Tag Archives: AWL

AWL: Despicable participants in an ongoing witch-hunt

In their latest attack on Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson MP and LPM, the social-imperialists of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have shown once again that they constituted themselves as allies of the Labour right, the mainstream media and the Israeli political establishment, writes Carla Roberts

The latest issue of Solidarity features an unpleasant, unsigned ‘Diary of a delegate’, who only seems to have managed to attend one session at Labour Party conference: namely the afternoon of Tuesday September 25, which saw the debate around the motions on Brexit and Palestine. The unnamed author writes:

Emily Thornberry’s speech was rambling, but she said; “There are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed. These people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party.”

These people are not just on the fringes of our movement. I sat just behind the honourable member for Derby North – a man who is happy to peddle the idea that the whole anti-Semitism issue is really a matter of it being “weaponised” by the right to harm Jeremy Corbyn. Extreme holocaust denial may be on the fringes, but anti-Semitism in the form of wanting to see Israel destroyed, as shown by the chanting at Labour conference, is not.

In a disgusting attack, ‘Labour Party Marxists’ in their Red Pages bulletin took exception with Rhea Wolfson being allowed to chair the session on Palestine! She has pro-Palestinian views? Ah, she is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement and a Zionist! They raised no objections to anyone else chairing sessions.

That sort of dog-whistle anti- Semitism from LPM, coupled with the glowing reception two members of Neturei Karta got when leafleting, shows that some Labour members have a long way to go on managing to make solidarity with Palestinians without falling into the trap of anti-Semitic actions and views. 

This is pretty low even by the standards of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Of course, everybody knows that it has a thing about ‘anti-Semitism’. Their leaders and writers see it everywhere – and have been doing so long before it became quite so fashionable with the Daily Mail and the right wing in the Parliamentary Labour Party. It is, after all, the AWL’s ‘unique selling point’, with which it tries to distinguish its otherwise pretty unexceptional Trotskyist economism from that of the rest of the left. Or “fake left”, as AWL guru Sean Matgamna insists on calling all other leftwing organisations in its irregularly published Solidarity.

Back in 2003 Matgamna declared that, forthwith, AWL members shall proudly call themselves “Zionists”. And, boy, have they made their master proud. In 2016, the AWL’s representatives on the then steering committee of Momentum voted enthusiastically with Jon Lansman to kick Jackie Walker off the organisation’s leading body when she was first falsely accused of anti- Semitism – perhaps giving the owner of the organisation’s database the last bit of courage he needed before he went on to abolish all democratic structures in Momentum in his coup of January 10 2017.

This episode could stand symbolically for the AWL’s whole misguided approach to the witch-hunt. Some people just cannot see the wood for the trees (or maybe they just ignore it). Even when AWL member Pete Radcliffe was expelled from the Labour Party two days after a hilariously misinformed Owen Smith (remember him?) accused the AWL on Question time of “flooding the Labour Party” and “bringing anti-Semitic views”, the penny did not seem to drop.

While there are a few isolated cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (just as there must be, statistically speaking, of Islamophobia, homophobia, paedophilia and even bestiality), the witch-hunt has clearly had nothing to do with opposing anti- Semitism. The aim of the charade is to get rid of a certain Jeremy Corbyn.

By accepting the false narrative that Labour is awash with anti-Semitism, the AWL has provided leftwing cover for the witch-hunt – even while its own members became collateral damage. You could not make it up.

Zionist chair

According to Sean Matgamna, a Zionist nowadays is anyone who believes “in the right of Israel to exist and defends its existence”.

Of course, historically, Zionism was a “definitely reactionary ideology“ (Lenin), according to which Jews and gentiles could never live together peacefully and Jews therefore needed a separate Jewish state. The creation of Israel and subsequent expansion has been characterised by horrendous crimes against the indigenous Arab population, including, crucially, the nakba – the forced expulsion of around 800,000 Palestinians. What began as a colonial ideology of the oppressed has metamorphosed into a full-blown ideology of colonial oppression. Modern-day Zionism, as the state ideology of Israel, not only retrospectively justifies the foundation of Israel, but seeks to perpetuate and extend the privileged position of Jews in that state. Witness the recent passing of the Nation-State of the Jewish People’ law, which constitutionally enshrines the long-established discrimination against Israel’s non- Jewish citizens.

So, yes, we should oppose in the strongest terms the fact that Rhea Wolfson, who proudly self-defines as a Zionist, chaired a session debating the oppression of Palestinians! Wolfson – until recently an editor of the AWL’s magazine The Clarion – is a member of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, which supports and aligns itself with the Israeli Labor Party: the same party that orchestrated the nakba and presided over the conquest of the Golan Heights and the West Bank in 1967.

Hilary WiseIt is no surprise then that Wolfson chaired the session in a highly biased way. For example, she rudely interrupted Hilary Wise from Ealing and Acton Central CLP (pictured), who spoke passionately about the anti-Semitism smear campaign: “I never seen anything like the current campaign of slurs and accusations made against Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the party. I am afraid it is an orchestrated campaign and if you want to know how it works I urge you to watch ‘The lobby’ on Al Jazeera.”

At that point Wolfson warned her: “I would ask you to be very careful. You are straying into territory here.” What “territory” exactly? Telling the truth about the smear campaign?

Comrade Wise went on to warn quite rightly that “this campaign will only get worse and the list of people being denounced as anti-Semitic will get longer, often simply for being proponents of Palestinian rights”. Here, Wolfson interrupted her again: “I urge you to be careful” – and then went straight on to tell her abruptly: “Take your seat – your time is up now.”

After two minutes and 45 seconds, that is. All other delegates got a minimum of three minutes, with Wolfson gently requesting that they finish when their time was up. The video of comrade Wise’s speech and Wolfson’s interruptions is available online.

palestine flagsFlags everywhere: conference was in full solidarity with the Palestinian cause. The Labour membership clearly rejects the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ slurs and lies




Choosing a Zionist to chair this most controversial session of the whole conference (which also included the debate on Brexit) was, of course, a highly political move by the party leadership, intended to show that it ‘takes anti-Semitism seriously’. A bit like if Barbara Castle had been asked to chair a session on the impact of Ted Heath’s anti-trade union laws. Or Jack Straw on the Iraq war.

It was another sign, if one was needed, that Corbyn is still not prepared to take on the right, but continues to try and appease members of the PLP, etc, in the vain hope of keeping them quiet. Fat chance. Wolfson was not a neutral chair – and was not supposed to be one. The AWL might pretend not to understand that, but it was pretty obvious to the rest of us.

