Category Archives: The left

Eighteen theses on Labour

Disputation on the self-defeating common sense of governmentalism and the illusions of broad left alternatives

1. The December 2019 general election defeat and Sir Keir Starmer’s subsequent leadership victory shows the bankruptcy of the reformist strategy for socialism. With Jeremy Corbyn they had their ideal leader, with John McDonnell they had their ideal shadow chancellor, with It’s time for real change they had their ideal manifesto.

2. Labour’s poor performance in 2019 is not only explained by ‘getting Brexit done’. Jeremy Corbyn faced unremitting hostility from the mainstream media, which did everything it could to feed and promote the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. But to have expected anything else would have been naive. The mainstream media “carry out a system-supportive propaganda function” (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky). In the absence of a full-spectrum mass media in the hands of the labour movement, Corbyn was forced to undergo trial by the bourgeois establishment’s papers and journals, radio and TV stations, and news and blog sites. He was never going to win.

3. A Corbyn-led government was not a prospect that the ruling class was prepared to countenance. Economically, they deemed its programme grossly irresponsible. It could, they feared, trigger a crisis of expectations. More than that, they considered Corbyn and his close allies totally unreliable when it came to international politics. So, if by some fluke a Corbyn-led government had taken office, their response would have been such tactics as an organised run on the pound, wrecking operations by the Parliamentary Labour Party right, MI5 subversion, an army mutiny, US ‘pushback’, a royal-blessed coup, etc.

4. While the chances of a Corbyn-led government were always exceedingly remote, that cannot be said of the possibility of making changes to the Labour Party’s rules and structures. Yet, whereas Tony Blair carried out a (counter) revolution, all that Corbyn managed to achieve were a few tinkering reforms. That need not have been the case. With a more determined, more politically clear-sighted left, there really could have been a revolution in the party.

6. However, the left is politically weak. Too often it was determined to simply tail Corbyn, while Corbyn was determined to maintain unity with the openly pro-capitalist right in the PLP. That meant dropping open selection of parliamentary candidates, leaving Blair’s clause four untouched and refusing to confront and call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign.

7. Corbyn did not protest, even as friend after friend, ally after ally, was thrown to the wolves. Instead of taking the fight to the Zionist forces, such as Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion), and championing the Palestinian cause through promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, on his watch there was a concerted drive to increase the number of expulsions and suspensions. The Corbyn-Formby regime itself became an agent of the witch-hunt. To even deny that Labour has a real, a significant, a widespread problem with anti-Semitism became a disciplinary offence in its own right.

8. Not surprisingly, with the December 2019 general election defeat, many disorientated former Corbyn supporters variously concluded that: there needs to be a safe, acceptable, suitably centrist Labour Party that can ‘rewin the trust’ of the so-called Jewish community; that Labour can never be changed; that the fight for radical social change lies not in permanent political organisation, but in ephemeral street protests, economic strikes, tenant campaigns; etc.

9. Also not surprisingly, Starmer – former member of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency and editor of Socialist Alternatives – stood for leader promising to remain fully committed to It’s time for real change. A cynical lie designed to pull wool over gullible eyes. Apart from getting himself into No10, he has no master plan nowadays. The latest round of the witch-hunt under Starmer owes nothing to defeating, finally seeing-off the left, that is for sure. With Corbyn gone, Rebecca Long-Bailey soundly beaten, David Evans as general secretary, a rightwing NEC majority, the PLP overwhelmingly dominated by the right and the three big union affiliates, GMB, Unite and Unison, unlikely to rock the boat, he has a controlling grip on the Labour Party.

10. No less to the point, the left in the CLPs is much reduced and organisations such as the Socialist Campaign Group, Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy are cowardly and display not the least appetite for a concerted fightback. Self-serving careerism counts for far more than the principle of solidarity: there is, for example, still a steadfast refusal to call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie.

11. No, the suspensions and expulsions under Starmer are a matter of display. He wants to prove to the capitalist media, big business, the City, the establishment, the armed forces and the US state department that, as prime minister, he would be trustworthy, utterly loyal to the constitution, the UK state and its international alliances. That is why Starmer promises to “uproot” anti-Semitism, why Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended from the PLP, why Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Labour in Exile Network, Resist and Socialist Appeal have been banned and why Ken Loach was auto-expelled.

12. The failures, the cowardice, the treachery, the constantly repeated pattern of the official Labour left becoming the official Labour right has to be explained in materialist terms. It cannot be put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The Labour left is still the natural home for many trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to radical social change. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of government also makes the official Labour left a breeding ground for careerists, who, often 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.

13. Both the official Labour left and the official Labour right share a ‘common sense’ that politics are about winning elections. Therefore, policies are limited to what can be ‘sold’ to the electorate. But it is the mainstream capitalist media that, ultimately, decides what is to be regarded as sensible and what is to be dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that gets 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, and impose bureaucratic limits and measures to sideline awkward minorities. The official Labour left behaves in exactly the same anti-democratic manner.

14. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is certainly not a “true mass organisation of the working class”. Doubtless, although it is down by a hundred thousand, Labour still has a mass membership and relies on trade union money and working class voters. But, in the last analysis, what decides the class character of a political party is its leadership and its programme.

15. The election of Corbyn did not produce fundamental change here. Neither For the many, not the few (2017) nor It’s time for real change (2019) questioned the monarchical constitution, the standing army, judge-made law or the US-dominated international order, let alone 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 has its place in capitalism’s many defensive moats, ramparts and walls.

16. 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.

17. However, this positive perspective for Labour can only be realised through the struggle to unite the left inside and outside the Labour Party – but not into a broad front based on soggy, middle-ground compromises, like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Left Unity, Respect or the Socialist Alliance. Sadly, all these have been wasted opportunities. No, we need to unite in building a mass Marxist party – a party that applies to affiliate to Labour, but can operate within the party despite bans and proscriptions.

18. Without a mass Marxist party, the left is doomed to suffer one Sisyphean defeat after another.

Chatham House ‘left’

Who stands for what and who says what – such basic information should not be treated as the private property of a select few. Derek James calls for openness

After over a year of ‘political lockdown’ following Labour’s general election defeat in 2019, the election of Keir Starmer as Labour leader and the continuing witch-hunt, the Labour left now stands at something of a crossroads. The ‘official left’, in the form of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the left trade union officials, have largely kept their heads down, hoping perhaps for better days ahead. Wishful thinking!

The defeat of the Corbyn movement and the ascendancy of the Labour right has only produced demoralisation and disintegration on the Labour left. Leaving aside the expulsions and suspensions, thousands have left the party, either going into ‘activist campaigns’, such as ‘Kill the Bill’, or dropping out of politics altogether.

