Posts Tagged ‘I.L.P.’

Who Really Hijacked the Labour Party?

July 16, 2016

A friend of mine told me yesterday that there had been a lot of ranting on the Labour party forums by the Blairites about how Corbyn and his supporters had ‘hijacked’ the Labour party. Unfortunately, I can believe this. Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece a little while ago, about John Spellar’s rant against the Corbynites on British television. Spellar is the most right-wing of right-wing Labour, and had angrily denounced them as ‘Trots’, ‘Communists’ and the like. Just as Chunky Mark reported in his latest rant against the Coup that Corbyn’s supporters had been denounced, not only as ‘Trots’, but also as ‘rabble dogs’.

My friend was so incensed at the accusation that Corbyn and his supporters had ‘hijacked’ the Labour party, that he posted a piece stating that the real hijack occurred in 1992, when Tony Blair removed Clause 4 from the party’s constitution. This was the clause drafted by Sidney Webb, one of the leaders of the Fabian Society, in the list of ‘party objects’ incorporated into the 1917 constitution. It committed the party

To secure for the producers by hand and brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. (Henry Pelling, A Short History of the Labour Party (Basingstoke: MacMillan Press 1985) 43-44.

Blair had also threatened to cut ties with the trade unions if they opposed his plans to reform the rather convoluted voting patterns in the party. But the trade unions had been an integral part of the Labour party since the ‘Lib-Labs’ – the trade unionists elected as members of the Liberal party to parliament in the late 19th century. The Labour party was founded in a conference in the Memorial Hall near Ludgate Circus, on 27th and 28th February 1900, in which the Trades Union Congress, the co-operative societies and various Socialist parties, such as the Independent Labour Party, united to plan for the representation of labour in parliament. (Pelling, 6-7).

Blair’s attempt to curtail the power of the unions, his rejection of the Socialist basis on the Labour party, and his continuation of the Thatcherite project to destroy the welfare state effectively transformed the Labour party from a party of the Left to that of the Right. Right-wing critics rightly sneered at it for being a pale-blue imitation of the Tories.

In some ways, the rejection of Clause 4 was nothing new. Tony Crosland, the Labour ideologue, who formulated the party’s programme for much of the 1960s and ’70s, was firmly against the extension of nationalisation, arguing against it in his books The Future of Socialism of 1956, and The Conservative Enemy of 1962. Hugh Gaitskell, the right-wing leader of the Labour party also tried to remove Clause 4 for the constitution. Crosland wanted to play down nationalisation, as it had proved a barrier to Labour extending its support beyond the manual working class, and attracting new groups of supporters. After the euphoria of their 1945 election victory, the party had been shocked when they lost the 1951 election. When I was growing up in the 1980s, I can remember various people telling me that they wouldn’t vote for Labour ‘because Labour wanted to nationalise everything.’ In practice, the party didn’t. It had a mandate in the 1945 election for nationalising the gas, electricity, steel, coal and transport industries. He notes that there was a rejection of sweeping nationalisation at the Labour party’s Annual Conference, and that even the left-wing members of the party declared that they were reaching the end of the natural monopolies to be nationalised, and so did not recommend any further extension of state ownership to industry, in their pamphlet, Keeping Left. (Crosland, The Future of Socialism, 323-4).

Crosland, for all his rejection of blanket nationalisation, nevertheless still believed a case could be made out for some. He also argued that there were other ways of achieving the Socialist object of providing for greater social equality that the extension of state ownership. He wanted strong, oppositional trade unions, high wages for a prosperous working class, a solid welfare state, the incorporation of the private schools into the state education system to make them accept greater numbers of pupils from ordinary, non-monied backgrounds, and the increased taxation of the rich.

Blair, Brown and New Labour have done the exact opposite. They passed laws against the welfare state and the ability of the trade unions to strike and defend workers’ rights. They picked up and revamped the academisation of state education, that had begun with Thatcher. They shifted the tax burden away from the rich. The result has been that the working class has become poorer and marginalised. Social mobility had effectively ceased before the Tories took power in the 2010 election.

