labour party

30 Years Since the Limehouse Declaration

30 years ago today, the ‘Gang of Four’ (not to be confused with the Socialist R&B band of the same name) – Shirley Williams, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Roy Jenkins – made their overblown, pompous announcement that they were splitting the Labour Party in two. The party, which had arisen organically from the labour movement in Britain and which was much more than the sum of its democratic socialist, social democratic, christian socialist, cooperative, methodist, Marxist, and Fabian parts, was rocked by this vain, arrogant maneouvre by some of the party’s vainest and most arrogant senior figures.

Now, much water has passd under the SDP, Alliance, Liberal Democrat and now Conservative-led coalition bridge since that day. But let us remember the final paragraph of the declaration, after all the guff about radical change and so on:

“We recognise that for those people who have given much of their lives to the Labour Party, the choice that lies ahead will be deeply painful. But we believe that the need for a realignment of British politics must now be faced.”

Thee Faction would like to ask them how well they think this realignment has gone, given that they are now busy propping up a Tory government that they could have allowed to take its chances in the division lobby.  Are they proud that they ripped the Labour Party apart, consigned Britain to 18 years of Thatcherite government, and then did all they could to bring the Tories back again 13 years later? Are these the radical changes they were looking for? Was the presence of a few Trotskyists in the broad church that is the Labour Party that problematic that they needed to do this? Was Owen’s desperation for status that strong that such sacrifices had to be made?

So, as a tribute to the Gang of Four, and all those who have followed them, here’s Thee Faction doing “Conservative Friend” at the DDRofRnB last week.



GDH Cole and Guild Socialism. A Beginner’s Guide

A lot of you who have bought At Ebbw Vale have been asking who GDH Cole is. He gets mentioned on the sleeve, and is, apparently, a bit of a mystery to many of you. For his low profile you can blame an array of people. The Left in the 60s didn’t think he was very sexy – when you’ve got Marcuse and co to market, a rather stuffy old Brit who did a sideline in detective fiction doesn’t quite have the caché you’re looking for. The Labour Party never thought he was very sexy either. He knew all the right people, and was a prominent Fabian, but his blueprints for a better tomorrow weren’t quite in line with the democratic socialist orthodoxy of the moment. He was talked about as having a ‘Bolshevik soul in a Fabian muzzle’. Not the kind of guy the Labour Party were likely to make a song and dance about (though, weirdly, Labour List has published a piece about him today, pointing out that Cameron’s Big Society is just a bourgeois version of GDH Cole’s Guild Socialism). And the rest of the British left simply never knew how to categorise him. He was non-communist, but clearly Marxist in his analysis. That didn’t appeal to the CPGB. He was against a strong state, and had no truck with State and Revolution type thinking, so the Trots didn’t like him much either. Overall, there was no one who was likely to keep the GDH Cole momentum going after he’d left us.

We, of course, have always tried to. We’re a Socialist R&B band. We employ a Marxist analysis of history. But our vision of a better tomorrow is not necessarily informed by communists. Indeed, we have always seen history like Marx, the immediate struggle like Gramsci, and the vision of a better tomorrow like GDH Cole. The three pillars of Thee Faction’s thinking.

You all know how to apply Marxism as a critical tool. You all understand the nature of the war of position, as outlined by Gramsci. But the release of At Ebbw Vale has shown us that you don’t, necessarily, know your way around GDH Cole. So here is the briefest of guides to his way of thinking. There’ll be more of this, should it interest you, in the weeks and months to come. Think of today’s post as a very simple beginner’s guide.

GDH Cole was born in 1889. Between then and his death in 1959, he effectively did all the things you’d expect a man of the British Left to do. He wrote for the Guardian, the Left Book Club and the New Statesman, he ran the Fabians, he was huge in the cooperative movement, he was a Professor at Oxford, he taught Wilson and Gaitskell (not well enough, of course), and he was the inspiration behind Professor Yaffle in Bagpuss (if we tell you that his wife was Margaret Postgate, that might explain why). But so far this is a fairly standard portrait of a solidly Establishment British left-winger of the Webbs, Orwell, HG Wells, GB Shaw type. What separated Cole out from the rest of the gang?

The answer is: Guild Socialism. A million and one blueprints for socialism exist. Most lead unavoidably to Stalinism, because they hand everything over to the State. Guild Socialism doesn’t. That whole area of life that exists between the individual and the state is what needs to be democratised: Civil Society. So where Stalinism destroyed all the space between the individual and the State, ensuring that the State was everything, Guild Socialism offers a path to a socialism where the State is almost nothing.

