Monday, 27 July 2015

Mann Or Marx

Over the last week, the Blairites have continued to embarrass themselves more and more. We knew they had no principle or scruples, and this week they have demonstrated that openly. But, they have also demonstrated that the previous claims of pragmatism, as the excuse for their lack of principle, was also a lie. They have also demonstrated that they have no commitment even to basic concepts of democracy, and they have demonstrated that they have no knowledge even of the history and foundations of the movement of which they are a part.

The Blairites have always excused their lack of principle, and willingness to chase any focus group further and further to the right, on the basis of the need for pragmatism. The only point of a political party, they told us, was to win elections, because only in that way can you actually change things. In fact, that was always nonsense. Magna Carta did not come about because a political party sought popularity so as to bring about changes. It came about because the barons were prepared to engage in a struggle with the King, to bring about such change in their own narrow interest. The great democratic changes of the 19th century did not come about because of political parties seeking the centre ground, to win office to bring about change. They came about as a result of huge social movements in the streets to bring about such change, much as Thatcher's Poll Tax was stopped, by such movements, not by parliamentary opposition by the Parliamentary Labour Party, or the way Women's Suffrage was won by the actions in the streets of the Suffragettes.

In fact, there is a strong democratic argument for saying that a parliamentary majority, for any political party, should really be only a reflection of the fact that it has truly won the support of the majority of the population for its ideas, outside Parliament, and is now in a position to legislate those ideas accordingly. The idea that a party should legislate policies for which it has no great belief, or for which it has not won widespread popular support, is in itself deeply undemocratic, and in part stems from the first past the post electoral system, in Britain, and partly from the elitist nature of bourgeois democracy in general. It is one reason that large numbers of people become deeply dissatisfied with bourgeois democracy and parliamentary parties.

The idea that a political party should treat politics as a commodity, that it merely seeks to sell itself to as many consumers as possible, just at election times, and that it achieves this by using the same kind of market research and marketing techniques as a soap powder manufacturer, is again deeply undemocratic. It leads to those parties, as Blair did over Iraq, considering that it can just ignore those voters after it has been elected. It is, of course, a concept of politics appropriate to politicians who see their role not as a principled one, of trying to convince a majority of a series of principles required to create a better world, but who only see their role as that of any other salesmen, who see their position as a career, which is why so many of them can move seamlessly from one party to another, in order to further that career.

But even the veneer of that argument was removed by Blair and Mary Creagh during the week. In the aftermath of the election, the Tory media and the Blairites tried to shape the debate in the same way they did in 2010. They tried to create the narrative that Labour lost because Miliband was too left-wing, and so on. But, it was clearly nonsense, and failed to resonate. Not only was there the experience of Scotland, of the reality of the annihilation of the Liberals, and of the fact that Labour outperformed the Tories in England (just not by enough), but the fact was that many of the more left-wing policies were themselves very popular.

The same has been true of Corbyn's campaign. It is not just with party members that he is popular. He is popular with wide swathes of the electorate too, who were fed up of austerity-lite Labourism. That has been shown in all of the hustings, including the first TV hustings open to the public. Faced with that reality, the Blairites had a serious problem. If its left-wing politics that are popular, and required to get Labour elected, what do you do, when you're whole strategy and practice has been built on the need to carry out Tory-lite policies? 

Blair and Creagh gave the answer. In a TV interview, Creagh, in the same breath as giving the usual mantra about not supporting Corbyn because of the need to put forward popular policies, then said, in response to the fact that Corbyn's ideas were proving popular with electors, “we shouldn't just advocate policies that are popular, but policies we believe to be right.” That was said without any sense of irony, or recognition of how this left her standing both ways at the same time. Blair was more forthright. Having told people to get a heart transplant, if their heart told them to support socialist policies, he said openly, “If left-wing policies were what was required to get elected, I still wouldn't support them.”

Of course not, because, all along, the truth is that the Blairites are not interested in putting forward policies that are required for Labour to get elected, only in getting parties elected that will implement Tory-lite policies. In order to try to achieve that, the Blairites are also happy to abandon any concept of democracy. John Mann's intervention at the weekend, illustrated that. The idea that the Leadership election process could be stopped, had been floated earlier. It had nothing to do with entrism or other irregularities. As with the idea that, immediately after Corbyn was elected leader, the Blairites, in the PLP, could launch a coup, to depose him, forcing another election, in which he would be denied the required 35 MP's backing, this is just such another undemocratic manoeuvre by the Blairites, whose support has vanished into thin air.

Whether Corbyn wins the leadership election or not, his campaign has already shown that his ideas have considerable resonance both within the party and within the electorate. Yet, the Blairites would be quite happy to just prevent those ideas even being discussed or presented to the public! All of the manoeuvres are intended not to defeat Corbyn on the basis of a democratic debate and contest, but on the basis of bureaucratic, anti-democratic censorship. For a long time, right-wingers and Blairites argued for the idea of one member one vote, as an opposition to decision making, by small cliques of activists.

Now it is a small clique of Blairites who want to close down debate. If there is to be one member one vote within the Party, then that should apply consistently. Why should MP's have a privileged position in nominating leadership candidates. One member one vote, here, is for election of Leader of the whole party, and, on that basis, every party member should have an equal right to nominate as any other. The constitution should be changed to that effect, which would stop the machinations of the Blairites to undemocratically prevent party members from selecting the candidate they want. But, in the absence of that, it was absolutely correct for MP's to have put Corbyn on the ballot, and we should absolutely oppose any manoeuvres, by the Blairites and Tory media to frustrate that process.

