End the contradiction

James Harvey reports on a timely conference that produced a strange outcome

The launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech on Saturday February 13 came at a time when this issue has become central for both the Labour movement and wider British society. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances, the turnout was pretty good, just over 300 at the height.

The campaign was initially triggered in response to the ongoing purge and attacks on political debate and democracy in the Labour Party. Whilst for the Labour left much of the focus has been on the ways that the fake International Holocaust Remembrance Association ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism is being used to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and ‘chill’ any discussion about Israel/Palestine, these attacks now go much further. The witch-hunt has taken on a dynamic of its own. As the draft Charter for Free Speech presented to the conference reminded us, these attacks now extend into universities and schools, whilst state and corporate secrecy undermine free journalism and the exposure of corruption and wrongdoing.

Moreover, from the opposite point of view, the Conservatives have taken up the cry and are trying to make the issue their own. For the Tories, condemnation of ‘cancel culture’, opposition to ‘no-platforming’ in universities, and attacks on ‘woke social justice warriors’ have become an increasingly important part of their stock-in-trade. In standing up to a supposedly new wave of authoritarian leftism said to be sweeping the campuses and suppressing public debate, Tory ministers such as the hapless secretary of state for education, Gavin Williamson, now propose new legislation and pose as the defenders of ‘free speech’ and democratic rights.

Thus, a Labour Campaign on Free Speech – standing up to these attacks and standing for unrestricted freedom of speech and publication – could not have come at a better time. Unfortunately, the conference failed to offer such a clear rallying call. Instead we were presented with all the contradictions and confusions that currently characterise the politics and demands of the left on this issue. From the beginning the conference was presented with two clearly distinct and quite opposite positions on free speech, in the form of amendments from Labour Party Marxists and Tony Greenstein. The LPM amendment argued: “We stand for unrestricted freedom of speech and publication”, whilst comrade Greenstein proposed a much more restrictive ‘free speech, but …’ approach. His amendment argued that “Free Speech is not an absolute right. It does not include the right to ‘Shout fire in a crowded theatre’ [Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Schenck v. United States (1919)]. Free Speech doesn’t, for example include the right to incite racial hatred or advocate the harm of others because of their protected characteristics (race, disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc).”

These differences, ‘for’ and ‘against’, were brought out by the very long list of ‘top table’ speakers – Graham Bash, Chris Williamson, Esther Giles, Ronnie Kasrils, David Miller, Norman Finkelstein, Sami Ramadani, etc – and in the very restricted ‘floor’ debate.

Moving the LPM amendment, John Bridge argued that unrestricted free speech and opposition to censorship were integral to the DNA of the labour movement. While it is wrong to deliberately cause panic by falsely shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre, that is a different matter. Free, democratic debate in all its forms was essential – both for the contemporary political health of our movement and for the development of the working class as the future ruling class. Furthermore, if we supported limitations on free speech based on the categories of ‘protected characteristics’, comrade Bridge argued, we were accepting the bourgeois liberal framework of identity politics, codified in law, and giving the state the right to police discussion and debate.

In moving his amendment, Tony Greenstein’s main focus was on ‘no platform for fascists and racists’ as the basis for limitations on freedom of speech. Drawing on what has become the common sense of too much of the left, comrade Greenstein based his argument on a particular reading of the struggle against Nazism in the 1930s and elevated ‘no platforming’ to a fundamental principle that justified restrictions on free speech.

This set the tone for the rest of the discussion. Comrades who supported Tony’s amendment largely drew on either a rather simplified and somewhat distorted history of pre-1939 anti-fascism or related their involvement in anti-fascist ‘no platforming’ from the 1970s onwards. In defining fascism as an ever-present, existential threat and thus elevating ‘no platforming’ to a principle, fascism and Nazism were de-historicised and de-contextualised. The result was that the real counterrevolutionary nature of fascism and its relationship with capitalism are ignored. Thus, for these comrades, ‘no platforming’ becomes a moral stance directed against an eternal evil rather than a reactionary movement to be confronted and defeated politically by the organised working class. Although supporters of comrade Greenstein’s amendment supposedly drew on Trotsky’s advice in the 1930s – “if you cannot convince a fascist, acquaint his head with the pavement” – much of their analysis was actually rooted in Stalinist justifications for popular frontism in the 1930s, tinged with a dash of the official anti-fascist mythology of the post-1945 social democratic British state.

Fundamental

Supporters of the LPM amendment on “unrestricted freedom of speech” took up these arguments, both on the general principle of free speech and the specific historical context of the fight against fascism in the 1930s and after. LPM supporters argued that free speech had been a fundamental element in Marxist politics since the 19th century and was an important democratic demand for mass Marxist parties, such as the German Social Democratic Party and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Dismissing free speech as simply a “liberal abstraction”, as some comrades did, was a denial of these democratic traditions and a repudiation of the very oxygen that gives political life to our movement.

In dissecting Tony Greenstein’s confusion of principles and tactics, LPM comrades stressed that Marxists are not pacifists and would organise to defend democratic rights of organisation and assembly in the face of a fascist threat. However, our focus must remain on politically combating fascism and other reactionary movements by convincing their supporters, to use Trotsky’s words, and winning them over to a real alternative to capitalist reaction.

If this part of the discussion was rooted in the concrete historical experience of the Labour movement, other comrades in the discussion (and the ‘chat’ column in this online meeting) showed how far the current extension of ‘no platforming’ into debates about transphobia and radical feminism has distorted democratic debate. Comrades raised the exclusion of Esther Giles from a recent meeting of Labour left activists for alleged ‘transphobia’ and suggested that this represents the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of ‘no platforming’. In this, and other cases, a combination of the identity politics of protected characteristics and ‘safe spaces’, along with the faux militancy of pseudo-street politics, worked to stifle genuine political discussion.

Thankfully, no such restrictions on free speech applied at this conference and Esther Giles was given both a platform and the chance to speak freely. But unless freedom of speech is unrestricted – and proclaimed as such by our organisations – could we guarantee that this will always be the case? Will there not be further Esther Giles? Despite comrade Greenstein’s correct and well-argued support for her, does not his own ‘no platforming’ always leave the door open for the exclusion and suppression of ideas? The slanderous attempts to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism show how the Labour right can turn the ‘no platforming’ weapon against the left. Surely the whole experience of the current witch-hunt warns us that even the smallest concession on free speech paves the way for further attacks on the left and democratic rights in general.

Unfortunately, it was not so clear-cut to the majority of participants in this conference. When it came to the votes on the two amendments, both were passed, leaving the campaign with two contradictory positions! As it stands, the Labour Campaign for Free Speech is for both ‘unrestricted’ free speech and the ‘free speech, but …’ position!

This confusion will have to be addressed by the newly elected steering group, when it meets to chart the way forward for the campaign. That steering group will have a lot of work to do if it is to succeed in pushing back against the current attempts to close down free speech within the Labour movement and in society more widely.

Many of the motions passed by the conference on campaigning activity and organisation offer a coherent outline of the campaign’s future direction. We need to step up our activity in the Labour Party and the trade unions to defend free speech and democratic rights. Likewise, the Charter for Free Speech adopted by the conference has the correct demands and links to wider struggles for free speech: it is a good basis for a militant, democratic campaign. Organisationally, we need a membership campaign with committed supporters and accountable structures – not just a series of rallies with big-name speakers. Now is the time to get down to real work and fight back for free speech.

But, before any of this can be set in train, we need to be clear on our aims and objectives – above all we need to define ‘free speech’. The contradictions in our current position needs to be resolved urgently and democratically, The steering group needs to convene a further membership-based conference to decide on whether the campaign stands for unrestricted free speech or ‘free speech’ hedged around with caveats and limitations. Supporters of LPM on the steering group will be making just such a case for a membership conference and for a clear position, not a fudged compromise.

Still not prepared to fight

The readmittance of suspended members does not mean that the right is in retreat, argues James Harvey

Reports that 50 suspended Labour members have been readmitted appear, on the face of it, to be only a rather small concession in the battle currently going on in the party. However, both the reinstatement and the reaction to it are significant.

Amongst the initial responses to the news were suggestions that the Starmer-Evans regime had backed down in the face of a combination of threatened legal action and pressure from the Unite leadership. Others, however, saw the reinstatement of a tiny minority of the thousands suspended as simply a Machiavellian manoeuvre by the party leadership to further divide and rule over the left. So, amidst this confusion, what can we learn from this reinstatement about the current balance of forces within the party?

Most importantly, this small retreat by the leadership does not mean a halt to the witch-hunt. Far from it. As many leftwingers noted on social media when they heard that the 50 had been readmitted, what about the rest who have been purged? When will they be reinstated? Asking the question answers it. Starmer will continue with his campaign to consolidate his control over the party and tame the left. There will be no let-up to the suspensions and the attempts to stifle opposition and party democracy – that much is clear.

But if the leadership uses the more obvious forms of coercion and disciplinary measures, more insidious are the attempts to police thought and control political debate by ruling certain ideas and criticisms as unacceptable. This is what lies behind the rulings of the general secretary and the party bureaucracy about ‘competent business’ and their threats to close down Constituency Labour Parties and suspend their officers if they step over the mark.

The reinstatement does not mean they have given up on that: the letter that was sent to the readmitted members asserts the right of the party machine to act as a thought police. Thus, it argues: “The NEC … has the power to issue guidance and instructions to subordinate Labour Party units” and claims that it was “grossly detrimental to the Labour Party for elected officials deliberately to act in opposition to the direction and guidance of the general secretary” (my emphasis). Furthermore, it issues a written warning about future good conduct and toeing the leadership’s line – in effect a threat of further action, which will hang over these readmitted members for a year!

