Category Archives: Witch-hunts and expulsions

Selective justice is no justice

John McDonnell has rightly called for her reinstatement. But, asks Eddie Ford, what about all the many others wrongly accused of anti-Semitism?

By now everyone will be familiar with Frank Hester’s comments about Diane Abbott. The Tory mega-donor said (five years ago) that she made him “want to hate all black women and “she should be shot”. Presumably, his remarks were purely hyperbolic, not an instruction. Nevertheless, they were highly unpleasant, reeking of misogyny and racism, even if the man has apologised – laughably claiming that his comment had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”. Of course, there were demands that the Conservative Party return Hester’s £15 million donations, but that was never going to happen – maybe they have spent it already in a near doomed attempt to prevent Sir Keir becoming prime minister.

In response to Hester’s bile, which Abbott described as “frightening”, some have called for her to be reinstated to the Parliamentary Labour Party, being both the first black woman ever elected to parliament and the longest-serving black MP, getting re-elected in every general election since 1987. As readers will recall, she had the whip withdrawn almost a year ago after writing a stupid letter to The Observer, saying that, while “many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice … they are not all their lives subject to racism”, going on to cite Jews, Irish and traveller people (April 23).

While she appeared to treat today’s Romany gypsies and Irish travellers as just another type of white people, you can reasonably argue that in fact they are subject to overt racism by politicians, the media and the police – we are dealing with far more than mere prejudice. And by reducing racism to simply a question of skin colour, she was effectively proposing a hierarchy of racism, where being black trumps being Jewish or whatever, which is dumb.

Anyway, Abbott apologised for her comments, saying the letter was an initial draft sent by mistake, though according to the Jewish Chronicle the letter had been sent twice – but who believes anything they say? She has now been under “investigations” for 11 months – an absurd amount of time to simply reread a letter – making you draw the conclusion that the party leadership are just playing for time in a bid to prevent her standing as a Labour candidate in the forthcoming general election.

Unsurprisingly, as a black woman, she has received a large degree of support from many within the party. Harriet Harman, former Labour deputy leader, said she would be “sad” if Abbott’s career ended without her being readmitted to the PLP. The current deputy leader, Angela Rayner, too “would like to see Diane back”, but added that the party “has to follow its procedures”.

But they involve a process deliberately designed to thwart natural justice. Otherwise how come it has taken so long to come to a decision? Ed Balls, hardly a natural ally, has also added his voice to those calling for Abbott to have the whip restored. “She was suspended from the PLP a year ago for saying something she probably shouldn’t have said and she apologised for it,” he said. “… following that apology, she should be supported and defended rather than left on her own, which is what’s happening at the moment”. We are informed by the Morning Star that “thousands” have signed petitions calling for her to be returned to the PLP. Good.

Of course, communists demand that Diane Abbott is restored to full membership and is allowed to stand in the next general election if her local party wants her to – everything we know about Hackney tells us the vast majority of party members in the constituency do want her to be their MP again, which should be their right. Yes, Abbott was stupid 11 months ago – so what? Whether her letter was a draft sent for publication by mistake or not, her sins are dwarfed by those committed by the Labour right and the vast majority of the PLP, who are pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, pro-Nato and overwhelmingly pro-Israel – as it makes another step towards the genocide of the Gazan people, with Benjamin Netanyahu saying there is “no alternative” to a ground invasion of Rafah. Equally important, by calling for Abbott’s reinstatement, we are defending the space – which admittedly is extremely limited to almost vanishing point – that still remains in the Labour Party where any sort of leftwing views can be expressed and debated.


Showing that Diane Abbott has not been “left on her own”, as stated by Ed Balls, was last weekend’s demonstration called by the TUC and the SWP’s front, Stand up to Racism, to mark the UN’s Anti-Racism  Day – an event observed annually on the date when the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people in 1960. Naturally both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were there, marching amongst banners declaring: “Racism is extremism”, “Freedom is a constant struggle”, “Say no to Islamophobia”, “Stamp out anti-Semitism, yes to diversity”, and so on.

Loud cheers broke out when McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Corbyn, made a fiery speech in “solidarity with my friend, my colleague, my comrade, Diane Abbott” – going on to lead those gathered in a chant of “No justice, no peace”. He declared that Abbott is nobody’s victim, but facing racism “day in, day out” from various sections “takes its toll, and I want to pay tribute to this woman, her bravery, courage, determination”. These remarks echoed his earlier statement to the PA news agency: “… the reason people are mobilising in such large numbers is because we are seeing the rise of racism within our society again”, adding that it was “disrespectful” that Abbott had not been allowed to speak in the House of Commons despite the fact she was the focus of the debate around racism – something that “absolutely shocked” him.

McDonnell got an even bigger cheer when he told those assembled outside the home office: “If the Labour Party wants to be perceived as an anti-racist party, there is one simple step that can be done today, and that is Sir Keir Starmer restoring the whip to Diane Abbott.”

Now, these are perfectly fine sentiments – as said above, she should be reinstated. But the difference we have with John McDonnell is not over that, obviously: rather, why has he come out in “solidarity” just with Diane Abbott … and, for that matter, Jeremy Corbyn, but not the many others? After all, they are not the only ones who have suffered injustice or been monstrously slandered. What about Marc Wadsworth, Stan Keable, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and the hundreds – indeed thousands – of others who have also been wrongly accused of anti-Semitism? Or, more exactly, were first accused of anti-Semitism and, when that would not stick – as it was transparently false – were then charged with the catch-all crime of “bringing the party into disrepute” – an act of monumental hypocrisy, as it was the accusers who were guilty of that very offence with their kangaroo courts, inquisitions and malicious fabrications.

Why has McDonnell not come out in “solidarity” with all of them and led a militant campaign to have them exonerated? Why have they been left on their own? Are they lesser human beings because they are not MPs? For the official Labour left, it does seem that there are two tiers of solidarity – some are more worthy than others. The real reason for this is not too hard to establish. The official ‘lefts’ in the shadow cabinet looked the other way when these comrades were being suspended and expelled – named and shamed for something they had not done – in an attempt to appease the right, even though it was never going to be appeased.

The Labour right was always going to demand more and more – an obvious fact of political life that Jeremy Corbyn seemingly never understood, to the point where we had Jennie Formby, the general secretary appointed under his leadership, boasting about how the party was “speeding up” investigations and expulsions for ‘anti-Semitism’, much to the great delight of the bourgeois media, which was running non-stop lurid stories about the anti-Jewish hatred that was supposedly rife in the Labour Party.

Yes, we need to be critical not only of Jeremy Corbyn – who has thoroughly exposed himself as a complete nincompoop – but also of John McDonnell, who is equally guilty of trying to appease the right by sacrificing former friends and allies. We should not be selective about who we are in solidarity with, because we are up against a big lie: a witch-hunt that actually puts senator Joe McCarthy to shame. After all, at least in the 1950s there was a Soviet Union and a Communist Party of the USA, and the communist parties were a real force in many parts of the world.

But the anti-Semitism campaign in the Labour Party was based on nothing – a big lie of Goebbels proportions. That cannot be said often enough, and the likes of McDonnell and Corbyn ought to be saying it and saying it out loud.

Still getting it wrong

Diane Abbott has finally spoken out on Labour’s ‘fraudulent’ disciplinary process. But, asks Carla Roberts, is Sir Keir’s refusing to allow her to stand as a Labour candidate the result of racism?

It has been just over five months since Diane Abbott MP was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party for her crass letter to The Observer, in which she wrote that Jewish people, travellers and “redheads” – basically anybody who is not black – “are not all their lives subject to racism”. Instead she claimed they are only subject to the lesser “prejudice” and in the process equated the persecution and mass extermination of Jewish people with the teasing experienced by redheads.

Of course, Labour leader Sir Starmer was quick to pounce on one of the few remaining Corbyn supporters in parliament. Abbott immediately and humbly apologised, blaming some computer mishap that allegedly sent a half-finished letter. (We very much doubt the other half would have been any better.)

Some on the left believe that Abbott should not have been criticised for her Observer letter, because showing ‘real solidarity’ demands that we do so uncritically. Kevin Bean’s article in the Weekly Worker at the time was widely criticised for ‘attacking’ Abbott.[1] What nonsense. Of course, we continue to oppose her suspension, as all socialists should. But we do so critically, because her letter, quite frankly, was a lot of ahistorical and apolitical nonsense. A reflection of the dire identity politics that remains popular on the left, despite the fact that it so obviously weakens and splits our class into smaller and smaller groups defined by colour, sex, gender, etc.

By reducing racism to simply a question of skin colour, Abbott drew on the very same ideas of a ‘hierarchy of racism’ that her letter was ostensibly designed to counter. It is just that Keir Starmer has got the pyramid the wrong way around, you see.

