Out September 15th: “Syriza – Inside the Labyrinth”

syriza_ovendenBy Pluto Press (200 pages | 5 x 7 3/4 | © 2015).

With a Foreword by Paul Mason.

In January 2015, Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, became the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, winning 149 out of 300 seats and badly defeating the then-ruling conservative New Democracy party. In Syriza, Kevin Ovenden presents an in-depth analysis of the political events leading up to this seemingly sudden reversal of political power in Greece, exploring the origins of the turbulent Greek political climate, from the beginnings of the Communist Party of Greece and the Greek workers’ movement following the First World War, to the brutal civil war that shook the country in the aftermath of the Second World War; the rise and fall of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and the growth of radical politics in the 1970s; and finally the crushing austerity demands following the debt crisis of the 2010s.

Ovenden also examines the far-right movements in Greece as well, focusing in particular on the negative impact that the xenophobic and nationalistic Golden Dawn party has had and continues to have to this day.

Syriza’s victory in Greece is a central event of the twenty-first century, whose ramifications are sure to be felt for decades.

Go to Pluto Press to order your copy.

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National Conservatism: Trump, May and anti-Semitism


Some 75 percent of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain are the responsibility of the far right, says a committee of MPs.

The actual figure may be higher. That is both because the committee has demonstrated a consistent bias in seeking to locate anti-Semitism, absurdly, in the Labour Party and not on the far right, and also because the indirect responsibility is not considered.

Just how much of the anti-Semitic imagery and propaganda which you can find online, and which some people believe, is actually generated on the far right – a lot of it highly professionally by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists based in the US?

All the MPs on the committee are bitterly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. So for either party (the Tories) or factional (Chuka Umunna and pals) advantage they twist the report to skip over actual anti-Semitism and create headlines against Corbyn and the left.

Next month will see a four-week trial of the man accused of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. At the time, the police said their main line of inquiry was a “far right connection”. The man accused of killing her was reported to have shouted at the murder scene: “Britain First!” or “Put Britain first!”

Last Tuesday in Parliament we had the sickening spectacle of one Tory MP after another waving the shroud of Jo Cox to argue for military escalation in the Syria war, including a preparedness to shoot down Russian planes.

We do not, tragically and self evidently, know what the murdered Labour MP would have said – precisely because she was murdered.

That did not stop Tory MPs who opposed the opening of the borders to refugees, from Syria and from elsewhere, which she campaigned for. And unlike them, she did not vote in December of last year for David Cameron’s bombing.

There is a deeply shocking reality which no one on the left and no anti-racist in Britain can allow to stand.

A Labour MP has been murdered – with all the hallmarks of a fascist-inspired assassination – and there is zero recognition in British public life or from most MPs that that has happened. Instead, there is the most squalid politicking aimed at undermining the leader of the Labour Party and the movements of the left.

There is zero official acceptance, of course, of the endemic Islamophobia in Britain. It is expressed not only in hate crime – as with the woman who was assaulted in north London recently and her hijab ripped off. It is also structured into the state and society – institutionalised, a matter of policy also: the Prevent Strategy.

Then we have Theresa May making a National Conservative turn – with talk of patriotic Britons being undermined by “left wing human rights lawyers” (that would fit Shami Chakrabarti, by the way) and rootless “international elites”.

Donald Trump went further, naturally, in a speech in Florida on Friday. He said that Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international financiers whose wealth and immorality are unlimited and that they conspire to bring down the working man of the US, sending jobs to Mexico and China.

It is precisely in this National Conservative paranoia – of which May’s is but on a spectrum which includes Trump’s – that actual fascist ideology is incubated.

Fascism has little in the way of a distinct ideology. It is everywhere the radicalisation of the domestic drivel of the mainstream, hard right and of the historic ideologies of its state.

All the rudiments of the Nazis’ ideology were to be found in the National Conservative elites of the 1920s – ranging from Henry Ford in the US to Lord Rothermere in Britain – but with a German national specificity.

In theory you could conceive of a fascist movement without racism and anti-Semitism at its centre – by way of a thought experiment of a capitalism with a different history and in a different world on a different planet.

But history is in the present. And the far right and fascism have no comparable instrument other than racism in all its forms. They have to take the instruments they find from their histories; they cannot simply reinvent themselves out of thin air.

In this actual world we face sudden declines in the value of a currency; national antagonisms and chauvinism; illustrated by the cases of Poland and Hungary, huge numbers of a national population who had been encouraged to take out mortgages in foreign currencies by banks overnight find that they have been pauperised, made homeless, by a single movement on the money markets.

In these circumstances – which will get more acute – there is no more potent a lie for either National Conservatives or fascists than the old one of the rootless, cosmopolitan Jew sucking the blood of the nation via the banking system. Perhaps also through the “Jewish socialism” of the Marxist and radical left, “they” are sapping the national unity and will from within.

There has been a big turnout and very productive deliberations at the international conference in Athens this weekend hosted by the KEERFA anti-racist and anti-fascist coalition.

The cynicism of the anti-Corbyn MPs’ parliamentary report stands in absolute contrast. It is enraging. So too is the sight of the usual suspects touring the radio and television stations today to spread the lie that it is the party of labour and not the right which is the danger over racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

The sooner there is a stronger fightback by Labour Party members inside their party over that, the better.

But even that is but a small aspect of the fightback we really need. That is a truly mass movement in the society against racism, wars and national chauvinism – but also providing the radical answers to a world in crisis and flushing down the sewer the radicalising right’s false explanations for that.

There is not a moment to lose.

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Cable Street – from petitioning to street barricades


Eighty years ago today the working class in the slum housing of the East End of London rose up and stopped British fascism in its tracks at the Battle of Cable Street. This is an excellent account of the lead up to that historic day and of what happened on it.

It is from the site of the “Cable Street 80” committee, which is organising the major commemorative events in Whitechapel this coming Sunday.

Cable Street is well remembered on the British left. It is something that all of us feel rightly proud of, particularly if we have lived in or been associated with the East End of London. It provided a reference point for later bursts of intense anti-fascist activity: from stopping the National Front at Lewisham and the Anti Nazi League in the 1970s, again at the Battle of Welling in the early 1990s, and into this century.

Cable Street is rich not just in inspiration but in political pointers for the anti-fascist movement still. Its relevance is all the greater when we consider some of the aspects which may be detail to the overall story, but which will resonate with activists today.

British Union of Fascists leader Sir Oswald Mosley announced his intention to converge on the East End of London and rampage through the heart of the Jewish area only at the very end of September 1936.

It is important to see how things felt at that time. There had been repeated attempts at fascist incursion on the fringes of the East End. In areas bordering Bethnal Green on the northern boundary of the large, Jewish working class community there had been frequent physical attacks. People had been killed.

The overall situation in Europe looked grim indeed. General Franco had issued his pronunciamento announcing a fascist uprising against the Spanish Republic on 18 July. Just two months later, as Mosley announced his plans, Franco had managed to advance at great speed from Spanish-occupied Morocco, through western Andalusia to within 80 km of taking Madrid. He was halted. But at the beginning of October 1936 it looked as if another country was about to fall imminently to fascism, joining Italy and Germany. The Berlin Olympics in August had just projected depressing news footage of Hitler firmly in power.

The people of the East End who were about to engage in a major fight were in no sense looking for one. They were far from optimistic in their assessment of where Europe and Britain were heading. They were indignant at the threatened march. But all accounts record that there was also great fear.

Communist activists through the Jewish People’s Council against Fascism and Anti-Semitism, which they had initiated, launched a petition calling on the Home Secretary to ban Mosley’s march. Within 48 hours they got 100,000 signatures. It was an incredible feat, not exceeded since the days of the Chartist agitation in Britain a hundred years earlier.

They handed it in on Friday 2 October. The Tory Home Secretary refused to ban the demonstration – just two days before it was to take place.

As they petitioned, the Stepney branch of the Communist Party had been making the argument to block Mosley even if the Home Secretary would not. The Labour Party’s position was to rely only upon the petition, and if that failed for people to clear the streets on Sunday and let Mosley pass.

The government’s refusal to respond to the mass petition sent shockwaves. The agitation to stop Mosley took off like a rocket.

The Young Communist League in London had been building for a rally in Trafalgar Square in solidarity with the Spanish Republic on 4 October. They had called it well before Mosley announced his plans.

Remember – Franco was almost at the gates of Madrid, which seemed about to fall. Rallying for Spain in central London was far from some ritualistic action. It was to be the first big mobilisation for Spain. It too was an emergency.

