Carson Rainham argues for the necessity of revolutionary organisation which moves beyond the stale debates of the past.
In our final essay of our series on fascism and antifascism, we explore what we believe is a foundational split between miltiant antifascism and more political campaigns. We argue that these tendencies must be unified to create a durable response to the rising fascist threat, and that this can only be achieved organisationally.
by Anthony Jones
Officially, the United Kingdom presently recognises four constituent “home” countries, three of which (Wales, Scotland, and the occupied six counties in the North of Ireland) are in fact under the open economic and sometimes covert political domination of Westminster, which serves as the political head of England, whose capital, London, is also the capital of the whole United Kingdom.
With the national identity and economic life of England being so strongly identified with the British state as such, “the English” are objectified in the “oppressor nation” role within the UK and around the world through British imperialism. “The English people” fill the same role for the UK and British imperialism that “the French people” fill with regard to the French state and its domestic and foreign policies.
It is the tendency of imperialism to create through the internationalisation of the productive process “oppressor nations” and “oppressed nations”. In contrast to the Three World Theory, we do not hold that this means that these national formations are no longer actually divided on a class basis. It was the Leninist assumption from the beginning that in spite of the power of imperialist to “nationalise” class struggle, the national struggles could never be fully extricated from the class dynamics. From the perspective of the proletariat of the oppressed nation, they experience their class oppression through the lens of the extra oppression and exploitation they receive as members of, for example, the Irish nation. From the perspective of the proletariat of the oppressor nation, however, they can conceive of the totality of the position of their class by identifying with the oppressed nation’s proletariat.
In this sense, Marxists even unfamiliar with British politics could easily say that the truly class conscious English proletariat ought to identify with the struggle against British imperialism, a principled unity in struggle against the capitalist-imperialist ruling class in Westminster. But in the UK, it has for some time been an implicit assumptionthat there is no national question on the island of Britain itself. It is very easy from Wales or Scotland to counter that, in fact, the Welsh and Scottish are separate nations from the English.
But it is not our goal here to enter into polemics on the Welsh national question, a debate which we consider very clearly resolved: there is a Welsh nation, with a territory and language, and a right to self-determination, which is being oppressed by England. The more interesting point is this: it was only by an ongoing process of nascent struggle by the Welsh people ourselves that Wales was again recognised as a country in its own right, separate from England, as it was insultingly considered a part of until the 1960s. We have won this debate in practice, and the Welsh people continue to struggle for our own future. No, magnanimously, in an internationalist spirit, it is our intention here to return to the question of England and ask how many nations live in England today?
Cornwall is a small national territory, south of Wales, and created by the expansion of the Kingdom of England over indigenous British territory. By the time of capitalism’s development and with it, the development of nations, the remnants of the British tribes on the island who began to develop something like a national consciousness were cut off from one another. The larger group became the Welsh of today, and the territory in question is clear. The smaller group, in Cornwall, spoke a closely related language which was dying out already by the time of the industrial revolution, and the policy of linguistic genocide applied by the English rulers in Wales to some success easily destroyed Cornish entirely.
Linguistic revival attempts are ongoing, but the Cornish still have a clear territory of their own, and a distinct economic life typical of small colonies of Westminster and its imperialist domination. The Cornish disparagingly refer to their neighbours to the east as “Emmets”, and a small national liberation movement exists, albeit even weaker than the one in Wales.
As political development continues throughout the crisis and takes increasingly national form on the island, it is possible the Cornish will experience a considerable growth in national consciousness, that the autonomist and secessionist movements will gain followers and reshape the economic and social dynamics in this territory. It is also possible that their weak cultural, economic, and political position will cause them to gradually identify with their long-lost cousins, the Welsh, or with the English people who currently dominate them.
It is up to the Cornish to decide what sort of national future they envision for themselves, but it is in our interest as revolutionaries to defend their right to resist the assimilatory politics of England, late though it may be, and it is in anti-imperialist terms clearly advantageous to us if the Cornish begin to sever ties with England.
The other Englands
The most salient division in England is that between the north and the south, with the southerners generally being the more bourgeois and mainstream and the north being the more economically disadvantaged and “otherised” culturally. But this does not mean that the north and the south of England constitute two separate nations. The north and south of Wales are likewise culturally, linguistically, and economically different, but it is no one’s view that there are two Welsh nations as a result. As far as it is normal within any country, it is not surprising that the English or the Welsh might display some quantitative differences in national cultural and politico-economic standing that does not carry over into a qualitative difference of being two separate national populations (of north and south).
So as much as we might relish the idea of dividing England after their bourgeoisie has done everything in their power to assimilate us into the culture of capitalist English modernity, it is of course up to the groups living in England today to resist this process and lay claim to an alternative future.
It does so happen that there are some such trends already, and it should not surprise us to find them in the north of England where local culture was not as quickly or as definitively bound into the new metropolitan English culture that became dominant in the era of imperialism. Each of these, like the Cornish national movement, may end up failing, and the people may choose instead an “English” identity, or some other one. But we should be aware of these trends, in touch with their proponents, and able to provide a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the concrete reality of these potential national struggles.
There exists a “North East Party” movement, which seems to seek autonomy for what is effectively the parts of Northumbria that fell under English rule. The historical context is telling: such a movement could easily eventually choose union with Scotland as conflict between England and Scotland grows, or it could present a “wedge” role, or it may remain satisfied with a certain autonomy of a non-”national” character within England.
Also in the north is Yorkshire, who have their own “Yorkshire Party”, but even without it, Yorkshire’s strong attachment to their regional identity is well known. In short it might be said that the entire north of England is host to a dynamic of strong proletarianisation and strong local culture born out of their fringe relationship with “their” capital in the south. Revolutionary cadres who organise in this part of the country ought to be especially sensitive to this potential for resistance to the state and capital becoming objectified in a “local culture” rather than “strictly” within the political realm, as has been observed in Wales and Scotland already for decades.
