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.

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.

BREXIT DEBATE at Ruskin House

To reiterate our previous posting, communists seek fundamental change – to our economy, our democracy, our constitution, our relations with other nations, our response to climate change and, above all, change to break the power of the capital. It was good to hear Dave Ward, the General Secretary of the communications and postal union, CWU, express not dissimilar sentiments at the public meeting at Ruskin House last night. The other speaker, Cllr Patsy Cummings, running for the Croydon and Sutton GLA Labour candidate and widely acknowledged as a sound left winger and easily the best candidate on offer, simply declared that “Labour is a remain party”. Dave Ward showed a greater awareness of the difficulty for the Labour Party if they too blatantly abandon the commitment in their 2017 election manifesto to respect and implement the referendum decision to leave. He finessed the position significantly, stressing the need to negotiate ‘credible’ leave arrangements and referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the TUC this week where he confirmed the sequential strategy comprising

  • Stop a no deal Brexit in October.
  • A general election once this had been accomplished – Tom Watson’s argument for a general election first was dismissed.
  • Negotiations by a Labour government for a ‘credible’ exit from the EU.
  • The Labour negotiated deal to be “put to the people” – presumably a second referendum but there appeared to be some wriggle room here. There was, however, no mention of the nonsensical strategy advocated by Emily Thornberry of campaigning for remain regardless of any deal Labour might reach.
  • A programme of fundamental reform by the Labour government, including trade union freedom and the reintroduction of sectoral bargaining. This presumably (still) includes re-nationalisation of key industries, but the point was not stressed.

 

This strategy requires quite a few dominoes to fall in line and in sequence. As Marx wrote, we make our own history, but not in conditions of our own choosing. The weak spot in the Corbyn-Ward strategy is, first, that Labour could lose the next general election if they try to pass themselves off simply as a “remain party”. A substantial proportion of working class Labour voters, especially in key constituencies for Labour in the North, are Brexiters and, anyway, the LibDems got there first. Second, and even more critical, if we stay in the single market, as Labour favours, we would remain subject to the EU’s Four Freedoms. These comprise free movement within the EU of goods, services, people and capital. While free movement of goods and services can confer economic benefits, the EU referendum was fought by both the official campaigns, often dishonestly, around the issue of the free movement of people. It is, however, the free movement of capital that would undermine any attempt by a future Labour government operating within the single market to curtail the power of capital. This happened in Greece when the government found itself unable to halt the flight of capital following their own referendum in 2015. In consequence, in 2016 34,000 Greeks aged under 40 left the country to look for work. While many of them were no doubt grateful for their “right of free movement “, it’s pretty certain that most of them would have preferred a right to work instead.

The Beginning of the End of Capitalism

The Guardian reported yesterday that Four Seasons Health Care, a private care home provider that looks after 17,000 residents, could go into administration after talks aimed at staving off its collapse were derailed by haggling between private investors. The Guardian article goes on to point out that Labour has criticized the role of high finance in social care.

Is this a sufficient response from Labour? At the root of the problem is a long held reluctance by social democrats to tax wealth and to recognise the contradiction between the need for ‘homes’ for all and the use of housing as private investment. The former requires declining house prices and the latter requires ever increasing ones.

The Labour Party 2017 Manifesto, For the Many, not the Few calls for a comprehensive National Care Service but avoids the question of the provision of care homes and how to pay for them. Under current arrangements we all play the Alzheimer’s lottery game under which some home owners get to pass on their investment to their children while others find they must liquidate their investment to pay for a place in a care home. However, with escalating house prices, essential if housing is to act as an investment, even the children of those who win the Alzheimer lottery may not be able to buy their own homes due to the escalating house prices essential for housing investment.

The other big omission in the Labour Party Manifesto is the taxation of wealth. Despite some recent expressions of interest by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnel, it does not feature in For the Many, not the Few. Yet it was included in the Labour Party Manifestos of 1974, 1979 and 1983 before being dropped. Why was this?

For Labour, a wealth tax has always been seen as something to “make the distribution of the tax burden accord more closely with taxable capacities” [i], not a means of redistributing wealth. The essential distinction is whether the tax can be paid for out of income or out of capital. References to ‘taxable capacities’ imply the former. The latter implies the start of what Marx called “expropriating the expropriators”[ii], i.e. the beginning of the end of capitalism.

As Howard Glennerster’s paper Why_was_a_wealth_tax_for_the_UK_abandoned? demonstrates, there will be resistance to even modest proposals for a wealth tax paid out of income. Proposals for a tax paid out of capital are likely to provoke a hysterical response from those required to pay it. No social democratic party, even a Left Labour led by a principled politician freed from the shackles of an entrenched Parliamentary Labour Party, is going to risk provoking such opposition.