Understandably, people did not want to call it off at six days notice and still with the possibility that the government would have to yield to popular pressure. How would comrades in Spain feel that the first protest in their support in London had been cancelled?

The thinking was also that if it was called off then Mosley would be able to force the cancellation of any big event just by announcing a demonstration at short notice. He would have a veto on left wing activity. Anyone who has been part of organising a major event in such circumstances knows these kinds of dilemmas.

In the six days running up to Cable Street there was intense debate between Communist activists in the heart of the East End and the London-wide leadership.

The first position was for people across London to go to Trafalgar Square and afterwards to east London to support the anti-fascist mobilisation called by the local party and others.

But it became clearer as the few days rolled on that what was happening in east London was a massive groundswell, reported by the local activists who could see and feel it. Then the shock on the Friday of the rejection of the petition swung the argument right over. Trafalgar Square was cancelled that afternoon and leaflets and posters amended calling everyone to Aldgate East on the Sunday.

The result was the epic day in working class history described so well on the Cable Street 80 page linked to.

That is the big story. So why the pettifogging details?

Strategies, tactics and living struggle

In the course of many decades of retelling sometimes Cable Street has been shorn of its vital and lived reality and turned into a simplistic political homily. A straightforward clash of tactics – broad campaigning versus direct action. Broad campaigning: conservative and bad; direct action: militant and good.

Now some key features of what happened do reveal a straightforward strategic clash of good and bad. The official leadership of the British Jewish community was useless throughout. It was separated in all sorts of ways from the working class community of the East End: by class; by geography (it was based in better off parts of West London); by politics (it was anti-left); by status and origin – it was much more established from older Southern European immigration and not recent refugees from Eastern Europe; and even by patterns of religious observance. Its advice was just to ignore Mosley.

The Labour Party too was highly ineffective. It supported the petition. But once that failed it called on people to stay at home and not confront the fascists.

It was not just the party’s right wing, represented by Herbert Morrison. He held a big rally in Hackney Town Hall (just two miles from the East End) on the eve of Cable Street calling on people to stay away.

The leading figure of the left, George Lansbury, who was the most left wing leader the Labour Party has ever had, also called from his fastness of Poplar in east London, a short walk from Cable Street, for people not to mobilise on Sunday 4 October.

It is also true that on the radical, Communist left there was a major strategic divide. There was the official policy of the “Popular Front”, which emphasised trying to get unity of all classes in the defence of democracy against fascism. In contrast, was the “United Front” policy of the exiled Leon Trotsky emphasising a militant working class unity which would have to clash with “democratic capitalism” if it was to conduct the necessary fight against fascism.

Vital as that strategic debate still is today, it would be a mistake to shoehorn Cable Street neatly into some ideological mold. The reality of the struggle itself was more powerful than ideological debates, necessary as they are.

A petition handed to the Home Office by a Labour MP, a priest, the secretary of the London Trades Council and two East End Jewish community representatives might seem the height of respectable campaigning. If left at that, it is. And that is where the conservative bureaucracies of the labour movement and of the official Jewish community wanted to leave things.

But the act of petitioning had stirred people – agitated them – throughout the East End. And who had done that and organised others to gather the petition? Radical forces who put the argument to each signatory that whatever the government did, Mosley had to be stopped. The radical minority were clear that confrontational tactics would most likely be needed. They prepared people for them. But most people were not clear about that. A week before the day, the East End was boiling with indignation. But it is was not in its majority envisaging that they would be taking part in street battles the following weekend.

It is the beginning of wisdom to see that one tactic is insufficient and a more militant one necessary. But the genius of what happened 80 years ago was that a militant minority was able to help the majority to see the same thing very rapidly, and to act – moving from a respectable and very British tactic of petitioning, to a very French tactic of street barricades. That had happened on a massive scale with Chartism and the birth of the working class movement in Britain.

The movement from one to the other in 1936 was symbolised by the graffiti that appeared in the East End. In huge letters was painted: “Ban Fascism!” That contained an ambiguity. Who was to ban fascism? The government, or somebody else? The ambiguity was resolved as people moved to realise that it was they who had to impose a popular ban on the fascists’ activities because the government would not.

There was naturally great tactical debate among the Communist militants. That intensified in the months after Cable Street. Joe Jacobs is often identified as representing the “street fighting” or direct action pole of those debates, which became overlaid with other political and strategic arguments. Phil Piratin, who would become Communist MP for Mile End in 1945, is often taken as personifying the other pole, of the wave of agitation the Communist Party undertook throughout east London over housing and social conditions. That undercut the fascists – and the mainstream parties. It also tended towards clashing with big business interests, not appealing to them to join a “democratic front” against fascism.

But seeing Cable Street 80 years ago today primarily through the polarising prism of later political divergences or just as a playing out of an ideological clash over strategy within the Marxist left does not do justice to the lived reality of what happened. And it yields only the most perfunctory of lessons for us today.

It was the “street-fighting” Joe Jacobs, after all, who wrote to the local paper – then, as now, the East London Advertiser – not to play up the violent and wholly justified clash with the fascists, but to highlight the 100,000-strong petition and the callous disregard of a Tory Home Secretary who spurned it.

Cable Street, with all its rich shadings, was brought vividly to life for a number of us in east London five years ago. The racist thugs of the English Defence League announced that they would march through exactly the same area that Mosley had been blocked from. This time the march in 2011 was to intimidate and demonstrate supposed racial superiority over the Muslim Bangladeshi population now living in the same streets as Jewish immigrants had in the 1930s.

A Tory Home Secretary again refused our petition. Her name was Theresa May. She instead said that she would ban us and would impose merely a limit upon the EDL which still allowed them to gather in threatening numbers. They then hoped they would breach police lines or force a march to take place and to invade the East End. Once again, the mass agitation in east London turned to collective defiance as thousands blocked the Whitechapel High Street and Bangladeshi-led battalions protected the housing estates on the frontlines from fascist incursion. The radical independent then mayor of the area, Lutfur Rahman, and his councillors were on the Whitechapel High Street. The EDL did not set one foot into the East End.

Cable Street, with its images of Jewish seamstresses uniting behind barricades with Irish dockers, continues to inspire across the working class movement. For that reason alone it is a story which should be widely shared, given the circumstances we face today.

Additionally, for those who have set themselves on a path of socialist politics and agitation, it provides very rich lessons in dealing with strategic and tactical dilemmas which are never identical with those previously, but which do recur perennially.

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Immigration, the labour movement and the left in Britain today


Memorial to Arkadiusz Joswik, a Polish facotry worker murdered in Harlow in England

Unite leader Len McCluskey said in his speech to the Labour Party conference: “I believe that the question of free movement of labour is a question not only in the UK but in Europe. No one talks of countries where migrant labour come from being denuded of skills.”

He did so in the context of explicitly supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to concede to calls from the right wing and soft left of the Parliamentary Labour Party for further immigration restriction into Britain, something which is now set to be a central dividing line in British politics. 
McCluskey said that Corbyn’s call for collective bargaining rights, a minimum wage of £10 and hour and stronger union organisation addressed the issue of bosses super-exploiting many migrant workers.
At the same time, the British labour movement does have many examples of how this argument about immigration into Britain or other advanced countries coming at the expense of poorer ones has a very slippery history.
In the 1960s the Labour Party and trade union movement gave in to right wing demands for more immigration controls. There were figures on the right of the movement who used the argument about robbing poorer countries consciously as cover for that capitulation. Unlike leaders such as McCluskey today, they had up to that point shown little interest in opposing the way that colonialism and imperialism impoverished large parts of the world, forcing people to uproot.
Theirs was a very cynical argument to obscure their real position of “keep them out” and sometimes to gloss their own racist prejudices about black and brown newcomers to Britain.
From others at the time who were not racist, and even anti-racist, the argument was put more with the motivation of seeking to evade the difficult job of opposing head on the anti-immigration agitation. That meant having to deal with racist and anti-immigrant ideas among trade unionists and working class people.
It meant being prepared to fight within the membership you represented against all reactionary ideas, rather than just seeking to reflect the balance of averaged opinion and restricting your fight to taking on only what most people would regard as extreme and unacceptable racism.
We can see this argument deployed in that kind of way today in the European labour movement, even on parts of the radical left. Jean-Luc Melenchon in France tends towards this tactic of evasion in much of what he says about immigration and refugees. So do some figures in Die Linke in Germany. And it has for many years been common across the radical left in Greece, even as it fought successive austerity governments.
How should the anti-capitalist left respond? First we must recognise that the direct argument against the anti-immigration brigade cannot be evaded, avoided, “reframed” or otherwise dealt with through apparently presentational techniques. It has to be met head on.

