Tag Archives: Labour Against the Witchhunt

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.


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.


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.

Free Speech in Brighton!

Brighton Labour Left Alliance has pulled off an amazing feat by setting up a range of events on the theme of ‘Freedom of Speech’ during Labour Party conference. On Saturday, almost 100 activists packed into an upstairs room in the Rialto Theatre. Greg Hadfield, the key organiser of these events, spoke of the threats made against a number of venues booked by the left, leading to their cancellation. It says a great deal for his determination and courage, and that of his Brighton comrades, that we were able to listen to militant speeches from Ann Mitchell (chair of Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign), Tina Werkmann (Labour against the Witchhunt), Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson. The efforts of the witch-hunters had the opposite effect intended.

Chris Williamson spoke of his determination to continue to speak out honestly and to fight oppression, and of his determination that he would not be cowed, even if he was reinstated. Tina Werkmann warned of the rule change by the NEC which fast tracks expulsions. The right-wing are determined to destroy the left. But they have a fight on their hands.

Events will continue all week, click here for more info.

LAW conference: Standing up to the right

David Shearer reports on the threats, debates and decisions at Labour Against the Witchhunt’s first conference

The first national conference of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which took place in London on February 2, was a success, with around 50 comrades from around the country attending.

That, of course, is not a huge figure, but in view of the various attempts made to sabotage the event, it was excellent that so many were determined to come along, despite the snowy conditions. The conference was originally to have taken place in a church hall in west London, but, just two days before the agreed date, the booking was cancelled. The normal threats and accusations of anti-Semitism were made. According to the email received by LAW, the venue was “not really appropriate for such a conference, bearing in mind safeguarding and security issues”.

It goes without saying that the anti- Semitism allegations are totally false. It is true that among those attending were comrades who had been falsely accused of anti-Semitism, in the witch-hunt driven by the Labour right and backed by the establishment, but no such allegations have been upheld against any of them. In fact Moshé Machover – an Israeli Jew who was summarily expelled from Labour in 2017 for writing an article noting the collaboration that occurred between German Zionists and the Nazis – was quickly reinstated following the outrage this called.

Another speaker was Tony Greenstein – another Jew accused of anti-Semitism because of his staunch anti-Zionism. But in his case too the allegations were quietly dropped – although he was eventually expelled from the Labour Party under the catch- all charge of “bringing the party into disrepute” – basically for being ‘rude’ online. Then there was Jackie Walker, whose case has not yet been heard (see below).

Fortunately LAW booked an alternative venue, but, in order to avoid further malicious threats, the location was not publicised. It comes to something when a democratic campaign has to keep details secret – comrades were asked to meet outside a nearby tube station. Unsurprisingly, however, people were followed. We had a little reception committee, including a well known member of the far-right Britain First. One his Zionist chums filmed herself screaming, “Why do you call Jews Nazis?”


Opening the conference was LAW chair Jackie Walker, who has recently been named by the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society as an “extremist figure”, comparable to Tommy Robinson. She described this as a “hate campaign that puts my quality of life at risk”. In other cases, she said, people had lost their jobs, and at least one person had even attempted suicide.

Suspended from Labour since November 2016 merely for saying she knew of no definition of anti-Semitism she could work with, comrade Walker – another Jewish comrade (she pointed out that there were a disproportionate number of Jews who were victims of the witch-hunt) – has now learnt that the hearing is finally expected to take place on March 26-27. But she still does not know what exactly she is accused of and who her accusers are.

Despite the disgraceful nature of this campaign, comrade Walker noted, some on the left had been complicit – not least Momentum owner Jon Lansman. She predicted there would be a “miraculous change” if the right succeeded in removing Jeremy Corbyn – Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ problem would suddenly disappear.

Our first session discussed a motion entitled ‘The slow coup against Jeremy Corbyn’, which was introduced by comrade Machover and investigative journalist Asa Winstanley of The Electronic Intifada, who emphasised how false claims of anti-Semitism have been weaponised in order to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. As comrade Winstanley put it, “They’re trying to defeat the man by demoralising, splitting and defeating the left movement supporting him.”

