John McDonnell at Ruskin House

Speaking to a packed meeting at Ruskin House on Tuesday, John McDonnell defended Labour’s decision to campaign on a remain/second referendum ticket at the general election. It was necessitated, he argued, both by the Labour Party Conference decision in 2019 and evidence the leadership had gathered on voters’ intentions. A firm leave line would, he argued, have resulted in an even worse outcome. The important thing now, John McDonnell said, was for the Labour Party to rally behind the new leader, whoever he or she was, and campaign vigorously outside parliament for the next four years. His assumption was that, regardless of the Fixed Term Parliament Act,  the Tories would call the next general election at a time of their choosing, not at the end of the fixed five year term.

While taking full responsibility of the electoral defeat, there was, understandably, a measure of denial and excuse in McDonnell’s speech and in his answers to the questions that followed. As Tariq Ali argues in the current edition of the London Review of Books (1), one of the few progressive voices left in the UK’s printed media (the other shining example being, of course, the Morning Star), if Labour had stated clearly that the referendum and the chaos that ensued were the result of a Tory split and if Labour had then let them get on with it, Theresa May’s deal with the EU might have gone through and the general election scheduled for April 2020 could have been fought on the NHS, education and other public services.

On one point made by McDonnell there can be no dispute: his warning that any Labour leader who threatened the capitalist status quo would be subject to the same level of vitriolic abuse as that directed at Jeremy Corbyn. One of numerous examples of this was the absurd question relating to nuclear buttons put to Jeremy Corbyn and are now directed at his potential successors (2).

As Tariq Ali observed, the question would be more meaningful if expressed as “Are there any circumstances in which you would refuse US orders to fire the missiles?” However, as we have pointed out previously on this website, our nuclear missile technology is supplied by the USA. Does anyone seriously doubt that the Americans would not have installed a disabling switch in the Pentagon? A more worrying question is whether they have installed another switch enabling the US President to launch “our” missiles regardless of the wishes of a future UK Prime Minister.

Notes

(1) Short Cuts, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books, Volume 42 Number 2, 23 January 2020
(2) With depressingly successful results. Unlike Corbyn, they all appear willing to declare themselves potential war criminals.

The Meaning of Conspiracy

With concern mounting about the spread of the Coronavirus, is it perhaps time to take a step back and ask ourselves whether this outbreak and the criticisms in the mass media of how China is dealing with it fit in with some other issues that have dominated news coverage in recent months: Hong Kong; Taiwan; the plight of the Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang Province; Trump’s “tariff war” with China; and the Huawei/G5 controversy. The common link is, of course, China.

Could the reporting of the Corona virus outbreak be exaggerated or worse, could it have been created in a laboratory to undermine the Chinese state? The Communist Party is largely indifferent to such conspiracy theories – with one exception. The capitalist state itself is, in our view, a ruthless conspiracy against the majority of the people who reside within its borders. Our evidence?

• The success of historical materialism in explaining the world we live in – and in particular its rejection of the idea that the state as simply the means of balancing competing interests.

• The self-evident fact that, regardless of elections every four or five years, the welfare of the great majority of those in capitalist states is simply not the state’s priority. Further evidence of this was provided this week in a report by the Rowntree Foundation that found that around 14 million people in the UK, one in five of the population, are in poverty.

• The evidence, when we can get hold of it, about how capitalist governments actually respond to perceived threats to the status quo. It’s too soon to discover the smoking gun that saw off Corbyn and the probably failed attempt to radicalise the Labour Party, but a re-reading of The Enemy Within by Seumas Milne will provide a salutary reminder that government (aided by the security services) and the judiciary will act as one to protect the status quo.

While the unity of action between government and the judiciary is predicted by historical materialism and supported by hard evidence such as that found by Seamus Milne, why is the government then, according to Whitehall speculation, apparently intent on restricting judicial review and tightening up on the selection of judges? Clearly the finding by the Supreme Court that parliament was illegally prorogued was an embarrassment for the government and it wishes to remind the judiciary that its independence a token independence only. Class interests are what bind the state together. That is the real conspiracy, and, if the judiciary wishes to prosper, they had better keep it in mind.