Moving south, there is a movement in the Midlands for a sort of revival of “Mercia”, which has an anti-Norman historical character and a regionalist present character. Even “Wessex”, a very traditional southern English region, has produced a small movement to protect local culture and advocates some sort of autonomy.
However much these movements are signs of the potential for national struggles that right now appear within “one nation” or not, it is a sign that whatever remains at the end of these deliberations, whatever is “legitimately” England, has some unease about an imposed monolithically English identity. The English, it would seem, come in various colours even once they have stopped colonising the other. A socialist and federative England alongside socialist republics of various Celtic peoples seems a perfectly noble goal for the English revolutionary, in this light.
The centre of empire
As the centre of empire, even when it is not incorporating their territory into itself, England is incorporating the labour, materials, culture, and lives of persons of many national backgrounds into its borders. Today one cannot help but notice in London that “the English” are the minority there. The majority is in fact the multinational proletariat which built the empire whose stolen wealth lies in the same city. Like a magnet, the two are attracted to each other. Without the labour of the slaves of empire, the imperialists in Westminster cannot go on, and so they jealously guard their commonwealth, their crown, their history of lies that is shoved down our throats, of the glorious empire on which the sun never sets. Their victims, unable to develop their own countries thanks to the genocide and subjugation and robbery of England, now fill England’s un-English capital, face racism and exploitation and death in burning tower flats, driving themselves to the very edge to survive.
London’s great multinational character is in some ways a disadvantage from the perspective of radical struggle: various national groups distrust one another and become nationalist in the diaspora, and to the extent they intermix, they begin to socialise into the English nation and its social-political values, regardless of their origins. To the extent that London can prove a base to radical groups from other countries, for example, the Turkish and Kurdish revolutionary movements, or the Irish, it would behoove British revolutionaries to offer concrete internationalist solidarity to help them build. Just as the English must see in the liberation of the Irish a blow against empire, so too must every Welsh or English or Scottish view the autonomy of anti-imperialist actors swimming in the sea of their compatriots as a key front of struggle against our common enemies.
Just because a potential geography, such as Cornwall, may not choose national development, does not mean their autonomy is of no value to us. The experience of local politics and fighting for local culture is the experience of the masses in fighting alienation, in demanding radical change, real democracy. By the same token, just because no national group in London can call London their national territory, does not mean that their national origins are of no concern. On the contrary, the longer that, for example, the Kurds hold on to their national identity in diaspora, in spite of the impossibility of creating a full national life as they hope to in their liberated homeland, the more chances the Kurdish liberation movement and our own socialists have to reach one another through this dialectical point of tension that we call “diaspora”.
When we look at England, we do not see one nation, and we do not see one class. We see a constellation of social groups, national formations, class politics, which reflect the totality of a brutal history of oppressive and exploitative empire. In this geography too, there is the real potential for struggle. But Marx did not say that “the lever must be applied in Ireland” because he was an Irish nationalist. It is because Marx understood that the march to proletarian liberation for English people must pass through a reckoning with the victims of the empire which was built in some sense in their name and image.
Under the conquest of the indigenous Celts, the toiling multinational proletariat of London pulled from the four corners of the empire which committed genocide against them, lies a complex history of the English proletariat, which like the French proletariat, first glimpsed a view of a radically different world during a “national” revolution. Like the French today, it is by fighting against the nationalism of the triumphant empire that followed that the English will achieve their dreamt-of liberation.
by Anthony Jones
The tradition of the monarchy weighs like a nightmare on Britain. The crisis has emboldened the left to appropriate the language of the glorious French Revolution, and jokes about “guillotines” have spread across the internet left in what would seem to be a sign of the radicalisation of the youth. But when republicanism is put forth as a sincere political position, we are confronted with the prejudices not only of traditionalists, conservatives, fascists, in a word, the explicit forces of reaction, but also from the liberals. What theoretically informed points can Marxists derive from and interject into the question of the Queen?
Why do we need the Royal Family?
When the more skittish liberals in Britain are confronted with the question of abolishing the House of Windsor, they immediately begin rattlings off a series of the perceived advantages of the outdated monarchy to our supposedly modern society. Of course, there is the touristic income, as if ordinary working people across Britain are being saved from poverty by the tourists who go to see Buckingham Palace. Young people who are watching as their NHS is being dismantled are struggling to find employment with or without the increasingly unaffordable tertiary education the Tory cuts are so keen on ripping from their hands. But even if this income were keeping our lives livable (which it is not and which they are not), the French are able to draw impressive crowds of tourists to Paris without a royal family, as if any of the tourists who come from far and wide to London ever meet the Royal Family in the first place, who are as far removed from the tourists as they are from us “commoners”.
Instead, the Royal Family’s unreasonably high standards of living are subsidised by the state which lets the poor die from our poverty, in between occasional ostentatious displays such as the disgusting Royal Wedding which was imposed not only on the subjects of the House of Windsor but on the entire world thanks to British Imperialism’s significant cultural as well as literal capital.
A more honest answer, often given only after this first argument has been rebutted, is that the Royal Family is a symbol of British unity. As revolutionary Marxists, of course, we have no interest in holding together the imperialist British state, and we should note that this at any rate merely symbolises the union of the English and Scottish crowns. Wales, for example, was conquered by brute force, and our more or less colonial status is legitimised through this union in which even our “own” ruling classes were never given any say. Without going through every single piece of territory the British state dominates openly through military means and territorial claims and which are subordinate to British capital thanks to past military conquest, we would be remiss if we passed over the North of Ireland, which is still counted as a “home” nation of the United Kingdom in spite of the famously violent recent history of state suppression of the national will of the Irish people which has been necessary to hold onto this territory. This is the unity which a relic of English and Scottish feudal past is meant to symbolise.