Abbott was, of course, correct to state that the trans-Atlantic slave trade and apartheid in South Africa were ideologically justified on the basis of biological racism. However, the same must be said of the oppression of Irish Catholics by the British colonial authorities, and Jews – above all under the Hitler regime. Indeed, Ireland was radically depopulated through a socially caused famine and an imperial neglect that justified itself on the basis that the ‘Africanoid’ Irish were inferior compared to the fine, upstanding Anglo-Saxons. The Nazis exterminated between four and eight million Jews … along with millions of Roma, Sinti, Slavs, homosexuals and Soviet POWs by putting mass killing onto an industrial footing.

Today, Romany gypsies and Irish travellers too, while they appear to Abbott as just another type of white people, are clearly and seriously disadvantaged when it comes to poverty, education, health, life expectancy, mental illness, etc. They are undoubtedly subject to overt racism by politicians, the media, the police and often also the local population that has been whipped up into vigorously opposing the setting up even of temporary camps in their neighbourhood.

Reading through Abbott’s September 19 statement[2] published on the social media platform, ‘X’ (formerly Twitter), it becomes clear that she continues to view politics chiefly through the prism of race – and herself. At no point does she try to link her suspension from the PLP to the wider witch-hunt and the anti-Semitism smear campaign. She writes:

The internal Labour Party disciplinary against me is fraudulent. The Labour Party has not charged me with anti-Semitism because they know it is untrue. As somebody who has fought all forms of racism all my life, I would consider it a very serious allegation. Instead, it has been used to smear me, my reputation, and decades of anti-racist work.

Before her

Her – and hundreds before her, of course. Why did she not speak out when others were falsely smeared as anti-Semites – at a time when it still could have made a difference? What about the disciplinary process, when it comes to Tony Greenstein, Chris Williamson and black activists Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth? Was that non-fraudulent? What about the hundreds who have since been publicly smeared as anti-Semites, often because they dared to criticise Israel? What about the bans and proscriptions? What about those who have been expelled because they ‘liked’ a social media post by Labour Against the Witchhunt? The list goes on, as we all know.

“I am the longest serving black MP,” she writes. “Yet there is widespread sentiment that, as a black woman, and someone on the left of the Labour Party, I will not get a fair hearing from this Labour leadership.”

At least there is some small recognition here (the only one in her statement) that her suspension might have something to do with the fact that she is on the “left”. But the “yet” implies that she believes she should have been treated differently to others on the left, because she is the “longest serving black MP”. Perhaps that is the reason why she “remained silent about this issue until now”. This was “in the hope that “some sense of decency and recognition of the tenets of natural justice might prevail”.

So she did not say anything before, because she thought, when it comes to herself, a black woman, a different set of criteria would apply, compared to the hundreds of others who have been vilified, smeared and persecuted? That is either extremely naive or extremely presumptuous.

In any case, Abbott – just like the rest of the entirely useless Socialist Campaign Group of MPs – in the main kept her mouth firmly shut. Instead of at least trying to take on the right, the official Labour left continues to this day to appease it, begging for forgiveness for the entirely fake ‘mass anti-Semitism problem’ of the party. In reality, it was exactly this silence and apologia that has allowed the witch-hunt to take hold, fester and become as successful as it is today. Corbyn and his allies showed their enemies exactly where they should best be attacked. The SCG is now so weak that Starmer can pick the remaining ‘left’ MPs off one by one, with little or no opposition.

As a result, not only has the left inside the Labour Party been crushed, but the campaign to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism continues to grow and poison all areas of society – in the media, schools, universities, town halls, political parties, national governments and the European parliament.

The truth is that Diane Abbott’s suspension has nothing to do with anti-Semitism or indeed the colour of her skin. No, withdrawing the whip from Diane Abbott is just the latest round in Sir Keir Starmer’s campaign to show the ruling class that he really is a man they can trust. With talk of the next general election taking place in May 2024, Starmer will want to make sure that there is no chance of Abbott – or Jeremy Corbyn for that matter – coming back onto Labour’s benches.

Replace me

The question is, why does Abbott go public now, after having kept quiet for so long? It appears it has to do with her prospect of being re-elected to parliament – or, more precisely, the lack of such a prospect. Abbott believes that the shutting down of her local CLP’s executive committee and replacement of its principal officers has less to do with the recent conviction for paedophilia of the election agent of Meg Hillier (MP for the neighbouring constituency of Hackney South) and the “relevant child safeguarding issues” posed by “members in both constituencies” – but was merely done in order to “replace me as the candidate prior to the next election”. Perhaps, perhaps not.

But it seems to have dawned on her at last that Starmer will indeed not make any kind of exception for her or let her off with a slap on the wrist. “Others have committed far more grave offences,” she complains, yet they “have been immediately excused as supporters of this leadership”. A rather weak defence, you would think, but the Morning Star editorial of September 21 makes the same point – listing various unpunished “offences” by rightwing MPs:

The racism is blatant once the record under Starmer is considered. Shadow cabinet member Steve Reed accused a Jewish businessman of being a ‘puppet master.’ He apologised – no sanction. Veteran backbench MP Barry Sheerman speculated about a ‘run on silver shekels’ when two Jewish businessmen did not get a peerage. He apologised, referencing his long support for Labour Friends of Israel – no sanction …

The editorial continues:

It may be as relevant that they are factional allies of the Starmer regime, which is also trying to hound Jeremy Corbyn and Jamie Driscoll out of office. But the racism in the difference in treatment is unanswerable.

Factional – yes, obviously. But racist? Really? It is now commonplace for many on the left to accuse Starmer and the Labour Party of ‘institutional racism’. Anti-black racism, obviously – not anti-Semitism, as the accusation against Corbyn went. The Forde Report, many claim, exposed such institutional racism. Wrong. Martin Forde KC wrote that Labour was “in effect operating a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination” and that it was not taking accusations of anti-black racism or Islamophobia as seriously as allegations of anti-Semitism.[3]

We all know why, of course. Those allegations were inflated and weaponised, because that is the stick with which to beat Corbyn. Many on the left now see their job of reclaiming the said “hierarchy of racism” – but with anti-black racism on top. Diane Abbott’s Observer letter is a (not very sophisticated) reflection of that widespread adherence to ID politics (‘My experience of racism is worse than yours’).

The boring truth is that the Labour Party under Sir Keir Starmer is not institutionally racist. Just as it was not anti-Semitic under Jeremy Corbyn. As a party with a membership of hundreds of thousands, of course, there is no doubt there will be a small minority of racists (and anti-Semites), reflecting what exists in wider society. But does that mean that either the leadership or the mass of Labour activists are racist?

It is absurd to claim that the straight-laced Starmer, who is going out of his way to show that he is capable of running ‘multicultural’ British capitalism without rocking the boat, would do so by running the Labour Party in a racist manner. Black and British-Asian members of the shadow cabinet, over 40 Labour MPs from “ethnic minority” backgrounds[4] and a commitment to official anti-racism paint a rather different picture.

Of course, what goes unquestioned is national chauvinism, unity around British red, white and blue nationalism, pursuing our national interests and loyalty to the UK monarchical constitution. But then most of the official Labour left share that exact same outlook which amongst them simply passes for common sense.

[1]. ‘Race, prejudice and stupidity’ Weekly Worker April 27:




Putting the record straight

Carla Roberts reviews Oh, Jeremy Corbyn – the big lie   [Alexei Sayle (narrator), Chis Reeves (director), Norman Thomas (writer),  Platform Films]

I would definitely urge readers to go and see this film, whenever it is shown locally – but please be aware that our enemies have been handed a couple of easy weapons – through a lack of political editing perhaps and various shortcomings.

The “big lie” is a reference, of course, to the campaign to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. I recognise much of the footage, because the leftwing filmmaker, Chris Reeves of Platform Films, which produced it, has attended many of the meetings, stunts and activities put on by Labour Party Marxists, Labour Against the Witchhunt and other pro-Corbyn groups over the years. We even paid him to record a couple of events that are now part of the film and a lot of my friends and comrades can be seen on screen, either in the background or in the interview section. It is heartening to see reminders of the huge, enthusiastic crowds of Corbyn movement supporters.

Refreshingly, however, the film is also critical of Corbyn – taking him to task for appeasing the witch-hunters who accused him and his supporters of ‘anti-Semitism’. “The Labour leadership’s answer to the attacks seems to be to say ‘sorry’,” laments narrator Alexei Sayle. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of Jewish Voice for Labour says: “We kept thinking, Jeremy and John McDonnell will see that they will have to stand up to this now. Surely, they can see that these criticisms are not made in good faith.” Graham Bash, Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker make similar comments.

