Category Archives: Labour structures and programme

Moshé Machover: Zionist colonisation and Armageddon

As Israel moves further and further to the right, Moshé Machover says religious fanatics are becoming increasingly influential

Binyamin (‘Bibi’) Netanyahu’s motive for calling an early election to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), on April 9, one year before the end of its term, was purely personal: it was his ‘stay out of jail’ card. His former friend and appointee, attorney general Avichai Mendelblit, could not endlessly procrastinate, and would eventually feel bound to indict him for multiple, firmly attested charges of bribery and corruption. 1)Haaretz February 28 2019 Netanyahu calculated that, if he managed to win an election before being indicted, he would be able to breathe freely for the next five years at the very least.

Winning, in Israel’s system of party-list proportional representation, does not mean getting a majority, or even the largest number, of Knesset seats, but being the only party leader able to form a ruling coalition. Netanyahu reckons that if he puts together a coalition with the two main religious parties and two or three small extreme-right parties, then he can get through the Knesset a bespoke law giving him immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu knew that his chances of winning the election were pretty good. In this he could count on more than his mastery of rightwing, populist rabble-rousing, fabrication of ‘facts’ and whines of persecution by a hostile elite and ‘leftist’ media. Propaganda apart, Israel’s economy is buoyant and, although inequality remains very high, even the poorest sections of the population – those on minimum wages or social benefits – have experienced some improvement. Unionisation of workers has been increasing, and consequently the number of workers benefiting from improved pay and conditions thanks to collective bargaining has been rising.

Also, since the last elections (March 2015), Netanyahu has avoided large-scale military adventures that exact a toll in Israeli military and civilian casualties; so Jewish Israelis have not felt they were paying a high cost – in human losses or insecurity any more than in economic terms – for ruling over the Palestinian occupied territories. As far as foreign relations are concerned, Netanyahu could count on more than a little help from his friends, including Trump 2)Haaretz March 25 2019 and Putin. 3)Haaretz April 4 2019 Not many national leaders can boast of warm personal relations with both Donald and Vladimir Vladimirovich.

But, leaving little to chance, Netanyahu took several steps to secure his electoral victory and the subsequent prize of immunity from criminal prosecution. In order to make sure that his preferred prospective coalition partners – those of the extreme annexationist and ultra-racist right – would reach the threshold of 3.25% of the valid votes required to win any seats, he acted as match-maker between two such parties, each of which may not have reached this threshold individually, and persuaded them to form a bloc. This ran as the Union of Rightwing Parties, duly passed the threshold and won five seats. In exchange for their complicity in passing a law keeping him out of prison, Netanyahu had promised to accede to their hearts’ desire: annexation of parts of the West Bank.

The most serious rival of Netanyahu’s Likud party in the elections was the newly formed centre-right bloc, Kahol-Lavan (Blue and White – colours of the flag of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel), led by retired general Benny Gantz, two other retired generals and a civilian windbag, Yair Lapid (the only one of the four with some political experience, having served as minister of finance in a previous Netanyahu-led government).

Lacking any coherent programme, it attracted many voters disgusted with Netanyahu’s corruption and rightwing populism. Netanyahu’s way of fighting off the potential threat represented by this nine-day wonder was to point out that it would not be able to block a Likud-led government (let alone form a ruling coalition) except in collaboration with Arab parties. The three generals and the windbag, bowing to popular Israeli-Jewish racism, duly vowed that they would never collaborate with Arabs, thereby confirming that they pose no real danger to Netanyahu.

Many Arab citizens, feeling alienated and excluded, were clearly going to boycott or ignore the elections. But to ensure low Arab participation, Likud resorted to intimidatio. 4)Haaretz April 10 2019

In the event, Netanyahu’s Likud won 35 out of 120 Knesset seats, the same as the Blue-and-White contender. But the latter’s 35 elected MKs have little to hold them together. The hastily assembled, disparate quasi-party may well fall apart before long. Its main contribution to Israel’s political history is to have sucked voters away from the bloc formerly led by the Israeli Labor Party, and reduce Labor, with its pitiful six seats, to a mortally wounded relic, crawling towards a well-deserved demise.

Messianic fanatics

Evidently, the outcome of Israel’s elections is part of a worldwide shift to rightwing authoritarian regimes led by elected illiberal demagogues. Netanyahu has much in common with Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, Bolsonaro and their ilk. But equally obviously, Israel’s rightwing populism comes with a special Israeli twist: that of a Zionist colonising regime, increasingly inspired by a creepy messianism. This growing importance of eschatology in Israeli politics has not received sufficient attention.

Religions tend to have their lunatic fringes – crazed zealots lurking in the obscurity of the relatively harmless margins – who under certain political and social circumstances may emerge as if out of nowhere and shock the world with horrific and dangerous acts. Judaism is no exception to this rule. In my article ‘Israel and the Messiah’s ass’ (Weekly Worker June 1 2017), I called attention to the emergence in 1967 of messianic religious Zionism. Extremist forms of this political theology or theological politics have steadily grown in importance. Following the recent elections, its most fanatic true believers are openly represented in the Knesset, as members of the Union of Rightwing Parties, and will no doubt be part of the ruling coalition.

The size of this bloc – a mere five seats in the Knesset – understates the real influence of messianic fanaticism. A significant number of supporters of this ideology must have voted tactically for one of the larger and well-established religious parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism), or for Likud.

Messianic activists differ in one crucial respect from other followers of orthodox Judaism: they are determined to take actual steps to bring about the establishment of a renewed biblical Jewish kingdom. A key part of this plan is the building of a third Jewish temple on the old hallowed hill (the first two were destroyed respectively by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE). An obvious obstacle in the way of the third temple is that the Jews’ Temple Mount happens to be the Muslims’ Haram al-Sharif – Islam’s third holiest place, site of al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. These will have to be demolished to make way for the third temple.

Plans to bring this about are by no means new. From 1979 to 1984 a secret cabal of settlers, known as the Jewish Underground, engaged in terrorist actions against Palestinian civic leaders. It also hatched a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock; but just in time members of the group were arrested and brought to trial on charges of terrorism. Most served short terms, and the ringleaders were pardoned in 1990. 5)Haaretz April 10 2019 Unrepentant, the zealot leader, Yehuda Etzion, and his mates continued to make plans for the third temple. But now they have moved from the margins into the centres of political power. And their numbers have multiplied. A recent TV documentary series has drawn attention to an extensive network of activists making practical preparations for building the third temple and performing the rituals in it. 6)The very revealing first part of this series can be seen – unfortunately without English subtitles – on www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6NzLD-0laQ&feature=youtu.be These include detailed architectural drawings and models for the temple itself, sewing and embroidering vestments for the priests that will officiate in it, and practising animal sacrifices in the vicinity of the holy site. In order for the priests to be allowed to enter the temple and perform their rituals, they must first be purified with the ashes of a burnt, unblemished red heifer. Red means totally red – even two black hairs disqualify it. A cattle rancher in the Israeli-occupied Golan, by the name of Menahem Urbach, has been commissioned to produce a red heifer by selective breeding. Interviewed on TV, he claimed that the desired animal is expected to be delivered quite soon.

It will be televised

Explosives are easily accessible to the activists, who reside in armed settlements; and some are no doubt stashed away for use, as and when required. Of course, the Muslim world is likely to react violently to the destruction of the holy mosques. This can easily escalate to a major conflagration in the entire region, and possibly beyond.

The messianic zealots are not particularly bothered by this prospect: they regard it with the same kind of hopeful anticipation that extreme Christian evangelicals have for Armageddon.

In fact, both bunches of dangerous nutters, whether Jewish or Christian, share many beliefs (except that the former are expecting the first coming of the messiah, while for the latter it is going to be the second – following which the Jews will have to convert or die). As the Daily Express reported recently:

Biblical conspiracy theorists believe the construction of a third Holy Temple in Jerusalem will precede the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Jewish eschatology concerning the end times claims the Holy Temple will rise up from the ground for the third time when the apocalypse nears. Talk of a third temple being built emerged this week in response to a letter penned by the powerful Jewish assembly of rabbis known as the Sanhedrin.

Jerusalem is heading into a mayoral election next week and the Sanhedrin urged both running candidates, Ofer Berkovich and Moshe Lion, to rebuild the temple. …

The Holy Temple plays a crucial role in Jewish tradition and is a central player in prophecies and tales concerning the apocalypse.

Christian pastor and doomsday preacher Paul Begley has now claimed the signs of the end times are coming to fruition. The Indiana-based preacher said: “The rabbis of the Sanhedrin court are calling both mayor candidates to include in their plans for this city the rebuilding of the third temple …”

According to Irvin Baxter of the End Time Ministries, the third Holy Temple will be rebuilt in the last seven years of the world’s existence. The doomsday preacher said this will happen in the first three years of the end times and will be the “most visible sign” of the end times finally arriving.

Mr Baxter said: “As that cornerstone is laid on the Temple Mount, every network on Earth will be televising this incredible event.”7)Daily Express March 18 2019

Will Israel’s security services act in time to prevent an explosion on the sacred site, as they did back in 1984? I do not wish to sound too alarmist, but, when watching Israel careering to extremes of racist populism and annexationism, we should also keep an eye on the movement of messianic fanaticism.

I would like to thank comrade Ehud Ein-Gil for his help in researching this article.

References

References
1 Haaretz February 28 2019
2 Haaretz March 25 2019
3 Haaretz April 4 2019
4 Haaretz April 10 2019
5 Haaretz April 10 2019
6 The very revealing first part of this series can be seen – unfortunately without English subtitles – on www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6NzLD-0laQ&feature=youtu.be
7 Daily Express March 18 2019

Marx and Jewish emancipation

this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker

By citing a few thoroughly decontextualised phrases, the establishment finds Marx – and therefore contemporary Marxism – guilty of anti-Semitism. Jack Conrad puts the record straight

As a young man Karl Marx studied and thoroughly absorbed the materialist and atheist ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72). However, he soon became convinced that, while atheism was a vital intellectual premise, historic processes, developments in the means of production, social relations and crucially revolutionary practice had to be made the real starting point of “our criticism”.1)K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 3, London 1975, p144.

Inevitably, that necessitated further, deeper, endless investigations – not least into the “inverted reality” of the bourgeois world. Hence the first of two articles which Marx wrote in what was a seminal period spent in the snug little Rhineland town of Kreuznach between March and October 1843 – just prior to his enforced move to Paris.

On the Jewish question was published in the first and only edition of the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher journal (February 1844). A very early work: concepts such as capital, exploitation and surplus value are not there yet. Concrete history hardly gets a look in. Nor does the proletariat.

Nonetheless, On the Jewish question constitutes a devastating rebuttal of Bruno Bauer – the Young Hegelian radical, atheist firebrand and a former collaborator and friend. More importantly – not least because of Bauer’s present-day status as a mere footnote – On the Jewish question established a profound critique of the limited way liberals typically treat demands for equality, freedom, rights, etc.

Emancipation

Protestant Christianity was the only officially recognised religion in Frederick William IV’s Prussia. Jews in particular faced a whole raft of laws which humiliatingly discriminated against them. Bauer – barred from teaching in 1842 for daring to show that biblical stories were full of human invention – argued, in his book, The Jewish question (1843), that Jews can achieve political and civic emancipation only if they renounce their religious allegiances, religious modes of thinking and religious practices. 2)Unfortunately, Bauer’s Die Judenfrage is still unavailable in English. For the German original, see here

He barbedly asks, if no-one in Germany is politically emancipated, how are we going to free you Jews? Demands for Jewish emancipation were, therefore, dismissed as a demand for special treatment. Those who continued to make such selfish claims on the Prussian state were branded “egoists”.

Moreover, Jews who appealed to what was an explicitly Christian state for equality were inexcusably legitimising the regime of general oppression. The Christian state can only grant privileges. Without showing the least blush of shame, Bauer then proceeded to argue that in Prussia, Jews have the privilege of being a Jew. Therefore Jews have rights not enjoyed by Christians. Why should Jews be granted rights which only Christians enjoy? Therefore, in the name of bringing about general freedom, he felt fully justified in rejecting demands for Jewish equality in a Christian state.

Bauer went further. He maintained that granting Jewish rights would be incompatible with either the political rights of citizens (eg, the 1787 US constitution) or general civic rights (eg, France’s 1789 ‘Declaration of the rights of man’). According to Bauer, an atheist state was alone the only conceivable solution … and for him that meant Jews, Lutherans, Catholics – everyone – divesting themselves of their religion. He wanted to free the state from Judaism, Lutherism, Catholicism and religion in general. But, of course, that still left the state.