When arguments such as these are exhausted, it becomes clear that there is no positive case for the Royal Family. There is only the negative motives of apathy towards change, and fear of the unenforced but still enforceable legal power the monarchy and the British state have to suppress republicanism as treasonous.
What is a figurehead?
The above case against monarchism has been made countless times from countless angles by countless republicans, Marxist and otherwise. But an important question that must be asked is why the concept of a “figurehead” is supposed to erase the reality of the Royal Family. By affirming the existence of “figurehead” leadership, we assume the existence of leadership which is no mere “figurehead”. This is in some sense a mistake. While there is certainly the potential for different degrees of decision-making power which can be vested in a particular organ of political decision-making, in the final instance Marxists oppose “the Great Man Theory” of history and insist that in some sense, all leaders are in some sense stand-ins for social dynamics. The ruling class represent themselves through a particular political leadership, and the amount of power these “leaders” are vested with, and which leaders come into favour with the ruling class, likewise reflect certain interests.
Since the reestablishment of the English monarchy under Charles II, the developing capitalist class and the former feudal leadership came to a peace. Have these groups fused into one class? If they have not, the contradictions between them are not extremely sharp. If the House of Lords and the monarchy are representatives of a feudal aristocracy, it is one that is not strong enough to challenge the ascendency of the big English bourgeoisie, not only over England, but over the other nations in Britain, and the various oppressed nations outside of Britain under the domination of English capital. The legal mechanisms which would allow for the Queen to override parliament are viewed as unimportant because they are not exercised, but given the development of the capitalist mode of production, they likely would be exercised not because of a conflict between the monarchy and English capital, but between different sections of the English bourgeoisie, or between the different national bourgeoisies in Britain.
But the Prime Minister is no less a figurehead. As head of government, we have seen Theresa May exercise extreme authority, such as the deals with the DUP which are in contradiction with the Good Friday Agreement. But this violation of the British state’s ostensible agreements are in the interest of the British state itself at this phase of the crisis. One can easily imagine Theresa May forced to resign in disgrace, as her predecessor was, if the ruling classes feel it is not in their interest to rally around her.
Even Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership in many ways reflects the reemergence of working class politics among the oppressor English nation, must be understood in this light. While Jeremy Corbyn rightly condemns the current exploitative order in England and Britain and indeed around the world, aligning himself with oppressed peoples and our class, the proletariat, with its need for economic justice, the limitations of his leadership can be seen in the “small business” overtures his party have accepted. Corbyn may rail against privatisation, but he has already opened the doors theoretically to a more charitable equivalent of this state of affairs.
The line is very thin indeed, between the labour aristocratic union leadership and the more Brexit-ready components of the English bourgeoisie, particularly the petty bourgeoisie, who are mostly progressive in those instances where they fully grasp that their economic precariousness is not a symptom of a weak economy or bad trade deals, but the monopolistic tendency of capitalism itself. Petty bourgeois intellectuals, like unionised workers in an imperialist country, are particularly dangerous elements if they do not grasp the totality of the capitalist system. They can easily vacillate and dampen the revolutionary direction by believing a deal can be struck with the state which has been built by and continues to protect the domination of the big bourgeoisie.
The youth for Corbyn can be won over to the revolutionary cause, but only by seeing that not only will a Corbyn government alone not save them, but without a continued push in the revolutionary direction, could even be the first step in incorporating them into the fight against the more marginalised: refugees, non-unionised workers, the oppressed nations, women whose labour is nominally not on the market but is no less crucial for social production and reproduction. An obsession with a formal English labour movement is not only a potential disaster for Marxist revolutionaries and a unity of struggle of workers and oppressed peoples the world over: it could be a disaster for these same relatively privileged elements, as they struggle to defend some elements of the so-called “social state” (the NHS, schooling), unable to fight for more because they are unable to strengthen the forces of class struggle through principled unity.
These ultimate interests of the proletariat are what must be represented in the “figurehead” we call leadership. Not formal membership in the proletarian class, which can also be a feature of extreme reactionary populism. Nor mere anger at “capitalism”, if it fails to grasp the actual mechanisms of how capitalism functions in the era of imperialism.
So what of our leadership? As Marxists, driven by a desire to expose the truth and fight for the liberation of all people, we do not seek to conceal the reality of what our leadership is. As revolutionaries, we have no desire to position ourselves as mere representatives of different sections of the ruling classes. Where our leadership will emerge, it must represent the interests of the poor and oppressed peoples themselves. Our “figureheads” will not be positioned to exercise nominal authority in order to broker power deals between different sections of the exploiting classes. They will come not from union bosses with war stories of their old days in the CPGB, but from strugglers who sincerely prove themselves in their ability to weave together the diverse trends of struggle, at home and around the world.
Our leadership, our movement, must be held accountable to the revolutionary proletariat in all its particular struggles. Our leadership’s essence has already been gleaned from the student protests of 2010, from striking fast food workers, from women and LGBT struggling against gendered oppression, from the Welsh and Scottish who have seen that Westminster is aligned against their political and cultural future in the interest of English capital, from brave internationalists who go and fight, shoulder to shoulder with Turkish and Kurdish revolutionaries for Rojava. To become the “figurehead” leaders of a movement that will weave all of these together is the formal structure we hope to build. But in essence, each individual who seeks to fill such a role must grasp themselves as “mere figureheads” representing a revolutionary system being born out of these struggles, built by these heroic ordinary people.