Groups that were established to organise the left in the Constituency Labour Parties and trade unions, such as the Labour Left Alliance, have also suffered from the same process of disorientation. In a series of online conferences, rallies and meetings since March 2020, comrades have come together to discuss how we might rally the Labour left and carry the fight to the right, but all that seems to have happened is a proliferation of networks and campaigns that have not gone very far.

It was in this light that the LLA’s organising group (OG) met on Saturday April 24, with ‘left unity’ high on its agenda. In particular, members of the OG were eagerly anticipating a report about recent developments and the news (first heard in March) that sections of the organised left in the party and trade unions had been meeting to discuss a strategy to reorientate and rebuild after the defeats we have suffered. From the start we in Labour Party Marxists had warmly welcomed these discussions and fully supported the participation of the LLA in any such initiative, especially if it aimed to develop a common left slate for future national executive committee and other internal party elections.

However, our hopes that this initiative might actually be based on the adoption of a serious and principled politics were dashed. The report from the LLA representatives who had attended the meetings and the discussion on the OG showed just how far away this ‘left unity’ project really is from such politics and – what was worse – how far the majority of the LLA leadership were willing to go along with it.

Everything that was reported back to the OG showed that this initiative, far from being a new beginning, is completely suffused with the restrictive political culture and bureaucratic methods of the official left. The meetings take place using the so-called ‘Chatham House rule’, which means that there can be no reporting of who attended and who said what.

Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is, of course, a bourgeois think tank that provides a platform for political insiders to express themselves with what for them amounts to a rare honesty. Current presidents are Baroness Manningham-Buller (former MI5 director), Lord Darling of Roulanish (former Labour chancellor) and Sir John Major (former Tory prime minister). The so-called Chatham House rule was adopted in 1927, and states: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held … participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

LLA officers seem to have taken this to the point where the “information received” is itself to be guarded. Even the LLA’s own discussion on the left unity meetings finds itself going unmentioned in the OG’s official minutes. Unbelievable! Why the secrecy? Concealing political participants, political differences and political proposals from rank-and-file scrutiny is par for the course for the bureaucrats and careerists, but what has the authentic left got to hide? Why can’t we know who has been attending the left unity meetings and learn what they said? Reports are circulating that Shami Chakrabarti has chaired meetings, with leading trade unionists from Unite, the Fire Brigades Union, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union and representatives from over 30 Labour left groups. The state and Keir Starmer certainly know who was there: why can’t the rank-and-file members of the labour movement know as well?

The Chatham House rule should have no place in the workers’ movement. The left must tell the truth to the working class: when it comes to politics we have nothing to hide; democracy requires knowledge and the open expression of differences, not privileged access to information, gagging orders and a secret inner-circle of unknown individuals. After all, knowledge is power. It enables everyone in a democratic organisation to understand what is going on, make judgements and take action on the basis of all the facts, not just what a select few wants to let us know.

The LLA was formed by leftwingers who rejected the control-freakery of Jon Lansman’s Momentum project. Yet now, by going along with the vow of silence imposed by the official left, the LLA leadership is effectively colluding in the same secretive politics and bureaucratic manoeuvring. This ‘left unity’ project is already repeating the deficiencies of the previous form of left unity it is meant to replace – the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA), in which a stultifying unity is imposed from the top and from which the politics of the militant left are excluded. In last year’s NEC elections, the LLA rejected that position: why retreat now, by falling in behind the official left, when the need to assert an authentic left position is all the greater?


The cause of unity must go hand-in-hand with principle: if we simply repeat the compromises and bureaucratic politics of the past, this can only produce yet more defeats for the left.1 The authentic left should not be content to merely act as spear-carriers or voting fodder for the official left, but should instead put forward principled conditions for its support during any discussions about joint actions. In this spirit, supporters of LPM presented a motion to the LLA’s OG. Amongst its key sections was this argument:

The slate should have a clearly defined, principled basis, which all candidates must sign up to. While the specific demands can be defined during the discussions, they should include elements such as the rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) misdefinition of anti-Semitism, and the re-admittance of comrades suspended or expelled during both the ‘first’ and ‘second’ waves of the witch-hunt, along with democratic demands, such as ‘a worker’s MP on a worker’s wage’ and the accountability of the Parliamentary Labour Party to the NEC and the party conference.

The motion also put forward a clear strategy that the LLA should adopt during any negotiations about a common slate. Bearing in mind the strong showing of candidates the LLA supported during the 2020 NEC elections, LPM asserted that the LLA should have a candidate on any common left slate in a winnable position, not just a token slot at the bottom of the list. The LLA should not just go along for the ride: as far as LPM was concerned, it should not be a case of ‘unity’ at any price – essentially a repeat of “the tried and failed politics of the past that resulted in unacceptable compromises and countless retreats by the official Labour left”, as our motion put it. It concluded with a clear, principled position that, if an agreement on these terms cannot be reached amongst the left, the LLA should stand its own slate of candidates on a principled platform.

In the discussion, the same tendencies to compromise quickly became apparent. Although there was no objection to the specific demands that the LPM argued should be “the clearly defined, principled basis which all candidates must sign up to”, setting “conditions for our support during these discussions” was too rigid and would tie the hands of the LLA leadership, should they be lucky enough to be offered a seat at the negotiating table. We had to be flexible and not impose demands, we were told. Furthermore, by being insistent at this early stage, ‘the red lines’ LPM demanded would alienate potential supporters.

In response to LPM comrades’ demands for a clear and principled position, supporters of the majority of the OG suggested that we were not serious about any negotiations for ‘left unity’ and that, if the LLA adopted the LPM motion, it might result in the LLA’s exclusion from any future meetings. All familiar stuff for comrades who have been around the Labour left for more than five minutes – except this time the arguments for taking things gently and not frightening the horses came not from careerist MPs or trade union bureaucrats, but from comrades in the LLA leadership, who think of themselves as principled, left militants! The amendment that watered down the LPM motion was carried by 8 votes to 5 (no abstentions), with the substantive, neutered motion being passed by 9 votes to 5, with one abstention. Needless to say, our LPM comrades voted against the motion.

It is clear that the LLA leadership will not be informing its supporters, or its affiliated organisations, about these secret negotiations. It seems happy to treat the Chatham House rule as a ‘superinjunction.’ LPM comes from a different tradition, the tradition of openness and gaining strength by seeking out the truth. As Lenin put it: “publicity is a sword that itself heals the wounds it makes”.2 We, therefore, expose all the shady manoeuvres on the Labour left – from the split that led to two similar monthly publications called Labour Briefing to Jon Lansman’s Momentum coup in October 2016.