Interestingly, we also hear from Andrew Murray, who left the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain in 2016 to join the Labour Party and was seconded from Unite the Union to Labour HQ for the 2017 general election. He subsequently worked as an advisor to Corbyn from 2018 to 2020. “I am critical of how we handled the anti-Semitism thing”, he says, “because in my view we didn’t.” Apparently Jeremy was “very, very upset by the allegations, very personally wounded and it sort of paralysed a political response.” It is a real shame that neither Murray nor Corbyn spoke out when it still could have made a difference.

The big lie is not the kind of exposé that contains bombshells or knockout blows. It is unashamedly of the left and for the left. The film simply tries to tell the story of what happened – and why. Mostly that works well. But, on a few occasions, the film gets things wrong politically. My criticisms however, are relatively minor and, crucially, they are very different to the nonsense heaped onto the film by the mainstream press and so-called leftwingers like Paul Mason, Novara Media and singer Billy Bragg (standing in for Owen Jones in the Guardian, who has been surprisingly reticent on this whole issue). Of course, none of these darlings of the establishment stood up to the witch-hunt in the Labour Party and often they actually supported it. So their presentday stance comes as no surprise.


The main charge is, naturally, that the film is “allegedly ‘anti-Semitic’”, as The Times put it. Their journalists do not seem to have watched the damned thing, so instead Rupert Murdoch’s august publication turns to that useful idiot Paul Mason (for decades a Trotskyist, first in the SWP, then Workers Power, then Permanent Revolution).

In his review posted on LabourList (June 19), Mason claims that

the film presents a full-blown conspiracy theory about Corbyn’s opponents, conflating Zionists, Jews and Israel as part of a force that ‘orchestrated’ his overthrow. That, to me, appears to match at least two examples of anti-Semitism in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, and should raise legal and ethical questions for any venue considering screening it.

Not only does Mason present the hugely controversial IHRA fake ‘definition’ as some kind of holy script: he also thinks non-compliance with it raises “legal questions” – perhaps he believes it has official legal status? Sadly for Mason, this is not the case. It is not legally binding: it is also not a definition, as legal experts have pointed out many times – it is extremely vague.

But then Mason’s claim that the film “conflates Zionists, Jews and Israel” is utter nonsense anyway – and Mason has to admit as much. His single piece of ‘evidence’ consists of his description of a scene in which Moshé Machover states, quite correctly, that “nobody can fail to see that this was a concerted, orchestrated campaign” against Corbyn, followed by the narrator, Alexei Sayle, asking: “But if it was an orchestrated campaign, who was in the orchestra?” Mason himself lists the Zionist groups involved: “the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, and the Israel Advocacy Movement”.[1]

In other words, even by Mason’s own logic, the film – as it is – could not be accused of anti-Semitism. But that is a minor admission that, of course, none of the venues which have banned the film will lose much sleep over. From the union bureaucrats of the Tolpuddle Festival, via the cowards in various town halls and council chambers to Sharon Graham of Unite – they all have been falling over themselves to stop the film being shown. To little avail, of course: every cancellation has led to at least two more screenings at other venues. Good.

Of course, the film goes on to add some other members of the said “orchestra”, which Mason fails to mention: the mainstream media, former deputy Labour leader Tom Watson and almost the entire Parliamentary Labour Party. Mention could also have been made of alleged leftwingers like Mason himself, as well as chief appeaser and Momentum founder Jon Lansman. He was so eager to please the witch-hunters that he went over to them (in a genuinely cringey interview for The Guardian, for example, in which he and Owen Jones try to outdo each other with their witch-finding skills, he actually claims that the phrase, “I hate Israel”, is “clearly anti-Semitic”[2]).

Of course there was a conspiracy against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. The Lobby, Al Jazeera’s documentary, and the report by Martin Forde KC on Labour, contain a mountain of evidence. There was a concerted campaign of sabotage, which most left activists on the ground experienced directly – from day one of Corbyn’s leadership.

The most effective tactic came to be the “big lie” – the claim that anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel are anti-Semitic. Thousands were vilified, smeared and kicked out the Labour Party and other organisations. So successful has that been, it continues to this day.

Until Mason’s review, it was the title that the mainstream media concentrated on (after all, the film can only be seen at special screenings and none of the mainstream media hacks seem to have gone to the trouble to attend).

“There are big lies everywhere and one of the big lies today is of the Labour Party being infested by anti-Semitism”, as Moshé Machover explains in the film. “I doubt there is a single Palestine solidarity activist who has not been accused of anti-Semitism. The Zionists have certainly successfully redefined anti-Semitism, says Tony Greenstein: “It does not mean hatred or hostility to Jews as Jews, but for the Zionists … is opposition to a Jewish, racial, supremacist state.”

On this key issue, the film is very strong.


There are, however, a few criticisms that have to be made.

Firstly, at no point does anybody point out that in fact there were a few (very, very few) cases of anti-Semitism – it would have been a miracle if there had not been. The Labour Party is part of society and reflects the anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia that exists in society (though probably on a much smaller scale). Most allegations were utter nonsense, based on trumped-up charges. But on a very few occasions, the recommendation of Labour Against the Witchhunt was that the accused should indeed retract and apologise for a particular thoughtless phrase or problematic tweet that indeed conflated ‘Jews’ and ‘Zionists’.

This underlined our demand for education and discussion on all issues to do with this subject – not an approach of ‘zero tolerance’, as so stupidly pursued by John McDonnell MP and Jon Lansman. Zero tolerance – ie, the banning of discussion – is  the opposite of the kind of open, democratic culture a healthy working class organisation needs. On the particular subject of anti-Semitism it is doubly wrong, because it was the chief weapon of the right against the left.

More importantly – and Mason picks up on this too – the film makes some rather outlandish and frankly bizarre claims about Keir Starmer, which reflect a serious misunderstanding of how the Labour Party and indeed modern capitalism work. The claim is that Starmer is some kind of operative in the intelligence services. Jackie Walker exclaims “Starmer worked for the CIA, didn’t he?” Actually, no, he did not. Rebecca Massey from Brighton gets it right: “He had worked quite closely with the CIA”, which is rather different. Starmer was, after all, appointed Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008 … and duly received a knighthood for services rendered. Andrew Murray puts it like this: “I think Starmer will simply be seen as someone who did the establishment’s bidding, which is really what he’s been doing all his life. He is above all a servant of the state.” Exactly.

Now we get to the most shaky part of the film’s narrative. Starmer is presented as using his undoubted opposition to Brexit first and foremost because it would wreck Corbyn’s election chances. Andrew Murray, showing that he still adheres to the CPB’s nationalist road to socialism, sees Starmer’s creeping advocacy of a second referendum as the means to scuttle the Corbyn project: “It became clear that [a second Brexit referendum] is the thing that can undermine Corbynism.”

Rebecca Massey piles it on: “[Starmer’s] best trick was to make Labour a ‘remain’ party. Let’s stick two fingers up to the majority of the British people who voted for Brexit.” The film then spends a considerable amount of time interviewing Labour Party members, who explain how they did not understand Labour’s policy on Brexit. And, of course, that is exactly how Keir Starmer planned it.

This is overegging things to put it mildly. Surely the comrades at Platform Films will remember that the vast majority of Labour Party members opposed Brexit. In the 2016 referendum around 70% of Labour voters ticked ‘remain’[3]. Corbyn, however, and many members of the traditional Labour left are of the view that a smaller, a nationally fragmented, capitalism is somehow preferable.

Despite his sentimental internationalism when it comes to the Palestinians or other solidarity movements, Corbyn at no point tried to win over the population to a positive vision of workers’ unity across Europe and beyond. Labour’s repudiate Brexit policy was weak, confused and self-defeating. Clearly, Corbyn did not believe in it and it showed. But to claim that this was somehow Starmer’s sneaky doing – on behest of other, shadowy forces – is idiotic.

Starmer did what he did because he believed in it. He believed what liberal capitalism believed. Big business, top civil servants and most of the political class believed that Brexit was bad.

That is the truth and the truth needs no lies, either big or small.




Race, prejudice and stupidity

Diane Abbott’s version of identity politics has proved to be a gift for Sir Keir and his drive to complete the marginalisation of the left, argues Kevin Bean

Amidst all the blabber and prattle surrounding Diane Abbott’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party one thing is blindingly obvious – it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism or her tunnel-vision ideas about racism. No, withdrawing the whip from Diane Abbott is just the latest round in Sir Keir Starmer’s campaign to show the ruling class that he really is a man they can trust – and to remind the woefully misnamed Socialist Campaign Group just who is in charge in the Labour Party.

Abbott’s letter to The Observer highlighted what she sees as a distinction between racism and prejudice, and the argument that, while “many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice … they are not all their lives subject to racism” (April 23). She went on to cite Jews, Irish and traveller people.

