Labour Witchhunt | Time for something different

How should the principled left respond to the Starmer witch-hunt? James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists points to an alternative which goes beyond the narrow limits of fight or flight

The announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s new Peace and Justice Project tells us a lot about the current state of politics on the Labour left. The “project” to “promote social justice, peace and human rights in Britain and around the world” will be launched at an online event on January 17 and has received the backing of leading official left figures, including Unite’s Len McCluskey, Labour MP Zarah Sultana … and a lot of formers, eg, former ANC minister Ronnie Kasrils, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and former president of Ecuador Rafael Correa.

Encouraging, for all its limits, this has produced a surge of support. Within days of the announcement of the launch some 65,000 people had registered as supporters. However, the politics of the new initiative, in themselves, seem a rather unremarkable restatement of the pious hopes and worthy aspirations for ‘peace and social justice’ that characterises much of the contemporary left. Who can disagree with “combating poverty, inequality and unaccountable corporate power”? Who does not want to promote “peace, global cooperation … climate justice, self-determination, democracy and human rights”? However, when faced with these pleas for a better world, there are two most important and interlinked questions for Marxists. Firstly, will there be democracy? Will control be vested in the members or supporters? Or will the whole enterprise be run top-down? Will there be genuine debate or click button democracy? Secondly, what are the politics? Will the Peace and Justice Project be willing to adopt the politics necessary to overthrow the system that produces and reproduces inequality, poverty and war. Or will the ‘soft’ left clamp down on the ‘hard’ left? … as we saw in Momentum.

The “socialist alternative” offered by the Peace and Justice Project thus far is essentially a repetition of the managed capitalism outlined in Labour’s 2019 election manifesto. Politically and economically this combination of very light-touch Keynesianism and utopian left reformism presented no challenge at all to the state and the current capitalist order. That many on the soft left regarded these extraordinarily limited politics as “ambitious and agenda-setting” and still think that they make up a radical programme to transform society shows how far socialist consciousness has shrunk in recent years.

The paucity of this approach is reflected in the passive organisational form of the project, which is rooted in flabby, incoherent movementism. Instead of a militant programme, we are offered the chance “to create space, hope and opportunity for those campaigning for social justice”. In place of a fighting, coherent organisation we are invited to “build a network of campaigners, grassroots activists, thinkers and leaders, to share experiences and generate ideas about solutions to our common problems”. Although many awaited Corbyn’s announcement with great hopes, the ‘project’ is rather underwhelming. Instead of a call to begin a real fightback all we are presented with are the rehashed politics of Corbynism – and yet another think tank! Far from announcing a new beginning, the Peace and Justice Project really marks the final political bankruptcy of Corbynism.

The reason why the announcement of this new project was so eagerly awaited lies in the hopes of many on the Labour left that the enthusiasm for the original Corbyn movement could somehow be recreated. The return of the ‘king over the water’, it was hoped, would wipe away the bitter memories of electoral failure in 2019 and the subsequent demoralisation and retreat by the official left. The acceleration of the witch-hunt by Starmer and the failure of the official Labour left to mount any real defence of purged comrades only adds to the sense of hopelessness and disorientation. The left in the Constituency Labour Parties is desperate for leadership and a sense of political direction. However, on the basis of the available evidence, any hopes that it is the Peace and Justice Project that will give such a lead have been well and truly dashed, even before its formal launch. Far from taking us forward, this project will only further add to the demoralisation and confusion on the Labour left.


Given this likely outcome, we need to take stock and look at the perspectives for both the Labour left and the party more generally. Starmer and the Labour right look set to press ahead with the witch-hunt and crush the Labour left as an effective force in the CLPs (despite the Corbyn leadership, the left in the parliamentary party amounts to little more than a nothing). The right want to ensure that Labour is once again secured as the safe ‘second eleven’ of British capitalism. The fright that Corbynism and the growth of a left mass membership gave these Labour lieutenants of capital must be expunged, if Sir Keir is to make it into No10 and fulfil, at last, his Pabloite project (ha!). But the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt has a logic of its own. Starmer is not in control, he is controlled. The witch-hunt itself – not some prior project – is what could well lead to him breaking the trade union link and to the final de-Labourisation of Labour. Blairism fulfilled! … without a master plan, without any theory, without think tanks or focus group triangulation.

Starmer has already succeeded in outmanoeuvring the parliamentary leadership of the official Labour left. By their self-censorship and surrender to the witch-hunt, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs have actually agreed to silence themselves. Like the Tribune Group in the late 1970s and 1980s they will be tolerated and may even have their uses for the party leadership as a neutered, although increasingly irrelevant, tame ‘left’. For the real left, however, the Socialist Campaign Group ought to be totally discounted as any kind of leadership.

Despite the strength of the left amongst party members and the wave of protests that has developed, the purge is being intensified and extended ever wider. Despite that, Labour still remains a significant site of struggle for socialists, which should not be abandoned. The character of this struggle is determined by the nature of Labour as a bourgeois workers’ party – that is, a party with a pro-capitalist leadership, inextricably and structurally integrated into the state, and a membership, historically and organically, linked to the organised working class through the affiliated trade unions. Consequently, as Labour’s history shows, the wider class struggle in society finds expression and is played out within the party, albeit often in a refracted and distorted form.

Like Blair, Starmer could succeed in driving large numbers of socialists out of the party and cowing the rump that remains into submission. However, Starmer is not operating in a period of relative stability, as Blair did in the 1990s. The economic and political crises of the early 2020s have an altogether different character, which hardly favours Starmer’s style of politics: ‘steady as she goes’ and reformism without reforms are hardly attractive options for working class voters in a period of declining living standards and mass unemployment. Furthermore, Labour’s (temporary?) extinction as a serious party in Scotland and the historical decline of social democracy and workers’ parties in other European states serves as a warning – for both the Labour right and the official left – that Labour’s position as a major party is by no means guaranteed.

The fundamental problem this poses for the official Labour left is that its politics – no matter how ‘left’ they appear – are thoroughly rooted in a parliamentary road to ‘socialism’ and thus can only function within the ideological framework of Labourism and through the structures of the Labour Party. This organic relationship explains the Labour left’s constant appeals for party unity, their affronted and genuine sense of outrage when their loyalty is questioned and the pathetic characterisation of Starmer’s witch-hunt as mere “factionalism”! Even if Labour disappeared from the scene in its current form, the politics of the official left, as the history of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and other attempts to establish an alternative to Labour have shown, would simply recreate Labourism in another incarnation.

Alternative party?

However, for many on the Labour left the witch-hunt has called into question their place in the party and the future of their politics. This has produced an increasing debate about whether Labour is now dead and whether it has any future role at all in the struggle for socialism.

