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Why Luke Akehurst is wrong to sneer at communists

Throughout the world Labour’s sister parties find their enemies not to the left but on the right, says NICK WRIGHT

I AM not highly skilled at using the image manipulation software tool Photoshop. In the primitive 1960s when I trained as a film and TV designer, colour TV had not been invented and Daleks could not yet climb stairs. 

Thus I am certainly not as competent as the whiz kids who work in the BBC Newsnight graphics team.

It took me some time and experiments with several techniques to transform Jeremy Corbyn’s well-defined jaunty Donovan-style cap into a reasonable likeness of a Russian fur hat and place the thus manipulated image in a sufficiently low resolution to enable it to be projected on a Kremlin-sized backdrop without revealing the hat’s clear 1960s provenance.

In an era when every TV presenter worries that their every blemish and facial tic will be projected in startling detail it must have taken a firm directorial steer and the exercise of considerable talent for the Newsnight team to produce an image of such mannered fuzziness.

This was done, perhaps even without mature reflection, to serve the dominant media discourse that presents Corbyn as a flaky eccentric whose politics are inflected with a doubtful patriotism.

LabourList is a website that selects a fairly wide range of opinion on matters of interest to Labour supporters and it has given space to an offering by Luke Akehurst entitled “8 Things The Left Could Do To Stop Unfair Media Bias.”

Akehurst is a Labour Party activist of Blairite sympathies whose failure to keep up with new times in the Labour Party has married his dismay at Corbyn’s popularity with an Orwellian anti-communism.

His take on the annoyance Labour supporters display at Newsnight’s clumsy manipulations is to wonder why “faced with a national security crisis where it appears that Russia has attacked a British citizen and former intelligence asset with a proscribed nerve agent in a restaurant in Wiltshire, a large segment of the online hard left seems oddly preoccupied with a spurious allegation that Jeremy Corbyn’s hat was photoshopped by the BBC for a Newsnight backdrop to make him look more Soviet.”

He argues that “people will be in a position to complain about being unfairly portrayed as ‘Soviet’ if they make a few changes to their political behaviour and the image they present.”

He advises a zero-tolerance stance towards people within the Labour left who self-describe as “communist” in their social media profiles or promote theories like “fully automated luxury communism” and stop employing people from the Stalinist Straight Left/CPB tradition in the leader’s office.

Ending “solidarity” with vile regimes like Cuba and Venezuela and providing ideological clarity “that they are not seeking to abolish capitalism and replace it with a command economy” are necessary steps.

He says that Labour supporters should stop apologising for or giving the benefit of the doubt to Russia over its contemporary behaviour regarding assassinations in Britain, the occupation of the Crimea, and its military actions in Syria and stop promoting and writing for the Morning Star, the former newspaper of the CPGB, and appearing on Russia Today.

We should show solidarity with Labour’s social democratic sister parties in Europe not their far-left enemies and show zero tolerance of anti-semitism, “much of which derives from Soviet-era propaganda that portrayed Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ who controlled capitalism and politics and Israel as a state of racists and nazis.

Until then, he says, the media is going to portray you how you present yourselves, so live with it.

We can set aside the political illiteracy that conflates the popular but rather prosaic policy proposals that Britain’s communists share with most of Labour’s millions playful ideas like “fully automated luxury communism.” 

We can even write off as the sour grapes of a “deselected” Labour Party office holder and NEC member the suggestion that the “Stalinist” team that helped Corbyn revive Labour’s electoral fortunes cease their efforts.

Anyone with a sense of historical fact will find bizarre the idea that much of contemporary anti-semitism is derived from the Soviet era. 

Akehurst is making an equivalence between the Soviet Union, which stopped fascism in its tracks, with nazi Germany, which made extermination of Jewish people its state policy.

Akehurst wants to “show solidarity with Labour’s social democratic sister parties.” 

But his suggestion that social democrats refuse any connection to political forces that have an affinity with, historical connection to or shared ideas with the communist tradition would put many social democratic parties in a very difficult position.

Throughout the world Labour’s sister parties find their enemies not to the left but on the right.

The Partido Socialista Portuguese government would fall without communist parliamentary support, the SPD would lose control of several German lander, thousands of French and Spanish municipalities would fall to the right, in Italy the right would rule unchallenged. Swedish and Danish social democratic governments have ruled with parliamentary communist support.

In South Africa the political heirs of apartheid would have a chance. In India the big debate is whether Congress should ally with the communists to block the BJP.

Obeying his injunction to break solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela would make pariahs of Latin American social democrats. 

The Workers Party governments in Brazil included Communist Party ministers, while in Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Dominica, progressive governments have counted on communist support.

In fact, while Labour is only an observer at the Socialist International, a number of rebadged former Marxist-Leninist east European and African parties are full members.

Currently our economy is under the “command” of the banks and big business and our media dominated by billionaire non-doms. 
We live in a world of corporate capitalism from klepto-capitalist Russia to tax-avoiding firms domiciled in British dependencies. 

Labour needs to convince the millions of ordinary people in Britain who desperately need a Labour government to, as Akehurst says, end austerity, restore our public services and promote a more socially just and equal society.

This means a government that it is serious about socialism.

Akehurst’s proposal to boycott the Morning Star is a policy pioneered by Tory governments, imitated by a succession of post-socialist governments of Russia and continued by Putin’s regime.

Labour’s struggle with a biased BBC and the big business media might be aided if more people were encouraged to read the Morning Star. 

This is a newspaper published by a co-operative that counts thousands of working people, trade unions and popular organisations among its shareholders and is managed by a board comprised of people elected in a series of nationwide meetings and buttressed by representatives of a score of trade unions who hold shares.

The paper’s policy is to give a platform for the widest range of progressive opinion. As its long-standing contributor Jeremy Corbyn says, “The Morning Star is the most precious and only voice we have in the daily media.”

Akehurst’s appeal to the tradition of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin throws up the problems in his approach, but it struck a chord with me. 

My grandfather Fred Bruce, a follower of William Morris, a veteran of the Social Democratic Federation and its successor, the Labour-affiliated British Socialist Party, told me stories of when he was in the same east London branch as Attlee. In 1920, the BSP was the main constituent of the newly formed Communist Party.

My grandfather was a skilled cabinet-maker who worked for decades among Jewish craftsmen and regarded Bevin as a rank colonialist and anti-semite. 

Indeed, if half the remarks attributed to Bevin are true, he would find himself suspended from party membership today.

Akehurst might be surprised to know that communists sat in Parliament for many years as Labour MPs, represented their unions at Labour Party conferences and served as councillors. 

He will be alarmed by the knowledge that, during the war, an Amalgamated Engineering Union motion to Labour’s conference to admit the Communist Party as a Labour Party affiliate was only narrowly defeated.

The cold war conditions that made unity on the left an impossibility no longer exist and the crisis conditions of contemporary capitalism make socialist solutions an imperative.

Electing a Labour government on such a manifesto is surely something we can all agree on.

Labourlist has yet to respond to my invitation to respond to Akehurst.



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