This was an approach applied by our co-thinkers who founded The Leninist in 1981 and it is one that our political current has upheld in the various attempts to unite the left since the 1990s, such as the Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity.3 It is one that we shall continue to adhere to. We are obliged to inform the rank and file about what is going on behind their backs, and to arm them with the principled politics needed to build a militant, principled and well-informed left.

  3. For the article in The Leninist, see See also the Weekly Worker archive, and;↩︎

Focus on big questions

Tory commissioners should concentrate minds, writes Derek James of Labour Party Marxists

The announcement that Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, was appointing commissioners to oversee some of the functions of Liverpool city council had been expected since the arrest of directly elected city mayor Joe Anderson in December.1 Although no-one has actually been charged, Jenrick’s statement has only added to the sense of crisis in the city and further fuelled the as yet unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, bribery and witness intimidation that have continued to swirl around the local authority.2

It would be too easy to dismiss the current situation as simply parish pump politics of purely local interest, or a product of Liverpool exceptionalism that is of only fleeting interest beyond the city. However, the nature of the allegations made in the report and Jenrick’s attack on local democracy point to much more fundamental crises in both the Labour Party and the system of local government that go beyond political machinations or the supposed corruption of powerful individuals.

The ground had been well-laid in the run-up to the announcement and so all the actors had their script off pat. Jenrick led the charge when he suggested that the government-commissioned Caller Report painted a “deeply concerning picture of mismanagement” and revealed a “serious breakdown in governance” in Liverpool.3 The report apparently revealed, he said, that the council had “consistently failed to meet its statutory and managerial responsibilities, and that the pervasive culture appeared to be rule avoidance”.4 In a damning comment, which made all the headlines in the local media, Jenrick argued that the report showed that there was an “overall environment of intimidation, described as one in which the only way to survive was to do what was requested without asking too many questions or applying normal professional standards”.5

The most important part of the local government secretary’s statement was the government’s decision to send commissioners in to Liverpool to run “certain and limited functions” of the city’s council for the next three years, including overseeing an improvement plan. In three key council departments – highways, regeneration and property management – all executive functions will now be transferred to the government-appointed commissioners.6 Jenrick also proposed to reduce the number of city councillors from 90 and replace the current electoral cycle with a whole-council election every four years.7

Labour MPs played their supporting roles to perfection and fell over themselves in rushing to back up the government’s attack on local democracy in Liverpool. In the Commons we were treated to a master class of ‘responsible opposition’ at its best – in other words, the most abject, supine cooperation, as we have come to expect from Starmer’s Labour leadership. Thus the shadow communities and local government secretary, Steve Reed, declared:

Labour both here and our leadership at the city council accept this report in full … We support [Jenrick’s] intention to appoint commissioners, not at this stage to run the council, as he says, but to advise and support elected representatives in strengthening the council’s systems. This is a measured and appropriate response (my emphasis).

Echoing the government’s line, Reed added that the proposals were not, “as some would put it, a Tory takeover”, but were simply a measure to put erring Liverpool back on the straight and narrow: he reassured us that the government commissioners would “intervene directly only if the council’s elected leaders fail to implement their own improvement plan.”8

The response of other Labour MPs was not much better, as they joined in the attack and supported the imposition of the commissioners. Even the comments of left Liverpool MPs Dan Carden and Ian Byrne were respectfully muted, as they sought reassurances from the Tories that the Covid pandemic response and other vital local services would continue to be resourced and supported.9

No surprise

The acute embarrassment of a Labour leadership now presented with such an alleged scandal in Liverpool city council is almost understandable. Having spent the last year trying to prove their responsibility and respectability, along comes a good old-fashioned municipal corruption case, which unhelpfully reminds voters of the bad old days – and in a city that is synonymous with militant leftwing politics to boot!

As was only to be expected, the local opposition to Labour in Liverpool, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, have made hay during the current mayoral and local council election campaigns by blaming the crisis on a ‘big city boss’ political culture and offering themselves as the anti-corruption candidates who can finally clean up the city.10 The local media have also been playing up the chances of Stephen Yip, an independent mayoral candidate, whilst the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) also has a candidate in the field, who could take some votes away from Labour. Although the outcome of the election is, of course, uncertain, the fact that Labour may have a hard fight to hold on to the mayoralty shows the seriousness of the situation the party now faces in Liverpool.11

For many leftwingers in Liverpool the situation revealed in the Caller Report comes as no surprise. From the very beginning, the mayoral system was criticised as an anti-democratic and unaccountable concentration of power in the hands of a single individual and a small cabinet clique. The ‘political culture’ of intimidation and bullying, along with the opportunities for corruption and jobbery revealed in the report, are clearly always inherent in such a Bonapartist system.12 The potential to exploit contacts and contracts in regeneration and building projects for personal gain has always existed in local government. Whether in the small-town peculation in Mugsborough, satirised in The ragged-trousered philanthropists or in the real local government corruption revealed by the Poulson case in the 1970s, from Westminster to the smallest town hall, corruption and capitalism are inseparable throughout the political system.13

However, just as important as this systemic potential for financial corruption is the political corruption that it breeds – especially in the form of powerful and unaccountable local mayors. Our opposition to the imposition of the Tory commissioners on Liverpool and the defence of local democracy must be combined with a complete rejection of both the mayoral system and the political strategy of Labour rightists, such as Joe Anderson. His municipal strategy combined supposedly defending essential services through the politics of ‘the dented shield’ with ‘playing the system’ to make up for the budget cuts imposed by the Tory government’s austerity programme.14 This ‘new municipalism’ echoed Blair’s New Labour strategy and was based on a much-vaunted partnership between local government and capitalist developers, with the aim of encouraging private-sector investment and regeneration to both increase the local tax base and, through a convoluted form of trickle-down economics, improve the living standards of the city’s population.

It was, as Joe Anderson liked to boast in response to his critics, “the only game in town”.15 Now that Robert Jenrick has called time on that particular game and as the labour movement starts to mobilise against his attacks, the question goes beyond protest and opposition. We must think about the type of politics and strategy we need, if we are going to fight back in Liverpool and elsewhere. The experience of Liverpool city council and its fight with the Tories in the 1980s looms large amongst leftwingers in the city and for many comrades on the Labour left that type of municipal strategy and mass mobilisation remains the best way forward.

However, given the very different political and social context of the 2020s it is all too clear that we cannot simply wish such a movement into existence, so what strategy should the left now pursue in what are our very changed and straitened circumstances? At the moment the focus is on protest, but it will be these important issues of both local government and wider political strategy that inevitably come to the fore in the coming weeks, as the Liverpool labour movement’s campaign against the Tory commissioners starts to build up momentum.