So, if Starmer has not given up on the right’s clampdown on opposition, does this mean that he wants to drive the entire left out of the party, as some comrades argued at the recent Labour Left Alliance conference? Whilst Starmer’s witch-hunt has been severe and indiscriminate in many ways, his strategy has not been particularly systematic or consistent. For all his forensic training and supposedly judicious approach to politics, he appears to have no master plan beyond reacting to events and media pressure. Thus, there is no symphonic score: he is simply playing it by ear.

This is not to downplay the viciousness of the witch-hunt and outrageous slanders launched against the left by the Labour right and their allies in the media. Comrades who have been on the receiving end will neither forget nor forgive what has been done to them – and neither should the left as a whole. But if the allegations and lies about anti-Semitism give this witch-hunt an especially venomous form, such attacks by the pro-capitalist leadership of the Labour Party on the left have a long historical precedent going back to the foundation of the party. Consequently, not only is the current situation far from unique, but, given the nature of Labour as a bourgeois workers’ party, purges of this kind are inevitable on this site of class struggle.

Whilst battle continues to be joined in this way, the final outcome and the future trajectory of Labour still remains uncertain. However, if history is any guide, an important factor in shaping the direction the party will take is the response of the Labour left. Given its central strategic focus on the election of a left Labour government as a prerequisite for ‘socialist transformation’ and the absolute imperative for maintaining party unity at all costs, the Labour left has historically been organically bound to the Labour right, and thus always, in the last analysis, completely subordinate to the pro-capitalist wing of the party.

The compromises and capitulations that this entails have determined the response of the official Labour left to the current round of suspensions and expulsions. It also goes to explain the helpfully convenient distinction they make between a so-called ‘first’ and ‘second’ wave of suspensions and expulsions, which many on the official left, taking their cue from the right, argue are qualitatively different.

The second wave refers to the suspension on ‘procedural grounds’ of CLP officers and others who protested at Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party, whilst the first wave concerns those disciplined on groundless charges of anti-Semitism and other trumped-up nonsense. The second wave only dates from November 2020: the much larger first wave, however, can be traced back to 2015 and the right’s first attempts to undermine Corbyn’s leadership of the party.

This difference is important, because it allows the official Labour left to set up a distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ – distinguishing those they wish to defend from those they are prepared to throw under the bus. It was this false distinction that operated in the cases of Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Moshé Machover, and countless others. From Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell down, the official left either stood quietly aside or even shamefully joined in when good leftwingers were falsely accused and driven out of the party. Furthermore, the faintly triumphal tone of the official left, and their camp followers in the Momentum leadership, in response to the reported reinstatements shows that this distinction remains. It still seems that some purged comrades are deemed worthy of support, whilst others are clearly not.

This distinction tells us something fundamentally important about the official Labour left. Its retreats are not simply the product of disorientation and demoralisation in the face of the unremitting attacks from the Labour right and the media. Neither are their equivocations and failures to stand up to the witch-hunt merely the product of individual weakness. Rather this failure to mount a principled defence of leftwing victims of the purge flows inevitably from the nature of the official left’s politics of compromise. In presenting this small success of reinstatement as a major victory, they effectively abandon the vast majority of purged members to their fate.

Behind the rhetoric of solidarity and militant struggle, this response shows that their real aim is not to take the fight to the right, but rather to maintain their cosy position as party loyalists and their role as tame, officially licensed ‘critics’ of the leadership.

Labour Left Alliance | Facing both ways

Last weekend’s conference ended up adopting two totally contradictory positions. James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists reports

If you want to understand the confused politics and contradictory strategy of the Labour left, the January 30 online discussion conference organised by the Labour Left Alliance was a good place to start. Everyone who spoke at the event – entitled ‘Labour in crisis: what next?’ – argued that we urgently need a strategy to organise an effective fightback against Starmer and the Labour right. The picture they painted was of a real attack on party democracy and freedom of debate by the leadership, and the resulting widespread disorientation and demoralisation on the left.

The majority of comrades who attended and spoke clearly regard themselves as the real, militant left in the Labour Party – in contrast to the tame official left, represented by groups such as the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and Momentum. Indeed, everyone was at great pains to stress this distinction and place themselves firmly in the camp of extreme opposition to the Starmer regime. However, if all were agreed that Labour is facing a huge threat from the right, there was no real agreement about either the character of this crisis or the strategy that the left needs to adopt.1

Roger Silverman of the Workers’ International Network (WIN) and the LLA organising group set the tone in his political opening by suggesting that the one-sided civil war unleashed by the Labour right had finally reached boiling point. The split, initiated by Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, was already underway, he argued, but the official left lacked both the policy and the perspectives to fight back. In the context of this major crisis, comrade Silverman believed that the conference could prove to be “a landmark” in the struggle for a “mass workers’ party – a socialist Labour Party rooted in the trade unions”.

Unfortunately, it failed to live up to this billing. It was far from the landmark event Roger promised. Instead of clarity and coherence, what the conference actually revealed was the political and strategic muddle that lies at the heart of the Labour left. The dominant moods of the conference appeared to be of compromise, consensus and contradiction. This was most clearly exposed in the final section of the conference, which discussed how to “transform Labour into a party of the class”. Here participants, when presented with three very different analyses and strategies, finally managed, by clear majorities, to support two of them!

The first successful resolution called for “building a socialist alternative inside and outside the Labour Party” (my emphasis). Its argument, framed in rather apocalyptic terms, suggested that “the acute nature of the economic and social crisis of capitalism … meant the ruling class has had to resort to increasingly autocratic methods”, which included closing down free speech and democracy in political parties. In moving the motion Matthew Jones recognised that historically the left has been subordinate to the right within Labour, but he argued that we are now in a “qualitatively different situation”, in which the Starmer/Evans leadership wants to drive the left out of the party altogether. Given this situation, and with thousands of left activists now leaving the party, there was already a de facto split and so, comrade Jones suggested, it was necessary to “promote the self-organisation of the left inside and outside” Labour.

Although the resolution seemed to hedge its bets, the clear implication was that Labour was finished as any type of vehicle for the left. This was an unparalleled crisis and in these ‘end times’ for social democracy there was no longer any perspective of transforming Labour in any form. However, during the debate comrades who supported building such a socialist alternative “inside and outside” the party failed to clearly define what such an alternative would entail. The suggestion seemed to be that it would encompass the ‘entire left’, with the programmatic basis of any such a new formation deliberately left vague. This left the strong suspicion that the “self-organisation of the left” would simply be yet another recycled ‘broad front’ of lowest-common-denominator leftism, similar in form to the Socialist Alliance or Left Unity. Whether they understood it or not, comrades who supported this motion are transitioning out of the Labour Party, although the discussion showed that for many of them the final destination still remains elusively and deliberately just beyond the horizon.

In or out?

Just as these comrades seem to be on their way out, the movers of the successful Rotherham Labour Left motion were digging in even more deeply. Influenced by Socialist Appeal, this motion opposed the setting up of any new formations outside Labour, calling instead for LLA comrades to “keep organising in the Labour Party” and “avoid support for ‘competitors’ to avoid being ineligible for membership”. Although critical of Corbyn’s appeasement of the right and the failure of the official left to stand up to the witch-hunt, their Labour loyalism – and belief that the existing type of ‘traditional’ organisation of the working class provides ready-made instruments for the socialist transformation of society – coloured their analysis of the way forward for LLA supporters. The motion’s focus on rule changes for leadership elections, the demand for a recalled party conference and a new clause four were clearly designed to keep the troops safely busy within Labour rather than straying away for presumably more fruitful pastures new outside.

Both the historical experience of the Labour left and its contemporary self-imprisonment as a tame official left show the ultimate bankruptcy of such positions. As explained by the movers of the Rotherham motion, this strategy of Labour loyalism fails to deal with the contradictory nature of Labour as a bourgeois workers’ party – a failure further compounded by their sowing illusions that the parliamentary strategy and the election of a ‘socialist Labour government’ is the only way to socialism in Britain. But perhaps even this is now too much for these comrades to hope for, given that the height of the ambition of these latter day Millerandistes seems now to be limited to getting a ‘Marxist’ MP into the shadow cabinet – “a coup” in the words of Rotherham Labour Left’s Daniel Platts!

The Labour Party Marxists motion dealt with both the defeatism and loyalism of the two successful motions in its central argument that the transformation of Labour requires a Marxist party. Stressing that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party, the motion argued that Corbynism “acted to divert mass discontent away from what is objectively needed – the urgent superseding of capitalism”. Its strategy was to “draw the sharpest line of demarcation between the socialist left and the official Labour left”, especially on socialist participation in capitalist governments or capitalist shadow cabinets.

However, this explicit rejection of the coalitionist road to socialism does not mean that LPM is turning its back on Labour. It called for a struggle for the complete transformation of the Labour Party, forging it into a permanent united front of the working class – a process that can only be realised if socialists are organised in a mass Marxist party. Such a party, the motion argued, would seek to transform Labour, but the creation of such a mass Marxist party remains its central objective, and its strategy for achieving socialism does not rely on Labour.

Despite the very clear political differences between all three motions the resulting discussion was very confused, reflecting the different experiences of the participants. Some comrades, who had only become involved in Labour during the Corbyn period, were frightened by the very idea of ‘Marxism’ and worried that such radicalism would alienate our potential supporters. Even those comrades who claimed the title of ‘Marxist’ were rather defeatist and determinist in their assessment of both the current economic crisis and the future trajectory of Labour, playing down the possibilities of conscious socialist politics and a developing class struggle. In contrast to the clear politics and strategy advanced by LPM, many speakers in the discussion, whether they advocated remaining in Labour or building a socialist alternative outside, argued for the softest forms of broad front and compromise as the way forward.