This requires being uncompromising in asserting some fundamental arguments:

1) Migrants do not lower wages. Bosses lower wages.

2) It is the Tory government which has cut welfare, health and education spending. Migrant workers pay through taxes for those services just as much as anyone else. Often their education has been paid for out of taxation in the countries they came from. So they bring their capacity to work and their skills to a society which has not had to contribute to developing them in the first place.

3) It is immigration control, with all the repressive apparatuses of the state, not immigration which creates conditions for the employers and the Tories to attack all workers. Special work permits, removing the rights of some workers (new arrivals) to access welfare and legal protections and so on are the kinds of things which make them more vulnerable to greater exploitation.

If you were brought up in Hartlepool and you move to get a job in Leeds, you are not lowering the level of wages in Leeds. But if in Leeds you are not granted the same rights as those who were brought up there, because you have come from Hartlepool, then bosses in Leeds are in a stronger position to exploit you all the more. This is especially so if you have hanging over your head the threat of deportation to Hartlepool if you step out of line in Leeds.

4) Without trade union and labour movement organisation bosses and the governments which serve them would have a totally free hand to exploit people. Workers organising together at work, in communities and in radical movements for change can fight against that. Dividing workers is crucial to the rich preventing us from doing so.

Immigration controls serve the rich in two ways. First, they are used to create a category of workers who can be more exploited – and that is then used to increase the exploitation and robbery of working people as a whole.

Second, they depend on and further reinforce the idea that working people do not share a common interest with one another. They spread the pernicious idea that you have more in common with someone like the boss of Sports Direct because you were both born in Britain than you do with the people being exploited by him no matter where they came from – whether from Hartlepool or Hungary.

Racism is not just a weapon used by the capitalist class. But it is, indeed, a weapon used by the capitalist class. Lots of people who reject racist prejudice still fall for the idea that their lives would be improved by stopping immigration. It is not necessarily racist to think that. But immigration controls are both themselves racist and always produce more racism, which serves the interests of the rich and powerful.

These are arguments which the militantly anti-racist left has made for two generations in Britain. Of course, the patterns of migration and of the labour market change. But they remain fundamentally the same. So do the arguments. They need to be developed and filled out with all of the evidence and experience of today.

But they do need to be made. And it is only because these arguments were made and have been acted upon over the last 50 years that we are in the position we are in now to defeat another wave of anti-immigration agitation from another Tory government, its backers and the racist right.

Our free movement and freedom versus theirs

What of the point Len McCluskey makes, as part of trying to oppose the Tories and the racists, not aiming to endorse them?

The point speaks to a real and ugly truth. The population of Latvia, a recent member of the European Union, has declined by a sixth over the last 15 to 20 years thanks to free market economic shock therapy. People, especially the young, have had to leave to find work elsewhere.

The number of teachers in Latvia has fallen by more than a sixth. It is down by nearly a quarter. So there are fewer teachers in Latvia per pupil than there were 20 years ago. No socialist can ignore the calamity that means for working class children and parents in Latvia.

In Greece about a quarter of a million people under the age of 30 have left the country in the crisis years. They include doctors, nurses and health workers made redundant with the closure of hospitals and health services.

Officially, one in six people in Greece have no access to healthcare. The real figure is probably one in five. That is because the immigration controls imposed to serve the rich and powerful mean that there are large numbers of people in Greece who do not have official residency permits. They are both more likely to be super-exploited and cannot access the services that citizens can.

Some of those health workers are now working in the British National Health Service. They are among the tens of thousands of migrants, and hundreds of thousands from families of one time immigrants, who keep it going. The NHS gets the work of a Greek-trained doctor, but people in Greece paid for the training.

It is not so very different for so-called unskilled workers, like the Gambian-born Spanish labourers who were killed two months ago in a horrific industrial accident at a scrapyard in Birmingham. All the resources to bring them up, provide them milk as infants and give them the skills and capacity to work for a highly exploitative boss in Britain were borne by people in Gambia.

Greece needs more doctors and nurses. Gambia needs more employment. But the answer to these problems is not to stop people moving from one country to another. It is to stop big business robbing one country or another and exploiting working people everywhere. In Ireland it means stopping Apple from making profits everywhere but shifting its accounts so that it pays due taxes on them nowhere.

Stopping a Greek-trained psychotherapist coming to work in the British NHS will not improve mental health provision in Greece. Banning workers from Gambia from working in Birmingham will not improve the living standards of a single family in its capital, Banjul. And allowing them to be stigmatised as “migrants” will make it easier for bosses to skimp on health and safety standards to the detriment of all workers, just like those at the Didcot power station who suffered a similar fatal incident a few months before the Gambians in Birmingham.

To do that requires confronting big business and the capitalist class which exploits people the world over. It means in Britain demanding an end to the debt bondage imposed upon working people in Greece by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF. It means opposing the wars, the expansion of Nato and the nuclear missile madness, not going along with them.

But that struggle is weakened and can never happen if any concession is made to one of the principal weapons that big business and the Tory government use to prevent radical opposition – racism and the idea that if we side with them to control the movement of other working people then somehow we will be better off.

And this is their policy even when they talk in the bureaucratic language of the EU through terms such as “free movement of labour”. What do they mean? They do not mean that working people are truly free from all the pressures and powers of those who run the system. They mean that people should be free to be exploited. Freed from any control over their lives and “free” to move – but only under the strictest conditions. Free to fill fluctuating demand in the economy in one place or another. But equally free to drown in the Mediterranean because they come from the wrong place. Above all “free” from the rights and capacities to organise with others to resist their exploitation.

“Free movement” is one of those buzzwords. We on the left should break down what it means. The “issues with free movement” for the labour movement are not that it allows too much, but that it is not free enough.

Three decades ago the economic devastation wrought by Margaret Thatcher hit famously a town in England called Corby. The steel industry which dominated the town shut. It was devastated. Many young people, and those older who could, left. Many of them were from families who had come to Corby from Scotland, when an earlier wave of capitalist economic destruction had forced people to move down south.

Nobody said in the 1930s that stopping people moving from Clydeside to Northamptonshire was the way to protect jobs and improve the lives of working people in England. And nobody said in the 1980s that stopping people moving from Corby to London was necessary because “London is too full”. At the same time, nobody except the Thatcherites welcomed that perverse “freedom” which made the bosses free to close down industries as they wished and to uproot communities.

There was no answer for the labour movement in calling for the movement of workers to be limited. The answer lay in uniting working people against the ravages of big business. The labour movement failed sufficiently to do that. But that remains the only answer today, whether we are talking about people moving from pauperised smaller cities and towns in the north of England to get work elsewhere in the country, or from Poland or fleeing war in Syria or the effects of climate change in the Sahel region of Africa.

The labour movement is in a potentially strong position to make these arguments, thanks in part to the battles waged by anti-racists against previous waves of anti-immigration agitation.

That requires two things. First, an iron-hard determination not to concede to the anti-immigration arguments. Second, a sustained, collective effort to find all manner of means to put our arguments throughout the working class movement and to root them in the experience of working class people and the realities of austerity Britain. That means finding the best ways to put the case, not clever means to evade the argument.

The biggest problem we face is not so much that there is confusion in parts of the labour movement over this question, or even that those who are more at home with the CBI than with the trade unions are now pushing an anti-immigration line.

It is that not enough of the movement of the left, now more considerable than at any time in 40 years in Britain, is putting these arguments. And that means that chances to change the whole balance of the debate are at risk of being lost.

Five black migrant workers in Britain’s second city were killed in just one industrial accident two months ago. Few people would be indifferent to the crushing by falling metal of five men at work and the impact on their bereaved families who have lost their breadwinners. But how many people know about this? How many union branches have raised this and the deaths of three men, who were not black migrant workers, in similar circumstances at Didcot Power station to make the point and win the case?

A month ago a Polish factory worker in Harlow in Essex was beaten to death in what police believe to be a racially motivated attack. The Metropolitan police have said that the spike in racist attacks following the Brexit vote was principally directed at Eastern European people. It may be subsiding now – we shall see next month with the publication of the extensive figures of the British Crime Survey.

There was a heartfelt response from people in Harlow to the murder. The same also following anti-Polish attacks in Leeds and other cities. How many in Britain know the name Arkadiusz Jóźwik? More important even than the precise formulations our unions and the Labour MPs come up with is this question: what has been done to rally the majority of working people who whatever their confusions about immigration in general are sickened by racist murders like this?