Making matters worse, she put the claim of black uniqueness in historical terms, citing apartheid South Africa and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is undoubtably true that the trans-Atlantic slave trade and apartheid in South Africa were ideologically justified on the basis of biological racism. However, the same can be said of the oppression of Irish Catholics by the British colonial authorities, and Jews, above all under the Hitler regime. Indeed, Ireland was radically depopulated through famine, imperial neglect and mass emigration, and the Nazis exterminated between four and eight million Jews – not least by putting genocide on an industrial basis.

As for today’s Romany gypsies and Irish travellers, while they appear to Abbott as just another type of white people, the fact remains that, when it comes to poverty, educational attainment, imprisonment, health, life expectancy, mental illness and other such criteria, it is clear that they face far more than mere prejudice. In fact, they are subject to overt racism by politicians, the media and the police.

In reducing racism to simply a question of skin colour, Abbott drew on the very same ideas of a hierarchy of racism that her letter was ostensibly designed to counter. Seemingly equating ‘prejudice’ experienced by redheads with the persecution of Jewish people under conditions of feudal decay in tsarist Russia and petty bourgeois counterrevolution in capitalist Germany, is, of course, stupid beyond stupid. But then that is Diane Abbott for you.

What happened within hours of her ludicrous letter appearing in The Observer followed a pattern with which we have become all too familiar since the big lie of ‘anti-Semitism’ was first used some eight years ago to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and smear the Labour left. The usual suspects from the Labour right, aided by the supposed spokespeople for the ‘Jewish community’ and rightwing media commentators, all quickly jumped in to denounce yet another example of anti-Semitism from a leading Labour leftwinger and demand firm action from the party’s leadership.

Labour renegade Lord John Mann, former Labour MP and returning traitor Luciana Berger, and long-time witch-hunter Margaret Hodge MP were amongst the first out of the blocks. However, there was no need for them to worry. Sir Keir recognised an opportunity when it was presented on a plate and he took no time in rounding on Abbott. Here was his chance to further marginalise what remains of the parliamentary Labour left.

Big lie

It is important to remind ourselves why the pro-capitalists in the Labour Party weaponised anti-Semitism in their fight against the Corbyn leadership and why they continue to use this vile smear against the left.

This goes beyond simply utilising the moral opprobrium that comes with accusations of racism and the equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. For Starmer, demonstrating his loyalty to the political and economic status quo means, first and foremost, showing that he is committed to ‘the west’: that is, the continued dominance of the US as the world hegemon and the strengthening of the Nato alliance in Europe. Support for Israel, the US’s most reliable client and ally in the Middle East, is also an important element of that strategy, whilst also acting as a key political marker at home.

If the accusations of anti-Semitism and faux outrage in the media from the likes of Times columnist Melanie Phillips or Tory ministers were predictable, so too was the rather muted response of Abbott’s supporters in the official Labour left. This is pretty much in line with how all the supposed ‘left’ MPs, Abbott included, have conducted themselves throughout the witch-hunt. They bow, scrape and keep their heads firmly down … in the hope of saving their miserable parliamentary careers.

Once the storm broke, Abbott even rushed to denounce herself. She was sorry for the anguish caused, for the offence. Though her letter was sent twice to The Observer, Abbott made the claim that it was the “wrong draft” – all in the hope of placating Starmer.

Believe the wrong draft claim if you wish – bizarrely, there are those on the left who are defending what Abbott wrote but is now apologising for.

A similarly apologetic line was adopted by John McDonnell – now the only leading Corbynite who retains the Labour whip:

… those now sitting in judgement of her have the generosity of spirit to acknowledge that for decades she has been at the forefront of campaigning against racism and has endured so much herself. Hopefully we can all learn from this.

These apologies and retreats in the face of a clear political attack are nothing new and merely repeat the appeasement and political weakness that typified Jeremy Corbyn when he was leader. In failing to stand up to the big lie campaign of the pro-capitalist right and their friends in the media, Corbyn simply increased the confidence of his enemies in the PLP. Moreover, by allowing thousands of left activists to be expelled, he sawed off the very branch on which his own leadership depended.

The stranglehold that Starmer and his apparatchiks now have over the party machine and the way they effortlessly purge such figures as Corbyn, Livingstone and Abbott shows how totally worthless and counterproductive the official left’s ‘strategy’ has proven to be. Indeed the pathetic state of the official Labour left and the toothless ‘threat’ it now poses is perhaps illustrated by the rather patronising tone of some of the reactions of the Labour right to Abbott’s letter. Shadow minister Pat McFadden and Blairite commentator John McTernan have suggested Diane Abbott’s apology was indeed ‘genuine’ and that perhaps the Labour leadership should be more understanding and forgive and forget her transgression.


Given present conditions it is undoubtably right to defend Diane Abbott from this latest attack by Sir Keir. After all, if she has been stupid – and she has – her sins pale in comparison with the Labour right and the vast majority of the PLP. They are pro-Nato, pro-Israel, pro-nuclear weapons and pro-capitalist to boot.

In calling for Abbott’s reinstatement we are simply defending the limited space that remains in the Labour Party where leftwing ideas can be voiced, promoted and debated. In that context we most certainly denounce her utterly confused – and frankly obnoxious – identity politics. Her comments on the racist oppression and persecution of Jewish people are historically ignorant and border on the unhinged. Reducing racism to a question of skin colour and stressing ‘blackness’ as a primary distinction is rooted in the same essentialism she attacks as a privileging hierarchy of racism. As expressed in her Observer letter, this is a politics of competitive victimhood, in which one ethnic or identity group who claim that they are more oppressed than others now demand recognition for both past and present persecution.

Communists are opposed to all forms of oppression and stand with the oppressed against persecution and discrimination. But that resistance to oppression and the defence of the persecuted is not the same as identity politics or demands for the recognition of victim status by the bourgeois state or capitalism more generally. Instead of a particularist, essentialist and ahistorical politics of identity, Marxists advance working class politics and the struggle for universal emancipation. Like so many on the contemporary left, Abbott defines oppression in the simplistic and reductive language of identity rather than class.

For example, British police forces systemically discriminate against young black males through racial profiling, yes, but this is because of street crime which is often associated with being at the bottom end of the economic pile. Fraud in the City, blackmail threats of litigation by the ultra-rich, advertising hoaxes, phone scamming operations, indeed the straightforward rackets of everyday business involve robbery on an infinitely greater scale, but they hardly concern the police. What matters to them is not so much the law, rather it is order. What young black males experience today poor young Jewish and Irish males experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Locating these types of persecution in capitalist society itself rather than in an ahistorical essentialist understanding of identity points the finger directly at the real nature of oppression and how the working class movement can begin to fight against it. Identity politics of the type espoused so confusingly by Diane Abbott in her letter only serves to further obscure the causes of oppression and so prevent the development of the only form of universalist politics that can overcome both oppression and exploitation – the politics of the working class.

Open for business

Starmer is determined to display his loyalty to big business, the state and the Atlantic alliance by purging what is already a totally marginalised and useless official left. But, asks Carla Roberts, what if Jeremy Corbyn stood as an independent?

Sir Keir Starmer was quick off the starting blocks after the misnamed ‘Equality and Human Rights Commission’ report predictably cleared the Labour Party of the “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” it had allegedly been guilty of under Jeremy Corbyn. He announced that Corbyn would not be standing as a Labour candidate at the next general election.

For the EHRC, Sir Keir’s “action plan to drive out anti-Semitism” (also known as his purge of the left) has apparently done the trick! Sure, it took a redefinition of what anti-Semitism actually is: instead of ‘hostility against Jews’ (which very, very few Labour Party members could be convicted of), it is now almost universally understood as ‘criticism of Israel’.

The EHRC is, of course, far from independent – nor very much interested in human rights, for that matter. It is a deeply partisan body whose members are appointed by the government, and it is now firmly in Tory hands. Corbyn should have told the EHRC to get lost when it first launched its investigation of Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ back in 2019 when he was still leader. But his active cooperation was yet another symptom of his futile campaign to appease the right. It is quite astonishing that he continued to pursue this strategy to the bitter end. Even in his final moments as leader, Corbyn sought to reward deputy leader Tom Watson with a seat in the House of Lords, though this witch-hunter continued to stab him in the back.

With the EHRC’s clean bill of health in his back pocket, Starmer moved to his coup de grâce. When  asked if Corbyn will be a Labour candidate at the next election, Starmer bluntly pronounced: “Jeremy Corbyn will not stand for Labour at the next general election.”

