Preparing the movement for a Starmer government

Sir Keir Starmer’s leader’s speech at this year’s Labour Party conference “was more John McDonnell than Tony Blair”, the former shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn told the fringe meeting organised at the Liverpool gathering by the Socialist Campaign Group of left Labour MPs.

“It demonstrated just what you have done throughout our movement” McDonnell said, praising the dwindling minority of left-wingers remaining within Starmer’s new New Labour party. “By sticking around, you’ve forced our ideas onto the agenda again” he claimed, “so even the Blairites have to accept them”. (BBC News, 28 September)

Others joined in, pointing to the conference votes for a £15 an hour minimum wage and at least inflation-linked pay rises; a “commitment to a publicly-owned railway” proposed by the ASLEF train drivers’ union; and the resolution – moved by the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) general secretary Dave Ward as the bitter dispute of the postal workers raged on – that “the next Labour government will bring Royal Mail back into public ownership”.

Describing policy announcements such as Starmer’s plan for a state-owned Great British Energy company as “genuinely transformative” and a “victory for the left”, the Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome appealed to “those with power in our party” to recognise that “the left are not the enemy, we are the future”.

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Taking on the ‘lesser evil’ argument

The ‘don’t stand against Labour’ argument is back, as the prospect of a general election looms. Here we reprint, in shortened form, an article written by CLIVE HEEMSKERK and first published in The Socialist No.840, 21 January 2015, which shows how these issues were dealt with under Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership in the run-up to the general election and local council contests in May 2015.

“A great many voters will be rightly angry on 8 May”, wrote Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee in her New Year’s Eve assessment of politics in 2015, because they felt obliged to “chose the least worst of two parties from which they feel increasingly alienated”.

But, she went on, there is no alternative to voting Labour on May 7 because “another five years of the Conservatives” would set “an irreversible seal” on the government’s policies. Obeying “the tactical diktats of the two-party game” is an “iron rule” and those backing anyone else will have “wasted their vote”.

As polling day gets nearer this argument will be repeated again and again. And not just in the pages of The Guardian which, with one or two maverick exceptions, is a house-journal of ‘austerity Labour’. Many trade union leaders also do not want to answer this profoundly pessimistic idea.

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Ukraine and the anti-war movement

An anti-war movement could be one of the routes to a new political voice for the working class, under the Tories or a Starmer government. But only if the lessons from both past movements and the current war in Ukraine are fully absorbed, argues HANNAH SELL.

Eight months ago the world woke up to the news of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Since then, in addition to the horrendous consequences for the peoples of Ukraine, and for the Russian soldiers dying on its battlefields, the war has had repercussions for the whole world. It is contributing to increases in food and energy prices, and the looming world recession. It has also ramped up global tensions. Fears of it leading to military escalation and even the use of a nuclear weapon have grown.

Like most countries, however, Britain has yet to see the resurgence of mass anti-war protests. This does not mean that the war is unimportant to people. For example, a YouGov poll in June showed that 74% of people were ‘worried’ about the Russia/Ukraine situation. The same poll showed that there was majority support for the British government continuing its current policy by ‘sending additional weaponry and supplies to Ukraine’. However, a different poll, conducted by IPSOS in October, showed a much more sceptical attitude among young people, with only 45% of 16-34 year olds supporting the British government’s backing of Ukraine.

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Global Warning: Socialism and the climate crisis

As delegates assemble for the COP27 UN summit in Egypt MATT DOBSON argues that capitalism is unable to solve the climate crisis, and examines what needs to be done to secure a future for humanity on our planet.

Three decades of international climate summits and capitalism has failed to get to grips with the climate crisis. All the fundamental problems remain and are worsening. Carbon emissions are rising, as are temperatures, with climate scientists warning that the planet will reach a tipping point if temperatures rise by more than 1.5 degrees centigrade.

Extreme weather events are increasingly common – droughts, heatwaves, flooding and wildfires. Climate change is forcing more and more people to migrate away from uninhabitable conditions that can’t deliver the basic needs of life.

Economic and geopolitical crisis after crisis also threatens to escalate the situation. Faced with energy shortages due to the Ukraine war, major capitalist powers in Europe have reopened oil and gas fields and increased carbon-based production.  

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The roots of women’s oppression

Sozialistische Organisation Solidaritaet, the German section of the CWI, is publishing a new edition of the influential book, The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, first printed in 1986. Below is the introduction to the new edition, written by CHRISTINE THOMAS.

The Creation of Patriarchy is a useful contribution to the discussion about women’s oppression historically and today. Although Gerda Lerner says very little on the strategies that will be needed to fight against oppression in all its forms, a major weakness in the book, she nevertheless provides valuable historical information to aid that struggle, especially for socialist feminists who see oppression rooted in economic and material change.

The general thrust of her argument, in line with the analysis in Friedrich Engels’ book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, is that women’s oppression has not existed for all time but is the consequence of historical processes. And if historical processes can bring about women’s oppression, they can also lay the basis for its elimination. For women, and working-class women in particular, struggling with low pay and cuts to public services, suffering violence, harassment and sexism on a regular basis, knowing that it’s not your fault, that it hasn’t always been like this, can in itself be liberating – the starting point for getting organised to fight back and change the conditions that perpetuate inequality, gender violence, sexism and oppression.