There are nearly a million Polish workers in Britain. They are largely not in unions and are reporting the ugly results of racist agitation which is always churned up by the anti-immigration bandwagon. What efforts are being made in their direction?

The Trade Union Congress highlighted two months ago the outrage that Theresa May’s government is refusing to guarantee the rights of EU migrant workers who are already in Britain. She has adopted the position of using them as a bargaining token, hoping to utilise their fears to squeeze governments such as the Polish and the Hungarian in the Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May did not budge. What has been done since? This is an issue over which we, not the hardened anti-immigrationists and racists,  have majority support. Some 84 percent of people in Britain say that the rights of EU nationals already in the country must be guaranteed. There is little difference between those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain in the EU referendum on this question – 74 percent of Leave voters agree to the rights of EU migrants in Britain.

They are working across the economy and many in areas which have a considerable union presence, such as the NHS, transport and education. Is anything being done to secure their rights, which their fellow workers support, and thus both inflict a defeat on the Tories and the racists and also create a better climate for dispelling wider anti-immigrant and racist myths?

These are the pressing questions now. And there exist the potential means to answer them. There are half a million members of the British Labour Party. Most of them joined to support Jeremy Corbyn in the last 16 months and most are at least sympathetic to his refusal to join the anti-immigration bandwagon.

There are about 20,000 Labour Party members now organised in the left wing Momentum group. That is a very considerable increase upon the numbers of organised socialists in Britain whether in or outside the Labour Party.

There are more who are organised through the structures of the trade union movement. There is great scope and need for debate and learning from one another about how best to put the arguments over immigration. But we will not win those arguments by discussing how to put the arguments.

We will win them only by actually putting the case and taking action over the increasing number of instances where the barbarity of what the anti-immigrationists stand for becomes clear even to people who fall for some of what they are saying.

The answer to how to put the argument against the anti-immigration brigade lies in taking them on, not finding ways to avoid doing so. Taking them on in word and deed.

It is time for all the left of the labour movement to act.

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‘In my religion it is forbidden to bear false witness’



Abuzid Ebarak (left) is the victim of an attempted murder by a gang of Golden Dawn fascists in Athens four years ago. He is stood outside the ongoing trial of Golden Dawn with Magda Fyssa, the mother of Pavlos Fyssas, who was murdered by the fascists three years ago this weekend. 

All except the fascist defendants and their lawyers were left stunned today, 13 September 2016, at the trial of Golden Dawn by the testimony of Abu Hamad Sa’ad.

With great emotional power and analytical detail he described the raid by over a dozen Golden Dawn members in June 2012 on the house he shared with a group of other Egyptians, including Abuzid Ebarak, who was almost killed in the attack.

Yesterday, the lawyers of the 68 Golden Dawn defendants, many paid out of the Greek state budget as “technical staff” to the fascist parliamentary fraction, sought to belittle and abuse Abuzid in the witness box.

Today a further witness to the truth of what happened that night four years ago left them with very little to say and with the court less tolerant of their theatrics.

Abu Hamad Sa’ad recalled with compelling accuracy the minute by minute unfolding of the attack which nearly killed his friend.

It began with the Golden Dawn gang trying to smash down the front door of their house: “Open up, assholes. We are here to teach you what Golden Dawn is.”

Abu Hamad lives and works legally in Greece. “I have no problems with people here,” he told the president of the court – as Abuzid had also repeatedly told the trial in his testimony.

He was adamant that he could recognise where the attack that night came from and the affiliation of the men who perpetrated it.

He paused. Then words punctured the silence: “In my religion it is a very bad thing to accuse someone falsely.” The court was reminded that he had taken his oath to tell the truth upon the Koran.

The words are, of course, the eighth (or sometimes numbered ninth) commandment received according to the Book of Exodos by Moses – the prophet Musa in Islam, which shares that ancient Biblical scripture with Christianity and Judaism.

Abu Hamad continued: “We had to struggle to survive in Greece. We worked, We came to Greece for a better life. I sell a kilo of fish, if someone wants to buy it. If not, I don’t sell anything.”

Those words – voiced plainly and elegantly in Greek – are ones which many people in this country wracked by austerity understand all too well, however long they or their forebears have lived here.

He described how after the attackers fled he found his friend Abuzid, who had been sleeping outside on the terrace. His face and mouth were bloodied and swollen. His jaw twisted. He could not speak. Only gasps.

“I came to Greece alone,” Abu Hamad said, answering the presiding judge’s questions. “My big brother Ahmed had already been here for two years.

“We became fishermen on a boat and lived together. My other brother Mohammed came a couple of months after me. I worked for six months in the construction industry, then other jobs, and now we are fishermen.”

He knew Abuzid from Egypt, as their homes there were but two kilometres apart. He and his brothers assisted Abuzid to find work. They helped him out, though Abuzid protested any generosity.

As his testimony continued a matter of fact story took shape. Men of working age moving to a foreign land to try to make a life for themselves and for their families. Men moving first, perhaps women later – if a livelihood could be assured.

It is the story of the families of almost every Greek in the world, whether in Chicago, Toronto, Melbourne, London, or Munich.

And Abu Hamad’s and Abuzid’s parents and relatives worried about the dangers that might befall the migrants in a strange land.

In just the same way half a century ago, Greek parents fretted over the fate of their sons who had gone to work in the car factories of Germany or the building sites of Australia – from there to send home remittances: one wage packet in Stuttgart sustaining an extended family in Salonika.

Not just Greeks. And not just then. This is the condition today of large numbers of working people the world over.

Abu Hamad: “On the day of the attack we woke up at dawn to open the shop. I fell asleep at ten or ten thirty at night. The work is very tiring.

“Apart from my siblings, there were Ahmed’s two children in the house, aged 15 and 17.

“Suddenly the whole house shook, the door and the window. I heard my brother Ahmed cursing someone and there were men shouting through the door and the window. They smashed them with sticks and iron bars.

“We managed to keep the shutters of the windows closed and avoided being hit.” The court has already heard how the Golden Dawn gang had gone round to the terrace, where Abuzid was sleeping, to attack him.

Abu Hamad continued: “The young children hid under the beds.

“I sensed first there were about five or six people outside. Eventually I realised it was about a dozen.”

The Egyptian fisherman called out for the neighbours to help as the glass to the windows and door was smashed. Abu Hamad was clear who was attacking. “I had heard of Golden Dawn and my brother had seen these people in the neighbourhood. We were told that they can harm you.”

Costas and another neighbour answered the alarm, but arrived just as the attackers were fleeing on motorbikes. They were all clad in black. About half a dozen of them were armed with staves and bars.

The assault took place in minutes – military precision, you might say. Costas helped to summon the police and ambulance service.

Abu Hamad had seen the face of just one of the assailants. Unlike two other witnesses who will give evidence, he has never claimed to be sure of identifying by sight any of the attackers.

Could he identify them now in the court room? Without hesitation: “I must say that I cannot be sure. In my religion it is forbidden to accuse someone without being sure.”

With equal honesty, he described how Golden Dawn had driven past the house a dozen times before, looking threatening, and how he went that night with Abuzid to one hospital and then to another – fearful that he might die.

Lawyers for Golden Dawn resumed the contemptuous line of questioning that they hurled at the principal victim of this crime, Abuzid, yesterday.

They accused Abu Hamad of lying and that the whole incident was a result of a fight between “compatriots” – foreigners from the same region abroad and falling out over some matter or another.

That was the theory of the German police and internal intelligence in the case of the murder of nine Turkish and Kurdish men and one Greek between 2000 and 2007. They said, and worked on the basis, that the killings were gang- and drug-related. The murders turned out to be the work of a Nazi terror cell – the National-Socialist Underground – which is now the subject of a trial in Germany.

Once again came the accusation that the Egyptian fishermen were “working illegally”, here “to get something “, perhaps “paid” by a sinister force. And again came the despicable questioning of why these men from another country “increased the size of their families” when they were so poor.

Golden Dawn is not on trial for its ideology. What it says is of relevance to this process only in so far as it illustrates the criminal charge laid against it under Article 187 of the Greek penal code.

It is criminal actions – felonies, serious crimes, including murder and attempted murder – that are being tried along with the charge that those flow from the existence of a command-structure criminal organisation: a mafia of the violent and racist right.

But the well paid lawyers of Golden Dawn and the fascist criminal organisation itself are throwing another question into the scales as they plead their defence. It is the very idea that newcomers to the European continent are entitled to the protections of citizens who have been here longer.

They are laying the doctrine of racism and xenophobia before the court and, more widely, issuing that as an appeal to European opinion in their defence.

