Croydon and the General Election

The Communist Party has announced that it will not be standing candidates in the next General Election – provided Labour retains its left leadership and fights the election on a left and progressive manifesto. This is fully in accordance with the principles expressed in the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels wrote that communists fight for the current interests of the working class while taking care of the future of the working class movement.

This does not mean that communists in Croydon will be passive by-standers at the next general election. If the conditions mentioned above are met, we will be actively assisting Labour in Croydon while, at the same time and in the words of the Communist Manifesto, disdaining to conceal our views, aims and membership of the Communist Party from fellow campaigners.

Croydon has three constituencies. Croydon South is a safe seat for the overtly ambitious Chris Phelps who has recently been campaigning Nimby-style to oppose housing developments in his leafy constituency, blaming the local Labour Council while failing to point out that it is Tory relaxation of planning regulations that is facilitating these developments.

Steve Reed MP in Croydon North is on the right of the Labour Party and supported Owen Smith in the 2016 Labour Party leadership election. He has caused trouble for his leader, most recently when calling for a second EU referendum . It is to be fervently hoped that his local party will de-select him but, until then, he is sitting on a comfortable majority and would expect to get re-elected without the need for any active support from the Croydon Communist Party.

Sarah Jones MP is harder to pigeonhole. She was first elected as MP for Croydon Central, a marginal constituency, in the 2017 general election following heroic efforts by local Labour Party members, mostly on the left  and many in Momentum, with active support from Croydon communists. She subsequently disappointed these local activists by immediately removing her Constituency Office from Ruskin House, the Labour and Trade Union Centre for Croydon which has played a key role in the rise of Corbynism. She appears to be have shaken by the resulting furore and has subsequently sought to bridge the gap between herself and those who worked to get her elected. While she remains hard to pin down politically, her appointment in May 2018 as Shadow Minister for Housing provides some modest ground for optimism.

The real problem with MPs generally is that they mostly see themselves as members of a profession in which they can build a career, not as delegates representing those who chose them. This, of course, won’t change until we achieve the communist aim of overturning the entire existing social and political order.

WHAT IS BREXIT FOR?

Discussion around Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement has concerned the Irish border and the Backstop, the loss of tariff-free access to the EU and the implications for the movement of people across borders. Remainers occasionally express concern about a potential loss of employment rights but this has little substance other than to attract naïve social democrats to the Remain cause as the EU has done nothing to resist the increasing casualisation of labour, the erosion of collective bargaining rights or anti-trade union legislation. The Big Issue that no one is debating is what sort of country will Britain be post-Brexit.

Neo-liberals tend to keep quiet about their ambitions for a post-Brexit Britain. Their dream is for a Singapore style economy twenty miles off the coast of France. This means an economy that is exploitative, de-regulated, minimally taxed, gutted of its social services and open to capital from across the world with no questions asked. Close ties with a USA are called for if only to ensure that we can continue to rent Trident and its up-grades.

Communists have a different ambition. If we are quiet about it, it is simply because the mass media does a good job ensuring that our views are not reported. We want a socialist Britain run for the benefit of those who live within its shores, not the owners of footloose international capital. To get there we will need a progressive tax system incorporating many of the ideas in our pamphlet From Each According to Their Means  (1). But as we point out in this pamphlet, many of these ideas – a land value tax; varying rates of VAT with rebates for workers to address social needs; unitary taxation of corporate profits to nullify the use of tax havens; and a tax and dividend carbon tax as advocated by  James Hansen to address global warming – would be impossible under continued membership of the EU or the Single Market.

So in the end the complexities melt away and the choice is a straightforward one: accept the block on progressive reforms that are a pre-requisite of social revolution or seize the opportunity to begin building socialism – provided, as Marx recommended in the Communist Manifesto, that we first “settle matters with our own bourgeoisie”. 

 

  1. Available from the Communist Party Shop at http://www.communist-party.org.uk/shop/pamphlets/2025-from-each-according-to-their-means.html

 

 

 

WHY COMMUNISTS SUPPORT BREXIT

Communists have steadfastly supported Brexit, or, more specifically, Lexit, the left alternative to the Tory ambition of turning the UK into the “Singapore of the West”. While we found much of the official Brexit campaign distasteful and dishonest, and while we are concerned about how the official Brexit campaign was financed, our support has not waivered. In part, this is because we can draw support from the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels wrote:

Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.

While communists do not treat the works of Marx and Engels as holy writ, we do find their overall logic reliable, persuasive and borne out by subsequent history. Their advice here is therefore worth re-examining and can help us navigate the current confused and confusing Brexit debate on the Left.

