Defend the Jobstown protesters!

Those arrested for their participation in the protest against Tánaiste Joan Burton in Jobstown last November, including Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) TD Paul Murphy, are now officially going to trial (Irish Times 2 November https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/district-court/paul-murphy-to-face-jury-trial-accused-of-false-imprisonment-of-joan-burton-1.2414333), most of them facing a potential life sentence for the charge of “false imprisonment”.

It is to be hoped that no jury will decide that delaying Joan Burton in her car for around 3 hours could possibly amount to “false imprisonment” and likewise that the charges of “violent disorder” some are also facing will be thrown out.

Opposing this outrageous attack on the right to protest would seem a fairly straightforward issue for the anti-water charges movement and the wider workers’ movement. However I worry that this elementary solidarity will be neglected in the face of the recent vitriol being heaped on the AAA over their refusal to guarantee support to a government involving any party who signed up to the Right2Change policy document (concretely this means Sinn Féin).I hope that is not the case.

The AAA have based their campaign around the charge of “political policing”, losing sight of the fact that the Gardai are always political, and it is their role to defend the state and ruling class from threat. Whatever political differences we have within the anti-water charges movement we should recognise that these trials are an attack on the right to stage effective political protests. If they take place without significant opposition, up to and including mass protests disrupting the court process, let alone if there are convictions on these bogus charges, it will be a defeat for us all.

An injury to one is an injury to all!


No electoral support to pro-capitalist Sinn Féin!

It was formally announced yesterday that Sinn Féin has signed up to the Right2Change policy document and is calling on all other “left” parties and independents to enter a voting pact with them.


This exposes Right2Change as just a cover for giving political support to Sinn Féin – as this blog writer has been saying right from the very beginning of Right2Water’s forays into political policy which eventually became formalised in Right2Change.

Sinn Féin, as the largest political party participating in the Right2Water steering committee, played a decisive role in keeping Right2Water within the framework of bourgeois respectability by it not calling for non-payment of the water charges or for breaking the law by physically opposing water meter installations despite both having mass support within the tens of thousands of activists in the anti-water charges movement. That bourgeois political influence, aided and abetted by the trade union public leaders of Right2Water, is now being expressed electorally.

No socialist or working class militant worthy of the name can give political support to any electoral bloc that calls for votes to pro-capitalist Sinn Féin – to do so would be a class betrayal.

It is quite common in Ireland to describe Sinn Fein as part of the “left”. The truth is they are a pro-capitalist party projecting a fake caring face for purely electoral reasons.

Anyone doubting that Sinn Féin are a pro-capitalist party just has to read their pre-budget statement – http://www.sinnfein.ie/files/2015/Pre-Budget_October2015.pdf

Especially Part 3 “To pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation” which starts with a long section titled “Supporting and encouraging business”.


Proletarian Internationalism and the Struggle against Fortress Europe

First published on the web – http://bolshevik.org/statements/ibt_20151012_fortress_europe.html

Defend refugees against terror and deportation!
Smash racist and fascist mobilizations!

Translation of “Proletarischer Internationalismus und der Kampf gegen die Festung Europa,” first published in German in September 2015

The recent wave of racist violence against refugee shelters and the increase in right-wing anti-refugee mobilizations across Germany require a response by revolutionaries. That police in Heidenau in Saxony stood idly by as a racist mob went on the rampage for days, and only exercised their monopoly of force when anti-racist activists began to demonstrate, says a lot about the role of the capitalist state and police. Revolutionaries have no faith that the capitalist state will protect refugees against witch hunts, harassment and pogroms. The proposals to segregate refugees along ethnic lines made by Bodo Ramelow, Left Party premier of Thuringia, after rioting in overcrowded accommodation, demonstrate the impotence of the Left Party in resisting state racism. Many Left Party members and activists take part in anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrations, but wherever their party holds power, whether directly or in a coalition, it has acted as part of the state apparatus of repression and deportation.

The 50-60 million refugees forced to search for a country of refuge in recent years are victims of the imperialist world order. Global exploitation and oppression by the imperialist powers and their local proxies (dictators and terrorist militias), and the conflicts they deliberately foment, are the cause of this tragedy. Debate has been triggered by mass drowning of people from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia seeking a better life in Europe or Australia, as well as the rising number of refugees who, despite everything, somehow manage to make it to their destination. Marxists must be able to provide a revolutionary political analysis of these events and participate in the mobilization of international working-class solidarity in the fight against Fortress Europe.

A revolutionary answer to the refugee issue must be multi-layered. In addition to openly challenging Fortress Europe both internally and at its borders, it is necessary to struggle against racist sentiments within the working class that are fueled by the bourgeoisie and its political agents in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the trade-union leadership. Active proletarian solidarity with refugees should also be organized, recognizing that the majority are part of the global working class. Only by combining deeds with words can we develop an awareness that the problem is predatory capitalism and its subjugation of the world, not the people who are seeking to escape persecution, oppression and poverty.