LPM had called for this conference as a way of clarifying the political and strategic differences within the LLA, especially given the capitulation of the official Labour left and the growing demoralisation and disorientation of the left in Constituency Labour Parties. Unfortunately, however, the conference failed to really bring out these differences. As the votes for two rather contradictory motions showed, this discussion conference ended up facing two ways – one foot in and one foot out. There was no real analysis or taking stock of the failure of the Corbyn project: whilst the official left was rightly condemned for its complicity in the witch-hunt, its organic and symbiotic relationship with the Labour right was glossed over. But, above all, the conference failed to adopt a clear direction or present a strategy for the way forward for the LLA.

This could be charitably ascribed to the technical limitations of online Zoom discussions, but the format devised by the conference arrangements committee certainly did not help. LPM had argued for a conference with the space and time to fully explore the different political and strategic positions within the LLA. In particular, this would require more developed position papers rather than 400-hundred-word motions, and longer contributions than five-minute introductions and three-minute interventions from the floor. That this more expansive and serious type of conference format failed to be adopted was not a purely technical issue, but is rather a very significant political question of how we understand the best way to debate and clarify important political differences.

Moreover, in framing this debate about the crisis of the Labour left in the way that it did, the LLA illustrated all the political and strategic weaknesses that the left has acquired over the past 30 years or so. LPM will continue to argue its case within the LLA and other organisations of the Labour left, but, as this conference has shown, we are under no illusions about the scale of the task if we are to successfully rebuild and rearm our movement by developing a serious and coherent Marxist current within Labour.

Labour Left Alliance | Fudge, muddle, clarity

James Marshall of Labour Party Marxists provides a rough guide to the issues and arguments that will dominate the January 30 Zoom conference

Another Labour Left Alliance conference; another massively overloaded agenda. Over the course of four hours (plus half an hour for lunch) we are going to debate the crisis in the Labour Party and decide what to do next. Doable, if the conference had been organised with a view to achieving clarity. Unfortunately that is not the case. The methods of the labour and trade union bureaucracy have been thoroughly internalised.

There is a mixed bag of eight motions – surely in a calculated attempt to dumb down, all limited to a maximum of 350 words, then nudged up to 400, by the LLA’s conference arrangements committee. This was strongly opposed by Labour Party Marxists. There is also the certainty of various amendments (with no word limit).

Movers, seconders, supporters, opposers have all been limited to five- and three-minute contributions. A sure-fire recipe for the adoption of mutually contradictory positions and in all probability utter confusion. Almost guaranteeing that outcome, the organisers insist that it is the conference chair who will choose all speakers bar movers and seconders. LPM is of the view that factions, platforms, local affiliates and other movers should have the right to choose their most competent, their preferred, advocates – basic practice with the best of our tradition (eg, the Bolsheviks). However, we find ourselves in a minority.

Background

Since the launch of the Labour Left Alliance there have been some hugely negative developments. Labour badly lost the 2019 general election, Keir Starmer easily won the Labour leadership and the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt has not only seen Jeremy Corbyn suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party, but scores of Constituency Labour Party chairs and secretaries suspended because they dared defy instructions disallowing any discussion of Corbyn or the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report.

As a result many thousands of members have simply walked. An already weak and politically confused Labour left has been further weakened and further confused. That has – as was bound to be the case – affected LLA too. (Not that LPM has been immune – we have lost as many members as we have gained).

LPM did advocate that the LLA should be founded as an individual-membership organisation – structurally something along the lines of the British Socialist Party, the Fabian Society, the Independent Labour Party or the Socialist League. This proposal was rejected. So was our call for the LLA to commit itself to the perspectives of extreme democracy, of superseding the capitalist system that is threatening to bring about ecological collapse, of working class rule and making the global transition to a classless, moneyless, stateless communism. That would not have saved LLA from the crisis of the Labour left. But politically it would have put us in a far, far stronger position.

Instead, the majority went for a loose, federal structure; a delegate conference, which does not and cannot elect or hold the leadership to account; and lowest-common-denominator politics, which, in truth, amount to bog standard left Labour reformism.

Showing its steep, downward organisational trajectory, the LLA January 30 conference will not consist of delegates. A first. On the contrary, anyone who has signed what amounts to an LLA petition has the right to speak and vote on January 30. No dues paid, no commitments required. And, of course, given the LLA structure, votes are not binding on either the LLA’s organising group (OG) or its steering committee. So January 30 will be a four-hour talking shop … but, yes, okay, it is good to talk.

A quick tour

There are, as already said, eight motions. We shall visit them one by one in the order in which they are due to be debated.

Motion 1.1, ‘The witch-hunt and the Labour Party’, comes with nine signatures: Tina Werkmann, Roger Silverman, Daniel Platts, Pam Bromley, Carol Taylor, Matthew Jones, Ken Syme, Tasib Mughal and Robert Arnott. In essence a steering committee motion.

What should have been a routine, uncontroversial motion, is, unfortunately marred by far too many bungled, misconceived formulations.

Here is the opening paragraph:

The campaign to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn started even before he won the Labour leadership election in 2015. Millions were inspired and over 350,000 leftwingers joined the Labour Party. This posed a real problem for the ruling class – Tony Blair had worked hard to transform the party into a safe ‘second eleven’ that could be trusted to run capitalism.

The campaign against Jeremy Corbyn started even before he won the Labour leadership election in 2015 – that is beyond doubt. But the campaign to “get rid” of Jeremy Corbyn? As what? As a candidate? As an MP? As a living, breathing human being? A quibble, perhaps – but what about: “Tony Blair had worked hard to transform the party into a safe ‘second eleven’ that could be trusted to run capitalism” (my emphasis). This is straight from the ‘reclaim the Labour Party’ narrative of the official Labour left.

Blair certainly “worked hard” to transform the Labour Party into something resembling the old Liberal Party of William Gladstone. In other words, capitalism’s first eleven. But, before him, apart from Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and maybe Michael Foot, every leader of the Labour Party had been a thoroughly trustworthy servant of British capitalism. That is certainly the case with every pre-Blair Labour prime minister: Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. Capitalism was safe in their hands.

So delete “to get rid of” and replace with “against”. Delete: “Tony Blair had worked hard to transform the party into a safe ‘second eleven’ that could be trusted to run capitalism”. Hopefully such amendments will be accepted with good grace.

Then in the third paragraph we are told this:

The ‘leaked report’ shows that in the process they displayed an inability to recognise real anti-Semitism, while eagerly trying to get rid of activists like Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, none of whom can be accused of even a trace of anti-Semitism. This campaign quickly snowballed out of all control. Thousands of members have been thrown to the wolves in the process.

Well, what the ‘leaked report’ showed was not an inability to recognise “real anti-Semitism”. Rather that the Labour Party bureaucracy under general secretary Iain McNicol deliberately sat on what we are told were the few cases of real anti-Semitism, in order to discredit Corbyn and provide media ammunition. As to the idea that the “campaign quickly snowballed out of control”, this is a badly misconceived formulation.

The ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign was and remains an operation run out of the offices of the CIA, MI5, Shin Bet and the London Israeli embassy. The Board of British Deputies, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Labour Friends of Israel, Jewish Labour Movement, the baying media, the Labour right – and finally Labour’s governance and legal unit under pro-Corbyn general secretary Jennie Formby – were all considered assets.

The campaign was well planned, well directed and never ran out of control. The aim was always much bigger than the defenestration of one man, Jeremy Corbyn. The aim remains to smother, outlaw, kill criticism of Israel and US-UK wars in the Middle East in ‘defence of Israel’.

So another amendment is needed. Firstly, delete “The ‘leaked report’ shows that in the process they displayed an inability to recognise real anti-Semitism”; replace with “The ‘leaked report’ shows that the Labour Party bureaucracy under Iain McNicol sat on cases of real anti-Semitism.” Also delete “This campaign quickly snowballed out of all control”; replace with a cropped “This campaign quickly snowballed.”

Another mistaken formulation – the idea that Starmer and Evans are trying to “get rid of the entire left” – is dealt with below, in the discussion of motion 2.4. As we shall argue, it is wrong – so another delete.

Finally, the movers of motion 1.1 come to what they call their demands/principles. We read:

In order to avoid making the same mistakes again, we believe the Labour left must learn some lessons and maintain certain demands/principles:

– Appeasement never works.

That is the first of the comrades’ demands/principles.

True, in British history the word ‘appeasement’ is forever associated with the policy of Neville Chamberlain’s government and its Munich Pact with fascist Germany (and Italy), agreed in September 1938. In the name of “peace in our time” Germany was allowed to slice off the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The capitalist class, the royal family, the mainstream press, the BBC and most Tory MPs fully supported this attempt to appease the Hitler regime.

But what does ‘appeasement’ mean? The Cambridge dictionary defines appeasement as “the action of satisfying the demands of an aggressive person, country or organisation”. With this in mind, the statement “Appeasement never works” transforms the rejection of what is, what can be a legitimate tactic into a timeless principle. A basic error.

Vladimir Lenin’s celebrated pamphlet ‘Left wing’ communism, an infantile disorder (1920) goes to some lengths to patiently explain to the fledgling communist parties that not only should they participate in reactionary parliaments and trade unions, they should also be prepared to make all manner of concessions, compromises and retreats. Put another way, ‘appeasement’ can be made to work in the interests of the working class and the cause of socialism.

Imagine for a moment being held at knifepoint by some boozed-up loser. Not wanting to get stabbed to death, you appease them. You politely hand over your mobile phone and whatever cash you happen to have on you. It works: thank god the robber staggers off down the road and you live for another day.

