Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Great Food Flim Flam

One of the few benefits of getting older is that you get a different, a more rounded perspective on life. Fewer things are completely new to you, just repetitions of things you have seen previously over the years, in varying degrees of modification. When you are young every new event appears to have world or historical importance - and of course some do - everything is painted in the brightest colours. But, often what appeared to be Earth shattering or crucial at the time, turns out not to be so, and the great calamity or great renewal that was expected never materialises, life goes on pretty much as before. As I said, not always had you been around when those huge meteors struck the Earth, like those that wiped out the dinosaurs, you would have noticed a change, and the Great French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution left lasting marks. But, such events are rare.

I think about that when I listen to all the current discussions about the price of oil and food, the way the Malthusians emerge again from the cupboard to argue, as Jonathan Porritt did a couple of nights ago on Newsnight that there are just too many damn people, and we have to stop them - nearly always them is considered to be people not in the developed capitalist economies - from breeding. Even the petit-bourgeois left, isolated from the working class it claims to put at the centre of its politics, has jumped with both feet into Environmentalism, keen no doubt to Party build within yet another petit-bourgeois milieu. But, as Porritt's statement demonstrates this kind of attitude inevitably leads to the development of reactionary ideas. It is very, very dangerous.

And, although young people today faced with oil having gone up to over $130 a barrel, and likely to go to $200 before the end of the year, with food prices going through the roof, and the bourgeois media reporting on food shortages and food riots in various parts of the world, and the potential for starvation such dramatic events must appear significant. In fact, when the same events occurred 30 odd years ago, I too then thought they were significant! I still have somewhere a record from the early 1970's by a soul band, Executive Suite, entitled, "When the Fuel Runs Out".

I bought my first car back in 1972, a Mark One Ford Escort. At that time not many people had cars. I only had mine because my parents, who didn't have a car, let me off paying any Board Money, and gave me the odd quid for petrol when I took them out. Not long after I had the car I started work at the other end of the City, and my girlfriend lived at the other end of the City too. At first, having the car made that easier instead of the long bus rides or walks I'd had to have before. But then, as a result of the Arab-Israeli War the price of petrol rocketed, and worse the Government announced it would be put on ration. I collected my ration coupons, but the rationing didn't actually come in. I did though have to make do with visiting my girlfriend, but leaving the car at her house while we spent the evening walking for a few hours.

The price of petrol went up to £1 a gallon. I remember around the same time that food prices rocketed too, even more than the general high level of inflation. In fact, I can remember giving up sugar because of the price increase, and coffee went up a lot as well. Compared to that £1 a gallon the current price of around £5 a gallon seems high, but of course wages have gone up too. In 1972 when petrol went up to £1 a gallon I was earning just over £20 a week. The average wage today is reckoned to be around £25,000 a year, even allowing for just £20,000 a year or £400 a week that is 20 times what it was in 1972. Put another way if petrol had gone up in line with wages then compared with 1972 it should be around £20 a gallon today. But, the fact is that even allowing for the high taxes, petrol is very, very cheap and the cost of driving has fallen by around 11% in the last 10 years. No wonder that compared with 1972 when few peole had cars, today we see 2, 3 or more cars on almost every driveway. And back in 1972 the environmentalists and Malthusians were saying the end of the world was nigh, and oil would have run out by the ned of the century. Well, it came and went, and it didn't run out, and oil was selling at the end of the century at a fraction of the price in real terms it was in 1972.

Part of the reason for that is that from the mid 1970's until the end of the 90's the world economy was in a long wave downswing, during which times the large investments made over the previous 25 years of upswing in new mines, and raw material production, food production etc. reach their peak, precisely at a time when economic activity declines relatively - hence the food mountains in Europe for instance - so that supply exceeds demand causing prices to fall or remain flat in nominal terms. But, another explanation is that because prices of these products is highest towards the end of the period of boom the capitalists that use these products have an incentive to find either alternatives, or ways of using these products more efficiently, not to mention of finding new ways of getting them out of the ground more efficiently. In the last 30 years the marginal increase in demand for oil per unit of GDP has fallen dramatically, as science has produced more efficient cars, more efficient boilers and generators, and a whole plethora of more efficient means of using oil. In addition, new techniques, and whole new companies have developed that enable more oil to be got out of the ground than was previously economically possible.