The Communist Party has no such inhibitions. Our aim is not to manage capitalism more humanely, it is to replace it. Thus in our pamphlet From Each according to their Means[iii] we proposed an initial annual wealth tax of 2% per annum, with higher rates for the mega rich. Even without these higher rates, a wealth tax would raise £90 billion per annum, sufficient to break the link between housing as investment and housing as a need and also finance a truly comprehensive National Care Service. Most significantly, however, a 2% + wealth tax would signal the first step in the abolition of capitalism. Let’s start promoting it now.

References

[i] Labour’s Green Paper following the 1974 election.

[ii] Karl Marx, Capital, Chapter 32

[iii] From Each according to Their Means, Communist Party, 2014. £2.50 from CP shop

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.

 

MOTHER SUPERIOR JUMPED THE GUN*

It was nauseating to see the serried ranks of well fed, self-satisfied Labour MPs failing to rise to defend their own Leader when Cameron used Prime Minister’s Question Time this week to engage in what amounted to bullying Jeremy Corbyn. In attacking him in the most personal and unpleasant manner, Cameron, himself on the way out, quoted Oliver Cromwell’s address to Parliament in 1653: “In the name of God, Go!” As Robert Wilkinson pointed out in his letter published in the Morning Star today (Labour Coup), neither Cameron nor the silent Labour MPs sitting behind Corbyn appeared to be aware that Cromwell’s instruction wasn’t addressed to a leader facing problems with his own side, it was addressed to The Rump – the mass of corrupt MPs in 1653 who represented no one but themselves. Check it out here. Labour MPs, who are now, with only a handful of honourable exceptions the modern day equivalent of the Rump, should be ashamed of their cowardice and ignorance. If they survive long enough to stand again as Labour Party candidates or, more likely, as candidates of a new party (the Social Democrats Mark 2?), their treachery will not be quickly forgiven or forgotten by the electorate. If they should prevail , the Labour Party will experience the same fate as their fellow Blairites in the Scottish Parliament : total oblivion.

The Labour Party can, nevertheless, still be saved provided Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t crack under the immense strain imposed on him by his ‘colleagues’, and provided the unions don’t weaken in their support for him. With the support of Labour Party members and supporters, and the moral and campaigning support that the Morning Star and the Communist Party can provide, he can win again. In this he should be assisted by the publication of the Chilcot Report next week. Although it’s bound to be something of an establishment whitewash, it will be difficult for Chilcot completely to cover up Blair’s mendacity and evidence of criminality and conceal the spinelessness of his cabinet and ministers, from whom the most likely leadership contenders, including Angela Eagle, are drawn. Could this be why, when she jumped the gun on Thursday, Angela Eagle had to be recalled? I wonder who whispered in her ear “Angela, Darling, I think you may have overlooked something”.

* The Beatles, from Happiness is a Warm Gun, The White Album

Jeremy Corbyn and the Trade Union Bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election has been warmly welcomed by the Communist Party although, given the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party, no one in our Party expects his task to be an easy one. The immediate resignation of six members of the Shadow Cabinet and the universally hostile reception he received in the capitalist press and the BBC (with little to differentiate them these days) illustrates the difficulties he will face. Yet on his first day in Parliament as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will lead his party’s opposition to the Trade Union Bill. If the dissidents in the Parliamentary Labour Party cannot rally behind him on this issue, they will expose themselves for the Tories they are. Mass mandatory re-selection of MPs will be the only solution.

The Bill is pernicious. It will allow agency workers to be drafted in to strike break whether or not they are competent to do the job. Amateur train drivers? Longer notice of strike action must be given to employers of impending action (fourteen rather than seven days) and, more significantly, unions will have to publish, fourteen days in advance, a written plan of any intended protest and specific details about it, including social media use. Demonstrations will be severely circumscribed and simple majorities will no longer be sufficient to authorise strike action. In effect, and unlike other elections including those for parliament, an abstention will count as a vote against. On that basis, Scotland voted for independence and the Tories lost the last general election.

Yet there are trade union law reforms that are needed. Electronic voting by union members in the workplace would greatly enhance workplace democracy; firms that engage in blacklisting should be prosecuted; and police spying on trade unionists and left wing activists should end immediately. That the last activity is still going on was revealed by Dave Smith, a victimised trade unionist and author of Blacklisted (New Internationist, 2015), to Croydon TUC on Thursday.

