Political context & Brexit Blues
Brexit continues to dominate the domestic political agenda. This is the fundamental issue of a generation and probably the most significant question since the Second World War. It is already beginning to have deep ramifications for the way we do politics, for the constitution of the UK, for international relations, for the culture of Britain and not least for the prospect of jobs and prosperity of the British people. Tories stumble on towards a hard Brexit with a bad or no deal. Corbyn needs to come off the fence. A People’s Vote or manifesto commitment to the status quo on customs union, single market and ECHR and renegotiated terms for a reformed EU membership has to be Labour’s course. 100,000+ marching for the People’s Vote on June 23 indicated the growing anger and resistance of those who oppose a retreat into a little England.
Whilst the EU itself is wracked by the populist right drum beat against migrants and still animated by neo-liberal austerity it is beholden on the left to champion an internationalist, open, democratic, pluralist Europe which puts social justice and regulating corporate capital above private profit and blaming the immigrant. It is unregulated global capitalism that is creating the poverty and hardship for people in Europe. Migration brings wealth and enriches nation states.
Nothing in the EU is set in stone. Those who say it makes nationalisation or progressive interventionist policies impossible are adopting a static formalistic politics. It’s all about the balance of forces. Neoliberal parties of the right have dominated Europe since the days of Mitterand, Brandt, and Delors. Greece, Portugal and Spain now have Socialist-led governments. The balance can shift. The fight for democratic socialist politics has to go on in local, regional, national and supra-national institutions.
There is a debate to be had about the role of the nation state in global capitalism. There is a debate to be had about the nature of populism and whether a populism of the left has validity in democratic socialist strategy. We have aired these questions in Chartist and will continue to do so.
Trump, populism, fascism and the 1930s
Trump is the big factor that changes the domestic and international situation. There are distinct echoes of the 1930s. Many of the policies and approaches have fascist elements. Virulent nationalism: America First and the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium against the EU and China and the trashing of the Iran nuclear deal herald a protectionist trade war. The separation of migrant families, the ban on Muslims travelling to the US, Tweets equating Nazis and victims, the populist rallies, the denouncing of ‘fake news’ and democratic media . These were all hall-marks of fascist policies in the 1930s. Trump is not a fascist, but he is facilitating the rise of these movements both in the US and Europe.
Elsewhere we have in Europe the racist policies of Orban in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria now joined by Salvini of the extreme right Northern League in Italy with proposals to expel Roma and a refusal to allow migrant rescue boats to land. The AfD in Germany pose big problems not just for Merkel but the left as a whole. There are similar movements in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Holland, and France in particular. Fascists have learnt not to wear uniforms and parade on the streets too obviously but their thuggery and anti-migrant bile replicates that of the fascist movements of the 1920s and 30s.
Authoritarian political leaders are consolidating their power in Turkey and Russia while the Stalinist regime in China continues to repress dissent and outlaw democratic opposition whether in the form of political parties, trade unions, freedom of assembly, press, TV or social media. Modi in India, though a democratic regime, adopts similar tactics under the mantle Hindu nationalist rhetoric.
Now more ever the need for unity across the left and for an internationalist spirit to animate politics is needed. The pressures of globalisation and nationalist populism remain huge. Chartist needs to keep exposing these reactionary trends and promoting progressive, democratic alternatives.
The challenge for Corbyn and the left
The major challenge for the left in Britain is to secure the election of a Corbyn Government. The local elections results, while not uniformly good for Labour, nonetheless indicate Labour built on the success of 2017. According to John Curtice, if the results were replicated, Labour would have a majority of Westminster seats, but still need to form some sort of coalition. Clarity in opposing a Tory Brexit is the key. But so too is the wider policy platform Labour will be campaigning on. We have sought to highlight areas of housing, education, health, transport and local government services as critical areas on which Labour can build support. We have tried to provide clarity and a radical edge to what is required. (Duncan Bowie, Dave Lister, Stephanie Clarke, Paul Salveson, Pete Chalk, Bob Littlewood have contributed insightful pieces on these policy areas).