But then, the AWL is more than friendly with the JLM – in 2016 it even organised a joint meeting with this Zionist outfit – along with, wait for it, the pro-Blairite Progress group. After all, on the question of Israel-Palestine, there is nothing that indicates that the AWL might stem from a socialist tradition. Mike Cushman brilliantly describes this bizarre meeting as a “love-in” over a “common object of affection”: Israel. He writes:

But not the Israel we see every day abusing Palestinians and harassing dissident anti-Zionists. It was an Israel of their imagination, moving gracefully to a two-state solution, abandoning settlements and occupation on the way.

What he says is well worth a read if you want a taste of the AWL’s ahistorical and emotional attitude to the question.

Qualitative difference?

It is difficult to talk of ‘quality’ in this context, but the latest rant in Solidarity represents, perhaps, a qualitative difference. AWLers used to be rather careful, for example, not to label Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker as full- blown anti-Semites and desisted from calling for their expulsions from the Labour Party. When Matgamna fumed that Livingstone is a “functioning anti-Semite”, who “should be expelled from the Labour Party”, the Solidarity editorial committee quickly pointed out that “our editorial position is that we do not call for Livingstone to be expelled. We want to limit, not expand, the powers the current party regime has to ‘ban’ political views.” All clear then?

Now Labour Party Marxists is accused by the AWL not just of “dog- whistle anti-Semitism”, but also of “anti-Semitic actions and views”. We did not see Matgamna at conference, so we presume this is not one of his ‘special’ articles that have to be taken with a handful of salt, but the “editorial position”.

The article does not specify if the AWL thinks LPM members should be expelled from the Labour Party. But clearly this is the logic of what it is doing by naming and ‘shaming’ people in the middle of this vile witch-hunt directed against Corbyn and those who defend him from the right.

We have been assured that the AWL does not actively report people to the Labour Party’s compliance unit – but it might just as well. Its poisonous campaign has certainly helped to create and maintain today’s toxic and fearful atmosphere in the party and will no doubt have encouraged others to report cases of alleged anti-Semitism to the thought police. This has nothing to do with helping to ‘cleanse’ the workers’ movement, as some turncoats on the left seem to think.

Labour Against the Witchhunt was spot on to launch its open letter, ‘No, Jennie, we will not be informers’, in response to requests by general secretary Jennie Formby that members should report cases of alleged anti-Semitism to the Labour Party’s ‘complaints department’ (aka compliance unit).

As LAW writes elsewhere, “We have seen people being suspended for using the word ‘Zio’ or for expressing their outrage of the horrendous crimes committed by the state of Israel in a confused manner. The vast majority of these people are clearly not anti-Semitic. And yet, they have been publicly labelled as such” by the mainstream press and the right inside and outside the party, “often causing great distress to the member” in question.

We agree with LAW that “open and democratic debate, without fear of being reported, is the best way to educate people and fight prejudice and racism”. Reporting people to the thought police in the party, however, will only strengthen the hand of the witch-hunters and the right wing.

Neturei KartaMembers of Neturei Karta, an anti-Zionist, ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, handed out a good leaflet, ‘Jews in support of Jeremy’, at Liverpool conference. They condemn the foundation of a secular state of Israel as religiously blasphemous. The so-called Alliance for Workers’ Liberty prefers Zionist advocates of colonisation and ethnic cleansing


In its article, the AWL does not just attack us, but also the two members of Neturei Karta, anti-Zionist ultra- orthodox Jews who were calmly giving out their rather good leaflet, ‘Jews in support of Jeremy’, at the Labour conference; not to mention Chris Williamson MP, whom the AWL labels a “sickening individual” with a “despicable hatred of Jews”. Now, I am not an expert on legal questions, but that is not just pretty stupid and clearly untrue, but also sounds pretty libellous to me. Talking of which, it seems the AWL has now also taken to calling Jackie Walker an “anti-Semite”. Or, more precisely, to shout about it.

According to a statement posted on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacqueline.walker.3990, October 5 2018), AWL members told students at a fresher’s fair that they are “fighting anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” and that “we’ve got known anti-Semites living in this area. Jackie Walker, for example”. Jackie Walker has sought a retraction from the AWL and has emailed it twice, but has so far not even received an explanation. She says she is now considering reporting it to the police as a “hate crime”. [Update from Jackie Walker, October 12: “The AWL finally finished their investigation and got back to me …. and guess what, none of their activists owned up as having named me as an antisemite in their local recruitment drive. Everything however about this incident is now on file. I know the time it happened so identifying the person involved from the description would not be problematic.”]

We do not advocate bringing the state into disputes inside the workers’ movement and we would urge comrade Walker not to get the police involved. Having said that, it is, however, questionable whether the AWL should still be considered a part of the left.

We should also consider the actual, real-life implications of the AWL’s comments and articles. Being expelled from the Labour Party is one thing. But comrade Walker has become something of a pin-up for the witch-hunters; her face is plastered all over the hate-filled outputs of GnasherJew, Guido Fawkes and other such unpleasant mediums. The bomb threat made during the screening of the documentary, ‘The political lynching of Jackie Walker’, at the Labour conference was ‘only’ a hoax, but one can imagine the possibility of some deranged person being tempted to ‘do a Jo Cox’.

By supporting and perpetuating the witch-hunt against comrade Walker, Chris Williamson MP and Labour Party Marxists, the AWL has managed to stoop to a new low, even by its standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By their friends …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witch-hunts: When chickens come home…

Jeremy Newmark is in deep trouble, Ann Black has been dropped by Jon Lansman and AWL members have been declared ‘unwelcome’ by London Young Labour, reports Carla Roberts

Imagine the following: a well-known Corbyn supporter is accused of “misusing” tens of thousands of pounds of a charity he is running in order to go on holiday with his family, leases a “46,000 luxury car” and awards his wife contracts worth £36,000. General secretary Iain McNicol and his compliance unit would have acted with speed … and with some not inconsiderable glee.

Of course, we are talking about Jeremy Newmark, until recently chair of the Jewish Labour Movement and, as we go to press, still a full Labour Party member and a Hertsmere councillor. Unlike many of the pro-Palestinian campaigners, of course, that he and the Jewish Labour Movement have successfully managed to get suspended from the party on the flimsiest of accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’.

The enthusiasm with which the pro-Zionist Jewish Chronicle has attacked Newmark is quite breathtaking – after all, it has given him and the Jewish Labour Movement many a platform to attack pro-Palestinians and anti-Zionists. But clearly, a good story beats religion. JC alleges that Newmark’s financial dealings with the Jewish Leadership Council were – how shall we put it? – somewhat suspect. And, when awkward questions were asked, Newmark agreed to resign from his position as chief executive for “health reasons”. Not that his health stopped him from being leader of the JLM, a Labour councillor and running as the parliamentary candidate in Finchley and Golders Green (he just failed to become an MP).