Note, Bauer drew a sharp theological line of distinction between Judaism and Christianity: in the process he depicts Judaism as narrow and tribal; Christianity as universal and superior. Sadly, after the failure of the 1848 German revolution, Bauer swung violently to the right and began to promote an ever more vile anti-Semitism: these Jewish “white Negroes” should be “shipped to the land of Canaan”. 3)J Carlebach Karl Marx and the radical critique of Judaism London 1978, p147.

As a militant champion of genuine human liberation, Marx rejected Bauer’s ‘solution’ as theoretically flawed and totally inadequate. Bauer was trying to solve a social question as if it were purely theological. He failed to see that religious inequalities were not the cause of social inequalities – merely their symptom. Bauer’s critique was also misdirected because it was aimed at the Christian state, not the state as such.

Bauer’s problem – and that of bourgeois radicals in general – was that he mistook political emancipation, embodied in declarations, constitutions, etc, for human emancipation. Simply decreeing the separation of church and state, while needed, could not ensure the disappearance of religion (and its associated prejudices). The original 13 American states, for example, had written separation of the state from organised religion into their constitutions, and yet the US remained “pre-eminently the country of religiosity”. 4)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p151.

Bauer was still using the criticism of religion as his basis for the criticism of politics, but, as Marx insisted:

[T]he existence of religion is the existence of a defect … We no longer regard religion as the cause, but only as the manifestation, of secular narrowness … History has long enough been merged in superstition; we now merge superstition in history. The question of the relation of political emancipation to religion becomes for us the question of the relation of political emancipation to human emancipation. 5)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p151.

So it is not that Marx rejects demands for political and civic equality. Quite the reverse. He considers the political emancipation of Jews perfectly feasible … even without them renouncing their religion completely and irrevocably. However, the achievement of political emancipation is not human emancipation. Political emancipation in and of itself can only go so far.

Taking issue with his own earlier reliance on universal suffrage, for example, Marx points out that some American states had abolished property qualifications for (male) participation in elections. From the liberal standpoint, it could be said that “the masses have thus gained a victory over the property-owners and moneyed classes”, that the “non-owner had become the law-giver for the owner”.6)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p151. This victory, however, was only partial, because there is a world of difference between everyone getting the vote – desirable and necessary as that is – and getting everyone real and effective power over their lives.

Religion

Unsurprisingly, On the Jewish question reiterates the ethical postulate Marx presented in ‘Debates on freedom of the press’ – a six-part supplement carried by the Rheinische Zeitung back in May 1842. Here Marx lambasted Prussian press censorship – “a perfumed abortion”, he called it. Prometheus-like, he defiantly proclaims: “only that which is a realisation of freedom can be called humanly good”.7)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 1, London 1975, pp158-59.

Since organised religion, by its very nature, makes human beings into slaves of an imaginary deity, conceding them merely a specious sovereignty in alienated form, it cannot, in Marxist terms, be a force for human good in any meaningful sense. Religion and ‘morality’ (ie, bourgeois morality) exist in the abstract sphere of ‘public life’, the realm of illusory collectivity and illusory sovereignty represented by the state, whereas the concrete sphere of ‘everyday life’ – civil society – remains dominated by individual antagonisms and by all the kinds of inhuman domination, bondage and debasement implicit in the category of alienation.

Bruno Bauer’s mistake was to imagine that religious emancipation in and of itself could free humanity, whereas, for Marx, even the most far-going version of (bourgeois) political emancipation cannot succeed in achieving freedom. Religious emancipation gives freedom of religion, but it does not give freedom from the rule of religion, property or trade: it just gives us the right to profess the religion of our choice, hold property and practise trade as individuals in a civil society dominated by the bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all).

Just as religion, though constituting an illusory collectivity of humanity in relation to god, actually renders us into alienated, atomised individuals in relation to an imaginary creator, so political emancipation, while endowing us with an illusory sovereignty as citizens of the state, renders us into alienated, atomised individuals in a civil society dominated by property and the power that flows from it. Marx writes:

“Only when the real, individual man reabsorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation; only when man has recognised and organised his own ‘forces propres’ [own powers] as social forces, and consequently no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power; only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.”8)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p168.

The central idea is that humanity can achieve real emancipation by rediscovering its identity in and through community, but not through the imaginary community represented by either religion or the state.

In the second part of On the Jewish question, the category of religious alienation appears in another guise – strikingly adapted in order to illustrate the significance of money and commodities in capitalist society – in a way that foreshadows some of Marx’s fundamental ideas about commodity fetishism and the alienation inherent in the capitalist mode of production. Hence the following passage:

“Selling is the practice of externalisation. Selling is the practical aspect of alienation. Just as man, as long as he is in the grip of religion, is able to objectify his essential nature only by turning it into something alien, something fantastic, so under the domination of egoistic need he can be active practically and produce objects in practice only by putting his products, and his activity, under the domination of an alien being, and bestowing the significance of an alien entity – money – on them.”9)Ibid p174.

Feuerbach’s ‘inverted reality’ – a world in which the essence of everything is externalised (entäussert), or objectified (vergegenständigt) into an alien, imaginary entity, a process whereby all values are turned upside-down – could not be more clear. Both notions, of course, appear – in a richer, more profound and dialectical form – in Marx’s later critique of political economy.

But – some may ask – how can the social role of money and commodities be equated with religion? Is this not stretching a point? No, it is not, for by ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ in this context Marx refers not to the cultic beliefs or observances of this or that religion, but to the subordination of human beings to a thing of their own making. Hence, in Capital Marx says: “in religion man is governed by the products of his own brain”. He elaborates:

“A commodity is, therefore, a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour … [the commodity is] a definite social relation between men … [and] assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world, the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands.”10)K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p72.

It is precisely the analogical, paradigmatic role of religious alienation in unravelling the “mysterious” nature of commodities, money and much else in the world of political economy that is of central importance to an understanding of the development of Marx’s thought. Commodities are the products of our hands and brains, which exert an alien power over us, at least exist in actuality, whereas god or gods are entirely a figment of the human imagination, with no existence in objective reality. It is precisely the ‘purity’ of religious alienation in this respect that endows it with a prototypical value when considering alienation in general.

The point is, of course, that the relationship between religious alienation and its ‘secular’ counterpart in the world of humanity’s productive activity rests on the same basis of a fundamental inversion of subject and object, a radical confusion between appearance and reality at every level:

The religious world is but the reflex of the real world … The religious reflex of the real world can … only then finally vanish when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellow men and to nature. 11)K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p79.

Feigned horror

While Bauer argued in terms of the emancipation of “the Sabbath Jew” – Jews seen purely in terms of their religion 12)K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p169. – Marx extends the notion of emancipation by focusing on the oppression of Jews in an actual socio-economic context:

“Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money. Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money – consequently from practical, real Judaism – would be the self-emancipation of our time.” 13)K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p169-70.

Why, for Marx, is “Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism” rated as the “self-emancipation of our time”? Because it is money that dominates all social relations, money and the power that flows from it is that constitutes the material base of capitalist society:

“Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man – and turns them into commodities. Money is the universal, self-established value of all things. It has therefore robbed the whole world – both the world of men and nature – of its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.” 14)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 1, London 1975, p172.

Biased, purchased or merely worthless opinion reacts with feigned horror to such passages, denouncing them as irrefutable proof of Marx’s deep-seated anti-Semitism. Here are three professional Marx bashers:

  •  Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian’s resident Zionist, writes that, given the “2,000-year-old” practice of equating “Jews and the wickedness of money, it absurd to imagine any one of us would be immune to [anti-Semitism]. Inevitably, plenty of Jews have themselves internalised it – including no less than Karl Marx, whose writings are peppered with anti-Jewish sentiment.” 15)J Freeland, ‘For 2,000 years we’ve linked Jews to money. It’s why anti-Semitism is so ingrained’ The Guardian March 9 – online here
  • Nothing compared to Jonah Goldberg, the rightwing US commentator and author of Liberal fascism (2007). He insists, that for Marx, “capital and the Jew are different faces of the same monster …. Marx’s writing, particularly on surplus value, is drenched with references to capital as parasitic and vampiric …. The constant allusions to the eternal wickedness of the Jew, combined with his constant references to blood, make it hard to avoid concluding that Marx had simply updated [medieval anti-Semitic imagery] and applied it to his own atheistic doctrine. His writing is replete with references to the ‘bloodsucking’ nature of capitalism. He likens both Jews and capitalists (the same thing in his mind) to life-draining exploiters of the proletariat.”16)J Goldburg, ‘Karl Marx’s Jew-hating conspiracy theory’ Commentary March 2018 – online here.
  • Despite his status as a celebrity professor, Simon Schama displays exactly the same rigour and intellectual honesty: “Demonstrating that you do not have to be a gentile to be an anti-Semite, Karl Marx characterised Judaism as nothing more than the cult of Mammon, and declared that the world needed emancipating from the Jews.” 17)S Schama, ‘The left’s problem with Jews has a long and miserable history’ Financial Times February 21-22 2016.

In other words, Marx was a ‘self-hating’ Jew. However, such a claim could not be more wrong. Few of Marx’s detractors go to the bother of explaining that he was combating the malign anti-Semitism of Bruno Bauer and advocating Jewish emancipation.

Put aside Marx’s own Jewishness, a religiously pious mother and rabbinical lineage: a good case can be made for his communism being connected, consciously or otherwise, with messianic Old Testament prophets, such as Amos, Micah and Habakkuk.18)E Fromm Marx’s concept of man London 2004, p52. Possibly this came through his personal acquaintance with the proto-Zionist Moses Hess (1812-72), who likewise condemned the “Judeo-Christian huckster world”; a line of thought that surely came via Spinoza, Goethe and Hegel. In turn their passionate commitment to human freedom recognisably descends from the Christian utopias of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Not that I would go along with Erich Fromm (1900-80), when he describes Marx’s communism as “the most advanced form of rational mysticism”.19)E Fromm Marx’s concept of man London 2004, p52. Such a paradoxical formulation, while having the virtue of counteracting the dismal technological determinism of the Stalinites, runs the risk of appearing to reconcile Marxism with religion.

Either way, Marx’s actual argument in On the Jewish question, can neatly be summarised:

  • Since the rights of man and citizen include freedom of religion, what grounds can there be for excluding Jews because of their religion?
  • Since the rights of man include rights of egoism, what grounds can there be for denying civil rights to Jews because of their alleged egoism?
  • Since the rights of citizens abstract ‘political man’ from their social role, what grounds can there be for excluding Jews because of their allegedly harmful social role?
  • Since money in modern society is the supreme world power, what grounds can there be for denouncing Jews for allegedly turning money into their god? 20)See R Fine and P Spenser Anti-Semitism and the left: return of the Jewish question Manchester 2017, p37.

While Bauer represents the Jew as a “financial power”, Marx responds that society now revolves around huckstering, trading and making money. While Bauer imagines that money is “the practical spirit of the Jews”, Marx responds that money has also become “the practical spirit of the Christian nations”.21)K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 3, London 1975, p170. While Bauer says that money is the “jealous god of Israel”, Marx responds that the god of the Jews has “become the god of the world”.22)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p172.

Nor did Marx and Engels hold back from combating German or ‘true’ socialism that was capable, as they put it in the Communist manifesto, of little more than “hurling the traditional anathemas” against liberalism, against representative government, against bourgeois freedom of the press.23)K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p511.

Amongst those traditional anathemas was, of course, that Jews constituted “a secret world power which makes and unmakes governments”, a “secret force behind the throne”, a “secret force which holds Europe in its thrall”.24)H Arendt The origins of totalitarianism London 1976, p24. ‘True’ socialism’s most noted representative was Karl Grün and, naturally, he expressed his profound dislike of the class struggle and the “men of destructive tendencies, the levellers”: ie, Marx’s party.25)Quoted in J Strassmaier, ‘Karl Grün: the confrontation with Marx, 1844-1848’ Dissertations paper 1059, Chicago 1969, p61 – online here Objectively, ‘true’ socialism served to defend the interests of the reactionary petty bourgeoisie: parsons, university professors, country squires and government officials.

Sense and sensibilities

Fewer still of Marx’s detractors show any appreciation of the fact that it is thoroughly misleading to read present-day sensibilities back onto 19th century language. A telling example is Marx’s race banter contained in private correspondence with Frederick Engels (amongst others).

In 1862, infuriated by what he saw as a visiting Ferdinand Lassalle’s meanness, ostentation and political shallowness, an impoverished Marx wrote to Engels cursing him as a “Jewish nigger”.26)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 41, London 1985, p389. Needless to say, such rages cooled. Given news of Lassalle’s untimely death, just two years later, Marx expressed his “great sorrow” to Lassalle’s lover, Sophie von Hatzfeldt: Lassalle “was one of the people by whom I set great store”. He went on to compare him to a triumphant “Achilles”.27)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 41, London 1985, p563.

