A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Know Your Enemy

A commenter has asked why I have such a grudge against Tony Benn and Bennites more generally.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to understand the Bennite phenomenon and exactly how much damage it did to the Labour Party should read "Labour and the Benn Factor" by the late Michael Cocks http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,463649,00.html (Labour Chief Whip 1976-85, defeated Benn for selection for Bristol South after boundary changes but later deselected by (the then) "Red Dawn" Primarolo).

Cocks was one of the unsung heroes who kept the Callaghan government in power, despite the absence of a working Labour majority.

His book is available second-hand over the internet and well worth getting hold of if you want to understand how destructive and vicious the Bennite insurgency was at its height (and what those "nice" old rebels like Walter Wolfgang are really about).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see what you mean Luke. What confuses me is that both you and the Bennites would call themselves Socialists. Could you explain to me what Socialism means to you?

8:03 pm, August 13, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Good question. I want a more equal society where no one lives in poverty. I think more accurately in terms of semantics I am a Labourist or "social democrat" in that my immediate political priority, rather than changing the economic system to one of social ownership, is to ameliorate the worst excesses of the market system and make sure all people can live decent lives within it by redistributing wealth to the poor and providing good public services. Unfortunately the SDP rather devalued the term "social democrat" in this country. I'm a Menshevik (i.e. democratic not Leninist) Marxist to the extent that I think Marxism is a useful tool for trying to understand history i.e. the dialectical process of struggle between classes, and helps remind us that we need to give people reasons of economic self interest to vote Labour. I've got a lingering hope/expectation that one day the economic system will change to one based on "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" but that's so far in the future it won't help the people that need a better life right now. And as a member of the Labour Party (constitution of which says it's a democratic socialist party) I'm part of an affiliate to the Socialist International http://www.socialistinternational.org/ founded in 1864, which kind of owns the right to determine which parties are officially socialist.

8:50 pm, August 13, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

That's quite interesting, it seems that your views and motivations are very similar to mine... perhaps I just bear a more optimistic view to how 'left wing' the public currently is.

You might self define immediately as a social democrat, but if you are prepared to work, even in the long term, towards social ownership, or even 'from eah according to his ability', I guess you can also call yourself a democratic socialist... I don't see a socilist commonwealth of great britain this centurry, but by god I'll work towards it, and thus claim the right to call myself a democratic socialist.

Both of us, I suppose, could also call ourselves 'evolutionary socialists' in the mold of Bernsteinian revisionism (which itself claims to be marxist, and in my view, is).

9:55 pm, August 13, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for that comprehensive answer Luke. You mention dialectics - what is the dialectical process?

12:02 pm, August 14, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Dialectics - the theory that progress is caused by an idea (thesis) clashing with a counter idea (antithesis) resulting in progress to a synthesis. Dialectical materialism - the idea that this process of conflict goes on between social/economic classes who are motivated by material self interest i.e. the workers clash with the capitalists to get a better share of the wealth they create, and the synthesis is socialism. I want the clash to happen in general elections, Leninists want it to involve killing people in a revolution.

12:26 pm, August 14, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Well I came on here to berate you Luke (as any arch-Bennite would!) but have found myself intrigued by the comments instead. You are not a Menshevik Marxist though it intrigues me that you would define yourself as such. Trotsky was a Menshevik (though joined the Bolsheviks as a pragmatic piece of careerism): there's little to suggest his views changed much from his Menshevik ones, and I don't think you consider yourself a Trot! Broadly speaking the Mensheviks were very classical Marxists who didn't believe that Russia could become communist without going through a liberal/capitalist phase. In contast, they believed that Germany and Britain were perfectly ripe for revolutionary insurrection. Those considered as being on the Left of the Bolshevik Party were those felt to have most common cause with the Mensheviks and the Left Social Revolutionaries. Lenin considered them 'impossibilists' and 'extremists' (words banded about the sectarian left in the UK for long enough as well - I have a vague recollection of you calling me 'sectarian' for making some vague reference to Harriet Harman's SWP past, as if I were doing so from the perspective of some other group rather than the down-the-line Labour person I've always been!)

