Things must change

Another Croydon Assembly was held on Saturday, 20 November at Ruskin House, Croydon. After brief introductions by Ted Knight and ex NUT President Philipa Harvey and an entertaining warm up by Attila the Stockbroker, the Assembly broke up into discussion groups addressing housing, health, education, welfare and the economy – all from the perspective of democracy and how we can make our voices heard. It was a successful day – most participants leaving energised, enthused and determined that things must change.

If the day had one shortcoming,  it was a familiar one: a failure to discuss how to address CO2 emission and global warming. Whether discussed or not, the problem, however, continues to grow. A report by the Stockholm Environment Institute has now concluded that effects of Arctic warming will cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level. With temperatures in the Arctic currently 20C above what would be expected at this time of year and sea ice at its lowest recorded level, this is no longer just a problem for polar bears. It’s going to affect us, our children nd future generations.

How can such a significant issue consistently escape the attention of well-meaning progressives everywhere? One explanation proffered by Alex Randall in Red Pepper is that the centre-left’s arguments on global warming have focussed on the wrong issues: the impact on terrorism, migration and, on the positive side, the opportunities presented for Keynsian job creation. By doing this they have convinced no one and left the way open for the climate deniers, including President Elect Trump, to prosper.

Another explanation, and one that surfaces from time to time in the Croydon Environment Forum, is that global warming is simply too big an issue for any local group to have any impact. Better to concentrate on street cleaning and similar mundane issues more clearly under the control of the local authority.

As communists, we sympathise with the first explanation and reject the second. Part of the problem, as we see it, is that the centre-left fails to recognise that a profit driven (capitalist) society is incapable of addressing the problem. Karl Marx, writing in the nineteenth century, predicted from historical evidence that capitalism would only be overturned and replaced by socialism when the growth in the economy it facilitated became impeded by some fundamental constraint it was incapable of surmounting. Although it took two world wars, capitalism has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming all the constraints it has faced until now. In the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly clear that CO2 emission is first constraint it is incapable of surmounting. The solution – the only solution – is for us to replace capitalism before it destroys us.

 

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Croydon Assembly Saturday 19 March

Historically, democratic assemblies of workers such as the Paris Commune and the Russian soviets, built in the old society, played an essential role in the attempt to build a new one. This role was both to provide a bridge to the new society and the democratic framework on which democracy in the new society could be built. This is not an easy task: the Paris Commune lasted a mere 71 days, the USSR ‘only’ 74 years. Next time the democracy in the new society we build must be even more robust.

It is asking a lot of Croydon TUC and its outreach initiative, the Croydon Assembly, to provide this bridging role, but they currently represent one of the best ways of doing this. The Croydon Assembly will reconvene on Saturday, 19 March at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD, 11 am to 4 pm, and it deserves our support.

Confirmed speakers include Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philipa Harvey, President of the NUT and Dr Philip Howard from the BMA General Council. The main focus will, however, be the launch of the Croydon Assembly Manifesto, a democratically drafted document reflecting previous meetings of the Assembly and now presented to a wider public.

Entry is free and it is possible to register in advance at Eventbrite. Advance registration is, however, not essential. The important thing is to be there and join in.

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.

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.