 

References

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report on UK Poverty 2019-20 http://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2019-20
The Enemy Within – MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair by Seumas Milne, Verso, 1994

Sorry we missed you

Anyone who has seen the moving film Sorry We Missed You directed by Ken Loach will have been left in no doubt about the horror of the gig economy and the misery it heaps on workers and their families. Once referred to as McJobs, casual employment, zero hours contracts and spurious self-employment are now ubiquitous throughout the economy. Yet the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported on Tuesday that the unemployment rate in three months to November was only 3.8%, its lowest since the 1970s, while the number of people in work has risen by 208,000. The employment rate, according to ONS, is at a new high of 76.3%; and a report by Whiteshield Partners, in collaboration with the Said Business School, Oxford University, concludes that the UK remains the “ninth most resilient labour market in the world”. What exactly is going on here?

According to ONS someone who works only one hour a week is considered to be “employed”. They deny that this distorts the figures as the number of workers on less than six hours a week is “only” 1.4%. As the unemployment rate is “only” 3.8%, this presumably means that, as those working less than six hours a week are effectivly unemployed, the unemployment rate is actually 5.2%, not 3.8%. But even this figure is likely to be a gross underestimate.
ONS tend to hide behind internationally agreed definitions of employment and unemployment. That might assist international analysis, but it does nothing for assessing the economic reality that should be the basis for economic policy – and will be when we start to build a socialist future. Some 9 million people in the UK aged 16 to 64 are “economically inactive” and 14.5% of UK homes are “workless”. The official unemployment figure doesn’t reflect part-time workers who want full-time jobs, “inactive” workers alienated from the workforce and workers who are prematurely “retired“ by their employers . Analysing these groups leads some analysts to conclude that the true unemployment rate is not 50% bigger, as suggested above, it’s three or four times the official figure. That makes sense. How else can we explain the misery, so convincingly portrayed in Ken Loach’s film, of workers driven to seek jobs in the gig economy ?

Another route to social revolution?

Marx argued that, in acquiring new productive forces, men and women change their social relations, illustrating this with the example that the windmill resulted in a society with a feudal lord and the steam engine resulted in a society with industrial capitalists. Social revolution occurs, according to Marx, when these social relations – feudal and Victorian industrial capitalism in the examples – inhibit the development of productive forces. This helps to explain the interest communists display in reports about new means of production. These developments can signal  social revolution to come.

As the CUiSL paper last year on global warming argued (link below), our need to leave fossil fuels in the ground will lead to social revolution – or the destruction of humanity, for, as Marx recognised, effective action precedes social revolution and, without it, the mutual destruction of all classes is a possible outcome. The fires raging in Australia may give us some indication of whether this necessary action will be forthcoming. Will Australians permit their government to deny the true cause of the conflagration (global warming caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere) and fail to hold them to account for their failure to respond?  Will they be gulled into believing that the fires are a random event – an “Act of God”? Or will they hold their government and the corrupt system that supports it to account? We shall see.

The development of new productive forces is reported by George Monbiot in the Guardian Journal yesterday – lab grown foods using a new process, the hydrogen pathway, developed by a company called Solar Foods. Brewed in giant vats, the company estimates that it is 20,000 times more efficient than conventional farming. Monbiot is clearly convinced – he calls it “farmfree” food and predicts that we are on the cusp of the biggest economic transformation in 200 years and the end, after 12,000 years, of conventional farming. While not quantifying the effect, Monbiot appears to be arguing that farmfree food is the answer to global warming, enabling us to continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, albeit less with be needed for fertiliser. Clearly, the effect on global temperature needs to be modelled, but the correct initial response should surely be one of scepticism.

Of course, economic transformations have been predicted before. Remember nuclear fusion with its promise of free electricity? Furthermore, even Monbiot recognises that this development might not flourish in a capitalist world reliant on copyright and patent law to secure profits for capitalists. The owners of this new means of production will be aiming to become immensely rich, content, no doubt, to see much of the world’s population reduced to the status of unemployed peasants. Fertile territory for a thousand Che Guevaras!

https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/

NEW YEAR DISHONOUR

The New Year Honours list contains the usual mixture of time-servers, government stooges, tax dodgers, donors to the Tory Party (typically the same thing), over-paid entertainers, sportsmen and women and those unctuous recipients who accept ‘to recognize the contributions of others’. It’s time again to remind ourselves that recipients can decline the ‘honour’. We salute those who have, over the years, had sufficient principle and self-confidence to do this. This honourable band includes, amongst many others:
Stephen Hawkings
Ken Loach
Alan Rickman
Bill Nighy
Peter Capaldi
Benjamin Zephaniah
Jon Snow
Rudyard Kipling

The New Year honours list has, however, plumbed new depths this year with the award of a knighthood to Iain Duncan-Smith. It’s this government’s way of poking two fingers in the face of claimants of Universal Benefit and everyone who has campaigned against its introduction.