Paul Lafargue, his future son-in-law, got called his “medical Creole”.28)K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 42, Moscow 1987, p303. Marx was a possessive father. He urged Lafargue to curb his “Creole temperament” till after his marriage with Laura. Within the Marx household Lafargue was also called the “African”. Such references were not a sign of prejudice, but were “couched in affectionate and joking terms and were seen as a source of amusement, not concern”.29)L Derfler Paul Lafargue and the founding of French Marxism, 1842-1882 Cambridge MA 1991, p46. Not that any of this seems to have offended Lafargue. He went on to be one of the leaders of the French Workers Party (an implicitly Marxist organisation). Again in terms of race language, when fellow socialist Daniel De Leon asked him about his origins, Lafargue promptly replied: “I am proudest of my negro extraction.”30)L Derfler Paul Lafargue and the founding of French Marxism, 1842-1882 Cambridge MA 1991, p15.

Because of his dark complexion and wild hair, Marx’s closest friends and family nicknamed him “Moor” – a racial tag he happily embraced. True, Marx, to his discredit, suffered a brief infatuation with Pierre Trémaux and his now totally obscure book, The origins and transformation of man and other beings (1865). He momentarily credited this work of biological racism as a “very significant advance over Darwin”.31)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 42, Moscow 1987, p304. Engels, it should be added, did not share his enthusiasm: Trémaux’s “evidence” for his “hypothesis” is nine-tenths based on “erroneous or distorted facts and the remaining 1/10 proves nothing”.32)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 42, Moscow 1987, p323.

As might well be expected, other contemporary Jewish progressives wrote in exactly the same terms as Marx: eg, Ferdinand Lassalle and Henrich Heine. And the fact of that matter is that Marx was criticising not Judaism alone, but what he saw as a “Judeo-Christian complex”. A complex which elevates money-making above every human value, relationship and instinct.33)H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York 1977, p593. Eg, Marx writes: “Judaism reaches its highest point with the perfection of civil society, but it is only in the Christian world that civil society attains perfection.”34)K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p173.

Needless to say, it is political programme, political statements and political actions which really matter. Leave aside his advocacy of Jewish emancipation. Marx savaged American slavery with a passion, fought to ensure that the British government did not intervene in support of the southern slavocracy in the US civil war and, crucially, through his leadership of the First International, championed the northern cause. Again and again he urged Abraham Lincoln to take up the call for abolition. August Nimtz argues that, in practical terms, Marx and Engels, in conjunction with their co-thinkers in America, had an “enormous influence” on what amounted to the second American revolution.35) AH Nimtz Marx, Tocqueville and race in America Lanham MY 2003, p129. And, famously, in Capital volume 1, Marx coined this memorable aphorism: “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin, where in the black skin it is branded.”36)K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970 p301.

When it comes to race-language, Hal Draper convincingly shows that Marx was merely following the near-universal practice of his day. One could make the same point about his male-dominated language too: ie, the word ‘man’ is used more or less unremittingly as synonymous with ‘humanity’. Hence, ‘Jew’ is sometimes treated as being synonymous with ‘usury’.37)See H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York 1977, pp591-608.

This is a relational join with well documented material roots in the Christian economics of European feudal society. Jews were barred from either working the land or holding the land. Hence, they had no other socio-economic niche open to them apart from trade, brokering and lending money for interest. Jews were, as a result, widely reviled. Peasants, artisans and nobles alike despised them with a passion.

Not that hatred of the Jews began with Christianity, as Jonathan Freedland implies. Seneca considered Jews to be a criminal race. Juvenal thought that Jews existed only to cause trouble for other peoples. Quintilian regarded Jews as a curse to all other peoples. The aristocratic classes in classical antiquity upheld an elitist disdain for any form of economic activity other than that based on agriculture.38)The best known 20th-century Marxist studyof anti-Semitism being Abram Leon’s The Jewish question (1946). After suffering torture at the hands of his Nazi captors, he died in Auschwitz in September 1944. He was just 26.

However, despite the widespread hatred of Jews, feudal monarchs both protected the Jewish population and exploited them. They were needed for loans and subject to high levels of taxation. Hence the widely acknowledged antagonism between the Jews and feudalism – but likewise the widely acknowledged bond between the Jews and feudalism.

So historically Judaism survived not because of the loyalty of Jews to their religion. No, Judaism survived because Jews constituted a distinct economic caste within the feudal nexus. And, though Jews were subjected to occasional bouts of persecution and ongoing oppressive provisions, they were vital to the working of the system.

And as transcontinental intermediaries between the Muslim east and the Christian west Jewish merchants could amass very considerable fortunes. The Catholic church preached against Jewish usury, but did not demand extermination. That privilege was reserved for pagans and the ever more luxuriant outgrowth of Christian heresies.

Proudhon and Bakunin

When it comes to the left, for a hatred of Jews of a kind that really does resemble the Nazis, one must look not to the writings of Marx or Engels, but Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65). Though never one to let facts get in the way of a good libel, Simon Schama has him echoing Marx’s “message”: “blood-sucking, whether the physical or the economic kind, was what Jews did.”39)S Schama, ‘The left’s problem with Jews hasa long and miserable history’ Financial Times February 21-22 2016. So Marx is held morally responsible for this notorious passage written by Proudhon in his private notebook:

December 26, 1847: Jews. Write an article against this race that poisons everything by sticking its nose into everything without ever mixing with any other people. Demand its expulsion from France with the exception of those individuals married to French women. Abolish synagogues and not admit them to any employment. Demand its expulsion. Finally, pursue the abolition of this religion.

It’s not without cause that the Christians called them deicides. The Jew is the enemy of humankind. They must be sent back to Asia or be exterminated. H Heine, A Weill, and others are nothing but secret spies; Rothschild, Crémieux, Marx, Fould, wicked, bilious, envious, bitter, etc, etc, beings who hate us. The Jew must disappear by steel or by fusion or by expulsion. Tolerate the elderly who no longer have children. Work to be done – What the peoples of the Middle Ages hated instinctively I hate upon reflection and irrevocably. The hatred of the Jew like the hatred of the English should be our first article of political faith.

Moreover, the abolition of Judaism will come with the abolition of other religions. Begin by not allocating funds to the clergy and leaving this to religious offerings. And then, a short while later, abolish the religion.40)www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ economics/proudhon/1847/jews.htm.

Sad to say, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76) held closely related views. And note, one again, that Marx is counted amongst the Jews to be hated:

“This whole Jewish world, comprising a single exploiting sect, a kind of blood-sucking people, a kind of organic, destructive, collective parasite, going beyond not only the frontiers of states, but of political opinion – this world is now, at least for the most part, at the disposal of Marx, on the one hand, and of Rothschild, on the other … This may seem strange. What can there be in common between socialism and a leading bank? The point is that authoritarian socialism, Marxist communism, demands a strong centralisation of the state. And, where there is centralisation of the state, there must necessarily be a central bank, and, where such a bank exists, the parasitic Jewish nation, speculating with the labour of the people, will be found.”41)en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_ Bakunin#Antisemitism.

Not that the followers of either Proudhon or Bakunin, at least to my knowledge, have a record of chanting ‘Death to Jews’, ‘Death to reds’, as they burn, beat and massacre. That ‘honour’ goes to the Orthodox Christian Black Hundreds in Russia; to Polish nationalists, egged on by a bigoted Catholic church, in 1918-38; and to the Nazi Third Reich (blessed by the German Christian Movement and leading Protestant and Catholic bishops alike).

Today, once again, anti-Semitism is on the rise: in Poland, Hungary, Austria and Germany. Once again “traditional anathemas” are being hurled. George Soros serves as the living embodiment of the Protocols of the elders of Zion. He is the “secret force” that explains miserable living standards, mass migration and the spread of corrosive liberal values. But it is Muslim migrants, freedom of expression, women’s rights, leftwing activists and workplace conditions which bear the brunt of current attacks.

Meanwhile, Israel, with the full support of Donald Trump, plunges ever further to the right. The conditions are in place for yet another bout of ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population. Zionist demonstrators in Jerusalem chant ‘Death to Arabs’. And here in Britain the likes of Freedland and Schama play their chosen role in a witch-hunt designed to silence pro-Palestinian voices, demonise the left and prevent a radical Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The danger is obvious. A British version of Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice Party, Viktor Orbán’s illiberal democracy, Heinz-Christian Strache’s Freedom Party, Germany’s AfD … and the return of real anti-Semitism.

References

References
1 K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 3, London 1975, p144.
2 Unfortunately, Bauer’s Die Judenfrage is still unavailable in English. For the German original, see here
3 J Carlebach Karl Marx and the radical critique of Judaism London 1978, p147.
4 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p151.
5 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p151.
6 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p151.
7 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 1, London 1975, pp158-59.
8 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p168.
9 Ibid p174.
10 K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p72.
11 K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p79.
12 K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p169.
13 K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p169-70.
14 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 1, London 1975, p172.
15 J Freeland, ‘For 2,000 years we’ve linked Jews to money. It’s why anti-Semitism is so ingrained’ The Guardian March 9 – online here
16 J Goldburg, ‘Karl Marx’s Jew-hating conspiracy theory’ Commentary March 2018 – online here.
17 S Schama, ‘The left’s problem with Jews has a long and miserable history’ Financial Times February 21-22 2016.
18 E Fromm Marx’s concept of man London 2004, p52.
19 E Fromm Marx’s concept of man London 2004, p52.
20 See R Fine and P Spenser Anti-Semitism and the left: return of the Jewish question Manchester 2017, p37.
21 K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 3, London 1975, p170.
22 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p172.
23 K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 6, New York 1976, p511.
24 H Arendt The origins of totalitarianism London 1976, p24.
25 Quoted in J Strassmaier, ‘Karl Grün: the confrontation with Marx, 1844-1848’ Dissertations paper 1059, Chicago 1969, p61 – online here
26 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 41, London 1985, p389.
27 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 41, London 1985, p563.
28 K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 42, Moscow 1987, p303.
29 L Derfler Paul Lafargue and the founding of French Marxism, 1842-1882 Cambridge MA 1991, p46.
30 L Derfler Paul Lafargue and the founding of French Marxism, 1842-1882 Cambridge MA 1991, p15.
31 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 42, Moscow 1987, p304.
32 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 42, Moscow 1987, p323.
33 H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York 1977, p593.
34 K Marx and F Engels CWVol 3, London 1975, p173.
35  AH Nimtz Marx, Tocqueville and race in America Lanham MY 2003, p129.
36 K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970 p301.
37 See H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York 1977, pp591-608.
38 The best known 20th-century Marxist studyof anti-Semitism being Abram Leon’s The Jewish question (1946). After suffering torture at the hands of his Nazi captors, he died in Auschwitz in September 1944. He was just 26.
39 S Schama, ‘The left’s problem with Jews hasa long and miserable history’ Financial Times February 21-22 2016.
40 www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ economics/proudhon/1847/jews.htm.
41 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_ Bakunin#Antisemitism.

Left Labour remainers: seriously wrong to take £70,000 from George Soros

(the longer, original of this article appeared in the Weekly Worker)

The Brexit issue is a perilous territory for the workers’ movement. The most egregious consequence is the flat-out refusal of the Labour leadership to make a clear call for one ‘side’ or the other of the Brexit debate, and its particularly acute expression in official politics, the question of a second referendum. Corbyn and his immediate allies have adopted an impressively unmovable ambiguity on the issue. Once more, conference has contrived to fudge things – with an election quite possibly imminent, now is not the time to play your hand, and so they have not, instead motoring on with a compromise that commits nobody to anything.

It is a funny thing. To look at the liberal and centre-right media over the weekend, you would get an image of a tsunami of remainer opinion about to blow over the leadership. One centrist or right-wing grandee after another trooped onto the morning news shows to trumpet the need for a second referendum. We had been assured already – by a wildly optimistic reading – that the major unions were in favour of a do-over, when they had merely refused to rule out pursuing one at some later date. The Guardian has found no end of space for the left-remainer group Another Europe is Possible, presently headed up by a comrade Michael Chessum, the last president of the University of London Union before it was ushered gently into that good night, and sometime Alliance for Workers Liberty hanger-on. (The AWL, ever the idiot stepchildren of the Foreign Office, have much the same kind of attitude.)

So far as the Blairites are concerned, remainerism is a simple matter indeed – a matter of the perceived national interest. For the trade union bureaucracy, there is – in spite of Viking and Laval – a marginally kinder legal regime than the unvarnished Thatcherite hostility of the British body politic in the last three decades. Brexiteer outliers among them have their commitments based in general politics (for example, the late Bob Crow’s unrepentant Stalinism) rather than the sectionalism that preponderates by default in the union movement’s upper reaches.