  2. For the background to this story see ‘Abolish the mayors’ Weekly Worker January 21 and ‘Careerism on the Mersey’ Weekly Worker March 11.↩︎
  3. For full details of the findings see↩︎
  5. See, for example, front-page splash, ‘FAILED’, in Liverpool Echo March 25 2021. The story focussed on the allegations about the council’s toxic culture, climate of fear and wholesale neglect of the city’s interests.↩︎
  9. Ibid.↩︎
  13. R Tressell The ragged-trousered philanthropists London 2004. Obituary:↩︎

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.


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”.


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.


‘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.


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.

Stand up to witch-hunters

Those who fail to show solidarity should not be given solidarity, writes David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists

While Jeremy Corbyn was still Labour leader, there was much speculation on the left that, once the right had managed to remove him and recapture the party, we would see an abrupt end to the weaponisation of anti-Semitism. That was, of course, a campaign that saw the Labour left, and Corbyn supporters in particular, absurdly targeted as ‘anti-Semites’ and the party itself accused of having become ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.

Well, I think the events of last week might have knocked that one on the head. For those who have missed this story – relegated, of course, to the inside pages, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic – the latest ‘scandal’ occurred as a result of the April 29 online meeting of a new Labour left grouping called ‘Don’t Leave, Organise’, which was set up following the election of Keir Starmer as the party’s new (rightwing) leader.

Attended by over 500 people, the meeting was addressed by, amongst others, two Labour left MPs, Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy. As you might expect, their contributions focused on the recent leaked report, which revealed how the rightwing Labour bureaucracy under former general secretary Iain McNicol had not only deliberately worked to reduce the possibility of a Labour general election victory, but had sat on allegations of anti-Semitism in order to undermine Corbyn.

The big problem with this line involves the second allegation, which actually takes it as a given that there is indeed a serious problem with anti-Jewish prejudice within the party. In this way the soft Labour left, including our two MPs, has attempted to turn the tables. There is not only anti-Semitic racism: there is ‘institutional racism’ in general (both MPs are black, of course). Much discussion ensued about black self-organisation.

But they obviously had not reckoned on the presence of spies. A well orchestrated scandal followed. Its focus was not on what they (or anyone else) said at the meeting, but on the fact that among the dozen or so people called to speak from the audience there were two expelled Labour members: namely Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein. In case you have forgotten, both these comrades were originally suspended over allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ (despite the fact that both are Jewish!), but were eventually booted out over totally different charges – I will return to that below.

The next day, following well crafted denunciations from several Zionist groups, the story went live. The BBC version (April 30) was headlined: ‘Sir Keir Starmer is facing calls from Jewish groups to take further action over two MPs who addressed a meeting that included two expelled activists’. Of course, terms like ‘Jewish groups’ are used to imply that they speak on behalf of the ‘Jewish community’. In reality there is a strong anti-Zionist current among Jewish people. For example, one of the founding organisations of Don’t Leave, Organise is the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Labour (the others being the Labour Representation Committee and Red Labour, Red Britain).

So what did the Zionists allege? Well, the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed that the MPs had ‘shared a platform’ with the two expellees. According to BoD president Marie van der Zyl, “It is completely unacceptable that Labour MPs, and even ordinary members, should be sharing platforms with those that have been expelled from the party for anti-Semitism.”

Of course, the term, ‘share a platform’, usually refers only to an event’s official speakers, not to people in the audience. But that does not bother van der Zyl, of course (nor the fact that comrades Walker and Greenstein were not “expelled from the party for anti-Semitism”). She demanded that Keir Starmer take “swift and decisive action” against Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy in order to demonstrate that “this is a new era, rather than a false dawn” following his pledge after the leadership election to “tear out this poison by its roots”, as Labour had “failed the Jewish community on anti-Semitism”.

Then there was Euan Philipps of Labour Against Anti-Semitism, who said that Starmer should have given a “strong and unequivocal response” following this ‘outrage’ of the MPs addressing a meeting where a couple of expelled members were present. Starmer, he said, had instead “demonstrated a disappointing level of moral and political cowardice” in not removing the whip from them. For his part, Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said the Labour leader had shown that “his apologies are meaningless” because of his failure to take stronger action: “After half a decade of the Labour anti-Semitism crisis,” said Falter, “no MP should need ‘reminding’ not to engage with those expelled from the party over anti-Semitism.”

A Labour spokeswoman said Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy had been “reminded of their responsibilities” and had been spoken to “in the strongest possible terms”. After all, “The previous comments made by some of the individuals” attending the meeting had been “completely unacceptable”.


So how did the two respond? Disgracefully, they issued a grovelling statement which said: “The MPs were not aware that any suspended or expelled former members of the Labour Party might contribute as audience members. They did not and would not share a platform with them.”

This is appalling on so many levels. First, would you not expect that out of the 500-plus there would be all sorts of different people, some of whom might express views you totally disagreed with? Secondly, what is wrong with debating with such people – even if they had been expelled from Labour for legitimate reasons? Which brings me to my third, and most important, point: by taking this disgraceful stance Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy were placing themselves firmly in the camp of the witch-hunters and thus aiding the right, not to mention the anti-Labour establishment.

In fact neither Tony Greenstein nor Jackie Walker had done or said anything remotely anti-Semitic and the disciplinary action taken against them was completely unjustified. The initial moves against comrade Greenstein had seemed to centre – at least in terms of what was alleged publicly – on the fact that he had used the term ‘Zio’ as an abbreviation for ‘Zionist’ on social media. So shortening the word in this way completely changes its meaning, does it? Perhaps any such usage (like ‘bio’ or ‘eco’) is unacceptable.

Secondly, comrade Greenstein was also accused of describing the rightwing Labour MP, Louise Ellman, as an “apologist for Israel’s occupation forces” and a “supporter of Israeli child abuse” (the latter because she had praised the actions of Israeli soldiers, even though amongst those they had violently arrested were children). Ellman, of course, later resigned when faced with a no confidence motion in her Constituency Labour Party.

But comrade Greenstein was expelled in February 2018 – basically for ‘being rude’.

What were comrade Walker’s ‘crimes’? In 2016 she was suspended after a private email she had sent was “uncovered” by the Israel Advocacy Movement (the name says it all). In this she pointed out that Holocaust Remembrance Day focussed almost exclusively on Jewish victims of genocide. But what about the thousands of Africans who had been enslaved and died on the other side of the Atlantic? She had (rather clumsily) pointed to the fact that in the slave trade some Jews, far from being the victims, were in fact among the slave-owners. She wrote in the email: “… many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. She later said that what she had meant was: “Jews (my ancestors too) were among those who financed the sugar and slave trade.”