Comrades Winstanley and Machover were both supposed to be introducing the steering committee motion, but, in my opinion, it was unnecessary to have two people doing that job. Comrade Winstanley in particular took up a lot of time going back to the beginning of the anti-Corbyn campaign, which began three years ago. He highlighted the role of the Israeli government and described Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement as “proxies for the Israeli embassy”. He quite rightly pointed out that such people should have no place within Labour.

Comrade Machover talked about Corbyn’s “big mistake” in not challenging the smear campaign. Yes, of course, there are some anti-Semites in the party, he said, just as no doubt there are some paedophiles, but it is definitely not the major problem it has been portrayed to be. Corbyn should have said right from the beginning, “This is clearly not about anti- Semitism”. Comrade Machover went on to point out that Israel and Zionists claim to speak on behalf of all Jews, but we need to combat that through political education, and not react against the Zionist lobby in a way that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

When the debate was opened up to the floor, one comrade pointed to the positive signs – at the Labour conference, Palestinian flags had been raised on numerous occasions in the hall – and the members knew what the truth was, he said. In the end McCarthyism was discredited in the United States and surely the same would happen with the parallel campaign here in Britain. In reply to this, comrade Walker agreed that support for the Palestinians within Labour was positive, but that did not mean that the mass of delegates were strongly opposed to the witch-hunt.

For his part John Bridge of Labour Party Marxists also warned against any complacency. Anti-Semitism had now been redefined to mean ‘criticism of Israel’ – Labour’s national executive has gone along with that by adopting the International Holocaust Alliance so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism – including all 11 of the “examples”, seven of which relate to criticism of Israel. Comrade Bridge concluded that what we are seeing could be “only the beginning”: we might even see legislation based on the IHRA, which would criminalise such criticism.

The motion was carried unanimously.


In the afternoon session, comrade Greenstein introduced the steering committee motion on the IHRA, whose actual ‘definition’ is limited to stating that anti-Semitism “may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” (my emphasis – yes, that really is as far as the ‘definition’ goes). The real purpose, stated comrade Greenstein, was to “equate everything but the most benign criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism”.

Glyn Secker of Jewish Voice for Labour also spoke on the IHRA from the platform, even though he is not a LAW member. He pointed out that he had lost a whole generation of his family in the holocaust, yet he is still accused of anti-Semitism for his critique of Zionism – there is a deep conflict between Zionists and “revolutionary socialist Jews” like himself, he said. Yet, while there was an outcry against such “manufactured anti-Semitism”, asked comrade Secker, where was the mainstream campaign against the growth of the far right?

Another comrade, speaking from the floor, thought that “the train has left”, in that the IHRA had now been adopted by Labour. So it was best not to continue campaigning against the whole IHRA definition, but to demand the ditching of the examples and their replacement by the JVL’s own code of conduct. However, Tina Werkmann – a member of the LAW steering committee – stressed that the IHRA symbolised the political collapse of the Labour left – it had to be opposed “in its entirety”. Comrade Bridge agreed and added: “In the middle of a witch- hunt, silence is as good as complicity.” That is why we need to be critical of Jeremy Corbyn, he said.

Because the motion drafted by comrade Greenstein quoted a dictionary definition of anti-Semitism in contrast to the IHRA nonsense, conference – quite unnecessarily in my view – spent a long time discussing alternative definitions. Several last- minute amendments were drafted in relation to that. But, as one comrade asked, why does LAW need a definition at all? We are a campaign against the witch-hunt – that is why we are opposed to the IHRA, which equates anti-Zionism with anti- Semitism. But that does not mean we have to agree on the precise wording of a replacement definition.

When the vote was taken, however, all amendments to that effect were defeated – although some minor changes to the wording were accepted and the motion, as amended, was carried unanimously. Two motions from Pete Gregson were also passed overwhelmingly: the first called for support for targeted activists and the second was a model motion on opposition to the IHRA. Once again there were attempts to insert references to a particular alternative definition of anti-Semitism.

Because so much time had been taken by this – and by platform speeches – there was very little time left for what turned out to be the most controversial debate – over LAW’s draft constitution. While most of it was clearly approved by those present, there were two alternative and mutually contradictory amendments to the steering committee draft. After the sentence, “The national all- members meeting (including conference) is the highest decision- making body of LAW and it elects the steering committee”, comrade Werkmann proposed to add: “A simple majority at any all-members meeting can decide to appoint or recall a member of the steering committee.”