The German bourgeoisie is split several ways on this issue. Pro-refugee liberals and Christians make moral appeals for responding to the suffering of the refugees. They argue that Europe is rich and we must use every legal avenue to reduce the obstacles in the way of those seeking shelter. They make much of the supposedly open and tolerant values of Europe, as well as its history of refugees and deportations, particularly following World War II. Another section of the bourgeoisie sees immigrants primarily as cheap material for exploitation and opposes the racist mobilizations of right-wing populists and fascists for that reason. Dead or wounded refugees are simply bad for business.

The misanthropic propaganda of the right-wing populists and fascists attempts to tap into racist attitudes in backward sections of the working class, resulting in repeated attacks on refugee housing reminiscent of the pogroms of the 1990s. The names of Heidenau and Nauen are now known well beyond the borders of Saxony. These events come as no surprise given the popularity of the (recently split) Pegida movement and the large vote for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) in recent elections. Lutz Bachmann, Pegida’s leader, who led a racist mob attack on refugee supporters in Freital in Saxony, was only acting out the logic of his political program. Groups like AfD are supported by a section of capitalists who find it convenient to blame refugees for the low wages, unemployment and social decline their own policies have created. Bavaria’s governing party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has sought to promote racist sentiment in the working class with CSU chief Horst Seehofer’s claims that the asylum system is widely abused. While at present only a small section of the German ruling class supports the far right, the danger posed should not be underestimated. Revolutionaries must actively resist the fascists and right-wing populists and protect refugees and their homes.

Fortress Europe

The racist Fortress Europe project, based on the use of blockades and border security measures to prevent as many refugees as possible from entering Europe, is worth billions to the defense and security industries waging this grim war. The recent debate over EU military units destroying vessels that might be used by refugees to cross the Mediterranean addressed only one of many reactionary proposals. Billions of euros are being spent on attempts to reinforce the EU’s borders on land, sea and in the air. Because there is no legal way for refugees to apply for asylum in Europe from their home country, the price for getting into the EU is high, with refugees and routes into Europe turned into commodities. The people smugglers are already seen as the only realistic way for refugees to get to Europe and the higher the fences and more militarized the borders become, the more refugees will be forced to rely on the traffickers. The risks are extremely high – during the past 15 years over 23,000 people have died attempting to make the journey, according to the Migrant Files project.

The role of Frontex

The creation of Fortress Europe through systematic militarization of the borders is an ongoing process, led by Frontex, an EU agency headquartered in Warsaw. In an effort to create a common EU border policy, Frontex provides data and analysis and assigns individual nation states responsibility for particular EU border security measures. Revolutionaries call for the destruction of Frontex, a racist institution which cannot be reformed.

The level of cynicism involved in EU border security was displayed in the discussions of summer 2014 regarding Mare Nostrum – an operation in which the Italian navy rescued more than 140,000 people from the sea. When the EU refused to meet the Italian government’s request for funding, the operation was transferred to Frontex – and renamed Frontex Plus – without any statutory authority to carry out sea rescue missions.

Pull Back, Push Back: European values in border security policy

The following accurately describes the situation on the EU’s external frontier prior to the recent headlines about drowned refugees:

“NGOs and other organizations have however reported for years cases where military vessels or the coast guard intercept refugee boats at sea, and so prevent the people on board entering Europe. At times this is done through the use of armed force, at others by hauling the boats back into waters that do not belong to the EU. Such operations are called Push Backs – and they can end fatally.”
—Schiffbruch, by W. Grenz, J. Lehmann and S. Keßler, p. 86 [our translation]

“Push Backs” are integral to racist Fortress Europe. Italy, Greece and Spain all participate, despite it being contrary to EU law. On land routes, refugees arriving in Bulgaria and Greece from Turkey are frequently forced to turn back. Spanish guards attack anyone attempting to climb over the border fences at Ceuta and Melilla with rubber bullets and batons. Injuries and deaths are an inevitable part of the process. This unrestrained state violence is designed to deter those seeking refuge in Europe.

“Pull Back” is a term for collaboration between transit countries and EU authorities. Under Pull Back arrangements, EU member states request that these “third countries” detain refugees on their territory. This policy is underpinned by so-called readmission agreements with the countries concerned.