It is quite possible that the world HAS hit Peak Oil i.e.that the capacity to produce oil cannot be raised from current levels, and will indeed begin to fall from here. Certainly, no major oil fields have been discovered since the 1970's, and according to one oil geologist who predicted almost exactly when the US would hit Peak Oil, there is none to be found. The current attempts by the West to get OPEC to increase output reflect either woeful inadequate knowledge of the situation, or else are just PR by people who really don't know how to respond. OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia are already producing at such a high level that they risk damaging the longevity of the fields being exploited. The new fields announced recently in the North Sea are insignificant, and even ANWAR in the US, which is unlikely to get off the ground for environmental reasons only has enough oil to supply the US for around 6 months. Brazil has just announced some large finds, and there is oil in the Arctic, but it is expensive to exploit. There are billions of barrels available in oil sands, but again the cost is high.

Legendary US Oil man, T. Boone Pickens, has said that the US has to get away from oil, and he has proposed using natural gas, but the US has pretty much tapped out its supply of natural gas too, relying on gas from Canada. Even J.R. Ewing himself, Larry Hagman has converted his ranch to solar power!

But Capitalism has seen such crises before. At the beginning of the last century a similar crisis emerged when the same cry was raised that whale oil was running out, and people would have nothing to use in their lamps! Fortunately, the problem was solved by the introduction first of gas, and their electric lamps. Not only do motor vehicle producers have an incentive now for producing more efficient engines, but already large sums ar being spent on hybrid and other types of engines. The high price of oil will reduce demand to a certain degree, and unless the government gives in to the lorry drivers, there will be a great incentive to transfer freight from the roads to where it should be on the rails. For my part the road hauliers spokeswoman didn't do them any favours last week when she pointed out how inefficient road haulage was with lorries she said doing only 8 miles per gallon.

There is a whole range of economic, technological and social changes that can and likely will be brought about that will offset the effects of both the high price of oil, and its diminishing availability. Changes to the way people work to avoid travel, greater use of the Internet for a whole range of activities and so on. But, the revolution in computing has now been linked with the revolution in biotechnology and nanotechnology which although now in its infancy will open up vast possibilities for exploiting oil and other natural resources, probably without the need for mining and other environmentally damaging extraction techniques, using microbes, and nanobots to extract and process materials in situ before bringing them to the surface as finished raw material. That is without the use of such biological and nano technology to actually fabricate synthetically many of these products.

Just look to at all those products which were demanding of raw materials on a large scale which have been replaced. Instead of vast amounts of vinyl being used to produce records, we went first to cassette tapes, then to CD's, and now thousands of records can be kept on a single stick using virtually no materials. The same is true of films and many more products.

But the same is true with food. According to Newsnight a week or so ago, the average British family throws away a third of the food they buy. That is ameasure of how cheap food has been, another being the continual decline that food has comprised as a percentage of the average family budget. In 1990 the UN said that the world had the capacity to produce enough food to feed 35 billion people. Since then agricultural techniques have improved further so that figure will be even higher. The problem with feeding the world's poor is not one of technological capacity, it is a problem of capitalism. The fact is that although the current high food prices are likely to cause considerable problems for many poor people, in the longer term they could be of benefit to those same people. One of the problems of peasants and farmers in developing and poor countries is the fact that they face farmers in developed countries that benefit from large state subsidies. But subsidies are usually only needed when supply exceeds demand, and market prices are low. During periods like the present when demand outstrips supply and prices rise quickly it is more often consumers that get subsidies to offset the worst effects, and thereby raises demand further - such as the proposal from Hugo Chavez for the oil producers to create a special fund to subsidise and provide food for the world's poor. For farmers and peasants in poor countries this means at least the possibility of being able to sell some products profitably on the market, whilst retaining some food for their own consumption. In Africa huge potential exists for development in providing both raw materials and food if sufficient infrastructural development takes place to make the opening up of such resources worthwhile. China is embarking on such a programme in Congo, for instance. As with all of capitalist development such a process will happen via a series of crises, and given the nature of food supply, no doubt some horrendous suffering, but capitalism does have the means to resolve such situations and socialists should not fall into the trap of thinking it can't.