Whatever the Blairites may sputter about standing up for Labour ‘values’, it is they who have done the most over the past quarter century to destroy the very basis of the party they support.

Apart from Clause 4, Sidney Webb also produced a policy statement, Labour and the New Social Order, published in June 1918, which became the basis of the party’s policy for the next 50 years. This contained four points:

1) The National Minimum. This comprised a minimum working wage, full employment, a minimum standard of working conditions and a maximum 48 hour working week.

2) The democratic control of industry. Nationalisation, and some form of worker’s control.

3) The Revolution in National Finance. Subsidize social services through the heavy taxation of large incomes, and a capital levy to pay off the cost of the First World War.

4) The Surplus for the Common Good. The balance of the nation’s wealth should be set aside and used for expanding opportunities for education and culture. (Pelling: 44-5).

All these policies are still very relevant today. Including taxing the rich to pay off war debts. It is the poor, who have suffered cuts to their services in order to service the debt created by Blair’s, Brown’s and Cameron’s wars in the Middle East. We need more of them, and to end the Blairite tendency of New Labour.

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Radical Balladry and Poetry for Proles

May 15, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

19th Century Illustration of a Ballad Seller

A few days ago I posted a few pieces on Rob Young’s history of the British folk revival and folk rock, Electric Eden (London: Faber and Faber 2010), and the radical and political folk songs protesting about the conditions of the poor and demanding workers’ rights, such as The Poor Man Pays For All from the 1630s. The Chartist and trade union movements in the 19th century also included poets and song-writers, who attempted to get their message of popular democracy and just treatment for the workers across in verse and music. They included Ernest Charles Jones, a British lawyer, who was born in Berlin in Germany from British parents. In 1845 he became a member of the Chartist movement, and was co-editor, with Feargus O’Connor, of The Labourer, and Northern Star. Not surprisingly, he became embittered and alienated after he was imprisoned in the two years from 1848-50 for inciting the British public to revolt. He was a friend and follower of Karl Marx from 1850 to 1855, whose ideas influenced Jones’ Notes to the People of 1850-1 and the early years of his People’s Paper. Beer in his History of British Socialism, gives an example of his poetry, the Song of the Lower Classes.

1.

We plough and sow- we’re so very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain – with the golden grain,
And the vale with the verdant hay.
Our place we know-we’re so very low
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet,
We’re not too low – the bread to grow,
But too low the bread to eat.

2.

“Down, down we go-we’re so very, very low,
To the hell of deep-sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.

3.

“We’re low, we’re low – mere rabble, we know,
But at our plastic power,
The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower –
The prostrate fall – in the rich men’s hall
And cringe ata the rich man’s door:
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.

4.

“We’re low – we’re low – we’re very, very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give
We know, and we know our share:
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear”.

Other Chartist leaders in their poems urged a general strike and a worker’s revolution in order to achieve democracy. One of Thomas Cooper’s speeches in Staffordshire resulted in ‘serious disturbance’, arson and destruction of property. Cooper himself summarised them in the following lines, according to Beer, in his 1845 Purgatory of Suicides.

“Slaves, toil no more! Why delve, and moil, and pine,
To glut the tyrant-forgers of your chain?
Slaves, toil no more! Up from the midnight mine,
Summon your swarthy thousands to the plain;
Beneath the bright sun marshalled, swell the strain
Of Liberty; and while the lordlings view
Your banded hosts, with stricken heart and brain, –
Shot as one man, ‘Toil we now more renew,
Until the Many cease their slavery to the Few!
We’ll crouch, and toil, and weave, no more – to weep!’
Exclaim your brothers from the weary loom: –
Yea, now they swear with one resolve dread, deep –
‘We’ll toil no more – to win a pauper’s doom!’
And, while the millions swear, fell Famine’s gloom
Spreads from their haggard faces, like a cloud,
Big with the fear and darkness of the tomb:-
How ‘neat its terrors, are the tyrants bowed!
Slaves, toil no more – to starve! Go forth and tame the proud!