The judicial arm of the Greek state will have to decide how to respond to that question in its verdict in over a year’s time.

The more important verdict upon that question is the one that must be delivered now – and by the peoples of Europe and beyond.

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Playing games in the face of barbarism

The oath of allegiance taken by members of Golden Dawn in Greece identifies their greatest enemy as the “Eternal Jew” – Der Ewige Jude was the title of a Nazi propaganda film from 1940.
The leader of the Greek fascist party, Nikos Michaloliakos, has been videoed telling supporters: “We are the seed of the defeated army of 1945. We are National-Socialists.” That is, Nazis – acolytes of the particular strand of fascism developed in Germany by Hitler and his NSDAP, the Nazi Party.
The anti-racist movement in Greece obtained that and many other videos and documents relating to Golden Dawn just under three years ago. An anti-fascist uprising following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas on 17-18 September 2013 forced the then government to sunder its back channel relationship with the fascists and to allow a prosecution of Golden Dawn for its many crimes.
Tomorrow will mark three years to the day since one of those crimes: the near fatal attack on Sotiris Poulikogiannis, president of the Metalworkers Union of Piraeus, and about 30 other members of the PAME inter-union front, led by the Communist Party of Greece.
They were set upon by a Golden Dawn “battalion squad”. That is the direct translation from the Greek. What it refers to precisely is rendered in German as the Sturmabteilung, literally the “storm department”. In English, the term is stormtroopers. They were the brown-shirted paramilitary force, the SA, which numbered a third of million men in 1932 and were the defining feature of Hitler’s Nazi party. The Sturmabteilung was what the German elites thought they were “hiring”, in the words of conservative politician Franz von Papen, when they brought Hitler to power in January 1933.
The attempted murder of Communist trade unionists by a Greek Sturmabteilung three years ago is part of the ongoing trial of Golden Dawn. The party is not a uniquely Greek contemporary phenomenon.
Golden Dawn is part of a network of fascist organisations in Europe. The closest equivalent of substance is Jobbik in Hungary. Like Golden Dawn, it holds third place in its national parliament. It has its stormtroopers.
A maniacal anti-semitism remains at the core of the worldview, and is an organising ideological principle, of these dangerous forces, even as they highlight other targets of convenience, as circumstance dictates.
In Hungary, one of the main targets is Roma people, who are still the most marginalised and discriminated against ethnic group in Europe. They too suffered a genocide in Nazi-occupied Europe. Not one European state treats them as a people who survived near extermination.
There are multiple groupings of far right forces in Europe. Some are centred upon Marine Le Pen and the chameleon-fascist Front National in France. Another is developing around the AfD, the Alternative for Germany, which made a further, shocking breakthrough last weekend in the regional state election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
They vary in strategies for the conquest of political power. They differ also in precise ideology, which for them is malleable according to the central drive to take over the state and its repressive arms. The distinctions between the variegated far right forces are important. But they are neither absolute nor immutable.
All of the far right pose as a radicalisation of the politics of the conventional right in their respective national contexts. If that is where you place yourself on the political spectrum, then you need to demonstrate constantly your radicalism in words and deeds against the mainstream right wing forces if you are to advance and to eclipse them.
And those forces of “the centre” are everywhere turning to racist and reactionary policies. Those are now more constitutive of the way the European political system seeks to sustain itself than at any time I have lived through.
We shall see in the next few days whether the Austrian presidential election will be postponed, on account of incredible bungling by the Austrian state itself. It is so incredible that it forces you to consider whether there is a sinister purpose behind it.
Twelve months ago large numbers of ordinary Austrians showed extraordinary powers of organisation efficiently to provide food, water, transport and temporary accommodation for hundreds of thousands of refugees passing through their country.
Now the flabby bureaucracy of the Austrian state is proving incapable of organising even the postal vote in a national election. The result of that is to boost the claims of the far right FPO – echoing Benito Mussolini – that only it can bring order out of the chaos: “We can make the trains run on time”, or at least issue the postal ballots competently.
The FPO straddles a shifting line on one side of which stand the outright adherents of “the defeated army of 1945”, which in the 1940s reorganised the European rail network to destinations we know only too well.
It pins on its lapel the Kornblumen, the cornflower. That was the coded sign between 1934 and 1938 that Austrian Nazis used to recognise one another. It was also the favourite flower of German Kaiser Wilhelm before the First World War. The FPO plays on the ambiguity. We are just pan-German and nationalist, they say, not genocidal Nazis. But if you want to make that clear, why adopt a symbol both share?
FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache visited Israel earlier this year and went to the state’s museum of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem. He was greeted by leaders of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Strache was invited by Eli Hazan, Likud’s head of information and external communications, and former Likud MP Michael Kleiner. How more kosher can you get?
Beleaguered decent opinion in Israel did not think so. Many pointed out that four years earlier Strache had posted a cartoon of a corpulent, hook-nosed, Jewish stereotype being fed morsels by “The Government” with an emaciated “People [Volk]” of Austria and of “Aryan” Europe looking on wistfully.
The Austrian paper Die Presse reported that Strache’s motive for the visit was “to make himself kosher in Israel” in order to be accepted elsewhere. So – a visit to the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem is now to be a free pass. It is bestowed by hard right Israeli politicians who value any militantly anti-Muslim stance, for it is to that reactionary bolster that the Netanyahu government of Israel turns just as much as European elites do as a central means to legitimise themselves.
The bones of the Holocaust dead become turned to slaked lime, the better to whitewash the electric blue of the cornflower mascot, a cipher for pan-German Nazism.
Palestine and the state of Israel are incidental, and merely instrumental, to what are fundamentally European discontents and political processes. A Pew opinion survey this year found soaring anti-Muslim racism in Europe and some increase in anti-semitism. It looked at attitudes. It did not examine the social position of Muslims and Jews or their treatment by the state and by other centres of power in Europe.
If you mention anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racism together, all sorts of people try to see them through the prism of somewhere outside of Europe – Palestine and the territory of the Israeli state. But the strongest finding of the Pew research was this: those in Europe who hold the worst views of Muslims are also the most likely to hold anti-semitic views of Jewish people.
It is a European conceit to bury that fact under the conflicts of the Middle East, at the centre of which stands the struggle of the Palestinian people. Anti-semitism sits with Islamophobia as a European problem. It is capitalist Europe itself which is proving incapable of living with a growing ethnic-religious minority within – Muslims – without recourse to violent and eliminationist racism.
And, notwithstanding the advances of “Jewish Emancipation” in the 19th century and despite the reaction to the barbarism in the middle of century that followed, it still constructs for itself an irresolvable problem out of the “Jewish Question”.
In 1905 the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky described what a failing society and elites turning to the politics of racism could lead to. A sudden and violent eruption – the Russian word for which is pogrom:
“Everything is allowed him [the member of the anti-semitic gang]. He is capable of anything. He is the master of property and honour, of life and death.
“If he wants to, he can throw an old woman out of a third-floor window together with a grand piano. He can smash a chair against a baby’s head, rape a small girl while the entire crowd moves on…
“He exterminates whole families. He pours petrol over a house, transforms it into a mass of flames, and if anyone dares to escape, he finishes him off with a cudgel …
“There exist no tortures, figments of a feverish brain maddened by alcohol and fury, at which he need ever stop. He is capable of anything. He dares everything.”
That was well before the Holocaust, at a time when the forces of reaction were perfecting their fusion of anti-leftist and racist politics, the better to serve the old order. Over a century on, and what do we find in Britain? Papers and pundits spouting: “Trotsky”, “anti-semitism”, “Yad Vashem” and… “Sturmabteilung”.
All of it is turned to petty politicking, as demonstrated by Corbyn’s opponent, Owen Smith, who evinces not the slightest knowledge about anti-semitism or racism generally, nor any track record in fighting either. None of the game-playing is even remotely aware of the actual and pressing danger. A businessmen, invoking his Jewishness, equates the rising left around Corbyn with Hitler’s Brownshirts, who murdered and tortured to death the defenders of the labour movement and of democracy in Germany. Blasphemy upon the memory of barbarism. 
“Why did the heavens not darken? Why did the stars not withhold their radiance? Why did not the sun and the moon go dark?”
So asked of god or of history – or of both – an anonymous chronicler who survived the massacre of the Jewish community in Mainz, in what is now Germany, in 1096. The Jews of Mainz and Worms and other towns were killed as a kind of send off to the First Crusade – an early piratical European encounter with peoples further east.
Over a thousand years later, we must – I suppose – refute the smears of our pipsqueak opponents. But let us not allow them to deflect our sight from the darkening before our eyes. It is as apparent as the shadow cast by the falling autumn sun.
The most execrable thing the saboteurs of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party have done is to play fast and loose with these questions.
We on the left and of the working class movement face a double burden. It is to refute their petty lies. At the same time it is to maintain a level head and to establish a combative united front to crush the rising danger of reaction. 
When it comes to that, a good leader of the Labour Party is better than a bad one. But there are far, far greater things at stake than just who is the leader of a political party. Not understanding that is a reflection of the kind of mentality which in 1933 permitted the Nazi seizure of power in Germany and all that followed. 
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Jeremy Corbyn and the shock of the new


Another council by-election in Hackney, London, last night showed a large swing to Labour. At the same time a recent poll put Labour 11 percent behind the Tories in national voting intention.

