Labour Left Alliance | Sticking to failed politics

Clive Dean of Labour Party Marxists reports on a conference characterised by the struggle between Marxism and left reformism

August 22-23 saw the second conference of the Labour Left Alliance. Like most things these days, it took place online, but over 120 delegates and observers were officially present (as things progressed some fell away).

Arguably, the LLA had arrived a year too late. It was conceived at the end of the 2018 Labour Party conference, when activists realised that a leftwing coordinating organisation was urgently needed, fulfilling the role abdicated by Momentum. Labour’s annual conference had just rejected open selection of MPs, but had revised the trigger ballot mechanism instead, as a route for Constituency Labour Parties to remove wayward Westminster careerists. Success for the Corbyn project required a major clear-out of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and that needed a clued-up campaign. But then nothing happened for nearly a year.

Following protracted negotiations between the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour and Labour Against the Witchhunt, the appeal for a Labour Left Alliance was finally launched in July 2019. Very quickly the 1,000-signature target was achieved, and local groups began to affiliate.

But it was not plain sailing. The different approaches of the LRC and LAW became apparent as the organisation became active, and at the end of October 2019 the LRC decided to withdraw its backing, stating that “serious disagreements exist around both the political orientation of the LLA and the character of what should be built in the short term”. For the LRC, the LLA was moving too fast and was doing too much. Incidentally, recently the LRC and Red Labour have set up the rather more sedate ‘Don’t Leave, Organise’, which has not organised much at all. Perhaps that is the model they had in mind for the LLA.

The LLA pressed ahead with its first conference in the shadow of the general election defeat and Corbyn’s resignation, and on February 22 130 delegates met in Sheffield to agree on the constitution and political orientation of the new organisation. The conference structure was problematic, the approved constitution was hopelessly flawed and the policies adopted were contradictory.Clement Attlee  But the conference provided the LLA with legitimacy and identity.

The months that followed have been difficult for everyone engaged in politics as a result of the pandemic lockdown. The LLA responded by organising a series of online educational discussions and some debates too. It has been actively encouraging left participation in the forthcoming NEC elections, and has organised online hustings. It has also facilitated online meetings of local groups in the run-up to the second conference.

Controversy

This conference was divided into four sessions. Session one covered the report of work from the steering committee and organising group (OG). It also passed emergency resolutions condemning the latest round of suspensions and the attempt by new Labour general secretary, David Evans, to ban CLPs and branches from discussing key issues.

The only controversial item in session one was a motion from Dulwich LLA to commit the LLA to supporting only Centre Left Grassroots Alliance candidates in the elections for Labour’s national executive committee. This was the equivalent of flat-earthers warning us that we will fall off if we dare to venture over the horizon. Supposedly with the single transferable vote system the maths works against us, and, if we vote for anyone but the CLGA six, then we could end up with no left candidates being elected at all. This innumerate nonsense was heavily defeated, and the LLA continues to promote those candidates prepared to stand against the witch-hunt of the left and for rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance misdefinition of anti-Semitism.

The second session was all about amendments to the LLA constitution. On behalf of Labour Party Marxists Andrew Kirkland moved a change which would transform the LLA into a membership organisation based on active branches, rather than a loose federation of affiliates and a petition-list list of supporters. It would also abolish the Organising Group, which is not elected by or accountable to conference. The result would be a democratic LLA, with conference deciding policy and electing the leadership, and a structure able to organise serious political interventions in Starmer’s Labour Party.

In the discussion that followed it was clear that some OG members were unhappy about losing their role if it was abolished. More than one delegate used the ‘yes – but not yet’ argument against our proposals, similar to the LRC’s opposition to an active LLA referred to above. But there were also sinister contributions of the red-baiting variety. The movers were accused of trying to turn the LLA into a separate political party, or indeed a clone of Labour Party Marxists. In the vote our proposal was defeated with 22 votes for and 54 votes against.

Next came a debate around the introduction of disciplinary procedures, as previously adopted by the LLA steering committee. This hefty document is over twice as long as the constitution itself, and creates a raft of bodies and processes to deal with anticipated unacceptable behaviour within the LLA. Many of the definitions it contains are subjective and could be used as bureaucratic tools to silence political opposition. Worse than that, any punishment appears to be unenforceable, because, as the previous vote established, there are no LLA members, just supporters. Presumably affiliated groups will have their own arrangements and so will not be covered by these rules either. In spite of all this, conference endorsed the procedures by 46 votes to 19.

The third session was entitled ‘The way forward for the Labour Left Alliance’ and offered delegates a choice between two political statements that emerged from two opposing positions within the OG. Both statements described the desperate political landscape and were critical of the Corbyn leadership’s failure to promote socialism. But statement 1, which secured the support of two-thirds of the OG, restricted the LLA’s immediate ambitions to reforms under capitalism. Statement 2, which was drafted by Labour Party Marxists, was supported by one third of the OG. This described in some detail the radical democratic demands we should be raising and the communist society we aspire to.

The two positions had already been aired in an online debate a week earlier, and it was clear that both deserved lengthier scrutiny by delegates before one of them was chosen as the LLA’s formal political platform.

LPM delegates had approached the conference arrangements committee regarding the method of speaker selection for this session. It was obvious that a more informed debate would ensue if speakers with prepared contributions were selected, rather than those with spontaneous, off-the-cuff remarks. So the LPM fraction proposed a list of speakers for statement 2. This was strongly opposed by the organisers, even when their conflict of interest was identified – how could they be impartial, when the OG had already voted in support of statement 1? In the end the delegates were evenly split on this proposal – it was defeated by just four votes.

Statement 1 was moved by Dave Hill from Brighton LLA. He thought that his version would appeal to the many Corbynistas in the party, whereas statement 2 would repel them and was really just turning the LLA into Labour Party Marxists. He then identified the three political trends in socialism: (1) reformism, which was bad; (2) transitional demands, which were good, because they appealed to workers, but were beyond what capitalism could afford; (3) “communism by 9 o’clock tomorrow”, which was useless, because it only appealed to ourselves.

Statement 1 was seconded by Daniel Platts from Rotherham LLA. He was convinced that the ideas in statement 2 are too abstract for the workers we want to influence in the Labour Party and the unions. Ideas like abolition of the monarchy and replacing the police are too revolutionary for the Labour left. He had a big problem with the call for a moneyless society – how could people with no money relate to that? He preferred to emphasise the progressive social measures in Corbyn’s manifestos. For him the fight for reforms is the priority: visions of socialism should be confined to educationals.

Statement 2 was moved by Kevin Bean from Merseyside Labour Left and Labour Party Marxists. He pointed out that capitalism was the cause of the crises we face, so we need to be clear on what our definition of socialism is and how we achieve it. He noted the failure of the Corbyn project over the last five years, a failure of strategy and of understanding how to achieve socialism. To win socialism will require radical democratic changes that challenge the capitalist state.

Stan Keable seconded statement 2. He condemned the dishonesty of the supporters of statement 1, who hid their real politics from the working class. It is an illusion to think there is a reformist route to a more friendly capitalism, and Labour governments that try it end up attacking the working class. To win socialism you need to be honest with the working class, present a democratic programme to tackle the capitalist state and provide a vision for the future: a classless, moneyless, stateless society.