Written some 170 years ago, the terminology used by Marx and Engels is now a little obscure. The term “proletariat” is no longer in everyday use. While it is still employed (in Marxist economic theory concerning labour value), its meaning in the Communist Manifesto, as Engels made clear in his preface to the 1888 English edition, is simply “workers”, i.e. all those who live by selling their labour and who lack an alternative source of sustenance. Similarly, since Marx and Engels employed the term “bourgeoisie”, it has come to mean the aspirational, salaried middle class. Marx and Engels were not referring to these. They were referring to “capitalists” and what we now sometimes refer to as “the 1%”.

Given these clarifications, what did Marx and Engels mean by the struggle between workers and capitalists being “though not in substance, yet in form….at first a national struggle”? This was their recognition that, even in the first half of the nineteenth century, national economies were inter-connected and the exploitation of workers does not stop at national borders. Thus the struggle between workers and capitalists takes place initially within the context of the nation state and workers are therefore well advised to concentrate first on the struggle for state power before seeking to change supra-national structures.

With these clarifications in mind, how should we apply the advice in the Communist Manifesto to the current Brexit situation? There are undoubtedly risks for workers in Britain in any meaningful form of Brexit. These risks are especially acute for workers in our export manufacturing industries and those employed by our “financial services industry”. As the excellent film The Spider’s Web, recently shown at Ruskin House to unanimous acclaim and now available on U-tube, argued, much of this activity is parasitic and concerned with tax avoidance, but it does,nevertheless, employ many ‘workers’ as defined above. There will, however, be economic gains from curtailing much of this activity, and these gains can be put to good use, once we are outside the EU, promoting more useful employment. Less of a threat is the loss of workers’ rights bestowed by the EU on workers in Britain. The most worthwhile worker rights that still exist are those we won ourselves in domestic struggle. The EU did nothing to protect workers in Greece in 2015 and has done nothing to inhibit the disastrous growth of zero hours contacts and the undermining of trade union rights in the UK. The loss of its ‘protection’ will be of little significance.

Notwithstanding the risks to export industry and City jobs, Brexit can provide an opportunity to “settle matters” with our own bourgeoisie, i.e. the capitalists who own and run our country and their hangers on and spokespersons. The first step must therefore be demand a general election so we can kick out this rotten and corrupt Tory government and give a Corbyn led Labour government the opportunity to negotiate a Brexit that ensures that the interests of workers and their families are prioritised. The Tories, with the assistance of the Lib Dems, made us pay for the 2007-8 financial crisis. They must not be allowed, with the assistance of the Ulster Unionists this time, to make us pay for turning the UK into the “Singapore of the West”.

National Character? The Shame that is Kensington and Chelsea

Some interesting statistics and comment by Ash at https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2018/05/14/londons-local-elections-2018-the-consequences-of-voting/:-

“Out of an electorate of 95,378 people, 37,835 voted, 39.7 per cent of the total. Across the 18 wards, a total of 100,429 votes were cast, and 52,211 of these were for Conservative candidates, 51.98 per cent of the total. That was down from the 57.8 per cent of votes the Conservatives had in the 2014 elections; but out of the 50 councillors elected, 36 are Conservative, 13 are Labour and 1 is Liberal Democrat. That’s an increase of a single Labour councillor since the 2014 elections at the expense of a single Conservative councillor. Significantly, 18,578 more votes were cast than in 2014, but the Conservative vote actually increased by 4,220, which means more people came out this time to make sure they got back into office against the threat that Labour would take the borough. By my reckoning, the 71 people (at least) that died in the Grenfell Tower fire have cost Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives 5.82 per cent of the vote, or 0.08 per cent for every identified corpse, the loss of whose life has equated to the loss of 0.014 per cent of a Conservative council seat.

 As ASH wrote back in July last year when we published our report on the Grenfell Tower fire, how we react to this man-made disaster could turn out to be worse than the chain of decisions and shirked responsibilities that caused it, and this vote by the people of Kensington and Chelsea is a stain on what’s left of our national character.”

As communists we struggle with the concept of “national character”, stained or otherwise. For us this disaster and its consequences can only be understood in class terms. As the Communist Manifesto puts it, the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. There are no fixes, social democrat or other. The sooner we change the entire system the better.

What’s the difference between a socialist and a communist?

Party Congress, a biennial event at which delegates from every branch, district and nation meet to agree party policy and strategy and to elect a new Executive Committee which, in turn, will elect Party Officers, including the General Secretary, will be held later this month. It’s therefore an appropriate time to reflect on why we are communists and what is the difference, if any, between a communist and a socialist.