An earlier poll put Labour ahead on the raw figures and just one point behind when the figures were adjusted, weighted, to take into account turnout and how that impacted differently on different parties in 2015, when it hit the Labour vote.

But how can it be that Labour is winning a number of council by-elections handsomely but still we get these polling results?

It is important not to cherry-pick results to suit our own wishes. There are ongoing serious problems for the polling companies, which got the 2015 election badly wrong, when it comes to weighting their raw figures.

The problems are greater now than they were before this year’s referendum. Pollsters had developed methods of weighting their results to factor in the turnout, and the differential turnouts between parties, of the 2015 election when 66 percent of people voted.

But the turnout at the referendum was 72 percent. A extra 2.8 million people voted compared with last year’s general election. The turnout was the highest since 1992.

No one really knows what a general election result would look like if that number of people participated in the future.

That said, the polls cannot be simply discounted. Or rather, the standard polls of voting intention cannot be discounted; we now have also a series of propaganda interventions masquerading as polls over other things.

That was the case recently with a YouGov “poll” which purportedly showed declining support among members of Labour affiliated unions for Jeremy Corbyn, but which on inspection could not even show that it had asked actual union members for their opinion of him.

I should add – nor should council by-election results be discounted either. It is symptomatic of a certain pathological pessimism in parts of the movement that positive evidence is disregarded in some quarters.

So there is something of a mismatch between actual electoral performance by Labour and national polling figures.

One reason for that is that they tend to measure two different things.

A council by-election is an actual choice between parties (candidates play a minor role in most cases, except in smaller highly contested wards) but usually with little direct consequence.

National polling intention for the major parties – the Tories and Labour, and the SNP in Scotland – normally is an index of who people want to form a government.

And it is here that the sabotage of the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party can have an effect on Labour’s standing in the polls.

There is no evidence that the kinds of values, policy thrust and actual policies promoted by Jeremy Corbyn are unpopular. Quite the opposite. Even on Trident, where there is still minority opposition, there is no evidence that that plays any role in voter switch away from Labour.

If anything, there is strong evidence that even where people say they do not agree with Corbyn there is a lot of support for the idea that he is honest, says what he thinks and is not just spinning like a “normal politician”. That is one reason why friends who think that the way forward is to come up with a series of fudges over those issues where the left is not in a majority are mistaken.

While we need to persuade and win support on those issues, they are not the reason why Labour is suppressed in some of the polls.

The question of who you would vote for if there were a general election tomorrow connotes a series of issues, in a very conventional way, to do with government, party in parliament, leader and so on.

While Britain has a parliamentary system supposedly of cabinet government, it has for 30 years been quite presidential in the role ascribed to party leader and prime minister. That began under Margaret Thatcher and was deepened under Tony Blair.

One of the most powerful attractions of Corbyn in last year’s leadership contest and this is his channelling not just of new policies – declaring that Labour is an anti-austerity party – but a new politics. That is – a challenge to the conventional idea of what politics is.

That remains attractive. But it runs up against the ingrained idea of what a leader/prime minister, a party and a government should look like.

That is where the right wing assault is honing in. At its most sophisticated it concedes that Corbyn is honest and full of political integrity. But it maintains that he cannot be a “real leader”.

On a limited level, there’s some truth in that. A radically democratic break with the old politics is also a break with the manicured, spin doctored, conventional conception of Westminster leadership.

In this thinking a proper leader is “able to communicate” because they are an entirely accepted part of the microcosm of parliament and its surgically attached London media.

Of course, the charge of lacking actual leadership capacity and the ability to communicate is wholly misplaced. There’s an implicit acknowledgement of that when Owen “Pfizer” Smith complains that Corbyn’s support for democratic reselection of MPs is tantamount to him being a “bad boss”.

So which is it? Is Corbyn a gentle soul incapable of strong leadership, or Alan Sugar on steroids?

The “bad boss” line did not originate with Smith. Theresa May used it at PMQs on Wednesday. That was where one Labour renegade after another stood up to congratulate the Tory prime minister over the Trident renewal vote.

That takes us to the central political issue behind the polls. For all the hollow talk of “real opposition to the Tories” the hard right of the PLP are, quite simply, engaged in an extended operation to provide support to the government and to undermine their own party. It began with Hilary Benn leading the pro-war Labour MPs over the Syria vote last December.

Partly it is about suppressing Labour’s polling support. The capacity of the media to move people directly against Corbyn is limited. But it does have the power to amplify the voices of one Bitterite MP after another savaging the Labour leader and pronouncing that the party is imploding.

It is little wonder under those circumstances that polling which is asking whether you want a Labour or a Tory government shows Labour trailing. Most people may never have heard of the Labour MP in question vituperating against Corbyn, but they do know that to form a government Corbyn would need to have Labour MPs supporting him.

The hope is to demoralise Corbyn’s support, play on the deep, conventional view of what it takes for a party to win a general election, and thus to topple him in the leadership election. Then, we can get back to business – big business – under Mr Normal as leader.

But it runs deeper than even the next two months of the leadership contest.

The political collaboration from the Labour benches with the Tory government is firmly rooted. The Labour right shares the essential view of the Remain Tories, as illustrated in the official Remain campaign in the referendum.

That is not going to go away. The Brexit vote has posed the most almighty problem for the government. It has to come up with a coherent strategy for British capitalism. May has reorganised the government and Whitehall to do that.

By placing prominent Brexiters almost like human shields in the frontline of the negotiations with the EU she has skilfully managed to reboot the government and create an air of unity in the Tory party.

Barring a week in September, parliament is not back now for two and a half months. Angela Merkel has agreed to Britain delaying triggering the formal Brexit process for six months.

All of this buys time. But the fundamental difficulties facing the government will not go away. And with a majority of only 16 MPs the secret to the May government’s stability actually lies in the collaboration of the likes of Hilary Benn and his claque on the opposite benches.

A battle of fundamentals

It is about more than immolating Labour under Corbyn in the hope of removing him. It is about squeezing out of political life the new political surge he represents. That is continuing, as the 183,000 sign-ups in two days this week demonstrated, and in the post-referendum atmosphere of greater politicisation it can become a potent threat to the establishment.

That’s why this battle is so big and will be so brutal. It’s also why attempts to mitigate it by coming up with Heath Robinson ideas about how the irreconcilable forces may be united on the Labour benches are futile.

You cannot have, to use the term as Bernie Sanders does, a political revolution in the labour movement and in Britain at the same time as some old-style Westminster fix.

On one level, everyone this week at least paid lip service to the extraordinary feat of 183,000 paying £25 each to affiliate to the Labour Party. Even the pantomime cynic Michael Crick recognised that there is no precedent in British political history for such a phenomenon.

But then he, and other commentators, return to “normal” with a comforting circular argument: Corbyn cannot win a general election, because general elections are won by normal leaders, of normal parties in normal circumstances. The proof? Look at the precedents.

The challenge for the radical left is to be as radical as the unprecedented reality itself.

That means acting in good faith with the developments before our very eyes. The surge for Corbyn is not something that can be bolted on to an essentially conventional political strategy.

But it is also true that it does not come with its own political strategy. There’s a huge desire for a new politics. Yet it runs up against conventional thinking which is socially rooted.

The radical – and politically coherent in the new circumstances – answer to whether Labour under Corbyn can win entails conducting at a mass level an argument about what it means to win. That is an argument which shifts people’s understanding of their own role in the political process and their capacity through collective struggles to win things now – election or no election.

This is a fundamental question which goes far deeper than whether Labour can be shorn of its worst Blairite excrescences.

It touches on the perennial socialist questions of strategy – whether the pivot for radical change lies more in representation in parliament or the collective struggles of working people, mass social movements which themselves alter the political landscape.