Guild Socialism is a libertarian socialism for democrats. It’s a way of democratising civil society. The emphasis is on democratising the workplace, and all the other associations we find ourselves a part of when we walk out of our front doors. We self manage everything. Yup, there’ll still be a State. But it won’t have that much to do – just mediate between the different guilds and deal with criminal law. It’s the logical conclusion to the British cooperative movement. It’s socialism as it should be. Imagine – your workplace is democratised. As is the bus service to your workplace. As is the club you drink in after work, and the library you get your books from after that. All of which must work out ways of organising society to make sure all can thrive.

A month or three back we recommended that you read Darrow Schecter’s Radical Theories. There’s great stuff in there on Guild Socialism. But if you can get your hands on any of Cole’s original stuff, read it. It’s great. Avoid his detective novels, mind. They’re deadly dull, as befits a man who Beatrice Webb reckoned had no sense of humour.

Anyway, hope that clarifies things on the GDH Cole front. When you hear about the Big Society, or other daft attempts by the bourgeois state to abdicate responsibility for what goes on in civil society, remember that there is a way of doing just that, but without the abdication of state responsibility, without the moral abacus of the market, and without it being a patronising, top-down gesture. It’s called Guild Socialism, and it rocks like a motherfucker.

Eyes left. We describe ourselves as a Guild, see. Because we try to run ourselves along Guild Socialist principles. Relations between Thee Faction and Soviet Beret are a superb example of life under Guild Socialism. Things are not always harmonious. But they are democratic, and we’re all empowered. Can the same be said of Sony Records and its music-making-minions?

Guild Socialism. Get ready for it, cos it’s on its way brothers and sisters.

The Labour Leadership Contest: Baby Face’s Guide

David Milliband? Ed Milliband? The Steve Miller Band? We’ve been inundated with emails from comrades in the labour movement – the party and the unions – asking for advice on who to vote for in the Leadership election. With only a very few weeks to go, we thought we should publish a Thee Faction guide to the runners and riders. Then we realised that we haven’t actually had a meeting about this, so this is going to have to be me, Baby Face, writing in a personal capacity. So here it is: baby Face’s form guide to the Labour Leadership Contest.

The front-runner is, of course, David Milliband. The only thing he has going for him is his dad. For those who don’t remember, Ralph Milliband was a prominent figure in the New Left throughout the post-war era. If you haven’t read his “State in Capitalist Society” go out and do so now. It’s a barnstorming Marxist analysis of the relationship between base and superstructure. But Ralph is dead, and number one son shows no signs of having taken any notice either of his father or the host of legends of socialism that gathered round his dining table: EP Thompson, Raymond Williams, Raphael Samuel, Stuart Hall, Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn and so on. Instead he’s already sold himself to some big old donors, who will be wanting something back. Whatever rich fellas like that want back, it won’t be in the interests of thee or me. Plus David Milliband consistently served in the Cabinet in the second half of that last Labour administration – not a government that covered itself in glory.

Verdict: centre-right, heritage-ignoring, capitalist-courting careerist. No good socialist will be voting for him. An ideology-free policy wonk.

Next up is his brother Ed. Now, Ed shows a lot more signs of having listened to his old man, and clearly paid attention at the socialist dinner table. He’s untainted by an awful lot of the last Cabinet’s mistakes, having been called up pretty late in the game. Indeed, central to his campaign is the belief that “we need to put the mistakes of New Labour firmly behind us”. I was out drinking with our old comrade, Loose Cannon, last night. He is recommending that good comrades vote for Ed Milliband. I questioned this whole ‘putting our values first’ slogan. Comrade Cannon was clear: it’s code. When you hear ‘our values’ you are s’posed to translate that into ‘socialist ideology’. Interestingly, when you do so the results are splendid. Thus Ed M’s foreign policy (with appropriate translation) is: Ensuring that war is always the last resort and that our foreign policy is based on socialist ideology, not just our alliances. Or: We need to rebuild trust in our party and we have to show that we are a party of socialist ideology. Now, Comrade Cannon’s job places him at the heart of the Westminster machine, so he is well placed to understand how we are to translate this code. If he is right, and the man is never wrong, Ed M is clearly the candidate of choice.

Verdict: his father’s son. Gets his backing from individual comrades and unions throughout the movement, not big business or wealthy individuals. The big three unions: Unite, Unison and the GMB – two of which Baby Face has been an elected official of in his time, so they have impeccable socialist credentials – all back Ed M. As do the NUM. ‘Nuff said. Just remember the code, brothers and sisters. When he says ‘our values’ you hear ‘socialist ideology’. And he’s a good looking boy who will appeal to the floaters.

