The Left Berlin News & Comment

This is the archive template

A Perspective of the current USA electoral process

At the best of times, leftists are divided about what to make of electoral politics. Opinions range from those who argue they will never result in meaningful change for the unprivileged members of society. Other argue that Leftists must engage in the democratic process.   As the USA elections are a brazen frenzy of money, […]


At the best of times, leftists are divided about what to make of electoral politics. Opinions range from those who argue they will never result in meaningful change for the unprivileged members of society. Other argue that Leftists must engage in the democratic process.
As the USA elections are a brazen frenzy of money, theatrics and posture – cynicism about USA elections on the left is palpable. But this election round seems even more bizarre than usual. After all, the incumbent is manifestly a liar whose impeachment was averted by a partisan Republican refusal to even consider the charges against him. Surely, such a scoundrel could not get re-elected…. or could he?
George Soros, the multi-billionaire financier who is no fool, thinks he might get re-elected. Especially with the influence over social media he exerts. Soros points out:
“Facebook helped Trump to get elected and I am afraid that it will do the same in 2020… there appears to be “an informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook” in which Facebook will help President Trump to get re-elected and Mr. Trump will, in turn, defend Facebook against attacks from regulators and the media.” [1] And his Democratic opponents are in an internal dog-fight, while some economists and Trump himself – tout the USA economy as ‘rosy’. It seems that the Great Liar Trump might have a decent shot.
We consider 3 questions: (1) How rosy in fact, is the position of ordinary people under Trump’s economics? (2) Why are the Democratic Party and Republican Party at such logger-heads? (3) Should the USA progressives and workers support the Democratic Party?
(1) How ‘rosy’ is the position of ordinary people under Trump’s economics?
At the January 21, 2020 meeting at Davosof world leaders and plutocrats, President Trumpsaid: “Since my election we’ve created 2.4 million jobs and that number is going up very, very substantially. Small business optimism is at an all-time high. New unemployment claims are near the lowest we’ve seen in almost half a century. African-American unemployment reached the lowest rate ever recorded in the United States and so has unemployment among Hispanic-Americans.” [2]
This has been refuted by many, including the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitzwho distributed a fact-sheet in the audience after Trump’s speech. [3] Here we will make only two points: Firstly, Figure 1 below, shows real wages have been going down under Trump (notnominal wages which are notadjusted for changes in the cost of living). [4]
The second point to make is shown in Figure 2. This is that under Trump, despite his huge bonuses to company directors and the top 1%, his tax cuts have definitely not turned the USA economy around. Below is a figure that shows the Real GDP Growth rate has been less than 3 %. Recall that Trump had boasted on December 16 2017, that: “The economy now has hit 3 percent. Nobody thought we’d be anywhere close. I think we can go to 4, 5, and maybe even 6 percent.” [5]
The Trumpian spin on the USA economy, and the actual effects on the ordinary worker in the USA, is best summarised by the commentator Sonali Kolhatkarfor ‘Truthdig”: “When compared to actual facts, Trump’s rhetoric on the American economy exists in the realm of fantasy.
The official unemployment rate in the U.S. is indeed at a record low of 3.5%, according to the latest jobs report.That number suggests that only 3.5% of all Americans capable of working are currently unemployed and that more than 96% have jobs. But digging into the numbers offers a much different picture… the 3.5% unemployment figure is misleading; only about half of all employable Americans are working full time, 10% are working part time, 2.1% are actively seeking work but are unemployed, and 1.8% are not seeking work but want a job. A whopping 35% are out of the job market and not actively seeking work.
The situation is worse for people of color, whom Trump likes to claim have benefited greatly under his presidency. Black Americans are far more likely than whites to be “underemployed”— a term for those who work part-time but are seeking full-time jobs.
Additionally, the racial wealth gap in the U.S. remains strikingly high. According to a recent study,“The median black household holds just 10% of the wealth of median white household, and while blacks constitute 13% of America’s population, they hold less than 3% of its wealth.” [6]
So – there is a deep reservoir of unhappiness about the Trump era in the population – notwithstanding the Trump ‘populist base’. But can this be turned into an electoral wave against him? First we should understand whether there are real differences between the two major parties.
2) The Republican Party versus the Democratic Party – a real fight or a myth?
It is indisputable that both major parties in the USA have overseen a steady rise of power and wealth into the hands of the wealthiest top 1% of the USA. Thus surely it should be acceptable to state, that they both represent the ruling class of the USA? And yet, they are clearly in a no-holds bar struggle against each other.
What explains this? There material differences between them in the segments of the ruling class their policies support. The main big company supporters of the Republican Party are in the small manufacturing, and oil and gas sectors. The main big company supporters of the Democratic Party have been the financial speculators and big banking sectors.
Trump was propelled into power by such power-brokers as the Koch Brothers. [7] Their conglomerate likes to stay in the shade, but they have coordinated a huge ultra-rightist movement in the USA, targeting any ‘regulation’:
“Koch Industries is one of the largest private corporations in the world with vast interests in fossil fuels, pipelines, chemicals, paper products, commodities trading and, most recently, a Wall Street-esque investment group, Koch Equity Development, that in November invested $650 million alongside Meredith Corporation to help it acquire Time Inc., publisher of iconic magazines like Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Charles Koch is the Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries. Together with his brother David, they are majority owners of the company they inherited from their father which has grown to estimated annual revenues of $100 billion. Each brother’s net worth is listed by Forbes as $51 billion. Their vast wealth has been used for decades to fund a dizzying maze of interconnected nonprofit groups pushing an anti-regulatory agenda in Washington, leading to the sobriquet, the Kochtopus.” [8]
To attract this segment of big firms, Trump promised and delivered a crass pro-energy industry and pro-manufacturing industrial base. In addition Trump has fought the ‘off-share’ movement, whereby USA industries over 20 years moved from their USA to base manufacturing in overseas countries to take advantages of lower pay and rights for workers.
This explains his attack on trade agreements. As Gillian Tett, USA Managing Editor of the Financial Times put it “instead of celebrating “free” trade, American executives are calling for “fair” trade, along with “reciprocity” and “equalisation” of trade deals. This is a euphemism for better terms for US companies.“ [9]
