The ridiculous focus on whether Jeremy Corbyn was a cold war spy distracts from the actual view taken by elements of the British left on the fall of communism, argues Adrian McMenamin
Jeremy Corbyn is not a spy. Nobody sensible or rational has surely ever believed otherwise.
But the way in which his office have struggled to kill this ridiculous story off speaks to a real problem that he does have: namely that he was (and in the case of Cuba, remains) sympathetic to the social systems of the ‘socialist countries’.
This cannot be called a smear – there are simply too many pieces of evidence to make the claim deniable. And nor is the evidence solely circumstantial – like his employment of Seumas Milne and, for the general election, Andrew Murray.
The proof comes directly from the mouth and pen of Corbyn himself. Daniel Finkelstein rather stole the idea for this column in the Times earlier this week and made a pretty good job of it. I know: I am praising not just a Tory, but a Murdoch hack to boot – but try playing the ball for a change, comrades.
While Finkelstein looked at a speech Corbyn gave to a Morning Star conference, I want to look at an early day motion Corbyn signed on 14 December 1989, EDM 210.
An EDM is a way for members of parliament to express personal opinions and this one – proposed by Terry Fields, the late Militant Tendency member of parliament for Liverpool Broadgreen – was cited by Corbyn’s supporters this week as evidence of the sincerity of his opposition to the Czechoslovakian communist regime, which the EDM calls a ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’. And, in fact, the motion seems oddly timed – because the communist government there had fallen four days earlier and while the country’s president was still an relic of that rotten regime, he was only to last another fortnight.
Yet it is no accident the EDM makes no reference to the destruction of communism. Because it is really a statement of the classical Trotskyist view that the socialist countries of eastern Europe were actually workers’ states that had been deformed by corrupt communist parties and which, following a ‘political revolution’, would be restored to the true Leninist path.
So EDM 210 says that the protests of eastern Europe were ‘leading in the direction of genuine socialism, not a return to capitalism’. The standard Trotskyist position – based on the views of ‘the old man’ himself – was ‘capitalist restoration’ was not just undesirable but actually impossible, because the socialist system was inherently superior.
This is the core idea of EDM 210: because the states of eastern Europe had, at the tip of the Red Army’s bayonet, abolished capitalism and capitalist property relations they were better places. As the EDM itself says (and as it is signed by Corbyn and even now cited by Corbyn’s supporters we must take it as his view): ‘the only way forward for the peoples of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe is on the basis of a return to the principles of genuine workers’ democracy and socialism which formed the basis and inspiration for the October revolution.’
Let us briefly remind ourselves what the ‘basis’ of this ‘genuine workers’ democracy’ was before the wicked Joseph Stalin removed the heroic Leon Trotsky. First of all, of course, the toppling by force of the first (and still perhaps the only ever) democratically elected popular assembly in Russia. Then the banning of all other parties, and not just the ‘bourgeois’ and ‘counter revolutionary’ parties either, but also the Socialist Revolutionary party and the Mensheviks – the faction of Russian social democracy that Trotsky used to be a member of. Then a calculated reign of terror in the countryside followed by the order to ‘shoot down like partridges’ the revolutionary sailors of Kronstadt who had just had enough.
Even this is mild compared to what Trotsky had actually argued for inside the Bolshevik party. He had demanded that workers be subject to military discipline and be executed if they went on strike, but Vladimir Lenin baulked at that one.
Genuine workers’ democracy? Yeah, right.
Adrian McMenamin is a Progress columnist and is the former chief press and broadcasting officer for the Labour party. He tweets at @
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