Left-remainerism is a rather more peculiar phenomenon. There is a limited principled basis for it in that a clear majority of Labour members are for remain, for better or worse. The tricksy tactical outlook of the leadership, the insistence on backroom stitch-ups, is thus profoundly opportunist and amounts to a denial of democracy – hardly the most serious to have taken place this conference, alas.

Yet we do not, in fact, find the left remainers fighting out on principle at all, but precisely engaged in tactical skulduggery as well. To wit, comrade Chessum in the Guardian:

Theresa May’s Chequers proposals were dead before the Salzburg summit, killed off by her own party long before Donald Tusk stuck the knife in, but their demise leaves her stranded. The government now faces a choice between a hard border in Ireland on the one hand, and a humiliating climb-down into the EEA on the other. This is a crisis for the government but it raises questions about Labour’s position, too. If the EU won’t entertain May’s proposals, then the idea that a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could come to power and deliver a bespoke Labour Brexit before March 2019 is effectively out of the window.1

That means that “any superficially ‘left’ case for leaving the EU” is out – because the same options will be on the table. (Chessum seems oddly unaware that left-Brexitism tends towards a cliff-edge mentality.) The costs of Brexit outweigh any unfortunate details of EU state aid rules – which, anyway, “are far less restrictive than some would lead you to believe”. The answer, of course, is a second referendum, called with dogged fatuousness by its advocates a ‘people’s vote’. Committing itself to such a vote will, according to a poll Chessum brandishes, win the Labour Party 66 seats in a general election. But the benefits keep on coming!

This is a difficult time for the Corbyn project. On one flank, it faces the prospect of an SDP-style split that would fatally undermine Labour’s electoral prospects. On the other, it faces a support base that is up in arms about attempts by unions and the leadership to block open selections and enforce a higher threshold for leadership elections … By backing a referendum and endorsing a roadmap out of the nightmare of Tory Brexit, Corbyn can kill off the political pretext for a split from the Labour right. Instead of horse-trading with union leaderships and placating the parliamentary party, Corbyn can stick to his principles and make the case for democracy – in the party, and, ultimately, in the country.

The peculiarity of this view is that Chessum starts from exactly the same premises as the party and union leaderships, but draws opposite conclusions. Both proceed from the assumption that the priority is to trigger a general election in the short term in order to get Corbyn into No10. Both subordinate everything to the electoral calculations. Both want to avoid a split with the right. Yet they end up at rather different destinations; Chessum wants full-throated support for a second referendum, whereas the leadership spared no exertion to make sure nothing of that kind would be voted on by delegates at conference and to keep its determined ambiguity as intact as circumstances allow.

Within this thought universe, it has to be said that Chessum and his left-remainer chums have the worse of it. He cherry-picks one poll, ignoring the combined weight of evidence that there has been no significant shift of public opinion on whether to go ahead with Brexit, that calls for a second referendum are entirely associated with remainerism and described as treacherous in the Brexiteer galleries, that a shift to clear identification with remain would certainly cost Labour votes in its northern heartlands, and would be a serious risk in swing constituencies. At the most recent electoral test, in 2017, Corbyn and Momentum overperformed in part because they refused to be drawn on this – despite contemporary jeremiads from remainers.

By their friends …

Some clues as to the discrepancy may be found in another Guardian piece, profiling Chessum and other left remainers. Another Europe is Possible is not strictly a Labour outfit; it enjoys the support of what remains of Left Unity and the Greens. It works with Labour for a People’s Vote, whose administrator Mike Buckley tells our intrepid journos that, before these initiatives got to prominence, “there was nothing [for left-remainers] to rally behind … The people talking publicly about having another referendum, however well-intentioned they are, they are not going to gather the majority of Labour party members behind them because they are seen as being anti-Jeremy.”2

That’s rather delicately put – it is surely not unfair that the likes of Chuka Umunna and Tony Blair are “seen as being anti-Jeremy”, because they are anti-Jeremy. These comrades are delighted at the turn of events that appears to have put the latter sorts of MPs in their debt, but we wonder if the reality may be the other way around. Elsewhere, we learn that Another Europe is Possible has received a cool £70,000 from George Soros. Imagine, for a moment, the outcry that would greet this news if it was a Russian billionaire funnelling money into a British political campaign, especially given that it is clearly an act of subterfuge – billionaires, and billionaires’ friends, putting some leftwing frontmen and women up in pursuit of their interests. It is of no consequence to the Guardian, however, which breezily lets the factoid slip with no worries expressed at all; clearly it does not bother AEIP itself either.

I do not accuse Chessum and co of corruption, only of extraordinary naivete. I suspect that they do not fully understand how completely they have been roped into a political rearguard action on the part of big capital. Chessum’s article is followed by a byline identifying him as a “socialist activist”, but you would hardly know it otherwise – half of its actual prose might have been cribbed from a KPMG Powerpoint slide (“Deliver a bespoke Labour Brexit”, indeed!). He claims to be “hard left”, “hard remain”; but he is not currently even the latter, pursuing only the dishonest intermediate objective of a second referendum, dutifully recycling the official branding put on it by Soros, Blair and co. Another Europe is possible, apparently, but you would never know there was anything wrong with the current one. On Viking and Laval, on the troika’s punishment beating of Greece, on the morally repugnant attempts to bribe trouble-spot regimes to pen refugees in fetid camps for the noble aim of sparing Frau Merkel her blushes, Chessum is diplomatically silent. Until the more important matter of Brexit is sorted out, we surmise, another Europe is beneath mentioning – and the crimes of the extant incarnation must be brushed over with a grimace and a few hail Marys.

It is Chessum’s peculiar bedfellows also that, in the end, give the lie to the sagacity of his electoral advice. Suppose the left-remainers were absolutely right, and the international working class has a compelling interest in continued British membership of the European Union. It would then simply be the case that there was a commonality of interest with finance capital in making that happen – and a limited common front on that issue would be no more unprincipled than trade union support for Liberal legislation in the unions’ favour in the 19th century, or for that matter many of the electoral arrangements between the Bolsheviks and the liberal bourgeois parties in pre-revolutionary Russia.

The trouble is that this by no means implies that there is a common interest on any other matter whatsoever. In the current context, there is a particularly obvious divergence. Chessum wants a Corbyn government; Soros certainly does not, and neither do the Liberal Democrats or Tony Blair … or, if he is being honest with himself, Chuka Umunna. For them, the electoral failure of Labour is not an especially expensive price to pay for an end to the Brexit madness; for many of them, indeed, it is a positive good. Even the sitting Labour MPs can look forward, in the event of personal defeat, to the honours list, the after-dinner circuit and the lucrative corporate sinecure. No such rosy fate awaits useful idiots on the “hard left”.

So far as Brexit is concerned, it seems – after a week of frenetic activity and drama – we have arrived more or less where we were. The immediate crisis in the cabinet is over; the real players have been corralled into support for the Chequers deal, in lieu of anything better. (May is fortunate that the Daily Mail is swinging behind her and distancing itself somewhat from the ERG.) Labour has made a great show of having a vote in favour of the idea of nothing being off the table; in short, in favour of … nothing. Kier Starmer spins it his way, John McDonnell his; in the meantime, go back to your constituencies and prepare for government!

The Labour leadership is, of course, correct – as far as things go – that the only chance at breaking the deadlock is a general election. Reports of plans afoot for a snap election in November – if only contingency plans, for now – were denied by the government, but surely must reflect some reality. It will not be an attractive option unless there is a great likelihood of victory, however, and nothing is certain. If Chessum had got his way, and Labour had committed itself to remain, then the case would be very compelling to go for it and clean up; we must assume that the possibility has receded somewhat.

The grain of truth to left-remainism is, of course, that the Labour leadership’s balancing act is profoundly dishonest. Absent from the discussion is any possibility that we might actually convince anyone to change their minds. That is far too high risk an endeavour, with a snap election to win. Risky, and also slow: the ticking-time-bomb aspect of the matter leads to the abandonment of principle, the high premium on knights in shining armour, and – of course – the hysterical sense of crisis that leads well-meaning left remainers to cash George Soros’s dirty cheques.

We leftists are in this mess, in large part, because one such crisis has followed another, and the only constant has been the abiding sense that something must be done right now and there is no time for teasing out the treacherous subtleties of the issues before us. We assert, again, that a dispute that unites Michael Chessum with Tony Blair on one side, and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and Jacob Rees-Mogg on the other, must be posed differently altogether for the workers’ movement to make any serious purchase. For it is an argument about the relationship between the British state and a EU bureaucracy, which ignores the reality that both are in enemy hands, and that both must be destroyed, and a genuine socialist internationalism put to work replacing them.

Wales: Blairite right clings on

William Phillips looks at the forthcoming leadership election in Welsh Labour

Jeremy Corbyn was the first Labour Party leader to be elected under the ‘one member, one vote’ system. Welsh Labour might well follow this lead. Its April 20-22 Llandudno conference agreed to review how it elects the Labour leader in Wales – something which became particularly urgent after Carwyn Jones dramatically announced his resignation in his final speech to conference. Elections are due in the autumn.

Under existing rules the leader is chosen through an electoral college system that gives equals votes to (1) members, (2) the unions and other affiliated organisations, and (3) MPs, MEPs and AMs. While Unison and the GMB are keen on retaining their union block votes, they have talked about reducing the vote wielded by the politicians or eliminating it in its entirety. Others, however, including Mark Drakeford – finance secretary in the Welsh government and a candidate to succeed Carwyn Jones – are campaigning for Omov.

Who emerges as the new leader will obviously depend on the election system. But some idea of the balance of forces can be gleaned from Llandudno.

It is unlikely any trend or group would have left conference fully satisfied. “A score draw,” some comrades I spoke to reckoned; “2-1 to the right, but with the second half still to come”, was the verdict of another leftwing delegate. A deep fault line runs between the rank and file, which is left-leaning, and most union bureaucrats, councillors, assembly members, etc, who are still dominated by the right. Whereas the rank and file identify with Corbyn, the officialdom is determined to distance itself from the UK leadership.

Superficially, the bare facts of the conference appear to support a sober assessment for the left. Its candidate for the new post of deputy leader in Wales was defeated. Two motions addressing the electoral college system that delivered this victory for the right were rejected by the standing orders committee (SOC) in the run-up to Llandudno, and energetic lobbying at the event itself by comrades from the Constituency Labour Parties and Welsh Labour Grassroots/Momentum could not reverse the SOC’s ruling.

In November of last year, the Welsh executive committee (WEC) adopted the electoral college for leader and deputy leader elections. The WEC’s contempt for the membership it purports to serve was illustrated by the high-handed way it ignored the pro-Omov submissions from 19 of the 27 CLPs which responded to the membership consultation that itactually initiated.

The anger this sparked on the left is all the more understandable when you look at the victory margin for the right’s candidate for deputy leader, Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris. The result was 51.5% for Harris and 48.5% for the left’s candidate, Julie Morgan. (Their current locations on the political spectrum are relative and highly mobile, it must be said.)

However, burrow deeper into the detail and the real story of the deputy leadership election emerges. In terms of the combined 16,819 votes cast, Morgan had beaten Harris by 9,110 votes to 7,709. Particularly significant was that in the members’ section Morgan won by 6,244 votes to 3,336 – a ratio of almost 2:1 (although on a disappointing turnout of 38.2%).

It was the weighted electoral college system that had swung it for Harris, to the anger and frustration of many. The sections for elected representatives and unions, etc have been so far the least affected by the changes that have come with Corbyn.

Leftwingers are naturally annoyed that their votes were swamped. One particular statistic that is being bitterly repeated by comrades is that the vote of one elected AM or MP is worth the vote of 400 ranks-and-file members.

Omov

There is no question that the campaign for Omov – pushed energetically by many CLPs and members in the branches – will have received a boost from this widely discredited election. The notion that our elected representatives should command such a disproportionately huge influence is clearly absurd. By definition, our MPs, MEPs and AMs are the most susceptible to the seductions of power. They are the people who we really need to keep an eye on.

Tactically, it may be correct to support Omov at this stage in the fight in Welsh Labour. It would certainly make short work of the current leadership of Welsh Labour and install a pro-Corbyn team. However, as a general principle we should be against plebiscites in the party – for electoral contests or otherwise. Comrades should remember that the move to Omov for the election of the party leader began with the likes of Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and culminated in Ed Miliband’s Collins review – it was a rightwing ploy to dilute the working class nature of our party. 1)https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1000/labour-unions-vote-to-be-distanced/

Comrades should bear in mind the farce that was John Lansman’s Momentum coup, cynically wrapped as it was in a veneer of ‘democracy from below’. In fact, this pseudo-inclusive manoeuvre crushed the embryonic democratic structures of the organisation and substituted online voting of the entire, atomised and easily steered membership. Omov in Lansman’s hands was the vehicle for a profoundly undemocratic plot against the interests of the membership – one that stymied Momentum’s potential to be an effective, dynamic left trend in the party.