Not the job of socialists to appeal to the witch-hunter general Iain McNicol
Not the job of socialists to appeal to the witch-hunter general Iain McNicol

We need not point out the hypocrisy in the different treatments that Newmark and Corbyn supporters have been receiving – not just from the compliance unit, but also the bourgeois media. Apart from a couple of articles in The Times, there is an eerie silence. But it is not the job of socialists to appeal to McNicol to discipline fellow Labour Party members (after all, we want McNicol sacked and many of the disciplinary offences he so freely wields abolished).

And, of course, we believe in the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. But, firstly, that does not go for the dozens, if not hundreds, who remain suspended and expelled from the party for a wide range of ‘crimes’ – including being rude on the internet or being an alleged supporter of a Marxist group. And, secondly, from reading the allegations in JC there appears to be damning evidence against Newmark, which would at the very least warrant an investigation. McNicol’s claim that the issue is “private” is quite frankly breathtaking. Even the Jewish Labour Movement had the sense to agree with Newmark that he should resign.

There are lessons here. The Momentum leader, Jon Lansman, has previously boasted that “I work closely with Jeremy [Newmark]” and explained how he took the advice of the JLM before ‘demoting’ Jackie Walker from her position of vice-chair of Momentum.

And, in the mistaken belief that he could shield himself from the accusations of being soft on anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn has given the JLM in effect a free hand to wreak havoc with its ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign. Shamefully, Corbyn has silently stood by, allowing pretty much any criticism of the actions of the state of Israel to be branded as evidence of anti-Semitism. All in the empty hope that he will finally have given the right wing in the party enough scalps to shut up and let him lead.

NEC elections

Jon Lansman has given up all pretence of leftwing candidates for the national executive committee being chosen by some kind of semi-democratic decision-making between various groups under the umbrella of the mysterious ‘Centre Left Grassroots Alliance’ (CLGA). Once upon a time, this might have been a real attempt to get together left Labour organisations in order to discuss joint candidates – but even then it was always done firmly behind closed doors.

Now Jon Lansman, who literally owns Momentum, seems to be in sole charge. Last year, the CLGA managed to agree on three NEC candidates within a matter of days, in a much-ridiculed process, where – surprise, surprise – Lansman was one of those chosen.

For the 2018 elections, it looked as if a similar process would be employed. Nominations on the Momentum website opened on January 8, ended on January 14 and by January 18 the Momentum candidates were supposed be chosen by a panel from its national coordinating group to then go to the CLGA. Momentum’s website still states: “Please note that because Momentum is only one out of a number of organisations which has input into the CLGA, gaining the support of Momentum does not guarantee getting the final support of the CLGA for these elections.”

But somewhere along the line Lansman thought, ‘Nah, why bother?’ On February 9, the final list of the nine candidates supported by Momentum only was leaked to the Huffington Post – before the rest of the CLGA could pretend to have a say on the matter. It took another week before he informed Momentum members, via email on February 15. We understand that, at the heart of this, is the fact that Jon Lansman and his old comrade in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Pete Willsman, have fallen out over the matter of Ann Black.

We could already gather from NEC veteran Willsman’s latest email report (sent out on January 31) that something fishy was going on. In a minor point he says that at the last Labour NEC meeting “Ann Black, in her usual reasoned way,” argued against a particular oversight and that, “as usual, Ann’s reasonable arguments carried the day”.

Ann Black
Ann Black

Yes, that is the same Ann Black who has played a despicable role in sidelining Corbyn supporters in the run-up to the leadership elections. The same Ann Black, who as long-serving chair of the disputes panel played a key role in keeping the witch-hunt against the left alive. Her replacement by Christine Shawcroft was long overdue.

But not for comrade Willsman, apparently. We understand that he has been arguing vehemently that she be included once again on the CLGA slate. But he was narrowly outvoted by the CLPD executive. However, comrade Willsman did not budge on the issue and kept on insisting she be nominated.

Anyway, Jon Lansman did what he does best: went nuclear. He announced nine candidates supported by Momentum – not including Ann Black. Nevertheless, “I shall be standing as a candidate for the NEC, on the centre-left platform that I have supported for the past 18 years,” she told the Huffington Post. Doubtless, Black’s politics have not changed much in 18 years, but it is a sign of the weakness of the Labour left that it ever supported her in the first place.

Current NEC members Claudia Webbe, Rachel Garnham, Yasmine Dar, Pete Willsman, Darren Williams and, of course, Jon Lansman himself, are featured on the new slate. The newcomers backed by Lansman are Huda Elmi (Momentum national coordinating group), Nav Mishra (a Momentum regional organiser) and Anne Henderson (assistant secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress). All nine are virtual shoo-ins for the 2018 NEC elections, some major political earthquake notwithstanding.

One person missing from the Momentum slate, however, is Rhea Wolfson, an entirely forgettable member of the NEC, had it not been for her proud membership of the Jewish Labour Movement (she also sits on the editorial board of the AWL-sponsored magazine The Clarion). Unfortunately, her departure is voluntary and not the result of a campaign of the pro-Palestinian left. She appears to harbour ambitions of becoming an MP – which is, we understand, the main reason for not throwing her hat in the ring again.

Victims and perpetrators

AWL members were amongst the first victims of the anti-left witch-hunt in the Labour Party, when, just after the publication of Tom Watson’s ‘dodgy dossier’, a dozen or so members and supporters were expelled from Labour. And yet the group has itself been giving encouragement to the witch-hunt against leftwingers in its own way.

Its participation in the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign is not of the same calibre as that waged by the JLM and the ‘Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’, which systematically, and with a lot of technical know-how and money, scroll through Facebook and Twitter accounts to catch out members for using particular words.

For one thing, the AWL lacks the numbers and finance for that type of campaign. It represents more the type of busybody who would report their neighbour to the East German Stasi for watching West German TV. In the worldview of AWL leader Sean Matgamna (who, like others in their leadership, open declares himself a Zionist), pretty much anybody on the “fake left” who has the audacity to criticise Israel is an anti-Semite.

AWL guru Sean Matgamna
AWL guru Sean Matgamna

AWL members on the (then) Momentum steering committee joined Jon Lansman in voting for the removal of Jackie Walker as national vice-chair – in fact they enabled the man to go one further a few weeks later and abolish the steering committee and all democratic structures with it in the now infamous Lansman coup of January 10 2017. AWL leader Sean Matgamna continues to call for Ken Livingstone to be expelled from the Labour Party for making factually slightly wrong, but politically entirely correct, statements about the collaboration of Nazis and Zionist leaders in the 1930s. [The editorial team of their paper Solidarity seems to disagree about calling for his expulsion, but they happily print Sean’s articles without critiquing his call and regularly denounce him as an anti-Semite in their pages].

It joined with the JLM and the rightwing media hysteria in condemning Moshé Machover’s article, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’, in Labour Party Marxists, which led to his expulsion (after a massive campaign within the party he was subsequently reinstated three weeks later). “Overnight, Machover’s article became a cause célèbre for left anti-Semites (and anti-Semites in general)”, states the AWL in its paper, Solidarity.

