main contribution is to provide canvass training to bolster Blairite Councillors and MPs. Those that still engage are mainly, with some very small exceptions, of a petit-bourgeois character.

That being said, working class appetites are rising. We caught a glimpse of this in the 2017 general election with the 10% swing to Labour as Corbyn unapologetically put forward his anti-austerity manifesto. This is the biggest swing to Labour since the Clement Attlee government of 1945. If Corbyn were to be returned to number 10 in another general election we could see the working class more decisively take to political engagement.

We have seen in the recent period, growth of more offensive strikes as working class confidence to struggle grows. Strikes have largely been of a defensive character since harsh austerity measures have been doled out in the aftermath of the 2007/8 crisis. Focus had been on defence and protection of current pay and conditions whereas now small pockets of workers are starting to demand better pay and better conditions.

One feature in recent strikes by the RMT, PCS and others has been the distinctive lack of Labour lefts on picket lines. It has largely been members of the Socialist Party that have expressed solidarity on picket lines as workers take to struggle. This is in part due to the soft left Momentum types demobilising their own supporters by preaching unity. Compare this to the right-wing in Labour who have cut to the quick and made no bones about attacking and undermining the left as evidenced by the recent letter attacking Corbyn signed by 68 council leaders and Labour group leaders.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/labour-councils-defy-momentum-b5sv0t25n

The situation is at different stages across the country, in some places right-wing Councillors have been legitimately unseated by pro-Corbyn supporters. In other areas the right-wing bureaucrats still have a firm stranglehold of the party. In Plymouth, it seems that the right-wingers in Momentum who were quick to buddy up with the Blairites have succeeded in deselecting some Councillors but are still firmly married to the idea of continued austerity. This will simply mean a changing of the axe wielders as they offer the meagre and untrue defence of ‘we’re doing the best we can.’

As the left in the Labour Party have adopted the right’s mantra of preaching unity in the Labour Party the right-wing have the audacity to launch an attack on the party leadership claiming that Corbyn and the NEC are being undemocratic. This is somewhat ironic when it was democratic mechanisms which propelled these figures into the leadership in the first place, showing where the direction of travel is heading.

It is clear that the Blairites, who would be more at home in the Tory party, wish to continue cutting and privatising in peace whilst hiding their lack of principles under the broad church of the Labour Party. Our role is often to pop the balloon [so to speak] of these Corbyn types. It is clear that whilst the Labour Party could potentially be a broad church for discussing and implementing working class policies, it cannot accommodate the Blairite, pro-austerity, pro-capitalist and thus pro-misery bureaucrats which cling to the Labour ‘brand’.

We need to pick up and innoculate those who are being frustrated by the lack of strategy to take the right-wing in the Labour Party head on. Even since the general election, by-elections have shown a 5% swing to Labour. They have also shown a swing to parties that portray themselves as anti-austerity such as the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. This shows the fertile ground that TUSC can reap in this period.

As Theresa May continues to traverse the harsh negotiations of the Brexit negotiations, there is a very possibility that we could see the Tories split as the Remain and Leave camps remain utterly divided. However, it is just as likely that we could see a split in the Labour Party as the anti-Corbyn, pro-capitalist wing act as a 5th column for the bourgeois. They would likely detonate a split if faced with the prospects of a Corbyn led government.

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It remains clear that the quiet mood won’t last forever. There is an explosive mood which can rise to the surface. On Saturday we saw 500 people take to the streets of Exeter at relatively short notice to demonstrate in defence of the NHS. This mood can quickly fall back however and we need to harness and capture the mood as it strikes, with a programme and strategy to advance struggle as it breaks out.

The betrayal of Syriza in Greece marks the potential for a similar betrayal in Britain. Corbyn has done little to challenge the recent issue of Carillion and has instead relied on parliamentary methods rather than the building of a movement which will be much more reliable than those sat next to him on the Green Benches. The failures of even this limited left reformism will likely resurface under a Corbyn government.