An example of these discussions will be an important online conference hosted by the Labour Left Alliance on January 30. During this debate, supporters of Labour Party Marxists will argue that Labour still retains its character as a bourgeois workers’ party and, despite Starmer’s campaign to purge the left, remains a site of struggle for socialists. Our demand for the refounding of Labour as a real party of the working class – a united front of socialist and labour movement organisations – is a recognition of the place Labour occupies in both historical and contemporary terms in British working class politics.

At the present moment many of the comrades on the Labour left who are calling for new organisations or a new party advocate either a Labour Party mark two – committed to a more left Labourism and the utopian parliamentary road to socialism – or various forms of broad party with a soft-left programme, modelled on such failed experiments as Syriza or Podemos. While LPM agrees that the witch-hunt and the resulting crisis of the Labour left poses key questions about the type of programme and the type of party our class needs, we reject both approaches.

Many comrades in the LLA frequently claim that they are Marxists who stand for socialist revolution. They should openly and unashamedly declare it by supporting the LPM’s argument that objective conditions demand the creation of a working class party that, in coming to power, breaks up the state and begins the transition to communism. Drawing on the best traditions and historical experience of Marxism internationally, such a party would organise the working class on a clear, principled programme and would operate according to the principles of full democracy, freedom of criticism and unity in action. Such a party is not only required in Britain – it is required in every country. Socialism is internationalist or it is nothing.

So, looked at in this way, although the struggle in the Labour Party is important and a battle in which we must play our full part, for Marxists it is the fight for a revolutionary programme and a revolutionary party which remains our central goal.

Labour Left | Flight or fight?

A recent NEC vote shows that the official left is prepared to join in the witch-hunt, reports James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists

As the toll of suspensions and expulsions in Labour’s civil war continues to mount, leftwing members in Constituency Labour Parties are increasingly asking: where are our leaders? When are they going to lead a fightback? Although the official left are keeping very quiet, we know where they are, and it is miles away from the front line in the fight against the witch-hunt. Whilst many are simply keeping their heads down or meekly issuing apologies when threatened with suspension, others have gone even further and are siding with the Labour right.

The most egregious example of this betrayal was the December 7 meeting of Labour’s national executive committee, where the official left – including five Grassroots Voice supporters representing the CLPs – effectively supported the witch-hunt by voting to implement the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s proposals on Labour’s disciplinary procedures. These GV NEC members campaigned and drew support in the recent elections as opponents of the witch-hunt and defenders of the CLPs, but at the first serious test they collapsed before the Labour right, betraying their mandate and leaving their supporters defenceless before the purge.

This capitulation is even more outrageous when you consider that, in the days leading up to the NEC meeting, we had two further examples of what such a surrender would mean. In the last week Moshé Machover, a leading Jewish anti-Zionist, and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a key figure in Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), joined the growing ranks of socialists who have been purged during Starmer’s witch-hunt. Their crime? Moshé’s long-standing argument that anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism was deemed a ‘thought crime’ by Labour officials, while Naomi’s heinous offence was to speak out at an online CLP meeting against the accelerating purge of the left! The pace of the attack on the left is now so fast that it really is a case of ‘another day, another round of suspensions’.

This NEC vote is a serious setback, which will widen the scope of the witch-hunt and further restrict free speech and party democracy. However, it is just the latest episode in a long line of retreats, which has demoralised and disorganised the Labour left and sabotaged the chance to mount an effective counterattack. Taken together, this abject surrender, along with the Labour bureaucracy’s relentless pressure on even the mildest opposition, reveals the fundamental crisis now facing the official Labour left.

The nature of this crisis is encapsulated in the current debate amongst many left activists about whether it is still possible to stay and fight in the Labour Party under present conditions. This argument began in earnest following Starmer’s election and has now intensified following the EHRC report and Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. In response, leftwingers in the CLPs and trade union branches tabled motions of protest, which were met with bureaucratic manoeuvres and attempts to shut down discussion. David Evans, the party’s general secretary, issued a series of edicts preventing internal debate on Corbyn’s suspension or any aspect of the EHRC report. These curbs on free speech were further extended to other political issues – even the most innocuous solidarity with the Palestinian people was ruled out of order in one London CLP.

Although over 80 CLPs managed to pass critical resolutions, in countless others local party officers and full-time regional officials successfully shut things down – in some case literally pulling the plug on Zoom meetings! It has become commonplace for CLPs to be threatened with disciplinary measures whilst in some cases officers who allowed critical motions to be discussed, such as in Bristol West CLP, have been suspended. The result is that some comrades on the Labour left are asking if calls for staying and fighting still hold water. Does the purge mean, they suggest, that Labour is dead, and we should now build a new working class party?

Keep your head down?

Let’s rehearse the arguments. In a recent article on Labour Hub, Mike Phipps of the Labour Representation Committee puts the case for the left keeping its head down and riding out the storm. Comparing Starmer’s purge with Blair’s New Labour counterrevolution, he argues that the left has indeed suffered a serious defeat, resulting in fragmentation, demoralisation and loss of membership. Agreed! But what does comrade Phipps propose? A vigorous defence of party democracy? A real counterattack against the witch-hunt? No, instead he advises us to

choose our battles carefully if we are going to survive and, more importantly, maintain our relevance with the broader membership. Failure to understand this will increase the danger of our marginalisation (original emphasis).

We have seen the fruits of this passive approach throughout the witch-hunt and witnessed this week how it culminates in GV supporters voting with the Labour right on the NEC. A case of ‘choosing your battles carefully’? No, this is a sure-fire recipe for defeat and disaster, not survival. We do not “maintain our relevance with the broader membership” by keeping quiet: to remain silent during this purge means we are really abandoning the fight and going over to the enemy on the Labour right.

This trajectory is inherent in Phipps’ quietist approach, because his political strategy is completely focused on the election of a Labour government. Along with the rest of the official Labour left, this belief in a parliamentary road to socialism absolutely requires party unity (with the right) and the preservation of the Labour Party at all costs as an instrument for ‘socialist transformation’. Leaving aside the historical experience of Labour governments and the failures of the Labour left throughout the last 120 years to transform the party into any kind of instrument for militant socialist politics, Phipps’ advice for the Labour left in 2020 amounts to no more than a reiteration of its traditional strategy, combined with desperate appeals to cling on to party membership at all costs. It is a very long way from the demand that the left should stay and fight.

We strongly agree that comrades should stay and fight: it is an absolute duty that they should not quit and abandon the party to the likes of Starmer and his ilk. However, staying and fighting, is only the beginning of the battle! Recent experience has shown that, if you speak up against the witch-hunt or challenge the leadership’s lies and slanders about anti-Semitism, you will be suspended or expelled. Thus, Starmer’s purge and the increasing collaboration of the official left in shutting down debate and undermining party democracy are making it increasingly difficult for principled left activists to continue to operate within Labour.