In the debate that followed supporters of statement 1 continued to stress their belief that you can build a movement for socialism by limiting the struggle to economic demands and avoiding any talk of strategy to win a new, emancipatory order. A star proponent of this line was Alec Price, who told us that workers of today are unable to grasp the ideas in statement 2, such as abolishing the standing army. Instead the call for a 15% pay rise for NHS staff was far more likely to build revolutionary consciousness amongst the working class.

It was clear that the LPM position was opposed by comrades who identified with the Trotskyist tradition: they claimed to agree with the content, but could not stomach voting for something that went beyond their self-imposed limits of acceptable, soft-left, Labour economism. Clearly these comrades have gone native and completely lost their bearings. When it came to the vote, 52 favoured statement 1 and 30 statement 2.

Embarrassing

The final session of conference attempted to deal with the 17 other motions submitted by local groups and affiliates. Despite the restricted debate, some of these suffered the dubious fate of reference back to the OG. Those that were discussed revealed just how shallow leftwing Labour politics can be.

The first motion had the obscure title, ‘Federation/coalition/grouping/type of United Front’, and the content was frankly embarrassing. The mover – Dave Hill again – envisaged a coming together of (nearly) all the left groups in Britain. This would include the LLA, once it has been proscribed by the Labour Party. He admitted that most of the groups he had in mind already saw themselves as the true Marxist organisation, but he wanted unity in a federation with no group dominating. Clearly the delegates did not buy into his dream of unprincipled unity or his inappropriate application of Comintern’s united front tactic. It was heavily defeated.

John Bridge moved the motion submitted by LPM, entitled ‘Against socialist participation in Starmer’s shadow cabinet’. This referred to Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey and the LLA statement that demanded her reinstatement. A correct socialist position is to oppose taking ministerial positions in capitalist governments, as was established at a conference of the Socialist International back in 1904. Logically it applies to shadow cabinet posts too, so leftwing Labour MPs should remain on the back benches as tribunes of the struggle for socialism. The motion was opposed by Phil Newing, who complained that it was far too leftwing for socialists like him, who were not Marxists. Paul Henderson thought being in Labour meant taking part at all levels, whatever. Despite these weak objections, clearly enough delegates were spooked by the thought of criticising RLB, and the motion fell by 35 votes to 47.

‘Electoral reform’ was the title of a motion moved by Phil Pope from Bristol LLA. This claimed that ‘first past the post’ has a strong rightwing bias, whereas the world’s most equal and progressive societies use a form of proportional representation. Moreover FPTP has created one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, with some of the most restrictive trade union laws, whereas PR would prevent rule by a rightwing minority and lock in the hard-won victories of the labour movement. These clearly flawed arguments mask support for Labour participation in coalition capitalist governments, so should not have been advanced by socialists. Yes, PR should be part of a radical democratic programme that includes abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, annual elections and MP salaries set at the level of a skilled worker. But there can be no PR short cut to winning the majority of the working class to socialism. Despite reasoned arguments against the motion, it was carried by 48 votes to 24, exposing the delegates’ deep frustration at losing the last two general elections.

The last item discussed was the motion, ‘The Labour Party in Northern Ireland’, moved by Andrew Ward from Northern Ireland Labour Left Alliance. The motion called on Labour to stand candidates in the Six Counties. It maintained that voters there are being denied the democratic right to vote Labour, and that providing this opportunity will lead to the end of sectarian divisions in the north. Andrew Ward actually repeated the claim that a united Ireland now would lead to a bloodbath. A number of speakers opposed the motion, making the point that a united Ireland must be the cornerstone of any policy adopted by an organisation of the working class in Britain: anything else is support for British imperialism. The LLA says it aims to transform the Labour Party in a socialist direction. Instead of seeking to build a movement for socialism in Ireland (as part of the wider struggle for working class unity across mainland Europe), the movers were seeking to adopt the current pro-capitalist British Labour Party as a vehicle for participating in the UK state. Despite all this, the motion was carried by 36 votes to 26.

Outside the box

So, in the wake of this conference, how do we assess the future for the LLA? It voted to stick with a weak and internally contradictory structure. More importantly, politically it has defined itself as standing in the tried, tested and failed tradition of left reformism – pro-imperialist, slightly eccentric, sticking to bread-and-butter issues and the wonders of the ‘next Labour government’. Politically that means LLA is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

On the positive side, however, LLA has held two relatively open conferences within six months, and has staged debates not seen anywhere else in the Labour left. And, for the moment at least LLA is promoting NEC election candidates who reject the witch-hunt and the associated anti-Semitism narrative, so it is able distinguish itself from the rest of the Labour left. But even now there are doubts as to whether all the candidates will have the bottle to stay in the race, or negotiate some ‘left unity’ deal which amounts to withdrawal in favour of the CLGA slate.

Maybe its biggest problem will be the LLA’s connection to the party political establishment. We expect there to be massive social anger when the post-Covid recession kicks in. Will Starmer’s Labour Party and the traditional trade unions be up for organising a new wave of protestors, many of whom will not identify with ‘the system’ at all? The challenge of winning these fighters to working class consciousness and socialist revolution could prove to be just too ‘outside the box’ for the LLA.

Palestine, payments and purges

Starmer is out to prove that Labour can be relied upon as a safe alternative party of government, argues David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists

Last month Keir Starmer gave his clearest signal yet that under his leadership the Labour Party can be relied upon to act as a loyal ally of US imperialism, particularly when it comes to the Middle East.

I am, of course, referring to the huge sum that Starmer agreed to pay out of Labour coffers to seven former staff members and John Ware, a prize-winning freelance reporter (his awards include the Commitment to Media Award from the Women’s International Zionist Organization). The payment was to cover legal fees and reputational damages which resulted from the statement issued by the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn in response to the Panorama documentary, ‘Is Labour anti-Semitic?’.

Broadcast on July 10 2019, it had just about everyone being interviewed answering the question contained in the title in the affirmative – although virtually no supporting evidence was produced to back up the extraordinarily vague and unsubstantiated claims that were made by so many, including the presenter.

Immediately following the broadcast, Labour issued a statement. It claimed that many of the staff members interviewed had “personal and political axes to grind” and Ware’s overall presentation amounted to “deliberate and malicious misrepresentation”. This resulted in the legal action taken by Ware and the seven former staff members and the July 22 high court agreement to hand over an estimated £370,000 to the eight litigants (Labour’s own costs could take the total up to £500,000).

Afterwards Starmer effectively agreed with the programme’s title when he said that anti-Semitism had become a “stain” on the party and that those staff members who backed up the allegation had in fact given many years of “dedicated and committed service” to the party. Which makes you wonder, if they are so “dedicated and committed” to Labour, why they are now prepared to deprive the party of such huge amounts – raised to a great extent via the dues of ordinary members.

Continuing his implied condemnation of Corbyn, Starmer went on to say that Labour was now “under new management”. After all, “If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership”. In other words, under the former leader Labour was indeed ‘anti-Semitic’ – yet Starmer has given us no indication of what precisely needs to change in order to get rid of this “stain”.

Following the settlement, Corbyn himself issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” by the decision to pay out such huge sums. This, he said, was “a political decision, not a legal one”, which “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years”. Corbyn said the party had been advised that it had a “strong defence” against any legal action – not least the evidence contained in the internal report that was leaked in April this year.

In a sense it is good that Corbyn can be seen to have taken some kind of stand – although it is not exactly a principled one, is it? If it is true that his leadership had been obliged to take such strong action to “tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years”, that seems to go along with this whole idea that prejudice against Jews had indeed become a major problem in the party.

