Since Keir Starmer was elected in April 2020 at the low-point of the Covid recession, he has spawned a Labour culture that feeds on economic stagnancy. ‘This is clause four – on steroids’, he said, two months before he shared a stage with Tony Blair this summer. The wages of the working class have shrunk, and any hope that Labour will introduce policies to redistribute wealth has evaporated too. Sixty years ago, in his study of the Labour Party, Ralph Miliband identified the old and peculiarly sticky idea that socialism can (only) be advanced in Britain through the Parliamentary Labour Party winning Westminster. The lumbering figure of parliamentary socialism sometimes takes on a lovable form, when there is a decent honey-pot for taxing and investing on a massive scale. But now, once again, that friendly old bear called parliamentary socialism is back in hibernation.
It doesn’t take a Marxist to observe that economic contexts tend to determine political prospects. We shouldn’t be beating our heads against the wall, saying if only we did things differently we could get hold of the honey-pot. As Coll McCail explains in this issue, the European wave of anti-austerity anger that brought Corbyn and other left leaders closer than ever to power failed to generate a durable belief in the possibility of economic transformation. The Labour left will continue urging Starmer towards the democratic socialist policies spelled out by Stephen Smellie and Bob Thomson. But in the undertones of its rightward shift, former Labour member Fanny Wright detects an echo of the anti-red, anti-welfare, family-first evangelising of the US right that shaped a generation of reactionary politics.
Starmer’s offer of nothing but a better-managed version of the current state will have deadly consequences. Labour’s social security policies like keeping the two-child benefit cap are symbolically and materially dire. They mean that whatever party governs at Westminster, the welfare state will provide some meagre support with one hand, while the other pinches back every coin it can and pares back every layer of support. As ever, it is tempting to suppose that Scotland might be insulated by more social-minded institutions, but the administrative systems that can mitigate Westminster policies are dependent on money, not good will. Alan McIntosh describes how cuts to financial advice services will undermine any poverty-focused policies of the Scottish Government, while Xihui Chen, Diarmuid McDonnel and João Rafael Cunha show how charities are now so co-dependent with local authorities that cutting either would be catastrophic. The austerity of the early 2010s generated a widespread belief, however superficial, that Scotland could go a different way. This decade, economic hardship has stirred no mass conviction that we have a special route out. It has induced the same sense across the UK that we must all drift through the same doldrums, basically alone.
Yet the left acts in the knowledge that the individual’s struggle for the means of life is part of a class struggle that depends on building solidarity across workplaces and communities. In the face of hostile and punitive reforms by the DWP, Arianna Introna calls for a revival of worker and welfare-claimant solidarity. Lauren Harper takes heart from the boldness of those in the labour movement historically, including those in the Labour Party, who have stood in solidarity with others who lack work, or lack a home, or lack a country, even as they are marginalised and villainised by leaders who make the laws. In this same spirit, different movements of resistance in Scotland are uniting and aligning. Emma Brown explains why climate activists who stopped the oil flowing out of Grangemouth six times and brought the Cycling Championships’ wheels to a halt between Falkirk and Fintry are now turning their energy to challenging the cost of living crisis. They are taking up James Connolly’s old rejoinder to the faint-hearted politicians: our demands are moderate, for we only want the earth.
Alongside solidarity and direct action, education is another source of hope, with the potential to generate common class understanding for a new generation. Continuing a theme of political education that we have fostered in recent issues, STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer writes about STUC’s priorities to turn class-based campaigns into a sustained movement for change. Francis Stuart explores how people have used the STUC’s Cost of Living course to learn about the history of class consciousness, and to share stories of workers and communities struggling as one.
These stories do not stop at the border. People’s struggles in other nations are connected with the work that is done in Scotland. Palestine Action, a campaign group that includes people from many different movements in its ranks, has recently been targeting sites in Scotland which produce military equipment that i used against the Palestinian people. Huda Ammori, its co-founder, describes the way that communities around the factories responded to their actions. Folk understand that sending bombs and bullets from Scotland to Israel cannot be right, however many local jobs are created.
Other conflicts have resulted in more divergent views across the left and across society. In this issue, we broach the debate about the war in Ukraine. Bill Bonnar presents the case for a peace settlement as soon as possible, to prevent an unwinnable war from resulting in more and more horrendous consequences. Colin Turbett argues that solidarity with the people of Ukraine should be the paramount priority, and that our attitude should be shaped by the testimony of Ukrainian people and the reports of witnesses like Jen Stout, whose battle-field photography we also publish.
Despite its disagreements, the Scottish Left shares a common language of solidarity, and a common cause with people across the world in their struggles for freedom. The poetry of the Pakistani socialist Faiz Ali Faiz expressing his love and action for a long-suffering land, is honoured by Ali Shehzad Zaidi, who writes of Faiz’s connections with the Borders bard Howard Purdie. This living stream is never stagnant. It keeps flowing here and everywhere through boldness in action, and sharpness of critique. Recently, two people died who throughout their lives had stood against faint-heartedness in thought and action. John Keenan, stalwart of East Kilbride and South Lanarkshire Trades Union Council, was one of the stars of Nae Pasaran whose courage stopped weapons reaching Pinochet in Chile. Leigh French, editor of Variant, poured his creative life into political critique that bequeathed a radical culture to a new generation. The issue ends with tributes to them both.