The day before publication of the EHRC report, Starmer confidently wrote in The Times:

The changes we have made aren’t just fiddling around the edges or temporary fixes. There are those who don’t like that change, who still refuse to see the reality of what had gone on under the previous leadership. To them I say in all candour: we are never going back. If you don’t like it, nobody is forcing you to stay.[1]

As most of those members who actively and loudly supported Corbyn have now been expelled, suspended or have simply resigned in disgust, it does beg the question: who was he talking about? The few ‘leftwing’ MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group have clearly given up the fight. Showing up on a picket line is the most radical thing that some of them are prepared to do. But even that seems to be going too far for some of them: they have recently set up an alternative group entitled ‘New Left’, which so far acts as a group within the SCG.[2] The neo-Blairite undertone of their name surely cannot have escaped MPs like Clive Lewis, Dawn Butler, Sam Tarry and Nadia Whittome (the latter a fellow traveller of the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty). Apparently, they model themselves on ‘The squad’ of politicians in the US, despite the fact that this opportunist quartet has pretty much collapsed.

As for Starmer, he was really talking to big business and the mainstream media, to those who used to love Tony Blair. He might not have the same alleged ‘charm’ and media savviness, but he is certainly a lot more brutal, when it comes to reshaping the party and purging the left, as shown by his decision to pursue five former Corbyn staffers in a civil case for leaking what was going to be Labour’s submission to the EHRC. The unredacted 860‑page report highlighted the right’s campaign against the Corbyn leadership (as well as that leadership’s appeasing efforts to push out Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and others falsely accused of anti-Semitism). Even though this case might cost the party between £3-4 million, this is money well spent for Sir Keir. It signals that Labour is, once again, open for business. Starmer might have stood for Labour leader on the 2019 Corbynite manifesto, but he has certainly washed his hands of it now.


It is rather incredible that, at the same time, the official Labour left is still barking up the ‘unity’ tree. “The blame for this polarisation in the party lies with Starmer and his fixation on the left, while there is so much wrong in wider society,” says Mike Cowley on the dying Red Line TV show, which is loosely linked to the Labour Representation Committee. Why, oh why, can’t Labour concentrate its fire on the Tories instead of attacking the left?

Cowley is, of course, encapsulating the political outlook of the official Labour left, despite its obvious and painful failure in the last eight years. It is exactly such useless appeals for ‘unity’ that have led to Corbyn’s futile strategy of trying to appease the right rather than take it on.

Starmer’s ultimatum serves as a reminder that the Labour Party is still a ‘bourgeois workers’ party’. The party has trade union affiliates and still relies on hazy notions of class to get votes, but the right commits itself to maintaining the existing constitution and pursing common interests (read: the interests of capital). Of course, Starmer is doing his best to limit the damage caused by the presence of active socialists in Labour’s ranks to the carefully crafted pro-big business image. But the continued affiliation of the big trade unions, representing millions of workers, means that for now Labour remains an arena of the class struggle.

And no, that does not mean that communists believe that the class struggle can be decisively ‘won’ in the Labour Party and even less that socialism can somehow be realised through a vote in parliament. But, as should have become crystal-clear over the last eight years, the bourgeoisie did everything in its power to prevent a Corbyn government, which was clearly a manifestation of the class struggle.


In his bid to shift the party still further to the right, Starmer may well be investigating the possibility of yet more bans and proscriptions.

Momentum might well be put on the list, despite the fact that the organisation has loyally implemented the witch-hunt. Its founder, Jon Lansman, actively and eagerly participated in it and his various heirs and successors never strayed much from this path. To this day, they are continuing to implement the witch hunt in their own ranks. Momentum does not allow anyone to be a member who has been expelled from the Labour Party. They are harmless, loyal and entirely useless as an opposition. So they may be spared.

Ditto groups like the Labour Representation Committee and the even more ineffective Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. While the LRC somewhat flaccidly stood up to the witch-hunt, supporting this or that protest or open letter organised by the likes of Labour Against the Witchhunt and Jewish Voice for Labour, it is barely alive nowadays.

Red Line TV was perhaps the last spark of life emanating from that corpse and it is now “taking a break”. At its Kafkaesque AGMs, the LRC continues to elect John McDonnell as its president – the same man who has embraced the anti-Semitism smear campaign and goes on about “zero tolerance”. Naturally he did not raise the rafters when his old friend Graham Bash, editor of Labour Briefing, was expelled. President McDonnell used to write a monthly column … so presumably he is in Starmer’s cross-hairs.

CLPD guru, Barry Gray (also a leading member of the Stalinoid sect, Socialist Action), has given out the message that it is heads down for the next 10-15 years. The hope is that eventually some leftwing leader will come along and bring salvation. All the while he and his chums kept their silence as comrades were purged one by one. When founder-member, Pete Willsman, was suspended and then expelled in November 2022 (for – you guessed it – false claims of anti-Semitism) the CLPD looked the other way.

Jewish Voice for Labour, one of the few organisations that did dare to speak out, has been a likely candidate for proscription, but perhaps Starmer has been fearful of the obvious charge of anti-Semitism being made against him! It seems that JVL too has been struggling, as most of its members have themselves been suspended or expelled from the party. It does put such groups into an existentialist crisis – their whole political outlook is based on work in the Labour Party. It is not surprising that there is so much demoralisation on the left.

An anonymous “Labour figure” speculates on the Skwawkbox website that the Stop the War Coalition could be next on Starmer’s hit list, which, given the ‘withdraw your signatures of else’ instruction to the spineless SCG 11 back in February 2022, seems quite possible.[3] Jeremy Corbyn is deputy president alongside the Communist Party of Britain’s Andrew Murray. And, of course, StWC dares to criticise the US/Nato proxy war in Ukraine (even if it does so in a peacenik kind of way). Such a ban could lead to all sorts of Labour lefts being expelled, including Corbyn.


Many on the left are now pinning their hopes on Corbyn standing as an independent in Islington North. And, while he has chosen not to publicly speculate about such a move yet, the odds are that he would win, having served as the local and popular MP for over 40 years. It is unlikely though that Corbyn would receive any kind of support from the cowards in the Socialist Campaign Group. They much prefer saving their own stalled careers and keeping their heads down until it is time to cash in their lucrative parliamentary pensions.

Corbyn is also unlikely to form any kind of a political party, which is what many on the left urge him to do. That is rather surprising, considering that he was prepared to sacrifice hundreds of his own supporters in the witch-hunt, many of whom are still being vilified as anti-Semites in the national press. Reputations have been ruined and not a few livelihoods and careers badly affected. Thanks to the internet, this will be so for decades to come. But, incredibly, for many the man still seems to walk on water.

A Starmer government might take on the unions if they cause UK plc too much trouble over pay and conditions. A serious confrontation might see some big unions disaffiliating and forming a new version of the 1900 Labour Representation Committee. Should any such new kind of ‘broad left party’ emerge, communists would of course participate. It would be sectarian and stupid to do otherwise. But the main task remains fighting for a mass Communist Party l

[1]. The Times February 14.



Onslaught on Labour left

Kevin Bean reviews The Labour files, a series of four TV programmes from Al Jazeera Investigations, directed by Phil Rees and available on YouTube

Timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference, the The Labour files looked at the causes and consequences of the witch-hunt against the left in the party.

Its starting point was a huge tranche of emails and internal party material – the ‘Labour files’ of the title – which formed the basis of its narrative about events in the party following the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Alongside this were interviews with expelled members and others, which highlighted particular case studies and examples of the Labour right’s onslaught on the left.

The documentary also drew on a previous Al Jazeera film, The lobby, to establish a wider political context and to link the attacks on the Corbyn leadership and the left to agents of the Israeli state and pro-Zionist party officials. In several hours of film the documentary also considered the role of the media, especially the BBC, in this campaign against the left, as well as the response of the Labour bureaucracy and the Starmer leadership to allegations that a ‘hierarchy of racism’ existed within the party. The swift action and readiness of the party machine to deal with alleged ‘anti-Semitism’ was contrasted with the tardiness of the party machine in acting against claimed anti-black and anti-Muslim racism. In what looked like a late addition after the main filming was completed, the programme also devoted 20 minutes in part four to the alleged hacking of email accounts and attempts to silence criticism of Newham’s Labour council leader by a local media blog and party activists.

The most powerful elements of the documentary were the excerpts from internal Labour emails and documents, and the interview clips. Many of these were already in the public domain and would have been familiar to many already. The sabotage carried out by Labour bureaucrats and their successful attempts to smear leftwing activists, as revealed in these messages and documents, is now firmly established as a matter of public record. Even so, it still remained shocking to hear again about how so many party members had been fitted up and verballed during the witch-hunt.

For me the stand-out examples were those of so-called ‘Labour investigator’ Ben Westerman, who lied about what Rica Bird, a Jewish party member who was subsequently expelled, had said during an “informal interview”, or the cack-handed attempt at a latter-day Zinoviev letter drafted by a Wirral Labour councillor, and cited by Labour’s then deputy leader, Tom Watson, which fabricated transparently false ‘evidence’ against the left in Wallasey CLP. Other examples in the film of bureaucratic manoeuvres and slanders against the left drawn from Brighton, Liverpool Riverside and Croydon, as well as during the internal selection process for the party’s candidate for Liverpool city mayor, were just as shocking. Moreover, these highlighted cases are merely the tip of the iceberg: this is not past history; the witch-hunt still remains in full swing under the Starmer leadership. As Brighton activist Greg Hadfield so accurately put it, on this evidence “the Labour Party is a criminal conspiracy against its members”.