It is apparent to us that the House of Windsor has no legitimacy. But it is equally apparent to us that Britain such as it exists, a cultural, economic, political nightmare imposed on us by the stolen riches of the British Empire and all the forces it commands, has no legitimacy. We must not lose sight of what “figureheads” represent. And we must represent something fundamentally, radically different: a new Britain, free of exploitation and oppression. A new Britain, built anew from the rubble of empire. A new Britain, where the people are in control of their own lives, and build their own leaders from themselves, every day, through a social revolution from the bottom up
Activist Bahar Mustafa gives her personal take on the recent events surrounding Munroe Bergdorf's appointment as a LGBT advisor to the Labour Party, and the left's response.
I would like to share some thoughts on the recent Munroe Bergdorf's appointment as one of several LGBT advisor to the Labour Party, and the abysmal attacks on her from both the Left and the Right. I do so from both a political and personal standpoint: as a communist, anti-fascist, and feminist organiser I am invested in tactical support for the Labour Party in order to bring the mass base further to the left and our ability to make collective demands as part of wider class struggle. I’m invested in a Labour Party that is free of misogyny, racism, transphobia, and so on, and one that represents a diverse working class. I am also someone who, as a student activist in 2015, came under sustained media and online attacks from April - November when I was embroiled in a “race row” while acting as welfare and diversity officer for Goldsmiths Students’ Union. I had organised a political organising space for BAME women and non-binary people during our occupation that had caught the attention of a ‘yellow journalist’ and student. This meeting I had planned, not unlike women and black caucuses that have been a proud tradition of the the trade union movement for decades, went viral with media outlets from The Evening Standard and the Daily Mail (to name a few) accusing me of racism towards white people and sexism towards men. As long as I remained a full time sabbatical officer I was under the scrutiny of right wing media who trawled through my social media accounts, misrepresented alleged tweets, and harassed my family in order to find anything to discredit me as a ‘loony lefty’, a troublemaker, an anti-white campaigner, and so on. An outspoken feminist with a Muslim name is like gold dust to the right wing press, and what hurt the most was the way certain sections of the Left joined in with the witch-hunt.
Like many other minority women since, Munroe Bergdorf is now facing a similar public attack, and again, certain sections of the Left are happy to collude with the right wing press. First and foremost, let us consider a common criticism coming from those in the Left about the appointment itself. According to some, Dawn Butler was irresponsible for appointing Bergdorf on the grounds that Bergdorf has become a “controversial figure” and will therefore lose votes for the Labour Party. However, under the current socio-political climate it seems implausible that a black trans woman, who has been outspoken about race and racism, wasn't going to rustle a lot of feathers and attract the attention of the media for being appointed to an officer position in the Labour Party. Particularly a position such as LGBT advisor where she would be expected to guide policy based on equality and diversity campaigns for the queer community. In a climate where “equality” and “diversity” are largely interpreted as apolitical and ahistorical categories, a woman of colour who speaks out about white supremacy is instantly accused of racism, as if racism is not socially and materialy constructed.
A black trans woman was always going to be a controversial choice whether or not she'd been lambasted in the press for 'inflammatory' tweets. Just look at the recent vitriolic attacks on 20 year old trans activist Lily Madigan; Madigan was recently elected women’s officer for the Labour Party in her constituency. She was 19 when she first got involved due to an ongoing dispute in her school where she was deterred from presenting as a young woman, forced to wear the male school uniform, and experienced daily transphobia. Simply standing and being elected for women’s officer position sparked a vicious debate within the Labour Party as to whether or not a trans woman could stand for women’s officer. Moreover, the recent infighting in the Party over the gender recognition act has forced to the surface the acute ignorant anti-trans sentiments harboured by some vocal members of the party. And if this is the level of abuse trans people within a party notionally committed to greater equality and democracy are expected to experience, then outside is whole other more horrifying story. We just need to look at suicide stats in the UK to get a sense as to how structurally marginalised trans people are, with recent studies by Stonewall that reveal nearly half of trans pupils attempting to take their own lives.
Now let's revisit the tweets in question. The initial tweet that led to her dismissal from Dove allegedly accuses all white people of racism. There is nothing novel about that position today. Bergdorf’s elaboration of the tweet, that all white people are responsible for racism, is at worst a misguided understanding of how structural racism operates, is anti-materialist, and reduces complex social, class, and race relations to individual actions, rather than structurally protracted antagonisms. This notwithstanding, I think it’s crucial to remember that before her sacking from Dove, Bergdorf very publicly criticised Dove for their racist advert that showed a black woman turning white after using the product! As for the most recent tweet referencing the Suffragettes in the UK that received yet another bashing from certain sections of the Left, here she was factually incorrect. Bergdorf had confused the Suffragette’s here and their struggle to win the votes for women with those of their American counterparts, where it was indeed true that in the USA the Suffragette movement marginalised black women and that up until 1960s there were still some states where black women were unable to vote. Bergdorf does in fact correct herself in later tweets.
Now that Bergdorf has been thrust into the media’s spotlight, she has indeed gained notoriety and is a controversial figure. Speaking from personal experience, this means her current choices are very limited: either Bergdorf will need to change her name and identity if she wants a chance of ever being hired by future employers, or accept that her public profile and recent press attention means that public and political avenues are probably the only ones open to her. The Labour Party gave a black trans woman an opportunity to influence and change public opinion on such difficult questions of social equality including race, rather than pandering to the British public's inability to confront our difficult history with racism and colonialism. Whether you agree with her statement or not, if you are a class agitator committed to fighting all systematic oppression, I can't conceive how you could shrug off her public shaming, or even go as far as to think it was deserved. Ultimately, whether or not we agree with her statements it should not be justification for the vilification she's received. At the end of the day, Bergdorf is on our side! Since the press have trawled through all her social media to trudge up tweet after tweet, Bergdorf has received a torrent of transphobic, misogynist, and racist abuse: and people are still shocked when black and brown women often feel compelled to make such hyperbolic statements about the manifestations of racism and sexism we face daily.
