Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Labour's Leadership Is Useless

Theresa May is probably the worst Prime Minister Britain has had in over a century. Her government is falling apart over Brexit. Yet, despite that, if there was an election tomorrow, and, as I have been saying since Christmas, that is very likely, the Tories would win it! Despite how bad May is, she continually scores way ahead of Corbyn, in terms of popularity, and the Tories, despite their government falling apart, are currently between 8-10 points ahead of Labour in the polls, and that gap has been widening rather than closing. It is a measure of just how useless Corbyn, and the current Labour Leadership are. 

Why is Labour so useless, and doing so badly? It comes down to the fact that a) Labour is offering no credible alternative to the Tories, on the main issue of the day, i.e. Brexit, b) it does not show any real commitment to the alternative it is offering, c) its offering on the other issues of the day is more radical and popular than that of the Tories, but is being drowned out, because Brexit swallows all of the oxygen of politics, and d) the view of the offering, on these other issues is coloured by the perception of duplicity and incompetence over Brexit, and that is facilitated by the fact that these other offerings have also been poorly thought out, and suffer the same kinds of confusion and contradiction. 

If we take the main line Tory policy on Brexit, as proposed by May, it is that Britain should remain inside the Customs Union and Single Market, as part of the “backstop”, until such time as a new trading arrangement, between Britain and the EU, is established. The ERG, who usually claim that the question of the Irish border is not a problem, actually show they do not believe that, because they argue that the backstop means that Britain would be kept in the backstop indefinitely, as no solution to the Irish border was found, and so Britain would have to remain inside the Customs Union and Single Market, without having any say in those institutions. That is also the basis of the Attorney General's legal advice that Britain could legally be kept within the backstop, other than if the EU was acting in “bad faith”

As Hillary Benn pointed out, and Cox could not dispute, if the question of the Irish border meant that Britain could not provide a suitable alternative to Northern Ireland remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market, i.e. one that ensures that the same regulatory framework exists on both sides of the border, so that no border is required, the EU is legally entitled to reject it, and so Britain would remain indefinitely inside the Customs Union and Single Market, but without a say. Alternatively, a border down the Irish Sea would be required, which both Labour and Tories have rejected, or else, it will require that Northern Ireland be united once more with the Republic. 

So, the ERG are quite right in saying that the backstop means that Britain would remain inside the Customs Union and Single Market indefinitely, because there is no means of squaring that circle. No amount of electronic equipment is going to make up for the fact of different regulatory systems on either side of the border, and with goods and services being imported into Britain/N.I. from the US, and other countries with their own, different regulatory systems, which then pass into the production processes within Britain. Currently, such goods and services that do not meet EU requirements cannot be imported into Britain, and N.I. so that problem does not arise - which is also why only a small % of non-EU goods get inspected. As was stated in the debate, yesterday, in parliament, that should not be a problem for Labour, because Labour's policy, anyway, is that Britain should remain inside the Customs Union, and retain a close relation to the Single Market. So, Labour should be glad that, in practice, the backstop Theresa May agreed, as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, effectively keeps Britain inside the Customs Union and Single Market indefinitely, because that is what it says it wants! 

And, this is one reason that voters have no reason to support Labour rather than May. For all intents and purposes, Labour's Brexit policy appears identical, in effect, if not in intention, to that of May. The only difference, here, is that Labour says, from the start, that it wants to obliterate May's red lines over the Customs Union and Single Market, whereas May has long since had to, herself, obliterate those red lines, in order to get a deal, even if she keeps up the pretence that “nothing has changed”, and that she is still committed to negotiating a trade deal with the EU, during the transition period, that removes the need to remain in the Customs Union and Single Market, whilst complying with the requirements of the GFA. But, no such solution exists or can exist. That is why May has had to keep the details of that future arrangement, contained in the meagre 26 pages of the statement of political intent, attached to the 580 page Withdrawal Agreement, so vague and so minimal. May's strategy, with this next stage, is the same as the first, it is to simply vacillate, and talk in vacuous language, changing from one position to another, so as to kick the can down the road for a further two years, in the hope that something will turn up to provide an answer. 