Comrade Greenstein’s alternative amendment on the steering committee sought to delete, “It elects its own officers and sub-committees” and replace this with a provision for the four main officer posts to be elected by “the annual general meeting”. Most controversially, he proposed adding: “Officers can be recalled by a two-thirds majority of the all-members meeting” (my emphasis).

Ironically, comrade Greenstein claimed that we had to guard against LAW being taken over by some sect, which might be able to mobilise its supporters to turn up at a poorly attended members’ meeting and vote off the committee a member who had been democratically elected at an AGM. That was why there must be a two-thirds majority to recall an officer or committee member, he contended. In reality, the opposite is the case. Rather obviously, such a requirement would make it more likely that the will of the majority of members was thwarted. For example, if we assume that the attendance at Saturday’s conference was exactly 50, it would only have needed 17 of those present (whether members of the same ‘sect’ or not) to veto a decision favoured by a substantial majority, if comrade Greenstein’s proposal had applied.

Fortunately, however, it was comrade Werkmann’s amendment that was carried (by a narrow majority), which meant that comrade Greenstein’s automatically fell. Clearly a good number of comrades have not grasped the benefits of genuine representative democracy and hopefully the article accompanying this one – William Sarsfield’s ‘Real workers’ democracy’ (which outlines the case, in particular, against the allocation of individual officer responsibilities by the entire membership, as opposed to the committee itself) – will help bring out those advantages.

All in all, as I pointed out at the start of this report, the conference marked a step forward for LAW – and struck a blow against those who have sought to cow the left in order to return the Labour Party into safe, Blairite hands.

How delegates can support the fight for open selection!


Today’s issue of Red Pages, Sunday September 22 20218.  Download PDF here

  • Fight for open selection!
    Support the reference back of today’s CAC’s report – otherwise delegates will not be able to discuss the crucial question of mandatory reselection
  • Party Democracy Review: Disappointing but predictable
  • Tribune Relaunch
  • Labour against the Witchhunt’s NEC lobby




How delegates can support the fight for open selection!

Support the reference back of today’s CAC’s report – otherwise delegates will not be able to discuss the crucial question of mandatory reselection

Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) has not only gutted most of the positive recommendations coming from Katy Clark’s Party Democracy Review (see article overleaf). It is now also trying to impose a new system on the selection of parliamentary candidates that could potentially make it even harderto oust a sitting MP.

The Parliamentary Labour Party urgently has to be brought under democratic control. The majority of Labour MPs have been plotting against Jeremy Corbyn and sabotaging him at every turn. They are far to the right of the Labour membership and, once elected, usually enjoy a ‘job for life’. Should Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister, he would be held hostage by the PLP (who would very likely launch another vote of ‘no confidence’ before long, forcing him out).

It is unfortunate that Corbyn – after all, he is the central target of the right – has refused to take up the challenge and include mandatory reselection in the Party Democracy Review. It would have been very useful for branches and CLPs to discuss the issue properly.

Instead, the NEC suddenly announced that it was proposing a new system on how to elect a wannabe MP. This is no doubt down to the very successful campaign run by International Labour, which has mobilised hard for its rule change, ‘Open selection’ (another term for mandatory reselection).

The proposal from the NEC looks more democratic than the current system. But a closer look shows that it could be potentially worse.

Currently, it is almost impossible to get rid of a sitting MP: If s/he wants to stand again, all the constituency’s branches and its affiliates (trade unions, socialist societies, cooperative organisations) have one vote each and can choose ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in favour of the sitting MP as the only candidate. Each branch and affiliate is counted equally, irrespective of the number of members.

This is where the union bureaucracy can really bugger things up: “Basically, unless you’ve really cocked up in some egregious and public way, locally affiliated trade unions – which always have many more branches affiliated to the local party than the local party itself does – will bail you out, sometimes against the will of the members.” This description by Blairite ex-MP Tom Harris on his website Third Avenue neatly sums up the problem with the current system.

The NEC proposes to replace the current trigger ballot with twoseparate ones: for local affiliated bodies like unions and for the local party branches. The threshold in both would be reduced from the current 50% to 33% and it would be enough forone of the two sections to vote ‘no’ to start a full selection process – ie, a contest between the different candidates.

Of course, Marxists prefer a full and democratic selection process before all elections and doing away with all restrictions. But the NEC’s proposal – in that respect, at least – is a small step in the right direction.

