Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Ravenscliffe By Election and a Socialist Programme

On 5th March there is a by-election in the Ravenscliffe Ward of Kidsgrove, which is part of Newcastle Borough Council in North Staffordshire. The election is caused by the sitting Tory Councillor standing down. The important thing, though, is that both the BNP and UKIP are standing candidates in the election. Neither have any chance of winning.


The ward, which was only created a few years ago as the existing wards became too large, is one of the more affluent areas of the Borough. Labour held the seat when it was first contested by existing Borough Councillors, but the Local Labour Party has gone downhill significantly since that time. It might have been expected that with the BNP, in particular, standing in this election, that the Labour Party would have made some attempt to counter the fascist ideas that they are now spreading, but no, the Labour Party leaflet sunk to an all-time low. It didn’t mention the BNP at all, in fact it didn’t mention anything political at all. The whole of the front page of the leaflet was taken up by a large headline and a few words condemning the previous Tory Councillor for not attending meetings, and now going off to Spain. That was an own goal to begin with because the Liberals in their leaflet were able to point to the fact that a Kidsgrove Councillor, and former Labour Group Deputy Leader, had disappeared to Spain a few years ago along with a Computer etc. The back of the leaflet did contain a very small story about the fact that a LP member through his own activity had managed to get trains from Kidsgrove station to Manchester increased, and a train from there to London for the first time. But, the rest of the leaflet was taken up by a half page asking for people to tell the LP what issues concerned them. In other words the message of the leaflet was we have absolutely nothing to say, we have no policies to put in front of you, and not only do we not have any solutions to your problems, but we have no idea what your problems are!!!!

At least the Liberals did mention the BNP in their leaflet with a bit of a jibe at them, and they did put an equal opportunities statement on the leaflet.


The BNP have managed to put out two leaflets compared with just one so far from the main parties. They have concentrated on trying to jump on the bandwagon of “British Jobs for British Workers”, without of course, saying anything about the fact that where they tried to intervene in the refinery strikes on that basis they were cleared off in no uncertain terms by the strikers. It shows just why the “ignore them they’ll go away”, or “expose them as Nazis” tactics, though are no longer sufficient. Unlike the Labour Party, the BNP do recognise the fears of local workers, and unlike the Labour Party, they have something to offer those workers in terms of a solution. It is a thoroughly reactionary solution, it is a solution, which would, in fact, create even greater problems for British workers, let alone the foreign workers on to whose shoulders they want to place the blame, but, in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King.

Having listed all of the local industries that have gone to the wall over the last 25 years the BNP offer a series of nationalistic solutions – though, in fact not much different in some ways from the nationalistic demands the Communist Party and its hangers on advanced in the Alternative Economic Strategy, mixed in with references to all the eastern European and other migrant workers coming into Britain.


So mirroring the nationalistic politics of the AES they call for:

· Protect our core/strategic economic interests by the selective exclusion of certain foreign manufactured goods from the British Market

· We will ensure that wherever possible our manufactured goods will be produced in British factories, employing British workers. This will bring unemployment to an end , and give well-paid employment to many.

Other parts of the demands are if anything slightly more progressive than was the AES. For example,

· We will unite the ingenuity of the British People with their hard work. We envisage a manufacturing base of factories producing super high-tech products that will be traded around the world.

And in an area once largely based on coal mining they also say,

· We will instantly power up the British economy by opening up dozens of deep coal mines across our nation. There is 300 years worth of coal beneath our feet, an independent source of energy for our people.

But other parts are a bit zany.

· We see a strong, healthy agricultural sector as vital to the country. Britain’s farms will produce a much greater part of the nation’s food needs.

All this is combined with the normal attacks on Eastern Europeans coming into the country, and the spreading of the familiar fears about many more from Turkey coming in etc.

