Posts Tagged ‘‘Trade Unions and Socialist Politics’’

John McDonnell and Anti-Marxist Scaremongering on Thursday’s Question Time

September 18, 2016

I was talking to Mike this evening about John McDonnell’s appearance on Question Time last week, when all the other panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Soubry for the Tories and Dimbleby himself all tried to pile into him and attack himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. I didn’t see the programme, but heard from Mike that at one point someone attempted to score a point accusing McDonnell of being a Marxist. McDonnell said he was, and that as a Marxist he was overjoyed at the 2008 financial crisis, as this was the kind of massive economic crisis that is caused by capitalism. Mike took this McDonnell answering in the conditional: this is what he would believe, if he was a Marxist. But even if McDonnell is a Marxist – which is debateable – this still is not necessarily a reason why he should be feared or disqualified from government.

There’s a difference between Marxism and Communism. Communism is a form of Marxism, but as historians of the Soviet regime and political scientists will tell you, it is a form of Communism based on the interpretation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And I was taught by the tutor at College on the rise of Communism in Russia, that Lenin adapted and reformed Marxism as much as his ideological opponents and enemies in democratic socialism. I should point out here that before he began the course, he made a little speech stating that he wasn’t a Communist, and if, by some accident, he found himself in such a party, he would very soon find himself thrown out of it. This is pretty much true. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxism-Leninism, and it broke with the ideas of the German Social Democrats, and particularly that of Karl Kautsky, as the leading European Marxist party. In 1910 the German Social Democrats (SPD) were world’s leading socialist party. They had 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the German parliament, 720,000 members and over 70 newspapers and periodicals. (See John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, p. 27).

The party had been riven by ideological conflict in the 1890s over Eduard Bernstein’s ‘Revisionism’. Bernstein had argued that Marxism was wrong, and that far from impoverishing the workers in the operation of the ‘iron law of wages’, the workers were becoming more prosperous. He therefore urged a revision of Marxist socialism, abandoning the aspects that were no longer relevant. Instead of the Hegelian dialect, he urged instead that the party should incorporate and adapt the ideals of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. This did not mean abandoning socialism or the nationalisation of industry. Indeed, he saw the emergence of joint-stock companies as the type of capitalist institution, which would gradually become transformed as society developed to produce the new, socialist society of the future. Despite widespread, and fierce opposition, Bernstein was not thrown out of the party. Lenin, who had previously been an admirers of the Germans, really couldn’t understand this. When he met Karl Kautsky, the Austrian leader of German and Austrian Marxism, during his exile from Tsarist Russia, Lenin asked him that question. Kautsky replied that they didn’t do that kind of thing. Lenin went berserk, called him a prostitute, and published a pamphlet attacking Kautsky and denouncing him as a ‘renegade’.

Kautsky was no enemy of democracy. I’ve put up various pieces from Marx, Kautsky and the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, showing how they all supported, to a certain degree, parliamentary democracy. Marx never ruled out violent revolution, but was increasingly of the opinion that there was no need, as socialists were winning considerable concessions and advances through parliamentary politics. Kautsky and Laurat fully support parliamentary democracy. Kautsky himself despised the workers’ soviets as undemocratic, and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks for their suppression of human rights. He hated the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie, their subjection to slave labour and how they were given the worst jobs, and were given the worst rations. He also attacked the Bolsheviks’ monopolisation of the press and their destruction and banning of competing parties, newspapers and publications. And rather than industry being nationalised in one fell blow, as the Bolsheviks had done, he argued instead that Marxism demanded that industry should only be nationalised gradually at the appropriate moment. This was when the various capitalist firms in a particular economic sector had merged to create a cartel. It was only then that the industries should be taken over by the state, and run in the interests of the working class and the people as a whole. After the Bolshevik revolution, Kautsky supported the Mensheviks, their ideological rivals, in the newly independent state of Georgia in the Caucasus, before that was finally conquered by the USSR.

Lenin, by contrast, had argued in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done, that the Russian socialist party should be led by committed revolutionaries, who would command absolute authority. Debate was to be strictly limited, and once the party’s leaders had made a decision, it had to be obeyed without question. Lenin had come to this view through his experience of the conspiratorial nature of Russian revolutionary politics. He was influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary – but not Marxist – Chernyshevsky. He also adopted this extremely authoritarian line as an attempt to prevent the rise of factionalism that divided and tore apart the Populists, the Russian agrarian socialists that form Marxism’s main rival as the party of the peasants and working class.

Now I’ll make it plain: I’m not a Marxist or a Communist. I don’t agree with its atheism nor its basis in Hegelian philosophy. I’m also very much aware of the appalling human rights abuses by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. But Marxism is not necessarily synonymous with Communism.