There is, however, a potentially huge caveat: We hear that the NEC proposal stipulates that for a branch to be counted toward the 33% threshold, the decision would have had to be made in a quorate meeting. The quorum in the ‘model procedural rules’ for all party units is currently set at 25% – there are very, very few branches that will have ever met this quorum. Most branches have agreed lower quorums with the regional office; others don’t bother ‘counting’. But if the NEC’s proposal really stipulates that 25% of the local membership must have been involved in this trigger ballot, then they will become even more impossible than under the current system.

Then we come to the second step: the actual voting. And here the NEC’s proposal would lead to a worseningof the current situation. At the moment, after a successful trigger ballot, the voting between candidates takes place in CLPs only (affiliated organisations and unions have no vote in this stage).

As we understand it, the NEC wants to change this to a so-called ‘one member, one vote’ (Omov) system. We write ‘so-called’, because Omov is nothing new in democratic organisations: everybody who shows up to a meeting gets a vote, right? Not according to a narrative that is becoming ever more dominant though, because this traditional method ‘disenfranchises’ all those who don’t come to meetings.

What is meant by Omov nowadays is that all local members get a vote, perhaps via an online or postal ballot. This sounds democratic, but on closer inspection it clearly favours the sitting MP. They would not just have the ‘recognition’ factor and the newspaper columns: they also have the money and the staff to write to all those members who don’t normally go to meetings. The upstart who is trying to challenge the MP can of course send out their CV and election statement. But where they can really convince members is face to face, in branch and CLP meetings. Even better if a debate could be arranged between the candidates, where members can ask questions and make up their minds. Such a debate would be impossible to organise online.

We therefore urge all delegates to vote against the NEC’s proposal – and support the excellent rule change tabled by International Labour instead: in order to achieve that, the conference arrangement committee has to be successfully challenged tomorrow. IL’s rule change would do away with the trigger ballot altogether, giving all candidates a level playing field. There would be no need to challenge the sitting MP, as there would alwaysbe a full selection process. This amendment would automatically fall if delegates vote for the NEC recommendation.

Mandatory reselection would once again establish a very important democratic principle in the party – and allow us to get rid of the saboteurs.

Momentum’s Jon Lansman: changing his mind

Although Momentum owner Jon Lansman used to be an important figure in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, whose main claim to fame remains the successful fight for mandatory reselection in the Labour Party in 1980 (it was abolished again in 1989 by Neil Kinnock), he abandoned the principle at the very moment Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. A big mistake, given that the PLP, dominated by the right, was never going to give Corbyn an easy ride.

So, instead of doing away with the undemocratic trigger ballot altogether, Jon Lansman drew up lame proposals to raise the threshold from Tony Blair’s 50% back to Neil Kinnock’s 66% – ie, two thirds of local branches and affiliates would have to vote in favour of the sitting MP, otherwise a full selection process would begin. Lansman even had this proposal sanctioned by the membership in one of Momentum’s tortuous and clearly biased online “consultations”. But he seems to have undergone a welcome change of heart.

Last week, he sent an email to the membership, informing them that Momentum now favours a system that gives “a fair chance to all candidates and does away with this negative, divisive stage of campaigning – so it’s an open contest from the start, and there are no ‘jobs for life’. That way, local members and the sitting MP can compete for the Labour Party’s backing at the general election, and run positive campaigns about local issues voters really care about.” Momentum has even set up a petition on the issue and is strongly urging its members to lobby the NEC. He might have done so for his own reasons (which are too complex and peculiar to deal with here) but a change of heart in the right direction is always welcome.

Party Democracy Review:
Disappointing but predictable

Our party – and its constitution – are ripe for radical reform: Throughout the history of the Labour Party various leaders have shaped and reshaped things according to their requirements … and the wider balance of class forces.

Today CLPs are only allowed to submit either one contemporary motion or one constitutional amendment per year, which means that any attempt from below to force through changes can take an incredibly long time. And, once conference has formally voted on an issue, it cannot be revisited for another three years – even if it only deals with the same question tangentially. The result is a ridiculously overcomplicated travesty of democracy.

Yes, the Party Democracy Review (PDR) would, if agreed, result in a number of changes. But clearly, the constitution needs more than tinkering. Indeed it would be no bad thing if the whole thing was swept away and replaced by something fit for purpose. A special conference could be called for such an initiative.