Moreover – despite our recent negative experience in Wales – it is in general an enormous strength of the Labour Party that it has the affiliation of important unions. It is pleasing that no comrades here seem to have had a ‘Christine Shawcroft moment’2)Specifically, her outburst on Facebook: “It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party” – questioning Labour’s historic links with these vital working class institutions. In fact, as part of the democracy review that was won at the Llandudno conference (see below), we should include a commitment to a vigorous national campaign to affiliate all unions to Labour – a development that would go a huge way to making the party a genuine united front of the working class.

That would require rank-and-file initiative in the unions; hard campaigning work and persuasive arguments; and – crucially – a thorough-going democratisation of the unions from top to bottom.

Positive

Despite the results of this year’s conference, there were positive developments that could open up real opportunities for the left.

Firstly there is Mark Drakeford. He is, of this moment, the bookies’ favourite. Drakeford has a long history on the left in Wales and has been a consistent supporter of Corbyn.

Certainly, he could hardly be more inconsistent than the outgoing Blairite incumbent and supporter of Syrian air strikes, Carwyn Jones. The Jones ‘brand’ was undoubtedly tainted by his and his team’s handling of charges of inappropriate sexual conduct against Carl Sargeant, a Welsh government minister – resulting in the man’s suicide in November last year. But politically, Jones had already lost a great deal of authority, given the nature of the general election campaign that official Welsh Labour had foisted on the membership in June 2017.

This was clearly devised to dramatically distance the party in Wales from the leadership in London – Corbyn and McDonnell in particular. The Cardiff HQ drew up a different election platform, and pictures of Corbyn on official material were rarer than dragon’s eggs. Many rank-and-file members were angry at this sidelining of the leader and made their views known with some energy.

Other encouraging developments for the left came out of this year’s conference:

  • CLPs organised a useful fringe meeting on Omov, convened by the umbrella organisation, Cyfle (‘Opportunity’ in Welsh). By all accounts it was a lively meeting, with a combative resolution on display that the fight for the democratisation of our party would go on and intensify.
  • There was also some success for WLG/Momentum in elections to the SOC and even those lefts who were unsuccessful replicated the general pattern of support that was displayed in the deputy leadership contest. That is, the left won amongst the branch members; they lost out to the voting weight of the affiliate organisations.
  • WLG/Momentum-backed candidates won eight out of the 10 available CLP seats on the leadership.

I have already referenced the democracy review. The motion for this was moved by delegate Sue Hagerty and her call for the initial phase of the process to be completed this summer, ending with a special conference on the leadership election method in advance of the election itself, needs to be vigorously supported by the membership (especially because – while this proposal was very popular with delegates – worryingly, the final decision rests with the incoming Welsh executive).

The motion passed with very few dissenters and so comrades in Wales now have an opportunity to discuss this pivotal issue. Although the remit of the democracy review in Wales only covers issues specifically devolved to the WEC (which, happily, include the election format for leadership and deputy leadership elections), the logic of the discussion must take us far beyond these parameters and towards a permanent, democratic and militant organisation of the rank and file in Wales and beyond.

Jon Lansman v Jennie Formby: What’s going on?

Unexpected fault lines have opened up on the soft Labour left over who will be the next general secretary, reports Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

With less than a week to go before nominations close on March 13, there are two candidates standing for the position of Labour’s general secretary. Their politics appears so similar that the contest between them seems, at best, ludicrous and, at worst, irresponsible. Should a ‘moderate’ candidate choose to exploit the current division, and should both pro-Corbyn candidates continue to insist on standing, that moderate might indeed ‘slip in’ through the middle when it comes to the crucial vote on Labour’s national executive committee on March 20. We presume that will not happen and that either Momentum owner Jon Lansman or Unite’s Jennie Formby will withdraw. But then, we never presumed that there would be two pro-Corbyn candidates standing in the first place!

The issue might already be decided by the next meeting of the NEC officers group on March 14. It is tasked with putting together a short list for the full NEC and has a pro-Corbyn majority. Of the current eight members, at least five are pro-Corbyn and two are members of Unite (though Jennie Formby, the current NEC vice-chair, will probably have to excuse herself).

One thing is for sure. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is continuing to have a disruptive effect, not just on the establishment, but on the Labour left too. In a sense, this is very much to be welcomed. The left seemed to have been dying a slow, painful death – it needed a ‘cultural revolution’. For a start, wouldn’t it be nice if we had actual transparency and democracy in our movement? Why on earth are there no proper reports, for example, from all NEC members? They should be obliged to report back to those they represent as to what was discussed and how they voted. Pete Willsman and Ann Black have been the only ones to routinely write such reports (for general circulation) – with their own omissions and partisan views, of course.

But in recent days NEC members Christine Shawcroft and Darren Williams have come out with short Facebook posts and brief hints, which indicate not just deep divisions between the representatives of the left-led unions and the nine elected by Constituency Labour Party members, but also the tensions between the nine, though they were elected on same the ‘centre-left slate’. We will come to that below.

Here is what we know.

For days, Jennie Formby seemed a virtual shoo-in. She has the support not just of her union, Unite. But pretty much every single group on the Labour left has come out for her, including quite a few Momentum branches. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has tweeted his support. Jeremy Corbyn is keeping schtum in public: he wants to appear above the fray and, of course, he values the support of both Momentum and Unite’s Len McCluskey.

So why then are there two left candidates? There are various theories and possible scenarios, some of which are, of course, interlinked. Clearly, we are in the middle of a very messy process.

Theory 1: Lansman has gone mad

This is perhaps the most common theory one comes across when discussing the issue on the left. According to this – and I must admit to having some sympathy for it – Jon Lansman’s ego has simply got the better of him. So successful has he been running Momentum as his own private fiefdom that he now thinks he has earned the right to aim for bigger things. After all, wasn’t it his tens of thousands of foot soldiers who nearly managed to get Jeremy Corbyn into No10?

Being directly responsible for over 200 staff; the party’s campaign and media strategies; all its organisational, constitutional and policy committees; the organisation of party conference; the preparation of party literature, etc – it sounds right up Jon Lansman’s street, doesn’t it? And who cares if that puts Corbyn in a very awkward position when it comes to Unite leader Len McCluskey? The time has come for Lansmanism to blossom!

We can certainly believe that Lansman’s ego is bigger than your average politician’s. But just like theories that try to pin the outbreak of World War II on Adolf Hitler’s psychological problems, that is clearly too easy an explanation.

Theory 2: Lansman is moving to the centre

We do not believe for a moment that he is standing in some semi-sacrificial way to “open up the contest and ensure we have a wide range of candidates”. We presume that Lansman thinks that he has an actual chance of winning a majority of votes on the NEC.

Of the 38 executive members, 21 could be described as pro-Corbyn, and 17 as rightwing. According to The Skwawkbox:

all the left NEC members have committed to support Jennie Formby, with the exception of a couple who have said they’ll only vote for a leftwing woman – and one who is behind Jon Lansman. Those committed to Formby include both party and union representatives – including party representatives elected as part of slates backed by Momentum, the organisation founded by Jon Lansman.

We know, of course, that outputs by ‘alternative media’ like The Skwawkbox should be taken with a pinch of salt. They are increasingly being used by political factions and sometimes even by journalists to leak unverified rumours to the wider public, so that it can then be picked up by the mainstream press. But we reckon that the website has done its counting correctly this time: 17 votes for Formby. The single leftwing NEC member who openly supports Lansman is Christine Shawcroft. But Lansman seems to think that he can win round those two left NEC members who have not yet openly backed Formby – a possibility, clearly.

But he must also count on the entire right wing on the NEC to back him in order to achieve a majority. He has clearly been working very hard to position himself in the political ‘centre’ of the Labour Party. I am sure Lansman is not entirely unhappy with the media narrative, according to which Jennie Formby is the representative of the hard left and the union bureaucracy, openly supporting – would you believe it? – the democratic rights of the Palestinian people. Clearly, she is too radical and ‘anti-Semitic’ to head the Labour machine!

In reality there is, of course, very little actual political difference between Jennie Formby and Jon Lansman. We are seeing a split on the soft left, rather than a split between the hard and soft left (which is probably still to come). Both candidates are uncritical supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and his policies, presumably prepared to back various political climbdowns should he become prime minister.

Which makes the only visible difference all the more crucial: the question of Israel and Palestine. With the Israeli army inching closer to getting involved in Syria (to distract perhaps from the legal problems of a certain Binyamin Netanyahu1)www.independent.co.uk/news/world/ middle-east/israel-prime-minister-benjamin- netanyahu-corruption-allegations-lawyers-explain- trouble-a7524416.html) the Labour Party’s position is becoming increasingly important. Can it really become an anti-war party – perhaps even in government? Will the pacifist Corbyn stick to his guns (excuse the pun) as prime minister and forthrightly condemn Israel aggression?

That would put the pro-imperialist right in the Parliamentary Labour Party under immense pressure from the Zionist lobby. This is, after all, why the whole ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal was created in the first place. Discredit Corbyn’s anti-war and pro-Palestine stance. Force him to ‘man up’ and come out in support of US interests. And that includes unconditional support for Israel to do whatever it has to do to ‘defend itself’. (We note Prince William is the first member of his family to make an official visit to Israel, as well as Lebanon and “the occupied Palestinian territories”.)

In this context, Jon Lansman’s participation in the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party is very, very important. He has said of Ken Livingstone, “It’s time he left politics altogether”; thinks that “there should be no place for George Galloway in the Labour Party” (and called on his employers to sack him); and when Jackie Walker was suspended from Labour on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism, he quickly removed her as vice-chair of Momentum. He wants to be seen as a safe pair of hands, when it comes to Israel.

The question is, can Lansman get away with positioning himself in the political centre?

Alansmanfter all, he is Mr Momentum, which has since its inception been portrayed as a dangerous hotbed for an assortment of hyperactive hippies and Trotskyist troublemakers. He has been on the ‘far left’ of the Labour Party for decades, we are told. However, over the last 14 months, Lansman certainly has been very busy moulding Momentum into a thoroughly respectable election machine.

His coup of January 2017, which abolished all democratic structures in the organisation and imposed his constitution on the membership, has certainly gone a long way to assure the establishment of his ‘credentials’. He also subordinated Momentum to the compliance unit by barring membership  to all those who have been expelled from the Labour Party for “supporting another organisation” (rule 2.1.4.B).

No doubt Momentum’s deployment of an army of foot soldiers during the general election campaign made a real difference to Labour’s votes. Momentum nationally has been very careful to support all Labour Party candidates, not just pro-Corbyn ones (even if locally its members often choose to campaign mainly for leftwing candidates).

Politically, the organisation is even more harmless. For example, despite the fact that Jon Lansman has campaigned for mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates for decades, he has now dropped the demand and campaigns merely for a reform of the trigger ballot. At present an MP needs to win a simple majority of nominations from local party branches and affiliated trade unions and socialist societies in order to become the candidate once more. Lansman wants to raise this threshold to 66%, but this would still disproportionally favour the sitting MP: rather than allowing for a full and democratic automatic reselection process before every election, a sitting MP would still have to be challenged.

So successful is Momentum’s transformation that now even Theresa May openly wants to emulate it. This week she has written to “young activists” to help build Momentum-style grassroots campaigners. According to The Sun, the letter states:

We are recruiting a new army of foot soldiers to take the fight to Labour. It is clear from the results of the general election that we are more likely to win seats in which our organisation is strong. And it is an unfortunate fact that Labour’s organisation was better in many seats than ours.

It is absolutely possible that the right in the Labour Party might swing behind Lansman. The Guardian writes:

Lansman’s entry into the race is thought to have the tacit backing of some other unions, which are irritated by what they regard as Unite’s increasing dominance of Labour decision-making. Key to the decision will be two other major unions, the GMB and Unison, who have so far declined to give Formby their backing.

It is not impossible that other rightwingers on the NEC – for example, those from the PLP or those representing councillors – might support him, too. Especially if that was the only way to stop Formby.

Politically, of course, Lansman’s method of chasing the political centre is very much old school and in line with the method advocated by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and its founder-leader, Vladimir Derer, since 1973 (he died in 2014). The organisation was founded on the premise that any reform in the Labour Party has to be achieved not by pressure from the membership (which, for example, Militant pursued), but by winning over – or at least neutralising – the ‘centre’, in the party and the unions. The fascinating BBC docudrama The campaign shows how the CLPD won a conference majority to vote for a version of mandatory reselection in the early 1980s: through a number of backroom deals with union leaders.

