Report on the November 15th joint meeting of CPGB and Labour Party Marxists

Originally published in WW1324 19.11.2020 which can be found here

Our strategic orientation

The meeting of CPGB and LPM comrades, which took place online on November 15, focused on two recent key events: the US elections; and the failure of Jeremy Corbyn and the official Labour left.

The first item was introduced by comrade Mike Macnair, who reiterated that there was still a good deal of speculation about what could happen over Donald Trump’s legal challenges, but there were “heavy rumours” that he will eventually concede. Otherwise “American democracy” itself would be called into question. However, assuming that the result would stand, it means that Biden won a clear majority of both the popular vote and in the Electoral College, but the balance in the Senate was on a “knife edge”, while the Democrats actually lost ground in the House.

All this means that Biden will be “very constricted” on what he is able to do. He suspected that meant that Biden would not be able to rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change or sign the US up once more to the Iran nuclear deal. He also thought America was facing “at least two years of domestic gridlock”.

So, on questions like Black Lives Matter, nothing will change when it comes to government policy – not just because Biden will not be able to enforce substantial changes; but because he does not wish to, for example, curb the draconian powers of the police.

Internationally, comrade Macnair thought that we would see less of Trump’s “aggressively protectionist rhetoric”, but the US would still be anti-China – and in fact we should expect opposition to Russia to “go significantly up the agenda”. Meanwhile, a Biden administration would lean on the UK to come to a softer deal with the European Union following Brexit.

He concluded by saying that the “underlying dynamic” was one of US decay and decline.

Debate

First to speak in the debate was Farzad Kamangar, who asked why it was that big capital was by and large so opposed to Trump. The answer was that his protectionism would have an adverse effect on profitability. There would be huge price increases if goods currently produced in China were made in the US itself, for instance. In reality the ongoing globalisation was “impossible to reverse”.

The comrade went on to state that it had been wrong to claim that there was “no difference” between the two presidential candidates. For example, it was likely that under Biden aid to Palestinians would resume and, while it was unlikely that there would be a new nuclear deal, sanctions on Iran could well be eased.

I was next to speak and, while I agreed with comrade Kamangar that there was certainly a difference between Trump and Biden, that did not mean that those on the left who called for a Biden vote were right. Both candidates were pro-imperialist and anti-working class. I also wondered whether Biden might still be able to get some changes through the Senate despite the lack of a Democratic majority. For example, Trump’s belittling of the impact of climate change, like that of Covid-19, was not in line with establishment opinion. What did that mean for the Republican Party? To what degree was it completely ‘Trumpist’ and was it not possible that at least some Republican senators would be prepared, for instance, to back the Paris agreement?

A guest at the meeting was comrade Moshé Machover, who pointed out that, although comrade Macnair had mentioned the role of Catholic voters in helping to ensure Biden’s victory, he did not say anything about Jewish voters. In fact there was an increase in their support for the Democrats. Yet Israel is one of the few countries where Trump enjoyed “overwhelming support”, which was quite the opposite when it came to US Jews. This pointed to the continuing rift between them and the Zionist state, he said.

Comrade Anne McShane noted that Biden’s victory was “hugely welcomed” by the establishment in Ireland, which was hoping that the effect of Brexit on the island would now be less severe. But she stated that those on the left who had taken a ‘first Biden, then us’ approach were completely wrong. The level of polarisation and fear was still pervasive.

Next to speak was Jack Conrad, who reiterated that the US remained the global hegemon. With Biden’s apparent victory, it was more likely that the US would press for a ‘Brexit in name only’ deal – and what the US says matters. However, on globalisation, he did not believe that it was “fixed in stone”.

On my question, he thought that the Republican establishment had taken a “sharp turn to the right” and did now seem to be ‘Trumpite’ – in fact he had been surprised at how little resistance there had been amongst Republicans to Trump’s claims that the election had been stolen. Either way, getting rid of Trump has not solved the “dilemma of lesser-evilism”: our priority must remain the independence of the working class and standing candidates representing the genuine left.

Coming back in, comrade Macnair agreed that deglobalisation was possible and repeated that Biden was certainly different from Trump – he might be more aggressive over Russia, for instance. He also agreed that the Republicans, like the Tories, were “evolving to the right”, so we should expect another right-populist presidential candidate in 2024. He was also in agreement over lesser-evilism: it was wrong to say that “under no circumstances” would we recommend a vote for the lesser evil, but we must never “prettify” such candidates.

Next, Bernard Mattson pointed to the fact that under Trump “all sorts of damage” had been done, but questioned whether Biden would undo it, including sanctions against Iran. While Stan Keable of LPM stated that the Republicans would “hamstring Biden” for party reasons, Sarah Stewart said that many people, especially women, had actually voted for Trump through fear of Black Lives Matter, etc. However, as far as the establishment is concerned, even Fox News was now saying that Trump should concede.

Comrade Conrad then made one more contribution, in which he pointed out that, when it came to determining strategic policy, we must look at the role of the state, not just capital. State interests could, for instance, enforce decoupling and rival zones. In relation to voting for the lesser evil, he agreed that this was a tactical question, but the central strategy was related to working class independence. He added that anti-socialism (however defined) was a real factor in the size of Trump’s vote.