JLM

What about the Panorama programme itself? It did, of course, feature lots of interviews with former members of staff and current Labour rightwingers, including Jewish ones (although not a single anti-Zionist Jew was interviewed – more on this below). And near the beginning there was coverage of Corbyn’s support for the Palestinian struggle and opposition to Zionism. Ware’s views on this question are well established and go back a long way: eg, he wrote in The Jewish Chronicle: “So deeply into Labour’s left has anti-Zionism morphed into anti-Semitism – itself a Corbyn legacy – that Jewish Labour members are avoiding meetings.”

It is clear that this ‘morphing’ of anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism includes those on the left who either cling to a hopeless two-state solution or call for a single Palestinian state with equal religious rights for all its inhabitants.

What about the views of the former staff members? What was notable was the fact that, while they talked of their distress, no details regarding actual cases of anti-Semitism within the party were provided. Well, unless you take the case of Ken Livingstone, featured by Ware as the first example of ‘anti-Semitism’ to come to light under Corbyn. Livingstone’s comments about the collaboration in the 1930s of German Zionists with the Nazis were “offensive” to Jews, it was claimed – although strangely the charge of anti-Semitism was quickly dropped in his case in favour of “bringing the party into disrepute”. One of the ex-staffers said that Livingstone’s suspension for three years was totally insufficient – surely such an ‘anti-Semite’ should be permanently expelled.

That brings me to those former staff members themselves. I stated earlier that no anti-Zionist Jews were amongst those who featured, but several were Jews with rather different political opinions. In fact it was soon revealed that no fewer than nine of the people interviewed were, or had been, leading members of the Jewish Labour Movement, including office-holders such as Ella Rose, JLM equalities officer, and Izzy Lenga, the international officer.

The significance of the JLM is that it is totally committed to Zionism, with strong links with the Israeli Labor Party – until 1977 every Israeli government had been led by the ILP, but it is not a left formation in any sense: it has been responsible for the systematic oppression of the Palestinians.

What about the Jewish Labour Movement itself? Originally founded in 1903 as Poale Zion, it was wound up in 2004. But immediately after the election of Corbyn as leader in 2015 it was refounded. According to Jeremy Newmark, who became the first chair of the newly recreated grouping until his resignation in 2018, in around September 2015 there was “talk about reforming the JLM” – specifically to make the Corbyn leadership as short-lived as possible.

At its April 2019 conference JLM voted no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, who was just “unfit to be prime minister”. In fact, it scurrilously alleged:

The leadership of the Labour Party have demonstrated that they are anti-Semitic and have presided over a culture of anti-Semitism, in which they have failed to use their personal and positional power to tackle anti-Semitism, and have instead used their influence to protect and defend anti-Semites.

So is it seriously being suggested that those JLM members employed at Labour HQ wanted to see a flourishing party, to which they were so “dedicated and committed”?

It was so obvious what they were up to – especially after that notorious Panorama programme – that for once Corbyn came out openly and actually condemned those employed by the party who had joined in the smears against Labour as “institutionally anti-Semitic”. But the question we have to ask is, why did Corbyn not call out the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt from the beginning? It was clear from the start that it was the Labour left and his own supporters who were being targeted by deliberately conflating, as John Ware did, anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Instead so determined was team Corbyn to appease the right that it actually became complicit in the campaign – to such an extent that anyone who denied that the party was awash with anti-Semites was labelled a “denier” (and thus guilty themselves of anti-Semitism, of course).

Members

In reality, the whole campaign was totally false and those like the JLM knew it. In reality, they have the interests of Israel and Zionism at heart first and foremost. However, the UK establishment, in line with US imperialism, supports Israel for a different reason. It is not because it favours the strengthening of Israel in and of itself, but because it knows that its interests, as a colonial-settler state, are reliant on US imperialism.

But the problem is that Israel’s standing as an upholder of ‘democracy’ has lost much of its traction with millions, including large numbers of Jews. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands, the military occupation regime in the West Bank, the planting of settlements, the nationality law, the annexation of east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and now possibly the Jordan Valley have caused deep disquiet. Indeed many liberal Zionists find themselves deeply troubled by the actions of the Israeli government.

And that is what the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign is all about. It is about restoring traction by making criticism of the Israeli government impossible or at the very least problematic. In the new topsy-turvey world the racist ideology thereby becomes anti-racism, anti-racism becomes racism.

For Starmer, what matters is securing Labour’s place once again as the UK’s safe alternative party of government – and that means complying with the wishes of the US state department. So for him half a million is a small price to pay to achieve that end – no doubt he will be prepared to fork out further huge sums to the likes of former general secretary Iain McNicol, who is also considering legal action against the party.

And now Corbyn himself is facing legal action simply for suggesting that Ware and the JLMers should have been fought all the way in the courts. The threat against Corbyn sparked a fundraising drive that started with an initial target of £20,000, but within less than a week £300,000 had already been raised.

So who are all these people prepared to help Corbyn defend himself against legal action? No, these are not ‘anti-Semites’ defending their right to discriminate against Jews. They are conscientious Labour members who are both against the campaign to delegitimise Palestinian solidarity and for the simple need to state the truth.

NEC candidates | Problems of online debates

Clive Dean of Labour Party Marxists reports on last weekend’s conference

The Labour left is bracing itself for a new round of expulsions, as new leader Sir Keir Starmer stamps his authority on the party. So it was timely that Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) held an all-member conference online on Saturday July 4.

Over 80 members logged in to the Zoom event, which was a technical triumph for the organisers – anyone wishing to speak was able to, and members voted just like in a physical gathering. Despite this, and the LAW steering committee’s desire to avoid holding a “rally dominated by top-table speakers”, the first session fused discussion of five key items into a single, time-constrained ‘debate’. In reality people spoke about whatever aspect of the five introductions that took their fancy and unsurprisingly there was no real exchange of views. The result was that both good and bad formulations were all voted through without adequate examination of their finer points.

LAW’s chair, Jackie Walker, opened the conference, reminding comrades that the current attacks on the left were a consequence of its shameful failure to confront the witch-hunt during the Corbyn years. Reinstated expellee Moshé Machover spoke next. He drew comrades’ attention to the immediate threat of annexation – Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to absorb Palestinian territory in the Jordan Valley. He noted how Trump and Netanyahu both rejected the ‘two-state solution’ consensus, and how this, and the annexation plans, were causing divisions within the ranks of Israel’s supporters. The appointment of Tzipi Hotovely, the overtly anti-Arab racist, as the new Israeli ambassador to London has added to these tensions. Comrade Machover warned that, as events continue to unmask the colonialist nature of Israel, the Zionists will respond by stepping up the false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Reports

Tina Werkmann, LAW’s vice-chair, presented the steering committee’s report of work. This noted the assistance LAW has provided to numerous members of the Labour Party who have been suspended or expelled. It was clear from the ‘evidence packs’ that criticisms of Israel and Zionism were used as proof of ‘anti-Semitism’. Despite LAW’s help in rebutting these charges, the members were still shown the door, because this witch-hunt is not about eradicating anti-Semitism, but getting rid of the left, she said.