The result is that for those comrades – like the supporters of Socialist Appeal, who make the Labour Party the central feature of their strategy – this crisis really is existential. If the space for socialism and democracy within Labour is closed off, what alternative perspective is open to these comrades? Burrow down and hope for better days ahead, perhaps?

But if clinging on to your membership card at all costs is an inadequate and ultimately impossible strategy, then the alternatives offered by comrades who advocate setting up new broad left parties and formations outside Labour are equally flawed. To repeat, we recognise that principled left members will face suspension and expulsion when they stay and fight. However, leaving Labour during this witch-hunt is a moral gesture, not a serious strategy for socialists. If comrades leave the party, where are they going? What is seriously on offer? Behind the rumours and the vague ideas for a regroupment of the left, two possible formations are frequently suggested: a Labour Party mark two, and a ’broad front’ modelled on Syriza or Podemos.

In the form of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, a Labour Party mark two is advocated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales and, since Corbynism’s defeat, is now being revived as an electoral front. Although former Labour MP Chris Williamson has recently joined Tusc, given its record of very modest success to date and its limited programme of economistic left reformism, it seems unlikely to be the future vehicle for militant socialist politics. As Labour Party Marxists has frequently argued throughout this crisis, sub-reformism of this Labour Party mark two type simply reinvents all the political weaknesses and strategic dead ends offered by the historical Labour Party mark one! It is a trap and a route to futility and disillusionment.

Despite the allure of the idea of the broad left front as an alternative to Labour, the experience of Syriza and Podemos does not augur well. Their record in government in Greece and Spain shows the real nature of the politics behind their radical phraseology. Their trajectory from ‘anti-establishment outsiders’ to parties of coalition follows a familiar reformist pattern, which comrades who claim to be revolutionary socialists should flatly reject as any kind of model. In a similar vein, nearer to home, the history of left regroupments in Britain over the last 30 years points to a similar pattern of failure to build a credible revolutionary party that offers a real challenge to capitalism. The history of the stillborn parties that emerged after 1990 is hardly inspiring; do the experiences of the Socialist Labour Party, Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity really offer us any party models or examples of a coherent political strategy that we can adopt today?

The witch-hunt has exposed fundamental flaws and fault lines in the politics of the Labour left. As the NEC vote shows, the leadership of the official left shares much in common with the right, leaving many of their supporters in the CLPs and the trade unions demoralised and uncertain of how best to fight back. These comrades are looking for a strategy to advance socialist politics. Stay and fight is the first step: we must not lightly surrender the Labour Party battlefield to the enemy. But it is only the first step: the current existential crisis poses much more fundamental questions for the Labour left about the Marxist programme and the type of party that we need if we are to carry out our movement’s historical commitment to the socialist transformation of society.

Labour Left | See you in court?

Political, not legal, action is the way forward, argues James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists

Whenever two or three leftwingers are gathered together to discuss fighting back against the current witch-hunt, it is usually not long before thoughts turn to consulting ‘m’learned friends’ and undertaking legal action to challenge suspensions and expulsions. For example, at a recent Labour Against the Witchhunt meeting a comrade suggested that a group of suspended and expelled Labour members should launch a class action against the party. Moreover, it is not just rank-and-file members who contemplate having their day in court: it is reported that Jeremy Corbyn is considering his own legal action over the suspension of the Labour whip.

Whilst the exact nature of any possible legal action remains unclear, initially it seemed that Corbyn would argue that Labour did not follow its own rules in suspending him from both ordinary and parliamentary party membership. Subsequent reports suggest that the aim of any action might be more political than a purely legal attempt to seek redress for any wrong committed by the party. The suggestion is that the real purpose is to apply pressure on the party leadership and bureaucracy through a pre-action disclosure application to the high court. Corbyn’s supporters believe that this application will place evidence into the public domain that there was indeed a deal to readmit Corbyn into the party, as well as showing that Starmer’s office reneged on that deal.

While these legal intricacies are doubtless of interest to readers of Law Reports, it is the politics that concerns us. Although the threat of legal action of this kind is often portrayed as the ‘nuclear option’, in this context it is actually something of a damp squib, applying somewhat limited pressure rather than bringing the whole edifice down. These threats of legal action from the Corbyn camp seem to be part of a negotiating strategy, which, they hope, will allow Jeremy Corbyn to regain his place in the Parliamentary Labour Party after a brief period of nominal penitence. As such this combination of legal manoeuvring and media management is pretty well much of a piece with the strategy of compromise and conciliation that Corbyn, John McDonnell et al have been following from the very first days of the witch-hunt. It is this rather dismal grand strategy of Labour’s official left rather than the specific tactical question of using bourgeois courts that is the central issue here.

Marxists have long understood the nature of the courts and legal system generally. Bourgeois law is designed to maintain the system of private property and defend the structures of the capitalist system. Judges play a key role in upholding the economic, social and political status quo: they are not neutral arbiters of right or impartial dispensers of justice. Even if there are widespread reformist illusions about the nature of the constitution and the state, and its potential role as a neutral instrument to further working class interests, historical experience, especially in relation to anti-trade union laws, has kept alive a healthy suspicion and hostility within the labour movement to the courts and ‘Tory judges’. Above all there has often been a marked reluctance to use the law to settle internal disputes or to conduct political campaigns against political opponents within our movement.

The involvement of socialists with the courts historically has taken various forms, but the majority of cases have either centred on the defence of personal or political reputation in, say, libel or defamation cases, or the seeking of injunctions to ensure natural justice is upheld in, for example, expulsion or other party disciplinary cases.

One of the most famous examples of the former are Marx’s actions for defamation in 1860 against the National-Zeitung and The Daily Telegraph as part of his political campaign against French police spy Karl Vogt; whilst other, less illustrious cases include Tommy Sheridan’s defamation action versus News Group Newspapers, and subsequent conviction for perjury in 2010. That both Marx and Sheridan failed in their legal cases, albeit for very different reasons, shows the pitfalls facing socialists who try to use the bourgeois courts either as a political platform or a tribunal to arbitrate on the truth of accusations made against them. Unlike Sheridan, however, Marx ultimately succeeded in establishing his revolutionary bona fides and historical reputation in the only court that mattered – the labour movement.

The defensive use of the courts to ensure that Labour followed its own rules and acted in accordance with natural justice was a feature of the campaign against the expulsion of the Militant editorial board and supporters of the Militant Tendency in the 1980s and 1990s. Although the various legal challenges slowed things up, the Neil Kinnock leadership – through its control of the party bureaucracy and alliance with the trade union leadership, which had a decisive majority at the party conference – was eventually able to carry out a purge of Militant’s editors and supporters.


However, in response to the various legal actions initiated against the party, Labour’s leadership tightened up its disciplinary processes and established a system that met the objections about the lack of natural justice and fairness. The party bureaucracy has been able to amend its procedures to meet any legal challenges, whilst the courts, for obvious reasons, have generally been unwilling to find in favour of complainants.