During the struggle in the 1980s in the Labour party with the Militant Tendency, the Swedish Social Democrats also offered their perspective on a similar controversy they had gone through. They had also been forced to expel a group that had tried to overturn party democracy and take absolute power. They had not, however, expelled them because they were Marxists, and made the point that there still were Marxists within the party. Thus, while I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe that Marxism, as opposed to Communism, is necessarily a threat.

It’s also hypocritical for members of New Labour to try to smear others with the label, when one element in its formation was a Marxist organisation, albeit one that came to a very anti-Socialist conclusion. This was Demos. Unlike conventional Marxists, they believed that the operation of the Hegelian dialectic had led to the victory, not of socialism, but of capitalism. The goal for left-wing parties now should be to try to make it operate to benefit society as a whole, rather than just businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Arguably, this form of Marxism has been every bit as destructive and doctrinaire as Militant. Blair seized control of the Labour party, and his clique swiftly became notorious for a highly authoritarian attitude to power. Events were micromanaged to present Blair in the best, most flattering light. Furthermore, the policies they adopted – privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, the contempt for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the long-term sick, who were seen as scroungers and malingerers, resulted in immense poverty and hardship, even before they were taken over and extended massively by Cameron and now Theresa May.

Traditional Marxists in the Labour party, as opposed to Communists and Trotskyites aren’t a threat. And neither McDonnell nor Corbyn are either of those. What has damaged the party is the pernicious grip on power of the Blairites, who have turned it into another branch of the Tories. It is they, who have harmed the country’s economy, provoked much of the popular cynicism with politics, and impoverished and immiserated its working people and the unemployed. All for the enrichment of the upper and middle classes. It is their power that needs to be broken, and they, who are responsible for acting as a conspiratorial clique determined to win absolute control through purging their rivals. It’s long past time they either accepted the wishes of the grassroots for a genuine socialist leadership, and made their peace with Corbyn, or left to join the Tories.

Jess Phillips, Racism, Misogyny, and the Public School Feminism of New Labour

September 18, 2016

Oh, the irony! Jess Phillips, who regularly accuses her critics of misogyny and claimed she was building a Safe Room because of the abuse levelled against her, has now herself been accused of racism and misogyny. One of her victims was Mike, over at Vox Political, because he dared to suggest that misogynistic abuse perhaps wasn’t the real reason she was having it built. Now Mike has put up a piece from EvolvePolitics about Phillips herself being accused of misogyny and racism, after it was revealed that she played a leading role in having Dawn Butler replaced as chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party. Phillips disliked her holding the post, because she wasn’t an opponent of Corbyn. But Phillips has form in trying to get the few women of colour to hold posts in the Labour party removed from their positions. Last year she also had a row with Diane Abbott, in which she told the Shadow Health Secretary to ‘F*ck off’.

Jess Phillips’s feminism called into question – why is it all right for HER to target women?

I can’t say I’m surprised at her attitude. This seems to follow the sociological origins of many of the New Labour female MPs. Most of these seem to come from the upper and upper middle classes. They’re public school girls, who like the idea of expanding democracy, greater representation and rights for women and ethnic minorities, while at the same time supporting all the policies that keep the working and lower middle classes down: cuts to welfare benefits, job precarity, and the privatisation of essential services. This all follows Tony Blair’s copying of Bill Clinton’s ‘New Democrats’, who also talked about doing more for women and minorities, while at the same time supporting Reagan’s economic and welfare policies. The sociological origins of the journalism staff in the Groaniad, who have also been pushing the New Labour line against Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum in recent weeks. After they published various pieces lamenting that so few people from working class backgrounds were rising up to higher positions in society, in management and so forth, Private Eye published a little piece about the backgrounds of the paper’s own managers and journos. They were all, or nearly all, very middle class, and privately educated. This isn’t really surprising. Gladstone way back in the 19th century was very relaxed about the press not stirring up revolution in Britain, because most journalists back then were from propertied backgrounds. The book, Confronting the New Conservatism, attacking the Neocons and their pernicious influence on politics, noted that part of the problem was a broad consensus across the American ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, in support of deregulation, welfare cuts and privatisation, along with admiration for Britain, and a support by the middle class elites for affirmative action programmes as long as they didn’t affect their own children.