Attacking The BNP Not Enough

But, its clear given this approach that simply telling people not to vote BNP, because they are Nazis simply isn’t good enough. After all, that is open to some people responding “well if that’s what the Nazis were about, perhaps they weren’t so bad.” It requires not only a clear response to those politics, but even more it requires an alternative set of politics to be put forward that really can begin to offer workers a solution to their problems. Last week I tried to put forward a leaflet that began to do that, but it looks as though the local anti-fascist group will go with the same old attacks on the BNP, and possibly even some nationalism itself by attacking the BNP for using pictures of Spitfires during the Battle of Britain – partly because R.J. Mitchell the Spitfire designer was born only just outside the ward.

Cognisant of the fact that the ward was held by the Tories the BNP’s second leaflet in addition to being a bio of the candidate – who as a Vicar’s daughter surely trumps the usual comments from your friendly neighbourhood purveyor of opium to the people so much loved by many in the anti-fascist movement – goes with an attack on the Euro! Surely, a bit dicy as it didn’t work to well for William Hague, and given that the pound is collapsing against the Euro at a time when people are thinking about this year’s foreign holidays, not an obvious winner!.

The political response to the BNP’s nationalistic solutions should be clear,a nd have in part at least been rehearsed as a result of the refinery strikes.

If you exclude foreign manufactures from Britain then you will a) put the price of those imported goods up significantly for British workers, thereby making British workers pay for the inefficiency of British Capitalists, and b) other countries will respond in like manner. As a trading country dependent on selling into foreign markets in order to obtain those things that Britain cannot possibly produce itself at a reasonable cost, if at all, such a policy would be disastrous for British workers who would find themselves thrown on to the dole in droves just as such protectionism led to in the 1930’s.

They do not explain HOW they will ensure that “wherever possible our manufactured goods will be produced in British factories, employing British workers”. How will they force British Capitalists to produce here rather than abroad. Those Capitalists located production abroad precisely because they could make bigger profits by doing so. It would only be possible to attract those Capitalists to invest and produce here rather than in China or elsewhere if they could make the same kind of profits, and that would mean reducing British workers wages down to the level of Chinese and other Asian workers. Hardly a thing British workers should relish you would think.

And similarly, if that were adopted then logically workers elsewhere would look to their Governments to adopt a similar position. Here in Kidsgrove, many if not the majority of people actually work for foreign owned companies like Bentley at Crewe. If all those foreign owned companies upped sticks to go back to their own country it would mean tens of thousands of jobs lost just in this area alone.

And although, socialists would have no objection to Britain developing an economy based on the production of high-tech, high value products, which could sustain much higher wage rates than traditional low skilled employment, how on Earth would such production be sold “around the world”, under conditions where Britain was excluding similar goods from the British market? And how does this “unite the ingenuity of the British People with their hard work”? It doesn’t. It means bigger profits for British bosses. The only way the ingenuity of British workers could be united with their hard work would be if those workers owned the means of production themselves, if they developed Co-operative industries based on such production and technology.

Although, many environmentalists would probably oppose the opening of deep coal mines, there is no real socialist objection to such a project, but those mines were closed during the 1980’s because they were uneconomic in Capitalist terms. It was more rational in Capitalist terms to import cheaper coal from abroad in return for higher value British exports. Moreover, the jobs in those deep coal mines were dirty and dangerous, destroying the lives of the miners who worked there. A socialist programme for utilising that coal would require the introduction of sufficient health and safety measures, the large scale automation of production to remove workers from the dirty and dangerous conditions, and would have to be linked to a programme of developing high tech, clean fuel technologies for the use of that coal in power stations. But, in reality that then would not create many mining jobs. It would create some high-tech jobs in developing the new technologies, but that is not the solution being touted by the BNP.
As for the idea of getting British agriculture to produce a much larger part of Britain’s food this is pie in the sky. Britain lost the ability to feed itself more than 150 years ago. A socialist agricultural programme that broke up all of the huge landownings still in the hands of a tiny minority of aristocrats like the Prince of Wales, which established large Co-operative farms – in fact the Co-op is already the biggest farmer in Britain so extending its remit would not be difficult – and turning agriculture over to an even greater scientific and industrial form of farming could increase production, but eve then not only would it be unlikely to meet all of Britain’s needs, but it is even debatable whether this would be an efficient use of resources, compared to importing food from other countries in Europe where they can produce more cheaply and efficiently. Partly, this demand seems to be an attempt to get votes for the BNP in the countryside where they infiltrated the Countryside Alliance, and where they have been winning seats on Parish Councils due to low turnouts.

