Saturday 23 January 2016

My reply to Martin Kettle's thoughts on communism and his parents.

I commented on the thread following Martin Kettle's article in Guardian which I've linked to below:

"One sure way to get a hearing in the press at the moment is to write about one's commie parents as being totally wrong about politics and then to use that to slate Corbyn. It's a neat little package. Martin doesn't have the time (or perhaps it's the inclination) to write a sentence or two on why or how his parents ended up in the CP or why and how they did hang on. Mine joined in 1936 when they were 16 because they found that it was only the Communists who were prepared to confront the fascists on the streets of East London who were attacking them. They then found an ideology which appeared to answer some of the big problems around them and internationally: fascism in Spain and Germany, oncoming war, and (as they saw it) a 'solution' to the poverty of all people's, not a programme of 'national' this or 'national' that. They studied Marx and Marxism and liked it. They left the CP in 1957.

Scoot forwards 10 years, and a new Left has emerged drawing together ex-CP-ers, anarchists, young trade unionists, students and 'third worlders' as they were sometimes called, anti-colonial movements all over the world. The US is carrying out the longest most deadly bombing campaign in history and it's on a non-industrial country.

At this moment, I meet Martin Kettle and Christopher Hitchens. Martin is dyed in the wool CP. Hitchens is with 'IS' - the International Socialists. They're friends. Every move that anyone makes in the student movement, Martin appears to stand to one side. He adopts the CP line on student revolt as laid down by the party's expert Monty Johnstone. If Martin wants to talk about 'religion' he should perhaps spend less time scrutinising his parents behaviour and turn some of his attention on his own. Martin's journey from CP supporter in his late teens and early 20s (I lost sight of him after university, until he popped up as a lead columnist on the Guardian) to being a 'centre' or 'rightwing' Labour supporter is just as much worthy of attention as going over why the generation affected so deeply by the poverty and cruelty of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Let's hear it. At what moment and why did Martin's Soviet-British CP version of socialism stop making sense and centre-right Labourism seem the right way? Is this a discontinuity - as he always maintains - or a continuity. Is there indeed some kind of 'centre-right Labour' politics that sits quite nicely with Soviet-British CP politics? And his attempt to make Corbyn+ followers the true inheritors of Stalin might possibly be an empty smear.

And let's look at the record of Labour centre-rightists. They were in power only recently with a massive mandate to alter the Thatcher record. How did they handle the basic questions of welfare for all? How did it handle the social provision of services for all? How did it handle foreign policy? On all the former policies, it continued the Thatcherite policies of privatisation, calling it 'contestability' as if this was a guarantee of provision and/or fairness. It introduced PFI which has been a milk-cow for the rich beyond their dreams, and it slavishly followed extreme rightwing US policy (acting in its own interests) in the Middle East.

This of course is not a 'religion' says Kettle though anyone anywhere near the Blairites witnessed an extraordinary cult-like behaviour of newly be-suited ideologues, spouting managerial cock, inserting believers into constituencies and places of power (as they saw it) flicking open their samsonites and talking targets. People like Kettle could be relied on to provide some columns in this paper and elsewhere in support. They acted as cheerleaders for another massive bombing exercise on a largely un-industrialised country - led by someone, who, guess what, did some of it for deeply held religious reasons. Really religious. And really crackpot - it's called Christian Zionism. Of course Martin brought rationality to the matter: there are WMDs there. Yeah right.

Ye, there is a 'centre-right' critique of the SU and we've heard it many times and part of its purpose is to buttress the centre-right view of politics. There is also a left critique of the Soviet Union. Part of the job of the centre-right is to do what it can to keep that off the pages of newspapers of the centre right. To take one e.g.: at several key moments in the SU persecuted its own supporters: wiping out Bolsheviks in the 1920s and 30s, wiping out Communists and socialists in eastern Europe. Why would the Soviets have wiped out people like my and Martin's parents? Because it wasn't 'communist'. So what was the regime that Martin (never mind his parents) supported so keenly when he was in his 20s? What happens if you take the tools of left and marxist thought to the matter?

The problem for Martin is this approach might curve back and look at what his version of good politics did for us even as it plots how to disenfranchise the Labour membership and get back to the good old days of Blair and Mandelson."

Marxism gave my parents faith to last a lifetime and helped them deny reality. The left today looks as if it’s also developing into a church