It still pursues this method though the so-called Centre Left Grassroots Alliance, which ‘recommends’ various candidates for Labour Party elections. It is based on rather mysterious, private and entirely undemocratic get-togethers of various Labour left organisations, to which only a few lucky ones are invited (this year, for example, Jewish Voice for Labour was among the invitees), while others never make the gathering. The Labour Representation Committee regularly complains when it is left out in the cold.

According to Wikipedia, the CLGA was founded in 1995 by the CLPD and Labour Reform, “a centrist democratic group”, which had supported Ann Black as member of the NEC. When “private talks with trade union representatives” failed, Liz Davies of Labour Left Briefing and Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune, were also brought in. But, convinced of the left’s unelectability, the CLGA continued to support centrist candidates and rejected any moves to present a leftwing platform or support openly left candidates.

This explains how Ann Black could remain on the ‘left ticket’ for so long, despite clearly being very much on the centre of the party. She supported the move to stop tens of thousands of pro-Corbyn members from voting in the second leadership election and, as chair of the NEC disciplinary panel, gave her backing to much of the witch-hunt against the left – for instance, by voting for the suspension of Brighton and Hove CLP. Many have questioned, quite rightly, why the CLGA continues to back her.

Theory 3: It is all about Ann Black

As we have reported, Jon Lansman and CLPD secretary Pete Willsman, who have worked together in the CLPD for decades, have fallen out over Black. Just how badly became very obvious at the CLPD’s March 3 annual general meeting. Clearly having thoroughly internalised the centre-left strategy, Pete Willsman continues to insist that Black should be included on the CLGA slate. When his own CLPD executive committee voted (by a majority of one) against her inclusion a few months back, he decided to ignore the decision and campaign for her.

On the morning of the AGM, a rumour was doing the rounds that Lansman would turn up in order to graciously announce his withdrawal from the general secretary race. If true, he clearly changed his mind. He did not even show up. But his supporters were a visible presence. After a long list of worthy but boring speakers (which pushed all normal motions submitted off the agenda), Lansman’s NEC ally, Christine Shawcroft, presented an emergency motion, which sought to remove Pete Willsman as CLPD secretary and force immediate new elections to the position (which she was apparently intending to contest).

The motion criticised as “unacceptable” the delay in putting together a slate for the NEC elections in the summer:

A draft slate was not opposed by CLPD, yet during February attempts were made to overturn it with biased and incomplete emails around the executive, and threats to take it to the AGM. All in the name of keeping someone on the slate [ie, Ann Black] who has consistently voted against us in the last two years, often in ways very damaging to the leader. Now the two-month delay means that those on the final slate are already on the back foot, struggling to make up time. This has happened because of a lack of basic democratic accountability in CLPD’s organisation.

The motion was ruled out of order (on the basis that it was “not an emergency”), but it took a vote that needed two recounts before that decision was accepted. And, of course, it served another purpose: to justify the fact that Jon Lansman single-handedly leaked a list of the nine NEC candidates supported by Momentum to the national press. Ann Black was not on it, of course.

In our view, Ann Black should certainly not be on any leftwing list. But then she should have never been on it in the first place! She had been supported by Lansman and Willsman for many years – and, no, she did not turn into a centrist overnight. She had always been one.

By kicking her off the left slate, Lansman seems to have been acting in line with the party leadership. After all, the NEC officers group (which has a clear a pro-Corbyn majority) risked media ridicule when they shut down a meeting to elect a new chair of the national policy forum, because Ann Black was sure to win it.

Pete Willsman, however, did not seem to get the message. We wonder how long the deeply divided CLPD can keep going.

Theory 4: Lansman ‘wants to break the union link’

This is where the contradictions start to mount up. It is one thing to stand against a leftwing union representative. If you present yourself as the serious, credible alternative candidate of the political centre, you might have a chance of getting the rightwing unions on the NEC behind you.

But Lansman has gone one further with his proposal to have the general secretary elected by the party membership as a whole. We very much oppose it. It sounds democratic, but really it is not. It would actually create two rival centres of power. We have seen under McNicol’s tenure how destructive the general secretary can be. Having direct elections to the post would not prevent this situation occurring again – it would though guarantee endemic conflict between Labour Party HQ, the NEC and the leaders’ office. No, the general secretary should remain directly accountable to the NEC. Once the numbers on the NEC had changed in favour of the pro-Corbyn left, McNicol’s time was up. And that is how it should be.

Lansman’s proposal is also very risky from his point of view, as it surely is bound to alienate all unions affiliated to the Labour Party. They see it as their historic right to fill a proportion of leadership positions, so why would they vote for him to become the next general secretary if he is proposing to change that? Especially as his NEC ally and fellow Momentum director, Christine Shawcroft, used an angry Facebook post to declare: “It is time to support disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party.”

This came as a complete surprise to us. To our knowledge, she had never put forward such a line before. And it also came as a shock to Jeremy Corbyn, whose spokesperson described that statement as “a heat-of-the-moment remark”:

There is almost no-one in the entire Labour Party who supports any kind of breaking of the link with the trade unions. Even to say it’s a minority view would be exaggerating it: it’s a completely marginal view that has no support whatever. I don’t think it even represents her view.

Shawcroft has indeed deleted the comment. Some claim that she was not totally out of tune with Jon Lansman here, even if Momentum was quick to distance itself from her statement. In his candidacy statement Lansman talks about wanting to “listen to our trade union affiliates” and “work hard to strengthen Labour’s trade union link”. But he has also gone to the media to express “dissatisfaction that the role [of general secretary] should be chosen behind closed doors by Labour’s NEC, which in practice would mean a deal struck between major trade unions for their preferred candidate”. However, to interpret this as a desire on Lansman’s part to see the unions disaffiliate is a bad case of clutching at straws.

True, the union link seems to have been a point of discussion among his allies and there is certainly room for democratic reform when it comes to the unions’ role in the Labour Party. For a start, instead of union general secretaries casting their union’s bloc vote at the Labour conference, we call for the vote to be divided on a proportional basis according to the political balance in the delegation.

But calling for the link to be broken is entirely wrong-headed. If Labour is to become the party of the whole class, then clearly it must become the umbrella organisation for all trade unions, socialist groups and pro-working class partisans. All unions should affiliate and all union members should pay the political levy.

Theory 5: Jon Lansman is the good guy

This is almost as hard to swallow as scenario 4. But bear with us.

Shawcroft’s outburst on Facebook actually came about after the March 17 meeting of the NEC’s disciplinary panel, of which she is now chair. The disciplinary panel is made up of the entire NEC – or, more precisely, of those NEC members who can be bothered to show up. It is the committee that decides if disciplinary charges have any merit – and should therefore be sent to the National Constitutional Committee for further investigation.

The NCC consists of 11 members, chosen by party conference for a two-year term. Four are elected by CLP delegates, six by the unions and one by affiliated socialist societies. Last year, the CLGA candidates, Emina Ibrahim and Anna Dyer, won overwhelmingly in the CLP section. The other two CLP positions are up for election at this year’s conference, but for now the NCC clearly remains in the hands of the right. And it is questionable how ‘left’ the CLGA candidates are. Emina Ibrahim, for example, was supposed to be the alibi leftie on the three-person NCC panel at Tony Greenstein’s expulsion hearing – and despite the obvious democratic shortcomings, lack of natural justice and due process in the accusations against him, she voted in favour of him being expelled. For being rude.

As far as we can tell, Christine Shawcroft has used her new position as chair of the disciplinary panel to argue for the dismissal of all cases brought before it – and against their referral to the NCC. Exactly right. Once your case is in front of the NCC with its current composition – if you are a leftwinger – you can kiss your membership card goodbye. Next to their access to the national press, this is probably the most potent weapon the right in the party machine still has. We support the demand that all 18 cases currently in front of the NCC should be referred back to the NEC’s disciplinary panel.

But at the March 17 meeting it seems that despite her best efforts to dismiss all the cases in front of the committee (there were a few dozen, we understand) the majority voted for three cases to be referred to the NCC, despite the evidence being “far from compelling”, as NEC member Darren Williams complains (see below).

Interestingly, Shawcroft wrote on Facebook that a certain Jon Lansman supported her; whereas Jennie Formby did the opposite:

Christine Shawcroft screenshot

I must admit to a certain scepticism when I first read this. Shawcroft did, after all, support Jon Lansman in the middle of his undemocratic coup by becoming Momentum’s director and did not speak up when he continued to ride roughshod over the members by imposing his own constitution. She also previously voted to refer Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth to the NCC. She irresponsibly split from Labour Briefing journal to set up her own Original Labour Briefing – without explaining the politics behind it.

But then she was backed up by fellow NEC member Darren Williams on Facebook. We cannot stress enough how unusual this is for both of them:

Darren William screenshot

In the discussion thread underneath, Christine Shawcroft then wrote:

unions sticking it... Christine

After being questioned if this was a systematic voting pattern of the representatives of the major unions and if Jennie Formby has indeed been part of that pattern, comrade Williams clarified: “I think there has been undue caution sometimes about speaking up for members facing questionable charges, probably due to a fear of being seen to be contributing to Labour’s supposed ‘anti-Semitism problem’.”

Ever since she threw her hat in the ring, Jennie Formby has been at the forefront of the right wing’s radar. She has been accused of “acting with anti-Semitic intent” by Labour Against Anti-Semitism – an attack which Unite has quite rightly termed a “malicious smear”. A smear which has, of course, been picked up and repeated by the entire press. She clearly feels the need to bend the stick in the other direction to have a chance of being elected. On March 3, she tweeted: Jennie Formby

But if it is true that she systematically votes to refer disciplinary cases to the NCC, that is a different matter altogether. We are told that Formby, in this instance, did not vote at all, but basically left the room repeatedly, so that she would not have to cast a vote. Apparently, all trade union representatives at that meeting (except the Transport Salaried Staff Association) voted to refer the three cases to the NCC. And, apparently, Jon Lansman voted against that.

Many members expected that, with the NEC finally having a pro-Corbyn majority, the witch-hunt would come to a swift end. But it was never going to be that easy. The civil war continues. And the fault lines are continuing to shift.

Right now Labour Party members deserve to know if Unite representatives (including Jennie Formby) do systematically vote with the right when it comes to the witch-hunt against pro-Corbyn members. If that is indeed true, it would certainly shine an entirely new light on Jennie Formby and how deserving she is of the left’s support.

Of course, in the absence of openness on such important issues, we should be careful about who is spreading news and to what purpose. After all, Len McCluskey has been very outspoken in his opposition to the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt, so this reported behaviour by one of Unite reps is, to put it mildly, surprising.

 

Labour Representation Committee: Reduced to a think tank?

An existential crisis continues to haunt the dwindling forces of the Labour Representation Committee, reports Stan Keable

Around 120 Labour Representation Committee members gathered in London’s Conway Hall on February 10 for yet another angst-ridden ‘special’ general meeting (SGM), in which a bewildered leadership shared with its rank and file its own failure – like most of the left – to draw into membership or engage with the ‘radicalised’ mass intake of Corbyn supporters into the Labour Party.

The exception to this failure is, of course, Momentum. The LRC executive’s statement jealously admits that Momentum “has successfully organised many of their number” into 150 local groups, which have “formidable electoral achievements under their belt” and are “feared by the Tory enemy”. By contrast, the statement repeats the LRC’s own longstanding wish to “rebuild” its “network of local groups”. Before this meeting it had called on “experts on particular subjects” to develop an imagined “comprehensive and impressive bank of educational material” on the “new LRC website” – the “formation of local LRCs may hopefully follow as a result”.

This pious wish, however, bears no relation to the reality. As political secretary Mick Brooks accurately declared, “The LRC has stagnated” in this “most favourable situation for socialists”: the Labour leadership is “probably the most leftwing ever”, the Tories are in disarray and the 2008 economic crisis showed that “capitalism has failed”.

Founded in 2004 in the dark days of New Labour – when clause four ‘socialism’ had been destroyed and Blairism seemed permanently victorious – the LRC was based on the belief that Labour had to be rebuilt from scratch, just as the original LRC had created the party in 1900. Hence the organisation’s cumbersome, unwieldy structure, designed as a replica of the party: the rights of individual members were to be trumped by affiliated trade unions and socialist groups, and – ironically, keeping up with New Labour – bureaucratic ‘equality’ rules were to guarantee the election at all levels of women, LGBT, BAME and disability representatives, instead of assessing candidates on the basis of their politics. But news of the death of Labour was exaggerated, and as a result the LRC has always been plagued by uncertainty of purpose.