The BNP have no chance of winning the seat. They are likely to be annihilated. But, the ward adjoins Stoke where in recent years the BNP have become a sizeable presence. As a by-election the context has already given them invaluable publicity, which will be their main reason for standing.


What is perhaps surprising is that the BNP’s fellow nationalists the BNP ‘Light’, UKIP are standing against each other. UKIP’s politics set out in their leaflet are even more off the wall despite their candidate being a former lecturer, and having studied political philosophy.

They begin by warning Borough residents of the danger that the Borough Council might be abolished as have neighbouring Borough Council’s in Congleton, Crewe, and Macclesfield. Oddly, they try to blame this on Europe – well perhaps not so oddly as they blame Europe for everything – whereas the real reason is the inefficient and uneconomic nature of Borough Council’s. When I looked at the figures a few years ago, for instance, Newcastle Borough Council spent nearly 70% of its budget on “Finance and Management”, which meant paying the over-inflated salaries of its Chief Executive, and Chief Officers along with their numerous assistants and deputies, and on collecting the Council Tax, and the Computer Systems for doing this, along with all of the necessary Accountants and solicitors. In other words what Borough Council taxpayers were really paying for was not services, but for a machinery to do little more than collect their Council Tax.

UKIP even point to the fact that the Borough Council lost £2.5 million pounds as a result of the collapse of an Icelandic Bank they had put money into. Another good example. That money was part of the £55 million the Council got from selling off its Housing Stock to an ALMO – the Chief Executive of which was the former Director of Housing who in the process saw his salary double to around £70,000 – and the proceeds of which could have gone to refurbish the ancient and rundown facilities in the Borough, or to build new ones. Instead it was put to sit in the Bank, to cover the costs of new computer systems and other pet projects of the top bosses.

Again, in giving us this information UKIP seem oblivious to the fact that this has nothing to do with the EU, and in fact Iceland has been desperate to fast track EU membership as a means of protecting its tiny economy in the whirlwind its banking collapses have created. And without realising the irony the BNP 'light' UKIP say in their leaflet " But please think carefully about how you vote. The poor performance of existing Councillors can increase the likelihood of frustrated voters turning to extremists"! Yes, like UKIP.

Workers Solutions

Workers do need solutions to the very real problems they are facing in respect of jobs, housing conditions and so on. The nationalistic politics of the BNP and UKIP offer no real solution, but in the absence of socialists bringing practical solutions before those workers, they are likely to take what is on offer. Its clear that Brown’s Labour party cannot do that, and the forces of the left are too tiny, and divided more than ever into warring sects. It will be up to individual and small groups of Marxists to work through the LP and other channels of the Labour Movement to bring such solutions forward, turning LP, Trade Union and Co-operative organisations outwards into the communities with immediate initiatives that workers themselves can take up and implement.

· We need to build workplace organisation, breaking down sectionalism and the divisions that exist often between different trade unions in the same workplace. We need the development of at first even small groups of rank and file workers in each department across skills, across unions, and even including non-union members.

· We need to bring such groups together as Factory Committees able to organise immediate direct workers action within the workplace as a response to problems and attacks by the bosses rather than going down the road of full-time officialdom. The direct action and wildcat strikes of the last weeks should be the inspiration.