Dodged questions

However, if these interviews and email transcripts were not enough to provide a sufficiently compelling weight of evidence, something else was also on hand to support the main premises of the programme. A well-established element in contemporary documentaries is the ‘neutral’ voice or figure supposedly representing ‘sensible’ opinion. Theirs is the authoritative voice that sets the standards and invites us to make judgements on the evidence revealed in the film. The choice of such a ‘talking head’ is very important in understanding and assessing the intentions of the film-makers and the key themes they wish to highlight. In doing so the political and moral framework of the documentary can be explicitly revealed to the viewer. So the choice of Peter Oborne as just such a commentator in The Labour files has an importance that goes beyond mere production values.

A former chief political commentator at The Daily Telegraph, Oborne is an idiosyncratic, if conservative, critic of the failings of the media and the behaviour of the ‘political class’ – a term he is credited with originally coining. So, in contrasting the “decency and fairness” which should characterise the Labour Party and its politics, according to Oborne, with the reality revealed by the film, he framed his argument within his wider normative critique of contemporary politics and public life. Thus, in defence of Corbyn’s decency and fairness, Oborne drew attention to the fact that disciplinary action against so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ actually increased after Labour’s rightwing general secretary Iain McNicol was replaced by a Corbyn nominee, Jennie Formby!

Oborne was not the only one to implicitly concede the Labour right’s case that there was a serious problem with anti-Semitism in the party. The Labour files also featured James Schneider, a leading figure of Momentum and a member of Corbyn’s inner circle in this period, who justified the way the left buckled under pressure and had been ‘forced’ to accept the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This ‘working definition’ equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and so was consciously used by the Labour right to open up further attacks and expulsions of the left.

In accepting Oborne’s critique of how contemporary politics are conducted as its starting point and failing to look more critically at the Corbyn leadership’s response to the attacks made upon it, the programme dodged some of the most important questions about what was going on in the Labour Party. Whilst the accounts of Anna Rothery, Jenny Manson, Becky Massey et al were valuable reminders of the type of lies and vicious behaviour of which the Labour right are capable, the film did not really explain why the party machine felt the need to resort to such tactics. Most importantly, the failures of the Corbyn leadership and the compromises and retreats that the official left undertook to placate the Labour right were left completely unexamined, and so a significant factor in how the witch-hunt has unfolded was left out of the reckoning altogether.

Although unexplored by The Labour files, these questions still remain crucial for today’s rather disorientated and demoralised left. Drawing up such a balance sheet and making a real assessment of both why the pro-capitalist Labour right launched these particular attacks and the woefully inadequate response of the Labour left is vital if we are going to build any sort of working class politics worthy of that name. This is especially important, as many comrades are now concluding that the continuing witch-hunt and Starmer’s tightening grip over the party show that Labour is dead and that we now need some form of new party. It is true that The Labour files shows that the Labour machine is thoroughly corrupt and is a weapon to fight the left. It is part of an apparatus to control the working class and ensure that the party remains a safe second eleven for capitalism which could be called into action when the main bourgeois party is not up to the job. As has been the case virtually since Labour’s inception, the leadership is structurally integrated into the state and its politics are thoroughly pro-capitalist.

For Marxists this film tell us nothing new about Labour: it simply provides yet more evidence, if it were needed, about the absolute rottenness and thoroughly reactionary nature of Labourism as an ideology and an organisational form. However, Labour Party Marxists argue that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party while it retains its links with the organised working class through the trade union link and, as such, should not be lightly abandoned as a site for struggle for revolutionaries.

Both recent and historical experience has shown that any ‘new’ initiative that might emerge from a rejection of this perspective will probably take the form of a broad alliance of left reformists and avowed Marxists, based on lowest-common-denominator politics and rotten compromises to keep everyone on board. Whatever its verbal rejection of Labourism, it will repeat the same mistakes and be, in essence, a Labour Party mark two.

That is why we are repeating our call to continue to fight back within Labour and re-establish a militant campaign within the party against the Labour leadership’s witch-hunt. That is an important first step to rally the left, whether inside or outside the party. But much more is required. The fight against the witch-hunt has to be linked to the fight to forge Labour into a vehicle for militant politics. That struggle is not one to ‘reclaim‘ Labour – it was never truly ours in the first place – but rather to refound it as a united front open to all socialist and working class organisations and currents.

That can only be achieved as part of our central task: the building of an explicitly Marxist party that rejects Labourism and is fully committed to the overthrow of capitalism and the self-emancipation of the working class.

Something serious is needed: confronting Tony Greenstein

It is clear that Tony Greenstein has abandoned any pretence of adhering to class politics: that is, the class politics of the working class. Jack Conrad defends the Marxist programme against those who advocate yet another broad-front halfway house

Replying to Tony Greenstein’s shameful accusation that those who resigned from Labour Against the Witchhunt’s steering committee have resorted to the same “big lie” tactics as Joseph Goebbels is unnecessary (‘Not a liquidation?’ Weekly Worker December 9 2021). The long record of Tina Werkmann, Jackie Walker, Kevin Bean and Stan Keable speaks for itself. They are honest comrades holding honest views.

So has LAW been liquidated? Comrade Greenstein pleads that “nowhere in the successful resolution” was there any mention of “liquidation” or “closing down” LAW. True, but this is clearly a pedantic attempt to pull wool over eyes.

In politics, as in other walks of life, context is all. Comrade Greenstein is on record as saying that the fight in the Labour Party is over, that trade unions should disaffiliate, that voters in the July 1 2021 Batley and Spen by-election should support George Galloway and not Labour’s Kim Leadbeater. Many attending the LAW members’ meeting expressed similar views and, no less to the point, that is also the case with the leadership slate comrade Greenstein got installed on November 27. So, while the words ‘liquidation’ and ‘closing down’ did not appear in motion 1, only someone who wants to cover up, to obfuscate, to hoodwink, would object to such an assessment.

Indeed, presumably working according to the motto, ‘Attack is the best form of defence’, we find comrade Greenstein himself making accusations of liquidationism:

If anyone has liquidated LAW, it is its steering committee. For the past two years it has done very little, even against the Corbyn witch-hunt. Against Starmer’s witch-hunt it has been paralysed. What it has done, like the picket of Labour’s HQ in protest at the proscriptions and the Not the Forde Inquiry at the Resist at the Rialto has been done with LIEN [Labour In Exile Network].

This is simply childish. LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even, but despite this paralysis has maintained a professional looking website, gained members, picketed Labour Party HQ, organised Not the Ford Inquiry at the Resist event at this year’s Labour conference in Brighton. Of course, these actions have been organised with a range of others and not only LIEN (there were the Labour Left Alliance, Labour Campaign for Free Speech and Labour Party Marxists too). And all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, social mixing restrictions and two lockdowns, remember.

It is perfectly understandable why in practice comrades want to abandon the fight in the Labour Party. Many have been shamefully expelled or suspended, their reputations trashed and besmirched. The official Labour left has proved spineless, ineffective and treacherous. After all, under Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby the witch-hunt was actually ramped up. Disgracefully, in a futile attempt to appease the right, they stayed silent, while, one after another, their own close comrades and friends were thrown under the bus. And now, making matters even worse, Sir Keir is firmly in the saddle and riding high in opinion polls.

Frankly, while we were disappointed by the November 26 vote at the LAW members’ meeting, we were not surprised. An unprecedented reactionary tornado is ripping through the Labour Party and those who naively counted on Corbyn, those who lack strategic moorings, those who have little or no understanding of class politics are swept away, left desperately clutching at anything with appears to offer hope.

If comrade Greenstein and co were committed to, had their sights on, a serious party, it would be another matter entirely. We would still disagree with abandoning the Labour Party as a site of struggle – for us that is like abandoning the trade unions. But what is being proposed lacks any credibility: variously a Corbyn movement without Corbyn, a rainbow coalition, a classless people’s party or more commonly a Labour Party mark two. Taking their cue from Ken Loach, this undefined melange is what the successful motion 1, moved by Tony Greenstein and Esther Giles, and carried 47:27 on November 26, takes as its “starting point”. A recipe for confusion, disunity and one micro-split after another.


Let us move the argument on by quoting comrade Greenstein once again. He claims that we have never had “any analysis of the Corbyn movement: still less any strategy worthy of the name”. Well, I know the comrade is a regular reader of the Weekly Worker, even an occasional contributor, but obviously not an attentive one. Maybe he is becoming forgetful? Who knows.