Comrade Werkmann outlined LAW’s role in the formation of the Labour Left Alliance, which is attempting to pull together the genuine left in the Labour Party – that is, those members who call out the lie that the party is ‘riddled with anti-Semitism’ and stand against the witch-hunt. She also highlighted LAW’s defence of Chris Williamson, the only MP who urged the party to fight back against the anti-Semitism charges, and whose reward was to be prevented from defending his seat for Labour in the 2019 election. And the case of NEC candidate Jo Bird, who was suspended for the second time on groundless charges of anti-Semitism, but was successfully reinstated in time to be included on the ballot paper. More recently LAW has campaigned to reinstate the Wavertree Four – Constituency Labour Party officers who have been suspended for criticising their Socialist Campaign Group MP, Paula Barker. Barker has repeated the same false claims of anti-Semitism within the CLP that former MP Luciana Berger used to justify her defection to the Liberal Democrats. In actual fact it was her rightwing politics that members opposed.

And it was Kevin Bean, the suspended secretary of Wavertree CLP, who spoke next. He introduced the recent LAW statement in response to the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. Comrade Bean explained that it is not just the ‘right’ of the party promoting the witch-hunt. Many so-called ‘lefts’ have either joined in or are providing tacit support by remaining silent and keeping their heads down. Indeed evidence shows supporters of Momentum Renewal being complicit in the Wavertree Four suspensions.

The LAW statement calls for party organisations to be allowed to meet, debate and pass resolutions online. Ordinary members have been silenced by the lockdown, while the leaders carry on regardless. It calls on the NEC to repudiate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance misdefinition of anti-Semitism, which has turned criticism of Israel into an expulsion offence. It calls on the Campaign Group of Socialist MPs to reject the 10 pledges foisted on Labour by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which outsources disciplinary decisions to Zionist stooges. And it demands that the major trade unions withhold financial support from Labour MPs who support the witch-hunt. Although the statement is critical of Rebecca Long-Bailey for failing to stand up to Starmer, it does support calls for her reinstatement into the shadow cabinet. We have to ask why any decent socialist would be there in the first place – socialist MPs should be busy exposing the antics of the pro-capitalist Starmer gang from the back benches.

Next, Stan Keable presented the main motion from the LAW steering committee. Its 11 concise points make clear why the left faces a witch-hunt, and how we can organise solidarity to defeat it. Point 7 is very clear:

The witch-hunt will not go away until it is openly confronted and defeated politically, and that means calling out those on the left who have been complicit. Corbyn and McDonnell are both guilty of misleading the left into the strategy of appeasement, failing to challenge the right’s false ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ narrative.

Comrade Keable went further, demanding that John McDonnell stands shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with fellow member Jackie Walker at the forthcoming conference of the Labour Representation Committee, of which he is president. Of course, we know this is unlikely, because Starmer has prohibited Labour MPs from attending meetings where anyone expelled from Labour is also present.

Tony Greenstein spoke next, introducing his own amendments. He described Keir Starmer as being a hardline Zionist with a mission to destroy the left using the anti-Semitism witch-hunt as his chief weapon. He also criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s spineless capitulation to fake anti-Semitism, and compared him unfavourably with Clare Short, Chris Mullen and John Prescott, who have all questioned the anti-Semitism narrative in the party. He referred to the section about himself in the leaked report, which shows that it was Corbyn’s team who pressurised the compliance unit to get on with his expulsion. Comrade Greenstein’s amendments were clearly drafted in a hurry and include some clumsy formulations: Keir Starmer is not a hard-line Zionist – he is not supporting Netanyahu’s annexation plans. All critics of Israel are not considered anti-Semites – Lisa Nandy has even called for targeted sanctions.

‘Debate’

The debate that followed was supposed to encompass all five openings, but there was only time to hear 10 contributions. We then voted on each proposal, including some minor amendments. As previously stated, everything was passed, with votes in favour ranging from 54% to 98%.

After the break two emergency motions were considered, both moved by Tina Werkmann. The first tackled the Forde inquiry, the ‘independent’ panel set up by Labour’s national executive committee to investigate the leaked report. The comrade predicted that the inquiry will exonerate those HQ staff members whose racist, sexist and anti-party attitudes were exposed in the report, whilst condemning those who prepared and leaked the report itself. LAW will be engaging with this in two ways. First, it will make a submission that will expose the ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal and demand an end to the witch-hunt. This will be followed by a LAW-sponsored counter-conference to coincide with the publication of the Forde inquiry’s conclusions in September. Comrade Werkmann pointed out that it is not a good idea for individual LAW members to submit evidence to the Forde inquiry – unwelcome comments could result in future disciplinary action.

Jackie Walker reminded conference that the leaked report was prepared by members of the Lansmanite wing of the party, who actively support the witch-hunt, so the term ‘our side’ should be avoided, even though the ‘other side’ included the hated former general secretary, Iain (now Lord) McNicol.

As members began to vote on the motion, one of the technical shortcomings of holding an online conference became clear – a last-minute amendment was still being submitted. Clearly standing orders should provide deadlines for late amendments to avoid this confusion. The motion was passed with 97% in favour.

The final motion, on the upcoming NEC elections, provoked a heated, though largely ill-informed, debate. Comrade Werkmann explained how the change in the voting system was an attack on the left. Two years ago, under first-past-the-post rules, the ‘left’ slate won all nine seats. This time, if the ‘single transferable vote’ system is used, at least three seats will go to the rightwing slate. But the new method does open up new opportunities, in that it may be possible for candidates opposing the witch-hunt to win seats on the NEC. Two points were clear: the corrupt and undemocratic method of imposing a slate on the left by the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance was no longer viable; and any potential ‘left’ slate that included Jon Lansman would be treated with contempt. The motion offered support to those candidates who backed LAW on NEC openness and accountability, a radical reform of the disciplinary system, a review of all suspensions and expulsions, rejection of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism and rejection of the Board of Deputies’ 10 pledges.

In the debate we heard calls to back candidates who did not openly support LAW and in favour of a broad slate, including ‘lefts’ complicit in the witch-hunt. It became apparent that some members did not understand how STV works, and others have been so conditioned to voting for ‘lesser evils’ that they were unable to imagine genuine left candidates. The misplaced desire for a single ‘united left slate’ still exerts a mental hold on many. The likelihood is that there will be many ‘left’ slates, with different groups promoting their ‘first preferences’ based on the politics of the candidates. That still permits deals for lower-preference places. Again, when it came to the vote, the motion and three minor amendments were all carried overwhelmingly.

The final task of the day was to elect a new steering committee, and it will not surprise you to learn that all seven candidates were elected unopposed. Labour Against the Witchhunt will have its work cut out in the coming months – let us hope these conference decisions can guide that work.

Oppose calls for reinstatement

We must defend Rebecca Long-Bailey against false charges that she helped spread an ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theory’, writes David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists. But why was a so-called ‘socialist’ willing to sit in Starmer’s shadow cabinet?

Sacking shadow education secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, allows Keir Starmer to send out a two-barrelled message:

  • firstly, his ‘decisive’ leadership represents a complete break with the Corbyn years.
  • secondly, Labour can now be relied upon, if elected, to implement sensible policies that promote the interests of British capital at home and abroad.

Long-Bailey’s ‘crime’, of course, was retweeting an article in The Independent based on an interview with actor Maxine Peake, in which she said: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

This claim was immediately condemned as not only untrue, but – by Zionists in particular, and totally absurdly – as “anti-Semitic”. Starmer was pressed by Zionist groups to deliver on his commitment, made immediately following his election as Labour leader, to “tear out this poison by its roots”. As everyone knows, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was portrayed as “institutionally anti-Semitic” and there was a huge campaign to discredit opposition to Israeli settler-colonialism by defining it as anti-Semitic.