· We need to build on the basis of the involvement of real workers in such Factory Committees Industry wide combines of Shop Stewards as part of a European wide Shop Stewards Movement linked using all the facilities of the Internet to co-ordinate action.

· Socialists must join their local Labour Party Branch. The refinery strikes showed the lesson. If Marxists shun the workers because they do not yet come up to their expectations, then the workers will correctly shun the Marxists. Whatever, Marxists might dream for of establishing some new Workers Party, there is no demand for such a Party from the class. The LP IS the Workers Party for now, and as those strikes showed its necessary for Marxists to intervene in it, do as Marx and Engels advised, take the workers as they find them, and through patient work raise them up.

· The focus has to be on the LP Branches not the CLP’s, which the Left has focussed on in the past. It is the Branches that have the real contact with their local working class communities. It is the Branches that can organise campaigns in their ward, can help create and develop Tenants and residents Associations, Credit Unions and other such Co-operative organisations that workers can develop themselves control themselves, and thereby empower themselves with.

· The real work of fighting the fascists should be organised through the Labour Parties as the mass organisation of the working class. If others outside the LP wish to attach themselves to its activities fine, but the working class and its Party cannot allow tiny sects, or alien class forces to dictate to it, how it will proceed, they are in no position to do so.

· In providing answers to the workers Marxists should argue for and demonstrate how such solutions must be based on mobilising the direct action of the working class itself, on building its self-reliance, confidence, pride, and economic and social power. That cannot be done by appeals to the bourgeois state at the central or local level, but only by building Co-operative forms, the traditional form of workers ownership and control, the form as described by Marx as the transitional form between Capitalism and Socialism. Marxists do not put forward such solutions to workers in their Party, and their other organisations in a sectarian take it or leave it manner, but patiently explain why such solutions are needed, accepting decisions when they go against such an approach, but then calmly and patiently explaining why – as they must – those other solutions failed.

· The emphasis for such activity is not in the electoral sphere, not in Parliament or in the Council Chamber, but amongst the working class itself, in the workplaces and in the communities. By developing such rank and file organisation, and by developing Co-operative forms, workers will of necessity need to create a new form of democracy, a direct participatory democracy arising out of these new forms. But, for as long as Capitalism remains political power will continue to reside within the channels of bourgeois democracy. It will be necessary once those bastions of working class power have developed sufficiently for them to exert political pressure on the Workers Party, in the selection of its leading personnel, of its representatives and so on and to utilise its power to control such representatives in the carrying out of their functions. In this way, the necessary political struggle within the confines of bourgeois democracy can be undertaken from a position of strength.

· But, Britain is a small country in decline. Not only is socialism inconceivable within the confines of Britain alone, but the solutions to workers problems here and now also require a much wider perspective.

· The creation of a Europe Wide Shop Stewards network is only a start. It is necessary to create EU wide Trade Unions, preferably as industrial unions, and to create a European Workers Party.

· Britain already lags behind a number of EU Countries in respect of the Working Time Directive, or Pensions or retirement age and so on. An EU wide Trade Union Movement needs to fight for common Benefits and conditions throughout Europe alongside common Trade Union Rates of pay.

· But, a level playing field, and avoidance of opt-outs such as that of Britain on the Working Time Directive can only be achieved by a single state. It is not the job of Marxists to advocate such a solution to the bourgeoisie – our goal is rather a Socialist United States of Europe – but if the bosses do create such a state, we should not oppose it, rather we should demand a proper EU Wide Constituent Assembly to determine its basis, its Constitution and so on, and demand the right of workers assemblies throughout Europe to fully discuss it, and frame it.

This is an outline of the kind of programme that can really address workers problems and needs not just here and now, but in the future.

Workers of the World Unite.


Anonymous said...

There is no socialist objection to destroying the planet, speak for yourself. Socialists do not ignore science; this doesn’t mean we have to embrace petit bourgeoisie ideas but we shouldn’t be so flippant about it either.

