Sunday, October 21, 2018

On having missed the "People's Vote" demonstration...


Back when I blogged more often I used to describe the regular readers of this blog as “Sid and Doris Blogger”. I can only hope that they both now enjoy their retirement from UNISON, since I blog so infrequently.

This weekend, a combination of family commitments and fatigue (attributable to hormone therapy for my prostate cancer) kept me from a number of important political activities (including the “Super Saturday” in Hanover and Elm Grove and a fundraising quiz in Patcham).

One activity I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way for even if I could have was the “People’s Vote” march. I do like a good demonstration, but not all mass protests are necessarily progressive.

Back in 2000, I recollect some fairly juvenile elements on the left got quite excited about the truckers’ protests over petrol prices – though wiser souls saw their essentially reactionary nature.

Two years later, the “Countryside Alliance” march was – rightly – generally seen as an expression of the impotent rage of the foxhunting rural elite and their forelock-tugging hangers-on.

The “People’s Vote” march was not like either of these purely reactionary protests – and not only because it was in opposition to the policies of a Conservative, rather than a Labour Government. There are, however, those on the left who are simply critical of the march, and its demand for another referendum before the UK exits the EU.

Those on the political left who made the tragic error of failing to update their views about global capitalism (and hence the European Union) for more than a generation (and therefore – in 2016 - backed a “Leave” campaign which was led from the far right and legitimised racism) see the drive for a second referendum as simply a cover for the creation of a new “centrist” Party.

This is daft. There will no more be a successful new political Party in the (largely mythical) political “centre ground” than there will be a “Lexit” (a left-wing exit from the European Union as advocated by those who have neither political power nor any credible programme to achieve such power).

In 1981 the Social Democratic Party was established by Labour right-wingers of some stature. There were none such marching yesterday. Chukka Umunna is as likely to rise to real power in this country as the Morning Star and the Socialist Worker are to hegemonise the workers’ movement for their different visions of “socialism in one country.”

There are no significant or impressive figures on the right-wing of today’s Labour Party and neither the post-Blairite Europhiles on the Labour right nor the senile “Leninists” who stand (proudly and foolishly) outside the Labour Party offer any sensible way forward for workers in this country.

The campaign for a so-called “People’s Vote” is, from the point of view of the interests of working-class people, a contradictory creature.

On the one hand, it expresses the interest of our class in preventing the UK leaving the EU (which will not only fail to achieve any of the objectives claimed by either “Brexiteers” or “Lexiteers” but will materially weaken us as it empowers reaction). For these reasons, the “People’s Vote” campaign is in our interests.

On the other hand, the demand for a “second referendum” is not only posed as an alternative to the General Election which we really need, but also used – cackhandedly and by those who know they cannot win – as a stick with which to beat the Party leadership within the Party. For these reasons, the “People’s Vote” campaign is contrary to our interests.

As a socialist, and a Labour Party member (always in that order), I want to see a Labour Government which acts in the interests of working-class people. I want that not because I believe that legislation alone can liberate us, but because I believe that a socialist Labour Government, which legislates in our interests, will also encourage and empower our movement to place ever further and more progressive demands upon our own Government.

Among the many things which any sensible socialist Government would need to do would be to prevent the United Kingdom from crashing out of the European Union – and not only because we know we cannot build socialism only in one country.

As we would have a socialist Government in office governing an advanced capitalist economy, we would need policies which would empower and strengthen our movement within that context – the impact of a so-called “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit would, of course, be the exact opposite of what we would need.

An incoming Labour Government should not implement any prior decision to leave the European Union (and with luck the European Court of Justice will have ruled that the United Kingdom can unilaterally withdraw the notice which it has given to leave the EU).

The Party’s well-established position is that we can only support a “Brexit” deal which meets the “six tests.” Although these tests are based simply upon promises made by “Leave” campaigners, they cannot possibly be met. Therefore, an incoming Labour Government ought not to implement the “decision” of the 2016 Referendum.

We ought not to have had the referendum in the first place (and the Labour right-wingers running the Party at the time of the Parliamentary vote are responsible for the Party’s failure to oppose the referendum in Parliament). In office, “New Labour” were – of course – quite keen on referendums (which have been the tool of despots rather than democrats throughout history).

The same “centrist” politicians who did not oppose the referendum are responsible for leading our Party over the generation during which it (we) failed to defend and promote the interests of working-class people, including in the areas which voted heavily for “Leave” in the referendum.

The political tradition which led the “People’s Vote” march is almost entirely responsible for the outcome of the referendum which gave rise to the need for the march to take place – and is quite incapable of answering the demands to which it seeks to give voice.

A socialist Government will – if it is serious about the transformation of our society – need to find a way to avoid the UK leaving the EU (since that course of action will set our objectives, and the interests of our class, back a very long way). That should not need another referendum.

Indeed, unless and until we have a written constitution (which I don’t necessarily want to see), I would rather we don’t have any more referendums at all.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Twenty first century socialism in the streets


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Today hundreds of people marched through Brighton in defence of the National Health Service and in opposition to austerity, in a very successful demonstration organised by Sussex Defend the NHS.