Displaying its ignorance and lack of basic sense of solidarity with a victim of Iain McNicol’s compliance unit, the AWL claims in an official statement that the article was carried in a leaflet, which

was distributed at a fringe meeting of the rightwing Labour First faction, in a stunt obviously designed to catch the eye of the Labour right and provoke expulsions to generate publicity for themselves … We restate our opposition to the existence of this rulebook clause, and its usage to justify summary expulsions, including in this case. But we have no sympathy with the leaflet stunt, and no desire to defend it as an exercise of democratic rights.

This deeply problematic statement also shows that the AWL must have been asleep throughout conference last year – otherwise they would have noticed that comrade Machover’s article was carried in our A3-size newspaper (not a leaflet) and it was widely distributed every day at various fringe events, as well as at conference itself. Jeremy Newmark – who was almost as outraged as the AWL about the article – picked it up on the first morning outside the main conference entrance – and then telephoned various journalists, who were keen to cover the story. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good smear.

At the AGM of London Young Labour on February 3, the AWL once again played this bizarre double role. The meeting adopted a truly contemptuous motion submitted by the AWL-backed Labour Campaign for Free Movement – and then voted in favour of one that comes close to calling for the expulsion of AWL members from the youth wing.

The motion submitted by LCFM starts by stating, rather problematically, that “we have recently seen a rise in racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime” and that “Muslim and Jewish women are disproportionately targeted in terms of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”.

It does not quote the source of these claims, but chances are the AWL has joined a range of bourgeois journalists in adopting in an entirely uncritical way the claims made in the ‘Report on anti-Semitic incidents’, which is published twice a year by the pro-Zionist charity, Community Security Trust (a charity “known to have links to Israel’s Mossad spy agency”, as the award-winning Electronic Intifada states).

The motion goes on to make some utterly forgettable, non-controversial demands (“it is essential that we stand up for the rights of everyone in this country to practise their faith and be safe from hate”), which, incidentally, do not include the call for free movement beyond what exists across the EU today.

Bizarrely though, the LCFM motion commits London Young Labour to:

8. Work alongside the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Muslims, Sikhs for Labour and other faith groups to address the systemic hate faced by those who identify into these groups, both within and outside of our movement.

9. Run training with Hope Not Hate on how to tackle bigotry and xenophobia in society.

Point 8 does not just support the clearly untrue claim of there being a huge ‘anti-Semitism problem’ in the Labour Party. It commits the organisation to work with the disgraced JLM, which has played such a deplorable role in the witch-hunt of pro-Palestinian Corbyn supporters.

Hope Not Hate, while not playing an active part in the witch-hunt, is a rightwing version of the Socialist Workers Party’s ‘Stand Up To Racism’. For example, the anti-Corbyn MP, Ruth Smeeth, was a director of Hope not Hate for many years – she also worked for the Community Security Trust mentioned above. Nice bedfellows indeed.

The same Young Labour event then went on to adopt a motion in response to recent allegations made by a former (then 16-year-old) AWL member of sexual misconduct by another member. The motion claims that the event was then “covered up by the AWL student organiser”. The details are quite well known by now. They are unpleasant, but not of such a level of seriousness to warrant that

the presence of AWL members/supporters at London Young Labour organising and social spaces is unacceptable and unwelcome until they carry out a formal, open transparent investigation. The processes of this investigation must be ones in which the survivor has confidence, and the processes and outcomes of the investigation must centre the needs of survivors of sexual violence. (see full statement below)

A group of young pro-Lansmanites seems to behind this motion (who would have thought that such a tendency would ever exist?). AWL members are quite right to smell “a witch-hunt against Workers’ Liberty”:

The cynical use of this important issue, by some, ultimately is a means of silencing political opponents. It is a danger to the entire left. It will not end with Workers’ Liberty. It can, and will, be used against anyone else seen not to have ‘the right line’ on any number of issues. It creates a movement within which reasoned discussion of political differences becomes impossible.

Like, say, the issue of opposing Zionism, perhaps? The words ‘kettle’, ‘black’ and ‘pot’ spring to mind.

‘Sexual violence’ and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty

London Young Labour notes:

1. In January 2018, it emerged the AWL had covered up the sexual abuse of a child, who had been offered drinks by AWL members despite being under 18. The sexual assault was covered up by the AWL’s student organiser, and the AWL member in question faced no disciplinary action or expulsion from the AWL.

2. The victim was subjected to a campaign of smears and harassment, which included ablist remarks hurled at him on the street and slanderous complaints made to his employer.

3. A statement on the AWL website confirmed the allegations of the victim’s statement, but deflected blame to “online trolling”.

London Young Labour believes:

1. Sexual violence is not confined to one tendency or political leaning, but certain structures and organising tactics – such as the AWL’s secretive, top-down structures – are more likely to enable and mask abuse of all kinds.

2. Sexual violence pushes out women and other marginalised groups from our party.

3. As an organisation, LYL must also take into account that the survivor of this assault was underage. The AWL members had bought him drinks and got him drunk, which is an incredibly serious breach of safeguarding.

4. Sexual violence must not be tolerated within our organisation and neither must apologism for sexual abuse.

London Young Labour resolves:

1. To make clear that the presence of AWL members/supporters at London Young Labour organising and social spaces is unacceptable and unwelcome until they carry out a formal, open, transparent investigation. The processes of this investigation must be ones in which the survivor has confidence, and the processes and outcomes of the investigation must centre on the needs of survivors of sexual violence.

2. To carry out research into our own processes and policies and make sure they adequately support survivors of sexual violence.

Boycott the AWL’s “Stop the Labour purges” scab conference

Should we call on members of the Labour left to attend the forthcoming ‘National conference to fight the purge’, organised by the campaign, ‘Stop the Labour Purges’? It does sound like a good idea to do something to fight for the rights of the thousands that have unjustly been suspended, expelled or denied a vote in the recent Labour leadership election, surely?

Our answer in short: no.

Stop the Labour Purge has been set up by members and supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. For a long time, the campaign concentrated exclusively on those being suspended and/or expelled from the Labour Party for their association with the AWL. However, they show less solidarity when it comes to others experiencing the same fate – especially those painted with the scandalous ‘anti-Semitic’ brush.

Jackie Walker is the prime example here, of course. When the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement leaked the secretly taped contributions from comrade Walker to the media and Labour’s unelected compliance unit a few weeks ago, members and supporters of the AWL went into witch-hunting overdrive. Although she had just been suspended by the Labour Party – for the second time! – they made no efforts to defend her.