Eventually comrade Walker was reinstated, but was suspended again a few months later for comments she made at an “anti-Semitism training event” organised by the Jewish Labour Movement at the 2016 Labour conference. Not only did she say, “I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.” But she also queried the need for special security at Jewish schools. Presumably such remarks constitute “prejudicial and grossly detrimental behaviour against the party” – the ‘offence’ for which she was finally expelled in March 2019.

What was the stance of Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy in relation to such cases? Like Corbyn himself, they said and did nothing. After all, if you say that such disciplinary action is misplaced then you yourself might be targeted next. Better to go along with the action taken and pretend it was all justified. That was what they effectively did once again last week.

That is why we totally disagree with the headline above the statement issued by Labour Against the Witchhunt, which reads: “Solidarity with Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy” (although at least it adds: “and all those unjustly expelled!”). LAW failed to criticise ‘comrades’ Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy,’ despite their disgraceful statement issued two days earlier.

Solidarity means – if it means anything – unity, agreement, common action and mutual support. Calling for solidarity with scabs, turncoats and traitors is, to say the least, to foster illusions, to throw dust into the eyes of Labour members. We should defend Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy from any attempt to discipline, suspend or expel them. But their surrender, their cowardice, is inexcusable. And that needs saying.

While we are on the subject of solidarity, it is worth a brief comment on the May 2 ‘Statement on Salma Yaqoob’ issued by the Stop the War Coalition. Yaqoob is another Labour member facing an investigation following a complaint by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. That despite her long record of fighting racism and other forms of prejudice. The STWC states: “The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism demanded the exclusion from Labour of two black women MPs, Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, on the flimsy pretext that they addressed an online meeting which included expelled Labour Party members in the audience, not on the platform” (original emphasis).

But then it added: “Local STWC groups act autonomously in deciding their platforms, but we note that Tony Greenstein has never been asked to address a national STWC meeting. STWC rejects both anti-Semitism and abusive language in political debate.”

So, unlike Salma Yaqoob, comrade Greenstein was justifiably expelled, was he? That seems to be the implication.

Labour Left Alliance launch | Two roads

James Marshall argues that the Sheffield conference of the Labour left faces fundamental choices

The idea of establishing the Labour Left Alliance was first mooted last year. Why? Because of the obvious failure of Momentum. After Jon Lansman – sadly with the blessing of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – had carried out his anti-democratic coup, to all intents and purposes Momentum became the property – the plaything – of just one man.

Consequently, the left of the Labour Party has gropingly, hesitatingly, often falteringly, moved towards some kind of unity. The crucial question, of course, is what sort of unity?

The LLA boasts of having around two thousand signatures to its appeal and a growing list of affiliates and local branches. It is, of course, a work in progress. But it will be the Sheffield conference which will decide the basic character of the organisation. The agenda looks massively overloaded. Nonetheless, we must hope that sufficient time is allotted for serious debate. Without that we will probably get a sad repetition of past dead ends.

Essentially there are two models on offer vis-à-vis the aims and constitution. The first comes under the name of London LLA. It advocates a membership organisation and politics and structures befitting a left opposition in the Labour Party.

The other proposals come from Tees Valley Labour Left, Dulwich Labour Left, and the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt (and Sheffield Labour Left). Differences between Tees, Dulwich and LAW SC/Sheffield are secondary and, from our viewpoint, politically unimportant. They amount to variations on a lowest-common-denominator theme. Unsurprisingly all of them are politically conservative and organisationally mimic the elaborate structures of the Labour Party.

Without doubt, the approach advocated by London is far superior.

Politically it is unashamedly bold. London wants to commit the LLA to “working class rule” and a transition to a stateless, moneyless society based on the celebrated principle, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

London also recognises the necessity of breaking with capitalism and its ecologically destructive cycle of production for the sake of production. Note, the International Panel on Climate Change warns that we have no more than a couple of decades before the world’s ecosystem experiences a series of devastating “tipping points”.

Unfortunately, the London comrades fluffed one of Marx’s most famous …. and surely urgently relevant conclusions. Hence we have: “1.2. Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production or profit.”

There is no problem with opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism and militarism. It is the “ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production or profit” which constitutes the problem.

Theoretically this formulation is illiterate. Production for the sake of production and profit are split apart, treated separately, counterposed. For the philistine this might amount to just two short words. But that is really, really stupid. It is like saying there is nothing important separating the biblical command “thou shalt not commit adultery” and the command “thou shalt commit adultery”. Only a single word separates the two. But a world of difference.

Marx should be read seriously and treated seriously. In Capital he logically began by defining the commodity. It is a use-value which also has exchange-value. He then painstakingly develops the category of exchange-value and eventually arrives at the equivalent form. Gold becomes money, the universal equivalent. From here he shifts from the formula C-M-C and reverses it with what we know from everyday capitalism: M-C-M.

Yet from the viewpoint of the capitalist this makes no sense whatsoever. Why engage in the trials and tribulations of production, why take the risks of having to find a buyer, when you end up with the same amount of money that you started out with?

No, the capitalist aims to realise a profit: M-C-M’. The capitalist ends with more money than they start with. According to their whims and fancies, the capitalist spends that augmented money on all manner of ‘how to spend it’ luxuries.

However, capitalism consists of many capitals. Competition forces the individual to plough the vast bulk of their profits back into production. Making bigger and bigger profits becomes a necessity in its own right. Production becomes a compulsion, driving the capitalist endlessly forward.

Hence we arrive at this passage in chapter 24:

Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! … Therefore save, save, ie. reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical political economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth.

Making a profit appears perfectly rational. The worker goes to work in order to secure wages, so as to be able to secure the means of subsistence – food, clothing, housing, transport, etc. The capitalist lays out money to hire workers in order to make a profit, with which they are able to purchase luxury food, luxury clothing, luxury housing, luxury transport, etc. It would appear that all their material needs are more than satisfied.

Upon investigation, however, capitalism turns out to have an irrational rationale. Because of competition, the desire to make a profit becomes a necessity which, by its own logic, crashes through every social, every natural barrier. Workers are subject to constant and unremitting attack; their trade unions and political parties are controlled through numerous restrictive laws, neutered through corruption or simply overpowered using brute force.

Nature is pillaged, raped and used as a latrine. Ecological degradation is inevitable.

This has nothing to do with the evil intentions of individual capitalists. Capitalists prove not to be masters of their own system. No, they are merely personifications of capital. The system controls them. As such capitalists are subject to externally imposed laws of accumulation. They are compelled to accumulate for accumulation’s sake.

Clearly, therefore, the London formulation requires a little, but vital, cut.

Theoretically it only makes sense if it reads: “1.2. Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production.” Fortunately, a number of comrades have submitted an amendment to that effect.