You can sign a petition objecting to this award here:

https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fchng.it%2FGZn9YfWK4F&data=02%7C01%7C%7Ced863a0bf7a0420a560208d78c5d3de4%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637132204398848736&sdata=AikWEQaacnjB3avEHLnGLABoKuSHRC%2FXwhNEZaRAIGw%3D&reserved=0

No notice will be taken of your objection, but at least you will be able to say not in my name!

HOPE DESTROYED?

Croydon communists share the dismay and disappointment of our friends in the three Croydon Constituency Labour Parties at the general election results last night. Their own results were good, with Croydon North and Croydon Central (a marginal) retained and a little bit of a shock for the Tories in the smug Tory heartlands of Croydon South due to a spirited campaign focussing on school cuts. Although we questioned Labour’s decision to abandon their commitment in the 2017 manifesto to implement the EU Referendum, we recognised (although didn’t agree with) the argument that this was a strategic necessity given the leave/remain split amongst Labour voters and we welcomed many of the other commitments in the manifesto for this election.  How sad the strategy failed. This was the true cause of the results last night, not, as the right wing of the Labour Party are already claiming, a shift too far left.

An internal battle inside the Labour Party for its future has already begun and the prospects don’t look good. The Parliamentary Labour Party is even further to the right than it was before the general election and it’s hard to believe they would allow another left wing candidate to stand, even assuming a credible candidate could be found. The left won’t easily surrender the gains they have made in the constituency parties but it nevertheless seems inevitable that much of the political struggle for the next five years will have to be extra-parliamentary and ‘on the streets’. The prime target? Aside from fighting Austerity and advancing privatisation, it has to be exposing Tory acceptance of  global warming and their implicit belief that the 0.1% who fund them can insulate themselves from the consequences.

 

A MOMENT OF HOPE

The Communist Party has welcomed the Labour Party’s election manifesto It’s Time for Real Change. It has left the Tories and their one-time stool pigeons, the Lib Dems, floundering in its wake as the abysmal performances by Johnson and Swinson on the BBC Leaders Interviews last night demonstrated.

The immediate banner headline in City AM following publication of the Labour manifesto reflects the ground on which the Tories will now have to fight this election: not Brexit, as they intended, but simply whether Labour’s Plans are “credible”. They thereby concede whether they are desirable; their line is confined to whether they are affordable. The ‘experts’ they will draw on to endorse this concern are, however, the same ones who failed to see the 2007-8 crash coming and who supported Austerity as the appropriate response thereafter. As Sun Tzu said of war, he who occupies the field of battle first and await his enemy is at ease; he who comes later and rushes into the fight is weary. Elections are not war, but the similarity is such that the words of this Chinese General from around 500 BC can give us some reassurance.

The Tories have, of course, a heap on money with which, if they are indeed forced to fight the election on the ground of Labour’s choosing, will enable them to scare many voters into not voting Labour. The Tories might also hope to benefit from interference with social media by the Russians. Perhaps the most significant threat to enacting the Labour manifesto will, however, arise only after Labour win the election. The Parliamentary Labour Party harbours many disgruntled Blairites and “liberal social democrats” who would rather see a Labour government led by Corbyn fall than have socialist policies enacted. Also, let’s not forget the option to which capital might resort if Labour were to form a progressive government: what one might call  the Pinochet Option. Surely such a strategy would only be attempted in South America? Are you so sure?

But back to the general election. Let’s enjoy our moment of hope, win the election for Labour and carry things forward from there.

General Election and the NHS

It’s early days in the general election, but there are signs that the Tories are rattled. Their intention was to fight it on the issue of Brexit, not their record of imposing austerity, de-regulating employment and creeping privatisation in the NHS. Yet it is these issues that keep dominating the headlines.