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Was Stalinism inevitable?

The recent death of Mikhail Gorbachev has posed again the question, how did Stalinism triumph? MIKE WHALE reviews a searching account of Russia in the mid-1920s as Stalinism developed as a system of bureaucratic rule.

Was There An Alternative? 1923-1927

By Vadim Z Rogovin

Published by Mehring Books, 2021

Vadim Rogovin was a Russian Marxist historian who died in 1998. His book, Was There An Alternative?, is part of a seven volume series which examine the development of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the opposition to Stalinism from genuine Marxists, particularly Leon Trotsky. With access to records and archives hidden away by Joseph Stalin and his successors that only became available as the Soviet Union was collapsing in the late 1980s, Rogovin brings significant new detail to add to our understanding of how and why the democratic workers’ state created by the Russian revolution in 1917 degenerated into a monstrous dictatorship.

Recently, there have been a significant number of books and articles written by pro-capitalist historians and commentators that attempt to argue that Stalin’s dictatorship was an inevitable outcome of the Russian revolution itself. Rogovin shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

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Unemployed struggles echo through time

Law and Authority, Under the Heal of Kensington Bumbles

Dreadnought Publishers, 1922

Reviewed by Jim Horton

Law and Authority was published one hundred years ago. The exact date is unknown, but the pamphlet was deposited at the British Library on 28 October 1922, two days after parliament had been dissolved following a Tory rebellion which had ousted Lloyd George’s coalition government after years of social and industrial unrest.

Three years earlier, in October 1919, Montague and Mabel Channell and their five young children were made homeless. On the day of their eviction the whole family paraded Fleet Street with a placard highlighting their plight, a photo of which featured on the back page of the Daily Herald, a socialist newspaper edited by George Lansbury.

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The nuclear threat in the new era

For over seventy years the major world powers have had the capacity to wipe out humanity in a nuclear conflagration. So what were the factors that held them back from nuclear war in the past? And do they still apply in the new period in world relations that has opened up with the Russian invasion of Ukraine? CLIVE HEEMSKERK contributes to the debate.

The tenth five-yearly review conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held in New York this August, opened to a sombre warning from the secretary general of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres.

Speaking of the most perilous situation since the cold war, he told the assembled representatives of the 191 UN member states who are signatories to the NPT that the world could be “just one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”.

“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far”, Guterres went on, but “luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict”.

Such comments will deepen the understandable fears about the future of the planet, of young people in particular. To the threat of catastrophic climate change is added the risk of nuclear accidents – dramatized by the recent events around the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine – and premonitions of nuclear war.

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The class war in Britain

The September meeting of the Socialist Party’s national committee discussed many facets of the class struggle gathering pace in Britain. Here we reproduce edited extracts on the monarchy, strike tactics and the Enough is Enough campaign from the introduction to the discussion made by the Socialist Party general secretary, HANNAH SELL.

For a moment the rising tide of class struggle in Britain was interrupted by the period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth. Long planned by the ruling class, Operation London Bridge deluged the country in a tsunami of media coverage celebrating the monarchy. The aim of the capitalist establishment has undoubtedly been to create the same level of support for King Charles III as existed for his mother.

It is already clear that this will not succeed. A large part of the continued relative popularity of the monarchy was tied to the Queen, who over seventy years mainly managed to maintain the illusion that she was ‘above’ politics, and was associated with growth in working and middle-class living standards in the first decades of her reign.

However, while the monarchy has remained more popular than other institutions of British capitalism, support for it had already been hollowed out over recent decades. The latest figures from the National Centre for Social Research show the number who think it is ‘very’ or ‘quite important’ to have a monarchy has fallen to 55%, below 60% for the first time. At the same time their polling showed the highest ever level of support for the abolition of the monarchy at 25%; and at 31% among young people.

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Gorbachev: accidental architect of world change

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader who died this August, left a truly historical legacy. Aiming to reform bureaucratic rule he helped unleash forces that led to the complete collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe. In an article first published in the March 2018 edition of Socialism Today (Issue No.216), PETER TAAFFE reviews a comprehensive study of Gorbachev’s life.

Gorbachev: His Life and Times

By William Taubman

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2017, £25

Mikhail Gorbachev was the gateman for the capitalist counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union (USSR) which liquidated the last elements of the planned economy, albeit managed and controlled by a bureaucratic, privileged elite. This resulted in an unprecedented collapse of the productive forces – science, technique and the organisation of labour – and, with this, the living standards of the masses in Russia and the other republics. Indeed, the economic catastrophe of Russia, the 15 republics of the former USSR, and Eastern Europe was greater than the capitalist crash and depression of the 1930s.

At the same time, it allowed the world capitalist class to conduct an unprecedented ideological campaign against the ideas of ‘socialism’, of collectivism and an alternative to the selfish profit-driven system. However, Gorbachev did not consciously set out to achieve this end, as this new biography makes clear. It was the consequence of his and others’ attempt at ‘reform’ from the top which unleashed forces from below he could not control and ended in the demise of the system they represented. We lived through the events recounted and some of our comrades, such as Clare Doyle and Rob Jones, witnessed them first hand, participating in some in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow respectively.

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