Instead, they posted old articles about “left anti-Semitism” (which is a title they stick on anybody who opposes the state of Israel or Zionism), called her comments “unacceptable” and argued that she should be removed as vice-chair of Momentum.

As is now well known, the two AWL supporters on Momentum’s steering committee, Jill Mountford and Michael Chessum, wholeheartedly supported the move by Momentum chair and company owner Jon Lansman to remove Jackie Walker from her position of national vice-chair – in fact, they proudly reported it online. As an aside, Jackie Walker, on the other hand, has stuck to the request of the steering committee not to comment on her demotion and simply pointed to its mealy-mouthed statement (see LPM bulletin No3). A mistake, in our view. Outrageous decisions like the one taken by the steering committee should be openly discussed and debated by Momentum branches up and down the country. Her view on the matter and on the process of her demotion would help.

The organisers of the Stop the Labour Purge conference have tried to cover their backs by publishing a statement on comrade Walker, in which they now ask that the Labour Party should “reinstate” her … on October 7 – ie, more than full week after her suspension. This is too little and way too late to convince anybody.

In our view, members and supporters of the AWL have behaved in a truly treacherous way. They have given ammunition to the right wing in the Labour Party and the mainstream media. By supporting and pushing for comrade Walker’s demotion, they have given credence to the ludicrous notion that the Labour Party is ‘overrun by anti-Semites’. In effect, they are sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left.

And this is not the only scab campaign they are involved in. They are also pushing the open letter, entitled ‘Speak out on Syria’, that criticises Jeremy Corbyn on his “silence” on the war in Syria, urges him to support an unenforcable no-fly-zone and “condemn, clearly and specifically, the actions of Assad and Russia in Syria, which have caused the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths and which present the biggest obstacle to any workable solution to the Syrian crisis”. Click here for a good article by Yassamine Mather on the role that imperialism has played in bringing about the disastrous situation in Syria – and now we are supposed to call on US and UK imperialism to sort it all out again?

Again, the AWL are playing right into the hands of the rightwing media, the right in the Labour Party and even Boris Johnson, who seemed to have been paying attention to the AWL in his speech in the House of Commons this week: “There is no commensurate horror, it seems to me, amongst some of those anti-war protest groups. I’d certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop The War Coalition at the moment? Where are they?” (Daily Mail October 10).

We urge all Labour Party members and those purged to boycott the AWL’s conference. Instead, we call on the Labour left to move motions in Labour Party and Momentum branches and Labour organisations that condemn the purges, the demotion of Jackie Walker by Momentum and call for democratic structures in our organisations. There are a number of model motions available on the LPM website.

Carla Roberts, Labour Party Marxists
(letter to the Weekly Worker)

Momentum: Fight for political clarity

Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists surveys the left response to Momentum’s founding national committee meeting.

Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashōmon is based around the narrative concept of a series of self-interested characters giving their partial accounts of the same event –  a procedure borrowed by many subsequent works in all narrative media.

It seems also to have been borrowed, ingeniously, by Momentum: its inaugural national committee this weekend was undoubtedly an important moment, but the precise nature of its significance is something nobody can seem to agree on.

So, to the good news: proposals to ban leftwing literature from Momentum meetings were resoundingly defeated. That the impulse was there at all is, alas, hardly surprising – there is nothing a shiny new movement likes less than the reality of the haggard old Trots its meetings will attract, but it was still silly. Would Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament leaflets be banned? If not, then what about slightly more contentious campaigns (Cuba Solidarity, say)? Even on its own terms, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare, and a ridiculous price to pay for the slender benefit of keeping Socialist Worker at bay. (There is, of course, the small matter of elementary democratic principle to bear in mind as well.)

That Momentum is – for now – relatively open to the participation of avowed Marxists can be gauged from the fact that its steering committee (which will take care of things in between NC meetings) included a certain Jill Mountford of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Any regular reader of this paper will know that our criticisms of the AWL are legion; but, given that Momentum is screamed at in every paper for basically being the Militant Tendency with better social media nous, comrade Mountford’s election is a good omen for left participants in Momentum more generally. They are not yet buckling on this one. Good.

The most contentious issue, however, is related to Momentum’s membership rules. On the table were three options: Momentum is only open to Labour members; Momentum members must have Labour Party cards, but a separate category of supporters would have voting rights on all matters not directly connected to internal Labour politics; and finally, that Momentum was open to Labour members, affiliated supporters (such as members of affliated unions) and those who support the “aims and values” of the Labour Party, provided they do not support any party other than Labour.

The third option was chosen by a decent majority vote, and its vagueness is probably responsible for most of the leftwing confusion in the period since the meeting. We have argued repeatedly that Momentum should orient itself very firmly in the direction of the Labour Party, and aspects of the agreed wording fudge the issue somewhat. Talk of ‘aims and values’ is plainly lifted directly from the wording of the Labour Party’s ‘registered supporter’ category, which proved under the pressure of Jeremy Corbyn’s insurgent leadership bid to be somewhat elastic, with many of those who had left Labour for the Greens and suchlike excluded on the basis of ancient Twitter postings.

In context, the Momentum agreement is pointing in the opposite direction: it is, after all, the most elastic of the options available. Momentum members will merely have to employ the appropriate due diligence of not openly supporting opposing candidates under their own names. Yet it is still not nearly as elastic as some would like. Again – good. Momentum has chosen not to be yet another self-perpetuating campaigning mechanism along the lines of the People’s Assembly, Stop the War and sundry Trot fronts past and present. It is an (admittedly unofficial) organisation of the Labour Party, and all who sign up will at least have to stand in some proximity to the larger body.


So, unsurprisingly, opinions divide. Many are pretty upbeat about the whole thing: “I believe the lobbying and pressure from grassroots Momentum branches won the day at the new NC on Saturday,” chirruped a triumphant Stuart King, formerly of the International Socialists, Workers Power, Permanent Revolution and the Anti-Capitalist Initiative (and possibly still a member of Left Unity, but who knows?), on Facebook.

The AWL’s Ed Whitby, who was present, used his own blog to accentuate the positive. “People should join the Labour Party, and it is right that Momentum will strongly encourage this; but there are still many people coming to the organisation who for whatever reason haven’t joined yet. We need to encourage and persuade them, not throw up an unnecessary barrier.”1 (The AWL, of course, has a longer track record of conducting Labour work, so the result is probably easier to swallow for its members.)

Many Left Unity members are … less enthusiastic. It is hardly surprising: as its membership shrivels, LU is more and more dominated by the ‘carry on as before’ tendency; those for whom the desire to stand candidates in their particular locality automatically supersedes any attention to the goings-on in wider national politics; those for whom the narrow horizon of politics is fitting in as much low-level do-goodery into a given week as possible. No doubt LU will continue to ignore the great shifts happening all around it, in favour of trying to turn out what remains of its membership on whatever demonstration is looming.