The hysterical editorial in City AM on Monday under the banner “Labour’s Shameful NHS Scaremongering” demonstrates their sensitivity to NHS privatisation. Anyone who thinks the Tories’ plans for the NHS are benign only has to read the article by John Furse in the current edition of The London Review of Books, link below. As Furse demonstrates, the Americanisation of the NHS is not something waiting for us in a post-Brexit future, it is already in full swing. Denials by City AM which rely on selective quotes from reports by the Kings Fund about there being “no evidence of widespread privatisation of NHS services” miss the point. The complexity and lack of transparency of Tory plans are intended to conceal what has been going on, and hard statistics have been deliberately suppressed or made impossible to collect; but campaigners such as those in Keep our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH) have not been fooled. KOSHH’s tenacity has won the admiration and support of both Croydon TUC and Croydon Communists. Their next public meeting in Epsom on 12 November, link below, will be well worth attending.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n21/john-furse/the-nhs-dismantled

https://koshh.org/

 

The General Election on 12 December

The Parliamentary Labour Party, with the abandonment of the pledge in the 2017 Labour Manifesto to implement Brexit, has significantly undermined the prospects of a Labour government implementing the other important pledges in that manifesto. These were to

  • Extend state aid to industry
  • Take the railways into monopoly public ownership
  • Reform VAT
  • Reform public procurement rules
  • Rebuild regional development policy
  • Negotiate fair trade agreements with dynamic and emerging economies beyond Europe.

These pledges were welcomed by the Communist Party at the time, and we have made clear subsequently that our support for Labour in the forthcoming election is dependent on the Labour Party not watering them down. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that none of these six pledges can be implemented if we remain in the EU. It will be interesting to see how Labour will try to square the circle in its new manifesto.

The prospect of a Tory government after 12 December does not, of course, bear thinking about. Johnson may enjoy playing the fool – his picture on the cover of City AM today giving the Benny Hill salute is no doubt intended to amuse and reassure, but he is a dangerous and slippery enemy of the working class who is clearly prepared to break any rule to secure his ends which include a trade deal with the USA that would make our current EU suzerainty appear benign. Nor can we expect another hung parliament to rein him in – both the Lib-Dems under Cameron and the Democratic Unionists under May demonstrated the ineffectuality of coalition government. Tory coalition partners quickly morph into Tories before they are dumped when no longer needed.

Fortunately, we are not quite back to the bad old days when the choice was between Tory Tories and Blairite Tories. Many Labour candidates in the coming election are worth supporting. Croydon South is solid Tory and Croydon North has a healthy Labour majority but with a right wing MP, Steve Reed, who voted to remove Corbyn. Croydon Central is a marginal constituency currently held by Sarah Jones for Labour. She’s not the most progressive of MPs but she seems to have realised that to get re-elected she needs to listen to her young, left-leaning supporters. Communists in Croydon will be tramping the streets for her. Let’s hope she doesn’t let us down when she gets re-elected.

 

Elections and all that

The defining issue of our age is not, contrary to current preoccupations, Brexit – it is climate change. Twenty years from now our relations with the EU, assuming that, against all odds, it still exists, will be of little significance compared with the consequences of global warming if we have not ended fossil fuel extraction by then. For that is what it will take to keep the rise in average global temperature from breaking through the 1.5% ceiling. As we argued in our paper on this topic (link below), it doesn’t matter how many windmills we build or how well we insulate our homes, if profits can be made from fossil fuel extraction, capitalist society will continue to do so. All solutions other than keeping fossil fuels in the ground are cosmetic. Only a universal and escalating carbon tax set sufficiently high to ensure that fossil fuels are left in the ground, the proceeds of which are then distributed to working people (the so-called Hansen tax and dividend carbon tax) can achieve an end to fossil fuel extraction; and only under socialism could such a revolutionary remedy be implemented.

On Thursday and Friday, with the BBC failing to report the XR demonstration surrounding its own headquarters, we were treated instead in the BBC’s London News programme to Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, complaining about the police being deflected from fighting knife crime by the need to control these peaceful demonstrations. No further comment is necessary.

On Friday the Guardian, which is smart enough to recognise that there is a global warming problem but too interwoven with the Establishment to identify the solution, had a four page feature pointing out that big oil companies extract oil (!) and are planning to pump more: an extra 7 million barrels a day over the next twelve years. This isn’t news: projections of fossil fuel extraction have consistently shown such growth. If there is money to be made from pumping oil, the capitalists will pump it – and to hell with the rest of us!

On Saturday the Guardian continued its statements of the obvious by estimating that Tory MPs are five times as likely to resist action on climate change as MPs of other parties. Of course they are! If Brexit were not a reason to kick the Tories out in the forthcoming general election, climate change certainly is – but not if we replace them with the middle-of- the- road Blairites and Yellow Tories favoured by the Guardian. Corbyn’s proposals on global warming don’t go far enough, but they are a start. Let’s get him elected and go from there.

 

 

The CUiSL Discussion Paper on Climate Change is at https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/global-warming-a-discussion-paper/