In contrast the main company sector support for the Democratic party has been the financial and banking industries. This was vividly shown by Democratic President Obama’sbailout to industry and banks during the great recession and crash of 2008. As he himself put it bluntly, he was the saviour of the major banks:
“Summoning the chief executive officers of the major banks to the White House in the spring of 2009, Obama told them, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” [10]
And the main donors to the failed electoral bid of Hilary Clintonwere from the financial sectors: “According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Citigroup ranks as one of the top five donors to Hillary Clinton over the course of her career in public office. J.P.Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs also register in the top five. (The monies come from employees and/or family members or PACs of the firms, not the corporation itself.)
Citigroup has also paid the Clintons massive sums in speaking fees over the years and provided a $1.995 million mortgage to allow the Clintons to buy their Washington, D.C. residence at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency – a time when Hillary Clinton says the couple was “dead broke.” Citigroup has also committed $5.5 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, a controversial charity run by the Clintons.” [11]
(3) Should Progressives support the Democratic party in this election?
What does this rivalry between the leaders of the Republicans and the Democrats, mean for the average worker in the USA? It seems both major parties support the big companies – just different ones. Does this affect working people? You bet it does.Since Trump became President, he has flamed out an explosive contempt for working peoples of America – especially African-Americans, and the peoples of the world.
Trump’s contempt takes the form of open racism against African-Americans and Hispanics; a fierce defence of the ruling class enrichment at the expense of workers as expressed in his tax cuts; reactionary attacks upon women, immigrants, education, the legal system, and the environment; and all this is combined with recent conservative dominated Supreme Court legal rulings to attack workers, immigrants and democratic voting rights.
But clearly, the Democratic Party has forfeited several areas of support. In one major example, Obama flouted the mandate he had been given. The perception of the “perfect Obama” is contradicted by black voter turnout in 2016, which declined for the first time in 20 years, falling to 60 percent from 67 percent in 2012.
Other indicators that the Democratic Party is becoming “seen through” are direct questions about the Obama period:“In 2009, 71 percent of African-Americans thought Mr. Obama’s election was “one of the most important advances for blacks.” By the summer of 2016, that number had dropped to 51 percent. In 2012, only 20 percent of African-Americans believed that the country was “headed in the wrong direction,” but by 2016 that number had risen to 48 percent”. [12]
An electoral victory of the Democratic Party will not lead to a socialist USA. Yet the ability of the progressive movements to organise themselves will clearly improve; and likely open racist attacks on African-Americas and Latinos would decrease. I believe it would be foolish of socialists to dismiss the small benefits of the electoral victory of the Democratic Party. But, socialists shouldbe organising a broad left party for much more wide-sweeping changes, than the Democratic party has been capable of to date.
The question of whether any of its current contenders can participate in that broader agenda is still to be answered. For many socialists, hopes are pinned on Bernie Sandersas articulated by Daniel Denvir. [13] The largest grouping in the USA of leftists, or socialists are the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), who are firmly behind Sanders. [14] But I believe such enthusiasm must be tempered.
Firstly Bernie Sanders’s history has long been one of vacillation. A quick example is his 1972 support for George Wallacethe racist Southern Democrat. [15] Secondly, it is far from clear that the hierarchy of the Democratic Party will enable a radically different path from within its confines. It is notable that even the DSA states: “But we also know that neoliberal Democratic Party elites offer a tepid vision of “inclusiveness” that refuses to challenge the oligarchic nature of U.S. society.“ [16]
Thirdly the entry of even more money into the elections as represented by Bloomberg, changes the equations somewhat. [17]
All bets are off right now. But progressives in the USA need to make their voices heard – ‘Down with Trump’; and ‘For socialist change’. But they had better organise a left party not beholden to the hierarchy of the Democratic Party.
Hari Kumar 22 February 2020
  1. George Soros, “Mark Zuckerberg Should Not Be in Control of FacebookThe social media company is going to get Trump re-elected — because it’s good for business; Jan. 31, 2020; New York Times;
  2. Full text: Trump Davos speech transcript; by ‘politico’ staff; 01/26/2018
  3. Pictured in Conrad Duncan, “Trump’s Davos speech instantly shot Trump’s Davos speech instantly down by leading economist… Acclaimed professor hands out fact-check sheet challenging president’s speech’; 21 January 2020; London; ‘The Independent’; at
  4. David Salkever, “Real pay data show Trump’s ‘blue collar boom’ is more of a bust for US workers, in 3 charts”; at;
  5. Michael Roberts, “Trump’s trickle dries up”; 4 February 2020; at the ‘Michael Roberts Blog;
  6. Sonali Kolhatkar Trump’s Rosy Economic Outlook Is a Big Lie”; Jan 23, 2020; “”
  7. Alan Zibel for ‘Public Citizen’;“How The Koch Brothers’ Agenda Has Infiltrated The Trump Administration”; November 30, 2017;
  8. Pam Martens: Koch Industries Is Staffing Up with Voter Data Scientists to Tip the November Election to the Extreme Right“; Counter-punch; July 23, 2018; data-scientists-to-tip-the-november-election-to-the-extreme-right/
  9. Gillian Tett; Financial Times, June 1, 2017
  10. Joshua Green;” The Biggest Legacy of the Financial Crisis Is the Trump Presidency – How the forces Obama and Geithner failed to contain reshaped the world we live in.”; 30 August 2018; at crisis-is-the-trump-presidency
  11. Pam Martens and Russ Martens: Hillary Should Ask Jamie Dimon What Kind of Genius Loses $6.2 Billion”; Blog Wall St on Parade, a Citizen Guide to Wall Street; October 4, 2016; at genius-loses-6-2-billion/
  12. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor; “Democrats Gave Obama a Free Pass. That Could Hurt Us on Election Day. We refuse to talk about how his failure to deliver major changes may have fed voter disaffection in 2016”;
  13. Daniel Denvir, “What A Bernie Sanders Presidency Would Look Like?” January 7 | january 2020 issue “in these times”;
  14. Musa Al-Gharbi, “Bernie is Democrats’ Best Shot in 2020, Even if the DNC Refuses to See It”; February 19, 2020; Democratic Socilists of America; at
  15. Joseph Simonson; “Bernie Sanders praised segregationist George Wallace as ‘sensitive’ in 1972”; | January 30, 2020
  16. Joseph M. Schwartz, “A History of Democratic Socialists of America 1971-2017 – Bringing Socialism from the Margins to the Mainstream”, for the DSA National Political Committee, July 2017; at:
  17. Alexander Burns and Nicholas, “Kulish Bloomberg’s Billions: How the Candidate Built an Empire of Influence”, Feb 15, 2020; New York Times; at