That problem aside, London understands the necessity of linking the future we strive to achieve with the immediate programme needed to bring it about. The battle for democracy must be won. Abolish the monarchy, the standing army and the House of Lords. Establish a single-chamber parliament and disestablish the Church of England. In the same spirit of extreme democracy London calls for proportional representation and annual elections (one of the central demands of the Chartist movement). In short, the “democratic republic”.

London is no less bold when it comes to the Labour Party. Conference must be sovereign. Labour MPs should no longer be self-serving career politicians. Towards that end, they must only take the average skilled workers’ wage. A principle enshrined by the 1871 Paris Commune. LLA must oppose the very idea of career politicians. Nor must LLA itself become a vehicle for aspiring career politicians. A real and present danger.

Moreover, MPs must be subject to automatic reselection. The Parliamentary Labour Party must be brought to heel. Subordinate the PLP to the national executive committee.

London not only envisages fighting for all pro-working class organisations to affiliate to the Labour Party: trade unions, political groups and campaigning organisations. The symbolic importance of equipping the Labour Party with a new clause four is also fully appreciated. Not, it should be emphasised, an attempt to raise, Lazarus-like, Sydney Webb’s Fabian clause four from its grave. Let it rot. No, instead, a clause four inspired by the teachings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Another excellent set of proposals from London: the LLA’s annual conference must be the source of all authority. It decides policy, it elects a leadership. It can also change policy. It can also change the leadership. True, London allows for trade union and other such affiliates to the LLA. But their role is strictly limited. The LLA is envisaged as a membership organisation firmly controlled by the membership.

No less relevant, the constitution presented by London is not prescriptive. What officers are needed, what they are expected to do, the setting of membership fees, how big branches should be before being given an official imprimatur – all such details are all left open-ended. Besides being clear, simple and easy to grasp, London’s proposals have the great virtue of being mercifully short (690 words).

Long and limited

By contrast, what is on offer from Tees (1,870 words), Dulwich (1,550 words) and LAW SC (1,245 words), is long-winded and already nearing its sell by date – eg, “opposes the witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn”. And Corbyn has had a dreadful record when it comes to the witch-hunt. Not only has he maintained a studied silence as his own comrades are thrown to the wolves. He has consistently sought to appease the witch-hunters.

The political aims are extraordinarily limited. There is opposition to austerity, the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign, etc. Good, but hardly a transformative vision about what society we aspire to achieve. Capitalism, the state, wage-labour go without mention and therefore, albeit by absence, they are taken for granted, treated as natural. Nor does global warming, the climate emergency, the danger of ecological disaster rate a mention. Critics might talk of climate-change denial. Unfair surely, but the comrades are undoubtedly suffering from tunnel vision.

When it comes to the Labour Party itself, perspectives are no less limited. There is the call for democracy. Once again, however, the lack of vision is obvious. Eg, this formulation: LLA “both supports a left leadership against attacks by the right, and is independent and able to criticise our left wing leaders when necessary.”

“When necessary”! LLA must not content itself with the illusory programme of running capitalism in the interests of the working class. In effect that amounts to sub-reformism, in other words common or garden social liberalism. Yet that is exactly what “our left wing leaders” – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Rebecca Long Bailey – have been advocating. For them the rule of the working class, the abolition of wage-slavery, a moneyless, stateless society, based on need, are foreign territory.

The LAW SC proposal – like those of Tees and Dulwich – in effect mirrors the Labour Party apparatus and its organisational fetishes. Inappropriate and totally myopic. Why should a left opposition in the Labour Party copy the elaborate federal structures, intricate rules, bureaucratic checks and balances and accept the ideological boundaries set by the contemporary Labour Party? Frankly though, this is the habitual approach of too much of the British left. It reveals an internalisation of the attitudes, assumptions and interests of the labour and trade union bureaucracy.

We must explain this constantly repeated pattern of behaviour in materialist terms. It cannot be put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is a bourgeois workers’ party. The Labour left is the natural home for 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 Labour left is also a breeding ground for careerists who, slowly or swiftly, evolve to the right.

Common sense easily becomes that politics are about winning elections. Policies are put forward because they can be ‘sold’ to the electorate. Ultimately it is, of course, the press, the 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 debate has to be restricted, bureaucratic controls imposed and awkward minorities sidelined or otherwise silenced.

Worryingly then, LAW SC insists that groups can only affiliate if they are “broad left” or represent “special interests”. Code for excluding what we might call ‘far left’ organisations. Tees LLA is explicit: members of “other socialist political parties” should be barred. Do we really want to impose our own version of the 1920s anti-communist bans and proscriptions? Dulwich even proposes a “conduct and compliance unit”. No, no, no. By contrast, London wants all good communists and socialists to join the Labour Party … and the LLA.

LAW’s proposals can be taken as the main object of criticism. Tees and Dulwich are just longer, more complex, variations on the same dismal theme.

To all intents and purposes LAW’s steering committee wants to see LLA as a two-tier, two-chamber organisation. Conference can pass whatever resolutions it wants. Meanwhile the organising committee – made up of delegates from all manner of local branches and political and trade union affiliates, does the actual business … and goes its own way. A recipe for confusion, conflict and failure.

In other words, conference is to be a talking shop. LAW proposes a cabinet, but one neither elected nor accountable to parliament (conference). London proposes no bifurcation, no split in the lines of authority. Conference must be sovereign l

The one to back

London LLA’s constitution provides the solid foundations we need. Apart from the silly formulation “or profit” in 1.2, it is theoretically sound, politically ambitious, concise and untainted by the pernicious politics of witch-hunting. Fortunately amendments have been submitted correcting the error. We urge delegates to reject attempts to composite, obscure and fudge. Compare the London proposal to those presented by the LAW steering committee, Tees and Dulwich. It is clear which one is the best