After experiencing ‘endless attacks’ from the right wing press, and a storm of vile online abuse, Bergdoft quite her position on the LGBT advisory panel.
This comes at a time where the battle within the party over trans rights continues to rage. As Labour allows all self defining women to partake in all women shortlists, a number of anti-trans activists within the party threaten to resign in protest. The fact that there has been near silence from many on the left of the party and the left of the movement in this country on the disgusting attacks she was subjected to, shows who ‘the left’ think are worth acting in solidarity with, and who don’t. People who, against the odds, have been arguing for a revivified politics under Corbyn’s leadership, turn and cower at the idea of intervening to push a progressive politics of gender and sexuality. In this, we see another example of the thinking “The movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing." It is times like this that all who believe in socialism and liberation should be standing up to fight the reactionaries who seek to make already abused and marginalised people suffer more.
To dig up old tweets as further evidence that Bergdorf wasn’t appropriate for the position is nothing short of the same old dirty tactics from the right. It is another example of the cowardice of a certain section of the left who are more concerned with pandering to a what they perceive as the socially conservative base of the Labour, who are believed cling on notions of nationality and patriotism as cultural markers of the British working class.
If you want a Labour Party with teeth who fights for the interest of your class you'd better include the interests of women, migrants, BAME people, sex workers, etc: these struggles are class struggles and we are just as integral to the struggle as our white, male counterparts.
Solidarity with Monroe Bergdorf, and solidarity with all trans people at this time of ruthless attack.
By Bahar Mustafa
For communists and revolutionaries in Britain today, it appears as if there are only two choices: work within the Labour Party, or organise outside of the Labour Party. The argument for the first is that we should attempt to work within Labour’s institutions at a local and national level to pursue a genuine and necessary change through reform. The other is to withdraw and work on ‘grassroots’ campaigns which do not have the reach or scope that the institutions of the Labour Party provide. By doing this communists can focus on things sidelines by the current movement within Labour, and pursue a more ‘revolutionary’ line unhampered by the narrow constraints of bourgeois parliamentary politics. It also allows them to keep some kind of fidelity to their own politics, and the traditions in this country which have spurned working within the Labour Party.
One certainty is that the crisis which began in 2007, which is chronic and global in nature, has not ceased. The solutions, under neo-liberal or traditional social democratic policies of the old imperialist nations are completely unable to deal with the nature and scope of this crisis. Nevertheless, we see attempts at grasping the new global social and political reality. From mass movements in the imperialist core pushing at the fringes of social democracy, to burgeoning fascism, as well as insurgency and international crises which go beyond normal strategies of government, we see underdeveloped tendencies struggling to deal with the most fundamental challenge that global capitalism/imperialism has ever faced. The persistence of such solutions - however faulty and precarious - necessarily limits the possibilities of moving beyond them. We have a duty to prepare for the next, higher stage of struggle, when the crisis can no longer be contained by the bourgeois parliamentary methods which are currently being employed - as we are beginning to see in peripheral and semi-peripheral nations such as Turkey and the Philippines.
This essay will argue that owing to the current level of class struggle in Britain, engaging with and working within the Labour Party is essential owing to their deep links to organised labour in the UK, and the growing mass and youth movement around the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. However, we must do so tactically so as not cede our essential principles to reformism. The aim of this essay is to lay out a framework for that engagement, as well as strategies to build a movement which exists beyond it, and is able to supersede it if necessary.
Where do we currently stand?
Ultra-left critics of Corbyn are not wrong in many of their criticisms. But no one ever made revolution or any sort of social change by simply being correct in the abstract. Their ultra-leftist error is the politics of abstention that they believe necessarily flows from their analysis of Corbyn and the movement which grew up around him, and their failure to see that the movement is as diverse and contradictory as the material conditions which gave birth to it. It is the role of communists to help the masses navigate these contradictions until they are able to get to a position where they might abolish them.
What few have come to terms with is this stark truth: the rise of Corbyn in a few short months did what many socialists, anarchists, and communists were not able to do, and which many said couldn’t be done. It should be seen as necessitating a complete rethinking of our theory, strategy, and tactics. Many individuals groups are stuck clinging on to the politics which were developed to meet the challenges of the era in which they were formed. They have proved themselves simply unable to meet the material challenges before us, and instead attempt to reimagine concrete reality to meet their abstract political line. There is nothing more futile, nothing less Marxist. We must build a politics which is able to grasp at the opportunities latent in this period of global economic and political turmoil.
The Labour Party has become a vehicle with the ability to influence the situation at this moment which is historically vital for the working class. The prospects of this changing, or of any group or party supercedeing this in the short to medium term are close to zero. Below, we state why we believe a new communist organisation *is* necessary, and vital at this current moment, where it should organise, and what it hopes to achieve, and state the areas in which it is vital for us to organise on if we are serious about revolutionary politics in the Britain in the 21st century.
The National Question in the UK
Approaching the national question in the UK, we must begin by recognising that it is fundamentally an international question. Not only given the fact that London sits at the centre of the world's financial system, and ‘Britain’ as the first imperialist power is built on the stolen wealth of generations of the world's oppressed, but that it is a multi-national state whose national and regional disparities have sustained and been developed by British place close to the heart of the capitalist imperialist system.
It should go without saying, and thankfully to some extent does, that the North of Ireland, despite being “represented” by the name “Northern Ireland” on British passports, is a colony of British imperialism. This position is so uncontroversial as to be accepted, at least formally, but some of the most chauvinist elements of the British left.