The lessons from these attempts to use arguments about natural justice and ‘failure to follow party rules’ against suspensions and expulsions are clear: as the case of Chris Williamson proved, these legal tactics can, at best, only delay disciplinary procedure. Thus, while the use of legal measures is a question of tactics rather than principle for Marxists, both historical and more recent experience suggests that ‘relying on the courts’ is the wrong approach in the fightback against the witch-hunt.

The real weaknesses of the legal route are political rather than principled. The central problem of using the courts is that its advocates fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the witch-hunt and the aims of the current Labour leadership. The witch-hunt is an all-out war on the Labour left conducted by the right, with the goal of completing the Blairite project and breaking the party’s links with the organised working class. It will only end with the principled left being finally driven out of the party, whilst the official Labour left looks on largely in cowed silence.

If we cannot rely on the courts to fight that battle, neither should we put our trust in the fake left in the Socialist Campaign Group, Momentum, the Labour Representation Committee, etc. The seriousness of the crisis facing the Labour left is now clear to everyone – except, it appears, the leaders of the official left itself! The strength of the forces arrayed against the left cannot be overstated: they are drawn not only from the party leadership, the PLP and the Labour bureaucracy, but also from elements of the state, which want to restore Labour as a safe second eleven for British capitalism.

Whilst there is still a significant left amongst the party membership, as the recent elections to the national executive committee showed, it is becoming increasingly disorganised and demoralised by the lack of real leadership. In this struggle we must use all the weapons at our disposal, but the main one must be the political mobilisation of the Labour left in the CLPs and the trade unions. Campaigning organisations such as Labour Against the Witchhunt and the principled revolutionaries organised around Labour Party Marxists have pointed the way forward for a real fightback:

  • No compromises with the Starmer leadership.
  • Reject the EHRC report in its entirety.
  • No false appeals to ‘party unity’.
  • Drive out the pro-capitalist leadership.
  • Refound Labour as a real party of the working class.

Labour Left | On the road to … where?

James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists looks at the dismal record of the official Labour left

Sometimes a small thing can tell us a lot. On November 23, 13 left members staged a walkout from an online meeting of Labour’s national executive committee in protest at the election of Margaret Beckett, a supporter of Keir Starmer, as chair.

Ostensibly a protest about Labour’s right abandoning the ‘buggins’ turn’ precedent, which should have seen a left trade unionist, Ian Murray of the Fire Brigades Union, elected, this coordinated walkout was really a demonstration against the conduct of the Starmer leadership. In subsequent statements explaining the protest, the NEC 13 argued that the leadership was “promoting factional division within Labour” and that the NEC left would continue to act as “the legitimate voice of the membership and … demand that the party unite and reject the current factional approach of the leader” (my emphasis). One of the protesting CLP representatives, Mish Rahman, was reported to have said that Starmer’s latest action “fits a worrying pattern of control-freakery reminiscent of the New Labour years” and continued:

There can be no party unity until Starmer fully understands the need to work with the Labour movement and the many tens of thousands of grassroots members who can help deliver a Labour government. Our walkout today was to remind him of this, and to send a message that we will not put up with petty and repeated attacks on trade unions and members (my emphasis).

The protest comes at a crucial turning point for Labour’s official left. There has been a wave of protests from the grassroots following Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from party membership and continued suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Scores of Constituency Labour Parties and trade union branches have passed motions of support for Corbyn (when they have been allowed to discuss and decide on the issue). This reflects a groundswell of opposition against Keir Starmer and his general secretary, David Evans. Taken together with the reasonable showing for left candidates in the recent NEC elections, the scale of this opposition shows that, despite Starmer’s tightening grip on the party, there is still a sizable left that wants to challenge the “new leadership”.

The contrast of these protests from below with the abject surrender of the official left leadership could not be stronger. In the face of the onslaught from Starmer and a resurgent right these ‘leaders’ have shown that they really are “the dogs that didn’t bark”. However, the refusal of the Socialist Campaign Group and Momentum to fight back is not simply a product of careerism or cowardice, although there are undoubtedly far too many self-interested MPs and aspiring bureaucrats within their ranks. We need to face some home truths here. The political and strategic failures of the official Labour left go much deeper than that.

Left illusions

Let us begin by taking a closer look at the statements of the NEC 13 highlighted above. Laura Pidcock’s tweets about the “disrespect” shown by Starmer towards the left and Mish Rahman’s complaints that “party unity” is being undermined by “factional division” exposes the impotence and the self-limitation inherent in their politics. When they accuse Starmer et al of not playing by the rules or of launching attacks which undermine the party’s unity they speak as affronted Labour loyalists desperate for the party to come together again.

Like Jeremy Corbyn when he was leader, Pidcock, Rahman and their co-thinkers offer olive branches and concessions to the right when under attack. Yet they stood idly by when comrades on the left were suspended or expelled during the Corbyn period, a pattern of appeasement and collusion in the witch-hunt that has led to the blind alley in which the official Labour left now finds itself. Thus, all of their attention is focused on securing Corbyn’s reinstatement as a Labour MP: the thousands of socialists who have been purged are ignored and sacrificed in the interests of “party unity”. Similarly, they continue to give further ground when they preface their demands for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement with calls to accept the findings and recommendations of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report in full. Far from digging in for a fight, the official left are only digging their own graves.

This focus on “party unity” is the official left’s original sin. Despite the protests and the token walkout, the Labour left and the Labour right are far from being at daggers drawn: they are symbiotically linked. However, whilst the Labour right has its assured place in the world as an integral part of the capitalist state, matters stand rather differently for the official left. They cannot exist without the right and can only envisage their political project being pursued through the election of a Labour government. Thus, instead of creating a clear demarcation between the supporters of capitalism and the partisans of working class politics, unity remains the Labour left’s entire raison d’être. The classic model of this parliamentary road to socialism remains the post-1945 Attlee government. Nostalgia for this ‘socialist Labour government’ is still widespread on the Labour left.

Strategically, because the party’s apparat remains firmly in the hands of the right, backed by the trade union leadership, and the left represents only a minority in the PLP, securing such a government requires unity with the Labour right – inevitably obtained at the price of political concessions and compromises by the left. The ‘socialism’ of the Labour left was, at best, the reformism exemplified in the nationalisation of basic industries, the welfare state and the redistributive Keynesianism that were only made possible by the conditions of the post-war boom. The Alternative Economic Strategy, advanced by the Labour left in the 1970s and 1980s, was largely a refinement of the post-1945 strategy that has now become even more absurd, given the very different political and economic situation that emerged at the end of the boom. Even the limited programme of a managed capitalism, which cannot even be described as ‘reformism’, advanced by Corbyn and the Labour left at the last election is equally utopian, given the nature and the depth of capitalist decline internationally.