Health care crisis and short term demands

The aftermath of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). How will we know the pandemic is scientifically ‘over’? What if authoritarian governments extend it?


We recently put some views on the medical and immediate economic crisis of the COVID 19 pandemic. [1] Since then, a lot more left articles have been published. These collectively give us a good picture of the crisis from the left viewpoint. Taken together they make some common points.
These emphasise:
  • how the pandemic has hit workers and the most vulnerable (unemployed, those in debt, immigrants, refugees etc) the most;
  • how the chronic under-funding of health care systems has been exposed amid rocketing health care needs;
  • how health care workers are not protected – rather they are put at dangerous risk by an under-financed and ill-prepared health care system; and that the capitalist class will bail its own class out with state monies, but much less of this will filter down to the working class and rising numbers of unemployed.
This article will tackle two questions
When will we know the health crisis is ‘over’ or at least diminished to allow relaxation of ‘social distancing’? What demands should the working class make in the short term?
1. The trade-off of a social isolation policy
Most workers in at least the Western bourgeois democratic states seem to have largely accepted the following trade-off when considering policies of quarantine-social isolation: On the one hand, reducing social contacts with reduced large group assembly outside of family will lower the burden on health care service by lowering the numbers infected, and thereby the acute load on the health service; and slow the death rate;
On the other hand, at the same time it suppresses individual freedoms; and more importantly the working class rights of free association and protest, and rights of organization of meaningful protests. It also reduces social communication for a human species who is by nature – social. This can lead to profound psychological disturbance if prolonged.
Most scientists and informed observers interpret the current short-term situation as marked by:
  • a new virus (to humans with no immunity to it) with very high transmissibility-contagiousness in the absence of vaccines or imminent therapy;
  • hitting an already creaking health care system in most countries of the capitalist world.
In that situation, most people seem to have agreed that a period of ‘shut-down’ is essential, and will lower the death rate for the working class – including health care workers such as nurses and doctors.
2. How long is enough?
But how long is this policy correct for society to adhere to? Extending policies of quarantining-social distancing- social isolation beyond the point of medical justification, will tempt some dictators. Inevitably in some countries, the ruling class will attempt to extend a period of suppressing worker rights.
Therefore a reasonable question is ‘How long is enough?’
Data from China which was the first country to go through the epidemic, suggests that a period of up to 2 months or potentially slightly longer. This period was needed to lower the new infection rate adequately – to prevent new outbreaks. But admittedly this was enforced in a ruthless ‘lock-down’, by a dictatorial Chinese state.
However, the situation was entirely different, for example, in the USA or the UK. There the ruling class’s self-serving refusal to acknowledge the virus became a real threat to workers, and resulted in real and life-threatening delays. [We will not be distracted into discussing the idiocies of Johnson’s advocacy of promoting ‘herd immunity’; nor of Trump’s dismissal of ‘the Chinese virus’].
In the UK and the USA, these fatal delays led to a huge unknown volume of either minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers, who infected a further large unknown number. In that situation, the period of medically recommended seems likely to be longer. There perhaps it may be up to 4 months, as the pool of infected people with a latent ability to transmit is very large.
Rather than guessing, are there better ways of estimating an appropriate length of time? One that balanced the trade-off to both protect working-class lives, while minimising the duration of social isolation.
3. Are there scientific ways society could estimate when to lift social isolation?
Some ways are emerging, despite all the uncertainty. Below is a table made up by the German paper, “Suddeutsche Zeitung”, using data from Johns Hopkins University in the USA, re-computed three times a day. [2]  We show the table from the 27 March 2020 at 1730 pm. The columns in English from left to right are: ‘the country’; ‘confirmed cases’, ‘the number of deaths’; ‘the rate in days of doubling of cases’.
It can be seen that the doubling rate varies a lot. Where it is a small time period (e.g. 2.9 days for the USA) this is very worrying and indicates the period of social-isolation is warranted medically. In contrast, the situation in China nowadays shows the epidemic has largely passed – doubling at 579.4 days.
But this is still gross complete full population data. Can this be more fine-tuned, perhaps even individualised? It is likely the more technologically adept countries can, and will be able to. For example in Germany.
Perhaps, the best epidemiological data is emerging at the moment, from scientists at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. The virologist, Drosten and his team were very quick to develop a diagnostic test. It was then offered to the WHO. Germany was widely testing before most other Western countries.
By now it is well known that that test was made available to the USA by the WHO early on. That offer was rejected by the chauvinistic Trump administration and its politically tethered CDC. Drosten’s team has gone on to perfect the blood testing of people after known infections, to follow their antibody responses. Such serological testing enables checks on individuals’ immunity. This will soon be possible on a mass scale in Germany.
In an interview now on-line in English, Drosten explains his belief that only active diagnostic and serological testing, – can scientifically answer the question of “when is enough enough?”
But Drosten sensibly (in my view) suggests also, a shift in focus from an across-the-board restriction, to a focus on the most high-risk population. [3] It is worth citing a short excerpt, which discusses two situations: the elderly, and testing people prior to return to work safely. But to start with, Drosten agrees that “a year of a state of emergency” – is pretty ‘un-imaginable’:
Drosten: We perhaps have to assume that from a societal perspective, we’ll have to go through a year in a state of emergency. But we probably won’t continue pursuing all measures precisely as we have now introduced them. We will be able to, we will have to, adjust them. Some things will be phased out. But during the initial phase between now and the week after Easter, we really have to take rigorous action and keep a close eye on the development of the number of cases.
ZEIT ONLINE: A year of a state of emergency? What will our lives look like during this period?
Drosten: Nobody knows. I can’t imagine it yet either. … “
Therefore he proposes a different approach, moving away from a blanket social isolation policy for the whole population, to a testing strategy to identify high-risk individuals:
For those who are particularly at risk.
ZEIT ONLINE: What kinds of things do you have in mind?
Drosten: Certain arrangements could be made specifically for such risk groups, for example by rigorously testing the elderly and those at risk early on and giving them priority when it comes to hospital admissions. And those at higher risk will have to continue to work from home, for an extended period. It could be possible to find ways to isolate elderly people at home. There could be shuttle services for them, and groceries would have to be delivered to them. Volunteers could help, perhaps even the German military. And in day-to-day life, children would have to be kept away from those at risk as strictly as possible.
ZEIT ONLINE: And then the schools could be opened again?
Drosten: Perhaps measures could be imposed, like half the school can use only these hallways and the other half the other hallways. There would no longer be a long recess, and perhaps no short ones either. Common rooms would no longer be used and would be locked. With such measures, you can reduce effective group sizes in the schools. That would require some planning, but we have time between now and the week after Easter. The most important thing is that we need scientific data regarding the situation at schools.
ZEIT ONLINE: And what if grandparents want to see their grandchildren again?
Drosten: Perhaps it will be the case that grandchildren will first have to undergo a test when they want to visit grandma and grandpa to be sure that they don’t infect them. Such details now need to be clarified. With the political decisions that have been made, social life has been put on hold. But hopefully adjustments can be made with the help of scientific findings and modelling that apply specifically to Germany.
ZEIT ONLINE: When will people be able to go back to work?
Drosten: In the medical world, consideration is already being given to the idea of testing people so they can go to work. Once antigen tests are available, that could be expanded to include other occupational groups. Plus, if we assume that during the current wave of infections, perhaps 10 to 15 million people will become infected in Germany by autumn, we will soon have a large number of people with antibodies. People who are immune. Then, there will be doctors and nurses who can work without masks, and in other occupational groups, there will also be people who say: “I’ve made it through.” And their number will continually increase.
We caution against elements of naivete in Drosten’s thinking (‘Volunteers could help, perhaps even the German military.’) Maybe this is too cynical on my part. In any case, even the most skeptical cannot ignore that Drosten has compassion. Nor should they reject that Drosten outlines a sensible strategy: to target the highest risk groups, after initial larger quarantining.
Hence, in conclusion – a period of between 2-4 months is pragmatically both realistic and acceptable scientifically. I think also from the point of view of working-class rights.
The use of sensible medical testing to prolong advised isolation for high risk-groups is likely sensible for society. Furthermore, the working class should use every means at its disposal to challenge and resist prolongation beyond a medical justification. That exact period will likely depend upon the specifics of each country, and whether infection rates are rising or falling.
4. What progressive should do if the shut-down gets extended beyond reasonable medical justifications
One reassuring thing is that by and large, the medical and scientific teams are working at this in a transparent and caring manner. To reinforce this view, the scientific data is being widely published in the peer-review medical press and lay press. While peer-review is far from perfect, it also far from being subject to censorship. Censorship of both the lay press and the medical press, seems to be an unlikely possibility in the very near future, at least in the standard Western-type bourgeois democratic states.