Just as the last long boom after the Second World War brought new economies into the frame in Asia, economies who as has happened in the past became the most dynamic as the new boom began following the logic of the process of combined and uneven development, so the current boom is likely to see the emergecne of new economies in Africa as the last area of the world where capitalist development has yet to bring about what Marx called its "civilising mission", the raising up of general living standards, and opening up to the working class of culture, art and education, the precondition for the development of socialism.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Will Mr. Brown Be Sent off to the Coast?

Being Prime Minister has become a bit like being a football Manager - as long as the team is winning your great, when the team starts losing its all your fault. That's partly the fault of the British political system where the PM has such a powerful position. Most people don't understand the British political system, even those journalists whose job it is to understand it. They think Britain already has a Presidential System where the Prime Minister, like the President, is elected in a General Election - though actually the President is elected by an electoral college -hence the hullabaloo when Brown was annointed PM last year. But, partly, that attitude to politics is a part of the dumbing down of society and political life in general. No one thinks there is anything wrong with the idea that politicians should be elected because the people "like" them, find them attractive, or whatever. Its the whole cult of celebrity that pervades British culture, though the thankful demise of "Hello" magazine might signal a crack in that mentality.

To listen to all the pundits in the media who have pounced on Brown as though he were an England Football manager - though they haven't pictured him with his head as a swede yet - you would think that the fact of his manner, and unsuitability for the job was a given, that everyone knew in advance, and why should we be surprised. Yet, the fact is that when Brown was appointed last year his opinion ratings WENT UP. Not just Brown's ratings but the Labour Parties ratings too. Brown improved on Blair's position, a fact that all the pundits now seem to forget in praising the media savvy Blair. Its rather like what happened with Michael Foot - some allusion to which was made by know-nothing pundits on last night's Newsnight - who similarly raised Labour's standings, in fact to over 50% at one point when Foot was leading marches against Unemployment etc., but who is now only remembered for the duffel coat at the cenotaph. What a pathetic indictment of the level of political culture in Britain this is, and what an indictment of the chattering classes who ferement this nonsense it is.

Of course, that's not to say that the criticism of Labour isn't without justification, though not the criticism that the media are interested in. John McDonnell is right, this is not now about Brown, getting rid of Brown isn't the answer - especially when the candidates being put forward on behalf of LP members, by the media, are people like Miliband, and other right-wing careerists. What is at issue is the fate of the LP, or at the very least its direction over the next few years. And, as the recent elections showed, the fate of the LP is the fate of the British Labour Movement, becuase none of the other alternatives are in any way credible.

If The Government had any political nouse, there are some simple measures they could undertake. Having been forced to do a U-Turn over the 10p Tax Rate, and grant further concessions, on the basis that the current problems faced by the poor, of high food and energy bills, needed immediate treatment, the Government had a ready made course to follow. Using the same argument, about the problems for the poor and elderly, caused by rising food and energy prices, the Government could have announced emergency measures. They could have announced an immediate mid year Fuel Payment for Pensioners of £200, with the promise of an extra £300 as a Winter Fuel allowance. They could have announced similarly a £500 Pensioners Christmas Bonus. To deal with the problems of younger people, they could announce an immediate increase in the Minimum Wage to £7.50 an hour for all.

Instead, the Government, today, has announced that, to deal with fuel poverty, they are going to give the details of thousands of people to the Energy Companies! The idea is that these companies will then use the information to ensure that people get put on to the lowest available tarriff. Yeah like that's going to happen. What it actually means is that, in addition to all the nuisance calls you get now from shysters trying to get you to switch supplier, and bamboozle you with numbers, you will get ten times more! I listened to the Government announcement on, Channel 4 News tonight, and thought who the fuck is going to understand this. Just give people the money in their pockets, they understand that, they can see it, touch it, spend it.

All of these things, and more, would be undertaken by a Workers Government, but that is exactly why these measures or anything close to them won't be undertaken by the Government, even though it could be the only sort of Programme that could rescuse it. They won't do it, because from Day 1 Blair and Brown have been committed to running capitalism efficiently, and that means running it in the interests of Capital not the working class. Its like Labour Councillors who end up running their local Council not for the benefit of the people they are elected to serve, but for the benefit of the overpaid bureaucrats that actually control the Council, and whose decisions the Councillors rubber stamp,and those bureaucrats, like their counterparts in the central State apparatus, are tied by a thousand strings to the Capitalist class.