The current crisis of the Labour left is a hangover from the failure of Corbynism and reflects the illusion that Labour can be transformed into a radical socialist party – a strategy that inspired many who joined the party during Corbyn’s leadership and which still continues to shape the politics of Forward Momentum, the Labour Representation Committee and the Labour Left Alliance. The experience of the Corbyn moment and the continued inability of the official left, at all levels, to mount a militant response to the attacks of the right shows that the Labour Party is irreformable in that way. Its structural and institutional ties to the state have been strengthened throughout the 20th century, as it replaced the Liberals to become the second eleven of British capitalism.

However, Corbyn’s election as Labour leader raised the fear that it might slip out of the control of safe, pro-capitalist politicians and present some type of a threat to the status quo. Starmer’s counterrevolution and his attempt to complete the Blairite project by eliminating the left as a political force within the Labour movement shows how scared the bourgeoisie were of the forces that might have been unleashed by Corbynism. Given the timidity and downright cowardice of the Corbyn leadership in practice, they need not have been so alarmed. But they are never again going to give the Labour left the chance to prove them right. Under Starmer Labour must once again be made into a thoroughly reliable pro-capitalist party, sound on foreign policy and defence, and willing to cooperate with British capitalism’s attempts at home to overcome the current crisis at the expense of the working class.

The pathetic response of the official left, and its outliers, with their calls for stoic forbearance and party unity in the face of a full-blooded civil war unleashed by the Starmer leadership, is merely a continuation of the disastrous failures of the Corbyn period. Self-imprisoned within the political and structural constraints of Labourism, they are inextricably bound into the politics of the Labour right. Here they stand: they can do no other.

Turning point

Unless Starmer secures his final victory, Labour will remain a bourgeois workers’ party and thus an important site of struggle for Marxists. However, if the aims of the enemy before us are clearly visible, the intentions and the determination of some on the Labour left are much less certain. Their record of compromise and collusion with the witch-hunt during Corbyn’s leadership, their continued concessions to the Labour right on the EHRC report and their failure to defend the thousands expelled or suspended from the party during this ongoing purge show that they are very unreliable allies in Labour’s civil war.

Labour Party Marxists will continue the fight for militant politics and a revolutionary programme within our movement. As revolutionaries we have a duty to tell the truth and make a clear distinction between our politics and strategy, on the one side, and those of the compromising, fake left in the Labour Party, on the other. That not only means a resolute, uncompromising defence of all those who have come under attack during the witch-hunt: it also demands that we now go over to the political offensive.

The strategy of the official Labour left has proved catastrophic against the witch-hunt and must be exposed for the failure it is. That failure ultimately has its roots not simply in the personalities and inadequacies of individual leaders, but is an inevitable consequence of Labourism and reformism, no matter how ‘left’ it styles itself. All the time that the Labour left calls for ‘party unity’ or attacks our enemies in the Starmer camp for ‘factionalism’ they are obscuring the real nature of this battle. We cannot afford this confusion and compromise.

Symbolic online walkouts and carefully crafted motions that try to avoid falling foul of the party bureaucracy are not enough. We are at a crucial turning point in this civil war: now is not the time for a Christmas truce! Step up the fightback and carry the war to the enemy!

Official Left | Dogs that didn’t bark

James Harvey of Labour Party Marxists gives the reasons why the official left’s response has been so feeble to Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension

After a few muffled cries of initial outrage, it has all gone rather quiet on the official Labour left front. Within hours of Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension, following his criticism of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into ‘Labour anti-Semitism’, the usual suspects lined up to politely express their opposition to what Sir Keir Starmer had done to the former Labour leader. One of the first to rally to the defence of Corbyn was the former shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who set the tone for much that was to follow. Calling upon the party leadership to lift the suspension, he argued:

On the day we should all be moving forward together and taking all steps to fight anti-Semitism, the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn is profoundly wrong. In [the] interests of party unity, let’s find a way of undoing and resolving this. I urge all party members to stay calm, as that is the best way to support Jeremy and each other (my emphasis).

In a similar vein, the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs’ call to arms declared:

We firmly oppose the decision to suspend Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party. We will work tirelessly for his reinstatement. The fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism is central to the struggle for a society based on justice and equality (my emphasis).

These themes were reiterated in statements and comments in the days that followed. Thus, a group of seven trade union leaders argued that Corbyn’s suspension was “ill-advised and unjust” and had deepened division within the party. The general secretary of the Communications Workers Union, Dave Ward, declared that “nothing that Jeremy said warranted his suspension. It was a well-balanced and factual response to an equally well-balanced report” (my emphasis). These calls for Corbyn’s reinstatement were combined with yet more pleas for ‘party unity’ and an end to factional civil war within Labour. The union leaders’ statement is worth considering in detail:

The publication on Thursday of the EHRC report ought to have marked a moment of reflection and repair for our party. Instead, an ill-advised and unjust suspension has caused division.

We therefore call upon the leader, Keir Starmer, the general secretary, David Evans, and the NEC to work now with us as affiliated unions to repair this damage.

We speak as the leaders of unions representing working people who desperately need a Labour government. We cannot comprehend why the leadership would not only compromise the opportunity to unite our party behind the implementation of the EHRC’s important recommendations, so that they can be taken forward with the members’ full trust and confidence, but also undermine our party’s democratic processes and, ultimately, our party unity.

We therefore urge Keir to work with us on a fairer, unifying way forward (my emphasis).

If we look at these and subsequent statements, two key themes are constantly repeated: the need for party unity and an acceptance of the validity of the allegations made about the extent of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Thus, at the Momentum online rally – ‘Stand with Corbyn: defend democracy’ – and a similar online event organised by the Radical Alliance – Defend Corbyn: Defeat Racism; Build Socialism – leading Labour left speakers, such as John McDonnell, Ian Lavery and Laura Pidcock, confined their remarks to either a defence of Corbyn’s ant-racist record or appeals to activists not to say or do anything that might provoke further suspensions or expulsions. It was all very much a case of ‘Don’t mention the war: just keep calm and carry on’.

New witch-hunt

Yet, while the official Labour left fights a phoney war, Starmer and his supporters in the apparat are gearing up for a systematic witch-hunt and a gouging purge of the left that could include not just Jeremy Corbyn, but his close comrades in the Socialist Campaign Group, such as McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey. With the threat of such wholesale attacks hanging over them, why has the response of the leaders of the Labour left been so supine and spineless?

One explanation lies in that little word ‘unity’ that peppers their statements. Instead of understanding that Starmer represents the openly pro-capitalist wing of the Labour movement, who want a neutered party that offers a reliable second eleven for the British state, the official left offers only timid compromise. For some this attempt at rapprochement might be simply explained by parliamentary careerism and a wish to come to terms with ‘the new management’. The public betrayal of Corbyn by his former protégé, Angela Rayner, immediately following his suspension could easily fall into that category. But at least she had the honesty to reject her former leader live on air: the majority of left MPs have simply remained silent and kept their heads down, hoping that the storm will pass.