Now, with John and Jeremy heading the party – backed by Momentum’s mass membership and those 150 local groups – the project of refounding old Labour is superfluous. So what is the point of the LRC? Back in February 2016, at a previous SGM in the early days of Momentum, the NEC statement opted for “maintaining the existence of our own organisation – for the time being”, but foresaw the possibility that it may soon have “outlived its usefulness”. And John McDonnell mused that “maybe in the future” there will be “just one organisation” (Weekly Worker February 25 2016).

Democracy

However, Jon Lansman’s January 10 2017 bureaucratic coup put paid to that happy prospect, and at this SGM Momentum’s shortcomings became the raison d’être of the LRC. “We are not a fan club for the Corbynite movement,” claimed comrade Brooks. “Momentum does not have conferences, elections, policies. It has a democratic deficit.” And chairperson Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, stated: “The key role of the LRC is to ensure discussion and debate takes place.” As the NEC statement declared,

The LRC is pluralist internally. We can develop independent-minded supporters of the Corbynist movement, which neither Momentum nor the [Campaign for Labour Party Democracy] are designed to do …. We regard democratic discussion and debate within our ranks as the essential oxygen of our organisation.

Then why, we must ask, does it convene ‘special’ general meetings, in which amendments to the rambling NEC statement are not allowed? Take it or leave it. And why were Labour Party Marxists and a few other political groups quietly ‘disaffiliated’ by the leadership in 2016, if not to curtail discussion in order to avoid embarrassing criticisms of Corbyn and McDonnell? This is more or less confessed in the NEC statement, where it shamefacedly attempts to set out the limits of legitimate discussion: “Debate within the LRC is not concerned to score points or make sectarian contributions against others.” So no polemics. “As long as we see ourselves contributing in a positive light to a movement going forward rather than carping at its inadequacies we can’t go too far wrong.” So no real criticism.

Class politics was emphasised by NEC member Maria Exall of the Communication Workers Union:

Working class empowerment should not be simply put in a list alongside the empowerment of women, people of colour, LGBT people, etc – we prioritise working class women, working class coloureds, working class gays and lesbians. Working class representation is what we are about.

And she spoke about the problem of the trade union bureaucracies and the “ongoing project” of “how to democratise the trade union link”.

The LRC leadership seems, at last, to be overcoming its reluctance to take sides in political struggles within trade unions. The NEC statement asserts:

Unlike CLPD and Momentum, we actively support workers’ struggles and do not confine our attentions to the Labour Party. We are in the process of organising a Unite LRC caucus … the first of trade union caucuses for all major unions. … We need to organise within the unions … for trade union democracy and socialist policies.

All very positive – but why not adopt Labour Party Marxists’ aim to win all trade unions to affiliate to Labour?

LRC president John McDonnell turned up in the afternoon, fresh from Labour’s ‘alternative models of ownership’ conference, which, he said, was shaping policies “almost like those of the LRC 10 years ago”. Since the 2017 general election, the Labour leadership has been “consolidating”. Unintentionally exposing the LRC’s overblown claim that the election had been fought on a fully socialist manifesto, he stated that For the many, not the few was “just for that election”. So now “we need to radicalise those policies” and “develop an implementation manual”, together with “draft legislation ready for office”.

And, worryingly, he claimed: “The Parliamentary Labour Party are signed up to this exercise.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, John. The LRC NEC statement takes the opposite view – not that anyone bothered to tell him. Perhaps that would be seen as negative or “carping”. Or maybe the NEC statement itself is “carping”? Here is what it says:

The Parliamentary Labour Party and the party bureaucracy remain firmly in the hands of the right wing. They seemed determined to rule or ruin. Corbyn’s role as leader is untouchable for the time being on account of his 2017 electoral success, [but] his position, and that of his supporters, remains precarious.

Spot on, NEC. But comrade McDonnell is already on a different page. “When the LRC was set up on Tony Benn’s advice, we were within a Labour Party we could not recognise. We are on the edge of government now.” So the LRC’s role now should be as a “think-tank, to develop ideas into policies” – and he saw Mike Phipps’s book For the many: preparing Labour for power as making a start.

‘Centre-left’ slate

A revealing episode at the SGM was an emergency motion moved by Marc Wadsworth of Grassroots Black Left. This criticised the way in which the “centre-left slate” had been selected for the forthcoming elections for Constituency Labour Party seats on Labour’s NEC:

This SGM notes with grave concern that the ‘centre-left’ slate for Labour’s next NEC elections appears to have been chosen unilaterally by Momentum without consulting its members and before the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance had completed its discussions on the slate. We consider that this could split the left and divide supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive agenda for government. Irrespective of the outcome and content of the slate, we believe this is not a democratic and transparent process in line with Jeremy’s ‘new politics’. We call on the incoming LRC NEC to formulate a response to challenge the democratic deficit in deciding the slate.

In my years as an LRC member, I confess I have never discovered exactly how candidates for the slate were selected – it always seemed to be done behind closed doors, and I do not remember ever being asked to vote on the matter. The LRC leadership was supposedly consulted, though it had sometimes complained about not being invited or about their views being ignored, especially with respect to their longstanding wish to remove Ann Black. The CLPD, under Pete Willsman’s leadership, always defended Ann Black and always got its way.

But the left is evolving new forms, so the cosy, behind-the-scenes process has to be made transparent, and the members of the participating groups have to have their say. This time, not only was Momentum involved, but also Jewish Voice for Labour (and perhaps other groups). The newly formed Grassroots Black Left, however, was excluded.

What happened, we are told, was that all parties except the CLPD wanted a slate without Ann Black, because of her role in the anti-Corbyn shenanigans of general secretary Iain McNicol’s apparatchiks. They had excluded masses of new Labour members from voting in leadership elections, suspended left-led CLPs and waved through the automatic suspension and even expulsion of leftwing members on trumped-up charges.

However, the CLPD would only accept a slate which included Ann Black. But when the 80-strong CLPD executive (in reality, volunteers who are voted in as a block at the AGM) took the unheard of step of actually voting to resolve a disputed issue, CLPD secretary Pete Willsman and his co-thinkers lost the vote narrowly. Then, when Willsman and co refused to accept the vote, Jon Lansman jumped in to impose a Momentum slate – without consulting the Momentum membership, of course.

LRC secretary Michael Calderbank, in asking for Marc Wadsworth’s motion to be remitted, said:

The slate-making process is broken. It is opaque, carried on behind closed doors. Not only were Momentum members not adequately consulted: neither were LRC members, nor the LRC itself.

Graham Bash, supporting the motion – which, after all, only commits the LRC to fight for a democratic slate-making process, confirmed that the present system is broken, but insisted, quite rightly, that “fielding an alternative left slate would be a disaster”. The motion was carried overwhelmingly.

Clause 4: Why revive a stinking corpse?

Jack Conrad questions the worth of the ‘Labour4Clause4’ campaign being promoted by Socialist Appeal. Instead of fostering illusions in Fabian socialism, surely the task of Marxists is to win the Labour Party to Marxist socialism

(first published in the Weekly Worker)

A hundred years ago this month, the Labour Party adopted its famous clause four – a declaration of aims and principles, which Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, tells us committed the party to “the socialist transformation of society”.

Undoubtedly, clause four – rewritten under Tony Blair in 1995 – carries totemic status for partisans both of the right and left. But should the left seek to raise the 1918 corpse from its grave? Or should we audaciously reach out for another future? Socialist Appeal, the British section of the International Marxist Tendency, is fully committed to what is, in fact, an anti-working class tradition. 1)As are Socialist Appeal’s old comrades in the Socialist Party in England and Wales. After the 1991 split in the Militant Tendency, the minority around Ted Grant, Alan Woods and Rob Sewell became Socialist Appeal. The majority – around Peter Taaffe, Tony Mulhearn, Hannah Sell and Dave Nellist – evolved through Militant Labour and became SPEW in 1997. Needless to say, comrade Nellist – former Labour MP for Coventry South East and nowadays national chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, insists that the 1918 clause four must be “reinstated” (Coventry Telegraph August 19 2011

It has thrown its weight behind the ‘Labour4Clause4’ campaign and has, so far, gained the backing of Ken Loach, the leftwing film director, MPs Dennis Skinner, Ian Mearns and Ronnie Campbell, and trade union leaders such as Ian Hodson and Ronnie Draper of the bakers’ union, and Steve Hedley of the RMT.

The February 1918 Labour Party conference agreed a new constitution. Clause four (of the party’s objects) committed Labour to these aims (subsequently amended in 1959):

1. To organise and maintain in parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.

2. To cooperate with the general council of the Trades Union Congress, or other kindred organisations, in joint political or other action in harmony with the party constitution and standing orders.

3. To give effect as far as possible to the principles from time to time approved by the party conference.

4. To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

5. Generally to promote the political, social and economic emancipation of the people, and more particularly of those who depend directly upon their own exertions by hand or by brain for the means of life.

6. To cooperate with the labour and socialist organisations in the commonwealth overseas with a view to promoting the purposes of the party, and to take common action for the promotion of a higher standard of social and economic life for the working population of the respective countries.

7. To cooperate with the labour and socialist organisations in other countries and to support the United Nations and its various agencies and other international organisations for the promotion of peace, the adjustment and settlement of international disputes by conciliation or judicial arbitration, the establishment and defence of human rights, and the improvement of the social and economic standards and conditions of work of the people of the world.

As with comrade Sewell, this formulation – crucially its fourth subsection – is celebrated as being a defining socialist moment. Yet, when it was first mooted in November 1917 – amidst the slaughter of inter-imperialist war – Sidney Webb, its Fabian author, had no thought or intention of promoting genuine socialism.

Indeed the Fabian Society had long been known as the quintessential expression of opportunism in the British labour movement. Leaders such as Webb, George Bernard Shaw and William Harcourt, were pro-imperialist, eugenicist and thoroughly elitist. The Fabians wanted Britain to retain its global empire; defective men, women and children were to be dealt with by the means of a “lethal chamber”; and the working class educated in the sprit of their betters. Understandably, Fabian ‘socialism’ was gradualist, managerial and relied on an alliance with enlightened liberals: in other words, we have a variety of bourgeois socialism.

By cynical calculation Webb had three goals in mind.

Firstly, clause four socialism could be used to divert the considerable rank-and-file sympathy that existed for the Russian Revolution into safe, peaceful and exclusively constitutional channels. That did not stop prime minister David Lloyd George from declaring, in his closing speech of the 1918 general election campaign, that the “Labour Party is being run by the extreme pacifist Bolshevik group”. 2)Quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p64n

Secondly, by adopting clause four socialism, the Labour Party could both distinguish itself from the exhausted, divided and rapidly declining Liberal Party and please the trade union bureaucracy. Since the 1890s the TUC had been drawing up various wish lists of what ought to be nationalised: eg, rails, mines, electricity, liquor and land. Clause four socialism also usefully went along with the grain of Britain’s wartime experience. There was steadily expanding state intervention in the economy. Nationalisation was, as a result, widely identified with efficiency, modernisation and beating foreign rivals. It therefore appealed to technocratically minded elements amongst the middle classes.

Thirdly, clause four socialism must be implicitly anti-Marxist. Webb knew the history of the Social Democratic Party in Germany well. And, of course, Karl Marx had famously mocked various passages in its Gotha programme (1875), not least those which declared that every worker should receive a “fair distribution of their proceeds of labour” and that “the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society”.3)K Marx and F Engels Collected Works Vol 24, London 1989, p83

Contradictory and vacuous, concluded Marx. What is fair? What about replacement means of production? What about the expansion of production? What about those unable to work? More than that, Marx explained these and other such woolly formulations as unneeded concessions to the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle. His Workers’ programme (1862) called for “an equal right to the undiminished proceeds of labour”. Obviously Webb wanted to give clause four a distinct Lassallean coloration not out of admiration for Lassalle, but because he wanted to distance the Labour Party from Marxism.

Red ribbon

Almost needless to say, clause four was mainly for show. A red ribbon around what was Labourism’s standing programme of social liberalism. In parliament Labour supported Liberal governments and their palliative measures of social reform. Because of its alliance with the Liberal Party, the party even found itself divided over the abolition of the House of Lords and the fight for female suffrage. While a tiny minority – eg, George Lansbury and Keir Hardie – defended the suffragettes and their militant tactics, the majority craved respectability. As Ramsay MacDonald wrote, “The violent methods … are wrong, and in their nature reactionary and anti-social, quite irrespective of vote or no vote.”4)Socialist Review August 1912 – quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p25n

Even if it had been put into effect, clause four socialism remains antithetical to working class self-liberation. Capitalism without capitalists does not count amongst our goals. Railways, mines, land, electricity, etc, would pass into the hands of the British empire state. 5)The Fabians supported the British government in the 1899-1902 Boer War. They justified their stand in a pamphlet, edited by Bernard Shaw, Fabianism and the empire (1900). They did not want Britain to lose out, when it came to the division of the world by the great imperial powers. As might be expected, the Fabians wanted a civilising British empire. The white dominions should be given self-government. However, “for the lower breeds” there should be a “benevolent bureaucracy” of British civil servants and military officials guiding them to “adulthood” (G Foote The Labour Party’s political thought London 1985, p29-30)

Capitalist owners would be bought out – eased into a comfortable retirement. But, as they vacate the field of production, a new class of state-appointed managers enters the fray. In terms of the division of labour, they substitute for the capitalists. The mass of the population, meanwhile, remain exploited wage-slaves. They would be subject to same hierarchal chain of command, the same lack of control, the same mind-numbing routine.