But it is the potential misuse of the data by unscrupulous politicians – perhaps especially in countries with more obvious authoritarian structures and rule – that should be the focus of the working-class movement. In several countries (including India, Egypt, China, The Phillipines etc) the intimidation and persecution of papers and reporters have been intense. Added to all this is the role of new, more intense methods of surveillance. These become inextricably linked to how much trust can be placed on such information remaining secure, or not misused. For instance in China even now:
“China is already normalizing some of its emergency measures to spy on its population. It has implemented an app-based system of health codes that assign different colour codes to citizens depending on how closely they have been in contact with corona-affected areas. Access to public transport and job facilities could be linked to this data. Public health can hence quickly serve as a pretext for ‘risk scoring’ citizens or even sabotaging political dissidents. Also in Western countries, a cluster of disaster capitalism is forming around the crisis. Private companies have already started developing apps that combine geolocation data with health scores to monitor public life.” [4]
Regardless of the type of government, whether a standard bourgeois democracy, or a more authoritarian government – the working class and its representatives need to be on guard. What should they do if they suspect the period of shut-down is extended beyond any medical justification?
One first step is to consult their own best progressive scientific and medical advisers to verify if there is an appropriate medical justification. These advisers range from national bodies such as the Physicians for a National Health Care Program (formed and led by Drs Woolhandler and Himmelstein) in the USA, the Socialist Health Alliance (UK) and similar organisations in other countries.
Secondly, the class must raise a demand for public accountability and transparence on such policy discussions. Some transparency does exist currently in most European countries and in Canada.
Thirdly – failing all this, the traditional working-class actions may need to be triggered. Namely widespread public actions of protest, mass disobedience, and mobilization. Admittedly this may prove difficult to organize, but enough of the class does have access to internet means of establishing connections and links.
Meanwhile, concrete demands to protect the under-privileged and the working class, even during the period that a shut-down is medically justifiable, need to be addressed.
5. Current Scope of Demands for the Working Class and Toilers of the world
Depending on which exact capitalist society is discussed, there are differing degrees of financial support being thrown to the increasingly large swathe of unemployed and poverty-stricken workers and toilers of the world. These bits of support are at best simply crumbs from the ‘High Capitalist Table’, tossed from where the bankers and magnates sit. However workers need such crumbs now, but even more and a larger share.
Here we are forced to confront a painful recent past. There have been decades of a loss of working-class resistance to bourgeois dictates of ‘profit rules’. After years of neo-liberalism and so-called ‘austerity’ measures, not only have the standards of compensation and payment fallen, but the extent of working-class resistance has become weaker.
One notable example is in trade union membership and organisation. This is certainly the case for example, in the USA and in the UK. Following major concerted attacks (including USA President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 attack on air-traffic controllers [5]; and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 1984 attack on the miners), the ruling classes succeeded in placing significant constraints on the traditional trade unions.
The loss of the working class’s long battled for trade union rights; its long battled social welfare systems; its long battled for class solidarity – was near forgotten. It all needs to be re-learnt. It is true that the trade unions were largely stuck at only reformist measures. Yet they were essential to defend the class, and to form a class orientation of solidarity. Admittedly, translating the traditional models of trade unions into the e-based industries has proven challenging.
Even more alarming is the situation in those countries such as the former colonial and semi-colonial countries. There even such crumbs are inconceivable, where the problems faced are horrendous. For India, for instance, the draconian shut-down leaves the poverty-stricken masses in a desperate situation. Says Shehnaz Khatun
“Shehnaz Khatun, a mother of three living in a cramped tenement in New Delhi, panicked after hearing Mr. Modi’s decree on Tuesday night. “The police beat us if we try to step out,” she said. “We dare not step out even to buy vegetables whose prices have skyrocketed.” “The future looks very dark,’’ she added. “If coronavirus does not kill us, hunger will.” [6]
In many ex-colonial countries, the hold of the foreign imperial cartels remains strangling. For instance in Ecuador, the main revenue stream for the state has been oil. But given the price war being fought over oil (See the prior discussion of this1) – revenues are plummeting in Ecuador, which is a ‘puppet at the mercy of the winds’:
“Ecuador (is) a puppet at the mercy of the winds and the government with no plan to deal with the situation. The economic growth model imposed on Ecuador by the bourgeoisie and imperialism, that prioritizes primary-export production for international markets – is once again questioned in the wake of the decline in oil prices and the decisions taken by several countries to deal with the current situation…
All Ecuadorian exportable products, starting with oil, passing through wood and ending up in the banana has been suffering sales reductions since February to date, as is the case for tourism. Oil, the main source of tax revenue, was budgeted for this year at $51.30 a barrel, but is barely being sold at $28.” [7]
In such situations some drastic changes could assist the masses, including such as below:
“Alternatives to tackling the problem should include drastically reducing imports of domestically feasible products and strengthening the domestic market. Increase the foreign-exchange tax, as well as the income tax temporarily on companies with profits exceeding $500,000, also reduce VAT to 10%. In addition, reducing tax revenues by eliminating military and police expenditures for repression and other superfluous expenditures such as official propaganda.”
An additional fundamental demand that could be made jointly by workers and toilers in both the periphery (countries like Ecuador) and the central dominant imperialist capitalist states, is to cancel the international debts. The programme of demands for each individual country will obviously be different. Another example is the Philippines: [8]
  • “Mass testing for all citizens;
  • Free hospitalization of victims, persons under investigation (PUI), and person under monitoring (PUM) for COVID-19;
  • Mass disinfection in all communities;
  • Food and water rationing for workers and the poor;
  • Distribution of face masks, hygiene kits, vitamins, and contraception;
  • Assistance to farmers, drivers, and other affected workers;
  • Release of 4Ps for beneficiaries;
  • Paid emergency leave to uninsured workers;
  • Refund tuition to students due to class suspension;
  • Price control of commodities;
  • Electricity, water, and communications to be provided 24/7;
  • Allowing vehicles and tricycles to provide transport to medical workers and people with medical needs;
  • Suspension of rent, water, electricity, communications, and other fees;
  • Disarming the large numbers of military and police forces deployed so as not to cause terror to the people; and a debt moratorium.”
Overall, in the short term, what should workers and toilers demand? Several demands – necessarily ‘reforms’ at this point, are important for the class to fight for. Several groups, in several countries, have already raised demands. We do not list them, but reference a few:
Instead, here we will try to summarise them into the following categories:
i) Ensure adequate living standards including by demands for living wages or appropriate government wage substitution, by rent freezes at minimum and more meaningfully with-hold rent demands and cessation of evictions; ensuring of food safety programmes; no cost utilities (electricity, water, internet);
ii) Ensure access to medical care free of co-pays or fees, including for diagnostic testing;
iii) Ensure safety: hazard pay and safety equipment for health care workers, sanitation workers, and essential service workers interacting with the public (cashiers at super-markets etc);
iv) Ensure supervision and oversight of governmental monies being dispersed to the big capitalist firms;
v) Re-purpose existing factories (eg car factories to making of mechanical ventilators); or to provide space for emergency medical facilities as needed; Resist further invasion of personal liberties by electronic monitoring systems for isolation;
vi) Protection of vulnerable groups including immigrants, refugees, prisoners especially those on minor charges – who should be released;
vii) Protection against abuse, including support for women’s shelters and charities in especial food banks;
viii) Ensure international acts of solidarity: Thus far these have been limited to some instances of a meaningful medical aid (China to Italy; Cuba to Italy; Germany to France, Italy); but this aid should be extended in especial to the formerly colonial world, to include the erasure of debts;
ix) Develop new means of working-class resistance: Increase the working class’ own interactions by cross-linking on social platforms with video conferencing and videoconference class; yet recognizing that many unemployed workers may not have net access for safe, net library hubs;
x) Demand an end to racist calls (no to such Trump-ite labels as ‘Chinese Virus’, no to Chinese accusations of “the virus was an American army attack”);
6. Conclusions
These are only immediate and short term goals. The working class and its representatives need to be aware of the best science to understand when we should challenge the shut-down. In the interim we must continue to fight for the safety and living standards of the class.
Of course, intermediate goals must be to re-build a truly responsive health care structure for workers and a universal health care system, that is adequately funded. We should not allow the government to spend our revenues to maintain the profits of the capitalist class. Ultimately, we need to rebuild our fighting organisations. That includes not only stronger independent trades unions but an independent workers party. These are not going to happen quickly, but we must urgently start.
1 Hari Kumar, ‘How Should Marxists View the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2019- 2020?’ at
4 Tim Christaens, ‘Must Society be Defended from Agamben?’, Critical Legal notes, 26 March 2020; at:
6 Jeffrey Gettleman & Kai Schultz,’Modi Orders 3-Week Total Lockdown for All 1.3 Billion Indians,’ NYT, March 24,2020
8 Reihana Mohideen and Tony Iltis,Philippines: A weak but authoritarian state confronts Covid-19’, ‘Climate & Capitalism’, March 23, 2020,