Soviet Russia did much the same with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ottoman empire). Under the terms of the March 1918 Brest-Litovsk treaty huge tracts of territory were surrendered in the name of securing a ‘breathing space for the revolution’. Of course, the cost went far beyond losing land, industry and people. Brest-Litovsk divided the central committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) into three factions and lost them their Left Socialist Revolutionary allies too … and therefore their majority in the soviets. Nevertheless, in my opinion, on balance Leon Trotsky’s decision to throw in his hand with Lenin and sign the Brest-Litovsk treaty was probably the right thing to do.

Corbyn’s appeasement of the Labour right, the Zionist movement, etc, proved an abject failure. That is for sure. Despite that, appeasement should not be rejected as a matter of principle. So delete “Appeasement never works”.

Next

Motion 1.2, ‘Lessons of Corbynism’, comes from LPM and should be read in conjunction with LPM’s ‘Theses on Keir Starmer’s Labour Party’. It should be pointed out that it was LPM which proposed this LLA conference. Against some opposition we won the vote on the LLA’s ‘ruling’ OG.

Our intention was to debate out areas of agreement and disagreement between the various factions, strands and trends. Hence we submitted our hardly overlong ‘Theses’.

Presumably, there are those comrades who fear debating out areas of agreement and disagreement between the various factions, strands and trends. The conference arrangements committee decided to go with neither the word nor the spirit of the OG resolution, but, instead, imposed a bureaucratic 350-word limit on motions and five- and three-minute speaking restrictions.

As a result, the two LPM motions are mere shrunken fragments of what began as a coherent whole. More than a pity. Anyway here is LPM’s first motion:

  1. Declining capitalism is reaching its ecological limits. The threat of nuclear war is increasing. Lasting, meaningful reforms that benefit the working class can no longer be gained. Reformist programmes of transforming capitalism into socialism through winning a parliamentary majority have been replaced by the ever more hopeless illusion of a nicer, kinder, fairer capitalism. Humanity faces the stark choice posed by Frederick Engels: socialism or barbarism.
  2. The failures, cowardice and treachery of the official Labour left, its constantly repeated pattern of becoming the official Labour right, must be explained in materialist terms – not put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The official Labour left remains the natural home for many trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to working class liberation. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of capitalist government makes the official Labour left a breeding ground for careerists who, starting with good intentions, slowly or speedily evolve to the right. The way is smoothed by the lure of elected positions, generous expenses, lucrative sinecures, sly backhanders, mixing with the great and good and, eventually, entry into the lower ranks of the bourgeoisie.
  3. The official Labour left serves to keep hopes alight that the Labour Party can be won for socialism, that the next Labour government will actually introduce socialism. Meanwhile, the right puts forward what is acceptable to the capitalist class and its media, in the name of forming a government that ‘really makes a difference’. So long as the left does not cause too much trouble and the right is firmly in command, there is a symbiotic unity. The official Labour left is useful to the official Labour right because it fosters illusions below and supplies a steady flow of high-profile converts to capitalist realism above.
  4. Both the official Labour left and the official Labour right share a common sense that politics is about winning elections. Policies are selected which can be sold to the electorate. Ultimately, though, the mainstream media determines what is sensible and what is dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that appears to obstruct electoral victory is avoided like the plague. Hence, while the Labour right attempts to restrict and muddy debate, impose bureaucratic controls and sideline awkward minorities, the official Labour left behaves in exactly the same anti-democratic manner.

The importance of agreeing this motion is obvious. Firstly, the official Labour left is engaged in a permanent kabuki dance with the pro-capitalist Labour right. It is no longer even reformist and therefore it is categorically incorrect to describe it as socialist. The LLA must choose between the socialist left (the principal example being LPM itself, of course) and the official left.

Secondly, the struggle for socialism cannot be put off to the far-distant future. It is an urgent necessity. Calls for reforms must be linked to the perspective of socialism.

Thirdly, our movement needs democracy and the fullest debate, as the human being needs food and air. Starved of democracy and the fullest debate, our movement withers and eventually dies.

Second session

Here things begin with the motion on trade union work, proposed by 12 comrades: Pam Bromley, Steve McKenzie, Carol Taylor-Spedding, Bob Allen, Vince Williams, Jonathan Cooper, Maggie Gothard, Ross Charnock, Craig Murphy, Peter Grant, Alec Price and Anna Hubbard.

From an LPM viewpoint the motion is motherhood and apple pie. We agree, we agree, we agree. No socialist worthy of the name could disagree. (But would that apply to Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, Diane Abbott, etc? Hardly.)

Motion 2.1 should quickly be voted through. There ought to be unanimity.

By contrast, 2.2. is a confused mess. The motion in support of proportional representation is put forward by Andrea Grainger, Liv Singh, Chris Donovan, Shiraz Hussain, Richard Crawford, Reuben Ramsay, John Bernard, Barry West, Jon de Rennes, Graham Burnby-Crouch and Jenny Almeida.

Things begin badly, when the motion states: “That the UK, Belarus, USA and Canada are the only western democracies to not have a form of proportional election system.” Well, it is good to know that Belarus counts as a ‘western democracy’. A sloppy formulation then.

As for the UK, USA and Canada, they can only be called democracies with some very considerable reservations. ‘United Kingdom’ should give the game away: monarchy and democracy are opposite principles. Nor can the House of Lords, the established Church of England, the standing army, MI5, corporate domination of the media, etc be called democratic. As for the US, it is at best a semi-democracy. We have certainly seen over recent months how an indirectly elected president, the Senate, the Supreme Court and state rights are used as checks and balances against democracy. The founding fathers wanted an oligarchic republic with the least democracy they could get away with.

Of course, LPM does not object to PR. Quite the reverse. But the motion is too muddled, too overegged: ie, “That our electoral system forces all far-left, leftwing and centre-left activists into one party, which inevitably leads to massive internal party conflict and division, which damages morale, demotivates activists and weakens our movement.” It is hardly the situation that “all” far-left organisations are ensconced in the Labour Party. Nor is it necessarily the case that “internal party conflict and division … damages morale, demotivates activists and weakens our movement”. It can be the exact reverse.

It might be worth voting for the motion simply because of its call for the LLA to “apply to join the Labour for a New Democracy group, which is bringing together different pro-PR groups in the party” – a motley collection of Labour centrists and official lefts. It would be interesting to see whether or not the LLA would be made welcome as an affiliate. But, no, while it is a good idea for the LLA to “publicly endorse PR”, it is delusional to imagine that PR is “a progressive solution to problems in the British left.”

The comrades cannot see beyond narrow electoralism.

Bennism

‘Republican Labour and the LLA’ (2.3) is proposed by Robin O’Neill, Peter Morton, Steve Freeman, Ken Syme, Tina Werkmann, Paul Collins, Leigh Bacon, Carol Taylor-Spedding, Lewis Nesbitt, John Henry, Larry Hyatt, John Beeching, Dave Hill and Kevin Ware.

Here we have a factional declaration … and there is nothing wrong with that. It is, though, an opportunist attempt by Steve Freeman, the main author, to hitch the “driving force in the struggle for socialism” to the ideas of Keir Hardie and Tony Benn. We are told that Republican Labour “has its origins in the ideas of Keir Hardie and developed more fully by Tony Benn, with reference to, for example, the struggles of the Levellers, Chartists and suffragettes”.

Well, maybe some of the comrades are old-time Bennites. Others – most – are attempting to dress their republicanism in the sheep’s clothing of Bennism in order to make it acceptable to the “mainstream consciousness of the Labour left”. As a marketing device, doubtless clever, but surely it falls into the category of ‘false advertising’ – after all, it attempts to conceal the motion’s factional origins. But, perhaps I am being unfair, perhaps the comrades have undergone a latter-day conversion, perhaps they now count as true Bennites.

Anyhow, in May 1991 the right honourable Anthony Wedgewood Benn presented his Commonwealth of Britain Bill to the House of Commons as an early day motion (the movers have the year wrong).2 Inevitably, it sank without trace. Nonetheless, Benn bravely proposed to replace the monarch with a president, devolve powers to Scotland, Wales and the English regions, replace the House of Lords with a House of the People with equal quotas of men and women, separate church and state, etc.

Whatever our particular criticisms, it is clear that Benn had undergone an unusual journey from right to left, instead of the usual left to right. In 1964 he was the technocratic postmaster general in Harold Wilson’s first Labour government. By the 1980s he was the established leader of the Labour left … and still moving to the left.

However, just like his hero, Keir Hardie, Benn was a committed Christian: my “political commitment owes much more to the teachings of Jesus – without the mysteries within which they are presented – than to the writings of Marx whose analysis seems to lack an understanding of the deeper needs of humanity”.

And Benn remained firmly within the frame of left reformism: he was a “quintessential House of Commons man”, not a revolutionary. His republicanism was correspondingly a reformist republicanism. Something fully in line with his Christian, ethical and national socialism.

According to Benn, Britain became a colony when it joined the Common Market on January 1 1973. He even described Britain “the last colony of the British empire” and called for a “national liberation struggle” to free the country from the “embryonic western European superstate”.

The LLA ought to commit itself to militant republicanism. That would be a big step forward. But we should have as our foundations not the muddled ideas of Hardie and Benn, rather we need the scientific clarity of Marx and Engels.

Nonetheless, LPM welcomes the call for LLA to “set up a working group to examine how we can and should give more emphasis to democratic republican issues in theory, policy and practice and invite contributions from all sections of the Alliance.”

We would also vote for this: “1. The working group will circulate a report within two months for further discussion and policy decision-making at a future meeting”; and “2. One or more educational meetings will be organised on the theme of republicanism and its relationship to socialism” … if they were presented separately. But we cannot vote for the Hardie-Benn rubbish.