And it has a direct bearing on electoral strategy also. Nearly three million extra voters took part in the referendum. Some of those were young people between 18 and 24, whose participation was 64 percent, not the 36 percent which had been assumed.

All the indications are that their motivation was strongly anti-racist. They voted largely for Remain, but not out of some settled commitment to the EU, more out of a wonderful hatred for Nigel Farage and UKIP.

More of the 2.8 million were older voters of the unskilled and poorer sections of the working class whose voter turnout has, like that of young people as a whole, been low for 25 years.

They mostly voted Leave, largely with what Diane Abbott called a “roar against the establishment”.

These newer voters are but a part of wider demographics which have, until recently, felt more and more alienated from Westminster politics.

Together with the base of Labour’s support they constitute a potential vote which could sweep a general election in England and in Wales.

The obstacle to mobilising that is not that the left is too radical but that it remains too conventional, not radical enough.

Recognising that does not, of course, do away with all the difficulties bound up with the fact that the radicalisation is coming up against the very structures of a Labour Party which has been deradicalised, not just in the Blair years, but for the past 35 years, ever since the campaign around Tony Benn last raised within the party fundamental questions about social transformation.

There remains a full-time Labour Party apparatus which is profoundly undemocratic and whose thinking is closer to Theresa May’s than to Jeremy Corbyn’s or the majority of Labour’s members. There remain the right wing Labour MPs, and alongside them some “soft left” MPs. Both groups see politics as about what politicians do.

Confrontations and schisms lie ahead. The left needs to understand that and why they are inevitable. Tactical good sense can lead to more favourable outcomes to those confrontations. But it cannot prevent them.

A movement for radical change is developing. It will not win by playing the conventional game. The path to victory lies through political confrontation.

For radical change to win, the other side has to be beaten.

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Immigration, class and racism

Multi Cultural Britain 40 years After Rivers Of Blood Speech

LONDON – APRIL 19: People wait for public transport at a bus-stop in Kingston Upon Thames town centre on April 19th, 2008 in London, England. Tomorrow is the anniversary of right-wing politician Enoch Powell’s “River of Blood” speech. Forty years on Britain is seen as rich in multi-cultural diversity. (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

When people express “concerns” about immigration, the actual issue is never immigration.
It is either:
1) A displacement of concerns arising from real issues of economic hardship, lack of public services, jobs, houses and so on, or
2) A code – a choice of apparently more acceptable language – for the acceptance to some degree of real racist ideology about people.
The test for the second used to be obvious. People would say things about Black and Asian newcomers to Britain (or Irish people, when the war was raging in the north and anti-Irish racism more widespread) which they would not repeat about, say, white Americans or the young white Australians who would have their year hanging out in Europe doing bar jobs in places like London.
Of course, the false explanation in 1) can, and historically has been, the basis for the formation of actual racist ideology in 2).
But it is not a spontaneous and direct process. It requires the permeation of racialised, false explanations, of racist arguments and stereotyping, and of direct racist agitation and political propaganda.
It is also fuelled by the segmentation of newcomers into the workforce and into residential areas becoming artificially fixed and demarcated. Employers historically did that in Britain. They pioneered the mechanism of segregation with Irish labour in the 19th century.
After the Second World War the foundries and mills that large numbers of Pakistani workers entered in the north of England segregated their workforces – with Asian men on the night shift, white men and women on the day and back shifts.
It is not just old, private sector employers who did that. Look at the hierarchy of employment in any large hospital, council or public employer. It remains the case that the further down the pyramid you go, the darker the average skin colour and the less secure the residential status of the employee. That is despite the fact that there are many overseas – EU and non-EU – doctors, for example, in the NHS. 
The biggest agency for doing this, however, has been the state across society as whole, and not just as a large employer. It is from the state that the marks of distinction between people of different origins have been imprinted.
That has been through a host of mechanisms – from the differential racial impact of immigration controls (which is why immigration controls really are racist, not just anti-newcomers of all kinds on a kind of “equal opportunity keep them out” basis), to housing policy and access to the same social goods as more settled people, to – hugely – the police and criminal justice system.
To the last factor we can now add the security state apparatus which has grown enormously in the course of the war on terror. This is one reason, incidentally, why the decision taken by the National Union of Teachers in Britain to call for the scrapping of the Islamophobic and authoritarian Prevent policy (a position now endorsed by Labour’s Andy Burnham) was such an important anti-racist step in general.
The fascist National Front in 1970s Britain had at the centre of its slogans – and as the ostensible purpose of its marches such as the one that was spectacularly smashed to pieces by anti-fascists in Lewisham – the myth of Black (African-Caribbean) male criminality, violent, and sexually violent in particular.
That certainly could draw on the creation as a concomitant of the slave trade, and then colonialism in Africa, the racist stereotype of violent “over-sexualised” Black men.
But it was far more than a hangover from the 18th and 19th centuries. The British police themselves created the apparent facts to which those older racist lies could become attached, and thus be given a renewed lease of life.
The police came up with a new category of crime – mugging. The way they policed and reported street crime was the central factor in creating the myth that white people – pensioners especially – were being robbed by “Black muggers” (mugger equalled Black in 1970s policing and the media reporting of policing).
Similarly today, police reports and the media embellishment of them are at the centre of the myths about Romanian criminality, which are often conflated with the false claims of Roma, traveller and “gypsy” criminality. We may add “Albanians”, through ubiquitous references to “Albanian drug gangs” and mafia. That is what really makes Gordon Brown’s intervention today talking about “illegal Albanians” so reactionary.
Only a few years ago there were two near simultaneous stories – one in Ireland, one in Greece – which went international. Both claimed that fair-skinned, light-haired children of Roma/”gypsies” must have been abducted because “everyone knows that such people are dark”.
It suddenly gave fresh life to an old myth about “gypsies stealing children” – a myth which has stretched over centuries from Ireland to the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
It is not just an analytical point to understand how racism is reproduced, and new racisms forged, in this matrix of migration, labour force segmentation, working class exploitation in general and the actions and ideologies of the state, at home and abroad.
It has practical and strategic consequences for anti-racists.
It is vital to stand against the false anti-immigration explanations. But that is not enough when the real issue is never, actually, immigration, but is instead the effects of the class division on the one hand, and racism – both as material disadvantage and as racist ideology and prejudice, institutionalised in the state – on the other.
Two, intersecting things are also required. First – movements which answer the real social suffering for which talk of immigration is a displacement.
Second – an actual anti-racist force in society. It has to be one which can both dispel racist myths and confront effectively the racist political forces (above all, from the state and its associated political parties and politicians). 
The systematic anti-racist political effort has to be undertaken in a popular way, dealing with the actual arguments – not timeless verities – and organically at the base of society, in working class life.
That is not easy. But, while it is true that we would all like them to be stronger, it is untrue that no efforts have been mounted. We have had and continue to have organised movements against austerity and against racism – alongside myriad more local efforts, particular strikes and other struggles or campaigns. 

Multiculturalism shorn of anti-racism

The damage done in the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years to the capacity of the labour movement to launch those necessary efforts, however, was huge.
Under them, there was immigration. There was also a surge in deportations of asylum-seekers and other non-Europeans. But there was no anti-racist defence of migration by the Labour governments. Instead, migration was linked to the idea of an increasingly business-friendly and deregulated labour market in Britain and in Europe.

The argument “for immigration” was what was good for big business and the City of London. That is not the basis for convincing working class people, who are the victims of the bankers and big business, of a pro-immigration position. 

Worse, it went hand in hand with new forms of racial distinction – introduced from above, and from the government especially. Most obvious, and most powerful, was Islamophobia, the necessary ideology of the war on terror.
It was not just that. Blair and then Brown spoke of “British values”. In doing so, they took the popular understanding of multiculturalism – as in getting along with people of all sorts of “cultures” – robbed it of any anti-racist content, and repackaged it as a new, racialised hierarchy.
The argument went that we are “tolerant” of other people’s cultures. They are entitled to express them – within limits, which meant largely at home and in the private sphere. But we insist that all people coming to Britain adopt a common body of “British values”. A national test was set to enforce this fiction. 
But the “British values” were things like democracy, respect for the other, fairness and so on. They were values or political virtues which are far from uniquely British (they exist around the world). Also, British history is far from universally characterised by them. There is the British Empire, which both Blair, Brown and those who still look to them have tried to rehabilitate.
So universal, good human values became defined as British. And things which are peculiarly British – such as apparently loving an hereditary head of state and harking back to Empire – became redefined as marks of universal goodness and civilisation.
What was then left over were other people’s “cultural values” which were, by definition, not good things like the British ones, both the universal ones that had been nationalised as British and the features of British imperial history that had been universalised as moral goods.
In this way, we could have under those years greater immigration into Britain, but alongside the reproduction of the idea that newcomers, and Muslims of any sort, were inferior – different in a bad way.