Marxism, by contrast, is based on an altogether different perspective. If it is to win its freedom the working class must overthrow the existing state. But – and this is crucial – in so doing the proletariat “abolishes itself as a proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state”. 6)K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p267 Capitalist relations of production and the whole bureaucratic state apparatus are swept away. Every sphere of social life sees control exercised from below. All positions of command are elected or chosen by lot and are regularly rotated. Hierarchy is flattened. Alienation is overcome. What is produced and how it is produced radically alters too. Need, not exchange, is the ruling principle. And alone such an association of producers creates the benign conditions which allows for the full development of each and every individual.

Admittedly, the old clause four resulted from progressive political developments. The Russian Revolution has already been mentioned. But there is also the formation of the Socialist International, the world-wide celebration of May Day, the considerable influence of the socialist press, the increased size of trade union membership, the formation of the shop stewards network and the election of a growing body of Labour MPs. Then there were the horrors of World War I. Because of all this, and more, capitalism was widely considered abhorrent, outmoded and doomed. Socialism more and more became the common sense of the organised working class. 7)‘Common sense’ being the continuously changing but widely held outlook of various classes and strata. Gramsci called it “folklore of philosophy”, because it exists “halfway between folklore properly speaking and the philosophy, science and economics of the specialists” (A Gramsci Selections from the prison notebooks London 1973, p326n)

By contrast, Fabian socialism meant arguing against unconstitutional methods, slowly expanding the provision of social welfare and persuading all classes of the benefits that would come to the nation, if the commanding heights of the economy were put in state hands. In other words, the Fabians consciously sought to ameliorate the mounting contradictions between labour and capital … and thus put off socialism. Fredrick Engels branded the Fabians as a:

band of careerists who understand enough to realise the inevitability of the social revolution, but could not possibly entrust this gigantic task to the raw proletariat alone … Fear of revolution is their guiding principle. 8)K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 50, New York 2004, p83

And, needless to say, the years 1918-20 witnessed army mutinies, colonial uprisings, a massive strike wave and brutal Black and Tan oppression meted out in Ireland.

Interestingly, before 1918 attempts to commit the Labour Party to socialism met with mixed success. The 1900 founding conference rejected the “class war” ultimatum tabled by the Social Democratic Federation. 9)Though it had two guaranteed seats on the LRC’s leading body, the Social Democratic Federation disaffiliated in August 1901. Despite that conference voted to support the “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. The next year a socialistic motion moved by Bruce Glasier was defeated. In 1903 another socialistic motion fell, this time without debate. Two years later conference passed a motion with the exact same wording. In 1907 the previous endorsement of socialism was overturned at the prompting of … Bruce Glasier. Despite that the same conference agreed to set the goal of “socialising the means of production, distribution and exchange”. 10)See RT McKenzie British political parties London 1963, pp465-71.

The explanation for the seesawing doubtless lies with electoral expediency. While most in the party leadership considered themselves socialists of a kind, they were mortally afraid of losing out in the polls. What appeared acceptable to likely voters – in other words, the popular press – set their limits. So, instead of fearlessly presenting a bold socialist vision and building support on that basis, Sidney Webb, Arthur Henderson, Ramsay MacDonald and co chased the vagaries of popularity. With the growth of militancy and radicalism, socialist declarations were considered a sure way of adding to Labour’s ranks in parliament. 11)Labour gained 15 seats in the December 1918 general election, making it the fourth largest party in parliament after Bonar Law’s Tories, Lloyd George’s Coalition Liberals and Sinn Féin. It had a total of 57 MPs. Forming a government being both a means and an end.

Nevertheless, the Blairising of clause four in 1995 was hugely symbolic – the ground having been laid by the Eurocommunists and their Marxism Today journal. Socialism was declared dead and buried, the working class a shrinking minority. Only if Labour accepted capitalism and reached out to the middle classes would it have a future. Neil Kinnock, John Smith and finally Tony Blair dragged the party ever further to the right. Out went the commitment to unilateral disarmament, out went the commitment to comprehensive education, out went the commitment to full employment, out went the commitment to repeal the Tories’ anti-trade union laws, out went the commitment to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.

By sacrificing the old clause four in the full glare of publicity, Blair and his New Labour clique sought to appease the establishment, the City, the Murdoch empire, the global plutocracy. Capitalism would be absolutely safe in their hands. A New Labour government could be relied upon to not even pay lip service to a British version of state capitalism. Leftwingers such as Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Diane Abbott and Ken Livingstone protested, trade union leaders grumbled, but the April 1995 special conference voted by 65% in favour of Blair’s clause four.

Needless to say, his version is stuffed full of managerial guff and classless nonsense. Just what one would expect from the architect of New Labour. After all, one of Blair’s big ideas was to replace ‘socialism’ with ‘social-ism’. Another was communitarianism. But, of course, the media glowed with admiration. Crucially, Rupert Murdoch agreed to unleash his attack dogs. Within a few months John Major was almost universally derided as a total incompetent, heading a sleaze-mired government.

Riding high in the opinion polls Blair inaugurated a series of internal ‘reforms’. Conference was gutted. No longer could it debate issues, vote on policy or embarrass the leadership in front of the media. Instead the whole thing became a rubber-stamping exercise. Then there were the tightly controlled policy forums, focus groups and the staffing of the party machine with eager young careerists (most on temporary contracts). Blair thereby asserted himself over the national executive committee … considerably reducing its effectiveness in the process.

Calls for a return of the old clause four are therefore perfectly understandable. But why go back to a Fabian past? Instead we surely need to persuade members and affiliates to take up the cause of “replacing the rule of capital with the rule of the working class”. Our socialism would (a) introduce a democratically planned economy, (b) end the ecologically ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production and (c) move towards a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” (see model motion below).

Towards that end our party must be reorganised from top to bottom. A special conference – say in the spring of 2019 – should be called by the NEC with a view to radically overhauling the constitution and rules and undertaking an across-the-board political reorientation.

As everyone knows, Labour members loathe the undemocratic rules and structures put in place by Blair. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums – the whole sorry rigmarole – should be junked. The NEC must be unambiguously responsible for drafting manifestos. And, of course, the NEC needs to be fully accountable to a sovereign conference.

Reclaiming

Real Marxists, not fake Marxists, have never talked of reclaiming Labour. It has never been ours in the sense of being a “political weapon for the workers’ movement”. No, despite the electoral base and trade union affiliations, the Labour Party has been dominated by career politicians and trade union bureaucrats: a distinct social stratum, which in the last analysis serves not the interests of the working class, but the continuation of capitalist exploitation.

Speaking in the context of the need for the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain to affiliate to the Labour Party, Lenin said this:

… whether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers, but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only this latter determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat.

Regarded from this – the only correct – point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns [the German social chauvinist murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht – JC]. 12)VI Lenin CW Vol 31, Moscow 1977, pp257-58

Despite all the subsequent changes,

 this assessment retains its essential purchase. Labour is still a “bourgeois workers’ party”. Of course, once Corbyn was formally announced leader of the Labour Party, on September 12 2015, things became more complex. Labour became a chimera. Instead of a twofold contradiction, we have a threefold contradiction. The left dominates both the top and bottom of the party.

Corbyn is not the equivalent of George Lansbury or Michael Foot – an elementary mistake. They were promoted by the labour and trade union bureaucracy after a severe crisis: namely Ramsay MacDonald’s treachery and James Callaghan’s winter of discontent. Corbyn’s leadership is, in the first instance, the result of an historic accident. The ‘morons’ from the Parliamentary Labour Party lent him their nomination. After that, however, Corbyn owes everything to the mass membership. Those already in and those coming in.

That has given us the possibility of attacking the rightwing domination of the middle – the councillors, Iain McNicol and his national and regional apparatus, the Parliamentary Labour Party – from below and above. No wonder the more astute minds of the bourgeois commentariat can be found expressing profound worries over the prospects of Labour being dominated by leftwing socialists, militant trade unions and Marxists.

Of course, there is the danger that Corbyn will be drawn into yet further rotten compromises. We have already seen Trident renewal, a ‘jobs and the economy’ Brexit and the disgraceful silence over the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt. In other words, it would be fatal for the leftwing majority at a grassroots level to content itself with playing a support role for Corbyn. Nor should the role of the left be to provide a counterweight to the rightwing pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

No, the left needs to fight for its own aims and principles.

 


Model motion

This branch/CLP notes that this year marks the centenary of the adoption of clause four by the Labour Party.

The old clause four was drafted by the Fabian leader, Sidney Webb, in order to divert the considerable rank-and-file sympathy that existed for the Russian Revolution into safe, peaceful and exclusively constitutional channels. Clause four was managerial, statist and predicated on the continuation of wage-slavery. It had nothing to do with putting an end to capitalism and bringing about the socialist transformation of society.

This branch/CLP notes that, by sacrificing the old clause four in the full glare of publicity, Tony Blair and his New Labour clique sought to appease the establishment, the City, the Murdoch empire, the global plutocracy. Capitalism would be absolutely safe in their hands. A New Labour government could be relied upon not even to pay lip service to a British version of state capitalism.

The Labour Party has been transformed by the influx of tens of thousands of new members and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. This branch/CLP therefore believes that the time is ripe to commit the party to the following, genuinely socialist, version of clause four.

1. Labour is the federal party of the working class. We strive to bring all trade unions, cooperatives, socialist societies and leftwing groups and parties under our banner. We believe that unity brings strength.

2. Labour is committed to replacing the rule of capital with the rule of the working class. Socialism introduces a democratically planned economy, ends the ecologically ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production and moves 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.

3. Towards that end Labour commits 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.

4. Labour seeks to win the active backing of the majority of people and forming a government on this basis.

5. We shall work with others, in particular in the European Union, in pursuit of the aim of replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism.

This branch/CLP calls for this version of clause four to be included as part of Labour’s constitution at the earliest opportunity.

[For trade unions: This branch/conference calls upon the union to campaign within the Labour Party at all levels for this version of clause four to be included as part of Labour’s constitution at the earliest opportunity.]

References

References
1 As are Socialist Appeal’s old comrades in the Socialist Party in England and Wales. After the 1991 split in the Militant Tendency, the minority around Ted Grant, Alan Woods and Rob Sewell became Socialist Appeal. The majority – around Peter Taaffe, Tony Mulhearn, Hannah Sell and Dave Nellist – evolved through Militant Labour and became SPEW in 1997. Needless to say, comrade Nellist – former Labour MP for Coventry South East and nowadays national chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, insists that the 1918 clause four must be “reinstated” (Coventry Telegraph August 19 2011
2 Quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p64n
3 K Marx and F Engels Collected Works Vol 24, London 1989, p83
4 Socialist Review August 1912 – quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p25n
5 The Fabians supported the British government in the 1899-1902 Boer War. They justified their stand in a pamphlet, edited by Bernard Shaw, Fabianism and the empire (1900). They did not want Britain to lose out, when it came to the division of the world by the great imperial powers. As might be expected, the Fabians wanted a civilising British empire. The white dominions should be given self-government. However, “for the lower breeds” there should be a “benevolent bureaucracy” of British civil servants and military officials guiding them to “adulthood” (G Foote The Labour Party’s political thought London 1985, p29-30
6 K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p267
7 ‘Common sense’ being the continuously changing but widely held outlook of various classes and strata. Gramsci called it “folklore of philosophy”, because it exists “halfway between folklore properly speaking and the philosophy, science and economics of the specialists” (A Gramsci Selections from the prison notebooks London 1973, p326n
8 K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 50, New York 2004, p83
9 Though it had two guaranteed seats on the LRC’s leading body, the Social Democratic Federation disaffiliated in August 1901.
10 See RT McKenzie British political parties London 1963, pp465-71.
11 Labour gained 15 seats in the December 1918 general election, making it the fourth largest party in parliament after Bonar Law’s Tories, Lloyd George’s Coalition Liberals and Sinn Féin. It had a total of 57 MPs.
12 VI Lenin CW Vol 31, Moscow 1977, pp257-58