However, careerism and cowardice are only part of the explanation for the nature of their response. The main focus of the Labour left throughout the party’s history has been the election of a Labour government and the safe pursuit of reformist politics strictly within the confines of the constitution. Unity with the openly pro-capitalist right and keeping their appointed place within the fold at any cost has been an essential element in that strategy, and so it continues today, even in the face of Starmer’s open declaration of war.

This explains what became the hallmarks of Corbyn’s leadership: namely his constant compromising with the right and a refusal to remove the plotters and fifth columnists working against his leadership within the Parliamentary Labour Party. Such saintly forbearance is undoubtedly admirable in private life, but for socialists and those committed to militant class politics in the Labour Party such passivity in the face of the enemy is inexcusable.

These original sins of the Labour left are not just revealed in acts of omission and capitulation to the right. Many leaders of the official left have been more than willing to sacrifice socialists and throw their ‘comrades’ under the bus in the interests of ‘party unity’. This explains why the statements quoted above all accept the underlying premise of the EHRC report and the slanders of the Labour right and their friends in the media about the extent and nature of ‘anti-Semitism’ in Labour. Far from having zero tolerance towards the libels linking the socialist left to anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn constantly gave ground and allowed good socialists and campaigners for Palestinian rights to be sacrificed to appease the right. Corbyn’s former chief of staff even boasted of how committed and zealous the Corbyn leadership had been in dealing with ‘anti-Semitism’ in the party – or, to give it its real name, pursuing a witch-hunt at the behest of the Labour right.

Thus, the genuflections to the EHRC report are not simply diplomatic niceties, reluctantly conceded by the spokespeople for the official left. When they compromise and equivocate, describing the report as “well-balanced” and a way to “repair the party”, they know full well what they are doing. When they call for the implementation of its recommendations, they clearly understand that they are legitimising these attacks on the left and preparing the ground for a further intensification of Starmer’s purge.

The refusal of the Labour left leaders to take the fight to the right is all of a piece with their previous complicity in the witch-hunt: their pathetic response in the last week shows that we cannot rely on them to take us anywhere – except into a dead end of compromise and defeat. But, if they are clearly not up to the job, the reaction of many ordinary party members to Corbyn’s suspension shows the potential that exists. The online protest meetings, such as those organised by Labour Against the Witchhunt, and the reports of Constituency Labour Parties passing resolutions demanding Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement indicate a willingness amongst the party rank and file to carry the fight to Starmer.

But it is true that there is also a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about how exactly we can begin to fight back. The calls for calm and playing by the rules laid down by the right have demoralised many. Reports of party officials prohibiting any discussion of the EHRC report or Corbyn’s suspension are commonplace, as is the complicity of supposedly left MPs in closing down debate and restricting opposition to the diktats of Starmer’s new management. The result is that many socialists have either lapsed into inactivity or left the party altogether. Some are proposing establishing new groups outside the Labour Party or concentrating on other forms of ‘grassroots activism’. Such attempts at ‘new politics’ will inevitably peter out, in either a sectarian cul-de-sac or aimless activism.

Rather than abandon the field to the right, socialists should stay and fight. However, that fight should not simply be one in defence of party democracy and free speech. It is of necessity a fight against the pro-capitalist leadership and for an organised political current committed to a Marxist programme. Starmer has launched a civil war against the left, and, unlike John McDonnell, Len McCluskey and co, Labour Party Marxists will not turn away from the challenge. We will be arguing that socialists should not waste any more time awaiting the call (which will never come) from the official left. Instead we will be encouraging comrades on the left to organise through Labour Against the Witchunt against the purge.

The dogs of the official left who didn’t bark last week have shown they will never take the fight to the right. We cannot wait around any longer: we cannot afford to cede the initiative to the right. Now is the time for us to show our teeth and begin the serious, militant response that Labour’s crisis demands.

NEC elections | Cowardly fake left peddles lies

James Harvey presents Labour Party Marxists’ recommendations for the national executive committee elections

By the time you read this, Labour Party members will have (hopefully!) received their ballot papers to vote in the elections for the national executive committee. These elections are always seen as a barometer of opinion amongst the ranks of the party’s membership, but the results of this year’s contest will be even more keenly awaited for a number of reasons. For the Starmer leadership it will be a test of the ‘new management’ and yet another opportunity to consign the whole Corbyn period to the dustbin of history. For Labour’s right more generally a strong showing, especially in the Constituency Labour Party section, will further consolidate their grip on the party machine and provide yet more weapons in their continuing witch-hunt against the left.

So far, so familiar. Of course, this analysis of the importance of these elections could have been written at any time in the last five years – or indeed in any of the last 120 years of the party’s existence. Every internal election can be understood as a turning point in Labour’s history, but this NEC vote is not just a routine slugfest – simply yet another round in the never-ending battle between right and left in the party. This is a crucial test for the failed centre-left strategy, especially in the light of the general election in December 2019 and the ‘landslide’ election of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour leader in April 2020. For many, these defeats have been a shattering blow. Nonetheless, what passes for the Labour left goes into these NEC elections with no lessons learnt. The left still believes that the way for the left to defeat the right is for the left to move to the right.

During both the nomination period and the election campaign, much of the focus was on constructing a ‘left slate’ that could mount a real challenge to the right and secure at least six of the nine CLP seats that are up for grabs under the new single-transferable-vote system. This produced a rather convoluted debate about the endless permutations of electoral arithmetic rather than the real political questions that are at issue in the election. Above all, those sections of the Labour left organised under the banner of Grassroots Voice – most notably the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD), the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and Momentum – argued that ‘left unity’ was paramount and that any attempt to stand more than the six candidates given the imprimatur by Grassroots Voice would split the left vote and let in the right.

Both on social media and at various online face to face meetings these arguments have been doing the rounds for months – and for months they have been comprehensively rebutted. Whilst some comrades may be genuinely confused by the new voting system, it is clear that the leaders of the ‘official left’ have deliberately muddied the waters. In an attempt to enforce their monopoly as the approved voice of the Labour left against upstarts such as the Labour Left Alliance (LLA), they refused to even enter into discussions, let alone serious negotiations, to organise a common, principled left slate.

Broad unity

This failure to agree such a slate for the NEC elections tells us what is really going on within the Labour left. Whilst Starmer and the right continue their fierce attacks, expelling socialists on trumped-up charges and shutting down dissent and debate, the official left remains silent. The clue is in the name: whether in the form of Grassroots Voice (GV) or the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA), from which GV emerged, the hopes of the official left remain focussed on building bridges towards a largely mythical ‘centre’. The price that GV pays for its attempts to build such ‘broad unity’ within the party is to completely ignore the central issues of the witch-hunt and the struggle to advance party democracy and defend free speech. Furthermore this unprincipled position is linked to a very flexible definition of the ‘left’, which allows those who have either kept silent about or indeed actively participated in the witch-hunt to receive GV backing. Recent history shows only too well what happens when ‘centre-left’ poachers become witch-hunting gamekeepers after their election.

