Gagging order

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Going to the Labour Briefing readers’ meeting in London last Saturday (December 12), I had hoped – against the evidence, I have to admit – to discover what plans are being hatched for the future organisation of the Labour left. After all, Briefing is the journal of the Labour Representation Committee, and the two most prominent figures in the LRC have always been Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, so LRC officers must surely be involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to construct a provisional steering committee to guide Momentum towards a conference – the only legitimate way to determine the politics of Momentum and the form its promised “democratic governance” should take.

No such luck, I am sorry to say. I left the meeting none the wiser about plans for the future of Momentum, nor of the LRC itself, and consequently no indication of how Briefing will be governed if the LRC decides to dissolve itself into Momentum. The LRC national committee had met only a few days earlier, and several NC and executive committee members were present, yet we were told nothing about what kind of future the NC is planning for the organisation. Why has the word ‘annual’ been dropped from the LRC’s February 20 conference (postponed from its usual early November slot), if not in anticipation of liquidating the LRC organisation into the Momentum network? So far, we are left guessing, and the LRC leadership has not used the pages of its own journal to enlighten its own members.

The problem vexing the ageing Briefing team is this: how come the Corbynite surge, which has doubled Labour Party membership to some 400,000, has left the uncritically pro-Corbyn Briefing with sales only slightly up at about 1,500 monthly, and left the burden of producing the journal on fewer and fewer shoulders? Of course, producing a monthly journal is no easy task for a few stalwarts, and the desperate need for young blood is nothing new. A proposal to ease the burden of work by scaling down from monthly to quarterly, or even to three issues a year, albeit in the context of upgrading the Briefing website, was thankfully rejected – it would have been a disastrous political retreat – but the problem of personnel remains to be solved. One obvious way to recruit new forces is to publicise the problem, as I am doing here – but strangely some comrades see the discussion of weakness as an attack, rather than an essential step towards a solution.

When I argued that support for Corbyn and McDonnell in the pages of Labour Briefing should necessarily include criticism where appropriate – best friends should always criticise, and comradely criticism should be welcomed – comrade Mike Phipps, a pivotal member of the editorial board, countered that there are already a dozen or so left journals critical of Corbyn, and Briefing is the “only” pro-Corbyn publication. So, there it is: no criticism will be tolerated, if comrade Phipps gets his way.

Then comrade Phipps went a step too far, and moved a vote of the 24 comrade readers present – which seemed to be carried, though no-one counted the votes – that the discussion on “organisation”, which I have described here, be not reported in the Weekly Worker (yes, the motion was explicitly about Weekly Worker). How silly. How counterproductive. How undemocratic, that our own press should be marred by the anathema of censorship. How ineffective must such a self-censored press be in the struggle for working class and human liberation.

Perhaps that gives a clue to Briefing’s failure to capture the massive Corbynite readership market: it’s not exactly “straight-talking politics” when it comes to our own affairs. The idea that the goings-on in the national committee of the LRC, or in a readers’ meeting of Labour Briefing, is a private matter which must be kept secret from the people we are trying to win over, is a self-evident stupidity.

The privacy of parliamentary debates was overcome in struggle long ago. Of course, we want transparency in the state and transparency in the debates in the Labour Party NEC. Thankfully, Pete Willsman, Christine Shawcroft and other NEC members provide reports of what goes on in that ‘private meeting’. In Unison, 22 NEC members are just now campaigning publicly to overcome the attempt of the rightwing NEC majority to keep the general secretary vote-rigging scandal under wraps. Briefing should stand firmly on the side of openness and transparency.

Publicity is healthy. As Lenin put it in a little piece entitled ‘Conversation’ (March-April 1913), “You really are getting like those people who are ready to condemn publicity because of some false information that has been published … But publicity is a sword that itself heals the wounds it makes.”

Stan Keable
Briefing editorial board member (coopted)