However, as revolutionary communists, we have a duty to go beyond mere rhetorical solidarity, as exemplified by most of the British left and the Labour Party. The Good Friday Agreement stands on most unequal terms, as can plainly be seen by constant overtures to the political representatives of Unionist death squads (including May and the DUP the second her government was threatened by the rise of Corbyn), paired with a constant harassment of Republicans by Stormont authorities in the North of Ireland, with the tacit approval of the “Free State” regime in the South. This state of affairs cannot merely be fought with words: we seek total unity in struggle with Republican forces in Ireland who seek a truly united and new Ireland, a democratic Ireland, a socialist Ireland. To actualise the totality of our unity in struggle with such progressive forces, we must not only condemn Westminster in words, but offer solidarity in deed to strugglers against Stormont, in Ireland, on whatever terms they choose.
We must work with all forces engaged in active struggle for decolonisation all around the former British Empire, but we must not neglect the island of “Great” Britain itself: in addition to the flagrant racism against immigrant nationalities, we also must expose the unequal relationship between the nations of the island “at home”, dating back centuries. The SNP’s culpability in the austerity regime is no better or worse than that of the Labour Party, but there is a fundamental historical difference which must be brought to the fore: the SNP’s popularity and the fact that the people of Scotland articulate their outrage at the current state of affairs in Britain through it is a sign of the continued relevance of the Scottish national question. The Scottish bourgeoisie has played an active role in British imperialism, but the capitalists do not by nature share: driven by the profit motive, the English bourgeoisie has made sure that Scotland is the junior partner, and this has meant concrete oppression of the people of Scotland: to achieve unity of the market, the traditional dialect of Lowland Scots, which had a legal status for centuries, has been replaced with English in all formal settings, depreciating this carrier of Lowland Scottish culture as the British state depreciates all cultures which differ from the hegemonic English culture.
Against the ugly homogenising instinct of the bourgeois British state, we must carry out active cultural investigation into revivals of the peoples’ own cultures from which they have been alienated for years by capitalism and the state. We must redraw the map of England from south to north, on the basis of opposing the Anglification of Cornwall, the subordinate status of the North of England (and the calls for autonomy in Yorkshire in particular), the connection of such border areas to the Lowlands of Scotland. We must likewise stand for the revival of Highland Scottish culture, including their own Gaelic language, which unites them to a certain extent with the Irish people languishing under centuries of Anglo colonialism. We must stand for a total opposition to the dogmas of British and English nationalism and redraw the national map of the island, rewrite the national histories, based on the social life of the masses.
Wales, which was legally recognised as “a part of England” for centuries, still suffers a very limited form of self-rule compared to Scotland. Wales is “England’s first colony”, and is basically still a colony to this day. “The right to self determination” has been denied to Wales on a fundamental level, by the fact that Wales’s fate has for decades been decided for it based on the interests of English capital. The ancient Welsh language, the indigenous language of Britain, has been beaten back almost as harshly as Gaelic in Scotland and Ireland. Wales is the poorest country in western Europe, despite being just down the M4 from London.
In Wales as in Scotland, we must reject the blind syndicalism which only permits the Welsh and Scottish peoples to act against the state as part of the Labour Party and “the working class”, which ignores the rightful indignation of even the most bourgeois sections of the Welsh and Scottish nations manifested in the SNP and Plaid Cymru; and we must also reject nationalism, defined in terms of totally jettisoning the fundamental question of class and all other consequent social contradictions within Scottish or Welsh society. Legal electoral fronts may be struggled on within either these “national” parties or within Labour, but the general thrust of our organising must be based upon the liberation of the oppressed masses in Scotland and Wales, whether they experience oppression because of their language, their gender, the colour of their skin, or simply the fundamental question of exploiter and exploited, which underlies and unites all oppression in the final instance.
Identity Politics and the Left
On this topic, it is worth quoting at length from an essay drafted by the Theoretical Study Group of the New Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party (NDMLP) Sri Lanka from July 2017:
As the above passage states, “Identity politics will exist as long identity-based oppression exists.” While it can not be ignored that ‘identity politics’ will be co-opted by the bourgeoisie, just as bourgeois nationalism may co-opt the righteous liberation struggles of oppressed peoples, an idealistic condemnation of this trend will not suffice to reorient struggle towards its essential class centre. Rather, we must reject the atomisation of the individual, the idealisation of “oppression” discourse, and intervene to bring the questions of identity firmly into the sphere of politics. In the first instance, this is done by leading the struggles for liberation of oppressed identities and peoples, and in the final instance we lead them towards unity on the basis of the fundamental contradiction of class.
Before railing against the liberalism of ‘identity politics’, communists should ask themselves whether in doing so, they are dismissing the existence of the oppression that gives rise to these politics. We should be asking ourselves: Why would any trans person join an organisation which wants to debate their right to exist? Why would any woman join an organisation which consistently apologises for and gives a platform to violent abusers? Why would any person of colour join an organisation which fundamentally dismisses the material reality oppression based on race or an analysis of imperialism and colonialism?
Rather than rejecting identity politics in toto, we should focus our theoretical and organisational efforts on struggling with those who are marginalised, and marginalised further by the official co-option of identity politics. We should be recognising the vital necessity of the struggles for rights and recognition, against social exclusion and societal and institutional discrimination. Most importantly, we should work together to theorise oppression not as intersecting discourses that produce an individual identity, but material conditions of existence which produce oppressed groups.
These struggles are at the core of the class struggle we wish to wage. We grow weaker as if by a process of exponential decay every time we jettison a struggle to protect our own pitiful hegemony on ‘the left’.
Any group which wishes to lead the masses to revolution which does not organise with these oppressed groups and have them represented at every level of the party will never do so.
As Engels said in 1847; ‘‘a nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations’, the masses will not become free whilst some continue to benefit from and enforce the oppression of others. This is why the best of our tradition is exemplified by the slogan ‘workers and oppressed peoples of all nations - unite!’