The ne plus ultra of this political approach is, as ever, the Socialist Workers Party. A headline in this week’s Socialist Worker asks: “Is Jeremy Corbyn supporters group Momentum cutting off its grassroots?”2 Beyond being a great exemplar of Betteridge’s law (which states that any headline which takes the form of a question can be safely answered with ‘no’), it differs very little from any of SW’s recent ruminations on the topic.

“Momentum’s national committee rightly agreed to support the CND demonstration against Trident nuclear missiles in London on Saturday February 27,” writes the article’s author, Nick Clark. “And it also committed to build for the People’s Assembly national demo in London on April 16. But the committee’s agenda emphasised a focus on building the Labour Party.” For shame!

Comrade Clark’s bizarre conclusion deserves to be cited in full:

“Such a strategy risks allowing the groundswell of support that grew around Corbyn’s campaign to melt away. Corbyn’s strength came from the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for him because they wanted an alternative to austerity, racism and war. Sustaining that will mean building a broad-based movement.”

Might we naively suggest that people voted for Corbyn because they, er, wanted him to be the leader of the Labour Party? Does the SWP really expect people to take no further interest in the matter now that he is Labour leader, and – worse – actually think that is a good thing?

We will not find out from comrade Clark, who refrains from anything so vulgar as justifying the claims he repeats mindlessly, like a penitent monk. For that, we turn to Mark L Thomas, writing at greater length in the latest International Socialism, the SWP’s quarterly journal:

“The key to social change remains through collective struggle from below. Every advance in the struggle creates a greater self-confidence among layers of workers, so weakening the hold of rightwing ideas. This in turn is Corbyn’s best defence of his position against the Labour right … But if the mass of Corbyn’s supporters are simply drawn into bitter internal battles over Labour policy and candidate selections, in practice their focus will not be mobilising in workplaces and working class communities, but on arguing with the right wing … Paradoxically, this can weaken, not strengthen, Corbyn’s position.”3

Things are, alas, little better here – we have proof only of the bankruptcy of the SWP’s hyper-activist tunnel vision. For decades, we have been told with increasing desperation that every passing strike or demonstration is ‘really important’ and the ‘start of the fightback’. Well, comrades, the fightback has come – and you are reduced basically to complaining that it was not the fightback you had in mind. Would a little rethinking be too much to ask?

This sort of dogma is, as we have already seen, hardly limited to the SWP, which merely presents it in its purest and thereby most ridiculous form. Indeed, even organisations that take the Labour question more seriously as part of their operative activity slip into this paradigm all too easily. Thus we find the aforementioned Jill Mountford and Ed Whitby, along with AWL stalwart Sacha Ismail, in last week’s Solidarity:

“It would be false [sic] at this stage to push for anything like a clear, sharp statement of socialist aims, but we need to go beyond Lib Dem-style platitudes and commit to goals for changing the labour movement and developing workers’ political representation. Momentum also needs a clear orientation to supporting workers’ and social movement struggles, and taking them into the Labour Party.”4

It is, we note, never the right time to push for a “clear statement of socialist aims”; nor are we certain that “supporting workers’ and social movement struggles” goes beyond the platitudinous. Mountford wants Momentum to be ‘socialist’ in some sense, still: just not clearly or sharply so. So it is somewhat odd to find comrade Whitby ambivalent on this point in his later blog post: “The basic statement of aims was amended to refer more to socialism and the working class [but] it is still, in my view, far from adequate.” It is a difficult thing, indeed, to satisfy precisely the AWL’s demand for blurry, blunt socialism!

Focus on labour

Still, we must agree with comrade Whitby that the Momentum decisions represent movement in the right direction. And there is a small nugget of truth even in the SWP’s Nick Clark, when he complains of “a focus on building the Labour Party”. However, it is clear that, left to its own devices, Momentum has a very clear sense of what building the Labour Party means, and that is to support Jeremy. At all costs, Labour must be returned to government in 2020, with the honourable member for Islington North at the helm.

So, although Clark’s crypto-Bakuninist ravings and the Corbynist electoralism of the Momentum mainstream may seem to be directly and diametrically opposed, they have in common one thing: the need to suppress political clarity. The object of working class struggle is the conquest of political power, and in fact the ‘instinctive’ class vote for Labour – as with other humdrum matters of official labour movement politics – is a distorted reflection of that reality. The existence of the Labour Party can be put down, ultimately, to the fact that even the infamously bureaucratic British trade unions of the 19th century knew that the workers’ movement needed an effective ‘political wing’ to make anything stick.

Yet there is a vast gulf between what the extant forces of the Labour left consider to be ‘taking power’ and what is actually required to break the grasp of the ruling class on society. For one thing, capital is organised internationally, as the recent Google tax scandals have neatly illustrated; ‘getting the Tories out’ and putting in a tax-and-spend budget does not change that by itself. Organising internationally, however, renders unavoidable the necessity to think at a very high level about the sort of world we want to create. More immediately, the very structures of the state are organised in ways favourable to capital and hostile to labour (in extremis, we have had off-the-record coup talk about Corbyn from army chiefs already). Again, a laundry list of worthy reformist policies gathered into a Labour manifesto is not adequate as a response.

In short, rigorous and effective political discussion is not some self-indulgent distraction from the ‘real work’ – be that getting a Labour government or nudging up attendance figures at some demonstration. The great promise of Momentum is that it provides an opportunity to fight for political clarity among greater numbers of people and, by focusing on the Labour Party – an organisation that, for better or worse, actually matters – the chance to make that clarity a practical force in society at large.


1 . https://edsunionblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/steps-forward-for-momentum-report-of-first-momentum-national-committee-6-february-2016.

2 . Socialist Worker February 9 2016.

3 . ‘A house divided: Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’ International Socialism No149, winter 2015.

4 . Solidarity February 3 2016.

Wishful thinking rather than hard truth

Stan Keable was at John McDonnell’s Labour Left Platform roundtable discussion on February 7

An air of desperation and self-deception hung over the 200 or so left activists, MPs and ‘policy experts’ gathered together in the big hall at the University of London Union at the invitation of leading left MP John McDonnell, under his Labour Left Platform umbrella. Simon Hewitt, a young member of the Labour Representation Committee’s Labour Briefing editorial board, expressed this desperation: “Labour will be dead in five years if we don’t sort ourselves out.”

The fragile nature of the lowest-common-denominator (ie, undemocratic) consensus type of left unity achieved was illustrated when former Lambeth anti-cuts councillor and Unite activist Kingsley Abrams announced that he had resigned his Labour Party membership and defected to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in disgust. He had taken a stand against cuts on Lambeth Labour council in line with Unite policy, but Unite did not fight his suspension from the Labour group, which was now implementing cuts. The ‘emergency budget’ anti-austerity motion to Labour’s national policy forum had been voted down by the affiliated trade union delegates. And, to cap it off, Unite had just made a £1.5 million donation to Labour’s election fund, on top of its affiliation fees.