But, voters have no reason to support Labour's version of May's Brexit deal either, because, where, at least, May proposes some, illusory, non-existent deal, whereby Britain can be outside the Customs Union and Single Market, at some point, and yet still have all the benefits of being inside them, as well as, thereby, being able to negotiate its own trade deals, and end freedom of movement, Labour ridiculously arrives at exactly the same point, by arguing that it could somehow Remain inside the Customs Union, and remain close to the Single Market, and yet still, as the Tories want, be free to negotiate its own trade deals, end freedom of movement, but also, unlike the Tories, thinks it could also be able to have a seat at the table! Its like a member of UNITE going to McCluskey and saying, “Look Len, I find having to pay subs and abide by union rules a bit of an inconvenience, so I'd like to negotiate a new arrangement whereby I can turn up to meetings and vote, but not pay any subs, where I can get all the benefits of union membership, but be able to pick and choose which decisions I want to have to abide by.” Labour's policy amounts to wanting the EU to be like McCluskey, welcoming the above approach, rather than responding with a two word answer the second word being off! 

Labour has put itself in the position of effectively fighting for the same pool of Brexit votes that the Tories already effectively have a stranglehold over. The Tories do not need to appeal to Remain voters, because 80% of the Tory vote not only back Brexit, but backs a No Deal Brexit. The Tories are electorally savvy enough to know that you do not piss off 80% of your core vote, in the hope of retaining the other 20%, or collecting a few other Remain voters. That indeed, is precisely why, May has always had to appease the ERG wing of her party, and hopes that she might reach across to Labour, for some form of deal, based on an overt commitment to remain in the Customs Union and Single market, are naïve in the extreme. May's weak position results precisely from the fact that her current position is seen by the ERG, reflecting the Tory base, as already being far too conciliatory in that direction. 

Yet, Labour's leadership does not seem to have understood even this basic lesson. Firstly, they have failed the first lesson of socialist politics, which is to defend basic principles. Whatever the electoral calculations, Brexit is a reactionary nationalist policy that Labour should have opposed vigorously, and that opposition cannot be modified simply on the back of a one off opinion poll, which is what a referendum essentially is. The job of any political party, if it wants a long-term future, is to base its programme on its ideological foundations. Those ideological foundations are ultimately determined by the class interests it seeks to defend and promote. It is not to act like a political weather-vane, simply being blown hither and thither, by the current winds of public opinion. The job of a political party is to determine the weather, by arguing for its ideology and programme, and thereby acting to change public opinion so that it blows in its direction. 

Labour hobbled itself by the ridiculous tailing of public opinion, and commitment to ideas of democratic primitivism, when, in 2017, it committed to “respecting” the decision of the 2016 referendum, indeed not just to respecting that decision, but committing to implement it. Labour should have stood, in 2017, on a programme of setting out why Brexit was reactionary, and why a Labour government, if elected, would refuse to implement it. Had it done so, it would probably have won that election. Either way, it would have removed many of the arguments that the Tories have been able to use against it afterwards, and would be in a strong position now, as the Tories Brexit fiasco unfolds. 

Yet, rather than learning that lesson, Labour still continues with the nonsense of respecting the Brexit vote, and still suggests that if an election were held, it would fight that election on the basis of itself pushing through Brexit. In doing so, it spits in the eye of the 75% of Labour voters that oppose Brexit, not to mention the 90% of Labour members that oppose Brexit, on the pretext that in doing so it is upholding some abstract principle of democracy – despite the fact that every opinion poll since 2016 shows that a majority of the electorate today oppose Brexit – or on the even more unprincipled basis that it fears it might lose some seats in the North of England that voted Leave in 2016. I have shown in numerous previous posts that this last argument is quite simply contradicted by the facts. 