Dave’s revelations did not come as a surprise to the significant number of Communist Party members at the Croydon TUC meeting. Anyone who knows our Party’s history knows that systematic efforts were made in the past to penetrate and spy on the Communist Party.  There is even evidence that the sanctity of the voting booth was systematically broken in order to identify and report the names of those even daring to vote for Communist Party candidates. Given the reduced scale of the Party’s electoral activity in recent  years, necessitated by the need to re-build the Party more or less from scratch in the 1990s, and the obstacles faced by smaller parties in parliamentary elections (the dominance and bias of our mass media including the BBC, the high cost  of lost deposits, the undemocratic nature of first-past-the-post  etc), it is unlikely that Special Branch expend much effort these days on this particular nefarious activity but other forms of spying on trade unionists, activists and communists continue and will continue until they are exposed and our reluctant authorities are forced to abandon them and legislate accordingly.

Now those would be sensible reforms! No doubt Jeremy Corbyn will propose them on Monday. Good luck, Jeremy!

Free Education and the Future of the Labour Party

The recent finding from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that more than half of UK graduates are in non-graduate jobs is more a reflection of our slow and partial recovery from the recession triggered by the 2007 financial crash than it is a reflection of the quality of university education. It does, however, leave most graduates – i.e. those without parents in the top 1% wealth bracket who pay for their education and subsequent internships – with a burden of debt.

The Labour government of 1945 can take much credit for promoting the concept of free education open to all. The view that education is simply the route by which the wealthy secure the best paid and most congenial jobs for their offspring came, perhaps for the first time, under pressure. This advance received its first set back when the Wilson government, having introduced the Open University as a route into degree level education for workers who missed their school-based opportunity, required it in 1970 to charge modest fees. As Tony Simpson has argued, this was a critical mistake that opened the door to tuition fees across the board. First Thatcher froze grants and introduced loans, then in 1998 Labour abolished mandatory student grants and introduced £1,000 tuition fees. Despite Labour’s pledge in 2001 not to introduce top-up fees, they allowed them to rise to £3,000. Under the subsequent Tory government under Cameron, unrestrained by their Lib Dem partners (a treachery that cost them dear), fees have exceeded £9,000 per annum and even an OU degree now costs over £15,000.

There can be no better way of cementing the position of the top 1% on our country than to heap the cost of education on students. Not only does it secure the best jobs for the kids of the wealthy, but it encourages our universities to focus on a neo-liberal worldview and to think of themselves as multi-national businesses, not national centres of learning and research with responsibilities to educate citizens. It is no coincidence that the decline and disappearance of Marxist studies in universities has coincided with this development. To the extent that Marxist studies continue in the UK, it is through such voluntary initiatives as the Communist University in South London https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/, not in our colleges and universities.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour Party leader has been the commitment he has given to scrapping tuition fees and restoring student maintenance grants. In his first major policy announcement of the campaign he said that they could be funded either by a 7% rise in national insurance for those earning over £50,000 a year and a 2.5% higher corporation tax, or by slowing the pace at which the deficit is reduced. His proposals received a negative response from the other candidates. Yet it is a modest price to pay for such an essential reform.

Should Jeremy Corbyn fail to be elected, or, if elected, should the Parliamentary Labour Party seek to block his proposals for scrapping fees and restoring maintenance grants, such is the importance of this issue that it is difficult to see how Labour can avoid the fate that befell it in Scotland. How this issue pans out may well be the key to their future.

New Labour Hubris

The Blairites were supposed to be masters of controlling democracy, having eliminated it first from their party conference, then from party policy making and finally with changes to the procedures for selection and de-selection of MPs. Local government democracy was supressed by the simple ploy of turning Labour councillors into full-time, relatively well paid employees, positions more suited to careerists rather than political activists. The influence of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) was so successfully marginalised within the Labour Party that most ordinary Labour Party members were unaware of its existence when its founder, Vladimir Derer, died last year. So what went wrong? The answer is surely hubris. They came to believe their own propaganda about a silent, middle class majority. Triangulate on them and all would be well. What they forgot was that the silent majority are just that – silent. They don’t participate in politics. Meanwhile, there is a large, progressive minority who do. People like us: people who go on marches against the war and against austerity; people who join Palestine Solidarity, CND, Cuba Solidarity etc. Even a growing number who are joining the Communist Party – although in our case we are not recommending our members to vote in the Labour Leadership election. We have a long standing and proud tradition against entryism. As Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto,

Communists fight for the attainment of immediate aims, for the enforcement of the current interests of the working class, but in the movement of the present they also take care of the future of that movement…They labour everywhere for the union and agreement of democratic parties…Communist s disdain to conceal their views and aims…They openly declare that their ends can be obtained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.

 

Sound principles in 1848 and sound principles today.

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!