We were never that hopeful that the PDR would represent a big step forward – after all, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies would have to consciously take on the right in a civil war that ends in the decisive victory for the left, for democracy, for those who support socialism and oppose capitalism – and that is not happening so far. Instead there is retreat, conciliation and a constant turning of the other cheek.

Even the very limited reforms proposed by Katy Clark were hit on the head by a majority of the NEC. Very few positive proposals remain.

For example, Pete Willsman’s report of the September 18 NEC meeting notes that the ridiculous restriction of “contemporary” will be scrapped. This is excellent, as CLPs have had to scramble around for studies or news reports in order to submit a political motion to conference.

Another potentially worthwhile proposal concerns how the leader should be elected. The NEC will move a rule change that would require any candidate to have the support of 10% of individual party members,  plus  5% of MPs/MEPs and of union affiliates. Currently, any candidate needs the active support of 10% of MPs or MEPs – the other groups play no role.

The Guardianhas described this proposal as a “purge of the Chrises” – Williamson and Leslie, leftwing and rightwing troublemakers respectively. However, as a matter of fact, it should make it in theory slightly easier for a leftwinger to get on the ballot, as 10% of the members should be easier to convince than 10% of MPs. But if one considers that the incumbent NEC was only voted in by 9% of the membership, we understand why some describe this proposal as worse than the status quo.


But a significant number of Clark’s very sensible suggestions were defeated by a majority of the NEC – and both Darren Williams Pete and Willsman blame “the unions”. In any case, the following useful reform suggestions by Clark (and presumably Corbyn too) were defeated:

  • that a CLP/union should be able to submit both a motion and a rule change in any one year;
  • that the 3-year rule for rule changes be abolished;
  • that the 1-year delay for CLP/TU rule changes be abolished;
  • that policymaking in the party should no longer be outsourced to the National Policy Forum;
  • that the Local Campaign Forums should revert back to the more accountable Local Government Committees;
  • that there should be a number of democratic changes in the local government area – for example, that members would vote for the local leader and election manifesto;
* that there should be a realistic quorum for larger CLPs, where the current 25% would be unmanageable.
  • The NEC also accepted a few recommendations in Katy Clark’s report that we strongly oppose. For example, all CLPs are to transfer to an all-members-meeting structure, doing away with the general committees, which consist of delegates from branches – both party branches and local affiliates (unions, socialist societies and the Cooperative Party).

In general, Marxists prefer the delegate system, because it gives more consistency to proceedings. Delegates feel more obliged to show up and are more likely to be able to take informed decisions. The bigger the CLP and the more members show up, the more unwieldy it becomes. Key decisions would no doubt be outsourced to the executive or some other bodies. If this is combined, as suggested, with more ‘digital democracy’, we fear the further depoliticisation and disengagement of party members: why bother coming to a CLP meeting that doesn’t make any key decisions, when you can just sit at home and click a few buttons?

We also oppose the NEC’s apparently uncontested decision to increase the size of the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), which takes up all disciplinary cases that the NEC feels it cannot deal with. Instead of 11 members, this body will now have 25.
Adding 14 members might indeed “speed things up”, but this does not mean that the proceedings will become any more just or fair. For example, the NEC recommends that, “where the possible sanction falls short of expulsion from the party, the NCC could make a decision without a hearing”. Surely, anybody accused should have the right to defend themselves – especially when it comes to highly politicised accusations of anti-Semitism, for example. The NCC is currently dominated by the right and has been expelling members on the most ludicrous grounds.

But things depend on what rules this body is interpreting and enforcing. For example, we believe that by adopting the full ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the NEC has opened the door to even more suspensions and expulsions. The intent of this document is not to define anti-Semitism – after all, the Oxford English Dictionary manages that in just  six words: “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews.”

No, its sole purpose is to conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with anti-Semitism. No wonder then that we hear of new, post-IHRA suspensions on the grounds of members using the word ‘Zionist’ and calling Israel ‘racist’. But clearly racism is exactly what Israel has depended on from its origins – and has now enshrined with its ‘Nation State’ law.