We have, the ridiculous situation, therefore, where Theresa May, who was probably a closet Brexiteer all along, is led to pursue a Brexit policy that recognises that a No Deal crash out would be disastrous for capital, but which is contrary to the wishes of 80% of her party members, and core voters, whilst in a mirror image, Corbyn and the Labour leadership, also pursue a policy of Brexit that is opposed by 90% of his party members, and 75% of Labour voters. May is led to defy her party, because she sees the need try to represent the longer-term interests of the dominant section of the ruling-class, Corbyn is led to defy his party, because he is driven by his own ideological commitment to the Stalinist concept of socialism in one country, and the influence in that direction of his inner circle of Stalinist advisors. 

So, we have the ridiculous spectacle that with the time for Brexit increasingly being measured in hours rather than months, weeks or days, the Labour Leadership still cannot bring themselves even to advocate the party policy of demanding another referendum. It is still not time to do so, they tell us, and the process must unfold further! On that basis, they will be arguing for a referendum on whether we should remain in the EU, months after we have already crashed out on March 29th. So, is it any wonder that voters have no confidence in this pathetic, floundering, and duplicitous Labour leadership? 

Moreover, is it any wonder that their opinion of Labour's other policies, which should have been winning it support is viewed through this lens? I've set out before why the Tory objections to Labour's proposals for taking back control over various privatised industries do not hold up. But, I have also set out why Labour's proposals are poorly thought out also. Borrowing money through the issuing of bonds, simply to buy up shares, is a waste of money. It is borrowing that does nothing to increase real capital accumulation, and instead simply puts money into the pockets of speculators. If Labour wants to borrow money, it should do so in order to use that money productively, by making real investments in infrastructure and so on, not lining the pockets of shareholders and other parasites. Rather than nationalising industries, at great expense, it should instead, simply change the current laws on corporate governance, to end the right of shareholders to vote or appoint Boards of Directors, and should instead make it necessary for companies to elect their Boards of Directors, by and from the workers and managers in the company. That would end the Tory nonsense about Labour borrowing £1 trillion, to finance its plans, overnight. 

But, Labour's plans for redistribution, make all the same errors that social-democracy has always made. More than 200 years ago, Adam Smith, overturned the ideas that previously held sway about the basis of the wealth of nations. Smith showed that it was not from unequal exchange in foreign trade that countries grew wealthy, but from the accumulation of capital, the employment thereby of additional value creating labour, and the raising up of productivity, that made made possible even more rapid capital accumulation. Marx embraced Smith's leap forward in understanding. Marx, like Smith and Ricardo, understood this basis of the way nations become rich, via capital accumulation, and, like Ricardo, Marx saw the historic mission of capital as being to drive up the rate of surplus value, and thereby the accumulation of that surplus value as additional capital. 

But, Marx also understood the basis contradiction that arises from Ricardo's view of that capital accumulation, and that resides at the heart of Ricardian Socialism, and of the social-democracy that flows from it. It is that, whilst it is in workers interests for there to be the maximum capital accumulation, the maximum capital accumulation comes from the maximum rate of surplus value, which entails holding back wages. If wages – including the social wage – are raised beyond what is optimal for capital accumulation, then irrespective of the ill-will or otherwise of capitalists, capital accumulation will be slower, the employment of labour will be lower than it otherwise would have been, and so on. Moreover, in a world where capital can escape higher taxes, or more onerous obligations, in one economy, compared to another, it will inevitably try to do so, unless other factors mitigate against it. That is precisely why the concept of socialism in one country, but also thereby of social-democracy in one country is a dangerous, utopian fantasy. It is why, when coupled with Corbyn's Brexit stance, Labour's economic, industrial and social policy also begins to fall apart. 