Disciplinary action was taken against scores of Labour members. Large numbers were expelled. Amongst them were a handful of actual anti-Semites, but in most cases – certainly when it comes to the most well-known, such as Ken Livingstone (who actually resigned rather than waiting to be expelled), Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth – the charge of anti-Semitism was eventually dropped. Instead there was the vague catch-all of ‘bringing the party into disrepute’.

Shamefully, Corbyn failed to act to prevent this purge of his own supporters, which was instigated and controlled by the rightwing party bureaucracy. The likes of John McDonnell and Diane Abbott also preferred to keep quiet rather than express any opposition to this witch-hunt or solidarity with its victims. But silence was not enough: it was regarded as essential for the defence of Israel and its key role in the Middle East to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and effectively outlaw anything but the mildest criticism of Israeli oppression.

Step in Keir Starmer and the official Labour statement he endorsed just a few hours after Long-Bailey retweeted the interview. This reads:

The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. As leader of the Labour Party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number-one priority. Anti-Semitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.

It goes without saying that the allegation of “an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory” is absurd. First, the claim that the ‘neck-kneeling’ method of ‘restraint’ was “learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services” was obviously meant to be directed against Israeli (and US) authorities, not against ‘Jews’ in general! It is irrelevant that the claim is, of course, untrue. While both US and Israeli police forces do employ this murderous technique, and they have indeed organised joint seminars, etc, the method has been written into the operational manuals of numerous police forces in the US for the best part of two decades.

Second, where is the “conspiracy theory”? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, this is defined as “a belief that an event or situation is the result of a secret plan made by powerful people”. It is pretty obvious that a ‘technique’ that has been employed for so long in both countries cannot be described as – or was intended to be – “secret”. The claim that it was the Israeli “secret services” that taught US forces all about it – however ridiculous – does not change that.

In any case, the question of who taught who what is completely irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that both the US and Israeli police have employed a brutal, inhuman, oppressive method and anyone who states that the allegation is “an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory” is either an idiot or a liar. Not that you would have thought so from the media coverage, of course. Where is there any serious questioning in the mainstream media of either element in this pathetic phrase?

But, of course, Zionist groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement all praised Starmer to the skies. What he said was exactly what they wanted to hear.

Socialist?

In The Independent article Maxine Peake pointedly attacked capitalism. In relation to the coronavirus pandemic, she was quoted as saying: “We’ve got to the point where protecting capital is much more important than anybody’s life.” Later she talked about a “cycle that’s indoctrinated into us all” and added: “Well, we get rid of it when we get rid of capitalism, as far as I’m concerned.”

However, her main concern was seeing the back of the Tory government: “You know what: at the end of the day, all I want is the Tories out.” That is why “I didn’t like Tony Blair, but I still voted Labour, because anything’s better than the Tories.” And that applies to the current leadership too: “I think people will get behind Starmer, won’t they? He’s a more acceptable face of the Labour Party for a lot of people who are not really leftwing. But that’s fine. Whatever. As long as the Tories get out, I don’t care any more.”

Her forthright opposition to the Tories – that and urging Labour members not to leave the party – explains why Long-Bailey called Peake an “absolute diamond” and retweeted the article.

It is worth quoting in full the former shadow education secretary’s subsequent statement:

Today I retweeted an interview that my constituent and stalwart Labour Party supporter Maxine Peake gave to The Independent. Its main thrust was anger with the Conservative government’s handling of the current emergency and a call for Labour Party unity. These are sentiments shared by everyone in our movement and millions of people in our country.

I learned that many people were concerned by references to international sharing of training and restraint techniques between police and security forces. In no way was my retweet an intention to endorse every part of that article. I wished to acknowledge these concerns and duly issued a clarification of my retweet, with the wording agreed in advance by the Labour Party leader’s office, but after posting I was subsequently instructed to take both this agreed clarification and my original retweet down.

I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification. I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.

I am proud of the policies we have developed within the party from our Green Industrial Revolution to a National Education Service and I will never stop working for the change our communities need to see. I am clear that I shall continue to support the Labour Party in parliament under Keir Starmer’s leadership, to represent the people of Salford and Eccles and work towards a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world.

All this illustrates the profound weakness of Labour lefts like RLB. Surely, instead of ‘supporting’ Starmer, she should be organising an opposition within the opposition. However, even worse were Long-Bailey’s cringing comments in a subsequent article in The Guardian, entitled ‘I know how painful anti-Semitism is and never intended my tweet to cause hurt’ (June 29). She says:

I explained to the leader’s office that I would never have intended to retweet or endorse anything that could cause hurt to anyone. I know how painful the issue of anti-Semitism has been for the Jewish community and I have been part of the efforts to eradicate it from our party.

…. Would I have retweeted the article, knowing some of its contents would cause hurt? No of course not.

In saying this she only just stops short of conceding that Peake’s throwaway remark was actually ‘anti-Semitic’. And anyway who cares about ‘causing hurt’ to Zionists? Would you apologise for causing hurt to white racists because they found opposition to apartheid South Africa offensive? Hopefully not.

But at least the Corbynite left actually spoke up in her defence. Both McDonnell and Abbott publicly opposed Starmer’s actions – and so did Momentum owner Jon Lansman. This, in contrast to their attitude in response to the witch-hunting of anti-Zionists during the Corbyn years. Why the change? The possibility of ‘prime minister Corbyn’ excused the sacrifice of one friend and ally after another. There is no such possibility now. Moreover, it is clear that if Long-Bailey can be accused of promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, what about John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn himself?

However, the pass has been sold. Under Corbyn, Labour adopted the IHRA’s so-called definition of anti-Semitism, along with all of its so-called examples. Labour leadership candidates also agreed to the BoD’s Ten Commandments. All of this means that anyone who dares criticise Israel can easily be branded an anti-Semite.

Indeed, so concerned was RLB to appease Zionism that she called herself a Zionist. Her reasoning? She supports Israel’s “right to exist”. Would she support apartheid South Africa’s right to exist? She supports the “right to self-determine”. Would she support the “right” of white people throughout the globe to take over the land of native populations and drive them out?

Note that Jon Lansman’s rush to call for the reinstatement of RLB – his candidate against Starmer – did not help his Momentum Renewal slate in elections to Momentum’s national coordinating group. All 20 successful candidates in the members section were supporters of Forward Momentum. A final humiliation for Lansman: general election – lost; Labour leadership election – lost; NEC election – lost; NCG election – lost.

Either way, we should not join calls for Long-Bailey to be reinstated. While it is correct to defend her – and Maxine Peake – from Starmer’s scurrilous attacks, we must ask what a so-called ‘socialist’ was doing in an alternative government headed by the unashamedly pro-capitalist Keir Starmer. Of course, RLB is just a typical career politician who finds it advantageous to call herself a ‘socialist’. So, instead of calling for her to be reinstated, we ought to be exposing her as a fake ‘socialist’. The fact that she took a well-paid seat in Starmer’s shadow cabinet marks her out as an opponent, an enemy of socialism.

Amongst the living dead

Momentum is irreformable, argues David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists, but we should back principled left candidates

The biennial elections to Momentum’s leading committee, the national coordinating group, began on June 16 and will end in two weeks time.

