James Bickerton is the Political Editor of The Backbencher.
If you had teleported a person from 1970s Britain to London’s Clerkenwell on the first day of this month, they could have been forgiven for assuming the West had lost the Cold War.
As a band struck-up “The Internationale”, several thousand marchers, some clutching communist flags, began processing towards Trafalgar Square. But it was the banners which really caught the eye. Amidst the standards of assorted trade union branches was a giant poster of Stalin, and another featuring Stalin along with Mao and Lenin. Various Communist Party dictators also featured on flags and T-shirts – including in one case, Kim Jong-un, the North Korean tyrant.
The event, London’s annual May Day parade, was no fringe undertaking. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite and a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, made an appearance. Last year, the rally was addressed by John McDonnell who later claimed – rather implausibly – that he hadn’t noticed the communist and Syrian regime flags which were just behind him. The year before that, Corbyn himself, then in his first year as Labour leader, delivered a speech. The event’s character, and in particular the presence of banners and paraphernalia celebrating communist dictators, has’ot changed in recent years.
That senior figures from the present Labour leadership, including Corbyn himself, have been prepared to associate with an event where portraits of some of the twentieth century’s most despotic mass murderers were on display ought to be deeply shocking. There would, quite rightly, be outrage if a senior Conservative figure delivered a speech to a crowd which waved fascist flags, and sported posters of fascist dictators. But instead, we have merely an extreme example of a much broader trend. Those who apologise for tyranny based on Far Left principles, or associate with those who do, aren’t held to anything like the same moral standard as their counterparts on the Far Right
The Labour Party has failed to separate itself from the first as thoroughly as the Tories have from the second. Even during the Blair years, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a group dedicated to parroting the propaganda of the dictatorial Cuban regime, was allowed a presence at the annual Party conference. Unsurprisingly, the situation has deteriorated since since Corbyn’s election as his party’s leader. Should Labour form a government with its current Shadow Cabinet, the British economy will be run by a man who once described his greatest influences as “Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically” whilst the Home Secretary will be a woman who has suggested that Mao “did more good than harm”. If any Tory MP, led alone Minister, had made equivalent remarks about a fascist dictator, I can’t imagine them retaining the Conservative whip for a single day.
So why the double standard? The default answer, when speaking to friends on the Left, is that it’s a question of intent. Sure – communism doesn’t work, and the stench of rotting flesh emanates from anywhere it’s tried, but the Left at least mean well. Its final goal, of an egalitarian classless society of plenty, may be unobtainable, but it is at least desirable.
This is unconvincing. Serious proponents of just about every ideology in existence believe what they strive for is morally right. Few people get involved in politics with the intent of becoming the bad guys in someone else’s video games. In any case the end goal of communism, a truly classless society, can surely only possibly be maintained via force.