This is not a personal attack on Corbyn but rather a warning. If Corbyn cannot face down the opposition within his own Party, is it any wonder that there are sections of the working class that have concerns about the strength of his leadership in forming a government? Particularly when said government would have to face down the sharks in the EU, the capitalist press, the bankers and the heavyweights in big business.

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More people will draw radical and revolutionary conclusions in this period and we need to be there as a revolutionary party to pick these people up, arm them with perspectives and a strategy to end capitalism.

So comrades, we need to hold our nerve, patiently explain but also prepare ourselves and those around us for the huge tremors that lay ahead and the potential for colossal battles to unfold which will highlight the power of the working class and the need for the socialist transformation of society.

There are regional variations about the current mood but it is clear that the idea of a strategy to end austerity is having to be grappled with and refuted more strongly by the Blairites thanks to our influence and intervention. The trade unions have largely been absent in organising big demonstrations and the trade union leaders have tried to apply the brakes on strike action but it is beginning to break out nonetheless.

Events are likely to get hectic as more struggles develop. It is important that we keep cool heads and plan to ensure we make the biggest impact. Events can be great teachers but we also need to be educating particularly newer comrades in Marxism. We can make steps forward, we may only be able to edge forward at this stage but we have to maintain flexibility as events can erupt around us.

We need to engage in and, where necessary, provoke events but we also need to spend time in branches with comrades, arming them with perspectives. People will be attracted to us for different reasons, some will want to ‘storm the heavens’ whereas others will want our grounded analysis in charting a course through the stormy times ahead. We need to temper our cadres by cooling the firebrands but raising the spirits and temperature of comrades who may be in danger of cooling off.

We have gained a certain authority, it is for this reason that the right-wing in the Labour Party treat us with such contempt as they have to justify why they continue to make cuts when we have highlighted a clear, and above all legal, strategy for practically opposing austerity and the Tories.

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Photo: Mary Finch

Comrades, we’re not in a revolutionary period but the potential for incendiary events is there and we have to prepare the ground by building cadres and engaging in struggles as they develop, burst illusions and at each stage in a struggle lay out with workers a strategy and a programme for change.

We consistently manage to punch above our weight but we need to choose our battles carefully, be precious with our time and invest it in a balanced way between agitating and organising, between being patient and impatient in the struggle for socialism and most importantly of all between building and consolidating the party.”

Ryan Aldred

Plymouth

Tuesday 6th February 2018

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Corbyn Supporters Gain Momentum: Now to Reject Austerity and Build the Socialist Movement

Momentum Taking Shape

The development of Momentum has the potential to be an important step in the process of organising Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. This is important for mobilising the swelling support for Corbyn as a means to challenging the ideas of austerity and firmly putting the ideas and policies of Socialism back on the mainstream agenda. It is clear that the right-wing Blairites that currently have control of the Labour Party machine are organising a very open coup against Corbyn as evidenced daily in the press attacks by the likes of Ben Bradshaw, Simon Danczuk and John Cruddas. Momentum has the potential to effectively counter the Blairite opposition to Corbyn but it will only realise that potential if it remains open and does not shy away from taking on those who have polluted the Labour Party over the last 30 years.

Momentum has raised the interests of many, whether old Labour members who have been disillusioned in the past by Labour’s lack of opposition to the Tories who are now coming back or new layers, inspired to get involved by Corbyn’s anti-austerity message. It has also attracted those from outside the ranks of the Labour Party to play a part in building the movement. Trade unionists, community campaigners, those not willing to throw their lot in with a particular party at this point and those in various other political parties are currently engaging with Momentum. If it remains open and broad in this way the Socialist Party will continue to support and be a part of this process.

However, Momentum is still finding its feet nationally and because of this it is fulfilling a number of different roles in different areas. In some places it is very open, democratic and welcoming of those from the wider labour movement. Yet, in other areas it is closed off to anybody outside of the Labour Party. This is a mistake as it limits the scope of debate and leaves Momentum being very insular rather than aiming to appeal to broader layers to build a mass working-class movement.