Diane Abbott. Thee Faction have a lot of time for Comrade Abbott. Consistently opposed to bad stuff, and consistently supportive of good stuff, she has almost never put a foot wrong. OK, some brothers and sisters were upset by her decision to send her son to City of London school. But the problem isn’t in individuals making use of private schools. It’s in their existence in the first place. And the other candidates sat in a Cabinet, or succession of Cabinets, which allowed these cathedrals of privilege to retain all their charitable tax advantages. That’s a far bigger crime against you, the people, than Diane’s decision to use the facility. So why are we not uncritically supporting her in this leadership race? Because all of her messages, rhetoric and polemic are based solely on the need for a strong opposition. She sees herself as leader of the Labour Party in opposition, but not in government. And we need a party that is preparing itself to run the show, and offer us leadership not just in opposition, but beyond and into a socialist society. Besides, she’ll walk into the Shadow Cabinet in the elections, and will be an excellent conscience of the party – far better than the renegade former comrade Short was in the 90s.

Verdict: We love Diane. We love the shambling amateurism of her campaign, and we love her ability, despite that, to look more ‘statesman-like’  than the others at the hustings. We want her at the heart of the Shadow Cabinet. But she doesn’t talk like the leader of the next Labour Government, so Baby Face can’t back her.

Andy Milburn. Has a great big chip on his shoulder. Which is great when attacking the right, but less great when dealing with his own comrades. None of us is even  sure how he ended up in the Cabinet. I certainly don’t want him as leader. I’m confused as to how he’s even still in the race. I just hope he sends out a clear message for where his few supporters should place their second preferences, and that that isn’t based on a tactical plot to get himself a top three job in a David Milliband Shadow Cabinet. If it is, shame on him.

Verdict: surely not even his closest friends think he’s a realistic option. So he’s in it to secure a senior job from whoever he redirects his second preferences to. Poor show. Vote for a proper candidate.

Ed Balls. Ed Balls has three things going for him. And they are very very important things. One, he fucking hates Tories. It’s a visceral thing for Balls. He loathes them. Thee Faction love that in him. Absolutely love that. That is a big plus point for Balls. The second thing, and equally important, is that he’s a proper democratic socialist. No fucking about. Stick him round a table with Nye Bevan, Kier Hardie, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, they will spend hours discussing what they have in common before accidentally stumbling upon a couple of minor obstacles to total agreement. Balls is a solid comrade. Rock solid. Thee Faction love Balls. Balls’s vision for democratic socialism, which he quietly pursued in the Cabinet, is one where everyone participates in the welfare state. It’s not a safety net. It’s an all-inclusive facilitator of cross-class communication. Sure Start being a superb example. As soon as everyone takes part in what the welfare state has to offer, there is no stigma attached to it. Spot on, comrade. The third key thing about Balls is he understands the basic rule of socialism: economics is at the root of everything. He’s a Marxist. And that matters. He is one of us. So why isn’t Baby Face unreservedly backing Balls? It’s embarrassing, but true: Blinky Balls won’t be winning us any votes on the GMTV sofa. Stick him in the Shadow Chancellor’s job, with Ed M at the helm, and you’ve got a much more ideological version of Brown and Blair. That is to say, you’ve got a winning combination of proper socialists who can lead us through opposition and into government. And beyond.

Verdict: we love Balls. He hates Tories, he’s a Marxist, and he has a winning vision for what democratic socialism is all about. But he’s a socialist’s socialist. He’s got to be leading the Party, but he can’t be the public face of the Party. I reluctantly recommend that you make Ed Milliband your first choice.

That’s Baby Face’s analysis. Other Guild-members may offer their own. Of course, the election itself is a minefield of bourgeois electoral gimmickry – a veritable lib-dem-fest of transferable votes and whathaveyou. But so long as socialists are at the top of your list, and renegades and bourgeois lackeys at the bottom, we can’t go wrong.

And if you haven’t got a vote in this contest: why not? Join the party, or an affiliated trade union. Or the Co-operative Party. Or one of the socialist societies. There’s got to be an institution affiliated to the Labour Party where you’d feel at home. Britain is unusual in that it has a dominant party of the left that has come straight out of the labour movement proper. Let’s not forget that, or squander it, or let petty ideological squabbling  get in the way of it. It’s our party, to shape as we please.