After the Labour Party national executive committee voted 22-12 to ban Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate in the next general election, HANNAH SELL looks at the fight for a new mass workers’ party and contrasts the approach of the Socialist Party with others on the left.
The rise and now the dramatic fall of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party opens up a qualitatively new terrain. Discussions on how the workers’ movement can have a political voice are set to intensify.
This is not a new debate. It has ebbed and flowed, in different forms, ever since Tony Blair began the process of transforming the Labour Party into ‘New Labour’ over 30 years ago. In 2004 the Fire Brigades Union disaffiliated from Labour, following its national strike against a pay offer overseen by Tony Blair’s New Labour government. Also in 2004 the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers’ union, whose predecessor union was central to Labour’s foundation, was summarily expelled by the Labour Party executive for the ‘crime’ of some of its branches backing non-Labour socialist candidates.
Nonetheless, despite huge discontent, the majority of trade unions maintained their Labour affiliation throughout the Blair years, and no new mass trade-union based party came into existence then or afterwards. This is used by some as an argument that the trade unions’ relationship with Labour is immutable and unchangeable. But this is negated by reality. Substantial and rapid shifts have taken place over recent decades, and much greater changes are likely in the coming years. The ground is being prepared for a new political upsurge, which the lessons of the last period could potentially lift onto a higher level than Corbynism.
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Rishi Sunak has declared that stopping small boats is one of his top priorities. With that stated end, the Tories’ Illegal Migration Bill is currently going through parliament. Supposedly the threat of deportation to a third country like Rwanda and making life unbearable for refugees who arrive in this country by ‘illegal’ means, will deter would-be migrants from coming to Britain. In reality, this vicious legislation has more to do with stopping the Tories loss of electoral support.
Britain is facing multiple crises, and an acute cost-of-living crisis and pay stagnation are further worsening the situation for working-class people. The Tories’ policies of privatisation and profit for big business and the super-rich will not provide a solution to these problems. The party itself is in deep crisis. Sunak is unlikely to reach his other ‘priorities’ so is looking to be seen to ‘get things done’ over immigration in order to divert attention from the Tories’ economic failings, and shore up their haemorrhaging support in the ‘red wall’ seats in particular. He hopes that the controversy over the Illegal Migration Bill, even if it’s not actually implemented at scale, will galvanise political support and unite his party behind him.
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Operation Chiffon: The Secret Story of MI5 and MI6 and the Road to Peace in Ireland by Peter Taylor – a book and a BBC documentary – examines secret links between British governments and the Provisional IRA leading up to the so-called ‘peace process’ and the Good Friday Agreement.
In late November 1993, the Observer newspaper published a story that exposed the links between John Major’s Tory government and the IRA, which caused an outrage from right-wing politicians and sections of the British media. Previously, Major told MPs that it would “turn my stomach to sit down and talk” to the IRA. However, Peter Taylor, a veteran author and documentary maker on the Troubles, shows that secret communications, on and off, often through intermediaries, had taken place over decades.
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It is no news that former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), was declared the winner of the presidential election held on 25 February. However, it is instructive that a whopping 63% of the few who chose to vote cast their vote against him.
Tinubu had about 8.8 million votes, 37% of the total cast. Only 27% of registered voters turned out, a sharp decline from 35% in 2019, and the lowest in the Fourth Republic’s history. This means that Tinubu was elected by less than 10% of those who have a Permanent Voters’ Card. Essentially, Tinubu will rule with an abjectly minority government which can, sooner or later, be faced with crises and mass opposition.
The low turnout shows mass disenchantment with the electoral process. Even in Anambra, the home state of Peter Obi – who was presented as the best among the capitalist candidates in the local and international media, and won support from sections of urban youth and middle-class people – the turnout was 24%.
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Millions of workers have been on strike and taken to the streets in France to oppose President Macron’s attempt to increase the pension age from 62 to 64. Even though the Constitutional Court has backed Macron’s imposition of the change using Article 49.3 to bypass parliament, strikes and protests are continuing.
Below we print an eye-witness account of one of the biggest demonstrations in Paris; an edited extract (on page 18) from the special bulletin distributed during the 23 March strike by Gauche Révolutionnaire (GR), French section of the Committee for a Workers’ International; and, on page 19, extracts from the perspectives document prepared for discussion at the recent GR congress.
Over a million workers and young people protested in cities and towns across France on 23 March. This enormous day of action was provoked by the latest stage in the government’s campaign against pension rights, and especially its use of undemocratic constitutional powers like Article 49.3 to force measures through against parliamentary and public opposition.