On Debate and Dealing With the “Moderates”

It is clear that there is another group which is very interested in Momentum and that group is the so-called “moderates”. The same group of “moderates” that have a stranglehold on the Parliamentary Labour Party and the majority of councils. The same group of “moderates” who are doing all they can to stop the loss of their free ride on the gravy train by trying to shut out and isolate Corbyn’s supporters. Whether it be making members feel unwelcome at meetings, duping the public by speaking socialist rhetoric one minute then putting through swingeing cuts the next or manipulating Momentum meetings to cut out any views that contradict their own, these “moderates” will stop at nothing to keep their grubby mitts firmly at the reins of a party which is steering in another direction.

Corbyn’s election promises struck a chord; a single compromise on austerity would be a betrayal of all those who have engaged and are willing to support a position of Councils coming together to oppose the cuts. Trying to compromise between the tens of thousands taking their first tentative steps into the field of politics who outright reject austerity and the thousands of Labour Councillors who have, up until now, put through austerity without any resistance but “with a heavy heart” would be an impossibility.

It is disappointing that Jon Lansman, one of the directors of Momentum, pulled out of a planned debate at the Socialist Party’s annual Socialism 2015 event recently due to the Sun releasing a “reds under the bed” article:

http://www.sunnation.co.uk/corbyn-aide-to-join-ex-militant-leaders-to-plot-battle-for-labours-soul/

The terms of the debate cannot be allowed to be set by the likes of Murdoch’s gutter press. Likewise, trying to appeal or placate the right-wing in the Labour Party by compromising on policy or on the purpose of Momentum would be a huge error on the part of the Corbynistas. Furthermore, Momentum meetings should not shy away from political debates and discussions. It’s important to build and organise campaigns which people can get behind but at the same time the reasons for why those campaigns are being pursued and focussed on should be up for discussion.

Thus, anybody trying to dampen the call for political discussion or calling for unity above all in the Labour Party has to be seriously questioned on what basis that unity should or even could be achieved. There have, of course, been notable exceptions where Labour Councillors have opposed the cuts such as Keith Morrell, Don Thomas and Kevin Bennett to name but a few but they were expelled from the Labour Party for their efforts. These Councillors all did so whilst the Labour Party was under Miliband’s control but the Labour Party has not been forthcoming in welcoming these Councillors back into their ranks yet and all have found a home in TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition). Those calling for unity without question were deafeningly silent about unity in these cases and yet these Councillors have enjoyed the popular support of ordinary working-class people for daring to actually carry through their promises of opposing austerity in deed as well as in word.

Local Elections

Corbyn’s supporters have come into the Labour Party with the Blairites rushing through the selection process for next year’s local elections in order to ensure they can exclude the new layers, many of whom won’t yet be eligible to vote in these selection meetings. It is clear to the likes of right-wing Labour MP Frank Field that if Blairite candidates were to be deselected then he would be prepared to support them as independent candidates over the legitimately selected Labour candidate. With Corbyn’s supporters effectively barred from influencing who will potentially be representing them in council chambers up and down the country in the 2016 local elections will they be prepared to support independent candidates who genuinely support Corbyn if they are stuck with Labour candidates who don’t support Corbyn?

TUSC and the Socialist Party is in the process of writing to all Labour candidates running in the local elections next year to find out where they stand on opposing the cuts. If Councillors up for reelection are willing to move no-cuts budgets at the annual budget setting meetings and if new candidates are willing to pledge to openly support Corbyn’s call for councils to come together against the cuts then the Socialist Party will be happy to not stand candidates against them. Indeed we will do all we can to help be a part of the campaign to get these people elected. However, would it be right to allow Blairite candidates a free rein to stand unopposed when they will be undermining Corbyn’s policies and doing the Tories dirty work for them by implementing the cuts which are opposed by Labour’s leadership and a quickly growing layer of working-class people?

There are many challenges ahead but unity has to be forged on the basis of a programme which rejects austerity in word and deed and emphatically rejects the ideologically driven cuts which have hammered the poor and vulnerable whilst the rich have been showered with tax breaks, bailouts and massive profits. Workers have a world to win.

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