Monday 16 November 2020

The Far Left Vs Starmerism

The problem with motherloads of news (and a mountain of work) is certain items of interest get buried. Such as latest development's on Britain's far left. In September, the Socialist Party announced it was dusting off their vehicle of electoral convenience, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, ahead of next May's round of elections. And then, the coup! Last week, the SP press released the news that former Derby North Labour MP Chris Williamson had joined TUSC's steering committee and affiliated his proto-party, the Resistance Movement to TUSC. The Morning Star also reported Chris met with Arthur Scargill about cooperation with the Socialist Labour Party (remember them?), and it's worth recalling he has a good relationship with George Galloway who, while not ranting about how Donald Trump had the election stolen from him, doubles up as the leader of the Workers Party of Great Britain.

This is interesting for left trainspotters for two good reasons. Firstly, it interrupts the duopoly the Socialist Workers Party and the SP have exercised over left-of-Labour mobilisations since the early 00s. The Socialist Alliance, Respect, the short-lived and ugly-named Socialist Green Unity Coalition, No2EU, and from 2010 TUSC were/are "unity" projects cobbling together already-existing left groups, but revolved either around the SWP and SP as Britain's largest and most visible Trotskyist groups. The Corbynist interlude interrupted their electoral adventures, leaving the field clear to the more "interesting" elements of the far left. With Chris Williamson's departure from Labour and the formation of his group, his alliance with the SP certainly boosts the profile of TUSC, but arguably more significant is Galloway's party. Now claiming 56 branches and 4,000 members, on paper the organisation is larger than the SP and, perhaps, the SWP. At that size, its big fish in a small pond status means it could ignore the rest and do their own thing. Possible given the WPGB core are congenitally anti-Trotskyist, and happily oversaw purges on Scargill's behalf in the SLP before they fell out of favour. But the good relations between Galloway and TUSC's best-known figure might result in a non-aggression pact of some description and potentially foreshadowing a challenge wider than the 131 candidates TUSC rustled up in 2015.

On the Workers' Party itself, projection of significance and dynamism in the age of social media is super easy: what matters are the number of activists a party can mobilise. The cadre of the WPGB are the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), a very small Stalinoid Westboro Baptist Church with its leadership based around the progeny of Harpal Brar and fidelity to the revealed truth of Uncle Joe's Collected Works. Quite how an ideologically circumscribed sect whose shibboleths fly in the face of the historical record are going to cohabit with refugees from Corbynism is anyone's guess, but we'll find out in the fullness of time. But this does speak to something, which is the second point of interest: the generalised growth of the left.

Labour's NEC elections show the party has lost 57,000 members since Keir Starmer assumed the leadership, and the turnout suggests disengagement on the part of others. Most of these are going to be on the left, and a good proportion of them are on the market for some sort of alternative. The heft the WPGB claims isn't necessarily another case of revolutionary inflation: there are real opportunities for the parties of the far left to intersect with and put on a few thousands members each. This doesn't suggest any electoral challenge the WPGB and TUSC decides to mount, with or without one another, is going to do better than the sub one per cent scores such outfits can normally expect, but this isn't the point. For once, "putting down a marker" might actually help grow their organisations.

I say might, because the appeal these organisations have are quite limited. The SP/TUSC for its part fetishises and is trapped within an obsolete class politics, WPGB has Galloway, Stalinism, and his alliance with Scottish Tories, and Chris Williamson just can't stop sailing close to the wind on matters antisemitism. A subset of Jeremy Corbyn supporters might find this compelling, especially those who defined their affiliations in terms of fealty to his person than a political programme or attachment to a wider movement. And those who do wash up, how permanent will their new homes be? I can't imagine many taking kindly to being guilt tripped into the treadmill of paper selling and permanent activism while expecting to show deference to petty apparatchiks and, in Galloway's case, the Glorious Leader.