Fudge

Motion 2.4. ‘Building a socialist alternative inside and outside the Labour Party’ is crass, reductive and frankly politically worthless. Sponsored by Matthew Jones, Tina Werkmann, Roger Silverman, Ken Syme, Sandy McBurney, Tasib Mughal and Pam Bromley, it is in essence based on this contention:

We have to understand the attack on party democracy and the membership structure of the Labour Party (LP) as part of a wider trend of attacks on democratic rights by the ruling class on a world scale. The depth and acute nature of the economic and social crisis of capitalism – given another twist by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – has meant the ruling class has had to resort to increasingly autocratic methods, as social inequality has increased to grotesque levels. The LP cannot afford membership democracy when its leadership and elected representatives are being instructed to take responsibility for increasingly savage measures against the working class.

Doubtless, democratic rights are under attack. But the blunt conclusion that the Labour Party “cannot afford membership democracy” because of austerity is vastly overstated.

Remember, individual membership was introduced in 1918, towards the end of World War I. Capitalism was mired in horrendous slaughter, the economy had been largely militarised, young men forcibly conscripted and strikes outlawed. Yet individual membership went hand in hand with Sydney Webb’s Fabian clause four. Both a step forward and a means of exerting control over an increasingly restive and increasingly militant rank and file. The Labour leadership could not afford not to give “membership” and “membership democracy”. Nor could they afford not to give that membership a binding rule-book commitment to ‘socialism’.

Similar observations can be made about 1917 Russia … but in spades. Acute economic, military and political crisis triggered a popular revolution and far reaching concessions by the bourgeoisie, from the Provisional government down to the factory floor. There were soviet elections, local government elections, the election of officers, the election of managers. And everywhere there was debate, debate, debate. There is, in other words, no one-way line of development.

Throughout the 1920s the right sought to wreck and undermine the Labour Party as a united front of the working class. Most members of the newly formed Communist Party in 1920 came from the affiliated British Socialist Party. Many BSP members were already individual Labour Party members. Like those of the Fabian Society and the ILP, they were dual members. Despite that, the CPGB affiliation applications were turned down one after another. The right wanted to halt the Bolshevik contagion.

With that in mind, a concerted witch-hunt was launched. CPGB members were barred from standing as Labour candidates; constituency parties that stood or supported communist candidates were closed down. CPGB members were then purged; CLPs who resisted were closed down. It went on and on throughout the 1920s and happened again in the mid- to late 1930s. On a smaller scale, there was the purge of the Bevanites in the 1950s, the Healyites in the 1960s and Militant in the 1980s.

So attacks on the democratic rights of the rank and file amount to an almost a permanent feature of Labour Party politics. However, there have also been advances: eg, mandatory reselection in the 1980s. Certainly, to primarily explain present-day attacks with reference to the “economic and social crisis” and Covid-19 is reductive in the extreme.

After all, the main explanation of today’s witch-hunt surely lies in the realm of international and national politics – specifically (a) Israel and the UK alliance with US imperialism, and (b) the election of Corbyn. The same goes for Tony Blair’s attacks. It was politics that drove him and his cronies to undermine conference and roll back the gains of the 1980s. Only in the last analysis does economics come into it.

Hence, this claim is equally dubious:

That the degree of economic, social and political crisis of capitalism means that democracy and free speech are increasingly being closed down, including in political parties.

That the intention of the Starmer/Evans leadership is to drive out the left from the LP and largely destroy the membership structures and democratic mechanisms of the LP. This is effectively a means of splitting the LP.

There is no one-to-one correspondence between attacks on democratic rights, including free speech, and the “economic, social and political crisis of capitalism”. Things, as already argued, can work in the opposite direction.

What was Corbyn’s leadership election victory caused by? Not just the accident of the “morons” – the Labour MPs who ‘lent’ him their votes in the nomination process. No, there existed mass anger with Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, mass anger with David Cameron’s austerity, mass anger against Lib Dem lies over student fees. Hence, once Corbyn made it over the nomination threshold, there was a sudden mass surge into the Labour Party. Discontent found a focus, a means of expression. No matter how raw, no matter how volatile, no matter how diffuse, a real movement of the working class.

As for the proposition that “the intention of the Starmer/Evans leadership is to drive out the left from the LP”, this is probably a considerable over-dramatisation. The Labour Party needs votes, needs local fixers and movers, needs functionaries and a career ladder that turns student union activists into government ministers. It also needs an official left which can inspire, spread illusions and supply its own quota of popular (especially amongst the rank and file) councillors, MPs and ministers.

What is going on today is an attempt to tame, whip into line, the official Labour left. But is this “effectively a means of splitting the LP”? Unlikely. Is it about destroying the “membership structures and democratic mechanisms of the LP”? Again, unlikely.

Anyone who knows the Labour Party at a constituency level must be aware of the considerable layer of active members on the centre and right. Some are councillors, some are friends of councillors, some want to become councillors. They will also know that there is a steady process whereby yesterday’s leftwing firebrand becomes today’s safe realist (eg: Jon Lansman, Owen Jones, Paul Mason).

As for Labour Party democracy, well, it would be a good idea. Remember, the election of the leader by the rank and file was an initiative of the right. In the name of extending democracy, the Collins review was meant to give power to The Sun, the Mirror, The Guardian to choose the Labour leader. That backfired with Corbyn, but worked a treat with Starmer. Meanwhile, the reality is that the Parliamentary Labour Party is to all intents and purposes autonomous. MPs are not servants of the labour movement. The leader can afford to ignore conference, the NEC and CLPs. Labour prime ministers have certainly done that time and time again.

Tens of thousands of leftish members – mostly muddled, confused and unorganised – will leave. But they constitute a formless, disparate mass, not a ready-made organisation. To think otherwise is illusory.

The comrades say the LLA should “promote by all means the self-organisation of the left inside and outside the LP”. Sounds very militant, very Malcolm X-ish. But concretely all they can offer is the mouse of the Labour in Exile Network. An organisation of experienced, committed, Labourites. Technically these exiles are outside the Labour Party, true, but they hardly constitute a “socialist alternative”.

In fact, the comrades deliberately leave their “socialist alternative” vague. Do they want a properly reformist Labour Party, a Marxist-led Labour Party, a Marxist party which can lead the Labour Party, but does not rely on the Labour Party?

Keeping quiet on such vital questions constitutes an opportunist fudge.

So, although we like the suggestion of promoting “the discussion of political theory and which lessons we need to learn from the Corbyn leadership of the LP”, what the comrades have to say amounts to diddly squat.

LPM again

‘Transforming Labour requires a Marxist Party’ (2.5) can speak for itself:

  1. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is not a “true mass organisation of the working class”. Doubtless, Labour still has a mass membership and relies on trade union finances and working class voters. But, in the last analysis, what decides the class character of a political party is its leadership and its programme. The election of Corbyn as leader did not produce fundamental change in the party. Neither the 2017 nor 2019 election manifestos questioned the monarchical constitution, judge-made law, the US-dominated international order or the system of wage-slavery. So, even under Corbyn, Labour was neither a democratic nor a socialist party. It was, and remains, a bourgeois workers’ party, objectively serving as one of capitalism’s many defensive walls. Indeed, Corbyn and Corbynism acted to divert mass discontent away from what is objectively needed – the urgent superseding of capitalism.
  2. We must draw the sharpest line of demarcation between the socialist left and the official Labour left. The socialist left must stand for extreme democracy – the only realistic road to socialism. There should, therefore, be no falling into line with nor reliance on ministerial or shadow-ministerial ‘socialists’: ie, those who, in pursuit of their pathetic, middle class careers, sit in a capitalist or shadow-capitalist government. No-one who calls themselves a socialist should sit in a capitalist or a shadow-capitalist government. No socialist should call for ‘socialist’ representation in, or reinstatement to, a capitalist government or shadow-capitalist government. Those who do so betray the cause of socialism.
  3. Despite the failure of Corbyn and the election of Starmer, we remain committed to struggle for the complete transformation of the Labour Party, forging it into a permanent united front of the working class and equipping it with solid Marxist principles and a tried and tested Marxist leadership.
  4. However, transforming Labour can only be realised if socialists are organised in a mass Marxist party: a party that can operate within Labour, if necessary despite the rules; a party which seeks to transform Labour, but whose strategy for achieving socialism does not rely on Labour. The creation of a mass Marxist party is therefore our central objective. Without such a party, we are doomed to continue to suffer one Sisyphean defeat after another.

Despite the limitations of January 30 we can still say this:

Alone LPM wants to bring to the fore the ecological crisis. Alone LPM champions socialism and the transition to a stateless, moneyless, classless communism as the only feasible answer. Alone LPM champions revolutionary republicanism. Alone LPM sees the necessity of distinguishing between the official left – from Keir Hardie to Jeremy Corbyn – and the principled, socialist left. Alone LPM is committed to a mass, democratic and centralist party that can re-establish the Labour Party as a united front of the working class. Alone LPM fights against so-called socialists sitting in capitalist or shadow capitalist governments. Alone LPM disdains to conceal its views and aims. Alone LPM declares that its ends can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of all existing social conditions.

Socialist Appeal

2.6, ‘The way forward (for the LLA)’, is drafted by Daniel Platts and comes under the name of Rotherham Labour Left. Politically, however, the inspiration clearly comes from the International Marxist Tendency (Socialist Appeal): ie, the minority rump of Militant Tendency.

It is good, despite the reluctance, that the comrades have presented a contribution – it will hopefully help to sharpen debate.

If it wanted, Socialist Appeal could easily dominate LLA. All it would take is sending in some 80 or 90 trained or half-trained cadre. But, of course, that would mean arguing things out with real Marxists. A risk the IMT dares not take.