“There is no official overview of which individual EU member states have concluded such agreements with which third countries. Some of the texts are not even officially published. Each EU country can act as it pleases on this issue.”
ibid, p. 93 [our translation]

The distribution of refugees in Europe

Within the EU there is much dispute over how refugees are distributed between the member nations. The Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy are not happy with the existing arrangements, although this is not motivated by concerns over the right of refugees to enter or for their safety. EU policy is characterized by racist, rightist slogans, with refugees depicted as burdens and expenses, and the right to asylum undermined by mass deportations and expedited hearings.

The EU’s Schengen Agreement permits EU citizens to move freely and to live anywhere in the European Union. In contrast, under the Dublin Agreement, refugees may only stay in the country where they filed for asylum. Debates over accommodation, the administrative load and the treatment of refugees while their applications are processed are contaminated by cynicism, racism and attacks on democratic rights.

Hungary’s reactionary government, cheered on by racist groups in Germany, has erected a fence to block the oncoming wave of refugees. Revelations of the mistreatment of refugees by Hungarian police have been used to divert attention from similar actions by German federal police in Hanover. This exposes the bogus claims by the ruling class about how much Germany is doing for the refugees. Private security companies, well known in some parts of Germany for employing Nazis and racists, are assigned to protect refugee housing. It is unfortunately not surprising that photos and reports of continuing abuse of refugees have become commonplace.

Many refugees originate in countries shattered by crisis and war and are in need of psychological support. But German authorities, wielding the restrictive Asylum Seekers Benefits Act, refuse to provide such urgently needed help. Penny-pinching restrictions also limit the treatment of physical illnesses.

Brain drain as imperialist strategy

The repeated calls for “highly skilled migrants” and the use of this criterion to select refugees are hypocritical and racist. Most refugees stuck in agonizingly long asylum processes are unable to work. Even if an asylum seeker is offered a job, it is first necessary to check that no EU citizens or previously approved refugees want the position. Brain drain – imperialist countries skimming off workers who earned their qualifications elsewhere – undermines the countries of origin and parallels the exploitative acquisition of raw materials.

Refugee protests

Refugees have begun to resist this systematic harassment, raising their voices and staging political protests. In Berlin, the occupation of public squares has raised awareness. In Hamburg, tens of thousands have gone onto the streets in solidarity with “Lampedusa in Hamburg,” a group fighting for a future for migrants free of arbitrary bureaucracy, racist police street checks and the whole inhumane asylum process.

Since early 2015, Hamburg’s SPD-dominated Senate has avoided addressing the crisis, joined by the Greens, despite some involvement in anti-racist and refugee protests. The SPD’s feigned sympathy for refugees is clearly aimed only at restoring Germany’s reputation from the damage done by imperialist diktats to Greece.

Revolutionaries stand in solidarity with the refugees. The social power of the working class is key in the struggle against Fortress Europe. International solidarity not only means support to global imperialism’s victims in the abstract, but also concrete assistance in Germany to those who have fled here. Revolutionaries should counter attempts by German capital to exploit refugees as cheap labor through recruiting them into the trade-union movement. This is the only way to prevent a “race to the bottom” in which refugees are blamed by local workers for falling wages and unemployment.

We stand for the abolition of all racist immigration laws and the special procedures for non-EU citizens. Racism and nationalism are ideological pillars which sustain capitalism and poisons which divide and cripple the global working class.

Fortress Europe must be destroyed from within. It safeguards the imperialist interests of Europe’s capitalist rulers. A revolutionary internationalist workers’ movement, along with each of its national components, must demonstrate to the victims of capitalist exploitation within and without the walls of the fortress that they have common interests. The suffering inflicted on refugees on a daily basis can ultimately only be ended by the overthrow of the entire global capitalist system.


Spoil Your Ballot! Fake Trotskyists & Social Democrats in Canadian Election

First published – http://bolshevik.org/statements/ibt_20151011_2015_canadian_election.html

The following is an edited excerpt from a presentation on Marxist electoral tactics given by an IBT supporter at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, on 25 September 2015.

In Canada, the parliamentary election on 19 October might possibly produce the first-ever NDP [New Democratic Party] federal government. The reasons for this opening for Canada’s reformist labor party are well known. The Conservative government has been tarred by the Senate corruption scandal, opposition to Bill C51 [draconian security state legislation], the Syrian refugee crisis resulting from imperialist intervention, an economic recession and growing popular sentiment that it is time to be rid of Stephen Harper. All of this has helped the NDP, as has the apparent inability of the Bloc Québécois (once again under Gilles Duceppe) to bolster the sagging sovereigntist movement and win back its former supporters who have gone over to the NDP. Until recently, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had not been able to compete with Tom Mulcair’s NDP as the perceived “government in waiting.”