Photo Gallery – 15 February 2020 against the AfD in Erfurt

18 000 demonstrated on February 15 on the streets of Erfurt to protest the dangerous political games of FDP and CDU with AfD and declare that there is no space for Nazis, in the government and everywhere else. After a rally at Dom Square, the demo walked through the central streets of the city up […]


18 000 demonstrated on February 15 on the streets of Erfurt to protest the dangerous political games of FDP and CDU with AfD and declare that there is no space for Nazis, in the government and everywhere else. After a rally at Dom Square, the demo walked through the central streets of the city up to the Trade Union House on Yuri Gagarin Street.

The turnout was colourful and came mostly from the region, with a few delegations from other cities. The contribution of trade unions (DGB, GWE, IG Metall and many other smaller local grassroots organizations) was decisive. There were also left parties, NGOs and Muslim groups.

It was an immediate and encouraging act of resistance to the plan of exonerating and normalizing the far-right and the Nazis.

Labouring the Point

Labour ignores its Northern heartlands at its peril


I have wanted to write something about Labour’s defeat at the election late last year and have not been short of ideas. The issue is how to put them together to convey the interwoven, complex causes of this extremely dismaying outcome. I’m not a statistician, nor a policy wonk, so what follows is personal, political and at times unashamedly anecdotal but, I would assert, no less relevant and accurate. For if we only understand at a distance, we will miss vital clues and these make all the difference. So this is a long and sober reflection. Because as much as I know that we cannot give up, there are things about Britain (especially England), as well as the Labour party, that will make this a harder struggle than we have realised thus far.

Where’s Workington?

It’s not long after midnight in a bar in Berlin and even at this early stage, it is clear that Labour will lose. Newsflashes in the rolling coverage blurt that seat after seat has gone blue. Seats presumed to be Labour’s forever have fallen to the Tories. “Where’s Workington?” my co-commiserator asks me.

In the dark, despairing days that follow I decide that this question is what it’s about and two words resonate: distance and representation.

There are several things that marked the election as extraordinary. The engagement, determination and activism of people under 35 campaigning for Labour was unprecedented. To say that this cohort “got” Corbynism is an understatement. Here in Berlin, several young Labour members from the UK cited the impossibility of renting affordably any longer in Britain, expressed their anger at being burdened with student debt, their disgust at social deprivation, their fears of a deteriorating future. The societal revolution for them would not only be green and industrial but properly transformative. This was a world worth fighting for and they were giving it all they’d got. In the UK itself, Momentum was highly effective in enthusing large groups of people, young and older, to phone-bank or door to door canvass, in several marginal seats. The numbers swelling the streets echoed turnouts seen in Corbyn’s rallies from the early to late days of his leadership. And the manifesto, later decried as too scattergun, seemed to shine with optimism and a defiant can-do spirit. None of this was wrong or misguided but, energised as it was, it still was not quite enough. And this made the defeat more devastating and bewildering. From anticipatory euphoria to painful disbelief within the space of two or three hours in December. Grieving this loss took us weeks.

So where is Workington? A long, long way away from London. And most other places. The nearest most people get is when visiting the Lake District, that scenic, protected national park, but most would never visit Workington. So it’s distant. Depending on your location of course, which in the case of most politicians, journalists and pundits is London. It’s distant from London in terms of culture as well. So much so that a pollster’s caricature was created in the form of “Workington man”, a mythical working class figure the Tories would have to win over to gain Labour seats and not just win but win big. So pursuing a representation to win representation in other words. But somehow it worked and the fact that it did was down to two big Bs. Brexit and Boris. A deceitful man with a simplistic slogan about a simplistic, deceitful solution. The horrific cartoon-like symmetry explains why the Tories won this seat and others but not why Labour lost them. For that answer we have go further back, back before Corbyn and before the referendum. To get some distance in time.

But just for a moment to stay with the geography, Blyth was another place that fell to the Tories. Blyth Valley to be precise, which is slightly further north than even Workington but kind of parallel if you draw a tilting west to east line coast to coast. I lived near Blyth for over 20 years of my adult life and longer ago than that I was born in the north east coastal city of Sunderland and lived there till age 13. But I have never been to Blyth. I knew that it had a power station, visible from the beach, I’d seen pictures. During my time as an actress in Newcastle, I worked on and off at Live Theatre. In its early years, it built its reputation on the work of left-leaning playwrights embedded in north east culture like Alan Plater, Tom Hadaway and C.P. Taylor. In Taylor’s play Bandits!, characters break the fourth wall to speak from the heart. Just like Shakespeare’s soliloquies, these monologues convey personality and predicament but all are laced with humour. One character, a wannabe club-singer, opens hers with the statement “I hate saying I’m from Blyth”. This always got a big laugh. The name’s incongruity is part of it. Like the Newcastle street called Paradise Row leading into a scrap yard its optimism predates decline or in Blyth’s case even industry. But Taylor’s play dates from 1977 when, although not the industrial giant it had been in the early 1960s with an abundance of shipbuilding and coal mines, it hadn’t yet been hollowed out. No, the laugh was to do with other things. The character felt being from Blyth was a drawback, not sophisticated or glamorous like (relatively speaking) Newcastle. She was aspirant. The audience laughed at her honest ambition to leave Blyth behind.

This kind of city scorn for peripheral towns has been rampant in the UK for as long as I can remember. The regional cities in turn receive their own disdain from London, or at least it seems that way. If you want to be taken seriously in any way at all in Britain, you’re expected to go to London goes the mantra in so many professions. This is all very well, but if the place you live is always at the bottom of the never-good-enough hierarchy and you have no wish or way to leave it, you’re bound to get collectively peeved.