Capital accumulation comes from the production and accumulation of surplus value. If surplus value is reduced, either because wages are raised above the value of labour-power, or else because taxes are raised, so as to transfer revenue from profits to benefits, or unproductive government spending of some other form, then less surplus value is available for capital accumulation. The rate of economic growth is thereby reduced, the demand for labour is reduced, and so consequently wages fall. As Marx puts it, in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, 

“Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labor power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?” 

It is precisely that retrogression that social-democratic redistributive policies are based upon, and which Corbyn's economic and social policy adopts. But, it is also thereby clear that the solution lies not in such redistribution via the tax and benefits system, but from workers having real control over capital, in the way suggested above. That requires a political revolution to bring about industrial democracy in the same way that over the 19th, and early 20th century, a political revolution was required to bring about political democracy, via universal suffrage. But, such a political revolution cannot come about in one country alone. For the reasons set out above, if Britain were to move alone to introduce real industrial democracy, the financial markets would attack the Pound, there would be capital flight, as shareholders moved money out of Britain to EU and other countries, and along with that, they would, use their current control of company boards, to close down production, and shift real capital overseas. Such a struggle can only be waged on an EU wide basis as a minimum. 

And, so we come back to the beginning that the most pressing question for the day, for workers in Britain, but also in the rest of the EU, is the question of Brexit. Because, likewise, a Brexit Britain, under the control of a Bojo or Rees-Mogg, would begin by slashing workers pay, conditions and union rights. In doing so, and given the size of the UK economy, they would immediately put pressure on other EU countries, particular the smaller, weaker economies, to follow suit, to try to maintain some level of competitiveness, which creates a spiral of decline, as part of a race to the bottom. Any Labour MP that says they believe the Tories' promises that they would introduce higher standards than the EU is either a liar or a fool. 

If Labour wants to win the next election, it must rapidly begin to put itself in the vanguard of opposition to Brexit. It must do so by stressing that to pursue a progressive policy requires an EU wide struggle, and thereby requires Britain to be inside the EU, with the LP and TUC fighting alongside our EU brothers and sisters to bring about such a transformation. But, currently, Corbyn's leadership is facing in the wrong direction, and so undermining that struggle. By failing to take a principled internationalist stance, it has facilitated the disastrous Tory Brexit fiasco that has unfolded, it has simultaneously undermined the massive progress made by the left in the party, over the last three years, by abandoning the field to the Blair-rights and Liberals that were able to put themselves at the head of the large People's Vote movement. What is more, the weak vacillating leadership that Corbyn has provided in the last three years, also allowed those Blair-rights to continue to have a platform, via the PLP, and its access to the Tory media, by failing to press ahead with democratic reform of the party and mandatory reselection of MP's. 

Now, having appeased the right of the party over the accusations of bullying and anti-Semitism, by failing to root them out via mandatory reselection, despite their repeated undermining of Corbyn's leadership, and their coup attempts against him, they are seeing the obvious culmination of that process with Tom Watson using his position as elected Deputy Leader, to openly challenge Corbyn, by setting up not only his own party within a party, within the PLP, but within the party at large with his proposals for setting up his own Bonapartist administrative and disciplinary structure, with him sitting atop it, as police, judge and jury, and in direct opposition to the party's official structures. 

Again, as Corbyn allows that situation to unfold, is it any wonder that voters see a weak party leadership that engenders no confidence? The party leadership is useless on multiple levels. It should go, but it should not go to give way to a return to the past, represented by Watson and the right of the PLP. Yet, unless the rank and file of the party take control of the situation, that is precisely where Corbyn's misleadership is taking us.


Helen said...

The answer you're looking for is the right wing, pro-establishment media, the constant smears and attacks on the labour leadership, the corporate context that's pro-establishment, the pro-establishment BBC. There is little that the Labour party can do about those things since they're funded by people with money - the wealthy buy influence and support from all institutions and organisations. They swamp whatever any labour party can do, and massively distort what people think is happening. If the labour party, which isn't even anti-establishment, had equal access to the media and as favourable a representation as the tories, then the story would be different. You're pointing at the wrong culprits.