  1. Our aims and principles
    1. The Labour Left Alliance brings together organisations, groups and individuals with a view to pursuing these aims.
    2. Opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism, militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet through the ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production or profit.
    3. The replacement of Labour’s existing clause four with a commitment to socialism as the rule of the working class. We envisage a democratically planned economy and moving towards a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. Alone such benign conditions create the possibility of every individual fully realising their innate potentialities.
    4. Towards that end Labour should commit itself to achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single-chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections. Labour needs to win the active backing of the majority of people and should seek to form a government only on this basis.
    5. We seek to achieve the full democratisation of the Labour Party. All MPs, MEPs and MSPs should be subject to automatic reselection. All elected Labour Party members should be expected to take no more than the average skilled worker’s wage. The Parliamentary Labour Party should be subordinated to the National Executive Committee.
    6. We support Labour as the federal party of the working class. All trade unions, cooperatives, socialist societies and leftwing groups and parties should be brought together in the Labour Party. Unity brings strength.
    7. We shall work with others internationally in pursuit of the aim of replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism.
  2. Structure
    1. The Labour Left Alliance is a membership organisation. Members are required to accept our political aims and principles and pay an annual fee (to be set by the Organising Group).
    2. We believe in the free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints. But, once the LLA has agreed a particular action, we seek to achieve the maximum unity. That cannot be imposed – it has to be won.
    3. We expect all LLA members to be in the Labour Party and encourage all those not already involved in local Labour Left groups to become active in one or help set one up. Our aim is to organise all members in local and regional LLA groups and branches. We also welcome, on all levels of the organisation, those who have been suspended or expelled as part of the witch-hunt against the left.
    4. LLA conference meets at least once a year. Conference will consist of either individual members or delegates (at a ratio to be decided by the Organising Group). Conference debates aims and principles, agrees political strategy, votes on motions and elects a leadership.
    5. If 30% of affiliated groups and branches or 30% of individual members so wish, there will be a special conference.
    6. Affiliated groups, LLA branches or any 10 LLA members can submit one motion and one amendment to conference.
  3. Organising Group
    1. The OG functions as the leadership of the LLA. The OG is elected at conference. Conference decides on the size and functions of the OG.
    2. The OG elects its own officers on the basis of immediate recallability. The OG can coopt members, given particular needs. While coopted members shall have speaking rights, they will have no voting rights.
    3. The OG should meet at least quarterly, in a face-to-face or an online meeting. It can also make decisions via email or other agreed communication channels by a simple majority of those voting within a given timeframe. It produces regular minutes/reports to LLA supporters. If possible, meetings should be scheduled well in advance (at least one month).
    4. The OG decides on the level of affiliation fees for groups and organisations and needs to approve all requests for affiliation.
    5. All decisions at all levels are made by a simple majority of those voting (excluding abstentions).
    6. The OG can set up working groups and sub-committees on any particular subject.

Between a rock and a hard place

The candidates in the Labour leadership election reflect the self-inflicted defeat of the Labour left under Corbyn’s leadership, argues Carla Roberts

Six candidates have thrown their hat into the ring to become the next leader of the Labour Party, but we can safely presume that, in the end, it will be either Keir Starmer or Rebecca Long-Bailey. Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry could well drop out, whereas Lisa Nandy may not even make it onto the ballot paper. Jess Phillips might have been the popular go-to person for the anti-Corbyn press looking for a nasty quote. But coming out, all guns blazing, in favour of ignoring the result of the Brexit referendum has ensured that most of the media have now turned against her. And she has no chance with the membership anyway. Barry Gardiner briefly “considered” throwing his hat into the ring, and we will have to see how he is positioning himself politically. While he was better on the anti-Semitism smear campaign than most MPs, he is also a member of Labour Friends of Israel and voted for the Iraq war.

Before we start, we should point out how poor all these candidates are. All of them are way to the right of what Jeremy Corbyn stood for in 2015. While Corbyn was a symbol of the victory of the left against all the odds, the current candidates, including Rebecca Long- Bailey, are the living embodiment of the defeat the left has now suffered.

The real sense of hope that hundreds of thousands of people felt after the 2015 election of Corbyn has all but evaporated – for now. By not standing up to the right, by appeasing them over and over again, Corbyn and the rest of the leadership helped to decimate and, crucially, depoliticise and demobilise the left in the party. Instructing Len McCluskey to use his Unite contingent at the 2018 Labour conference to vote against the democratic demand for mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates was, perhaps, the most vivid example of Corbyn’s political climbdown. But it was his decision not to tackle the ongoing anti-Semitism smear campaign which really damaged the left in the party. He stood silently by as one supporter after another was sacrificed – all in the vain hope that at some point, surely, enough concessions would have been made to stop the attacks. Needless to say, the opposite happened: for every step back by Corbyn and his allies, the right took two steps forward.

Eye on the prize

This was all justified by the need to ‘keep our eyes on the prize’ – ie, finally getting the keys to No10 Downing Street. We might have to sacrifice this or that political principle and we might have to pretend that anti-Semitism is a huge problem in the party – but at least we can convince enough rightwingers to stick with us. Then, once we’re in government, we can finally show what we’re really about.

That has been the recipe not just of Corbyn, John McDonnell and their inner circle – it is the long-standing ‘strategy’ of much of the organised Labour left: Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Socialist Action have been the most blatant in applying this method, which the Labour Representation Committee and much of the rest of the Labour left are also guilty of, albeit to a lesser degree.

We have now seen where this recipe leads – to disaster. From this reformist perspective, we had the perfect leader with the nearperfect social democratic programme – and we still did not make it into government! And no, it wasn’t just Brexit wot did it. The fact that the leadership never stood up to the right in and outside the party meant that the entire established media were able to portray Corbyn and the bulk of the party as a bunch of deranged anti-Semites, racists and crazies. And it stuck – of course it did.

Unfortunately, Chris Williamson was the only MP who stood up against the witch-hunt and campaigned for the democratisation of the party. And we know how that ended for him. Every other Labour MP kept their mouth firmly shut. That includes Richard Burgon, who is running for deputy leader and is probably the best of the whole bunch of candidates. Like Ian Lavery, who briefly considered running for the top job, Burgon at least did not actively participate in the witch-hunt against Corbyn and the left – which is more than can be said of the six candidates for party leader.

That is probably one of the main reasons why Lavery could not gather the required 21 nominations from his fellow MPs. We fear that Burgon – despite, or maybe because of, his endorsement by John McDonnell – will also fail to jump that hurdle.

There is a massive pressure and temptation now to move the party to the right in order to finally become ‘electable’ again. This would, however, mean that we had learnt nothing from the last five years. In truth, the party hardly moved left at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of new members joined since 2015. But most of them never participated in their local branch or CLP meetings. And, when they did, they were understandably shocked by how bureaucratic, dull and apolitical meetings are. Almost no structural democratic changes have taken place under Corbyn – he did not even dare to touch the now pro-capitalist clause four, which was rewritten by Tony Blair. The so-called Corbyn Review was nothing but a damp squib.

But these are exactly the issues that should be at the heart of our struggle: the democratisation of the party; restoring power to the members and making conference truly sovereign; and we should even discuss getting rid of the position of leader altogether. Instead, the party should have a truly democratic, accountable and transparent leadership. Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if we could see minutes of national executive committee meetings?