Opinion polls are showing that the most likely outcome of the election will be that no party wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons. So we may be looking at another Conservative minority government, or an NDP or Liberal minority government. And there is the possibility of a coalition NDP-Liberal government. Trudeau has ruled out a formal coalition, but the NDP leadership has been quite explicit about its willingness to get in bed with the Liberals:

“Coalition talk was revived this week by New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who has promoted the notion before – but now, his party seems to be the one in a position of strength because it is ahead in opinion polls. And the NDP’s Leader, Thomas Mulcair, suggested he is open to the idea, if only Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal Leader, would consider it.
“‘We’ve always worked with others in the past, but every time I’ve raised this prospect with Justin Trudeau, he’s slammed the door on it,’ he told reporters in Amherstburg, Ont. ‘All you have to do is remember that in 2008, we were willing to make Stéphane Dion prime minister of Canada. And they shut the door on that, and we’ve had Stephen Harper for another seven years.’”
Globe and Mail, 23 July 2015

The NDP, despite its rightwing pro-capitalist program, is organically connected to the labor movement through the trade-union bureaucracy. It is, in Leninist terms, a bourgeois workers’ party. Critical support is therefore a conceivable tactic. A precondition for even considering critical support for the NDP would be that it rejected any sort of coalition with the Liberals (or the bourgeois Green Party).

And here we are talking only about what would be in the realm of Marxist principle, not what would actually be a smart tactic at this conjuncture. Even if Mulcair were to renounce his coalitionist appetites, calling for votes for the NDP today would make little sense, as it is not even pretending to defend the interests of the working class. Instead, it appeals to “middle-class Canadians,” promises tax cuts for small businesses and “balanced budgets,” which will inevitably be achieved by cuts to social programs. There are very few illusions to be dispelled about the NDP’s willingness to take on the capitalists. Workers are well aware (because Mulcair is telling them) that an NDP government would be committed to maintaining the bourgeois status quo.

Yet groups like Socialist Action (SA), while lamenting Mulcair’s eagerness for a coalition with the Liberals, are, as always, calling for a vote to the NDP. SA, which has been playing around inside the NDP for decades, argues:

“The merit of fighting for an NDP government is not diminished by the pro-capitalist outlook of its leaders because the prospects for socialism depend on the class struggle, not on the low political horizons and the narrow career ambitions of party officials.”

. . .
“An NDP victory will raise the confidence of working people to assert their demands. It will alter the relationship of class forces to the disadvantage of Capital and in favour of the popular majority.”
—“Vote NDP – without illusions,” undated leaflet distributed at Labour Day rally, 7 September 2015

This boils down to claiming that, if the NDP, a bourgeois workers’ party, gets to run the capitalist government, “the prospects for socialism” will somehow automatically be enhanced and “the confidence of working people” will be raised. This wishful thinking reflects a passive, objectivist approach to politics that abdicates the responsibility to devise meaningful tactics that advance a revolutionary program on the grounds that, whatever the situation, some inexorable objective historical process will tend to move things to the left.

Fightback, Canadian section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), is also engaged in promoting the NDP. While formally opposing Mulcair’s willingness to enter a coalition with the Liberals, Fightback – which headlined the September 2015 issue of its newspaper “Time to dump the Tories!” – declares that “the most basic way to defeat Harper, and corporate Canada, in this election is to vote NDP.” In this electoralist fantasy “corporate Canada” (i.e., the capitalist class) can be defeated by electing the NDP with a leader who, as Fightback acknowledges, has praised Margaret Thatcher. Fightback’s position derives from the IMT’s conception, displayed in every country in which it operates, that “pressure from the workers” will turn political lead into gold:

“Only a mass movement of workers and youth can counteract the opposition of the bosses and ensure that the positive reforms in the NDP platform are implemented. This movement must necessarily reach both inside and outside the NDP, with the unions playing an important role. Only a mass movement can stop the (potential) NDP government from capitulating to corporate interests and attacking the public sector and the wider working class like Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government.”

The Communist Party of Canada (CP) is also running candidates in the election. The CP has no popular base, and its election platform is riddled with reformist nationalism, with calls to “Adopt an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament,” “Keep Industrial Jobs in Canada,” and “Ensure Canada’s food sovereignty” (2015 election platform). These reformists proclaim: “Winning this progressive alternative starts with dumping the Conservatives. Stephen Harper’s pro-war, pro-corporate austerity agenda has been a disaster for Canada’s sovereignty” (election statement, 9 August 2015).

In the current federal election, there is no one to vote for – the best thing for workers to do is spoil their ballots. This is not the same as a “boycott” of bourgeois elections-if there were any party that even roughly approximated a clear class-struggle alternative, it would be entirely possible to extend critical support. But this time, given the options, the only choice for workers is to spoil their ballots.