Comrade McDonnell remarked that he had handed the microphone to Kingsley because “several others have done the same” (eg, Warrington anti-cuts councillor, Unite activist and LRC national committee member Kevin Bennett also defected to Tusc recently), and, ominously, “we do talk about the philosophical question whether to be in or out of the Labour Party”. Since the meeting we have learned that RMT president Peter Pinkney has joined the Green Party and will be standing as a Green candidate for Redcar in the general election.1

Can the left persuade Labour’s front bench to adopt an alternative, anti-austerity economic programme, in the short time available before May 7? Or will Labour continue alienating good class-struggle fighters with its austerity-lite commitments, promising to make the working class carry on paying for capitalism’s crisis? Given the haemorrhaging of Labour votes to the Scottish National Party and the Greens, both posing to the left, against austerity and Trident, an absolute Labour majority now seems unlikely, but, with the Tories losing support to the UK Independence Party, Labour may well end up with the most MPs. Comrade McDonnell’s plan is to make the left into a coherent force which can then negotiate as a player in any post-election coalition negotiations.

In the Marxist tradition of ‘telling it like it is’, I have to say to comrade McDonnell that this wishful thinking is delusional. Unfortunately, if we are to change the world, we must first be truthful about where we are at. Our class is in a weak condition at present – confused, disorganised and disorientated; and so is the left itself. There is no quick fix for this condition, no short cut, no easy road to socialism. A protracted struggle must be undertaken to democratise and rebuild our movement and re-educate our class in socialist ideas and politics before it can deliver effective solidarity to anyone, let alone approach the question of taking state power away from the capitalist class.

Much more than a simple majority of MPs is required: socialism cannot be delivered from above by an enlightened elite. A genuinely socialist government in Britain (not a Miliband/Balls Labour government trying to run an imagined ethical capitalism) implementing its minimum programme of immediate measures in the interests of, and empowering, the working class, could not survive the inevitable counterrevolutionary efforts of capital, unless it was based on the active, conscious support of a substantial majority of working people. Nor could it last long on its own, if the workers’ movement in Europe had not also matured to a similar level, capable of delivering real solidarity action to a socialist government here, under attack.


A notable lacuna in the left’s “alternative narrative” (comrade McDonnell’s words) was the omission of any demands for democratisation of the state. The three themes were austerity, rail nationalisation and trade union rights. It was left to the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (promoted by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) to proclaim, on its leaflet, the abolition of the monarchy and the Lords, a federal republic, and a worker’s wage for MPs. These demands may not be doorstep vote-winners today, but they are indispensable conditions for the working class to overpower capitalism.

Commendable though it is to attempt to bring the weak, divided, disorganised and rudderless Labour left into the same room – “the first time in a long while that all of the left organisations in the Labour Party have come together”, in comrade McDonnell’s words – this gathering was evidence, to any objective observer, of the palpable weakness of the left and of the workers’ movement as a whole, not our strength.2 As Aslef national organiser Simon Weller remarked, the speeches complaining about anti-working class coalition government policies amount to “preaching to the choir”. Privatisation of public transport has been going on for 40 years, he said – in other words, under Labour as well as Tory administrations. The question not being answered was, “How do we set about changing the Labour Party? – and it is not through the national policy forum!”

The key to developing an effective workers’ movement, and to transforming the party and the unions, is democracy – and democracy starts at home, in the organisations of the left. The ineffective, pretend unity of fudged consensus ‘decisions’ made without transparency, motions, debate and voting, will not do. We need organisational unity in action, based on freedom of discussion and acceptance of majority decisions.

Comrade McDonnell, opening the meeting, said: “People understand that they are being ripped off, and are desperate for a real Labour government”, but they are “not seeing a display of real Labour politics”. The purpose of the Left Platform, as stated on its website, is to “demonstrate practically what a Labour government could do in office”, and “to consolidate a common left policy platform that can give people hope”.3

But fostering hope in a Labour government under present realities means setting people up for disillusionment. History shows that Labour governments running capitalism undermine and disempower the workers’ movement, setting the scene for more rightwing Tory governments. The ‘official communist’ programme (Britain’s road to socialism) of a series of increasingly leftwing Labour administrations is a pipe dream. Our movement must be built in opposition to whatever capitalist government is in office, and the task of transforming the trade unions and the Labour Party into vehicles for socialism, of “breaking the stranglehold of the bureaucracy”, as Brent and Harrow LRC activist Steve Forrest put it, will be hindered by Labour taking government office. We need socialist MPs elected, to give a voice to the workers’ movement. But we need a Miliband Labour government like a hole in the head.

Unfortunately, sectarian divisions amongst the Labour left are every bit as alive as between the left groups outside the party. True, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy had signed up amongst the Labour Left Platform sponsors, and I spotted its secretary, Pete Wilsman, in the hall. But there was no sign of its leading light, Ken Livingstone, while Christine Shawcroft only ventured as near as the pavement in Malet Street, as the brave lone seller of the so-called ‘original’ Labour Briefing – in competition with the one produced by the LRC, whose sales team was out in force.4 Comrade McDonnell alluded to these difficulties when he commented that the event had “showed that we can work together”.

The next step, said comrade McDonnell in his summing up, is to “ask every Labour candidate” to support the Labour left’s “alternative narrative” of “what needs to be done”, which had been the achievement of the event. And we will reconvene in the first week after the general election to take the campaign forward, as that is the time, he claimed, when a new Labour government (if that is the result) will be most susceptible to pressure from the left.


1. See www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/rmt-union-president-im-standing-8598307.

2. See also Jon Lansman’s useful summary of what was said in each session, and his pertinent criticisms of the left: “While the Labour left continues to work in the amateurish manner described above, the right has little to fear” (www.leftfutures.org/2015/02/reflections-on-the-left-platform-meeting/#more-41075).

3. http://leftplatform.com.

4. When the 2012 AGM of the Labour Briefing magazine voted to merge with the LRC, Jenny Fisher, Christine Shawcroft, Richard Price and three others, instead of accepting the democratic decision, turned the merger into a split. They set up Labour Briefing Cooperative Limited and launched a rival magazine entitled the original Labour Briefing.

Stage-managed spectacle

This year’s Labour conference confirmed once again that the union tops work hand in glove with the party bureaucracy. Charles Gradnitzer reports

Conference got off to a democratic start, with 65 out of the 132 contemporary motions being ruled out of order before it had even begun.

