25 Years of live music in the garden

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On Saturday 11 July we will be celebrating 25 years of live music in the garden at Ruskin House. The Communist Party in Croydon is supporting this event with enthusiasm and is encouraging local members and comrades from further afield to attend. We are planning to have a stall selling Party literature and the Morning Star will be on sale.

Ruskin House is not only the Party’s  national administrative centre, it is also one of the few labour and trade union centres left in the country. Its survival when many other labour clubs have folded is something to celebrate. This survival cannot, however, be taken for granted. Profits from the day will be donated to the Ruskin House Restoration Fund, much needed to fix leaks in the roof caused by the theft of lead and to repair window frames and brickwork.

Ruskin House is owned collectively by the local labour movement. This means that Labour Party branches as well as trades union branches share in the ownership. Historically, the former have not been particularly supportive – unlike the trade unions they provide no funding and in the past have supported moves to sell the building and pocket the proceeds  – moves that were only defeated by a combined effort by local trade unions. The Labour Party has, however, a chance, perhaps its last chance, to turn away from such discreditable behaviour by rejecting the three pseudo-Tories standing for Leader and electing Jeremy Corbyn, the Left candidate. In addition to the CP stall and the Morning Star sales, both supportive of Mr Corbyn, Jeremy’s supporters will be present in large numbers to state the case themselves. This need not be just a fun day for all the family, it could also represent a great political opportunity. Be there!

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Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination and the Communist Party’s response

There was much rejoicing on the Left when Jeremy Corbyn  secured  the support of 35 MPs needed to stand in  the Labour Party Leadership Election this week. It certainly gave much confidence to the massive anti-austerity demo organised by the People’s Assembly in London yesterday (Saturday). Jeremy Corbyn is a principled socialist who shone in the televised hustings that followed shortly after his nomination. His rivals came over as completely hopeless. Liz Kendall would not be out of place at a Tory hustings while Yvette Cooper  and  Andy Burnham appeared like rabbits caught in headlights and could only appeal to the ‘aspirations’ of Labour voters  to better themselves and abandon their fellow workers.  When it comes to socialism, they didn’t have a clue.

Given everything pitted against him (press, money, business, manipulated public opinion),  the odds are still stacked against Corbyn.  Should he, however,  overcome these obstacles and be elected Labour Leader, he will still have to come to terms with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Even if there were enough MPs who think as he does (there are not), he won’t be able to pick his own team. As Harold Wilson discovered , Labour Leaders from the Left have to compromise and make allies with those on the Right, however treacherous, like Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, they turn out to be.  A Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader with support from the affiliated trade unions would, however, be a more progressive entity than it has been in the past. So where does this leave the Communist Party? Should we be pressing for Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader?

There is a problem, but it is not of our making.

The Communist Party adheres to the principles Marx and Engels set out in the Communist Manifesto more than 160 years ago. In this  they state that

  • Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working class parties
  • Communist  Party has no interests separate and apart from workers as a whole
  • Communists  disdain to conceal their views and aim, which is to overthrow the existing social conditions, i.e. capitalism

For Harold Wilson, a week was a long time in politics, but we in the Communist Party have held true to these principles since we were formed in 1920. The first two principles above suggest that Party members who have been invited via their union, or directly by representatives of the Labour Party, to register as ‘Labour Party Supporters’ could do so, being able to accept the necessary declaration:  ‘I support the aims and values of the Labour Party, and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it’. The sticking point is, however, not at heart the fact that we stand a few candidates against Labour in general elections – we are always careful when we do this to ensure our involvement will not result in Labour losing to right wing parties – it is rather the third principle: Communists do not conceal their views and their membership of the Party. In this they stand in proud and sharp contrast to members of Trotskyist and other supposedly revolutionary socialist parties and groups who habitually conceal their membership, primarily to engage in so-called ‘entryism’. This is the reason why these parties don’t stand candidates. But it is a dishonest strategy and one that has undermined John McDonnell’s efforts to re-found the Labour Representation Committee. It damages the credibility of their members.

Another less profound objection to CP members infiltrating the LP and voting for Corbyn is that, if our entire membership we to do so, it’s still unlikely that we would affect the overall result in Corbyn’s favour. Yet, if  Corbyn wins, vested interests will seek to over-turn the result on the grounds that the electorate was corrupted  by entryism.

Many CP members will be disappointed by the guidance offered by our General Secretary, Rob Griffiths,  this week that we should indeed not sign up to Labour and vote for Corbyn.  Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the correct call. If members wish to influence the  ballot in Corbyn’s favour, they should do so legitimately by persuading friends, family, neighbours and workmates to sign up and vote for him. CP members can do this secure in the knowledge that Communists are respected  as straight talkers and straight dealers who don’t  hide their membership or conceal their views. We may be  foregoing one vote,  but we are then in a position to influence scores of others.

The Fortcoming EU Referendum

The Croydon Assembly last Saturday (6 June) was a great success. The Cedar Hall at Ruskin House was full and, with workshops in the morning and a plenary in the afternoon, it was more a day for debate and deliberation than a time to sit back and listen to leading figures on the Left give us their views on the way forward after the General Election.  Two of the key speakers, Philipa Harvey, Chair of the NUT, and Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, nevertheless, gave us plenty to think about.

Philipa Harvey, a classroom teacher in Croydon until she began her term as NUT President, described the folly of over-testing and over-examining school children. While Labour must share some of the blame for this, it is the Tories, driven by their pathological distrust of the teaching profession and fuelled  by the knowledge that their kids are taught under a different system (i.e. privately), who have pressed this to the extreme. Children, Philipa explained, are now to be tested from the age of four.  Yet the most successful education system in Europe (Finland), has one exam when kids complete their education and no formal testing.