* * *

In the discussion following the presentation, a local candidate for the Marxist-Leninist Party (the electoral front of the Communist Party of Canada [Marxist-Leninist]) distributed a printed statement to the audience. In his summary, the IBT speaker cited the following bits of reformist-nationalist drivel from the hand-out as evidence of why not to vote for this ex-Maoist sect:

“Measures must be taken to restrict monopoly right so that the country is put on a path of nation-building..Sovereign decision making over the economy has to be restored.”

. . .
“The annexation of Canada into the United States of North American Monopolies must be halted. Canada’s armed forces must play their role to defend the country, not threaten and attack other nations.”
—Democratic Renewal, undated leaflet “Authorized by the Official Agent of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada”


Labourism Rebooted – Jeremy Corbyn & class-struggle politics

First published – http://bolshevik.org/statements/ibt_20150928_labourism_rebooted.html

Labourism Rebooted

Jeremy Corbyn & class-struggle politics

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London, Liverpool and Glasgow on 20 June in defiance of the recently elected Tory government, displaying an anger that has not been seen on the streets for many years. Just a few days earlier, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn had surprised supporters and critics alike by gaining enough nominations for a place on the ballot for leader of the Labour Party. The explosion of support for Corbyn that followed was unanticipated, providing a vehicle for simmering anger and frustration. A week after his resounding victory on 12 September, the Tories pushed through legislation to hobble the legal ability of trade unions to take effective strike action and slashed the tax credits which many lower income families, in and out of work, rely on to survive.

Labour Party membership swelled during the leadership race, and tens of thousands more have joined since Corbyn’s election. The militancy of the June demonstrations, with no follow-up plans offered by the organisers, has been channelled in the direction of parliamentary social democracy. While his candidacy filled a vacuum left by decades of New Labour betrayals, Corbyn’s politics ensure that those who hoped for a real break from Labour’s history of consistent accommodation to the ruling class will be bitterly disappointed.

We pointed to Labour’s contradictory class character in a statement published prior to the May general election:

‘Marxists recognise that Labour’s continuing connection to the trade unions means that it remains a bourgeois workers party. In circumstances when such a party turns to the left and projects a willingness to fight for the rights of the poor and exploited, revolutionaries could consider offering ‘critical support’ – calling for a vote to Labour in order to exploit the contradictions between the illusions and hopes of its working-class base and its pro-capitalist programme.’
—‘Spoil your ballot! No choice for workers in 2015!’

Corbyn’s calls for tax reform, renationalisation of the railways, a programme of house building and rent control, increased funding for the NHS, a ban on zero-hour contracts and increased access to childcare and education are well within the historic mainstream of Labour Party policy. They seem radical only in the context of how far two decades of neoliberal Blairism has pushed the party to the right. The late Tony Benn, for example, the long-time leader of the Labour left who almost won the post of deputy leader in 1981, clearly opposed NATO (ie, the main military alliance of British imperialism), a question on which Corbyn hedges. And despite his Labour loyalism, Corbyn has also indicated openness to work in some sort of cross-class coalition with the bourgeois Scottish National Party or Greens.

Corbyn’s campaign and prominence as leader bring the contradictions of Labour further into the open and put the question of what sort of politics are necessary to advance the interests of working people. Class politics are once again being discussed in the mainstream media – usually in the context of ridiculous attempts to paint Corbyn as a dangerous radical, which he most certainly is not. Rather, Corbyn’s role and aspiration is to restore the image of the Labour Party as a credible alternative to capitalist rule, when in fact it has an unblemished record of loyally supporting the British state, at home and abroad, on every important issue.

Defy the anti-union laws!

Arguments that the groundswell of support for Corbyn constitutes the long-awaited mass movement against austerity are founded rather more on hope than on analysis. Although Labour branches at ward and constituency level are experiencing increased attendance as well as a rise in membership, this is not matched by corresponding workplace militancy.

When railworkers on London Underground and the national network took strike action during the leadership campaign Corbyn was photographed visiting picket lines and generally expressed support for the right to strike, but at no point has he advocated serious strike actions (ie, hitting the bourgeoisie where it hurts) as a strategic path for defeating austerity. While he calls for the repeal of the Tory anti-union laws (retained by the Blair/Brown government for 13 years) and opposed the current even more draconian Trade Union Bill, Corbyn has never encouraged workers to defy these laws – an absolute necessity in order to carry out effective strikes.