President Emmanuel Macron’s unprecedented TV appearance the day before poured more fuel on the flames. His prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, had just survived two no-confidence motions by the skin of her teeth, the first by just nine votes. Macron made no pretence of an attempt to conciliate. Rather, it was a flat insistence that the counter-reform will go through come hell or high water, no matter who opposes or how.
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The Cultural Revolution – a period that is generally considered to have spanned the ten years from 1966 to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 – is one of the most confusing and misunderstood periods of recent Chinese history. Yet, as Guardian journalist Tania Branigan writes in Red Memory, its shadow still hangs over China today. CHRISTINE THOMAS delves below surface impressionism to draw out what really happened during those tumultuous events.
Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution
By Tania Branigan
Published by Faber, 2023, £18.00
At the time that the Cultural Revolution was unfolding, some on the left internationally viewed it as a genuine revolutionary mass movement from below against bureaucratism. Mao was even hailed as an ‘unconscious Trotskyist’. Retrospective narratives like Branigan’s, which is mainly based on personal testimony, tend to concentrate on detailing and conveying the often seemingly random terror, brutality and destruction – in which up to two million people are thought to have died and 36 million persecuted – but with scant analysis of the factors underpinning and motivating what actually took place.
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By Soma Sara
Published by Simon and Schuster, 2022, £9.99
Reviewed by Helen Pattison
From the National Science Foundation, which recently commissioned a report into sexual harassment at their Antarctic research station; to the World Health Organisation’s three-year strategy aimed at driving “systematic change to tackle sexual misconduct” by its own personnel and partners; to #MeToo in Hollywood; to the London Fire Brigade. Clearly sexual harassment is everywhere, in all corners of society, affecting people in all walks of life, on a huge scale.
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This year has seen three stage productions based on important events in the East End of London and peopled with pioneers of the labour movement, suffragettes, Jews, and fascists. CLARE DOYLE reviews them.
Vodka with Stalin
The first was the heart-rending, if initially amusing, tale of a young Jewish woman drawn to the class struggle in the early days of the twentieth century. Rose Cohen grew up in East London’s Whitechapel in a family of Jewish refugees from Tsarist pogroms in Poland. She was active in Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes and was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The play shows her courted by Communist Party leader, Harry Pollitt, and, with him, meeting various Labour pioneers, including Keir Hardie.
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Amid the fanfare accompanying the announcement of the ‘Windsor Framework’ agreement between prime minister Rishi Sunak and the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, a remarkable interview on the BBC’s Newsnight programme with the Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker (27 February) revealed the high stakes at play for the UK ruling class – and their European counter-parts too – in trying to contain the ongoing combustible contradictions created by British capitalism’s exit three years ago from the European Union bosses’ club.
Baker was a central figure in the campaign to unseat Theresa May as Tory leader from 2018-19 for her not too dissimilar attempt then at a ‘soft Brexit’. Now, his voice shaking and on the verge of tears, the self-styled ‘hard man of Brexit’ appealed “for people to just be sensible and grown up”. Tory MPs, and the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), should accept the deal to modify the workings of the Northern Ireland Protocol aspect of the 2020 UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement or face, as he saw it, the only alternative of “chaos”.
“We have got to move beyond this awful populism we’ve suffered” – said the former chair of the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs; founder of the climate change-sceptical Net Zero Scrutiny and conspiracy-feeding Covid Recovery Groups; member of the ‘small-state’ Conservative Way Forward faction; and opponent of the Same Sex Couples Marriage Act of 2013. And without even a hint of irony!
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Following the Socialist Party’s successful national congress, HANNAH SELL draws out some of the key issues that were discussed, particularly on the character of the developing waves of strike action, and also on the Socialist Party’s call for a new mass workers’ party.
The Socialist Party’s 2023 national congress took place from 25-27 February in London. Around 300 delegates and visitors attended. Longstanding Socialist Party campaigners were joined by many more recent recruits, some representing new branches of the party. There was a confident and combative mood, and agreement on the central political perspectives and organisational tasks facing the party. The main political statement presented by the executive committee (see Socialism Today issue No.264) was agreed with only one small amendment.
The high level of general agreement does not mean, however, that the congress resembled a ‘rubber stamp’. The discussions were very rich and helped to deepen the whole party’s understanding of perspectives for the next period and, above all, the role our party can play. In addition to the discussion on political perspectives for Britain, and a shorter discussion on the world situation, there were also important discussions on tasks for Marxists in the trade unions, the demand for a new mass workers’ party and preparing for the general election, fighting for socialist ideas among students, the role of party publications, plus sessions on finance and developing ‘party-builders’ in every branch.
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