Either way, he is talking rubbish. Our attitude towards the Jeremy Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party was worked out in advance: that is, well before his actual election, and with far greater foresight, and with far greater worth and precision, than any other campaign, committee, group or party on the left. Why? Because we have a fully worked out strategy.

Labour needs be refounded as a united front of a special kind and politically armed with a Marxist programme and put under a tried and tested Marxist leadership. Such a perspective can only be realised, of course, through the struggle for a mass Communist Party. Needless to say, we envisage once again opening up the Labour Party to the affiliation of leftwing groups and parties – crucially the affiliation of the CPGB. So this is a twin-track strategy, with the main emphasis on the struggle for a mass Communist Party.

Corbyn got into the leadership by a historical accident. Naturally we, and many others, agitated at a constituency level to persuade Labour MPs to ‘lend him’ their vote. Much to my surprise, this actually worked. The ‘morons’ allowed him to run. Once he was on the ballot, we were convinced he would easily win. Not just because of the £3 supporters, but because of the deep well of discontent within the then existing ranks of the Labour Party membership.

What about the mass influx? Did we leave it unanalysed? Of course not. The suggestion is laughable. Corbyn appeared as a vehicle, a focus, a saviour for hundreds of thousands. It was not merely a rejection of Ed Miliband’s austerity-lite politics, as comrade Greenstein suggests. An older generation who had left the Labour Party in disgust over Tony Blair and the Iraq war returned. A younger generation who felt betrayed over student loans, the commodification of education, the lack of affordable housing, low wages and job insecurity – well, they flocked in. But what was notable about them – especially, sad to say, the younger generation – is that they were not politically determined, not politically educated and therefore did not fully engage. They voted Jeremy Corbyn against Owen Smith, but had not much of a clue when it came to national executive elections. Tens of thousands joined Momentum, but, with the connivance of Corbyn and his Straight Leftist advisors, they were relegated to mere spear-carriers … though a select few carved out lucrative political careers for themselves. Today, of course, Momentum is not only much reduced: it is an empty husk.

Bizarrely, comrade Greenstein says we write off these people and are “happy” to see 150,000 of them “disappear”. Nonsense, yet again. No, comrade, we do not dismiss them and nor are we happy to see them go. We want them educated, we want them organised. But this will not happen if we attempt to do the impossible and follow them to their 150,000 different destinations.

Showing a rather sad lack of self-awareness, comrade Greenstein likes to boast of his amazing powers of prediction. This is him in full flight: “On April 20 2017, shortly after the general election was announced, when everyone was predicting disaster, I wrote: ‘Labour can win if Corbyn is bold – the key issue is poverty and the transfer of wealth.’” He goes on: “And then on June 3: ‘General election – is Labour on the threshold of victory?’” Well, what was the result? Against a hapless Theresa May, Labour experienced a tremendous surge in support in the last week or two of the campaign and secured 262 seats. But that still left the Tories with 317 seats. So comrade Greenstein got it wrong. Nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing to brag about either.

What of ourselves? We never expected the election of a Corbyn-led Labour government. Neither in 2017 nor in 2019. After all a clear majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party was ranged against him. To become prime minister he would have to secure a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. Only if he could be assured of that would the queen graciously call him to Buckingham Palace.

There was, though, an extraordinarily remote possibility of such a scenario. Say a million to one. However, what was important was not the odds. It is what the rank and file of the Corbyn movement thought and believed. In their minds they saw Corbyn soon entering the famous black door of No10 as prime minister and then realising all their hopes and dreams.

Hence our two warnings.

Firstly, the “bold” promises contained in For the many, not the few or It’s time for real change were, in reality, very timid … and they were not going to be delivered. True, the Corbyn leadership was committed to reversing austerity, increasing the economic role of the state, repealing some anti-trade union laws and introducing some minor constitutional reforms. But at best that amounted to an illusory attempt to run British capitalism in the interests of the working class. Meanwhile, wage-slavery continues, Britain remains a monarchy, subject to judge-made law, one of the ‘five eyes’, a core imperialist power, a member of Nato and armed with US-controlled nuclear weapons. To call such a programme ‘socialist’ – and the Labour Representation Committee was not alone in this – is inexcusable.

Secondly, what would the capitalist class, the political establishment and the deep state do in the event of a Corbyn-led government? Despite the manifesto being far from radical, there would be a run on the pound, sabotage by the Labour right, a constitutional coup, an army mutiny, US ‘pushback’, etc. Even with a crisis of expectations, given the suffocating hold of constitutionalism and narrow trade unionism, popular resistance would prove to be feeble and ineffective, and end in a crushing defeat. Maybe a few dozen of us would be killed ‘resisting arrest’, a few hundred more would be detained at her majesty’s pleasure … but widespread demoralisation would inevitably follow.

In others words, while we soberly assessed the situation, others on the left blithely urged on a crushing defeat. They wanted a “bold” Corbyn government running a nice capitalism, while we, on the other hand, seek to establish an explicitly socialist opposition that stands against the existing constitution, that educates and prepares the working class to become the ruling class, that positively avoids the temptation of forming a government when there is not the least chance of delivering what we Marxists call the minimum programme (ie, the maximum that can be achieved under capitalist conditions). Back in the late 19th century this was ABC common sense in the workers’ movement: nowadays it is regarded as odd, strange, almost unhinged – testimony to a general degradation of our political culture.

Going nowhere

Comrade Greenstein believes that going for a mass Communist Party is hopeless – well, certainly under present-day historical circumstances, which, to say the least, are hardly revolutionary. “Unsurprisingly”, he says, “this project has gone nowhere.” His reasoning is philosophically revealing: “You cannot from existing levels of consciousness and organisation leap to a revolutionary consciousness. You have to have something in between. Revolutionary fish need a sea in which to swim.”

Well, beginning with the last statement, we agree with the fish and the sea analogy (presumably knowingly borrowed from Mao Zedong). With students, big strikes and protests around the climate emergency, we find a ready audience for our ideas. But the key is political organisation and one of the seas we swim in is the historically established Labour Party, with its hundreds of thousands of individual members and millions of affiliated members.

And here, precisely because it matters to the ruling class, because it needs a trustworthy second eleven, a safe alternative party of government, we have the ongoing ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt and the Starmer leadership proscribing LAW, LIEN and Socialist Appeal. And here, precisely because of the instinctive, stubborn, often wonderfully creative resistance put up by the rank and file, we have an elemental clash of class against class. That explains why LPM is committed to staying and fighting in the Labour Party, including, of course, alongside those suspended and expelled members, not seeking refuge in yet another rickety, broad-left lifecraft.

What about the claim that one “cannot from existing levels of consciousness and organisation leap to a revolutionary consciousness”? The claim that one “must have something in between”? This speaks to a deep-seated bourgeois ideology. Basic dialectics tells us that things develop quantitatively and then at some point leap qualitatively from one state to another state. Once the temperature rises above 0℃, water – ie, H2O – leaps from ice to liquid. The same goes with water turning from liquid to steam (gas). It happens at a definite moment: 100℃ (at sea level).

Understandably bourgeois ideology mortally fears the qualitative leap – precisely because of its revolutionary implications. So, yes, in biology, classical Darwinism posits an endless series of intermediary forms and stages. Charles Darwin specifically warned against the leap in his Origin (1859) because of his dread of a revived Chartism. Yet radical biologists such as Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge have shown that his gradualism was mistaken, false – yes, rooted in a bourgeois fear of social revolution. There is speciaisation, the leap. The same goes for the other sciences. Did physicists need an intermediate stage between the steady state theory of the universe and the theory of the expanding universe? There were futile attempts to establish such a halfway house, but none of them stood up to serious examination. Nowadays the expanding universe is simply taken as a proven fact. Certainly the halfway house theories were not needed in order to arrive at the truth. They were diversions.

Marxism itself represents a qualitative leap from the contemplative materialism of Ludwig Feuerbach. On a more prosaic level people can and do go from holding racist/national chauvinist views to almost in an instant seeing the light. Ricky Tomlinson comes to my mind. There are countless other examples that could be given. But let us suffice with just two. There is religious conversion and conversion from religion. There is reformism and being won over to Marxism.

However, what comrade Greenstein understands by establishing a mass Communist Party is yet another repetition of the half-crazy confessional sects that he has known from first-hand experience and has rightly learnt not to love. Even then, though, he gets things wrong. In his account the confessional sects only speak to those “who agree with you”. No, not even true with the CWO ‘left’ communists, the SPGB and the Northite WSWS. They are quite prepared to talk to all manner of people who disagree with them: eg, on demonstrations. But the reality is that most confessional sects only speak to organisations safely to their right – that is the certainly the case with the SWP, CPB and SPEW. Does that apply to the CPGB? Surely not. We have a proven record of debating with organisations both to our left and to our right … but – and this is vital – throughout, militantly, resolutely, undeviatingly, defending a definite political programme.