Your idea for workplace organisations sound like the broad church that George Galloway has attempted in the political arena, so I salute you for that. I agree that all socialists must ditch the cults they have created and work within the Labour party.

However, your solutions are all organisational, at least in the short-term, hardly Peace, Land, Bread.
In fact you do not present the workers with solutions at all, so in the context of this by-election the article seems misplaced.

What you seem to be saying is that we should ignore the politics (except to point out that all the parties have no solutions –ie the easy bit) and concentrate all efforts on building a base, which is fine but what does it have to do with fighting this election.
I hope your co-op article can throw more light on this process and how it will materially benefit workers in the short term.

Boffy said...

I've been replying to a Nazi on another comrades website here , and I need to finish a further reply. So I'll gt back to your points a bit later.

Boffy said...

“There is no socialist objection to destroying the planet, speak for yourself. Socialists do not ignore science; this doesn’t mean we have to embrace petit bourgeoisie ideas but we shouldn’t be so flippant about it either.”

Who was being flippant? There is no real socialist objection to opening up deep coal mines. The question is under what conditions are they opened, and how is the coal used. That is why I said it would require a huge development of technology not just to operate the mines in a way that is not harmful to the interests of workers, and to develop clean coal technology so as not to damage the environment.

”Your idea for workplace organisations sound like the broad church that George Galloway has attempted in the political arena, so I salute you for that. I agree that all socialists must ditch the cults they have created and work within the Labour party.”

I’m not sure I like the idea of being lumped together with Galloway, and in any case I don’t think there is anything broad church about the Respect project, but I’m glad you agree with the concept of building workplace rank and file organisation, and working in LP branches.

”However, your solutions are all organisational, at least in the short-term, hardly Peace, Land, Bread.

In fact you do not present the workers with solutions at all, so in the context of this by-election the article seems misplaced.”

On the contrary. I think the solutions are in the short term organisational, because without the necessary workers organisation any set of demands or solutions is utopianism. The actual problems workers face on a day to day level are not in reality susceptible to broad brush political solutions. Each has to be dealt with in its own specificity, and the key to knowing how to do that lies in the necessary organisation of the workers at that level. I can’t tell workers what solution they should adopt to some problem that might arise in workplace X tomorrow, because I don’t know what that problem is going to be. I do know from my own experience that if a workplace organisation exists that can mobilise the workers there then when such a problem arises there is a good chance the workers themselves will provide the answer as to how to resolve it, and if Marxists are involved in that organisation an even better chance of doing so.

Similarly, in terms of some of the larger issues I have set out what the political solutions are. They are not the kind of solutions the left has normally put forward, precisely because those solutions have always been framed in the context of placing demands on the bosses or their state to do something, even if only to make this or that concession. But, the whole point of the politics I am advocating is that of working-class self-activity of the workers taking their own action to resolve their problems. Again what those solutions might be depends on what the particular problem is, and only the workers can decide that with the help of Marxists helping them to organise and understand the world they are in. There’s a problem with debt on an estate, create a Credit Union, the Council is proposing transfer of the housing stock to an ALMO set up a Housing Co-op instead, and so on.

”What you seem to be saying is that we should ignore the politics (except to point out that all the parties have no solutions –ie the easy bit) and concentrate all efforts on building a base, which is fine but what does it have to do with fighting this election.”

Fair point. In order to intervene effectively though its not just a matter of drafting a leaflet with some set of policies or solutions, but of working over a period of time in that way. For example, when I was a County Councillor, a scheme was introduced where Councillors had £10,000 a year to use to support various activities and projects in their area. On one part of my ward – the Miners estate – there was a problem with former coal board housing that had been either bought by the tenants or else had been sold off to absentee landlords, who kept selling on the property so that no one could pin them down to do necessary repairs and so on. It was causing a gradual deterioration of the estate. Through the Labour party Branch and with the assistance of one of the Councillors that lived on the estate we set up a Tenants and residents Association to begin to discuss and deal with the problem. I made it clear from the beginning that this was their organisation, and that I was there to advise them and act as their mouthpiece in the Council. They ran it, and came up with various suggestions. For a start they began to clean up the estate themselves. I provided them with finance from the above stated fund to buy a computer, and to buy a mower and other equipment, as well as to cover insurance costs.