In reply to the debate, comrade Macnair stated that, while there was huge pressure on Trump to concede defeat, it is not completely certain he will do so. After all, Republican senator Mike Lee was right when he said that the USA is a “constitutional republic” and “not a democracy”. However, for the mainstream establishment, it is essential that the US continues to be identified as democratic.

In conclusion he stated that the Biden presidency posed “big, big problems” for the British government over Brexit, and reminded us that “the strategic orientation of the working class has to begin elsewhere than the presidential election”.

Labour

It was comrade Conrad who introduced the second session on the assault on the Labour left – the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn was not the end point, merely the latest stage.

Commenting on the report of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into Labour ‘anti-Semitism’, he stated that it was neither ‘fair’ nor ‘balanced’. We do not accept it and nor should we support its implementation. A line of demarcation should be drawn on this question.

The NEC have seen “both sides claiming a victory”. Using the previous electoral system, the left would have won all nine Constituency Labour Party seats, but this time, despite the single transferable vote, it still managed five. But the real winner is not the official left but Keir Starmer, who now has a clear majority on the new NEC.

In view of all this, the exodus from the Labour Party looks set to continue. That has given new hope to the likes of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (former Labour MP Chris Williamson has just joined), Left Unity, the Radical Alliance, etc. As shown by the SLP, Socialist Alliance, SSP and Respect such broad fronts usually fail. They are certainly useless when it comes to organising the working class into a party which can overthrow capitalist rule. But even if they ‘succeed’, they fail: look at Podemos, Syriza, Communist Refoundation and all the rest.

But what of Starmer? He will surely step up the witch-hunt, continued comrade Conrad. Will he target Momentum by branding it a ‘party within a party’? He does, of course, have to worry about alienating the left-led unions – will he risk provoking the disaffiliation of Unite, etc? He might not want to, but events could push him, lead him, in that direction. However, what is striking about the official Labour left – in the unions, in parliament, in Momentum – is its complete lack of fight, its complete lack of a moral backbone – partly caused by a commitment to the ‘next Labour government’ and partly by naked careerism.

Because the official left has been under sustained attack – by the media, by the Labour right, by the Zionist lobby, by fake left turncoats – something akin to ‘Stockholm syndrome’ has developed. The persecuted have taken up the cause of their persecutors and have themselves become persecutors of their own allies, friends and comrades. Hence Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth. The ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt now has the official left welcoming the EHRC report and promising to join with Starmer in “rooting out anti-Semitism”. The official left even oversaw the invention of denialism. It is a disciplinary offence to deny that Labour has a widespread, a serious, a real problem with anti-Semitism.

None of this means that Labour cannot be transformed in a progressive direction, argued comrade Conrad, although this cannot be achieved using “constitutional methods”. While it remains capitalism’s second eleven and tied to the state, Labour is “irreformable”. To suggest otherwise is either treacherous or naive. However, the Labour Party can be transformed through building a mass Communist Party. A revolutionary situation could see us transform Labour into a united front of a special kind. Meantime, it is quite possible that Keir Starmer could end what Keir Hardie started back in 1900. Labour could be deLabourised.

Comrade Conrad concluded by stating that for Marxists, work within the Labour Party is a tactical question, but at the moment it remains an important tactic.

Disillusionment

First up in the debate that followed was comrade Macnair, who agreed that Labour could be transformed in a positive direction. Partly that would depend on winning the leadership of key trade unions, although, like comrade Conrad, he was clear that the establishment would do all in its power to sabotage this.

In his contribution, comrade Keable talked about the NEC elections, which was encouraging in that anti-witch-hunt candidates, supported by the Labour Left Alliance, did quite well, gaining some 3,000 votes, although none were elected. He was followed by comrade Mattson, who pointed out that many Labour branches now fear even talking about the vital politics of the day. Labour HQ has banned discussions about the EHRC report, Corbyn’s suspension, etc. Those who disobey face possible suspension or expulsion.

Following this, James Harvey added that the Labour left is “incredibly incoherent” as well as disillusioned, especially since the departure of Corbyn as leader. Its politics was that of the “lowest common denominator”: in other words, ‘we have to attract people coming from left social democracy, but we mustn’t go too far’ and scare them off. So the followers of Leon Trotsky constitute themselves as left social democrats. Justin White commented on the “appallingly weak motions” moved by the left in Labour branches, while Anne McShane noted the general “nostalgia for the Labour Party of old”.

For his part, Andrew Kirkland thought that within the party there was “not just a climate of fear, but of terror”. There was now a list of things that Labour members are not permitted to discuss at branch meetings – no wonder many think it safer to stick to local initiatives.

Replying to the debate, comrade Conrad said that, although no action had been taken against left NEC candidates, as was the case in the previous elections, we should still expect a stepping up of the witch-hunt. This would not only be directed against supporters of Palestine solidarity and anti-Zionists, but against denialists, soft-left Corbyn defenders or anyone who dares voice a critical opinion.

Peter Manson