Britain’s mining and cloth industries may have been devastated, but the words are still resonant and very relevant. We are, after all, suffering under the class government of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their fellow financiers and aristos. And the lines ‘we’re too low to vote the tax/ But not too low to pay’ exactly describe the ‘Bedroom tax’.

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog, provided a bit more information. She writes

I forgot to mention, An Anthology of Chartist Verse has been published, not once, but twice.

It first appeared from Progress Publishers in Moscow in 1956,[As An Anthology of Chartist Literature] then largely reprinted by the Associated University Press in 1989. [As ‘An Anthology of Chartist Poetry’]. The second printing excised the Literary Criticism contained in the former edition [mostly reprinted from the Scottish Chartist Circular]

One version of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be viewed here;
http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253

This last is well-worth looking at as an example of the aspirations of working class Christian radicals for social justice. It would frighten the modern, ultra-capitalist Christian Right faster than you could say ‘Social Gospel’.

Apart from the Chartists, other radical Left-wing groups and parties also produced song-books. Jess mentioned the Fabian Song book of 1912, which partly drawn from the Carpenter’s and Progressive song books. The ILP also produced a song book and the American Syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World or the ‘Wobblies’, are especially known for their songs. Jess writes about these:

A version of the ‘Little Red Song Book’ can be found here;
http://pronoblem.com/iwwlrs.pdf

It’s last known printing in the UK was in the 1990’s and was done by Scottish Republican Socialists through Clydeside Press (who are still in business)

Another American ‘Socialist Song Book’ can be found here
http://www.mediafire.com/view/?o6tbi8b3qf6dgbw

The Pennsylvania ‘local’ who produced (I would guess around the 1930’s) patently drew on the ILP Songbook of c.1910, initially drawn up by Tom Anderson of Glasgow, but completed by the Glasiers [Anderson felt so annoyed at what they had done that he left the ILP for the Socialist Labour Party. For the latter organisation he produced a ‘Proletarian Songbook’ [primarily for use in his ‘Proletarian Schools’]
More on Anderson here;
http://www.radicalglasgow.me.uk/strugglepedia/index.php?title=Tom_Anderson ]
Songbook cover here;

Unfortunately, the only place you will find those Chartist Anthologies is in Research Libraries. The WCML certainly has the Moscow edition. (I was once told there are only 50 or so in the UK)

Ironically the American one is even scarcer, with probably no more than 10 copies in the UK [It was kept away from Europe due to potential copyright problems}

But I can easily get access to both, so if you have a query, or an interest, I will sort something out.

There is a very strong body of radical, Left-wing working class and folk literature, which is still very relevant. Jess notes that it’s been largely neglected by the Left, except for a very few aficionados and researchers, like Roy Palmer, the author of a Ballad History of England. She also recommended a number of other folk song researchers and experts:

I would recommend, if you can still get hold of it, the EFDSS CD collection of William Kimber. Parts of the interview it contains is fascinating, especially Kimber’s acceptance of the Women’s Morris.

Also worth seeking out are the recordings of Walter Pardon, who includes, on one of his albums, songs used by the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

More recently, the Left has used songs to articulate its criticism of social injustice and promote its causes. I first came across Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about nuclear warfare, ‘And we’ll burn together when we burn’ in 1980s with the revival of CND in Thatcher and Reagan’s new Cold War. The same decade also saw Billy Bragg get onto Top of the Pops with his modern folk-song about the Miners, just when Thatcher was putting the boot into them. With this new attack on the poor and working class, it would be no bad thing at all if some of these songs were revived. It might even remind some of the Labour party’s leaders just whom they’re supposed to represent.