On economic policy John McDonnell has drawn in expertise from radical economists and business people. A second well attended State of the Economy conference in May was organised. Several EB members and supporters attended. While strong on tackling tax dodgers, state intervention, greening the economy, an investment bank, and ending austerity through a mix of taxation, borrowing and growth the conference was weak on the impact of Brexit. McDonnell pledged to help organise local SofE conferences in clusters of towns or boroughs (on an optimistic fortnightly basis). We are yet to see the details of this plan, but it could be vital to widening numbers of those involved in contributing to Labour’s economic alternative.
Developing the manifesto, clarifying aspects of it, will be an area of focus for us over the next year.
This commission coordinated by Katy Clark will be reporting over the summer. We contributed some ideas on this but it will be important to respond to the report. Broadly we would go along with internal democracy reforms proposed by CLPD.
Go local but unite to survive
Local government is at a critical point. With eight years of austerity cuts amounting to 40%+ cuts in budgets front line services are in jeopardy. A national strategy and united campaign is needed. We can highlight individual campaigns but something akin to the anti-Rate Capping and anti-Poll Tax campaigns of the 1980s needs to take shape.
Similarly building popular alliances around the NHS, proper funding of schools, socially owned railways, Royal Mail and utilities. Developing ideas on the democratic control /workers control element of all nationalisation plans to avoid the bureaucratised structures of the past is vital.
We covered some of the other big issues of the year in the magazine, particularly the #MeToo movement; the migrant and refugee movements, May 68 anniversary, Tax dodgers, Carillion and privatisation, Jewish Labour/anti-Semitism, the gig economy, electoral reform and major international developments.
As a bi-monthy Chartist cannot provide daily commentary nor the tactical advice to activists in CLPs and trade unions. What we can do is provide strategic guidance, an understanding of how Labour and the left can effectively intervene and the sort of policies that can help develop the left, primarily in the Labour Party. We need to develop our coverage and signposting of thoughtful analysis of the major trends already referenced. However, articles on the website can provide more frequent analysis, commentary and debates. We have said before this is an area of work requiring a real step change in our work.
Besides interrogating more thoroughly a number of policy areas, especially relating directly to the economy we must continue to develop our coverage of:
What do we mean by a left populism? Can there be a populist socialism?
Decline of traditional work, growth of gig economy—what this means for a left and trade union politics?
What is the left’s version of ‘Take control’?
What are the key features of Brexit to cover?
Building alliances—what is the future of a progressive alliance?
Devolution – Devo max rather than independence in Scotland? What happens to power sharing in Northern Ireland?
The Trump factor & Russia, China & India’s impact on the world economy and politics?
Globalisation and the future of the nation state.
Climate change and greening Labour policies.
Westminster View & Youth View
We had no Youth View columnist this year so reverted to the Westminster (and one Strasbourg- with Julie Ward)) View with Rupa Huq (on local work being a new British born Bangladeshi MP), Susan Elan Jones (on electoral reform), Fabian Hamilton (on peace and nuclear disarmament), Catherine West (on combating Tory Brexit) and Richard Burden (on Palestinians, Gaza and 70 years after the Nakbha). We have now identified a new Youth View columnist.
International and columnists
We have maintained wider international coverage of the middle east conflict and Israel/Palestine, Turkey, South America and critical appraisal of the Russian revolution and Russia. Our History, thanks to Duncan Bowie, has now worked its way to the 1940s and number 79. Regular columnists include Paul Salveson and Dave Toke. Martin Rowson has continued to provide superlative cover cartoons, although while he was working on his version of The Communist Manifesto we enlisted the talents of a young female cartoonist, Lorna Miller, for two covers.
Chartist our role
Chartist is now one of the longest standing Labour left journals. Actual beginnings in the late 1960s are rather cloudy. But apart from Tribune there is no other publication with our track record. We have for the first time in our history a democratic socialist and internationalist leadership in the Labour party.
This situation adds greater importance to our work as critical friends. Now more than at any time in the post-war development of the British left we need a journal, print and digital, for developing critical democratic socialist ideas and strategy. There are weaknesses in current Labour strategy, there are elements of orthodox thinking. This is particularly evident on Europe, on aspects of bottom up versus statist politics, on issues around devolution and decentralisation to name a few key areas. There is certainly a need for our work. The question is can we sustain and develop the capacity? And can we identify others who might have the same or similar approach to link up with?