Compared to the problem of actually mounting a serious challenge to the power of Capital, losing an election is not a daunting prospect for politicians with such a mentality. After all, there will always be another election along in a while. In a way we shouldn't blame such politicians too much, certainly I think the Left takes far too harsh a view towards Labour Councillors in this respect, most of whom are genuine working class people who want to improve workers lives, but who simply have no idea how to do it, and can see no alternative to the way the LP has always done things. The fact is that the persistence of such ideas, the continued role of such politicians as the dominant leaders of the Labour Movement - because the same approach and set of ideas pervades the Trade Unions too - is the fault of Marxists, who have had a far too sectarian attitude to the Labour Party, and to the necessary routine work that is necessary to forge a close link with ordinary workers and working class communities, and thereby to convince them that an alternative route exists.

But, its likely the Left will make the same mistake it has made for the last 100 years. It will sit outside the Labour Party, during the whole of this process, when workers need more than ever that alternative route, and will gloat when Labour loses the next election, even though it will mean the return of Toryism, and all that means for the Labour Movement. In doing so it will make itself even less relevant to workers lives than it currently is.

The Government will not make a dramatic turn and do what is necessary, both to protect workers, from high food and energy prices, or to improve its own popularity. It may be saved by the current, new, long boom as growth picks up in the economy again towards the end of the year, and allows Brown to open the sluice gates a little. But, absent that, the Government as a Capitalist Government will remain trapped by the laws of Capitalist economics. For that reason, Marxists should not sow false illusions in the prospects of such measures from the Government. Even were they likely to happen, Marxists should not encourage workers into a view that their salvation can be delivered from on high by any Government, even a Workers Government. Workers should rely on themselves not politiicans, not top down statist solutions.

Workers should begin to develop a true measure of inflation rather than accept the phoney figures put out by the State. On CNBC today it was said that a true measure of inflation in the US is around 11% at the moment, and similar figures have been calculated for Britain. We need committees, to measure price increases for ourselves, and to then mount co-ordinated Trade Union action across the whole of industry for immediate corresponding pay increases. The Government will not legislate a decent Minimum Wage, so the Trade Unions through the TUC should again mount a campaign to enforce it, targetting employers paying below that level and organising industrial action against them to force them to increase wages. We should take a leaf out of Thatcher's book and draw up a strategy to take on the weakest employers first, mobiling whatever resources are needed to support the workers in those firms for as long as is necessary. But, as Marx pointed out, the fight for better wages is, in the end, the wrong fight for workers to be fighting. As long as Capitalism exists, the ball is always in the bosses court. A Capitalist can always choose to take their money and invest it elsewhere, or else to simply spend it on more luxuries. Part of the answer to that is for workers to build international, at least Europe wide, Trade Unions and political parties, to confront Capital wherever it tries to move. But, the very laws of capitalist competition will always work to divide workers, to force them to compete against each other.

Workers have to break that cycle, they have to begin to take Capital back into their own hands and begin, as Marx sets out in the Grundrisse, to confront Capital not as workers, but as Capital. Only on that basis can the monopoly of Capital be broken, only on that basis can workers set the stage in which, through the development of their own alternative co-operative economy, they can end the cycle of competition between themselves that gives the Capitalists the upper hand economically and socially. The example of Tower Colliery showed that workers can take over enterprises and run them profitably where the Capitalists and their State fail. As Marx illustrated, in Capital, co-operatives are far more efficient than Capitalist private enterprise. But, it requires that such co-operatives be set up on a large enough basis to be able to compete on a level playing field with large private companies. Workers have around £500 billion in their pension funds, enough to buy up, 100%, more than half the companies in the FTSE 100, but currently they are not allowed to control that money for themselves, its controlled by the same bankers and financiers that run the system on behalf of the Capitalists and against the interests of the workers. A basic democratic demand is that the TUC insist that these funds be put under the democratic, collective control of the working class.