That you consider yourself Marxian as a historian is interesting. As such, you would surely historicise the contribution of Michael Cocks to the history of Bennism and put his take on the period in his own socio-economic context. He is a man who, I think, was badly served by his backers on the Right, but whose bitterness against the left is both understandable and predictable. To put it bluntly, Cocks (or rather his supporters, and notably John Golding) fixed the selection conference something rotten. I'm not saying they broke rules (although others have suggested that) - it think it's possible to pack a selection conference you know is coming without specifically being unconstitutional (although some of the expulsions of 'suspected' Militants pushed the boundaries of that as far as they could be pushed). I was going to suggest you'd know about these things in the context of Michael Dugher and the position of Vice Chair of Labour Students - but is that unfair, was that after your time? Anyway, he got elected but his position was quite untenable. The fact remained that the people who selected him had never been to a meeting before and were never going to go again and as soon as they could, the real local activists selected Dawn. It is obvious that Cocks would be bitter about that. When Dawn was selected he stormed from the building complaining the local party had never forgiven him for beating Benn - a stark contrast to the respectful and honorable way Benn accepted his defeat in Bristol South. Don't get me wrong - Cocks was an effective Government whip under Callaghan - as you implied. But his historical take on Bennism can only be viewed in the context of his personal animosity to a small number of 'Bennites' who brought his parliamentary career to what he thought was an untimely end. The fact that he was, in many ways, the architect of his own downfall (or at least a relaxed observer of those architects) diminishes my sympathy somewhat.

3:31 pm, August 14, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Duncan, I'm gratified to know that you have a unique higher insight that means that you know what I believe in better than I do.

The propensity of the Hard Left to assume they have some kind of copyright on socialism and can tell other people that they are "not socialist enough" or "the wrong kind of Marxist" is, in a word, conceited.

One of the great ironies of the Cocks deselection is that the Bennites who did it ended up as the establishment leadership of Bristol City Council and lost control of the council.

I also remember a certain Neal Lawson packing the Bristol DLP with TGWU delegates from Avonmouth Docks in order to purge Red Dawn's supporters.

At least I'm consistent!

Intrigued to know how you would define my politics (in comradely language).

1:17 pm, August 15, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

Hi Luke,

Wasn't in anyway meaning to offend! I was just surprised that you would consider yourself a sort of non-aligned Trotskyite!! I was quite happy with your other self-defining descriptions: a new social democrat or a right-wing labourist (okay, I've added the 'new' and the 'right-wing', but I've described myself as a social democrat and a labourist before now, and we are quite different!) I suppose one point is that I see labourism and social democracy as means to an end, but from reading your comments it seems you do too, which is quite encouraging! Anyway, if my comments seemed conceited, I withdraw them unreservedly.

I'd forgotten about Neal Lawson's role. Hmmm. Yes I applaud your consistency - it's a good thing there are some of us about ;-)

1:47 pm, August 15, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I'm not sure the Menshevik = Trotskyist view works just because Leon himself was both in his career. A bit like saying socialist = fascist because Mussolini was one before he was the other. Looking at this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menshevik and this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotskyist is informative. "the Menshevik vision was one of a bourgeois democratic revolution in which they could take part in government." The Mensheviks took part in the Provisional Government from May 1917 i.e. accepted the need for Russia to go through an extended period of bourgeois democracy, and for their pains were on the receiving end of Trotsky's Red Terror.

2:03 pm, August 15, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

I would agree, Luke, if it appeared that Trotsky changed his mind about much. But he didn't. The only clear change in Trotsky's principles seem to be from the patriotism of the Mensheviks to the internationalism of the early Bolsheviks (ironic really, as the Stalinists embraved the Menshevik's patriotism and this became a key distinction between Stalinism and Trotskyism) The Menshevik position was the standard pre-Leninist Marxist analysis: their recipe for what was required in Russia was very different from their recipe for what was required in Britain or Germany (which had gone through the industrial 'stage' and so were now ripe for insurrection). Obviously quite a lot of Mensheviks (not just Trotsky) were half-convinced by the Lenin analysis and felt that industrialisation could happen under some form of proletarian government without the need for the bourgeois stage. Still more came on side during the NEP period. Others of course did not. There were lots of points of departure between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, and insurrection was only one of them (after all Zinoviev, Trotsky and other Bolsheviks campaigned against insurrection in October 1917, mostly within the Bolshevik party, but not entirel so). Another point of departure was over the signing of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty. Menshoviks and Social Revolutionaries (and Trotsky and Bukharin) who wanted to continue the war and therefore see the soviet union be defeated at the hands of German militarism within twelve months of its inception are not really best seen as a moderate force. Conspiring to assassinate diplomats was not sensible either. In my view.

2:47 pm, August 15, 2006

Anonymous Duncan said...

That should have been 'embraced' not 'embraved'. Proof reading would be good wouldn't it!

2:48 pm, August 15, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Matthew Cocks and Michael Cocks was my Grand Farther. Good to hear his work is still lives in our minds. I know he would be proud :o)

3:03 pm, October 30, 2006

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