The official image – supported by most of the middle class, liberal intelligentsia – was of a highly limited cosmopolitanism. In it, we were all supposed to be enjoying the financial benefits of getting our house done up by cheap Polish plumbers or having a cheap Baltic au pair. Most people did not “enjoy that benefit”.

And while we were all enjoying the smorgasbord of varied international cuisine (more working class people did have access to that, and it thus remains a powerful image of what is good about multiculturalism) the newly refurbished hierarchy of “cultural values” restated that there was a steep curve upwards.

At the bottom was eating with your hands (Bangladeshis eating naan and saag), then with chopsticks, up to the pinnacle of a knife and fork: from primitive to civilised.

There was one great principle, upon which the labour movement was founded and is defined, that offered an alternative to this kind of hierarchical, thin, cosmopolitan veneer upon the ugly subordination of people to the market and big business. It was class.

The basic sense of “them and us” has historically been a powerful counterweight to racism and scapegoating ideologies of all kinds. At least, a potential counterweight. Realising it has meant two things.

First, real struggles by working class people in which that community of interest has been forged. Second, a deliberately internationalist conception of what we mean by “the working class”. It has embraced not only recent arrivals into the domestic labour force, but has argued for a common class interest and identity across the globe.

Crucially, it has meant overcoming any narrow conception of “us” and any sectional organisation of working people which is either hostile to or actually excludes minority or migrant workers. How that has been done, and the role of newly arrived workers at the cutting edge of periods of working class militancy and advance, is beyond the scope of this piece.

The issue of the last 20 years is that the whole New Labour drive was predicated upon the further abandonment of class as the central defining feature of the Labour Party and the key axis around which society and politics is organised. It was more than just a response to the changes under the force of chaotic and destructive economic reorganisation of earlier working class communities.

The very idea of a politics based on class, and of a community of interests of the working class – old and new, was discarded. Indeed, it was extirpated, with a huge political and ideological effort put in to coming up with an alternative grounding of what Labour was. No longer a party of working people, but of Middle England, or whatever the ad man’s slogan of the day was.

With class out the window, but with real class divisions widening, a new sense of “communitarian identity”, as the fashionable theory put it, had to be found. The imagined community was – Britishness.

That Britishness, like everything else under the Blair and Brown governments, was meant to be new. It was meant to be “non-racial”, non-chauvinist and cosmopolitan.

The cumulative impact of struggles against racism – as well as other forms of oppression, such as homophobia (only latterly transphobia) – did lead to considerable social changes. There was an increasing “lived multicultural” reality. That was attested to by all the census data, despite attempts by various people to claim we were “sleepwalking” into a segregated Britain. But the “New Britishness” was only ever a pale, and distorted reflection of that.

And the New Britishness very soon came to assume fully the reactionary features of the Old Britishness. That was for reasons to do with the fundamental nature of the British state, of which Britishness is an ideological articulation, not the other way around.

The wars came. That meant Islamophobia. It also meant the renewed identification of Britain as part of the civilised West, of Britishness and British values as a variant of, or perhaps the apogee of, Western or European values (and by extension, American). For all the talk of newness, Britishness re-assumed the characteristics it had at the time of the British Empire, as an expression of European superiority against The Other. The Other was brown or black. The superior, European Britishness was white.

The second reversion to type was more associated with Brown than Blair, and more with the economic than the military face of British capitalism and imperialism. Brown drove the economic strategy of Britain as a part of the European single market, but seeking to forge a world financial centre based on the City of London. The imbalance in the economy which had long led to a disastrous rate of investment in manufacturing in Britain became worse.

It was already glaring on the eve of the great financial collapse of 2008. It was in 2007 that Brown, then prime minister, made his infamous “British Jobs for British Workers” speech. Despite The City booming whole communities were at best standing still, at worst going backwards as good paying jobs gave way to low-paid and low skilled employment, Brown did nothing seriously to reverse the growing disparity.

Instead of creating good jobs, he introduced a poisonous slogan into society and a part of the labour movement. What it did was give nothing short of prime ministerial sanction to the false idea that migrant workers were taking British jobs.

There was a genuine issue of pro-business European law – the so called Posted Workers Directive –  being a direct mechanism for employers to “post workers” from abroad and exempt them from many domestic employment standards and rights.

A part of EU law, which is today being lionised by the British TUC, was explicitly crafted to undermine trade unions in this way. Worse, it created the conditions for employers, with legal impunity, to operate a two-tier workforce. The result of that was real antagonisms between settled and posted workers.

That did not have to lead to chauvinist calls to “kick the migrants out”. But avoiding that meant either the government saying it would break the EU law, or the trade unions being able to organise and impose the higher standards and pay.

Instead, Brown stuck solidly with the big business logic. And right wing trade union leaders who sought partnership not confrontation with big business followed him down the national chauvinist route. They collaborated with a highly reactionary press in targeting not the “bad employer” but workers from other EU countries.

Forces of the left – particularly within the Unite union – were able to halt the slide towards anti-migrant agitation and chauvinism becoming a major feature of the trade union movement. But the Labour government continued down the pro-business route. Then came the introduction of austerity, which deepened the bitterness and antagonisms in society.

Anti-racism and the radical left

The last six years of first Coalition and now outright Tory government have meant savage austerity. They have also brought deepening racism of various forms.

Cameron’s response to the riots in 2011 was to reheat racist myths about young Black criminality which had largely been declining (or at least eclipsed by the rampant Islamophobia) over the previous 15 years. A number of us had warned that the advance of anti-Muslim racism at the beginning of this century would legitimise other racist, pseudo-explanations blaming other ethnic and racial groups for various social ills.

That is not the same as saying that there is a huge surge in popular racism or that racism is being generated from the mass of people. There is both the acceptance of racist ideas – most obviously against Muslims. And the rejection. London has a Muslim mayor.

But the Tory campaign in London showed that what we are seeing is not just “a lot of racism”. We are seeing the highly political use of racism, by governments and politicians across Europe – of the mainstream, and not only by the far right.

David Cameron sought to organise the Tory vote in London on the basis of anti-Muslim racism. The far right and fascists across Europe also seek to organise their political support on the basis of various forms of racism, while posing falsely as outsider, anti-establishment forces. Fascism does something else. It organises not only its electoral support through racism, it organises the actual murder gangs which racist  politics gives rise to. ultimately

That is what is specific about fascism. And that’s why it is necessary to have a specific political effort to stop fascism from growing and organising.

The main problem and driving force of racism in Britain at the moment, however, is not fascism. Neither is it uniquely coming from the anti-immigration propaganda of the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. That is foul.

But it was David Cameron who called the referendum on the back of a deal with other EU leaders whose central thrust was falsely claiming that other EU nationals are milking the British welfare system. That, and a “guarantee” that the City of London would continue to be the loosely regulated centre of the European financial markets.

That deal creates a further, legal segmentation of the labour force in Britain with another category, intra-EU migrant workers, stripped of some rights (claiming benefits for four years). That is a recipe for more super-exploitation of groups of workers, upon which “concern about immigration” can lead not only to out and out racist ideas, but to racist actions against foreign workers. It is also exactly what a race to the bottom looks like.

Cameron has done this. The official Labour campaign – as evidenced by the deployment of Gordon Brown today – is conjoined with Cameron. Not one Labour figure is saying that Labour will rescind the anti-migrant deal that Cameron negotiated.

There is no way that either an anti-racist or pro-migration argument can be advanced seriously inside the working class on that basis.

The issues go way beyond the referendum, upon which the radical left is divided.

Immigration remains both a cypher for real issues of economic hardship and inequality and also a code for racism.

That is going to be met only through the development of popular and militant movements both against austerity and against racism, in all its forms.

Building those requires a radical left which is wholly independent from the establishment politics, which is being seen in the referendum campaign to be so out of touch with vast numbers of people.

It means also seeking to organise those movements and those ideas within the working class, at work, in communities, in unions and elsewhere. That cannot happen if the arguments are connected with “what is good for business” or “what is good for Britain”.

We need a complete break in the labour movement with the disastrous politics of Blair and Brown. Nowhere more so than in reasserting militant, class-based anti-racism – where it is the common struggle of migrant and non-migrant workers which redefines how people think about “immigration”.

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