Those are the kinds of immediate solutions I am talking about on a very low level that say to workers they don’t need the bosses state to resolve their problems, that empower them and return some degree of social control over their lives. That was about 5 years ago, and the Committee is still going strong looking at ways of dealing with the Absentee Landlords, the obvious solution if they could be persuaded to sell would be the establishment of a Housing Co-op. But, its necessary to have the necessary forces to carry out such work within the community. If he left would join the LP Branches and begin to do it, it would have a certain amount of a snowball effect to increase the forces available.

”I hope your co-op article can throw more light on this process and how it will materially benefit workers in the short term.”

I hope the above in part answers this question, but I hope to get the Co-op article done in the next couple of weeks. Its turned out to require more work and research than I first anticipated, and in the meantime I’ve been busy also with other more immediate concerns.

Anonymous said...

Socialists must join their local Labour Party Branch.

Unfortunately, in a lot of the country working-class people seem to be ignoring your sage advice.

In my constituency the membership of the CLP has fallen from over 1000 in 2001 to around 60 last year. Most of those left are councillors.

The branches which have 'real contact' with local communities are non-existent.

This is in an area that has voted Labour at every election since 1918.

Boffy said...

I agree. In my own area LP membership has fallen dramatically. But, I'd make the following comments. Just because those left are Councillors - and that's not true completely, and certainly not in still quite a few places - we shouldn't dismiss such people. They are still usually working class people. They are often the Councillors now, because there is no one else left to stand.

Secondly, part of the reason for that is that the Left has left, or acted in ways that ensured it was going to get expelled, for example announcing itself effectively as separate organisations, standing and supporting candidates in opposiiton to the LP and so on. If you leave, then by default you hand over control to those who are left. That's what happened when the revolutionaries left the Second International, and look how that turned out for both.

About 10 years ago I had a debate with a friend and comrade who was a long standing LP member, an active Trade Unionists - in fact he stood for General Secretary of his union and had at the time Gordon Brown make a press statement in Scotland telling IRSF members not to vote for him, even so he nearly won. He was arguing at the time that there was no point being in the LP, and he had just Left.

But, in that last ten years he has really achieved nothing. That's not his fault. He remains ana ctive and commited TU'ist, and I suppose to say he has achieved nothing is not entirely fair or accurate. He has no doubt achieved things in his workplace in defending members. But focusiing on TU work rather than LP work hasn't had dramtic effect in moving the union to the left, or providing the basis for some new alternative workers party.

A few years ago, there was a situation relating to the School where one of his kids went. What was his first response to come to me as the local Labour Councillor to help mobilise and organise a group of parents! And that is the point. You can decry the condiiton of the LP as much as you like, but time and agin when a political response is required even those outside the party are reduced to addressing demands to it to act, to seeking the support of local Labour Councillors or members and so on.

If you are going to do that then it is stupid not to be in their yourself using the resources and influecne that the LP still has within working class communities as the channel by which such action can be organised. Of course, that may not always remain the case. The LP may lose that function if workers become more and more disillusioned. UNfortunately, all the evidene at the moment is that if that happens it will be even worse news for the left, because it will signify an even greater loss of influecne and significance for the left outside the LP, it will on the contrary mean that the BNP will be the main gainer, perhaps to an irretrievable degree for the foreseeable future. If in ten year time or so we do enter a period similar to the downturn of he 1920's - 30's, that will signify a catastrophic scenario for the British Labour Movement and working class, and even just for bouregois democracy.