But workers will not simply adopt such a perspective on their own. The whole way in which capitalism works reinforces the idea that the way things are is the way things have to be, the Capitalist on his Yacht the worker at the assembly line. It is up to Marxists to break that mentality by, as Marx said, in his Address to the First International, showing, in practice, that a credible alternative exists. It will require that Marxists through the Workers Party show workers that they can take back control of their lives through such Co-operative forms of organisation whether in the workplace or in the community. It will require a complete refocussing of not just the way Marxists think and act towards such routine day to day work, but of the way ordinary LP members think and work, away from the Council Chamber and Parliament and outwards to the workers communities, building whole new structures and with it rebuilding the Labour Movement, and workers class conscioussness. But, it is only the mass organisations, like the LP, that can fulfil that function enabling the Marxists to set them in motion, to act as the small force on the end of a long lever.

And, who knows, in the process, perhaps workers will learn, more than the bouregois journalists, that whether Gordon Brown smiles enough or not, is not really that important a question after all.

The Blair Rich Project

In addition to his role of imperialism's advisor in the Middle East, the main purpose of which seems to be for Blair to do what he does best - waffle, and prevaricate - Blair, the once crypto-Catholic, who has now come out of the closet, has announced that he is to devote the rest of his life to The Blair Faith Foundation. It would be cruel to suggest that, given Blair's renowned control freakery, that this is a way for him to play God now that the next best thing - being British Prime Minister, a position that Lord Hailsham once described as an elected Dictatorship - has been handed on to the monkey that for 13 years accompanied his organ grinding. No doubt with all the large houses that Blair owns - could it be that Brown encouraged the housing slump as a piece of vindictiveness against his former nemesis, surely not - he will be in a perfect position to put that faith in to practice, providing, like the Good Samaritan, succour to the poor and homeless, or like the Good Shepherd providing room for those that find no room at the inn. However, given the press reports, anyone put up had better keep a watch on the contents of their plastic bags.

Perhaps, with all of that real estate, he might even establish his own cult providing some kind of religious time shares, with his friend and fellow devout Christian, George Bush. Perhaps, between them, they could provide accommodation for all those Iraqis that have found themselves homeless after Tony and George's Excellent Adventure to bring them peace and democracy.

Who knows, perhaps with the right connections, a bit of good PR, from Alistair Campbell, the right kitchen Cabinet put together by Mandelson and Draper, an alliance perhaps with the McCanns and their PR machine, and the money of George Bush and his religious faithful, Blair could by pass the EU Presidents job, that looks beyond his reach, now that Sarkozy has said he won't back him, and go straight for the top job - Blair for Pope. Then he could really devote the rest of his time to religion, with the potential to meddle in everyone's affairs on a global scale with the same gusto with which he tackled Iraq.

But, if he did so, he would probably have to give up all those things of the material world with which he has busied himself over the years. He'd have to give up all hose lucrative speaking tours, not to mention his role as advisor to J.P. Morgan. Perhaps, not. It would probably suit his ego, but you can't see Cherie going for it.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Labour Party is Dead, Long Live the Labour Party

The local elections, and London Mayoral elections were devastating for the New Labour project. The coming by-election in Crewe & Nantwich, previously held by the right-wing Labour MP Gwynedd Dunwoody is likely to be just as bad in two weeks time. A once solid Labour seat, based on the industrial working class, in and around Crewe, that worked at Rolls Royce, and Crewe Works Railway Engineering, has largely disappeared along with a lot more of Britain's industry. The Pottery industry, and the Coal and Steel industry of Crewe's neighbour Stoke, and source of employment for many in and around Crewe, has disappeared entirely in respect of coal and steel, and is virtually extinct as far as Pottery is concerned too. Dunwoody had a personal following, which, probably, accounted for continuing support from the workers of the area, and is probably one reason why her daughter is tipped to contest the seat, but the 7,000 majority looks vulnerable given Labour's current position.

The elections should be a wake-up call for the Left, which is sleep-walking to disaster. The ridiculous, almost Third Period, adventurism of the Left in pretending that there is, in any way, the material basis for some alternative workers party, to Labour, was demonstrated, for the ridiculous fantasy it is, even more starkly than Labour's defeat. The Left List in London received less than 1% of the vote. Its main candidate, Lyndsey German for Mayor, did no better, polling just a quarter of the vote that went to the BNP. The message is clear, if workers are moving towards anyone as an alternative workers Party, it is not one to the Left, but to the Right.