In a largely hostile episode of the BBC’s Panorama shown shortly before his election, Corbyn was pushed to comment on whether he supported unions breaking the law and he replied hypothetically that ‘There are ‘circumstances where people legitimately defy the law. I fully understand that and I would support them in doing that.’ This is a testament to growing pressure from the ranks for unions to actively resist the Tory legislation, reflected in increased left talk on this issue from Len McCluskey, head of Unite. Speaking to the TUC Congress the day after the Tory’s Trade Union Bill passed its first reading, Corbyn posed the issue as one of civil liberties rather than an overt class attack on workers, and promised to repeal the laws in five years’ time:

‘When we have been elected with a majority in 2020, we are going to repeal this Bill and replace it with a workers’ rights agenda and something decent and proper for the future.
‘…. by calling into question the right of free association of trade unions they are actually in contravention, in my view, of Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.… We have got to fight this Bill all the way, because if they get it through it’s a damage to civil liberties and for everybody in our society.’
Labour List, 15 September 2015

Rather than waiting for Corbyn to come and save the day in parliament five years from now, the union movement must destroy this legislation with industrial action as the first step to overturning the entire Tory/Blairite austerity programme.

Most of the major trade unions are still affiliated to the Labour Party, providing substantial funding and constantly encouraging their members to vote Labour. The Blairite right wing of the party would like to weaken this influence and break the contradiction at the heart of Labour, turning it into something more akin to the US Democrats. In response to Labour’s record of serving the bosses, some smaller left-wing unions such as the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) began distancing themselves from the party, but their support to Corbyn’s campaign has brought them back in line with the Labour-backing mainstream unions such as Unison and Unite. For these latter unions, endorsing Corbyn was a matter of simple self-preservation, given the dissatisfaction of the ranks. For the RMT and FBU, he appeared to represent what they had wanted all along – a shift to the left within the party. The membership, who have seen little serious resistance to austerity from their unions, are hoping the new Labour leader will step into the breach.

Corbyn’s first move on being elected – a speech at a mass demonstration in support of refugees – was a sharp counterpoint to David Cameron’s grudging offer to take in a mere 20,000 refugees over five years, while negotiating with French authorities to build bigger security fences at Calais and supporting efforts to militarise European Union borders. But Corbyn has really proposed remarkably little concrete policy. Socialists welcome refugees to Britain and advocate full citizenship rights for all who arrive, while consistently calling for the defeat of Britain, the U.S. and other imperialist powers whose military excursions in the Middle East precipitated this crisis in the first place – not, as Corbyn put it on Panorama, for an alternative policy that does not ‘put British troops in harm’s way’.

Labour loyalty

Corbyn is deeply loyal to the party, seeing Labour as the natural home of workers and the oppressed, despite all its betrayals. During the campaign he said that those who wanted to vote for him should only join Labour ‘if they are genuine supporters and become genuine members of the party’ (Guardian, 28 July 2015). While his selection of positions in the shadow cabinet indicate that he is consolidating key allies around him, such as shadow chancellor John McDonnell, it is also clear that he has attempted to build as broad a coalition as possible by including leadership rival Andy Burnham and retaining the posts of Hilary Benn and Lord Falconer, both of whom served under Blair.

It is evident that Corbyn will have to compromise if he wishes to retain his leadership. Already there are reports that shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was persuaded to remain in his post with assurances that the Trident nuclear weapons would not be scrapped or Britain withdrawn from NATO, despite Corbyn’s long-held opposition to both (Telegraph, 18 September 2015). Corbyn has been clear that he intends to operate strictly within the bounds of parliamentary legality. Like his Labour left allies he is comfortable with the existing British state which defends social privilege, exploitation and private ownership of the means of production. The Corbynites do not pretend to much more than wanting to establish a more equitable distribution of income.

In recent decades there has been no reason for socialists to advocate any sort of electoral support, however critical, for Labour, as working-class illusions in its socialist pretensions have worn increasingly thin. During this time we have advocated that unions and Labour activists should break with Labour in the process of building a party committed to really fighting for the interests of the working class. While Labour cannot and should not be ignored as a site of struggle, particularly when it periodically lurches to the left, the faults of the British left, in the main, lie in accommodation to Labourism, rather than too little engagement.

Most of the ostensibly revolutionary left launched itself with enthusiasm into Corbyn’s campaign, but this was little more than business as usual for many of these groups. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Workers Power, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), to name a few, have regularly called for votes to Labour through all the years of Blairism, votes to a party lead by those who Workers Power now denounce as ‘the careerists, the cowards, the traitors whose past crimes in government and present capitulation to austerity condemns them in the eyes of millions’ (Workers Power, 15 September 2015).

