As Tory rule hits an unprecedented crisis, the left must keep its eyes on the prize: the boldest and strongest of Corbyn victories, argues Lindsey German
Theresa May has claimed that defeat for her Brexit deal will be a catastrophic breach of trust for democracy. What a bloody cheek from a woman who didn’t want a vote on the deal in the first place, whose government has taken to abstaining on every vote in parliament that it might lose, and who is dependent on a bunch of DUP bigots whose own Stormont legislature has been suspended for over a year.
It is certainly crunch time for the government deal on Brexit this week, and it looks pretty certain that May will be defeated in parliament. She should be used to it after the last week, when she lost votes on two amendments, both of which boxed her in in terms of future Brexit votes. It is quite unprecedented for a prime minister to lose votes of such importance as the one on Tuesday and stay in office. The obvious thing is that she should do is resign, which should, in turn, lead to a rapid general election where people are able to exercise their democratic vote. That would be a victory for democracy, not a defeat.
This is the argument put by Jeremy Corbyn in his speech calling for an election last Thursday, and which he repeated on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday. The speech I thought very powerfully spelt out that it is class division, not the Leave/Remain division over Brexit, that is the key issue facing working people in Britain. The argument for an election is regarded as at best an embarrassing diversion, and at worst pie in the sky by the media and too many MPs, who want to get on with what they regard as the real politics of endlessly debating the terms of Brexit and the virtues of a second referendum, rather than discussing the appalling state of British society and the reasons why so many are so disillusioned with mainstream politicians.
A general election is the only way to resolve not just issues of Brexit but also a range of other questions, including ending austerity and privatisation. It is the outcome feared most by May and her government, who know that they are deeply unpopular and that it may lead to a Corbyn government. It is also feared by some Labour MPs, who shrink from the prospect of a Corbyn led Labour government.
The obsession of those who call for a people’s vote tends also to focus on criticism of Corbyn. We heard fulsome praise of Yvette Cooper as the ‘real leader’ of Labour when she put her amendment last week, with never a word that her amendment wouldn’t have won if Labour’s leadership had not put a three-line whip on its MPs. The antics of a dozen or so mainly right wing Labour MPs, however, who are desperate to support May’s deal and so avoid either a referendum or an election, are ignored by the people’s vote supporters and certainly not met with the vitriol reserved for Corbyn. This is despite the fact, as he pointed out on the Marr show, it was only Labour’s doing that there is a meaningful vote in parliament at all. Meanwhile, we are told that Labour’s position is not clear – it is clear, they just don’t agree with it.
The assumption is that what looks like a certain no confidence vote from Labour this week will be defeated, but let’s see. It may concentrate minds that if she is allowed to stay in government, there is little to stop her crashing out of Europe – an outcome that few MPs, let alone the British ruling class, actually want.
What kind of movement do we need – and what will it look like?
As I wrote last week, a new recession is looming. This became clearer in the last few days, with economic results from Germany worse than expected and bad news from car manufacturers in Britain, where jobs are going at Jaguar Land Rover and Ford. These job losses were immediately reported on most mainstream news media as about Brexit – actually, that is the least of the reasons for them. Generally cited as more important are the slowdown in China’s economy, which is a major market for cars, decline of diesel sales, and lack of purchasing power through low wages.
The issues facing working people in this situation are immense, and it's these issues we have to deal with if we are to break the deadlock of Brexit. This won’t be done without a general election, which the elite politicians from Blair to Cable to Grieve really don’t want.
Linking anti-austerity to a general election was the theme of the very good demo on Saturday organised by the People's Assembly. Thousands marched and heard speeches in Trafalgar Square including from John McDonnell who stressed the importance of the demo and of campaigning for the election. I thought it was quite a young and mixed demo and a good start to the new year.
There were about 100 fascists in Whitehall who marched up during our rally. About 30 of them attacked a barrier fence but got no further. I think this indicates how much the far right sees the left as a major target, but also how they are not yet able to seriously confront it. That can change especially if they are allowed to continue harassing people around Westminster, and more importantly, depending on Brexit developments. We need big mobilisations to put the left argument clearly and forcefully, and isolate the fascists.
It seems that too many of the left want to continue division rather than try to unite in these protests, and too many of them see everything through the Brexit prism. Some even see us as the main enemy. Things are getting too serious for all this. To meet the challenges ahead we will need more industrial action, more street protests and more political impact, including winning people to ideas that most people don’t hold at present.
The demo heard from two representatives of the Gilets Jaunes in France. Many people wore yellow vests on the protest, determined not to allow very small numbers of the far right to claim this particular symbol. While there is clearly much variation in the French movement, from what I hear and see, including from reliable comrades in Paris, Toulouse and Montpellier, this is a social movement with a whole range of extremely good demands and the potential to move further to the left.
The response of the extreme centre in France has been a mixture of sneering and repression, but at the same time, it has forced significant concessions from Macron. I wonder what people think a mass movement on these lines would be like in Britain? It would contain wide ranges of people who would represent different views, including racism, sexism and nationalism. Would it be the job of the left to dismiss them or to fight alongside them while trying to ensure that they actively combatted some of those ideas?
Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Red Rosa lives
Tomorrow, 15th January, is the 100th anniversary of the murder of the great German/Polish/Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, along with her comrade Karl Liebknecht. They were killed by the far right Freikorps, many of whom went on to become Nazis, on the orders of the right wing Social Democrat leaders in Berlin, after the defeat of the Spartakist rising in 1919 which marked the defeat of the German revolution.
Rosa was an inspirational woman at so many levels, but above all, she believed that the system could not be peacefully taken over and run by the left, but had to be transformed which would involve a struggle with those who own wealth and power under capitalism. Her revolutionary fervour and strong political insights led her into conflict with the leadership of the Social Democratic Party in Germany. Her theories on the mass strike and reform and revolution are as relevant today as when she wrote.
Her horror when the socialists internationally, including in her own party, supported the First World War was intense, and her isolation nearly total. Yet she and other opponents of that war went on to see it end in revolution. Imprisoned for her beliefs and activity, the revolution freed her, but time was not on her side. On 15th January 1919, the Freikorps smashed her skull with a rifle and threw her into the Landwehr canal in Berlin. Today you can visit the spot where there is now a memorial.
The day before she died she wrote her last article ‘Order reigns in Berlin’, which is an incredibly defiant call for revolution. She ends by saying their order is built on sand, and that the revolution proclaims, ‘Ich war, ich bin, ich werde sein’. I was, I am, I will be.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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