What has exacerbated this feeling of not only being laughed at but thoroughly left behind has been a combination of sustained slash and burn economics from the early 80s onwards with its attendant weakening of union power and the failure of subsequent Labour governments, shadow cabinets and some Labour councils to either work to reverse the damage or the anti-union legislation to any significant degree. Because the hope was in 1997 that the Labour landslide would usher in better times for areas steamrollered by Thatcherism, that a party called Labour would prioritise those whose families had literally laboured in industries which had given birth to the movement, that it would restore honour and the sense of a future. The warning signs were there early on. Labour resolved to re-write Clause IV, the party’s commitment to nationalisation and renamed itself New Labour. To create a distance from the past, to represent itself differently. But the past distanced from was not a Tory one, that was rather embraced, and the railways were not renationalised, the unions regained no rights.

The new breed of Labour politicians were of the metropolis and of the professions (often lawyers). Despite claims that Tony Blair had links to the north east beyond being MP for Sedgefield, these were only to be found in the highly privileged context of Durham cathedral choristers’ school. In similar safe seats (often north eastern) New Labour candidates were ‘helicoptered in’ ousting those who were left wing and local. Selection was mostly down to the suit you wore rather than other suitability. Cultural distance was the norm, giving rise to tales of Peter Mandelson mistaking mushy peas for guacamole in a Hartlepool chippy and David Milliband bemoaning the lack of a bookshop in South Shields, missing the point that a well-resourced library was part of his remit not retail space for a Waterstones.

Still in the north east and still in the arts, I noticed the shift on the ground. To get funding to do some theatre, or anything basically, you were urged to ‘write a business plan’, maybe ‘set up a company’, become more corporate essentially. Arguing for an arts centre to host community workshops with properly paid staff you were told that it was ‘no longer the 1970s’. Paying people was too expensive, but buildings were big, or money for constructing them was. New artistic real estate shot up all over the place. Shiny new venues with either steep entrance fees (I dubbed one such place erected near a run-down area “Centre for the Middle Class Child” based on its exclusionary lack of access) or low paid staff – supposedly regenerative flagship galleries and music centres ultimately using zero-hour contracts for front of house and catering staff. All this in a so-called ‘boom time’.

Living on a council estate from the mid 90s to the end of the 2010s (by both ideological choice and economic necessity) I noticed the growing rifts and exclusion. More distance creation. Getting anything for the residents via a tenants’ group was grindingly slow and infuriating. Use of an ex-and-long-disused shop for the tenants’ meetings or to store playscheme equipment? No. A pedestrian crossing over a dangerous road for children to access the area with the urban farm and said exclusionary venue? No. The reinstatement of a pavement after being built over by a Bingo Hall? Eventually, after 2 years. Proper entrance doors with bells and intercom for the flats? Yes, but only if it comes with invasive CCTV. And this was in largely Labour-run, relatively prosperous Newcastle and in an architecturally renowned development, the Byker Wall estate.

At least one friend who had opted for a safer job and mortgage comfortably used the word ‘chav’ to describe the youthful poor. This was the era of the modern tour of Bedlam known as TV’s Big Brother where Jade Goody was probably the closest some people got to a working class person. There followed Jeremy Kyle, Benefit Street and others. Even in soaps, well-crafted dramas or comedies, the working class were relentlessly portrayed as feckless, thick or criminal. Lower class musical aspiration was mocked, unless you didn’t buckle under the gaze of Cowell et al in your quest for fame and glory. The telly was no longer warm and friendly but ruthlessly bombastic and combative, reflecting the market economy. So far from the D:Ream exhortation of things getting inevitably better, they got, for many people worse. And that’s without mentioning PFI and illegal warfare. Sure, sure, Sure Start and the minimum wage. But was that really all we could hope for from democratic socialism in a reasonably buoyant time? From 2003 to 2010, Labour’s membership and share of the vote shrank by over 200,000 and 10% respectively.

But for some, these times were just fine and dandy which goes some way to explaining why they see it still as a golden age. Just as if the world you inhabit is a Richard Curtis film, it’s hard to fathom Ken Loach.

At the tail end, the opportunity, described by Labour MP Jon Trickett, then working as Prime Minister Brown’s assistant, to expose the catastrophic nature of the neo-liberal, free-market scam via the 2008 global banking debacle and break with it for good, was sidestepped and everything shored up in a way that made austerity all the easier to implement because, you know, someone has to pay.

In Labour’s ensuing opposition period (pre Corbyn’s election/s as leader) we had the combination of the rather timid Harman and Milliband who seemed unable to offer any real challenge to the ramping up of an increasingly turbo-charged austerity which saw the roll-out of food banks the length and breadth of the land, a viciously punitive ‘welfare’ system that denied support to the unemployed for the flimsiest of reasons or forced them into ‘jobs’ with derisory pay, no rights and precarious conditions, denying the sick, old, disabled and mentally ill support to the extent that by last year reportedly up to 130,000 of them had died due to something Engels called social murder. In the midst of all of this there seemed nowhere to turn and no-one with passion fighting the corner of those at the sharp end. If it wasn’t there already, the rift set in hard.

Around 2013, people angry enough to want change began gathering in community halls. Soon a campaigning initiative was founded that sprouted branches throughout the UK, and is still running. This is The People’s Assembly. Other campaigns such as UK Uncut and localised fights such as that of the residents on the New Era estate, against social cleansing and championed by Russell Brand made headlines in at least some papers. The same Russell Brand, a rare left of centre celebrity, argued that it was probably pointless to vote, saying a revolution was needed. Tellingly perhaps, he modulated this view after he was persuaded to lend the supposedly “red” Ed Milliband an electoral hand in a cosy, kitchen, televised chat. Ed was also one of the leaders who rushed up to Scotland to promise better things were Scotland to say No to independence and, fatally for him, illustrating to left-oriented SNP voters whose side he was on.

Milliband lost his election, by almost one million fewer votes than Corbyn in 2019 (and over 3 million fewer than 2017). His defeat was largely due to his seeming unwillingness to coherently fight back against austerity and offer any real alternative but also to the fact that as an election promise, David Cameron vowed to put membership of the European Union to the vote in the form of a referendum. For amidst all the brewing discontent, a certain Nigel Farage had been appearing with notable regularity on BBC’s Question Time, declaiming against not only the EU but any other party than his own, the UK Independence Party. In a sea of bland, technocratic conformity, he seemed (to some people) to be the rage against the machine they’d been waiting for, the same people who perhaps were absorbing daily headlines on the apparently endlessly threatening presence of migrants in the UK. In almost every newspaper printed in Britain the word migrant accrued increasing toxicity alongside those of benefit cheat and scrounger. Morning television, watched primarily by the retired, featured programmes which tracked and shamed fraudulent welfare claimants, in between those about how to make a buck via junk shops or doing up and renting a house. The only good people were cheery, obedient capitalists ran the not so subliminal message. The poor were scum, or so Jeremy Kyle kept telling us. The other favourite monster of the media was of course the Muslim, with tropes of terrorism or oppressive laws having been in full flow since the onset of the Blair-Bush war-on-terror.

Mainstream-media-reading Britons were urged to believe they were under attack from a number of quarters, both within and without. To rub in the contrast between their beleaguered present and the halcyon past there were cosy, soft-power confections like Downton Abbey in which the ruling class aristocracy were presented as benign, glamorous and wise. Still running, it is apparently the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial Brideshead Revisited, which itself graced the onset of Thatcherism. And from 2014 – 18, viewers (and listeners) also had innumerable tributes to two World Wars to get through. And while all our yesterdays were presented in increasingly airbrushed tones, the present got all the grimmer. Certainly for people in places like Consett in north west Durham where no hope had been on the horizon since the closure of the steelworks, one of the many places which watched while the same stuff made elsewhere with cheaper labour was shipped into the country. Anti-foreign sentiment found fertile ground here, not because of migration of people but for the effects of globalisation. And no politician seemed to oppose globalisation except a certain Mr Farage.