Workers Power is perhaps the most skilful of the auto-Labourites at putting a left face on class compromise and adaptation. While offering some pro-forma criticism of Corbyn’s overt reformism, they cast Corbyn as a potential threat to the ruling class:

‘The fact that Corbyn’s campaign has such support has unsettled the bourgeois establishment; its toleration for a government elected on Corbyn’s programme would be virtually nil.’
Workers Power, 29 July 2015)

They advocate that ‘all socialists should join the Labour Party, defend and promote Jeremy’s progressive demands, and work to extend and deepen these policies in a revolutionary socialist direction’ (Workers Power, 15 September 2015). In the extremely unlikely event that Labour on Corbyn’s watch does move left and dares to ‘extend and deepen’ his reformist programme, Workers Power anticipates ruling class resistance:

‘The great economic power of the capitalist class and the repressive power in the hands of its state cannot be successfully defied, let alone broken, by electoral mandates alone.
‘Only the huge numbers and organisations of the working class and the youth, rallying to our side any progressive sections of the middle class, can match and master the power of business and the state. The working class can win and exercise control over production, distribution and via the banks finance and the exchanges. We can organise mass self-defence against the state forces when they repress strikes and demonstrations, let alone when they threaten a coup, as they would undoubtedly do against a radical Labour government.’

Of course Corbyn and his friends in the Labour left would flatly oppose any talk of such measures. He wants to improve conditions for working people under capitalism and, like all left-talking social democrats, believes he can best do so through accommodation with the ruling class – he does not dream of attempting to ‘match and master’ them. Workers Power, in its excitement at Corbyn’s ascent, sketches out a scenario of virtual dual power via mass mobilisations and self-organisation, omitting the need fora revolutionary party:

‘By creating democratic bodies for mobilisation, councils of resistance at local and national level, by creating instruments of workers’ control of production and services, we can not only shorten the life of this Tory government. We can create the basis for a new type of government altogether: not just a parliamentary Labour government encircled by the institutions of capital, but a workers government determined to break the power of the bosses, the bankers and the generals for good.’

Labour Party loyalists of left and right will ensure that it cannot serve as any sort of revolutionary instrument, even in a period when the working class is intent on forming soviets. Breaking the power of the bosses requires the wholesale rejection of Labourism with its pro-imperialist reformism and deference to Britain’s parasitic elites. But instead of posing the necessity for a political break from Labourism, Workers Power is talking as if they really believe that, with enough left pressure, Corbyn and his crew of Labour Party devotees may somehow be capable of creating ‘a workers government determined to break the power of the bosses’.

While Corbyn’s rapid ascent reflects a real appetite for struggle among working people, his role, like other left-talking Labourites before him, is to channel and contain threats to the bosses, not to ‘break the[ir] power’. The role of Marxists therefore is not to celebrate Corbyn, but to expose the pro-capitalist logic of his politics and thus begin to prepare the ground for a future left-wing break from Labourism.

Class politics & contradictions

One group which has been caught particularly flat-footed by Corbyn’s surging popularity is the Socialist Party, which in the 1990s pronounced that Labour no longer had a significant working class connection and had been transformed into an outright capitalist formation, a change that ‘will not be easily reversed’ (Socialism Today, September 2015). This apparent metamorphosis coincided with the purge of supporters of the Militant Tendency (the Socialist Party’s predecessor) from their decades-long entry in the Labour Party. In order to switch strategy and stop voting Labour, they had to declare it a bourgeois formation. This is only the flip side of the view expressed by many ostensibly Trotskyist groups that because Labour has an organic connection to the mass organisations of the working class, it is therefore necessary to support it electorally. In both cases, this misses the conjunctural character of the Leninist tactic of critical support, which is as much about when and how to withdraw support as when to give it.

The Socialist Party has compared Corbyn to Bernie Sanders, the left-posturing candidate who is doing surprisingly well in the US Democratic presidential primaries, supported by their American co-thinkers in the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). Similarly, they equate Labour with the Democrats as ‘an out-and-out “pro-business” capitalist outfit’ (Socialist Party, 19 June 2015).

What the CWI in the US are entirely missing is the class line – the Democrats are simply one of two capitalist parties seeking to manage American imperialism. The Labour Party, because it remains organisationally separate from the British bourgeoisie, still represents, in deformed fashion, the principle upon which it was founded by the trade unions over a century ago – that workers need their own political party separate from those of the bosses. Sanders is nothing more than a left-talking bourgeois politician whose job is to keep American workers locked into supporting the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war.

Corbynmania also seems to have infected the normally insular and vitriolic Spartacist League, which has uncharacteristically ‘welcomed the Corbyn campaign’ for striking ‘a dramatic blow against the Blair project of severing the party’s historic links with the trade unions’ (Workers Hammer, Autumn 2015, no. 232). This requires a hasty reversal of their analysis, reasserted only a few months previously at their national conference that Labour ‘does not act like a classical social-democratic party. New Labour today is moribund as a reformist party of the working class’ (Workers Hammer, Summer 2015, no. 231). Although presenting a mild caveat that ‘While the demands posed by the Corbyn campaign are supportable, they cannot be achieved through old Labour parliamentarism’ ‘(Jeremy Corbyn: Tony Blair’s Nightmare’) and a pro-forma call for revolution, the Spartacist League appears to be so delighted with ‘a welcome upheaval in British political life’ that it does not want to spoil the mood by focusing too much on the limitations of Corbyn’s brand of overtly pro-capitalist reformism.