The immense personal courage displayed by Mark Serwotka as he continues to battle for his public service members under continuous attack by the government while waiting for a heart transplant can only fill one with admiration. It makes a mockery of the ‘honours’ to be ‘bestowed’  on the great and good in the Queen’s Birthday Honours tomorrow. How disappointing that so few of those offered gongs and titles have the integrity to decline them; how disappointing that so many people who, until then we respected , lap them up while disingenuously claiming that they did so on behalf of their colleagues or their organisation. It was, however, on this occasion Mark’s views on the forthcoming EU referendum that attracted attention. Mark invariably talks sense, so it was something of a jolt when he argued that the forthcoming referendum would be a distraction for the Left and we should not get entangled in it.

It is certainly the case that the trade unions will be split over continued membership of the EU while the Labour Party under any likely new leader will support continued membership even on the existing terms. Cameron’s strategy is clearly to obtain some cosmetic changes to these terms, probably no more than restrictions on who can claim welfare benefits. This, he hopes, will be sufficient to buy off any revolt within his own party. Those on the anti-EU wing of the Tories and UKIP will concentrate on the free movement of labour within the EU, a line that would have some logic if it were accompanied with restrictions on the free movement of capital, but without this it will tend to degenerate into xenophobia and racism. The big issue for workers is, however, their powerlessness within the EU due to the almost total absence of democracy and the corresponding influence of Big Business within its structures  – an influence so great that TTIP can apparently be rammed through regardless of any opposition workers within the EU can mount.  But do these difficulties mean that the Left and, in particular, the Communist Party can afford to turn its back on the EU Referendum?

Seamus Milne argued in the Guardian on Thursday (11 June) that what has been happening in Greece demonstrates that the case for radical change in Europe and a break from anti-democratic and corporate-controlled structures cannot be abandoned to the Right. Who is correct over this, Mark Serwotka or Seamus Milne?  I would tend to back Mark against Seamus nine time out of ten. This, I think, is the one in ten exception.

Peggy Seeger at 80- Queen Elizabeth hall- 6th June

It doesn’t seem 10 years ago when I reviewed
Peggy Seeger’s 70th birthday concert for the Morning Star. That concert was a bringing
together the best of the British and US folk tradition to pay tribute with
brothers Mike and Pete Seeger as guests. Sadly they are no longer with us and
with Peggy Seeger herself having experienced serious illness last year this
concert could seem a somewhat low key affair in comparison.

Those fears are
soon laid to rest however in what is a good humoured and crowd pleasing concert
interspersed with amusing anecdotes about growing old. Backed by her sons Neil
and Calum MacColl and with guest appearances by Paul Brady and Eliza Carthy
Seeger is easily able to get the audience singing in chorus with a range of
instruments including guitar, banjo, concertina and piano. Her songs reflect her
political concerns including trade union rights and environmental destruction.
Particularly noteworthy are “Sing About These Hard Times” and the poignant
“Aragon Mill.”

The second set sees Seeger sing a couple of songs from her new
CD “Everything Changes” including the title track with reflections on her mother
Ruth Crawford Seeger and “Swim to the Star” a haunting song about the Titanic
disaster. Then we have Neil and Calum MacColl leading on two of their father
Ewan’s songs “Sweet Thames Flow Softly” and “The Joy of Living” followed by
Seeger singing the song MacColl wrote for her “The First time Ever I Saw Your
Face.”

Finally all artists come on stage for a rousing rendition of “Get Up and
Go” a fun song about the trials and tribulations of growing old made famous by
legendary US folk group “The Weavers” whose members included Pete Seeger and the
recently departed Ronnie Gilbert. This is a truly joyous occasion leading many
audience members coming away thinking perhaps growing old won’t be such a bad
thing after all.

STEVEN JOHNSON

General Election Blues

No one should be in any doubt that the outcome of the general election last month was anything other than a defeat for the Left and progressive forces in Britain. The SNP managed to obliterate Labour in Scotland by positioning itself to the left of Labour but, given our first-past-the-post voting system for parliamentary elections, it succeeded only in strengthening separatist tendencies in Scotland and entrenching the forces of reaction elsewhere. The Tories secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate but enough to give them a comfortable overall majority. We should, however, not cling to the illusion that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would have been able to deliver the goal of greater equality – now identified by Miliband’s critics inside the Labour party as Labour’s mistaken dominant electoral message. How strange that we, the electorate, didn’t notice this at the time!

So where are we now? According to Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian today (Friday, 5 June), we should take Cameron’s claim to head a one-nation government supporting blue collar workers seriously. According to Kettle, even our concerns about the NHS under the Tories are unfounded. He says that Jeremy Hunt is not repeating the mistakes made by his predecessor, Andrew Lansley: according to Kettle, the NHS will “still be there in 2020”. Complacency? With more anti-trade union legislation promised in the Queen’s speech, if that’s not clinging to illusions, I don’t know what is.

Croydon TUC, supported by the communists on its Executive Committee, has long taken a more realistic view about what we could expect following the General Election whoever won. That is why it formed well in advance of the General Election the Croydon Assembly as a way for the trade unions to reach out to the wider community beyond the boundary of organised labour to raise awareness and to encourage people to organise against austerity, privatisation, growing inequality and cuts in public services. CTUC took the view that these would continue whoever won the election. Given the apparent inability of the left within the Labour Party to summon up a mere 30 Labour MP’s to nominate a left candidate to stand as Leader, who can argue that this assessment was incorrect?

The Croydon Assembly reconvenes tomorrow, 6 June, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm, at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD.  There is a stellar cast of speakers including Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philippa Harvey, President of the NUT, and John McDonnell MP but much of the day will be given over to discussion by those who attend. If you can get there, forget the General Election Blues, come along and join in.