At least seven of these motions noted the August Care UK strike in Doncaster and committed a future Labour government to implementing a living wage for NHS workers. One might be forgiven for thinking that these motions were ruled out of order due to the machinations of New Labour or Progress types. However, there are five union officials on the seven-member conference arrangements committee (CAC).
Obviously the majority of the CAC’s members do not think a motion that commits the Labour Party to immediately bringing in the living wage should even be allowed on the priorities ballot (although, of course, even if it had been timetabled for discussion, it would likely have been gutted during a compositing meeting).

This depressing beginning set the tone for the conference, which, as most people on the left will be aware, is a well choreographed, stage-managed spectacle. Smarmy speeches are delivered by shadow cabinet ministers; prospective parliamentary candidates are called to speak, one after the other, by a chair who pretends not to know their name; and on those rare occasions when one of the plebs is allowed to go to the podium the regional director is on hand to help write their speech.

The good

On the first day of conference the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty had organised a lobby to highlight the arbitrary rejection of motions on the national health service and to demand that the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy model motion was included in the priorities ballot.1

The NHS, having come out on top in the ballot, was scheduled for debate and the CLPD model motion emerged from the compositing meeting totally unscathed, with all its demands left in place. Unfortunately, however, the motion was quite unambitious, aiming to “end extortionate PFI charges” rather than abolishing PFI altogether and writing off PFI debt, as other motions on the NHS aimed to do. What exactly constitutes an “extortionate” charge is left open to interpretation.

The health and care composite was carried, but, as with the NHS motion that was passed unanimously in 2012,2 it is likely that the motion will be ignored by the Labour leaders, who have no intention of taking privatised services back into public ownership unless they are “failing”.

All three of the CLPD’s rule changes received the backing of the NEC and so were approved by conference. The first ensures that no member of parliament and no shadow minister can be elected to the CAC, the second stipulates that two of the CAC members should be directly elected by the membership of the party, and the third lays down that the ‘three-year rule’, which has historically been used to stop CLPs submitting rule changes, now only applies to rules that have the same purpose rather than the entire section of the rule book.

While these are small victories, compared to the mammoth task the CLPD has set itself of restoring Labour Party democracy and handing power to the members, they nonetheless put the left in a better position to make further democratic gains in the future – you never know, we might actually get to debate leftwing policy at conference.

The bad

These gains were more than outweighed by the speeches of various shadow ministers. Ed Balls was booed and jeered by some when he announced that he would be raising the retirement age, means-testing winter fuel allowance and capping child benefit, but this soon gave way to rapturous applause when he announced that a Labour government would restore the 50p top rate of tax and introduce a ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth over £2 million.

Most of these announcements were nothing new – they were contained in the ‘final year policy’ document, which had not only been available online from the end of July and had been physically mailed to delegates, but, just to make absolutely sure, was handed out during delegates’ regional briefings at the start of conference. However, while the FYP document pledged to raise the retirement age, what was new in Balls’ speech was the announcement on winter fuel allowance and child benefits. In this way the policy-making process, which had been going on for the last five years, was totally bypassed and the proposals could not be voted on.

By far the most sick-making speech of conference was delivered by the shadow defence secretary, Vernon Coaker.3 Coaker began by telling conference that Britain stood for progressive values, such as humanitarianism and internationalism, before thanking his team for campaigning for our “successful and developing” defence industry. He cited the occupation of Afghanistan (responsible for the deaths of some 21,000 civilians) as an example of the UK’s progressive, humanitarian and internationalist role in the world. Britain, he claimed, had helped to improve women’s rights and bring stability to Afghanistan. Other examples of Britain’s humanitarian role included dropping aid in Iraq “alongside US air strikes” to stop Islamic State – “a brutal terrorist organisation which poses a threat to Britain”.

Taking identity politics to the point of absurdity, he confirmed that Labour would introduce an Armed Forces (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill in the first parliament after its election. This would make “discrimination” against or “abuse” of members of the armed forces a crime on a par with racism and sexism. He ended by informing us that Labour is “the patriotic party, the party of Britain”.

He was followed by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, who implicitly compared Russia to Nazi Germany by claiming that “no country had seized the territory of another European country by force since 1945”.

The ugly

Awkwardly delivered, full of cringe-inducing anecdotes about various people he had met and containing very little we did not already know, Ed Miliband’s speech was inoffensive and unsurprising. With the exception of the windfall tax on tobacco companies, it did not reveal any policy that had not been included in the NPF document, which had been publicly available for two months.

As everyone knows, the leader was widely criticised for forgetting the section, in his carefully crafted and endlessly rehearsed speech, where he was meant to deal with the deficit and the economy. What was more telling, though, was that he failed to mention the policy on immigration contained in the NPF document. While wrapped in empty platitudes about immigration being good for the economy and promises not to engage in a rhetorical “arms race” with Ukip, Labour’s policy is to “bring it under control” by introducing a “cap on workers from outside of the EU” and prioritising “reducing illegal and low-skilled immigration”. Moreover, Labour plans to do “more to tackle illegal immigration” by introducing “new powers for border staff”. At present, the “situation is getting worse, with fewer illegal immigrants stopped, more absconding, fewer deported and backlogs of information on cases not pursued”.

Neither Miliband nor any of his shadow ministers talked about this aspect – hopefully they would have been booed off the stage had they done so. Mind you, since the policy document runs to some 218 pages, few would have actually read it.


This parody of a conference is not just an indictment of the Labour Party, but reflects the dire state of the unions and the wider labour movement.

The unions have 30 representatives on the national policy forum – which, among other things, pledged to increase the retirement age, give more powers to the UK Borders Agency, make being rude to members of the armed forces a crime, and continue to spend billions of pounds on Trident. They also comprise more than 70% of the CAC, which, as I have already noted, blocked more than half the motions submitted by constituency Labour Parties. Finally, the unions have half of the votes at conference and typically vote en bloc, meaning that they could, if they wanted to, prevent a lot of this policy from going through.

This demonstrates the futility of any strategy that calls on the unions to break from Labour in order to … forge a second Labour Party. The unions are not simply complicit in passing reactionary policy through conference: they sit on the committees that produce these policies in the first place and act as enforcers for the party bureaucracy to prevent even moderately leftwing policy from being discussed.

We need to be ambitious. The best outcome of the May 2015 general election is not a Miliband-Balls government that carries out Labour cuts, as opposed to Con-Dem cuts. Such a government can only but demoralise Labour voters and create the conditions for an even more rightwing Tory government.
Better to fight for a transformation of the unions, the co-ops and the Labour Party so that they can become weapons in the class war and vehicles for socialism. Meanwhile, let’s stop pretending that a capitalist Labour government is preferable to a capitalist Tory government l


1 . www.leftfutures.org/2014/08/time-to-get-your-contemporary-motions-in-for-labours-conference.
2 . http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/labour-conference-votes-to-restore-the-nhs.
3 . http://press.labour.org.uk/post/98135471954/speech-by-vernon-coaker-mp-to-labour-party-annual.