In short, they like the idea of equality, except when it challenges their own privileged position. As for Phillips’ racism, real or perceived, that’s also similar to the attitude adopted by one of the architects of the ‘New Democrats’, Hillary Clinton. Clinton for some reason is extraordinary popular amongst Black Americans. As part of her presidential campaign, she met a group of Black celebs, in which she tried to impress them by mentioning how much she liked hot sauce. Apparently, this condiment is a stereotypical favourite of Black folks. A lot of people weren’t impressed, and found her attitude distinctly patronising. There were sarcastic comments asking why she didn’t also say she liked fried chicken and watermelons. More serious, however, is the fact that Clinton was the architect of the punitive anti-drugs legislation, that has resulted in a much higher incarceration rate for Blacks, despite drugs being used by the same proportion of Blacks and Whites. She also made a speech about the threat of urban ‘superpredators’, when that term was almost exclusively used for Black gangs.

The sociological origin of New Labour female MPs also explains the accusations of misogyny aimed at Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. The basic line seems to be that ‘Old’ Labour, based in the male-dominated heavy industries, was nasty, patriarchal and therefore sexist. There’s an element of truth in it, in that traditional gender roles were much stronger generally, and women very definitely had an inferior position. However, this was changing in the 1980s. John Kelly, in his book Trade Unions and Socialist Politics (London: Verso 1988), has a section, ‘Still a Men’s Movement?’ discussing the growing presence of women in the trade unions and the way these were adopting an increasing number of feminist policies as a result. For example, in 1985 32 per cent of TUC members were women. In some unions, the majority of members were female, such as COHSE, 78 per cent; NUPE, 67 per cent; and NALGO, 52 per cent. He notes how a number of unions ran women-only courses, and were adopting policies on sexual harassment, low pay, shorter working time, equal opportunities and equal work for equal pay. He notes that sex bias in job evaluation and sexual discrimination were still not receiving the attention they should, but nevertheless the unions were moving in the right direction. (pp. 134-6). Of course, the occupations in which women are strongest are most likely to be white collar, administrative and clerical jobs, rather than manufacturing. But nevertheless, these stats show how the trade unions, and therefore the organised working class, were responding positively to the rise of women in the work force. If you want a further example of that, think of Ken Livingstone and the GLC. Livingstone’s administration was known for its ‘politically correct’ stance against racism, sexism and discrimination against gays. Red Ken devotes an entire chapter in his book, Livingstone’s Labour, to feminist issues, including his proposal to set up a nationwide network of bureaux to deal with them, ‘Sons of the Footbinder’, pp. 90-111. Among the pro-women policies he recommends the Labour party should adopt were

* A universal scheme of pre-school childcare for all parents who would wish to use it.
* Equal pay for work of equal value.
* A properly funded national network of women’s centres.
* A properly funded national scheme for the remuneration of carers.
*Full equality before the law.

Livingstone was one of the most left-wing of Labour politicians. So much so that he was accused of being a Communist. Hence Private Eye’s nickname for him, ‘Ken Leninspart’. Now the Blairites are trying to twist this image, so that they stand for women’s equality and dignity, against the return of Old Labour in the face of Jeremy Corbyn and his misogynist followers. This could be seen the in a bizarre letter published in either the Graun or the Independent, in which Bernie Saunders, the left-wing Democratic contender for the presidential nomination, and Jeremy Corbyn were both accused of being sexists, because they wore baggy, more masculine clothes, suggesting their ideological roots in the masculine blue-collar milieu of the 1950s, before women and gay men started affecting fashion. Private Eye put it in their ‘Pseud’s Corner’ column, but it reflects the attitude of the middle class feminists given space in those newspapers to attack Jeremy Corbyn and genuine traditional Labour.

The fear, of course, is not that Corbyn or his supporters are misogynists. That’s a convenient lie that was copied from Hillary Clinton, who made the accusation against Bernie’s supporters after they correctly identified her as a corporate whore. She is. She takes money from the corporations, in return for which she passes policies in their favour. Just like the majority of American politicians, male and female. In fact the fear of Clinton and the rest of the Democratic party machine, and New Labour over here, is that the corporatist system they are partly responsible for creating, and their own privileged position as members of the upper classes, are under threat from a resurgence of working class power and discontent from the Left. And despite the growing presence of women in the unions, Blair and New Labour despised them. It was Blair, remember, who threatened to cut their ties to the party, and was responsible for passing further legislation on top of the Tories to limit strikes, and deprive working people of further employment rights.

When Blairite MPs like Phillips make their accusations of sexism at Corbyn and his followers, they are expressing the fears of the middle classes at losing their privileged position, as members of that class, and its control over the economy and society. It’s made somewhat plausible to many women, because as a rule women were much less unionised than men, and the most prominent union leaders have tended to be men. But it’s a distortion of history to hide their own concerns to hang on to their class power. When Phillips and female Blairites like her talk about feminism and female empowerment, they’re expressing the same point of view as Theresa May. It’s all about greater empowerment for middle and upper class women like themselves, not for the poor, Black, Asian or working class.