This strategy of acquiescence is not just a ‘clever’ manoeuvre, but rather reflects a fundamental weakness in the politics and historical practice of the Labourite left. Both its obsession with ‘broad unity’ at all costs and a strategy that places the election of a Labour government centre-stage above all else mean that, unless the Labour left breaks decisively with such sub-reformism, it will continue to remain symbiotically and inevitably entwined with the Labour right. For the sake of such unity and the distant hope of parliamentary success, many on the Labour left remain content to act as a licensed, but impotent, loyal opposition, mounting occasional minor rebellions and continually protesting about a drift to the right, but refusing to really carry the fight to our openly pro-capitalist enemies within. In this way the compromising approach of the organisations of the official Labour left in these elections continues the disastrous strategy of the Corbyn leadership and its refusal to seriously respond to the civil war unleashed by the right.

However, these tendencies towards compromise are not simply a product of the electoral defeat of the Corbyn project and the seemingly unassailable position of the Starmer leadership, but rather reflect deeper problems in the politics of the contemporary left. This is not simply a temporary issue of morale or loss of confidence but points instead to a deep historical pessimism about the potential for building principled and programmatically defined socialist politics. In basing their position around a rather timid set of economistic ‘transitional’ demands, these forms of ‘left politics’ are consciously framed to appeal to a Labourist or social democratic consciousness and thus remain firmly within a capitalist framework. Although these pessimistic politics of self-limitation are widespread on the left, including in the Labour Left Alliance, the experience of Labour Party Marxists comrades shows that it is possible to challenge this dominant common sense and argue instead for a real socialist programme.

As well as raising the nature of the political programme that the Labour left needs to adopt, these elections also pose important questions of future strategy and tactics. The LLA has correctly made the witch-hunt and the advance of party democracy the centre of its campaign. That important fight needs to continue after the election is over. The LLA campaign, in contrast to the silence of the GV candidates on these issues, has struck a chord amongst leftwingers, as can be seen in the number of nominations that the ‘LLA six’ (the alliance’s top-ranked candidates) have received from CLPs.

The LLA was also correct in approaching the CLGA to negotiate a joint slate. That tactic should not be abandoned … well at least for the moment. We are not against horse-trading behind closed doors. Nor are we against hustings and rank and file votes. The key is open, extended and honest debate amongst the Labour left to agree a principled programme. Neither the GV approach of providing a career ladder for grubby aspiring professional politicians, nor the left opportunistically adapting to the right-moving politics of the centre-left, offer any way forward.

Clear tactics

Nonetheless, LPM supports the LLA six as the only candidates openly challenging the continuing witch-hunt and standing up for democracy and free speech in the party. At a time when individual leftwingers continue to be falsely accused of anti-Semitism and fast-tracked out of the party, voting for the LLA list, whatever the severe political limitations of the candidates, gives rank-and-file members the chance to strike a blow against the right and take a stand against the transparently fake left.

Put the LLA six at the top of your ballot paper. Vote for the LLA candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. A good vote for these comrades would be a real boost. We should continue to make the NEC elections a political campaign against the witch-hunt and for party democracy. That is why urging members to prioritise the LLA six above all other candidates is undoubtedly correct. But we believe it is advisable, in order to maximise the chances of getting at least one anti-witch-hunt comrade onto the NEC, that the LLA ranks its candidates in order of preference, starting with Roger Silverman. He has won 65 CLP nominations. Given the circumstances, an impressive total reflecting a militant rank and file core that, with the right leadership and principled politics, can be strengthened, built and expanded into a decisive, even a determining, force.

Secondly, we should prioritise the GV slate of six over the various individual left candidates not associated with any particular left group, faction or bloc. The criticisms that LLA has made against the way that GV candidates were selected might well be justified, but LPM recognises, as a simple fact, that GV is made up of the most important organisations that for the moment pass for the Labour left. We are convinced that the majority of the supporters of these groups, like us, want to fight back against the right, reject the lies about anti-Zionism equalling anti-Semitism and can, over time, be won to the politics of Marxism.

Prioritising the six candidates of the organised left above individual, unorganised left candidates would send a clear message to those who make up GV that the LLA is serious about wanting to negotiate some kind of joint list. It would also send a clear message to individual left candidates and their supporters: the left needs organisation, not lone rangers.

LPM argues for this approach in the interests of strengthening the LLA and taking forward the struggle to form a politically principled alternative leadership within the Labour Party.


We urge Labour members to cast their votes in this order of preference

  1. Roger Silverman
  2. Chaudhry Qamer Iqbal
  3. Carol Taylor-Spedding
  4. Alec Price
  5. Ekua Bayunu
  6. Steve Maggs
  7. Laura Pidcock
  8. Yasmine Dar
  9. Gemma Bolton
  10. Mish Rahman
  11. Ann Henderson
  12. Nadia Jama
  13. Cameron Mitchell
  14. Mark McDonald
  15. Steph Shuttleworth
  16. John Wiseman
  17. Katherine Foy
  18. Crispin Flintoff

NEC elections | Candidates, slates and votes

How best to oppose the witch-hunt and reorient the forces of the left? James Harvey presents LPM’s reconsidered approach

With nominations now closed, the election for Labour’s national executive committee is set to be another test of strength of the left in the party. This follows, it ought to be frankly admitted, a disastrous general election defeat under a ‘dream leader’ with a ‘dream manifesto’, the subsequent failure of a hopelessly divided left in the last NEC by-election and, of course, the humiliation of Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘continuity candidate’ at the hands of Sir Keir Starmer in April. Not even Corbyn’s own constituency activists in Islington North believed that the hapless Rebecca Long-Bailey could deliver the left-reformist holy of holies: ‘the next Labour government’.

Given Starmer’s rapid move to the blue Labour right and his repeated promises to continue the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt, this election will be a test for tried and repeatedly failed centre-left formulas and an opportunity to see if the left can be reorientated … to the left as a left. With that in mind, let us turn to what will be the most hard-fought contest – the election for the Constituency Labour Party representatives on the NEC.