Dual power/service provision
Writers in the Black Nationalist/Revolutionary milieu, from Huey Newton to Kali Akuno have been quite clear that service provision controlled by the masses is necessary for survival against the genocidal policies of the US state. We can learn a great deal from this experience. As levels of poverty increase, and state provision is cut further and further by the Westminster austerity regime, the provision of basic need is becomes more and more desperately needed. Outside of the strate, this provision is currently controlled by charity and third sector organisations who only have the resources and the inclination to provide just the very basics, and often play an active role in the repressive apparatus of the state. Just one such example is several homelessness charities working with the Home Office to deport rough sleepers.
We argue that as activists within the electoral and industrial spheres begin to organise around a radical, anti-austerity driven social democratic politics, communists should base their organisaing in the community. We should should be opening unemployment centres, summer schools, after school clubs, food and clothing banks, needle exchanges, services for sexual, mental, and physical health, homeless and refugee night shelters in areas of social exclusion and deprivation. For example, with summer schools and breakfast/after school clubs, we can provide children with a place to play, learn, read, make art, do drama, to help them build their sense of self outside of a school system which doesn't particularly care about their attainment or development. Through these, we can provide services like breakfast/dinner clubs, laundry services, and other needs struggling families might need, as well as reaching out and providing mother's a place to discuss and receive support from one another. Once you have established a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship with members of the community, you can move on to discussing other concrete issues that affect the people you are organising with. Issues such as housing, internet deprivation, un- and underemployment, benefit sanctions, lack of access to healthy, nourishing food affect the most marginalised of our class to a greater or lesser degree all over the country. But seeking to meet material need, you develop your organising capacity and raise the consciousness of yourselves and the people you are organising with.
This organising should not be undertaken with the short term goals of party building, or providing charity without political content. It should be linked to the long term goals of building dual power institutions and empowering people socially and politically. Through this, we seek to achieve not the growth of our party or organisation (although certainly some will want to become involved), but the development of mass institutions and mass politics. This is the role of a vanguard. Too many times in our past have parties and organisations been blinded by sectarian conflict over arcane theoretical issues, or driven by a myopic focus on self preservation.
There is no theoretical substitute to gaining long term, in-depth knowledge through organising with the masses. It is necessary for any party or group to embed itself and it’s practice in the lived experience of the masses. A meaningful process of party/organisation building can only take place through a genuine commitment to struggle, through building the movement of the masses who are the motive force of history. A sectarian approach, a cult of the organisation for and by itself, on the other hand, will impede the broad movement of the masses, and consequently, the masses will reject such organisations.
These initiatives must develop further - economically, into co-operatives, and politically, into people’s assemblies. An in-depth discussion of these initiatives is beyond the scope of this survey, but will be developed in further pieces.
It should be made clear that this is not a substitute for some other arena of work, electoral, union, student organising, etc. rather this is one more fruitful area of political work that we as communists cannot abandon This is a way of building counter power and sustaining ourselves when and if the tide turns against the nascent left political feeling in the UK. It is a way of raising consciousness, of investigating into the conditions of the masses, of developing our line further, and most importantly, providing that which the state will not to the most oppressed of our class, and giving them shelter from it’s discipline and violence.
Some will try and counterpose community organising with workplace organising. However, we believe that nature of work and the current arrangement of union membership in this country, that community organising is absolutely essential for workplace organising.
In reality, effective union organising has always been supported by the community which exists beyond the factory gates. Important examples in the Britain include the Miners’ Strike and the Grunwick strike. We face greater challenges than in those days, with union density at an all time low, and the effects of privatisation, off-shoring, and the financialisation of the economy of the old imperialist countries, as well as the so called ‘4th Industrial Revolution’, all making employment more precarious. They key questions for the labour organising today are how do we organise people in the gig economy? Or in low paid service work like cleaning? How do we organise Amazon warehouse workers, retail workers, care workers, and bar, restaurant, and hospitality staff? Many of these industries have no union penetration whatsoever (aside from some notable and important exceptions), and there is no living memory of the successes that union membership can bring.
Community organising can fill that gap. Cadres and already unionised workers meeting fellow workers where they live, working to solve the problems in their communities with expensive poorly maintained housing, lack of services for the young, fighting evictions, fighting deportations, making communities cleaner and safer, arbitrating disputes between neighbours. When we have proved we can win once, the masses will believe we can win again.
To this end, cadres should be seeking out training in areas of use to the masses - if you are already in a union, get training as a workplace contact or a shop steward, learn how to fight a deportation case, learn housing law and learn how to prevent or forestall an eviction. Gain technical and manual skills, learn how to set up an internet connection, fix electrics, fix plumbing, maintain public greenery and other spaces, learn to advise people with benefits disputes. Learn what is necessary to start an afterschool club. Learn the needs of the masses, and work with them to resolve them using methods of dialectical pedagogy, or the ‘mass line’.
The organisation of labour cannot be separate from political work. This is essential to avoid the economistic and reformist politics seen throughout the history of labour aristocratic unionism in the UK.
We have a once in a generation opportunity to tie our social organising to electoral organising. We are well aware that the history of social movements and electoral politics. At the risk of over-generalisation, a tendency can be identified whereby institutional political parties co-opt the radical energies of social movements, often catering to the more bourgeois members of the groups in an attempt to curb their revolutionary potential.
We propose that activists use this historic opportunity, that the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party has produced, to further our aims as communists. We know that institutional power will try to undermine us, and so we do not place our faith in reproducing “Old Labour”. Rather, we must organise those truly broad masses who have firmly rejected “New Labour”, demanded change, and can be made to march forward still.