This token committee consists of up to 36 members – four from each of five rather arbitrarily defined ‘regions’, plus four “Labour public office holders”, a maximum of 10 nominated representatives of trade unions and other affiliated organisations, and one each from Welsh Labour Grassroots and the Campaign for Socialism (Scotland). According to Momentum’s own guidelines,

at least two of the members elected from each division should be women, and at least one should self-identify as Bame (black, Asian, ethnic minority). If the 20 members who are elected do not include one person who self-identifies as disabled, one person who self-identifies as LGBT+ and three young persons under 30, then up to four more places will be elected to ensure these groups are represented.

They certainly would not fail a ‘political correctness’ test, would they? The NCG is supposed to meet at least four times a year, but everyone knows that up to now Momentum has been something of a one-man show. Founded in 2015 as a left-Labour grouping in support of Jeremy Corbyn, following his election as party leader, it was literally owned by Jon Lansman, who in May 2020 announced he was going to stand down as Momentum chair. As of June 15 2020 he remains, according to Companies House, a director, alongside Elizabeth Kennedy Hayden, of Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd.

It was Lansman’s January 2017 coup that put an end to any meaningful democracy within the organisation and since then more and more members have become disillusioned. Momentum became one of the living dead, with many on the Labour left hoping to see the creation of an alternative grouping. Amongst this discontent the Labour Left Alliance was formed in July 2019.

Lansman’s resignation as chair comes, of course, after the disastrous December 2019 general election and the humiliation of Rebecca Long-Bailey, the continuity candidate, in the subsequent leadership elections. Lansmanism had ended in complete, utter and comprehensive failure. But it is a case of ‘Lansmanism is dead, long live Lansmanism’. His co-thinkers formed a new faction, named Momentum Renewal, which is standing a full set of candidates for the NCG in each ‘region’, as well as for ‘office-holders’, including John Trickett MP.

The main ‘left’ opposition grouping is called Forward Momentum, which includes, amongst others, supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. The social-imperialist AWL operates, in fact, more like an external faction of Momentum Renewal. Its candidate, Ruth Cashman, was rudely ejected from standing under its slate and is now to be found under the Momentum Internationalist banner.

Unlike Momentum Renewal, Forward Momentum replied in full to the questions posed by the LLA to NCG candidates.2 It says it is committed to the “fight for socialist policies”, which include a series of vague policies relating to “public ownership”, rolling back privatisation in the national health service, “advancing migrants rights” and repealing “all anti-trade union laws”. Equally vaguely, it calls for “greater democracy” in the Labour Party, but at least it specifies support for the open selection of parliamentary candidates.

To show that it too can pass the PC test, Forward Momentum states: “We are committed to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, ageism and disablism.” But, talking of anti-Semitism, what does it say about the ongoing witch-hunt directed against the Labour left, based largely on false allegations of anti-Semitism?

Well, yes, “some individuals face suspension for unclear reasons”, but “Independent reviews reveal that there are clear incidences of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party that must be tackled.” True, “the level … in the Labour Party does not exceed that of the general population or other political parties”, but “any level … is serious and needs to be dealt with” – after all, “the Labour Party, including the left, is not immune from anti-Semitism and other forms of racism”.

Bravely, however, Momentum Renewal denies that “non-violent means to pressure the Israeli government to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and comply with its obligations under international law” are “inherently anti-Semitic”. Well, that is good to know. Presumably violent means are inherently anti-Semitic. And in that miserable spirit it maintains a slightly ambiguous stance on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by Labour in 2018:

We recognise that many Palestinian civil society organisations, human rights campaigners and others have raised concerns about how the examples that accompany the IHRA working definition could be misused to stifle discussion about Palestinian oppression. We are absolutely clear in holding the Labour Party to its commitment on not undermining freedom of expression, as well as to defending our Jewish comrades against anti-Semitism.

Anticapitalist Platform

An altogether more principled position is taken by the Anticapitalist Platform, which was formed, in the main, by Red Flag, an organisation that is politically close to the now liquidated Workers Power (Paul Mason used to be a leading member).

Its statement declares:

The key lesson of the Corbyn leadership is that the pro-capitalist Labour and trade union bureaucracy will never allow ‘their’ party to be peacefully – democratically or bureaucratically – transformed into a fighting party of the working class, one dedicated to the expropriation of the capitalist class and the implementation of workers’ power on the basis of a democratically planned economy, which is the only honest definition of socialism.

It puts forward a series of demands, including, the nationalisation of “the commanding heights of the economy, without compensation and under workers’ control”. The banks too should be nationalised and merged “as the first step towards a democratically planned economy”, which would allow the working class to “implement a green industrial revolution, abolish poverty and expand social services”.

And it is clear that “socialism”, however defined, must be a global enterprise: “Such a programme can be started in Britain, but only realised internationally.” Working class “resistance to … crises must be linked to the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism as a system and the organisation of an international socialist commonwealth”.

Whatever our differences with some of this, including the lack of any demands relating to the immediate struggle for a democratic republic, it is clear that this is not the usual Labour left reformism. In fact it is clear that the Anticapitalist Platform is committed to the complete transformation of Labour:

Our starting point is recognising that the Labour Party is contradictory. On the one hand, it is the expression of that part of the working class that sees itself as a class and the need to form an independent party that fights for its rights. On the other, it is a party of the union leaders and officials and their counterparts among the MPs and councillors, who want to manage capitalism better than the capitalists and promote a more equitable society.

The starting point in the transformation then is “full democratisation”, going far beyond “open selection”. But in the end, “We have to purge the party by replacing every pro-capitalist MP, councillor and official with class fighters.”

Where the three Anticapitalist Platform candidates are standing they deserve support. In other words, if you are in London, two of your four regional votes should go to Urte Macikene and Marcel Golten. Meanwhile, if you are part of the “Yorkshire, North East, Cumbria, Scotland and International region”, then cast your vote for Andy Young.

In saying this, I obviously disagree with the position taken by the LLA’s organising group, which met on June 13. It agreed to support Syed Siddiqi, who is standing in London, and added:

While we do not offer endorsements for any other specific candidates or slates, we encourage all Momentum members to take part in this election process to support candidates that will commit to a real transformation, and to consider their responses (or failure to respond) to the questions from LLA.

So why the exception for Syed Siddiqi (also standing in London)? It is more a question of solidarity than political support, it seems, as he has been suspended from Labour on false ‘anti-Semitism’ charges since December 2017 as part of the anti-left witch-hunt. Although he is an LLA signatory, his platform is not exactly radical. However, he says he is “a socialist member of the party”, who will “campaign for Momentum to have a members-led annual conference which determines Momentum’s position on national campaigns and policies”.

Nevertheless, he should be supported, in addition to comrades Macikene and Golten. In general, however, it is obviously a good idea to back principled candidates. By definition that does not include anyone standing under the Momentum Renewal or Momentum Internationalist banners. With that in mind, I would encourage all members to visit the Momentum website and closely read the statements of all those standing in their region. You should have received an email giving you access to online voting, as well as to all the candidates’ statements.

In this I am clearly at odds with those members of the LLA organising group who are supporters of Labour Party Marxists. At the June 13 meeting, they agreed that the LLA should not in general endorse any candidates, on the basis that Momentum is dying a death and is no longer a site for struggle.

This was a mistake. Nonetheless, it is clear Momentum is irreformable. So, yes, vote, but vote without illusions.