Before looking at the politics, let us deal with the numbers. Altogether 42 individuals are standing for nine seats, but, with well over half of them connected to organised slates of candidates, the main interest is on how these groups will perform. There are two main blocs. From the hard right there is Labour to Win (made up of Progress, Labour First and an assorted mish-mash of old Labourites, former Eurocommunists and naked careerists). Then on the ‘left’ there is Grassroots Voice (GV – formerly the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance). This is the ‘official left’, a left that looks to align itself with the ‘centre’: ie, the less openly pro-capitalist careerists who traditionally inhabit the trade union and labour bureaucracy. Predictably, GV is backed by Momentum, Red Labour, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Labour Representation Committee, Jewish Voice for Labour, FBU, the Bakers’ Union, Jeremy Corbyn and the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

At this stage of the contest, the ‘official left’ – ie, the left-centre – seems to be in a strong position: its six candidates have 42% of the nominations, with its leading candidate, former MP Laura Pidcock, gaining the backing of 333 CLPs – the highest number of nominations. On the hard right, the six candidates of Labour to Win only secured 24% of nominations, whilst groups defining themselves as ‘soft left’ – ie, soft right – such as Open Labour’s two candidates, secured 11% of nominations and a group of three ex-MPs supported by the Tribune Group of MPs – again a version of soft right – gained 7%.

Labour Left Alliance has also endorsed six candidates, who together gained 5% of nominations. LLA is, of course, a loose federation of individual signatories, local groups and left organisations, including its Marxist fraction, Labour Party Marxists.

These figures are important because at the beginning of the contest the number of nominations is a rough guide to the relative strengths of the different currents … albeit under the freezing conditions of a vicious witch-hunt (hence there are good reasons to believe that the LLA – as the anti-witch hunt slate – could conceivably garner a significantly higher level of support when it comes to members voting in the relative safety of their own homes).

Nonetheless, nomination numbers count. The election is being held using the single transferable vote (STV) in place of the previous majoritarian ‘first-past-the-post’ (FPTP) system familiar in Westminster elections. The Starmer leadership opted for STV, but not because they were persuaded by democratic considerations. No, the intention, and undoubtedly the effect, will be to increase the right’s majority on the NEC. Whereas in ‘normal’ circumstances the ‘left’ would win all nine, now the right can expect to get at least three seats.

The STV innovation has led to all sorts of online speculation about how this new voting system will influence the outcome and heated argument about the dangers of a split vote on the left. Some of this has arisen from genuine confusion about how the system of preferences and transfers operates, but some of the claims that LLA is splitting the left vote and handing seats to the right are plainly, transparently, unambiguously wrong and need to be convincingly countered before voting begins on October 19.

On the ballot paper members will receive they will be asked to rank candidates in order of preference – rather than nine equally weighted votes, as would be the case under an FPTP system. This means that slates will win seats in proportion to the votes they gain. In this election for nine NEC places it has been calculated that it will require approximately 10% of the vote to elect one member. Understanding how this system of preferences and transfers – in particular the first-preference votes – actually works is essential if the left vote is to be used most effectively. Put simply, if a candidate exceeds the quota for election or has too few votes to remain in the contest, their votes are transferred to other candidates, meaning that those lower down the list can benefit from transfers. It means that persuading the leftwing rank and file to choose more than just six candidates is more than advisable in this election.

However, whilst these numbers are important, it is the politics that are crucial. During the nomination period entitled GV operatives claimed that putting forward candidates other than their slate of six would weaken what passes for the left. They are now continuing that argument, as we prepare to vote, by suggesting that voting for more than six candidates will lessen the left’s chances of gaining seats on the NEC. Some, if not all, comrades on the LLA list have been approached and asked to stand aside in favour of the GV slate. Thus, in the remaining week or so before the voting starts the situation could quite possibly change.

Clear tactics

Labour Party Marxists wholeheartedly support the LLA Six as the only candidates openly challenging the continuing witch-hunt and standing up for democracy and free speech in the party. At a time when individual leftwingers continue to be falsely accused of anti-Semitism and fast-tracked out of the party, voting for the LLA six gives rank-and-file members the chance to fight back collectively and show their defiance.

Put the LLA six at the top of your ballot paper. Vote for the LLA candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. A good vote for these comrades is vital. Hence whatever the threats, whatever the inducements, whatever the ‘big name’ phone calls, they should not stand down. To do so would amount to treachery.

However, we urge the LLA to modify its current voting tactics – tactics which our LPM fraction supported at the LLA organising group (OG) meeting on September 26, but which, after lengthy, serious discussion, we now believe should be revised, not least given the final state of the nominations and changing circumstances since the OG met. To be clear, our argument is not about the arithmetic of STV, but focuses instead on the important political messages the LLA should be sending out to Labour’s mass membership and the organised soft left.

Firstly, we should continue to make the NEC elections a political campaign against the witch-hunt and for party democracy. That is why urging members to prioritise the LLA six above all other candidates is undoubtedly correct. But we believe it is advisable, in order to maximise the chances of getting at least one anti-witch-hunt comrade onto the NEC, that the LLA ranks its candidates in order of preference, perhaps putting those with the highest number of CLP nominations at the top, therefore starting with Roger Silverman. Remarkably, especially given the witch-hunt, he secured 65 CLP nominations. Well done, comrade – more than encouraging. A mass base to build upon.

Secondly, we should prioritise the GV slate of six over the various individual left candidates not associated with any particular left group, faction or bloc. The criticisms that the LLA has made against the way that the GV candidates were selected might well be justified – but we should not be against horse-trading, deals or compromises when it comes to selecting candidates. To object would be politically childish, naive, self-defeating. In contrast the LLA made great play of organising open hustings (to which all left candidates were invited), and an open vote amongst its supporters. In other words, a popularity contest that unhealthily smacked of referendums and US primaries.

We insist, on the contrary, on our candidates having a proven record on the left, pledging their commitment to a principled Marxist programme, being chosen by a trusted, democratically elected, politically intransigent leadership and agreeing to follow its lead, no matter what the personal costs or dangers that might involve.

The GV slate ‘emerged’ from behind closed doors, without any involvement of the rank and file, without hustings … and most importantly without an agreed political platform! The crassest of crass opportunism.

To its credit LLA made numerous approaches to meet with GV, only to be answered, however, with a flat wall of silence. During the nomination period LLA continued to call for discussions with GV on a common slate. Yet GV refused to engage, seemingly believing that it alone has an automatic monopoly over the votes of the Labour left – despite its foul centre-left politics and the criminal refusal to criticise, question or even mention the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt.

Despite these damning criticisms of its trajectory, lack of any socialist principles, silence on the witch-hunt and thoroughly dishonest claims, LPM recognises, as a simple fact, that GV is made up of the most important organisations that for the moment pass for the Labour left. We are convinced that the majority of the supporters of these groups, like us, want to fight back against the right, reject the lies about anti-Zionism equalling anti-Semitism and will, over time, be won to the politics of Marxism.

Prioritising the six candidates of the organised left above individual, unorganised left candidates would send a clear message to those who make up GV that the LLA is serious about wanting to negotiate some kind of joint list. It would also send a clear message to individual left candidates and their supporters: the left needs organisation, not lone rangers.

LPM argues for this approach in the interests of strengthening the LLA and taking forward the struggle to form a politically principled left in the Labour Party.

NEC elections: shift the left to the left

Refound Labour as a real party of labour