John Mann and others have talked about “entryism” by the hard left, yet even other Blairites have dismissed this as nonsense, and called on Mann and others to put the evidence in front of the party if they have it. The fact is, as Phil as set out, Mann was one of those proposing that the Labour Leadership election be let open to every Tom, Dick and Harry, as with the US Primary Elections. Its only because Corbyn is winning that he now wants to limit who can vote. Moreover, where was he and other Blairites, in the past, when Tories, like Sean Woodward, simply crossed the floor to join the Labour Party, and become Labour Ministers. Where was this concern for “Entrism” when Digby Jones was made a Labour Minister without even joining the Labour Party, where was this concern about trying to attract members of the Liberal Democrats who only days before had been standing against Labour candidates, and standing side by side with Tories?

What people like Mann mean is that socialists are joining the Labour Party, god forbid! That message has reached hysterical proportions over last weekend in The Times, and in the rantings of some of the Blairites. One TV report I heard talked about 150,000 communists and Trotskyists flooding into the party! If only!!!! At the height of their strength in the 1980's, the various revolutionary sects had a total membership of no more than about 10,000, and many of them were really just petit-bourgeois students going through their rebellious stage, before getting themselves a well-paid job. In fact, not a small number of them are today to be found themselves in the ranks of the Blairites, or as journalists putting out the Tory/Blairite message.

If there were 150,000 Trotskyists/communists in Britain – and anyone who does a cursory search of their journals will find that most of the sects continue to be extremely hostile to the idea of joining or supporting the Labour Party under any circumstance – then rather than entering the Labour Party, they would be in a position to pose as an alternative to it!

But, Mann and others really mean that socialists are joining the Labour Party, even some with “Marxist” ideas. Considering such views to be in some way alien to the Labour Party just shows how ignorant of the Labour Party's history they are, and the extent to which it is they who are the real interlopers.

The founder of the Co-operative Movement in Britain, was Robert Owen. He is featured on the Co-op Bank's credit card. The Co-op, is of course, one of the affiliated organisations of the Labour Party, and the Co-op Party stands its own candidates in elections in conjunction with the Labour Party. But, Owen called himself communist, along with those like Fourier and St Simon who shared similar ideas about a future society in which the means of production were owned collectively by the workers. It was that vision of future society that Marx adopted.

The other pillar of the Labour Movement in Britain in the 19th century was the Chartist Movement. Marx and Engels worked closely with the Chartists. One of its leaders, Ernest Jones, was seen by Marx and Engels as the future leader of the British workers. He was one of their closest thinkers and allies. When Marx created the First International, it brought together, not just socialists like Jones and other Chartists, but also a range of socialist sects, and the British Trades Unions.

These were the foundations of the British Labour Movement that ultimately made the Labour Party itself possible. It was the “Marxist” Social Democratic Federation, along with the ILP and the Trades Unions that created the Labour Party. It was Eleanor Marx who worked with trades unionists like Tom Mann, to create Trades Councils and Labour and Trades Councils, that provided the material from which the Labour Party was constructed.

Moreover, the Labour Party was a member of the Second International, which itself was created on avowedly Marxist principles. Marx himself wrote much of the French Socialist Party's first programme, Marx and Engels were both members of the German SPD, which traces its lineage through to today. Marx wrote his criticism of the Gotha Programme of that party, whilst Engels contributed to the development of the later Erfurt Programme. The Second International itself was under the guidance of its titular head, Karl Kautsky, the so called Pope of Marxism.

It is not Marxists who are in some way alien to the real traditions of the Labour Party, and its sister parties across Europe, but people like John Mann and Tony Blair. In fact, just as the Co-op Party is affiliated to the Labour Party today, for a long-time, members of the British Communist Party, who comprised around 25% of its membership, held dual membership of both parties. That is not surprising, because the Communist Party was, in the shape of its predecessor organisation, the Social Democratic Federation, one of the founding organisations of the Labour Party! It was only the sectarian, attitude of the Communist Party leaders, in the 1920's, which led to that situation ending, by them giving an opportunity for the right-wing leaders of the Labour Party to expel them. Instead of simply writing to the Labour Party saying that they had changed their name from the British Socialist Party (which is what the SDF had become) to the British Communist Party, the CP instead wrote applying for affiliation (an affiliation that the BSP already had), and did so in such terms as to almost guarantee that it would be rejected.

The right-wing leaders had been trying to oppose the left-wing of the party through the early 1920's, especially as, today, they were gaining increasing popular support, as against the policies of Ramsey MacDonald, Arthur Henderson and Phillip Snowden. The left gained strength in the trades unions, at rank and file level, via the Minority Movement, and thereby were able to play an important role in the transport strikes of 1920, and in the General Strike of 1926. The 1925 Liverpool Conference of the Labour Party confirmed the decision of the previous year to proscribe Communist Party members from membership, but they continued to be individual members for a long time, and more than 100 divisional and borough Labour Parties refused to abide by a decision to exclude members they had worked with for years, many of whom had been instrumental in creating the Labour Party in the first place.

We have a similar situation today. On the one hand, a Tory-lite, Blairite leadership of the party, which like other such groupings across Europe has badly failed, and is failing to recognise a change in material conditions, and political climate. On the other hand, as in the 1920's, a sectarian left that refuses to engage with the Labour Party, as the Workers' Party, and which, in the same kind of Third Period ultraleftist stance as the Communist Party of the 1920's, is more concerned to “distance” itself from such a party, for fear of dirtying its hands, than to get involved in such a struggle.

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