The SA motion contains some useful tactical suggestions. Instead of a direct confrontation with the Starmer/Evans regime, go for CLP motions of no-confidence in Starmer, call for rule changes to allow a challenge to Starmer, a special conference, etc. Not that any of that will happen, but it avoids the head-on confrontational politics that has seen so many CLP chairs and secretaries suspended in what amounts to individual acts of political suicide. SA leader Alan Woods is far from stupid.

But what distinguishes the SA/Rotherham motion are its commitments to clause-four socialism and to staying in the Labour Party no matter what – a strategic conception that has its origins with Michel Pablo (Michel Raptis), secretary of the so-called Fourth International (1943-61), and the chameleon politics of deep entryism.

One would guess that, if it had been around in 1920, SA would have opposed the formation of the CPGB. If not, after the first, second or third affiliation attempt had been defeated, they would have advocated CPGB liquidation for a bottom-living existence confined to Labour Party committee rooms and narrow trade unionism.

SA inexcusably, dishonestly, pictures Corbyn as “a socialist” and the Corbyn influx into Labour as showing the “popularity of socialist ideas”. More to the point, SA is tied hand and foot to remaining in the Labour Party. Hence Rotherham’s point 8: “Keep organising in the Labour Party; avoid support for ‘competitors’ to avoid being ineligible for membership.”

While IMT is a typical oil-slick international, it wants to steer clear, avoid the danger of coming to the attention of, falling foul of, being targeted by the labour bureaucracy. Sadly, that amounts to the politics of surrender.

Theses on Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

A serious accounting for the failures of Corbynism cannot be avoided any longer. Our perspectives must go beyond capitalism. We have had enough silly initiatives and attempts to close or limit debate. Labour Party Marxists has submitted this contribution to the Labour Left Alliance’s January 30 conference

  1. Labour’s December 2019 general election defeat and the subsequent election of Sir Keir Starmer as leader exposes the strategic bankruptcy of the official Labour left and all those who fixedly put a left Labour government at the centre of their strategy for socialism. With Jeremy Corbyn they had their “inspiring” leader, with John McDonnell they had their “inspiring” shadow chancellor, with It’s time for real change they had their “inspiring” manifesto. And yet Labour went down to a demoralising defeat.
  2. Labour’s results were in parliamentary terms on a par with 1935. Except, of course, then Labour faced a national government. And in 1935 Labour’s share of the vote increased. In some ways the 2019 vote should have been expected in 2017. The reasons for the comparatively good results in 2017 can be guessed at:
    1. propaganda directed against Jeremy Corbyn proved largely ineffective: eg, he is a Marxist, pro-terrorist, part of the metropolitan elite.
    2. Corbyn genuinely enthused some sections of the population – he appeared to many, especially younger voters, as a ‘man on a white horse’.
    3. Brexit was not then the overriding issue it was to become.
  3. However, what happened in December 2019 was no surprise. Opinion polls always showed a clear Tory margin. Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings skilfully played the election as being about ‘Getting Brexit done’. The Brexit Party’s support crumbled and predictably went over to the Tories. Labour lost votes in the north and the midlands. While its share of the poll was greater than in 2010 and 2015, nonetheless, compared with 2017, the vote dropped by 8%.
  4. Boris Johnson swept to power in the Tory Party with the promise to deliver on the 2016 referendum result. He subsequently showed a ruthlessness utterly alien to the dithering Jeremy Corbyn. Labour’s step-by-step adoption of a hard ‘remain’ position, its call for a second referendum, the humiliating parliamentary defeats inflicted upon Theresa May’s government, crucially with the help of Labour MPs – all this ensured that Labour was never going to retain Brexiteer voters. Quite the opposite. They felt cheated, betrayed, by a Labour Party stupidly pledged to uphold the referendum result.
  5. For many, Brexit served as a substitute for class politics. Needless to say, like Scottish nationalism, Brexit is a form of bourgeois politics. The same, of course, goes for ‘remain’. Hence the working class was unnecessarily split and placed under the influence of either ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ demagogues. Labour should have forthrightly rejected David Cameron’s referendum from the start. Labour should have organised an active boycott. Labour should, as it did from its foundation, reject referendums as a matter of principle (it was the arch-opportunist, Harold Wilson, who broke with that tradition in 1975).
  6. Labour’s poor performance in 2019 is not only explained by Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn faced unremitting hostility from a mainstream media which did everything it could to feed, fan and impose the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign. But to have expected anything else would have been naive. The mainstream media “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function” (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky). Without a powerful alternative mass media in the hands of the labour movement, Corbyn was forced to undergo trial by the bourgeois establishment’s newspapers, radio and TV stations. He was never likely to win.
  7. Would adopting a Lexit position have won the election for Labour? Hardly. Votes kept in the north and the midlands would have been lost in London. Nor would Labour have won the general election if Corbyn had organised open-air rallies, called for a general strike against austerity, opposed the witch-hunt, etc, etc. All such nostrums are illusory. Of course, opposing the witch-hunt would not only have provoked rebellion on the right, but also amongst the latest crop of cowards and traitors on the left too. Look at the disgraceful role of John McDonnell, Jon Lansman, Laura Parker, Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Novara Media, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, etc. The odds were always heavily stacked against a Corbyn-led government.
  8. What if, against the odds, there had been a Labour government? Such a government would not have been able to deliver even the very modest promises contained in It’s time for real change. The Corbyn leadership was committed to reversing austerity, increasing the economic role of the state, repealing some anti-trade union laws and introducing some minor constitutional reforms. At best that amounted to an illusory attempt to run British capitalism in the interests of the working class. Meanwhile, wage-slavery would continue, Britain would remain a monarchy, subject to judge-made law, one of the Five Eyes, a core imperialist power, a member of Nato and armed with US-controlled nuclear weapons. To call such a programme “socialist” is to turn commonly accepted socialist language onto its head.
  9. But a Corbyn-led government was never a prospect that the ruling class was prepared to countenance. Economically its programme was seen as irresponsible. It could, it was feared, trigger a crisis of expectations. More than that, Corbyn and his close allies were considered totally unreliable, when it came to international politics.
  10. Because of all this, the left should have combined raising sights beyond the narrow horizons of capitalism with issuing sober warnings: expect an organised run on the pound, obstruction by the PLP right, MI5 sabotage, an army mutiny, US ‘pushback’, a royalty-blessed coup, etc.
  11. While the chances of a Corbyn-led government were always slim, that cannot be said of the Labour Party’s rules and structures. Whereas Tony Blair carried out a (counter) revolution, all that Corbyn managed to achieve was a few tinkering changes. That need not have been the case. With a strong, determined, politically clear-sighted left, there really could have been a revolution in the party.
  12. However, the left is organisationally and politically weak. Too often there was a determination to simply tail Corbyn, and Corbyn was determined to maintain unity with the openly pro-capitalist right in the trade union and labour bureaucracy. That meant dropping the open selection of parliamentary candidates, leaving Blair’s clause four untouched and refusing to confront, to call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign.
  13. Not only did Corbyn refuse to protest, as one friend, one ally, one honest, anti-racist Labour Party member after another was thrown to the wolves. Corbyn and his regime became agents of the witch-hunt. The big lie that the Labour Party has a real problem with anti-Semitism was accepted. Instead of taking the fight to Zionist forces, such as Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion), and defending the Palestinian cause through promoting the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign, there was a concerted drive to increase the number of expulsions and suspensions. Shamefully, disgustingly, to deny that the Labour Party has a real problem with anti-Semitism itself became a disciplinary offence under the Corbyn-Formby regime.
  14. Not surprisingly, with the December 2019 general election defeat, many confused former supporters of Jeremy Corbyn variously concluded:
    1. that Labour can never be changed and therefore dropped out of active politics.
    2. that the fight for social change lies not in permanent organisations and patient education, but in ephemeral street protests, economic strikes, tenant campaigns, etc.
    3. that there needs to be a safe, acceptable, suitably centrist leader who can reach out to the Labour right, unite the party and “rewin the trust” of the so-called Jewish community. That always meant Sir Keir Starmer fully accepting the EHRC report, externalising disciplinary processes and carrying out an historically unprecedented purge of the left using the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie.
  15. Other than getting himself into No10, Starmer has no master plan. He is no latter-day Tony Blair. Fawning before the Murdoch press, Blair committed himself to accepting Thatcherism, when it came to privatisation and anti-trade union laws, reuniting liberalism and breaking the historic link with the trade unions. Starmer is driven by prior forces – most notably the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt – not of his own making. Conceivably, though it is far from certain, that could see him succeeding where Blair failed. That would probably lead Labour not to electoral unbeatability, but rather to the near irrelevancy it has achieved in Scotland, thanks to being completely outmanoeuvred by David Cameron in the 2014 independence referendum. By fronting for the Tories’ Better Together campaign, Labour brilliantly managed to present itself as a party of red Tories. Once a dominant force, Labour now counts as the third party in Holyrood.
  16. The marginalisation experienced by ‘official’ communism and ‘official’ social democracy alike in France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria and other European countries serves as an object lesson. Even historically established parties can become history.
  17. Under conditions where a declining capitalism is running up against ecological limits, where the threat of nuclear war is increasing, where lasting, meaningful reforms that benefit the working class can no longer be gained, where, as a consequence, reformist programmes of transforming capitalism into socialism through winning a parliamentary majority are replaced by the ever more hopeless perspectives of a nicer, a kinder, a fairer capitalism, it is clear that humanity faces the stark choice posed by Frederick Engels: socialism or barbarism.
  18. We must explain in materialist terms the failures, the cowardice, the treachery, the constantly repeated pattern of the official Labour left becoming the official Labour right. It cannot be put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The official Labour left is still the natural home for many trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to working class liberation. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of government means that the official Labour left is also a breeding ground for careerists, who, starting off with good intentions, slowly or speedily evolve to the right. The lure of elected positions, generous expense accounts, lucrative sinecures, sly backhanders, mixing with the great and good and eventually entry into the lower ranks of the bourgeoisie all smooth the way.
  19. The official Labour left serves to keep hopes alight that Labour can be won for socialism, and that the next Labour government will actually introduce socialism. Meanwhile, the right puts forward what is acceptable to the capitalist class – and its media – in the name of forming a government that ‘really makes a difference’. As long as the left does not cause too much trouble, as long as the right is firmly in command, there is a symbiotic unity. The official Labour left is useful to the official Labour right because it fosters illusions below, while above it supplies a steady flow of high-profile converts to (capitalist) realism.
  20. Both the official Labour left and the official Labour right share a common sense that politics are about winning elections. Therefore, policies are put forward because they can be ‘sold’ to the electorate. Ultimately it is, though, the press, the mainstream media, that decides what is sensible and what is to be dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that appears to get in the way of winning elections must therefore be avoided like the plague. Hence it is not only the Labour right which attempts to restrict, muddy and segment debate, impose bureaucratic controls and sideline awkward minorities. The official left behaves in exactly the same anti-democratic manner.
  21. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is not a “true mass organisation of the working class”. Doubtless, Labour still has a mass membership and relies on trade union finances and working class voters. But, in the last analysis, what decides the class character of a political party is its leadership and its programme. The election of Corbyn as leader did not produce fundamental change here. Neither For the many, not the few nor It’s time for real change questioned the monarchical constitution, judge-made law, the US-dominated international order or the system of wage-slavery. So, even under Corbyn, Labour was neither a democratic nor a socialist party. It was, and remains, a bourgeois workers’ party, which objectively serves as one of capitalism’s many defensive walls. Indeed, given the urgent necessity of superseding capitalism, Corbyn and Corbynism acted to divert mass discontent away from what is objectively needed.
  22. We must draw the sharpest line of demarcation between the socialist, the Marxist, left in the Labour Party and the official Labour left. The socialist, the Marxist, left, must stand for extreme democracy, the only realistic road to socialism. There should, therefore, be no falling into line with nor reliance on ministerial/shadow ministerial ‘socialists’: ie, those who, in pursuit of their pathetic, middle class careers, sit in a capitalist, or a shadow capitalist, government. No-one who calls themselves a socialist should sit in a capitalist … or a shadow capitalist government. No-one who calls themselves a socialist should call for ‘socialist’ representation in, or reinstatement to, a capitalist government or shadow government. Those who do so betray the cause of socialism.
  23. Despite the failure of Corbyn and the election of Starmer, we remain committed to the complete transformation of the Labour Party, forging it into a permanent united front of the working class and equipping it with solid Marxist principles and a tried-and-tested Marxist leadership.
  24. However, such a perspective can only be realised through building a mass Marxist party – a party that can, if necessary, operate within Labour despite the rules, a party which seeks to transform Labour, but a party which does not rely on Labour.
  25. Without making that goal our main, our central objective, we are doomed to suffer one Sisyphean defeat after another.