Since I am supposed to be taking moderate exercise I was very happy to have the opportunity to carry the Brighton Labour Party banner for a fair bit of the march, and was also honoured to be asked to address the rally in Regency Square at the end of the demonstration.

I was very pleased that Labour Party members were by far the largest contingent on the march, albeit of course our membership overlaps with that of GMB, UNISON, Unite and the other trade unions who were also present.

I was even more pleased to be able to pledge, on behalf of the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove, which I know to be true, that we shall oppose all and any future attempts to privatise public services. (There is no need for any other left-wing political parties now that our Labour Party has rediscovered our purpose, and I welcome the growing recognition of this.)

Most of all though, I was pleased to be part of an activity which will, I think, be ever more important to twenty first century politics – the mobilisation of working class people.

The era of professional politicians, to whom the mass of the people delegate responsibility for the management of society, is at an end. In most of the world, this ending (which was horrendously (mis?)described by Gove in the run up to the tragic result of the 2016 referendum as an opposition to “experts”) is leading to a collapse of the political “Centre” to the benefit of the hard- and far-right, as social democracy continues its generation long decline.

The “populism” of the right, offers nothing to working-class people. Indeed its nature emphasises that it is not only the social gains of the last century which are at risk, but the democratic gains of the previous century.

Here in Britain, almost uniquely, we have rescued social democracy from the local consequences of its global decline by the good fortune of finding a socialist leadership for our Party of the Left. This means that we have a chance to work for Labour administrations, both nationally and locally, which will be led by socialists.

However, we must not give false faith to our people in the idea that all they need to do is vote for the right (left) candidates and then sit back while (better and more left wing) professional politicians deliver social justice.

The limited mobilisations which we saw today (to defend the health service in Brighton and contest the far right in London) are – like the more substantial German mobilisation against the far right - simply a token of the continuous mobilisation which we now need, so that we can support – and hold to account – the socialists whom we hope to elect to political office.

The real threat which a socialist-led Labour Government poses to the ruling-class and the establishment is not so much from the legislation which it might pass (although this will be a threat to entrenched privilege). More threatening still will be the empowerment of working class people given the hope and encouragement which a Government acting in our interests will offer.

This empowerment can create a virtuous cycle in which a radicalised movement places progressive demands upon elected politicians, whose positive responses to those demands will provide further encouragement to the movement which can then make further demands.

At the same time a socialist administration (and this is as true locally as it is nationally) will face attacks and sabotage from every quarter (not excluding from within our own ranks) – and it will only be the mobilisation of our class, in our workplaces and communities and on our streets, that can hope to hold even the best of our elected leaders to their own honestly made promises.

Or – as I put it rather more succinctly when speaking in Regency Square this afternoon – this is a class war, which has been declared upon us, and in which we have no option but to defend ourselves.











Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Democracy delayed?


Now that my political activity is focused on the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove I blog a lot less.

As we approach the most realistic possibility of a socialist-led Government in my lifetime all those of us who hold any position in the Party, at any level, must be persistently cautious of giving any ammunition, in any way, to the many opponents of such an outcome.

This also requires us to be circumspect in commenting upon internal Party controversies (which will themselves increase over the coming period). However, those of us who have been active in the movement for decades do owe our comrades the benefit of that experience and must occasionally risk comment if we are to communicate this.

I was encouraged when the Party established the Democracy Review, both by the fact of the Review and that responsibility was given to a friend and comrade, former UNISON employee and former Labour MP Katy Clark.

I was further encouraged by the leaked details of the Review, particularly in relation to local government, which is currently my major area of interest. The proposal to replace the current structure of Local Campaign Forums (and the absurd privileging of Councillors over members) with Local Government Committees composed entirely of delegates from CLPs and affiliates was an excellent and appropriate improvement.

Therefore it was disappointing to read reports from the Party’s National Executive Council suggesting that there was – and is – not a majority for the bulk of the Democracy Review proposals. Disappointing – but not surprising.

The trade union delegates on the NEC are not ever going, collectively, to be a force for radical change (unless and until the changes which have been wrought in the Party as a result of the transformation of our membership in recent years are repeated in the trade unions themselves).

The relationship between the Party and the trade unions is the bedrock on which the Party rests. It is the most important reason why our Party could never be completely transformed into a purely pro-capitalist political organisation, and socialists should always defend, and seek to deepen and democratise the relationship between the unions and the Party.

However, it is very important not to have illusions in the role which representatives of the unions within the Party will perform, as long as the unions are themselves, to a large extent, controlled by their own bureaucracies.

Historically the Labour Left has often been very poor at understanding the political nature of the trade unions. The Campaign Group of MPs were traditionally deferential to trade union General Secretaries – and much of the Labour Left shared the inability of the Communist Party to comprehend the role of the bureaucracy in the trade unions (or, I suppose, the former Soviet Union).

Union members can influence the conduct of our trade unions, and their representatives, who have to be mindful of our views as members – but we do not exercise meaningful control over the paid officials whose day to day practice is what trade unions (as political organisations) “do”.

The best we can hope for, as long as the unions remain as they are, is for the activists in the Party to be able to broker compromises and form tactical alliances from time to time.

That is not to say that change is impossible, just that it hasn’t happened yet.