The message was clear here in Stoke. In 1983, when I was a City Councillor, Labour held 57 of the 60 seats. At one point Labour held all 60. But they lost their majority some years ago. For a while Independents - who were a rag tag of all sorts of discontents from disguised Tories, to disgruntled ex-Labour Councillors, to BNP members - who came to power on the basis of a series of terrible Labour mistakes, arrogance, and a prolonged, virulent campaign against Labour by the local newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, that criticised everything the Council did good or bad - not that the Council didn't give them plenty of ammunition to use - ran the Council, to the general consent of all that they hadn't a clue what they were doing. Labour should have stayed well away, and been a party of radical opposition rebuilding its credibility at the grass roots. But, the local LP has always been, in the eyes of its leading lights, all about controlling the Council - not surprising given so many years as almost a one party state. For a brief period in the late 70's and early 80's some of us changed that and turned it outwards to campaigning and community action, but it was a perspective shared by only a few, and, such a perpsective, can only work if a determined group lead it forward and inspire the rank and file members. The Left in general has disdained such an approach as routinism. They were always more concerned with political point scoring against the Right than actually getting involved in the day to day existence of ordinary working class communities and dealing with their mundane problems. They favoured the more attractive "real politics".

Even now that view of politics as something which only happens in the rarefied atmosphere of Party Conference, and CLP debate dominates the perpsective of the Left. Worse still is the top-down approach of encouraging not an attitude of self-reliance and self-activity amongst the rank and file of the Trade Unions and LP, and indeed of the working class as a whole, but a reliance on the same TRade UNion leadership and burueucracy that shares the same outlook as the Lp leaders, just with a slightly pinker tinge, as this appeal from comrades of the AWL does here. It is, on the part of those that should know better comparable with the Comintern's continued sowing of illusions in the Anglo-Russian Committee.
But the chickens are coming home to roost for that approach. Not only did the Left in the LP alienate ordinary Party members by that approach, in the process they isolated themselves from the class. When the Right turned on them they had nowhere to go, but into a land of fantasy where if only the workers were given adequate leadership they would flock to the doors; in fact the same fantasy the Trotskyist left has been in for nearly 80 years. But, workers need to know you are really on their side before they will consider giving you their support. Their confidence has to be won not taken for granted. These last election demonstrated that in spades.

John McDonnell's approach was somehwat, though not much, better, when he appeared on weekend TV and said that he was drawing up a Programme based around defending workers interests for the Party to mobilise around, but his approach that he was going to put this to Brown, he must have known was pissing in the wind. By all means use that approach if you are going to say openly here is a programme to support the workers join us or be damned, as part of building a fight inside the LP, but if that is the intention donce mince words say it openly. And of course that is exactly what is required whether it loses labour the next election or not, because on the present course the only prospect is defeat anyway. Of course, McDonnell's Programme was wholly inadequate semi-Stalnist, and statist stuff about imposing price controls and so on, but the Programme should be open to debate - and comrades you don't need to be able to send resolutoins to Conference to hold such debates, in fact menaingfully they are better conducted outside the limited opportunity of a few hours at a Conference anyway.

In the same measure that Labour went backwards, in Stoke, the BNP continued to move forward, becoming now the fourth largest Party. Opposition to the BNP has often been on very skaky ground, indeed often an apolitical opposition. It has focused on the argument, for instance, that the BNP are not effective Councillors, they don't go to meetings, don't speak at meetings, don't deal with problems. In some instances that may have been true, but it was always open to the question, or comment, "Well God help us when they do then!"

In fact, in response to the BNP's gain of 3 seats from 6 to 9 (they have all three Councillors in one ward) Stoke Central MP, Mark Fisher, commented that the BNP had been 'good local candidates who've worked harder than Labour'." The local Anti-fascist group Secretary in the internal discussion criticised Mark for his use of the word "good", a point that Mark has accepted was not well chosen, but agreed that, "Of course, the point that Mark is making is perfectly valid: that the BNP have worked harder as community politicians than the Labour Party."