In two short years, through the opportunities presented or represented by Corbyn's leadership of the party, and the mass movement which has joined the party in response, class struggle has reached a level of prominence unseen in decades. Through all the compromises and even reactionary overtures of the leadership, the energy of the base - working class and petty bourgeois people who have lost a great deal over the last ten years, and committed to the idea of “socialism” (despite lacking a strong theoretical or strategic line) - is astounding. Recent grassroots successes such as the abandonment of the HDV social cleansing scheme in the Haringey borough of london have shown how committed and dedicated activists within the party have been able to use local party structures to effect change. Campaigns against gentrification have been going on for years outside of the party for years, and have been necessary in building to reach this point. However, it was only until Labour Party members were able to challenge a Labour-held council from inside the party that a real victory was won. We hope to see this replicated across London and elsewhere in the near future.
This is no call for a repeat of Militant’s experience of entryism. Instead, we argue that our primary goal should be the community and workplace organising detailed above, with the strategic support of and engagement with elements within the Labour Party. We should have cadres working within and without the Labour Party, investigating, organising, building, raising consciousness, forming alliances and generally doing politics with progressive members of whatever organisation, to build a political force greater than what Labour is capable of. We must not sit idly by and allow the same old dynamics to play out - that we use the current mass energy to intervene and keep building, with an aim of dual power structures which are able to challenge the government, and to build the core of a movement which will be able to survive when the Labour Party is shown to be unwilling or unable to defend even quantitative reformism, to be in conflict with the revolutionary masses as they push beyond the bounds of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism.
A Party of a New Type?
What has been outlined here is not possible without an organisation to bring it into being. As such, we call for a return to the best of the traditions of our movement. This involves a complete rejection of the cultist trotskyite pseudo-vanguardism as genuinely harmful for the movement and its members, as well as overcoming anarchist-influenced movementism which has produced important waves of protest since 2010 (most significantly Occupy and the 2010/11 student movement) but has shown itself completely unable to transcend this form and constitute a higher level of political organisation. Our task is to build a party acting as a vanguard so as to earn the right to be accepted as a vanguard. This means not sitting apart from the masses issuing dictats from on high, but producing the necessary political and ideological institutions for the masses to lead themselves.
We need to substantially engage with what democratic centralism means, and how we can use it to grow our movements rather than sustain parasitic cults and protect the very worst of us. A number of recent incidents within left wing groups have surfaced over the last several years where prominent members have been defended against allegations of abuse and sexual assaults, with ‘Democratic Centralism’ used to shut down any debate within these organisation after kangaroo courts have absolved the abuser of any wrongdoing. Off the back of these allegations, many former cadres have spoken out against the cult-like nature of these organisations, the dictatorial management of leadership, expulsions for minor infractions, or seeking to develop politics which stray from a stale and mostly useless party line.
To defend a politics which sees leadership and centralism as necessary for a movement of the oppressed to win, we must articulate a form of democratic centralism which sweeps away the autocratic and cultic forms which are predominantly practiced in this country today. For this to be successful, we have to develop robust methods of party democracy which sees the relationship between leadership, lower, and middle cadre as one of teaching and learning. As important as leadership is, it is incapable of leading without the organisational, theoretical, and democratic input of all cadre. Cadre are unable to provide this input without entering into an organic and dialectical relationship with the class as a whole.
A party should seek to embody an organic social trend which tends towards freedom and justice, and use the practical means at our disposal to raise this social trend to the level of a genuine social force. It should seek to articulate new social grievances as they arise. We argue for a party that is centralist in form, but democratic in essence.
We believe in the necessity to build a party not attached to some dead and stale dogma, but part a living creative tradition of liberation.
A party which has equal representation of women and minorities throughout the main organisation, and special wings dedicated to specific struggles - Women’s struggle, LGBT struggle, the struggle of black and other people of colour, and the struggle of disabled people.
A party which has the necessary specialisation of expertise, a division of labour necessary based on the material conditions of our struggle - theorists, organisers, culture workers, etc., but which seeks to bring these elements together in common work whenever possible, revealing the totality of the diverse labour dynamics within the organisational structure.
A party that can approach the masses with a dialectical form of pedagogy and organisation - a party which feels that it only has to teach and has nothing to learn from the masses by definition preaches a hollow materialism and a hollow socialism: such cults will never be able to lead real revolutionary masses.
A Party which has a strict code of conduct for party cadre, and has strict and survivor-led procedures for dealing with infractions, including harassment, abuse, and assault. More than this, cadre education, self-development and self-criticism must be at the heart of our organisation. Inculcating a culture which seeks to empower oppressed people and undo the oppressive personal behaviours of all as soon as someone enters the organisation means that being accountable starts then, and not at the point of infraction. As Marxists, our claim to a “ruthless criticism of all that exists” and our claim of being political subjects, our aspiration to a vanguard role in politics, lead to the inescapable conclusion that we must be ruthless first and foremost in our criticism of ourselves and our social identities.
A party which transcends vulgar syndicalism by organising all labour, including the unorganised and unemployed, on the basis of the politicisation of all forms of property, exclusion, and exploitation. A party which is able to develop an internationalism based on the acknowledgement of the UK’s imperial past and present, a radical and critical engagement with the actual social relations beneath the imperialist mythology, and through developing concrete bonds of solidarity with the struggling proletariat and oppressed of the world.
Such a party has not and cannot be created by writing this or any other text. Such a party will be built by social connections between people. We will not shy from our revolutionary duty to organise on all levels of our social life, using all means at our disposal. We will reveal to ourselves and to all the manifold contradictions of class society. In our concrete work, in our social lives, in our study, we will build higher and higher forms of organisation. By the time we declare the existence of such a party, it is these forms of organisation which will have already in effect created the revolutionary party this island has lacked for so long.
Workers and oppressed peoples of the world, unite!
- The Lever Editorial Group