Until that day comes, there is some danger a far left election challenge might pose Labour. Not existential by any means. Whatever the fantasy, they are not about to become a new left party/workers' party with mass roots or an episodically significant "left UKIP" that might do to Labour what Nigel Farage did to the Tories. But around the edges, a few hundred votes for a candidate here, a couple more for a paper candidate there could make the difference between a Labour gain/hold and a Tory or Liberal Democrat sneaking through the middle. And, if 2024 is going to be a tight election powered by polarisation, every vote and every seat counts. The more Starmerism reveals itself as an authoritarian managerialist project in the Milibandist mode of a "good" capitalism, the more the risk is run as more disgruntled former Labourists jump ship and help build the far left challenge. This far out from the election Labour's leadership can elect to do something about it, but as Keir and co. don't understand Labour's own base I wouldn't put the house on it.

Image Credit


Dave K said...

I dont think Starmer is to be compared to Milibands period. Miliband whilst weak in the end did hesitantly break with the neoliberal orthodoxy both rhetorically and when it came to the Energy price cap and the mansion tax and was pilloried for it by the press and Labour right. He also led a pretty tolerant and open regime in the party.
Starmer by contrast is much mire authoritarian and establishment.

Braingrass said...

I know you don't like Chris Williamson. But can we please have a little sanity. 'The planet Zog' has been part of informal British usage for some time. It is absurd to claim that is prima facie anti semitic. Unless you are now going to include the Collins dictionary as antisemitic.

planet Zog
in British English
British informal
a place or situation that is far removed from reality or what is currently happening
those of you who've been on planet Zog for the last ten years
Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

I have heard that Chris Williamson has lawyers, so you might consider deleting the defamatory Facebook link

Robert Lynch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
henafr said...

That reference to Williamson and Planet Zog is fucking insane and puts your judgment into question.

levi9909 said...

Yeah agreed. Phil I find your work very informative but this keep getting sucker punched by false allegations of antisemitism has been a complete disaster for the Corbyn project and is the main reason I believe a new party is required but I would have preferred socialist MPs to found it possibly with a major union. But the state has declared labour guilty of antisemitic harassment by redefining racism and harassment and conversely Starmer has made it compulsory to accept ethnic cleansing as a prerequisite for Labour membership.

Blissex said...

«we must hold up the banner that says, ‘Any Labour MP that does not support legally balloted trade union industrial action by a trade union affiliated to the TUC has no place in the Labour Party’»

The majority of New, New Labour MPs are sure that. as Peter Mandelson, Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt put it in nearly identical words, “Labour would only win if the party championed aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose”, and those voters consider striking workers as impertinent nuisances, and have voted for 40 years for lower wages (and pensions and social security) and for more job insecurity. Those MPs will hardly vote to upset the constituency that they think will give the ministerial careers to which they feel entitled.

A celebrated "centrist", J Cooper of the New Statesman, a few years ago voiced their opinion that “we are all thatcherites now”, as Peter Mandelson wrote in 2002 already:

Miliband’s chief problem is not policy but tone. He needs to find a distinctive voice to articulate people’s feelings about the present moment. And he might have to accept before long – or the electorate will force him to – that Europe’s social-democratic moment, if it ever existed, is fading into the past.

My usual quote from T Benn, 1993-05-16 which is still true today:

I think, candidly, what is happening is that the party is being dismantled. The trade union link is to be broken; the economic policy statement we are considering today makes no reference to the trade unions. Clause 4 is being attacked; PR is being advocated with a view to a pact with the Liberals of a kind that Peter Mandelson worked for in Newbury, where he in fact encouraged the Liberal vote. The policy work has been subcontracted. These so called modernisers are really Victorian Liberals, who believe in market forces, don't like the trade unions and are anti-socialist.

Phil said...

It just so happens I know people who took him up on his Zog comment. His response? Doubling down.

Anyone would accept this as an innocent mistake if Chris didn't already have a history of ignoring Jewish leftists who wanted to speak to him about this sort of behaviour. If he hadn't defended Scott "Jewish blood" Nelson from explusion from Labour, hadn't shared a petition defending Gilad Atzmon, hadn't heavily promoted Pete Willsman following his own stupid intervention into antisemitism, and promoted other unsavoury characters like Vanessa Beeley and Lee Stranahan of Breitbart.

Unlike most if not all of you commenting on this, I actually know Chris. I've been to his office, campaigned with him, had chats with him, spoke at his events, and grew to like him. Which makes his descent into the sewer disappointing and painful. To go from someone who could have been a real asset to a complete liability is a terrible shame, but to then carry on stoking notoriety with *innocent face* comments - that's unforgivable.