Not revolutionary

Comrade Greenstein confidently announces that a “precondition for forming a socialist party is a mass socialist movement”. If by a “socialist party” he means a revolutionary Marxist party and if by “mass socialist movement” he means mass socialist consciousness, well, that would provide ideal, almost perfect conditions. But a “precondition”? No.

Did the formation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party in 1875 require a pre-existing mass socialist consciousness? There was a certain interest in socialistic ideas, that is true – not least because of the success of workers’ education associations. But the mass socialist movement, mass socialist consciousness, including mass trade unions – that came after 1875, through the SDP and its MPs, press, libraries, clubs, choirs, local branches and the production and wide dissemination of Marxist literature. That was the general pattern for the Second International and the Third International … especially in the colonial and semi-colonial world of the 1920s. Eg, the Communist Party of China, formed in July 1921, had 50 founding members. By 1925 membership had risen to 2,428 and there was rapid progress in influencing the urban working class. By 1927 the pro-CCP militia controlled Shanghai.

What needs to be understood is that socialist – ie, Marxist – parties, are built top-down, not bottom-up. What is primary is the programme: ie, theory. It is from there to the masses and in the process, of course, theory is enriched, concretised, taken to new heights. It should also be understood that Marxist parties do not require revolutionary conditions in order to grow. They can grow in peaceful, seemingly almost uneventful, conditions. And the fact of the matter is that such parties, because of their tenacity, cohesion, discipline and theoretical and political training, are far better at obtaining economic, social and democratic concessions than explicitly reformist parties or routine trade unionism. Certainly if we wait to form a revolutionary party till there is a revolutionary situation, then it will be too late … we would have already lost.

According to comrade Greenstein, we in the CPGB “write off anything bar the formation of a revolutionary Marxist Party”. He calls it an “all or nothing” approach, out of which “you are likely to get nothing”. A neat line. But there is a little problem: it is simply untrue. Leave aside our vastly disproportionate role in various unity projects compared with our numbers – the most promising being the Socialist Alliance in the early 2000s (which was wrecked first by SPEW and finally by the SWP). We do not write off campaigns around runaway climate change, Palestinian solidarity, student grants, the trade union movement, the Labour Party or for that matter the many and various organisations of the existing left. We simply say that they are inadequate if we are going to empower the working class and ready it for state power.

So, yes, we do say that the key question today is the formation of a Communist Party. We in the CPGB have the name, but we fight to make the name a reality. The Communist Party must be made into a part – the leading part – of the working class. To begin with, in embryo, that might, in present-day British conditions, consist of just a few thousand; maybe brought together through a series of splits and fusions within the existing left (including those in the Labour Party). But to become real it must go on to organise hundreds of thousands, millions.

Comrade Greenstein discounts this strategic perspective. Why? Because “we are not living in revolutionary times”, because “the class struggle is at an all-time low”, because “the working class has been atomised as a result of globalisation and the Thatcherite attack”. Of course, a class that has been atomised is no longer a class: it is merely an amorphous mass. That aside, he goes on: “The Russian Revolution” happened “over a hundred years ago”. Nothing controversial here – we can count too. But he has a point to make, a big one: “There must be political and material reasons why there has been no repeat. Should we not examine them?” Leave aside the 20th century being a century of wars and revolutions: from Russia, Germany and Austria to China and Vietnam, from Yugoslavia and Cuba to Portugal and Afghanistan. The notion that we, and numerous others, have not tried to get to grips with the century of the unexpected is frankly risible. We might be totally wrong, we might be near getting it right, but, yes, we have provided answers. Comrade Greenstein, seems altogether oblivious – sad, what a pity.

In the same short-sighted, philistine spirit he blunders on:

The working class as an agent of revolutionary change in the west is open to question. Especially in the light of working class support for the rise of parties of the far right in Britain and Europe, which the vote for Brexit and Ukip represented.

So, if it is not the working class that is the “agent of revolutionary change”, what force does comrade Greenstein look to? Throughout modern history – that is, under conditions of something like universal suffrage – people, including working class people, have voted for all manner of reactionary parties and candidates: based on notions of common nationality, common religion, etc. Meanwhile, capital remorselessly extracts surplus value and the class struggle is fought out every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every year … workers resist, fight back, organise together to limit competition and improve conditions and thereby spontaneously generate a tendency towards collectivism and a readiness for the ideas of Marxism and joining the fight for international communism. That outcome is not automatic, but it does explain why the Marx-Engels team thought that only the working class “is a really revolutionary class” (Communist manifesto).

What is clear is that in the west comrade Greenstein has given up on the working class as the “agent of revolutionary change” (ie, the advanced, core, capitalist counties). Hence, if he really thinks revolutionary change and socialism are possible in a country like Britain, which is seriously open to question, then his only realistic option must be some sort of ethical socialism, which, beginning with his tailism of David Cameron, Peter Mandelson, Caroline Lucas, Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and the thoroughly bourgeois remain campaign, inevitably entails a haughty, arrogant, thoroughly stupid, contempt for leave voters and a casual dismissal of the basic tenants of Marxism. A rerun of Eduard Bernstein, Fabianism and Eurocommunism.

Living contradiction

Hence we find comrade Greenstein rubbishing the paradoxical Marxist category, bourgeois workers’ party – first coined by Fredrick Engels, elaborated and defended by Vladimir Lenin and given useful historical background by Theodore Rothstein in his classic study From Chartism to Labourism (1929). Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein use the term, “capitalist workers’ party”, in their The Labour Party – a Marxist history (1988). Presumably they did not think their readers could cope with a difficult ‘foreign’ word such a ‘bourgeois’ (which in point of fact is not the direct equivalent of capitalist). Beside that, The Labour Party is one of the worst books I have ever read. But for comrade Greenstein, whether it is a bourgeois workers’ party or a capitalist workers’ party, it is binned as a “meaningless slogan”.

Meaningless? A slogan? No, it is a concept, the result of insightful, indeed profound, thinking. And, if the Labour Party is not a bourgeois workers’ party, then in class terms what the hell is it? Only if you have abandoned class politics – that is, the class politics of the working class – does the concept of Labour being a “bourgeois workers’ party” appear to be a “meaningless slogan”, a Marxist “shibboleth”.

The living contradiction that is today’s Labour Party can be negatively resolved – in favour of the dominant, bourgeois, pole. Tony Blair attempted to do just that, but failed. He wanted to end the historic split with Liberalism. Maybe Sir Keir has the same aim in mind. He certainly wants to fulfil his youthful, Pabloite, dream of becoming prime minister and is willing to sacrifice the left to demonstrate his loyalty to the system. But the trade union link? We shall see.  But as well as the negative there is the positive. The contradiction can be resolved by driving out the bourgeois careerists and the triumph of the working class pole. In other words, “refounding the Labour Party as a ‘united front of a special kind’”.

Predictably, dumbly, once again for comrade Greenstein, this too is meaningless. Why? Because “there never was such a united front”. Why? Because “the Fabians, a wholly bourgeois organisation, were one of those founders”. So why, in 1907, did Karl Kautsky – and following him Lenin, albeit it with some revealing reservations – strongly advocate that the Labour Party be accepted as an affiliate to the Second International? It was not really a party, nor was it a straightforward trade union federation. As to the leadership – not the right opportunist Fabians, but the centrist Independent Labour Party – well, despite their socialistic pretensions, they ensured that the Labour Party remained a mere tail of the bourgeois Liberal Party. Similar, politically, in other words, to comrade Greenstein’s “transitional” formation and the likes of himself constituting a mere tail of the bourgeois remain campaign.

Nevertheless, despite all of its many flaws and limitations, the Labour Party represented a real step forward for the working class movement in Britain – at the time, potentially the most important component of the international socialist movement. No less to the point in terms of this argument, all working class organisations – including the Social Democratic Federation and, after it, the British Socialist Party – were unproblematically accepted as affiliates. Indeed the SDF was given two automatic NEC seats along with the ILP … compared with a single seat for the Fabians. Hence, with the encouragement of the Second International’s leadership, the continued spread of Marxist ideas and through concerted political struggle (not least in the trade unions, where the left had a strong presence), there existed the possibility of the Labour Party becoming a fully working class organisation.

Dismissing the original Labour Party as a “united front of a special kind” because of the presence of the Fabians, is not to see the forest for a single tree. One might as well dismiss the soviets in Russia as “meaningless” because of the presence of delegates from Georgi Plekhanov’s very small national chauvinist faction. No, the soviets were a “united front of a special kind” (Trotsky), because they united all working class trends, factions and parties – not merely ephemerally, but permanently (well, until the right and the centre minority finally walked … after the Bolshevik seizure of state power – carried out, of course, in the name of the workers, soldiers and peasant soviets).