In the popular mind, the distinction is one of degree. Socialists want a significant degree of public ownership and greater equality of outcome – although some would settle for mere equality of opportunity. Communists, on the other hand, are commonly thought to want to abolish all private property and achieve total equality. There is also a commonly held view that communists want a society modelled on that of the former USSR and former socialist states in Eastern Europe. There may be elements of truth in all these distinctions, but they are, nevertheless, mistaken. The principal distinction between a socialist and a communist is that anyone can call themselves a socialist, but to call yourself a communist you need to be a member of a communist party.

Communist parties differ from other parties in that they are subject to democratic centralism, which means they arrive at decisions and policies after unrestricted internal discussion and debate and then unite to promote these policies and implement them. Communist parties reach their decisions by applying the ideas of Karl Marx as developed by others Marxists such as Lenin and Gramsci. These ideas can be described in one hyphenated word: Marxism-Leninism.

Does Marxism-Leninism mean that we are striving to replicate the former USSR and Socialist countries of Eastern Europe? No. We recognise that, while the USSR achieved much, it failed in the end to build socialism. Lessons must be learnt from these failures, and no one is keener to discover them than communist parties. Next time we must do it better – more democracy, greater efficiency, deeper humanity and more effective connection with working people.

This emphasis on communist parties begs the question – what is a communist party? The much loved and missed Tony Benn was fond of pointing out that there were too many socialist parties and not enough socialists. Regrettably, this is also true of communist parties. Only one party in Britain can trace its origins back the formation of the British Section of the Communist International in 1920. This section became the Communist Party of Great Britain and, in 1991, the Communist Party of Britain. Now known simply as the Communist Party or CP (generally preferred to CPB), we do not recruit in Northern Ireland, leaving that to our sister party, the Communist Party of Ireland. There are, however, four or five other parties and small groups in Britain calling themselves communist parties – the New Communist Party, the Communist Party of Scotland, CPB-ML, CPGB-ML etc. Without wishing to disrespect individuals who are members of these groups – some are sound Marxist who engage constructively with the wider labour and trade union movement – overall they lack substance, legitimacy and, as reference to Solidnet, will confirm, recognition by the international movement of communist and workers parties[i]. This lack of legitimacy is especially true of the so called Communist Party of Great Britain, a grouplet that high-jacked the party name dropped in 1991 in order to defeat an attempt at that time to dissolve the party and close our newspaper, the Morning Star. This attempt failed and the group behind it has long since dissipated, but the consequence, loss of the use of our original name, continues, only partially ameliorated by the fact that we retain its exclusive use for electoral purposes, having registered it with the Electoral Commission.

No review of communism in Britain, however brief, would be complete without reference to the other revolutionary Marxist tradition present in the UK. This derives, however tortuously, from Trotsky’s Fourth International founded in 1938 rather than directly from the British Section of the Communist International formed in 1920. While also suffering from an excess of minor parties and grouplets, it is represented by two quite significant parties, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party (formerly Militant). We share much Marxist theory with these parties but, given the history of conflict between us and a resulting lack of trust, it is hardly surprising that it is not always easy to work with them; and these difficulties can be exacerbated by their employment of “entryism” whereby membership is concealed in order to enter social democratic parties and coalitions. This practice was encouraged by Trotsky but abjured by communists who point to the advice in Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto that communists should not hide their membership of the party. Despite these differences, we have, however, in recent years managed to work successfully with them in certain narrow areas, particularly opposition to the EU and it is to be hoped that these tentative links will grow in future.

The above reflections are personal ones and don’t necessarily reflect the CP’s formal policy or official history. If your views differ from mine, you are invited to comment accordingly.

[i] With one minor exception – the small New Communist Party has secured some limited recognition internationally.

Bring it on

Having jumped the gun last week and been recalled to the starting line, Angela Eagle finally left the starting blocks today in her bid today to oust Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader. If the intention of those behind the unrest in the Parliamentary Labour Party really is to replace Jeremy with someone more “electable”, they could hardly have found anyone less suitable. Their real motive is, of course, money. The plotters fear that Corbyn won’t deliver the needs of Big Business, on whom the careerists in the Labour Party depend and whose interests they represent. If Corbyn cannot be kept off the ballot paper (an issue that may be resolved by the NEC tomorrow) and the ballot cannot be rigged, their Plan B will be to form an SDP Mark 2 comprising Labour MPs, managed by the existing Labour office staff and funded by Big Business. This new party will, however, require a more “electable” leader than the hapless Angela.  Whatever the outcome, her leading role is likely to be very temporary.