Labour Witchhunt | Time for something different

How should the principled left respond to the Starmer witch-hunt? James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists points to an alternative which goes beyond the narrow limits of fight or flight

The announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s new Peace and Justice Project tells us a lot about the current state of politics on the Labour left. The “project” to “promote social justice, peace and human rights in Britain and around the world” will be launched at an online event on January 17 and has received the backing of leading official left figures, including Unite’s Len McCluskey, Labour MP Zarah Sultana … and a lot of formers, eg, former ANC minister Ronnie Kasrils, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and former president of Ecuador Rafael Correa.

Encouraging, for all its limits, this has produced a surge of support. Within days of the announcement of the launch some 65,000 people had registered as supporters. However, the politics of the new initiative, in themselves, seem a rather unremarkable restatement of the pious hopes and worthy aspirations for ‘peace and social justice’ that characterises much of the contemporary left. Who can disagree with “combating poverty, inequality and unaccountable corporate power”? Who does not want to promote “peace, global cooperation … climate justice, self-determination, democracy and human rights”? However, when faced with these pleas for a better world, there are two most important and interlinked questions for Marxists. Firstly, will there be democracy? Will control be vested in the members or supporters? Or will the whole enterprise be run top-down? Will there be genuine debate or click button democracy? Secondly, what are the politics? Will the Peace and Justice Project be willing to adopt the politics necessary to overthrow the system that produces and reproduces inequality, poverty and war. Or will the ‘soft’ left clamp down on the ‘hard’ left? … as we saw in Momentum.

The “socialist alternative” offered by the Peace and Justice Project thus far is essentially a repetition of the managed capitalism outlined in Labour’s 2019 election manifesto. Politically and economically this combination of very light-touch Keynesianism and utopian left reformism presented no challenge at all to the state and the current capitalist order. That many on the soft left regarded these extraordinarily limited politics as “ambitious and agenda-setting” and still think that they make up a radical programme to transform society shows how far socialist consciousness has shrunk in recent years.

The paucity of this approach is reflected in the passive organisational form of the project, which is rooted in flabby, incoherent movementism. Instead of a militant programme, we are offered the chance “to create space, hope and opportunity for those campaigning for social justice”. In place of a fighting, coherent organisation we are invited to “build a network of campaigners, grassroots activists, thinkers and leaders, to share experiences and generate ideas about solutions to our common problems”. Although many awaited Corbyn’s announcement with great hopes, the ‘project’ is rather underwhelming. Instead of a call to begin a real fightback all we are presented with are the rehashed politics of Corbynism – and yet another think tank! Far from announcing a new beginning, the Peace and Justice Project really marks the final political bankruptcy of Corbynism.

The reason why the announcement of this new project was so eagerly awaited lies in the hopes of many on the Labour left that the enthusiasm for the original Corbyn movement could somehow be recreated. The return of the ‘king over the water’, it was hoped, would wipe away the bitter memories of electoral failure in 2019 and the subsequent demoralisation and retreat by the official left. The acceleration of the witch-hunt by Starmer and the failure of the official Labour left to mount any real defence of purged comrades only adds to the sense of hopelessness and disorientation. The left in the Constituency Labour Parties is desperate for leadership and a sense of political direction. However, on the basis of the available evidence, any hopes that it is the Peace and Justice Project that will give such a lead have been well and truly dashed, even before its formal launch. Far from taking us forward, this project will only further add to the demoralisation and confusion on the Labour left.

Perspectives

Given this likely outcome, we need to take stock and look at the perspectives for both the Labour left and the party more generally. Starmer and the Labour right look set to press ahead with the witch-hunt and crush the Labour left as an effective force in the CLPs (despite the Corbyn leadership, the left in the parliamentary party amounts to little more than a nothing). The right want to ensure that Labour is once again secured as the safe ‘second eleven’ of British capitalism. The fright that Corbynism and the growth of a left mass membership gave these Labour lieutenants of capital must be expunged, if Sir Keir is to make it into No10 and fulfil, at last, his Pabloite project (ha!). But the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt has a logic of its own. Starmer is not in control, he is controlled. The witch-hunt itself – not some prior project – is what could well lead to him breaking the trade union link and to the final de-Labourisation of Labour. Blairism fulfilled! … without a master plan, without any theory, without think tanks or focus group triangulation.

Starmer has already succeeded in outmanoeuvring the parliamentary leadership of the official Labour left. By their self-censorship and surrender to the witch-hunt, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs have actually agreed to silence themselves. Like the Tribune Group in the late 1970s and 1980s they will be tolerated and may even have their uses for the party leadership as a neutered, although increasingly irrelevant, tame ‘left’. For the real left, however, the Socialist Campaign Group ought to be totally discounted as any kind of leadership.

Despite the strength of the left amongst party members and the wave of protests that has developed, the purge is being intensified and extended ever wider. Despite that, Labour still remains a significant site of struggle for socialists, which should not be abandoned. The character of this struggle is determined by the nature of Labour as a bourgeois workers’ party – that is, a party with a pro-capitalist leadership, inextricably and structurally integrated into the state, and a membership, historically and organically, linked to the organised working class through the affiliated trade unions. Consequently, as Labour’s history shows, the wider class struggle in society finds expression and is played out within the party, albeit often in a refracted and distorted form.

Like Blair, Starmer could succeed in driving large numbers of socialists out of the party and cowing the rump that remains into submission. However, Starmer is not operating in a period of relative stability, as Blair did in the 1990s. The economic and political crises of the early 2020s have an altogether different character, which hardly favours Starmer’s style of politics: ‘steady as she goes’ and reformism without reforms are hardly attractive options for working class voters in a period of declining living standards and mass unemployment. Furthermore, Labour’s (temporary?) extinction as a serious party in Scotland and the historical decline of social democracy and workers’ parties in other European states serves as a warning – for both the Labour right and the official left – that Labour’s position as a major party is by no means guaranteed.

The fundamental problem this poses for the official Labour left is that its politics – no matter how ‘left’ they appear – are thoroughly rooted in a parliamentary road to ‘socialism’ and thus can only function within the ideological framework of Labourism and through the structures of the Labour Party. This organic relationship explains the Labour left’s constant appeals for party unity, their affronted and genuine sense of outrage when their loyalty is questioned and the pathetic characterisation of Starmer’s witch-hunt as mere “factionalism”! Even if Labour disappeared from the scene in its current form, the politics of the official left, as the history of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and other attempts to establish an alternative to Labour have shown, would simply recreate Labourism in another incarnation.

Alternative party?