What is Brussels?

Between Milliband’s demise and the portentous referendum came, of course, the Labour leadership contest. Those yearning and/or campaigning for a fairer, less militaristic world saw a sudden ray of hope in the figure of Jeremy Corbyn, who for all his mild-mannered, geography teacher appearance is what Tony Benn called a signpost politician, a true socialist, lifelong anti-racist and pro-peace fighter. To see him stand alongside the suited, booted, mediocre ‘moderates’ (all offering more of the same) was an irresistible breath of fresh air and tens of thousands flocked to the party to be supporters and members. The numbers turning out to talks and rallies held by the newly elected leader were startling in their volume. You’d have to go back to before the middle of last century, if indeed ever, to see anything like a similar turn-out for a UK politician. Hundreds of thousands were joyous and hopeful, but some brows inside and outside the party were darkening. A break with neoliberalism wasn’t what was wanted by those for whom it had been one long Richard Curtis film and they had their careers to think of.

And so the referendum. For a country desperate for change and for things to properly “get better”, a break with the EU was styled (by Boris and Cummings) to offer that. When a simple slogan that boiled down to ‘a decent NHS or stay in the EU’ was driven the length of the land, desperate people were utterly sold on it. The EU was now conflated as the sole cause of globalisation and austerity as well as (for xenophobes) the source of too many migrants.

Distance and representation again. To most UK voters the shenanigans in Westminster were opaque enough, to relate to those in Brussels nigh impossible. And a lot of the crowd saying let’s-stay-in looked and sounded like those who sang the D:Ream song in 1997 and who’d looked the other way ever since. David Graeber, the anthropologist and activist, has written an excellent piece on the vanity (in every sense) of what he calls “the professional-managerials” and how they misjudged the mood for 4 decades.

During the campaign their basic message was that things are just fine how they are. On the night the results were called, much was made of Sunderland voting predominantly Leave but in the once solid-Labour city, residents had long reached boiling point over alleged council corruption alongside endless cuts. Perhaps they were sick of being taken for mugs by a party that felt too complacent about their loyalty. Peter Mandelson famously said that voters in such constituencies would always vote Labour because they “nowhere else to go”. In 2016 they had. Plus the first Metric Martyr was from Sunderland.

Despite Cameron’s resignation and the Tories disarray after the shock result, ‘moderate’ Labour erupted in fury and, according to those more Europhile than socialist, Jeremy Corbyn was to blame. There’d have to be another leadership contest. If this wasn’t severe dysfunctional signalling to any potential voters, I really don’t know what is. After a farcical parade of people with nothing to offer and less to say, Jeremy won again and won easily. There followed a year when Labour’s ratings climbed steadily and the hapless Theresa May ping-ponged from Brussels and back again not pleasing anybody. The Tory right had ingested the UKIP ethos and were intent on seeing it through. Theresa went to the country and came perilously close to losing. Labour got 40% of the vote. No mean feat with the mass media guns trained against you. Then two things happened to expose Tory cruelty even more. The horrific fire of Grenfell Tower in London was a stark testament to modern Conservatism’s inhuman values. The tower was clad to please the eyes of the better heeled residents of Tory-run Kensington who happened to surround it, clad in what a fire-chief described as sheer petrol. A safer cladding would have been more a few thousand pounds more expensive. Residents committed to safety and decency had complained of other hazards and dangerous omissions in the block that could lead to a disastrous situation. They were ignored. 72 people died and many more were injured or traumatised. More social murder as described by Aditya Chakrabortty. Another scandal broke around 9 months later after it emerged that up to a thousand older British citizens of Caribbean origin had been subject to or listed for deportation. The Windrush Scandal was largely a result of policies forged by the then Home Secretary Theresa May called the hostile environment, which included vans driving around central London urging people to shop any foreign-looking person to the immigration authorities.

In this atmosphere of Tory failure and disgrace, it should have been easy for Labour not only to seize the moral high ground but to soar in the polls. And of course Corbyn and others denounced these appalling failures and tragedies. Sadly, however, there were figures within and surrounding the party who seemed determined to (continue to) undermine the leadership with the eager assistance of the press. These attacks took several forms but one proved more fatal than others. To some perhaps it seemed more a lament than an attack, a lament draped in a bright blue flag with its yellow circle of stars.

Let me make a confession here. I voted Remain. As a British migrant living in Germany it seemed a no-brainer, despite the misgivings I had over the Troika’s treatment of Greece and the Fortress Europe phenomenon. To vote unequivocally Leave would, for me, have been allying with Farage, Gove and Johnson as well as sundry other racists. And let’s be clear, there were no leading left wing figures coherently arguing the case. For a time, after the result, I even wished that the vote could be kept as advisable, something we’d been told early on and after all it was so very close, almost 50/50. However, there came a point, maybe a year down the line, when it was clear that there had been no change of mind among those millions intent on Brexit and leaving aside the facts that neither EU citizens resident in the UK or UK citizens resident abroad for longer than 15 years had been permitted to vote, turnout for the referendum was far higher than most General Elections. Moreover, it had become symbolic of a deep wish for change, freedom and optimism among its supporters. To argue against it felt like one was occupying the position of those who had long ignored places decimated by Thatcherism which had never recovered. Some diehard Remainers pointed to all the good done in such communities by the EU, citing the familiar flag’s presence on billboards where funding had been given. But the counter cry was why couldn’t a rich country like the UK find the necessary funds in the first place for projects like this and if the EU was so good at protecting worker’s rights why were there zero hours contracts? In some places Remain-loyal Labour figures left such communities. In Workington and North West Durham, an MEP and MP relinquished their office and post. It’s no accident perhaps that both places voted to “Get Brexit Done” in the reductive words of the slogan, despite the stalwart socialist replacement in the latter.

Another confession, I come from a coal-mining family. My great grandfather was killed in the then privately owned Wearmouth colliery, his body brought home on a hand-cart. His son (my granda) worked at the same pit from the 1920s, saw it nationalised after the war, lost one lung and got emphysema. And his son, my dad, saw the same place demolished after working there since his teens. Wearmouth was in Sunderland, next to the river, once bristling with shipyards. It was one of the many mines dotted throughout the Durham coalfield. During the Great Strike of 84-85, many Labour members rallied round impoverished, embattled communities but Kinnock as leader condemned miners for their violence without acknowledging police brutality and the trumped-up charges which saw miners imprisoned. After its pit closed, Easington on the north-east coast went from virtual full employment to having the region’s highest youth heroin addiction. They couldn’t all be Billy Elliot. By the time Blair was elected, most north east mines were gone, but despite being a county Durham MP, Blair never attended the annual gala, still running as a testament to Durham miners and promoting union solidarity. He stayed away for his 13 years as PM. The coal industry was the first casualty of globalisation, with the work passing from unionised men in technically sophisticated conditions to countries in South America and elsewhere where child labour was still used and conditions unregulated. Britain then imported this coal. In the ensuing 35 years the once proud coal communities became shadows of their former selves, so to see first a Labour front bench nodding through austerity measures and then be told you can’t have what you’ve voted for were the last straws for many of them. Their discontent may have been exploited by countless targeted bots commanded by Dominic Cummings but the discontent was deep in the first place.