It would be foolish to deny that Corbyn’s meteoric rise reflects the social tensions generated by a growing polarisation of British society and a desire by a large section of the working class to strike out in a radically different direction from the Blairites. This is an important development and potentially sets in motion a process that could lead politically advanced sections of the working class to seriously engage with revolutionary ideas, and begin to break from the political straightjacket of social-democratic reformism. The elementary duty of Marxists at this moment is to point out that Corbyn’s project of advancing the interests of the victims of capitalism while rigidly adhering to the rulebook written by the exploiters is doomed to fail. The class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the working class is a zero sum game and to come out on top working people need to recognise that their interests are antithetical to those of the bosses. Corbyn preaches exactly the opposite.

The enthusiasm and conscious self-identification of the working class as a class with its own interests that have spontaneously surged up around the Corbyn campaign will soon be dissipated if contained within the framework of Labourite parliamentarism. Rather than wait five years in the hope that Corbyn might win an election, it is in the urgent and immediate interest of the workers’ movement to engage in mass industrial action to smash Cameron’s reactionary union-bashing legislation. Such a step, which is well within the realm of immediate possibility, would represent an important step in the direction of the working class acting for itself. Instead of prioritising such a perspective, most of Britain’s self-proclaimed revolutionary socialists are seeking to ride the Corbyn wave, hoping to push it a bit further to the left. Workers who have illusions in the possibilities of Corbyn’s left-wing Labourism can potentially be won to the understanding that what is necessary is an entirely different sort of political organisation – a party with a revolutionary programme that rejects social-democratic accommodation with capitalism, on the road to destroying capitalism itself.


Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Tory’s new anti-TU laws

Listen from just before 14 minutes of Corbyn’s address to the TUC earlier this week.

Passive parliamentarianism seems to be all he sees as being required.

“Trade unions are essential and valuable part of modern Britain. Six million people voluntarily join trade unions and I’m proud to be a trade unionist. That’s why we are going to fight this bill all the way and when we’ve been elected as a majority in 2020 we’re going to repeal this bill and replace it with a workers’ rights agenda and something decent and proper for the future.”

Most of the so-called “far-left” in Britain are fawning over this old-style soft-left social-democrat. But is this really the kind leadership our class needs in response to this draconian attack on workers’ rights to organise?

We need militant class struggle in Britain as the response to this attack not Corbyn’s demobilising “wait and vote for us in  years time”.


The Legacy of Leon Trotsky – Part 1

The following is the introduction to an important piece outlining the role of Leon Trotsky and the revolutionary Marxism he championed

The full Part 1 text is available on the IBT web site with parts 2 and 3 to follow shortly.



On 21 August 1940, Leon Trotsky succumbed to a massive head injury inflicted by a Stalinist assassin in Coyoacán, Mexico. One of the greatest revolutionary leaders in the modern era, Trotsky had risen from obscurity and persecution as a member of the underground socialist movement in the Tsarist Empire (imprisoned, banished to Siberia and forced into exile) to the height of power in the fledgling Soviet republic (organizer of the October Revolution and architect of the Red Army), only to be marginalized and once again exiled as the Russian Revolution degenerated under the weight of social, economic and political forces he himself brilliantly analyzed and combated.

Trotsky resembles a figure from Greek tragedy – save for the magnitude and historical significance of the tragedy, whose consequences extended well beyond the personal life of a single man. World history does not turn on the actions of individuals, however great they may be – but the life of Leon Trotsky was a rare example of the personal intertwining with the world-historic. The stage on which this historical actor played his part was grand, and the strengths and weaknesses, the triumphs and the defeats, the achievements and the mistakes of the man were themselves of historic consequence precisely because they were bound up with the practical organizing – at the highest echelons – of humanity’s torturous transition from capitalism to socialism.

The historical importance of Trotsky lies not only in his critical association with the world’s first successful proletarian socialist revolution, but in the political and theoretical contributions he made both before and after the Bolsheviks took state power. With the exception of V.I. Lenin, his co-leader of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky was unparalleled as an expositor and innovator of Marxism following the death of Marx and Engels. The brilliance and power of those contributions are such that, today, many leftists whose reformist political practice is sharply at odds with the revolutionary perspective of Trotsky nevertheless pay tribute to the “Old Man” of the Fourth International by falsely claiming his mantle as their own.

Given the pivotal importance of his contributions and the misappropriation of his name and political heritage, it is instructive to revisit Trotsky’s legacy on the 75th anniversary of his death.




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