However, for many on the Labour left the witch-hunt has called into question their place in the party and the future of their politics. This has produced an increasing debate about whether Labour is now dead and whether it has any future role at all in the struggle for socialism.

An example of these discussions will be an important online conference hosted by the Labour Left Alliance on January 30. During this debate, supporters of Labour Party Marxists will argue that Labour still retains its character as a bourgeois workers’ party and, despite Starmer’s campaign to purge the left, remains a site of struggle for socialists. Our demand for the refounding of Labour as a real party of the working class – a united front of socialist and labour movement organisations – is a recognition of the place Labour occupies in both historical and contemporary terms in British working class politics.

At the present moment many of the comrades on the Labour left who are calling for new organisations or a new party advocate either a Labour Party mark two – committed to a more left Labourism and the utopian parliamentary road to socialism – or various forms of broad party with a soft-left programme, modelled on such failed experiments as Syriza or Podemos. While LPM agrees that the witch-hunt and the resulting crisis of the Labour left poses key questions about the type of programme and the type of party our class needs, we reject both approaches.

Many comrades in the LLA frequently claim that they are Marxists who stand for socialist revolution. They should openly and unashamedly declare it by supporting the LPM’s argument that objective conditions demand the creation of a working class party that, in coming to power, breaks up the state and begins the transition to communism. Drawing on the best traditions and historical experience of Marxism internationally, such a party would organise the working class on a clear, principled programme and would operate according to the principles of full democracy, freedom of criticism and unity in action. Such a party is not only required in Britain – it is required in every country. Socialism is internationalist or it is nothing.

So, looked at in this way, although the struggle in the Labour Party is important and a battle in which we must play our full part, for Marxists it is the fight for a revolutionary programme and a revolutionary party which remains our central goal.

Labour Left | Flight or fight?

A recent NEC vote shows that the official left is prepared to join in the witch-hunt, reports James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists

As the toll of suspensions and expulsions in Labour’s civil war continues to mount, leftwing members in Constituency Labour Parties are increasingly asking: where are our leaders? When are they going to lead a fightback? Although the official left are keeping very quiet, we know where they are, and it is miles away from the front line in the fight against the witch-hunt. Whilst many are simply keeping their heads down or meekly issuing apologies when threatened with suspension, others have gone even further and are siding with the Labour right.

The most egregious example of this betrayal was the December 7 meeting of Labour’s national executive committee, where the official left – including five Grassroots Voice supporters representing the CLPs – effectively supported the witch-hunt by voting to implement the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s proposals on Labour’s disciplinary procedures. These GV NEC members campaigned and drew support in the recent elections as opponents of the witch-hunt and defenders of the CLPs, but at the first serious test they collapsed before the Labour right, betraying their mandate and leaving their supporters defenceless before the purge.

This capitulation is even more outrageous when you consider that, in the days leading up to the NEC meeting, we had two further examples of what such a surrender would mean. In the last week Moshé Machover, a leading Jewish anti-Zionist, and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a key figure in Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), joined the growing ranks of socialists who have been purged during Starmer’s witch-hunt. Their crime? Moshé’s long-standing argument that anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism was deemed a ‘thought crime’ by Labour officials, while Naomi’s heinous offence was to speak out at an online CLP meeting against the accelerating purge of the left! The pace of the attack on the left is now so fast that it really is a case of ‘another day, another round of suspensions’.

This NEC vote is a serious setback, which will widen the scope of the witch-hunt and further restrict free speech and party democracy. However, it is just the latest episode in a long line of retreats, which has demoralised and disorganised the Labour left and sabotaged the chance to mount an effective counterattack. Taken together, this abject surrender, along with the Labour bureaucracy’s relentless pressure on even the mildest opposition, reveals the fundamental crisis now facing the official Labour left.

The nature of this crisis is encapsulated in the current debate amongst many left activists about whether it is still possible to stay and fight in the Labour Party under present conditions. This argument began in earnest following Starmer’s election and has now intensified following the EHRC report and Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. In response, leftwingers in the CLPs and trade union branches tabled motions of protest, which were met with bureaucratic manoeuvres and attempts to shut down discussion. David Evans, the party’s general secretary, issued a series of edicts preventing internal debate on Corbyn’s suspension or any aspect of the EHRC report. These curbs on free speech were further extended to other political issues – even the most innocuous solidarity with the Palestinian people was ruled out of order in one London CLP.

Although over 80 CLPs managed to pass critical resolutions, in countless others local party officers and full-time regional officials successfully shut things down – in some case literally pulling the plug on Zoom meetings! It has become commonplace for CLPs to be threatened with disciplinary measures whilst in some cases officers who allowed critical motions to be discussed, such as in Bristol West CLP, have been suspended. The result is that some comrades on the Labour left are asking if calls for staying and fighting still hold water. Does the purge mean, they suggest, that Labour is dead, and we should now build a new working class party?

Keep your head down?

Let’s rehearse the arguments. In a recent article on Labour Hub, Mike Phipps of the Labour Representation Committee puts the case for the left keeping its head down and riding out the storm. Comparing Starmer’s purge with Blair’s New Labour counterrevolution, he argues that the left has indeed suffered a serious defeat, resulting in fragmentation, demoralisation and loss of membership. Agreed! But what does comrade Phipps propose? A vigorous defence of party democracy? A real counterattack against the witch-hunt? No, instead he advises us to

choose our battles carefully if we are going to survive and, more importantly, maintain our relevance with the broader membership. Failure to understand this will increase the danger of our marginalisation (original emphasis).

We have seen the fruits of this passive approach throughout the witch-hunt and witnessed this week how it culminates in GV supporters voting with the Labour right on the NEC. A case of ‘choosing your battles carefully’? No, this is a sure-fire recipe for defeat and disaster, not survival. We do not “maintain our relevance with the broader membership” by keeping quiet: to remain silent during this purge means we are really abandoning the fight and going over to the enemy on the Labour right.

This trajectory is inherent in Phipps’ quietist approach, because his political strategy is completely focused on the election of a Labour government. Along with the rest of the official Labour left, this belief in a parliamentary road to socialism absolutely requires party unity (with the right) and the preservation of the Labour Party at all costs as an instrument for ‘socialist transformation’. Leaving aside the historical experience of Labour governments and the failures of the Labour left throughout the last 120 years to transform the party into any kind of instrument for militant socialist politics, Phipps’ advice for the Labour left in 2020 amounts to no more than a reiteration of its traditional strategy, combined with desperate appeals to cling on to party membership at all costs. It is a very long way from the demand that the left should stay and fight.

We strongly agree that comrades should stay and fight: it is an absolute duty that they should not quit and abandon the party to the likes of Starmer and his ilk. However, staying and fighting, is only the beginning of the battle! Recent experience has shown that, if you speak up against the witch-hunt or challenge the leadership’s lies and slanders about anti-Semitism, you will be suspended or expelled. Thus, Starmer’s purge and the increasing collaboration of the official left in shutting down debate and undermining party democracy are making it increasingly difficult for principled left activists to continue to operate within Labour.

The result is that for those comrades – like the supporters of Socialist Appeal, who make the Labour Party the central feature of their strategy – this crisis really is existential. If the space for socialism and democracy within Labour is closed off, what alternative perspective is open to these comrades? Burrow down and hope for better days ahead, perhaps?

But if clinging on to your membership card at all costs is an inadequate and ultimately impossible strategy, then the alternatives offered by comrades who advocate setting up new broad left parties and formations outside Labour are equally flawed. To repeat, we recognise that principled left members will face suspension and expulsion when they stay and fight. However, leaving Labour during this witch-hunt is a moral gesture, not a serious strategy for socialists. If comrades leave the party, where are they going? What is seriously on offer? Behind the rumours and the vague ideas for a regroupment of the left, two possible formations are frequently suggested: a Labour Party mark two, and a ’broad front’ modelled on Syriza or Podemos.

In the form of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, a Labour Party mark two is advocated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales and, since Corbynism’s defeat, is now being revived as an electoral front. Although former Labour MP Chris Williamson has recently joined Tusc, given its record of very modest success to date and its limited programme of economistic left reformism, it seems unlikely to be the future vehicle for militant socialist politics. As Labour Party Marxists has frequently argued throughout this crisis, sub-reformism of this Labour Party mark two type simply reinvents all the political weaknesses and strategic dead ends offered by the historical Labour Party mark one! It is a trap and a route to futility and disillusionment.

Despite the allure of the idea of the broad left front as an alternative to Labour, the experience of Syriza and Podemos does not augur well. Their record in government in Greece and Spain shows the real nature of the politics behind their radical phraseology. Their trajectory from ‘anti-establishment outsiders’ to parties of coalition follows a familiar reformist pattern, which comrades who claim to be revolutionary socialists should flatly reject as any kind of model. In a similar vein, nearer to home, the history of left regroupments in Britain over the last 30 years points to a similar pattern of failure to build a credible revolutionary party that offers a real challenge to capitalism. The history of the stillborn parties that emerged after 1990 is hardly inspiring; do the experiences of the Socialist Labour Party, Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity really offer us any party models or examples of a coherent political strategy that we can adopt today?

The witch-hunt has exposed fundamental flaws and fault lines in the politics of the Labour left. As the NEC vote shows, the leadership of the official left shares much in common with the right, leaving many of their supporters in the CLPs and the trade unions demoralised and uncertain of how best to fight back. These comrades are looking for a strategy to advance socialist politics. Stay and fight is the first step: we must not lightly surrender the Labour Party battlefield to the enemy. But it is only the first step: the current existential crisis poses much more fundamental questions for the Labour left about the Marxist programme and the type of party that we need if we are to carry out our movement’s historical commitment to the socialist transformation of society.

Refound Labour as a real party of labour

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