Sadly, during most of the three years following the referendum, some leading Labour figures seemed happy to put more energy into a push to re-run the vote than to throw their weight behind a positive Labour vision of a future. It had the dual effect of indicating they had no respect for democracy and they didn’t take socialism seriously. A dangerous arrogance and lack of awareness. And the media peddled this for all it was worth, not that they were short of material. The breathtaking extent of negative stories about Jeremy Corbyn on screen, radio and in print matched now in volume the support he’d had in those early days. It was blanket coverage and included of course the long-supposed left-tending paper The Guardian. The pressure was unrelenting.

Finally, at the conference in late summer of 2019, it was agreed to incorporate effectively a second referendum if a Labour/EU deal was struck. Labour’s position had gone from respecting the result to planning to somehow overturn it. Corbyn was in an impossible position. Go on defying his Remainer MPs and have them continue to undermine him, even at election time (as some had done in 2017). So it was an attempt to compromise, but in a violently binary context amelioration is seen as missing the point, or not even properly taking it seriously. You had to either love the EU with a passion or hate everything it stood for. Being in the middle on this issue was sitting on the fence, a cowardly, wishy-washy stance. But the press presented Corbyn as a far from mild-mannered compromiser but as dangerous in two extreme ways. His lifelong commitment to peace, whether through opposition to nuclear weapons and his efforts towards an end to the Troubles were portrayed as naïvely pacifistic on the one hand and terrorist on the other. It’s not surprising that some people on the doorstep said they weren’t quite sure why they didn’t like him. Given this chameleon array of personas, they could hardly be sure who he was.

Where to now?

As I write the Labour leadership contest is underway. The future is uncertain. There are rumblings in certain quarters that there is an upswell of support for Keir Starmer but this is only based on the amount of CLPs who have endorsed him so far and all the results aren’t in. In the end the membership will decide. Mark Serwotka writing in The Guardian warns that a vote for anyone other than Rebecca Long-Bailey risks taking the party back to 2015 and that the vibrant regeneration of the last 5 years will be abandoned as the regrettable mistake those always hostile to it believe it to have been. I sincerely hope that will not be the case. The Tory leadership may have conceded to renationalising one rail service and to upping the minimum wage but the deportations of men and women with Caribbean heritage notorious during the Windrush Scandal are being unapologetically continued and the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster will give protection to firms who knowingly sold the fatal cladding. These news items come just days after a prime-ministerial aide tried to exclude left-leaning journalists from a briefing. There is more to fight for than ever and the stakes are higher still.

Apart from electing RLB, several major things need to happen for a socialist Labour government to exist: an understanding in people’s hearts and minds of what socialism actually is. This needs to happen on the ground, wherever people are up against the harshness of the current system, in solidarity with them in their struggles. This kind of grassroots activity is already happening but it needs staunch political support. The party must make it a priority to eradicate those distances if it expects representation. The party must also be united to defeat its real, external enemy. Distance between each other must be bridged if we are to do that. Broad churches are fine but not, as someone said, if the choir wants to kill the vicar. Nor should we have a situation where unity is only deemed possible if the right of centre has an iron grip. If parliamentary candidates can be nurtured and proposed from their own constituency branches and properly held to account rather than disappearing into ‘Westmonster’ and staying there, that would ensure a greater sense of connection and groundedness. A sound way forward is to implement Open Selection whereby every MP has to stand for reselection as a matter of course after a number of years, just as councillors have to. No more the assumption of a job for life.

Ben Sellers, ex-assistant to Laura Pidcock, now to Durham City MP Mary Foy, talks about the dangers of the Westminster bubble and how groupthink sets in, where professional politicos give less credence to the experiences of constituents in north east ex-mining towns than the results of polls organised and funded by Conservative peer, Lord Ashcroft. “That’s not to say every one of these findings will be wrong, but let’s do our own work in the communities we lost. The answers are there,” Ben says.

Three things matter then if the party is to build on the clear successes of the past four years and the hopes and goals of the movement: solidarity, unity and democracy. Some see these prospects as gloomy but I cannot be as damning as the late, really great, film producer Tony Garnett who claimed:

“The Labour Party’s role objectively, is not to fight for the class interests of working people, it is in the end to believe in, and defend the capitalist system, to argue for a few more crumbs from the capitalist table.”

I still hope it can strive for better ideals.

The divides in Britain post-Brexit have also to be bridged. Too often I’m seeing bitter memes, berating northern new Tory voters as “thick”. That scorn and class-hatred again. Well perhaps it’s worth considering what desperation does to your ability to think straight. Many saw Brexit as a lifeline and Boris as the only one with it, saying you can have it now not maybe. There are clear questions as to why people saw this as such an appealing promise. I’d say it boils down to people feeling cared about. A recent derided quote was allegedly from a woman who’d feared electing Jeremy Corbyn because he’d said he’d close the food banks on which she totally relied. Now apart from the fact one has to wonder where this woman could access reliable information if her means of support were so meagre, she was essentially protecting that which sustained her against a more uncertain future. After the hollowing out of town after town, the decimation of unions, class identity has been all but obliterated. People cast around for something to belong to and while class history should have been celebrated and cherished by Labour, it has all too often been neglected or taken for granted. The only history promulgated in the mainstream media and in most schools is that of the nation. People have rushed to something they feel will protect them, because it supposedly always has and maybe they think it’s all they have left. In the 1930s, the poet WH Auden described national authority as an ogre that the people both feared and clung to. He wrote these lines in 1937:

He dreads the ogre, but he dreads yet more Those who conceivably might set him free. Without his bondage he’d be all at sea, The ogre need but shout ‘Security’ to make this man, so loveable, so mild, as madly cruel as a frightened child.

And so ‘security-threat’ Corbyn was spurned for the more familiar rogue-ogre. We’ll see how this fairy tale pans out but Labour needs to play an active role, not just boo from the sidelines. No more distance, proper representation and please, no more scorn punching down.

Carol McGuigan, Berlin, February 2020

Photos: ‘Freedom for Patrick’ protest

Patrick George Zaki, 28 year old Egyptian human rights activist, was abducted at Cairo International Airport upon his arrival from Bologna, Italy where he currently studies for his MD at the University of Bologna. Patrick was tortured and electrocuted without any true accusations. This campaign is to pressure the Egyptian Authorities to meet the following […]

Patrick George Zaki, 28 year old Egyptian human rights activist, was abducted at Cairo International Airport upon his arrival from Bologna, Italy where he currently studies for his MD at the University of Bologna. Patrick was tortured and electrocuted without any true accusations. This campaign is to pressure the Egyptian Authorities to meet the following demands:

1) Immediate release of Patrick Zaki with all accusations dropped.
2) Enforcing a clear, transparent investigation regarding his abduction and torture conditions.
3) Assuring no further harassment or prosecution of Patrick nor his family members, allowing for progression with his studies.

Help us #FreePatrick – more information on facebook and here

Photographs by Hossam el-Hamalawy.