 

Affiliation and a line change

Labour Party Marxists has formed a fraction and tweaked its approach to Momentum elections, Stan Keable reports

Labour Left Alliance’s Organising Group met on June 13. I was one of two comrades representing the newly affiliated Labour Party Marxists. We now have a handful of delegates and have therefore organised ourselves into a disciplined fraction.

Although the OG meeting lasted over four hours, with only a 10-minute break, it felt good to spend a Saturday afternoon on Zoom amongst two dozen comrades from LLA-affiliated groups from across the United Kingdom. Yes, delegates were present from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Political discussions were forthright but friendly. For all its limitations Zoom allowed us to see and hear each other clearly … and you can mute your microphone and listen while you make a cup of tea without missing any of the discussion.

Making decisions by online voting worked pretty well too, and augurs well for the LLA’s second conference – to be held online over August 22-23. Sometimes raising your hand or displaying a thumbs-up symbol was sufficient to show a clear majority for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When numbers were needed, the host comrade was able to quickly draft a pop-up voting form and, only a few seconds later, display the results.

The LLA is pursuing a “campaign for left unity”, particularly aimed at achieving a single left slate in the next round of the Labour Party’s national executive committee elections, to replace the now defunct Centre Left Grassroots Alliance. Since its foundation in 1998, the CLGA has produced a (mostly) winning slate of not-too-left candidates to represent the Constituency Labour Parties on the NEC. That pretty successful bureaucratic fix was broken when Jon Lansman decided to railroad through his Momentum slate. A divided left saw the right win all three vacant NEC seats.

CLGA slates used to emerge mysteriously from unreported horse-trading in ‘smoke-filled rooms’ between Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, the Labour Representation Committee and a few other acceptable soft left groups. Now, the LLA seeks its seat at the table, but not on any terms. The May 16 OG minutes reported as follows:

Our campaign for left unity must be based on principled politics, which we might call our ‘red lines’:

  1. Any negotiations have to be conducted in a democratic and transparent manner.
  2. This includes the method for NEC candidate elections, which should be conducted via ballots of the groups’ respective members.
  3. We must continue to make a stand against the witch-hunt, past and present.
Affiliation

It was in the context of its campaign for ‘left unity on principled politics’ that the LLA wrote a series of questions to Don’t Leave, Organise (DLO) when it was launched in mid-April. The LLA asked whether it could affiliate to this lame outfit. At the May 16 OG meeting, DLO secretary Glyn Secker explained that groups cannot “affiliate” to DLO, but they can “join”. So, with his input, the OG agreed a motion to “join” and sent a letter asking to join – and, four weeks later, received a rather puzzling reply, delaying LLA’s request.

A moment of uncomfortable tension in Saturday’s OG meeting arose over the Catch-22 explanation offered by comrade Secker. DLO had delayed LLA’s application because it was unable to answer the “searching questions” about the nature of DLO, which was still being discussed – by those organisations which have been allowed to join. Incidentally, they include the bakers and firefighters unions. Naturally, this circular argument went down like a lead balloon. To resolve the matter, the OG decided to write to DLO again, stating that the questions were not linked to our application, and asking to join immediately, so we can participate in any discussions on the nature of DLO.

However, its reluctance is obviously political. I recall comrade Secker explaining the point to the LLA’s February 22 launch conference. While speaking against allowing Marxist groups like LPM or Socialist Appeal to affiliate to the LLA, he argued that “broad left” groups and trade unions “will not come” if we do. Well, conference disagreed, and here we are – LPM reps on the OG.

DLO was founded by three left groups: the Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour and Jewish Voice for Labour. When the LLA was on the drawing board in the summer of 2019, Labour Against the Witchhunt approached the same three groups. JVL declined to take part, while the LRC and Red Labour became founding organisations – but later withdrew. The LRC national executive committee’s explanation, in its October 26 statement, ‘Why the LRC is leaving the LLA’, was that the LLA was moving too fast. Presumably that does not apply to DLO, which describes itself as:

a broad left network launched on April 15 2020 after a period of disappointment and defeat for socialists in the Labour Party. Its aim is to restore hope to the many thousands of activists demoralised by the general election defeat in December 2019 and by setbacks for the left in the subsequent leadership and national executive committee polls.

Comparing the aims of the LLA with those of DLO, one is left wondering what the difference is, and why the LRC, Red Labour and JVL felt the need to set up a separate ‘left unity’ project. A clue is in the word “broad” – which evidently translates, in this case especially, as a warning that anyone resembling a genuine Marxist is unwelcome in DLO. I doubt I’ll be proved wrong.

The LLA’s ‘red lines’ for the selection of left candidates for Labour’s NEC are not very red. This reflects the omission of important items from the LLA’s political aims – omissions which ought to be put right at its August conference. At present there is no mention whatsoever of socialism, for example. “Opposition to capitalism” and to “the ecological destruction of the planet” were proposed by LPM comrades at the LLA’s founding conference, but voted down, as was “replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism”.

Momentum

The omission of anti-capitalism and of socialism became evident when the OG discussed our position in relation to the elections to Momentum’s national coordinating group (NCG) – the LLA had sent a series of well chosen questions to NCG candidates, to see which ones might be supportable. After that discussion, the OG referred back to the steering committee a draft “minimum platform” for the LLA to back Labour NEC candidates, hopefully to add some socialism to it.

When it came to Momentum, the best answers came back from Red Flag’s Anticapitalist Platform, which said ‘yes’ to all of LLA’s test questions, and expanded well on each one. The only other candidate to give satisfactory answers was LLA signatory Syed Siddiqi.

OG members were, unsurprisingly, scathing in their criticism of Momentum, but expressed widely varying estimates as to the likelihood that it can be democratised – from a 50:50 chance to zero. LPM had long ago written off Momentum (see Carla Roberts’ January 2017 post-coup article, ‘Reduced to a corpse’). We stood aside from Momentum’s NCG elections, since – as our April 2018 statement, ‘NCG elections: no vote’, makes clear – Momentum was already a “dead duck”.

So the LPM fraction in the OG voted against the LLA “encouraging” people to vote in the current Momentum NCG elections, and against endorsing any candidates, on the basis of not lending the organisation credibility. However, on reflection, and especially having listened to criticisms from the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee, we have reconsidered our position. We see little point in standing ourselves, but we will support leftwing candidates who do. There remain disagreements within LPM’s fraction on the OG. Of course, they concern only matters of tactics. Our differences are entirely secondary, but we shall argue them out, openly if necessary.

There are those on the right in the LLA who believe Momentum is reformable. It is welcome then, that on this issue at least, we find ourselves with the majority (see LLA’s excellent ‘Can Momentum be reformed?’ online document).

Either way, vote for principled leftwing candidates in Momentum, but do so with no illusions in Momentum.

Stand up to witch-hunters

Those who fail to show solidarity should not be given solidarity, writes David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists

While Jeremy Corbyn was still Labour leader, there was much speculation on the left that, once the right had managed to remove him and recapture the party, we would see an abrupt end to the weaponisation of anti-Semitism. That was, of course, a campaign that saw the Labour left, and Corbyn supporters in particular, absurdly targeted as ‘anti-Semites’ and the party itself accused of having become ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.

Well, I think the events of last week might have knocked that one on the head. For those who have missed this story – relegated, of course, to the inside pages, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic – the latest ‘scandal’ occurred as a result of the April 29 online meeting of a new Labour left grouping called ‘Don’t Leave, Organise’, which was set up following the election of Keir Starmer as the party’s new (rightwing) leader.