Boffy said...

Sorry, I don't buy that. The Tory media is a constant. Even setting aside any distortion of Labour's position by that Tory media, the position adopted by the Labour leadership itself is the real problem. We know what that position is, because the Labour Leadership set it out in conference speeches, their own literature, in podcasts, and social media communications that are under their own control.

Trying to point away from that via conspiracy theories is part of the problem. The same thing was done in trying to portray all of the atrocities going on under Stalinism as just bourgeois/imperialist propaganda. In any case, as I've argued many times, it isn't as if the Labour Party and Trades Unions do not have it in their own power to establish their own mass communications system, via a satellite/Cable TV Channel, or an Internet TV Channel.

davidjc said...

What do you think the party’s economic offer should be in the interim - probably a long one! - before the EU can be changed as you outline?
Agreed that the leadership has let us down badly, but say it was a perfect leadership and it led us to election victory and to stay in the EU, it would still face the current EU set up, and capital flight/ruling class counter reaction issues, likely with greater force as they’d be more worried.

Boffy said...


Its important to view analysis of the world in dynamic - dialectical - terms, and not in terms of comparative statics. Changing one thing, necessarily changes other things, and strategy as well as analysis, must be based on that perspective. When Lenin put forward the April Theses, he based it on the idea that it was impossible to build Socialism in One Country, and so if the revolution was confined to Russia it would necessarily fail. However, he argued for carrying through with the revolution, because he thought a) the objective conditions globally, at least in Europe, were pointing towards an imminent global revolution, b) there were "revolutionary" parties existing in the major developed European countries, particularly Germany, and within them, revolutionary wings, more closely aligned to the Bolsheviks existed that were coming together internationally, as had been seen at Zimmerwald etc., c) that Russia would break the chain at the weakest link, so that their action would have a dynamic effect, providing a spark for these other forces to spring into action. As it turned out, Lenin's analysis of the state of the world was wrong, but that does not mean the methodology behind it was wrong.

It does, however, illustrate a point. If your perspective is, let's pursue a socialist revolution in Britain, let along Greece (as I discussed at the time), because workers in the rest of Europe will come to our defence, then you had better be pretty damn sure that your assessment of that likelihood is correct. The only assured means of doing that currently, is to build an EU wide workers movement, and ditch the old social-democratic conceptions that dogged the Second International, of building national labour movements with essentially diplomatic relations between each other, and which facilitated the divisions between those workers movements in 1914, and the workers lining up behind their respective ruling classes in WWI.

I have written posts several years ago on socialist strategy, which some British and European communist groups have used as bases for discussion, and reading those would be a start on the general thrust of strategy. Sraid Marx also has several series of posts on a Marxist strategy based upon workers self activity and self-government which I would broadly endorse.

As with the strategy he outlines there, my main thrust of argument would be that a revolutionary socialist party - which the Labour Party isn't - has to build the working-class up as both capable of being and desirous of being the new ruling class. It cannot devolve that task to some other agent in society. That has to be our prime task. It means educating and organising the w.c. ideologically, in theory, but also in practice. As Marx said in his Inaugural Address, that is the benefit of workers creating co-ops. But, we should expand that to every sphere, or as I once wrote, in relation to the Occupy Movement - Occupy Everything! We should encourage workers to occupy every space of social life. That occupation directly points towards the question of workers democracy, on a daily basis, so as to decide, "What Now?, and How?" It involves building Tenants and residents Associations in Workers Communities, Housing Co-operatives to build, maintain and control workers communities and so on. We should resurrect the Bolsheviks demands for Factory Committees that extend to all workers in whatever union and none, as the basic form from which industrial democracy in the workplace can flow.


Boffy said...


All of these things flow not from a LP in office, but flow from what its existing half million members can and should be doing in their everyday lives, backed by the resources of the party itself, and is the surest way of turning that half million members into 5 million members.