Empowering the members is part and parcel of fighting for a genuine socialist government and working class power – not pursuing a strategy of trying to introduce socialism from above, one step at a time. The biggest problem with this strategy is simple: it does not actually work. Real socialism is the self-liberation of the working class, from below. Otherwise it quickly turns into its opposite.

What a set of candidates

Keir Starmer, the preferred candidate of the ‘moderates’ and Blairites, is posing, somewhat entertainingly, as the Corbyn continuity candidate, in a rather obvious attempt to attract some of the softer lefties. He says he supported the miners in 1984-85 (not many miners remember that one) and even used to be a Trot once. In 1986- 87 he wrote for the short-lived Socialist Alternatives magazine, mainly on trade union matters. Despite its affinity to the Pabloite tactic of deep entryism into mass Labour and communist parties (in anticipation of World War III), the basic character of the journal was closer to the reformism and the identity politics of the Eurocommunists. But have no doubt: this man is today’s Tony Blair.

No doubt, most of the organised left will come out for Rebecca Long-Bailey – bar, perhaps the wretched Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – who, we hear, are even considering support for Keir Starmer (though remainer Clive Lewis is no doubt on the AWL list too). But it is palpable how very little enthusiasm there has been for RLB among the party membership, despite her having been groomed for the position by John McDonnell and Momentum owner Jon Lansman for the last two years. It is easy to see why there is so much hesitation and scepticism about her: she has made a huge effort to distance herself from the left and to be seen as anything but the Corbyn continuity candidate.

There was her underwhelming article in The Guardian on December 29, in which she promised to pursue a policy of “progressive patriotism”. Presumably that was supposed to show that she will not be a US ‘special relationship’ puppet. But in the process she had to resort, rather pathetically, to claiming that the internationalism of the Lancashire cotton workers during the US civil war – the second revolution – was exactly the opposite. A rather entertaining article on The Struggle blog puts her right:

the boycott of southern cotton was not ‘patriotism’, but an act of internationalist working class solidarity with the workers in the northern states and the slaves held in chains in the south. To dress this up in a Union Jack is to disgrace the sacrifice – all too literal – of the Lancashire mill workers.

Then there is her promise that she would be prepared to press the nuclear button, albeit reluctantly: “If you have a deterrent, you have to be prepared to use it,” she told the BBC. “Any leader and any prime minister has to be clear that the security and the protection of the people that they represent comes first, above all else, and they would do anything it takes to ensure the people of this country are protected.”

Or you could, you know, campaign for nuclear disarmament. It used to be very popular on the Labour left to oppose the nuclear obliteration of large sections of humanity. Jeremy Corbyn was admittedly ‘hazy’ on the question and refused to continue to campaign for the abolition of Trident once he became leader. But he never went as far as to say that he would actually use nuclear weapons.

We are also less than impressed with RBL’s running mate – and flatmate – Angela Rayner. They seem to want to recreate the ‘dream team’ of Neil Kinnock and his deputy, Roy Hattersley, which ostensibly was supposed to unite the left and the ‘centre’ of the party – and, of course, ended with Kinnock turning against the left, expelling the Militant faction, etc. The civil war of the last five years has shown clearly that there cannot be any ‘unity’ with the right.

Worst of all though is RLB’s political weakness, when it comes to the witch- hunt in the party. In June 2019, she met with the vile witch-hunter, Stephane Savary of the so called Jewish Labour Movement, and agreed with the JLM that Chris Williamson should be expelled from the party.

She also agreed that anti-Semitism complaints should be handled by an “independent body”. That sounds ever so ‘progressive’, but is actually an absolutely disastrous suggestion. Who should decide if a Labour Party member should be expelled, suspended or otherwise disciplined? The Jewish Labour Movement, perhaps? Or the Jewish Leadership Council, made up chiefly of Tory supporters? Of course not. Members should be judged by their peers. It is an ongoing injustice that employees of the party, chiefly recruited by witch-hunter general Iain McNicol, are dealing with complaints and preparing disciplinary reports – reports which are then briefly discussed by the disciplinary panel of the NEC, often in less than five minutes per case. The legal and governance unit – formerly the compliance unit – should be abolished and replaced by an accountable body democratically elected by Labour members.

After that meeting, she tweeted that “any comments made by anyone linked to the Canary or any other publication, which are anti-Semitic, or perceived to be – I condemn” – exactly the line that the JLM has been pushing for years: if they perceive a comment to be anti-Semitic, then that’s what it is! Any kind of rational definition would go out of the window. A rule change along those lines was quite rightly rejected by the NEC, and then by conference, in 2018.

Left pressure

And RLB is hardly an experienced militant. In 2015, for example, having just been elected an MP, she had to ask a Zionist audience what the BDS movement was.

This makes it all the more important that the Labour left finally gets its act together and starts to put some real pressure from the left on the leadership. The only pressure in the last five years has come from the right – and it has showed. Uncritical support for RLB is even more misplaced and dangerous than the messiah cult we witnessed around Corbyn.

This leadership battle presents the left with an excellent opportunity to do so. Rebecca Long-Bailey has already ‘tweaked’ her campaign quite a bit since her Guardian article, perhaps recognising that members have been less than impressed with it.

Earlier this week, she declared on ITV News that she “would give Corbyn 10 out 10, because I respect him and I supported him all the way through”. Corbyn, incidentally, has “declined” to say how he will be voting in the leadership contest.1)Daily Telegraph January 8 We suspect that has more to do with his ongoing efforts to try and appear neutral than any political problem he might have with RLB.

In her official election platform, published in The Tribune on January 6, she discusses how the party “has been too close to the establishment we are meant to be taking on, whether cosying up to Rupert Murdoch or joining forces with David Cameron in the Better Together campaign in 2014”.

She also discusses the democratic deficit in today’s society and that “the people across these islands are sick of the British state’s distant and undemocratic institutions”. While discussing the need for “a vision for a new democracy”, she writes: “We must go to war with the political establishment, pledging a constitutional revolution that sweeps away the House of Lords, takes big money out of politics and radically shifts power away from Westminster.” Labour’s 2019 election programme talked, much more tamely, about ending “the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords in favour of Labour’s preferred option of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions.”

That might still be what RLB means, but it does show she can shift. So let’s try and shift her! Before CLPs start nominating her to become leader of the Labour Party, members could, for example, ask RLB some of the following questions, each of which goes to the heart of today’s civil war in the Labour Party:

  • Will you campaign for Labour to support the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign?
  • Will you campaign for Labour to fight for the abolition of Trident and for unilateral nuclear disarmament?
  • Will you campaign for the mandatory reselection of all parliamentary candidates and the further empowerment of Labour members?
  • Will you issue an apology to Chris Williamson and ask him to rejoin the Labour Party?


1 Daily Telegraph January 8