LRC: Inclusivity and intolerance

Blindfolded and gagged
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Some leading Labour Representation Committee members are displaying an unhealthy aversion to dissenting views. Stan Keable attended the final meeting of its outgoing national committee

Andrew Berry, chairing the Labour Representation Committee national committee on October 4 in the absence of John McDonnell, kicked off the meeting with a gratuitous attack on me and my report of the previous, September 6, NC in Liverpool.1

What goes on at NC meetings is normally reported only to committee members in succinct minutes, which are likely to reach very few of the membership – who, unsurprisingly, remain uninvolved in the organisation and continue to drift away. My suggestions to the Labour Briefing editorial board, of which I am a coopted member – that the organisation should use its own journal to report and publicise the discussions and decisions of its own leading committee – have fallen on deaf ears, or been rejected as necessarily “boring”.
NC meetings are open to rank-and-file members to attend as observers and, time permitting, they can speak in discussion (but not vote, of course): an openness of which the LRC should be rightly proud – if only the members knew about it (and knew when and where the meetings take place, and what is up for discussion). But, if these are not closely guarded secrets, they might as well be. On this occasion, I was again the only observer.
Comrade Berry was “disgusted” by what I had written, which he characterised as “misrepresentation” and “a deliberate attempt to undermine the LRC”. A report of the NC should be “decisions only”, and he warned that my right to attend future NC meetings might be withdrawn if I persisted. He did not allow me to respond to this bureaucratic bullying, but Graham Durham – new to the NC as a delegate from Brent and Harrow LRC – came to my rescue: for him, the report was “legitimate”, and any perceived misrepresentation can be corrected by replying publicly in the Weekly Worker or on the Labour Party Marxists website – something he has done himself in the past. And, I am glad to say, NC member Val Graham, who was name-checked in the report, did in fact post a comment to clarify her own viewpoint.
Honest reporting of the state of the organisation, and honest and open political discussion, are preconditions for its survival and development. Doing this publicly is the way to draw healthy forces into the LRC, into the struggle to transform the Labour Party. The failure to report, the concealing of political differences, the denial of real problems – these are the most effective ways to “undermine” not only the LRC, but the working class struggle for socialism in general.
Unfortunately, comrade Berry’s view does seem to be the majority opinion on both the NC and the Briefing editorial board – although no decision was taken on the matter. The meeting was evidently inquorate, anyway, with only 10 present during Berry’s diatribe, rising to 13 later, during voting on the NC’s statement to be submitted to conference.
One EB member had told me off in a private message, saying my report gave a “distorted impression” and was “unhelpful”; and commenting: “You have let us down”. Here is my reply, which I posted to the EB discussion list:

That is not my intention – I have no interest in wasting my life peddling falsehoods. If you have a different view to me, I suggest you send a letter for publication in Weekly Worker – or in Briefing – rather than telling me off in private, which is inherently an unhealthy form of debate.
I don’t think I have given a distorted impression. If you believe the only problem with Briefing is [a comrade’s] temporary sick leave, then it is you who has a distorted impression, in my opinion. The financial difficulties and dwindling and ageing personnel are quite real, and the future of Briefing is by no means guaranteed. Likewise the LRC itself – as stated clearly by John McDonnell.
What is ‘not helpful’ in overcoming these difficulties is keeping quiet about them: not reporting them fully to LRC NC, to Briefing readers and to LRC members, and thereby involving them all in the necessary discussion – not just about immediate practical problems, but about LRC political strategy, and the role of Briefing as its journal.

Minutes of the September 6 NC meeting were circulated, and – with a few minor statistical corrections – show that I have not “misrepresented” the condition of the organisation. With 13 NC members present, the meeting is confirmed as “inquorate”, and the first item was “Discussion on reasons for inquorate NCs”. Membership and affiliation stats are given as follows: “2,200 members (sic!) on database (paid up 601, 30 students, 28 affiliates) – email chasing up 878 emails sent out, 379 opened it, 38 renewed (4%) …” And only one local group is functioning in London: “Local London groups not meeting at sub-Greater London basis (bar Brent/Harrow, meeting weekly).”2
“Naming people” was wrong, according to comrade Berry; in other words, quoting what NC members say, what positions they take on political matters. And Michael Calderbank explained that “these are not open, public meetings” – they are “delegate meetings”; and it “inhibits debate if people” [representatives of other people] cannot “raise points in confidence”. Michael, this is the opposite of accountability! Should representatives really be unaccountable for their actions and the opinions on which they are based?
These comrades are either elected by and accountable to annual conference (AGM), or delegates representing and accountable to local LRC groups or affiliated trade unions and other organisations. So when we LRC members and delegates from affiliated organisations come to vote, at the forthcoming LRC AGM (November 8), in elections for the national committee and the Labour Briefing EB, we are supposed to do so in blind ignorance of the political positions taken, during the previous year, by individual members of the national committee and the Briefing editorial board.
I am sorry to say that the NC statement incorporates this bureaucratic approach in the ‘LRC culture’ section of its political statement, intended to eliminate ‘bad behaviour’, which is allegedly driving people away. I urge conference to reject or amend it. The best of intentions is first set out – encouraging “participation, solidarity and comradeship”, offering an “open, inclusive and mutually supportive atmosphere”, and striving “to preserve freedom of political debate”. But we must “simultaneously refuse to tolerate any behaviour which … threatens the basic unity and togetherness of the LRC”.
The statement introduces, apparently for the first time, the power of the NC to “suspend or terminate LRC membership … subject to the right of appeal to the LRC’s AGM”. In my view, this goes without saying, and should give no problem, if exercised appropriately. However, point 3 of the “Examples of such behaviour” listed in the statement is a tailor-made bureaucratic weapon for stifling the desired “freedom of political debate”: “Wilfully misrepresenting the views of the LRC, its elected national bodies or officers, whether to other LRC members or the wider public, by any means; including but not limited to word of mouth, in writing, in printed publications, or online via electronic or digital communications or other social media.”
Labour Party Marxists will, of course, continue to report openly as a matter of principle, and will ignore any bureaucratic instruction to shut up. If comrades are ‘misrepresented’, whether “wilfully” or otherwise (who decides?), they have the right and duty to correct what they perceive to be inaccurate. “Freedom of political debate” must include the right to report, and comment on, the views of other comrades.
Notes
1. See ‘A crisis of soul-searching’ Weekly Worker September 11; or http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/lrc-a-crisis-of-soul-searching.
2. I do need to make a correction to my last report, however. The deadline for 100-word maximum amendments to the NC statement, and to motions, is November 1 – not October 25, which is the deadline for nominations (accompanied by a 100-word maximum election address).