The outcome of the EU referendum came as a surprise to many commentators and has been blamed by the plotters on Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to join Project Fear, the Tory led attempt to frighten electors into voting to stay in the EU. The conspicuous absence of a similar strategy to block Theresa May from becoming Tory Leader and, by default, Prime Minister, on similar grounds is significant. The difference between Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn is that the former will act in the best interests of Big Business and the latter cannot be relied on to do so.

What the referendum vote to leave the EU actually reflected was the growing gulf between the middle classes and the working class. This gulf has been growing apace under ‘austerity’, the policy pursued by the Tories and, until Corbyn was elected leader, by Labour. Under austerity social spending benefitting the working class and the taxes paid by Big Business are both cut. That this is the explanation for the significant working class vote for exit has escaped much of the liberal intelligentsia. Their spokespersons – the likes of Will Self and the hacks at the Guardian – have not blamed Corbyn  – instead they  have turned on the working class itself, attributing their support for Exit on endemic racism.

What the liberal intelligentsia overlook is that it is easy to be liberal about the free movement of labour when you gain from the arrangement. For the middle classes it provides lots of well paid jobs for UK graduates and professionals across the EU. Together with a rather woolly feel-good attitude about European togetherness, the EU also provides them with cheap building labour, cheap, unchavvy nannies and cheap fruit picked in the UK by sweated labour. If, on the other hand, you are not a member of the middle class and are denied access to further education, or can acquire it only at the cost of incurring crippling debt, the glittering job opportunities in Europe are irrelevant. The attractions of cheap, unskilled labour are also diminished when it’s you who have to compete for the zero hours jobs on offer. If you are in a trade union, the EU’s failure to recognise and respect collective bargaining and its opposition to trade union solidarity is also a major concern. To be told by those who are unaffected by these issues that you are racist is insulting. There is nothing inherently anti-racist or honourable in supporting the free movement of labour when you happen, personally, to gain from it at the expense of your fellow citizens; and there is nothing inherently racist or dishonourable in opposing the free movement of labour when it damages the collective interests of your class. The liberal intelligentsia need to wake up to these facts and, like the Communist Party, show the working class some respect.

The liberal intelligentsia could also usefully follow the Communist Party in rallying to the defence of Corbyn. This does not mean that the CP is going to indulge in mass entryism which, according to the Guardian today, Labour HQ claim to fear. This is simply scare tactics on their part. Had Labour HQ ever read the Communist Manifesto, they would know that communists “disdain to conceal their aims and views”. What was true in 1848 is true today: communists don’t do entryism. We will, however, openly and defiantly campaign, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement, including those represented by Croydon TUC, with ordinary Labour Party members and in the pages of our newspaper, the Morning Star, to see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected. Bring it on.

 

Love’s Labour’s Lost? Not yet!

The clear message to emerge from the Croydon Assembly held at Ruskin House on Saturday was that people are desperate for an end to austerity and want progress towards a more equal and democratic society. Equality of opportunity, once thought sufficient by New Labour, just won’t do. Star speakers, all echoing this theme, included John McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT , Philipa Harvey , President of the NUT, and Andrew Fisher, economics adviser to Jeremy Corbyn and currently suspended from the Labour Party. This followed a complaints by Emily Benn about a tweet he made about her prior to General Election when she stood as the Labour Party candidate in the Tory stronghold of Croydon South. One wonders what her grandfather Tony would have made of her efforts in support of the malign Stop Corbyn lobby inside the Labour Party.

Whether the Labour Party is actually reformable by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters is an open question. He received a massive endorsement from Labour Party members and supporters and, as the event on Saturday showed, he continues to have wide support amongst ordinary working people inside and outside the Labour Party. Labour’s payroll membership – MPs, MEPs, councillors and those like Emily Benn seeking well paid jobs within the structure –  are the huge obstacle. While they are a pretty uninspiring bunch, they do represent a powerful interest group within the party. Due to their privileged positions, they are, however, completely out of touch with needs and interests of ordinary working people. This was never better illustrated than when, on Saturday, Jamie Audsley, Labour Councillor for Bensham Manor and a leading light on the ruling Labour Group running Croydon Council, joined in the debate and told the Assembly that he would be happy to ‘consult’ them and others on where the next round of cuts imposed by the government should fall. His inept intervention duly received the response from the meeting one would expect.

Even if Lost Labour can be brought back from the Blairite abyss, it would be a mistake to think that this would be sufficient for progressive change. Even if Corbyn holds on and wins the next general election, his party will remain a coalition of disparate interests – more Methodist than Marxist as Morgan Phillips once put it – and full of class collaborationists, opportunists and self-promoting careerists. As Marx and Engels argued 167 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, while we should support parties of the working class where they exist, real progressive change requires a strong and independent Communist Party. Fortunately we have one and we are not going away.