Attended by over 500 people, the meeting was addressed by, amongst others, two Labour left MPs, Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy. As you might expect, their contributions focused on the recent leaked report, which revealed how the rightwing Labour bureaucracy under former general secretary Iain McNicol had not only deliberately worked to reduce the possibility of a Labour general election victory, but had sat on allegations of anti-Semitism in order to undermine Corbyn.

The big problem with this line involves the second allegation, which actually takes it as a given that there is indeed a serious problem with anti-Jewish prejudice within the party. In this way the soft Labour left, including our two MPs, has attempted to turn the tables. There is not only anti-Semitic racism: there is ‘institutional racism’ in general (both MPs are black, of course). Much discussion ensued about black self-organisation.

But they obviously had not reckoned on the presence of spies. A well orchestrated scandal followed. Its focus was not on what they (or anyone else) said at the meeting, but on the fact that among the dozen or so people called to speak from the audience there were two expelled Labour members: namely Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein. In case you have forgotten, both these comrades were originally suspended over allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ (despite the fact that both are Jewish!), but were eventually booted out over totally different charges – I will return to that below.

The next day, following well crafted denunciations from several Zionist groups, the story went live. The BBC version (April 30) was headlined: ‘Sir Keir Starmer is facing calls from Jewish groups to take further action over two MPs who addressed a meeting that included two expelled activists’. Of course, terms like ‘Jewish groups’ are used to imply that they speak on behalf of the ‘Jewish community’. In reality there is a strong anti-Zionist current among Jewish people. For example, one of the founding organisations of Don’t Leave, Organise is the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Labour (the others being the Labour Representation Committee and Red Labour, Red Britain).

So what did the Zionists allege? Well, the Board of Deputies of British Jews claimed that the MPs had ‘shared a platform’ with the two expellees. According to BoD president Marie van der Zyl, “It is completely unacceptable that Labour MPs, and even ordinary members, should be sharing platforms with those that have been expelled from the party for anti-Semitism.”

Of course, the term, ‘share a platform’, usually refers only to an event’s official speakers, not to people in the audience. But that does not bother van der Zyl, of course (nor the fact that comrades Walker and Greenstein were not “expelled from the party for anti-Semitism”). She demanded that Keir Starmer take “swift and decisive action” against Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy in order to demonstrate that “this is a new era, rather than a false dawn” following his pledge after the leadership election to “tear out this poison by its roots”, as Labour had “failed the Jewish community on anti-Semitism”.

Then there was Euan Philipps of Labour Against Anti-Semitism, who said that Starmer should have given a “strong and unequivocal response” following this ‘outrage’ of the MPs addressing a meeting where a couple of expelled members were present. Starmer, he said, had instead “demonstrated a disappointing level of moral and political cowardice” in not removing the whip from them. For his part, Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said the Labour leader had shown that “his apologies are meaningless” because of his failure to take stronger action: “After half a decade of the Labour anti-Semitism crisis,” said Falter, “no MP should need ‘reminding’ not to engage with those expelled from the party over anti-Semitism.”

A Labour spokeswoman said Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy had been “reminded of their responsibilities” and had been spoken to “in the strongest possible terms”. After all, “The previous comments made by some of the individuals” attending the meeting had been “completely unacceptable”.

Response

So how did the two respond? Disgracefully, they issued a grovelling statement which said: “The MPs were not aware that any suspended or expelled former members of the Labour Party might contribute as audience members. They did not and would not share a platform with them.”

This is appalling on so many levels. First, would you not expect that out of the 500-plus there would be all sorts of different people, some of whom might express views you totally disagreed with? Secondly, what is wrong with debating with such people – even if they had been expelled from Labour for legitimate reasons? Which brings me to my third, and most important, point: by taking this disgraceful stance Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy were placing themselves firmly in the camp of the witch-hunters and thus aiding the right, not to mention the anti-Labour establishment.

In fact neither Tony Greenstein nor Jackie Walker had done or said anything remotely anti-Semitic and the disciplinary action taken against them was completely unjustified. The initial moves against comrade Greenstein had seemed to centre – at least in terms of what was alleged publicly – on the fact that he had used the term ‘Zio’ as an abbreviation for ‘Zionist’ on social media. So shortening the word in this way completely changes its meaning, does it? Perhaps any such usage (like ‘bio’ or ‘eco’) is unacceptable.

Secondly, comrade Greenstein was also accused of describing the rightwing Labour MP, Louise Ellman, as an “apologist for Israel’s occupation forces” and a “supporter of Israeli child abuse” (the latter because she had praised the actions of Israeli soldiers, even though amongst those they had violently arrested were children). Ellman, of course, later resigned when faced with a no confidence motion in her Constituency Labour Party.

But comrade Greenstein was expelled in February 2018 – basically for ‘being rude’.

What were comrade Walker’s ‘crimes’? In 2016 she was suspended after a private email she had sent was “uncovered” by the Israel Advocacy Movement (the name says it all). In this she pointed out that Holocaust Remembrance Day focussed almost exclusively on Jewish victims of genocide. But what about the thousands of Africans who had been enslaved and died on the other side of the Atlantic? She had (rather clumsily) pointed to the fact that in the slave trade some Jews, far from being the victims, were in fact among the slave-owners. She wrote in the email: “… many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. She later said that what she had meant was: “Jews (my ancestors too) were among those who financed the sugar and slave trade.”

Eventually comrade Walker was reinstated, but was suspended again a few months later for comments she made at an “anti-Semitism training event” organised by the Jewish Labour Movement at the 2016 Labour conference. Not only did she say, “I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.” But she also queried the need for special security at Jewish schools. Presumably such remarks constitute “prejudicial and grossly detrimental behaviour against the party” – the ‘offence’ for which she was finally expelled in March 2019.

What was the stance of Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy in relation to such cases? Like Corbyn himself, they said and did nothing. After all, if you say that such disciplinary action is misplaced then you yourself might be targeted next. Better to go along with the action taken and pretend it was all justified. That was what they effectively did once again last week.

That is why we totally disagree with the headline above the statement issued by Labour Against the Witchhunt, which reads: “Solidarity with Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy” (although at least it adds: “and all those unjustly expelled!”). LAW failed to criticise ‘comrades’ Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy,’ despite their disgraceful statement issued two days earlier.

Solidarity means – if it means anything – unity, agreement, common action and mutual support. Calling for solidarity with scabs, turncoats and traitors is, to say the least, to foster illusions, to throw dust into the eyes of Labour members. We should defend Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy from any attempt to discipline, suspend or expel them. But their surrender, their cowardice, is inexcusable. And that needs saying.

While we are on the subject of solidarity, it is worth a brief comment on the May 2 ‘Statement on Salma Yaqoob’ issued by the Stop the War Coalition. Yaqoob is another Labour member facing an investigation following a complaint by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. That despite her long record of fighting racism and other forms of prejudice. The STWC states: “The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism demanded the exclusion from Labour of two black women MPs, Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, on the flimsy pretext that they addressed an online meeting which included expelled Labour Party members in the audience, not on the platform” (original emphasis).

But then it added: “Local STWC groups act autonomously in deciding their platforms, but we note that Tony Greenstein has never been asked to address a national STWC meeting. STWC rejects both anti-Semitism and abusive language in political debate.”

So, unlike Salma Yaqoob, comrade Greenstein was justifiably expelled, was he? That seems to be the implication.

Refound Labour as a real party of labour

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