In the late 70's early 80's, I remember being in a Party that was totally corrupt, where meetings took place often just twice a year, where the only discussion was about how much money had been taken at Bingo at the local Community Centre, where it was virtually impossible for anyone to join - whether you were a Leftist or not - and seeing that Party transformed through new blood coming into the party, not because the LP had turned Left, but because a group of us went out and got stuck into community issues in workers districts, spoke to people on the doorsteps week in week out, and persuaded them to come and shake things up. In short time we had a functioning active organisation, and Labour votes soared, communities were covered in Labour posters, and community organisations like Tenants and Residents Associations were established, and so on.

The BNP seem to have learned that lesson. The Provos and other political groups also seem to have learned it, but the Left still want to do "real politics", is still more concerned about not being able to hold sterile debates at CLP meetings, and Conferences. Both the LP and the Left need to learn and learn quickly from these events. Nor is the option of the Left trying to do this kind of Community work through some kind of alternative workers party a viable option. The Left is too weak. Those of us that did it 20 years ago got burned out, and we were only able to do it, because we were able to use the lever of the LP Branch to mobilise other active - not necessarily very Left - members of the Branch to shoulder some of the burden.

The reaction of the LP establishment in Stoke was pretty abysmal if not altogether surprising. Labour shares power in an unholy alliance on the Council with the Independents, Tories and Liberals. It went from 23 seats to just 16. Labour's establishment seemed more concerned about what effect this would have within their Popular Front in terms of how many Chairs of Committees they would have! At a time when the election showed that workers have failed to turn up to vote Labour as they find it increasingly difficult to discern them from the Tories, the Council's elected Labour Mayor, Mark Merdith, called for "a period of conciliation and progress on the Council, rather than political sparring and point scoring."

He said that many of the Councillors had lost their seats because they had taken difficult decisions, such as the Council's decision to close many of the City's failing schools. But what this amounts to is saying that they lost seats for the entirely deserved reason that instead of standing on the side of the workers whose Party they are, they stood instead with the Tories, and Liberals. Instead of learning the lesson of that, and realising that the LP, as the Party of the working class, should be taking hard decisions in the other direction, hard because it means standing up against the capitalist class, and against Brown's Government, all they could offer was more of the same! Outgoing Council Leader, and former MEP, Mike Tappin, commented that the decisions that cost him his seat were the right decisions for the City!!!! Tappin, is an educated man, he was County Councillor in the same ward and at the same time that I was a City Councillor, he's a college lecturer. So how come he can come up with such drivel. What is this City if it isn't the people that live in it? And the vast majority of those people are workers, the workers that the LP is supposed to represent. So no Mike, the workers of the City, and, therefore, the City itself has told you clearly these were not the right decisions! You should have been acting in support of the workers, and you didn't. That was the only thing required of you and you failed. That's why you paid the price, that's why the BNP is growing in strength.

The message it seems to me is clear. New Labour has disappeared up its own arse. Its very premise, the only reason that ordinary LP members tolerated it, was because it was winning, and after a period of so long out of office, for a Party based on electoralism, that was a powerful incentive. But not only is New Labour now not winning, but it has led Labour to the worst defeats in 40 years, as far back as the period of Harold Wilson and his attacks on the working class through In Place of Strife. There is no reason for ordinary LP members to tolerate New Labour toryism any longer, indeed if Labour is to have any chance of winning the next election by getting back its core working class support, more importantly if the BNP are to be prevented from entrenching themselves as a major alternative worker's party - in that very basic sense of being a party to which workers turn for answers to their problems - then New Labour has to be ditched, and ordinary rank and file members have to begin by turning out into the Community, have to become a Party of radical opposition, including, and especially to Labour Councils themselves where they attack workers interests, and thereby rejuvenate the Party at its grass roots level, providing the new fresh forces the Labour Movement needs to take the battle forward.

But that will not happen without determined militants organising and leading that kind of activity. That means the forces of Marxism of all shades, essentially who, currently, in the main, stand in splendid isolation outside the Party. Only those forces have the kind of skills, the dedication, and basic Programme required to engage in such a campaign. The opportunity is their for the Left to take, or once again to squander.