I'm not going to say any more on this and any further comments about him will be deleted.

Anonymous said...

I must say Phil that I find the attitude of I disagree with you therefore I shall delete you, to be not worthy of you, and your aspirations as a journalist but delete away.

Debate is the whole point of a comments section and while I admit that the comments were a little rude they hardly seem worthy of the abandonment of free speech.

If your wish is to be heard and have your opinions considered, then you must debate in a civil and sensible manner.

Taking your metaphorical ball away is not the way to do that.
You should also know that a well read and often returned to Blog, soon ceases to be both of those things when opinion is not given fair hearing, people who delete ctisism, rather than trying to debate it are not worthy of my time or effort.

david walsh said...

Gong back to the substance of Phil's article, it can be possible - in certain specifically local circumstances for the outwith Labour left to exercise an influence. One example is from this week in Lancaster, a small town run by a small District Council, but where the University is a dominant presence as an employer and a voting base from the student population. Historically Labour is the biggest party facing a biggish Green contingent based on the Uni, both (they are in a formal coalition as the council is 'hung') facing a Tory opposition from the City's rural hinterlands. Five councillors on Lancaster City Council have now announced today that they have resigned from the Labour Party, including the deputy leader of the council. Kevin Frea, the current deputy leader, Cabinet member Alistair Sinclair, Faye Penny, Jack O’Dwyer-Henry and Katie Whearty will now sit on the Council as a new group named Eco-Socialist Independents. The reasons are their view that Labour is temporizing on the "Spycops" issue, the suspension of JC and their belief that Labour in the HoC is watering down the Green New Deal proposal. They will be staying in the coalition and thus, given the numbers game, will have an influence way beyond their actual size. Call that 'opportunist' (I would) but it is a tactic to be used, and can be repeated elsewhere where classic party formations are weak.

levi9909 said...

Re John Smith's comment, this is where demands for zero tolerance and education are actually mutually exclusive. You can't educate people if you won't even tolerate honest mistakes. And if you won't tolerate any questioning how can people know if allegations are true when so many false allegations have been made on the same subject? I'm Jewish and from a mainstream orthodox background and I've been utterly dismayed at some of Corbyn's apologies even for sharing a platform with an anti-Zionist Jewish Holocaust survivor who in common with a former Israeli cabinet minister (the late Tommy Lapid) compared Israel in Gaza (maybe Lebanon) to the nazis. And look what's happened to Corbyn now in the name of zero tolerance. The whole shebang is Kafka meets Orwell. It's buried the Labour left and it's gonna keep it buried.

Blissex said...

«I'm Jewish and from a mainstream orthodox background»

That's not mainstream, self-identified jews are 60-70% tory voters and Likud/Haavoda supporters, and this is what the mainstream jewish community apparently believes:>
“Benjamin Netanyahu
The decision by the International Criminal Court to probe Israel constitutes pure antisemitism. The ICC believes Jews do not have a right to settle in our historic Jewish homeland or to defend ourselves against enemies seeking our annihilation.”
“In the letter, Gabbay said Corbyn had expressed “very public hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers – policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned””

«And look what's happened to Corbyn now in the name of zero tolerance»

That's not in name of "zero tolerance", but in name of an attitude where an antisemite is not someone who says something antisemitic, but where what an alleged antisemite says must be interpreted to be something antisemitic.
Since the assumption is that Corbyn is antisemitic, then what he says must be an antisemitic dog-whistle.

levi9909 said...

Phil, many thanks for publishing my comment. The notifier must be on the blink. I came back for something else. Bit like a trip to the supermarket.
Now Blissex, mainstream orthodoxy is a reference to religion and by extension culture. I was raised under the auspices of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth aka the United Synagogue, that is the synagogue congregations of which, Ephraim Mirvis is the chief rabbi. The people you refer to don't accept the idea of self-identifying Jews. Running with your definition of mainstream Jews, floating voters would be jumping in and out of the mainstream with every election. Also I think it's very unsound to define Jews by reference to their politics whatever the intention.
Anyway, I know Phil doesn't want his site becoming the inverse of Harry's Place so I'm retreating back to Twitter. Nite nite