The beauty of such a ground up approach is that it is extensible across all borders. Cooperatives built in one country - as already happens with Mondragon - can extend to other countries, on the same basis that capital expands. Look at the demands of US autoworkers in VW and BMW plants to the same right of codetermination as enjoyed by their German comrades. The principle of codetermination has not stopped German industry from accumulating capital, or being efficient, far from it, and ultimately what money lenders, be they share or bondholders, or banks are interested in, is getting a good return on the money they lend. The EU Draft 5th Company Law Directive, already created a basis for arguing for an extension of industrial democracy across Europe. Instead of farting about with old ideas of nationalisation, or complicated ideas of workers getting shares, a progressive social democratic party should press that idea of industrial democracy across Europe, as part of a focus on a political struggle to extend democracy across society.

So, I would say that Labour should offer to promote the idea of workers cooperatives, and to provide support for them where workers establish them. Note that as Marx advised this should not be the Lassallean also promoted in Venezuela, of the state creating co-operatives, and financing them, and then expecting workers to run them, but has to be built on the basis of the workers themselves creating such cooperatives, and showing a desire to run them. It should encourage existing cooperatives to come together in a cooperative federation, and Labour should work with other progressive social-democratic across the EU to make this federation into an EU wide federation. The framework for that already exists in the International Cooperative Alliance, but it requires firming up, and democratising into a real federation that also is given a political content, closely aligned with the European workers movement.

Labour should immediately begin to develop with other EU progressive social democrats a programme based upon a struggle for industrial democracy across the EU based upon an extension of the idea of co-determination, as it already exists in Germany, and was proposed by the EU, and by the Bullock Report promoted by Wilson in the 1970's. It should set out, as I've described previously, and as even bourgeois theorists have described, that shareholders own shares, not companies, or those companies capital. They should have no legal right to vote on how those companies operate. That right belongs to the workers and managers in those companies. Labour should, as a minimum commit itself to the principles of industrial democracy as it exists in Germany, and as set out in the Bullock Report, of having company boards made up of 50% workers representatives elected from and by the company's workforce. It should set out from the beginning the limitations of that, and the need to go beyond it, to 100% representation.


Boffy said...


Labour should commit itself to scrapping all anti-monopoly legislation, so that workers as they establish cooperatives, and take control of companies' capital, can begin to quickly merge those companies under the umbrella of a cooperative federation, acting as a large holding company, capable of integrating the plans and production of those companies, and of allocating capital based upon a forward plan. Labour should commit itself to scrapping corporation taxes, which inhibit the accumulation of capital. It should instead commit to sharply raising taxes on unearned income, for example, on dividends, rents and interest, which likewise go to lining the pockets of parasites for their unproductive consumption, and thereby holds back real capital accumulation. Labour should introduce a Wealth Tax on all privately held assets over £10 million.

Labour should commit to scrapping the Green Belt, and impose a heavier Capital Gains tax. It should end the current distortion of money markets imposed by the use of QE, and artificially low official interest rates. That would burst the current asset price bubbles, make land cheap enough for local councils to buy to build council houses, and housing cooperatives to build cooperative housing directly under workers ownership and control. Labour should propose to turn all council housing into cooperative housing, owned and controlled by the tenants in those communities, and maintained and extended by building and construction cooperatives based within those communities that could also set to work, and train local unemployed workers, particularly young workers. Whilst scrapping the Green Belt, Labour should set limits on the size of new housing developments of around 250 properties, with minimum green space between each such development, I..e new green villages, as I suggested many years ago. It should set as a longer term goal, breaking up the existing foul overgrown conurbations, by carving large green swathes through them, rather than the current policy of building on every piece of brown field land, which thereby only adds to the problem of overdevelopment, and degradation of living conditions.

Is that enough for now? I set out much of this in a series of posts prior to the 2017 election.