Not so democratic

Leaving aside the regrettable role “the unions” seem to have played, we have criticisms of the process as a whole. Despite its official name of ‘Party Democracy Review’, it has been far from democratic. Of course, there will have been hundreds, if not thousands, of contributions from members, branches and CLPs. But it is entirely up to those running the review to decide which contributions are ‘accepted’. We would venture to suggest that much of the final document will have been agreed well in advance of the ‘consultation’.

A draft of Clark’s proposals was presented to the NEC on September 18 – ie, four days before conference. Amendments from the NEC then had to be incorporated before the document was presented to yet another NEC meeting on September 22, before delegates could see it for first time – on the day they are due to vote on it. As everyone knows, it is impossible for delegates to make amendments. Clearly this is not the way to go about democratising our party.

Tribute relaunch

After a gap of some years the left magazine Tri- bune was relaunched at a well-attended and enthusiastic rally at The World Transformed last night. Introducing a panel which included David Harvey, Dawn Foster, Owen Jones and Grace Blakeley, the journal’s editor, Ronan Burten- shaw, argued that there was a clear need for a magazine which reflected both the experience of the contemporary Labour movement as well as drawing on the “enduring relevance of our his- torical achievements”.

Tradition was a key theme for Burtenshaw and he very deliberately identified his magazine with what he saw as the illustrious history of the Tribunite current and the Labour left since the 1930s.The first edition certainly had some simi- larities with the ‘original’ magazine with articles covering current politics, history, culture, the arts and ideas. But both in form and content this ‘Tri- bune’ is much closer to the US left publicationThe Jacobin which is not surprising given that Bhaskar Sukara, publisher of The Jacobin, is also now the publisher of the Tribune. The suc- cess of The Jacobin and the hopes for the new/ old Tribune rest on the new layers who have been drawn into activity by the Sanders’ campaign in the US and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in Britain.

The tone, layout and nature of the articles in Tribune certainly reflect many of the concerns and enthusiasms of these activists. Any new magazine that provides a media space for the discussion of socialism and the future of the
Labour movement is to be welcomed: after all, the range and size of our movement’s media is pitifully inadequate for the political tasks facing us. We need more magazines and papers: we need more voices and much more debate within our ranks. But can this Tribune make such a useful contribution to those discussions? We can but hope.

However, given that the magazine proudly lays claim to both the discredited historical tradi- tions of Labour left reformism and its contempo- rary manifestation in the inchoate politics of Owen Jones, this seems somewhat doubtful.

IMG-20180922-WA0015So far Labour Party Marxists comrades have been well received by delegates and visitors to conference and to The World Transformed event. Nobody has yet reported any hostility to the latest edition of LPM, which features the headline, ‘Why Israel is a racist state’.
But this is unsurprising, since a large majority of Labour activists strongly support Palestin- ian national rights and are opposed to Zion- ism. They know that such politics have noth- ing whatsoever to do with ‘anti-Semitism’, as the right likes to pretend.

Equally positive has been the attitude to those from Labour Against the Witchhunt and Open Selection. Both were involved in yester- day’s attempted lobby of the NEC meeting. I say ‘attempted’, because the police dispersed the 40-50 participants on the grounds that the meeting was taking place on “private land” adjacent to the conference centre.

Stop the Witchhunt shirts

The taming of Corbyn

While some on the Labour right still hope to force Corbyn to resign, writes Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists, others are aiming to change the man and his politics

If you do not already hate Facebook for selling your data to rightwing companies who manipulate elections and blackmail politicians, for keeping copies of all your messages and phone conversations or just for generally stealing your time and life energy, last week should have given you plenty of reason to start doing so.

Not only has Jeremy Corbyn been ‘outed’ as having been a member of a third Facebook group in which some people posted shite (although he never posted anything there himself): but Luciana Berger MP, parliamentary chair of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, was said to have dug up a six-year-old, now infamous ‘mural comment’ he did make on another Facebook group. In reality, of course, she did no such thing: somebody else pointed it out to her. One of those, we are guessing, who have been reporting, smearing, outing and witch-hunting Corbyn supporters as anti-Semitic for the last two and a half years.

Now, finally, they got the man himself. Of course, he did not “defend an anti-Semitic mural”, as the bourgeois media have fumed. He asked why it was being removed: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

One can argue over the artistic value of the rather crude depiction, angry-student-style, of bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of oppressed black people. And one can certainly argue about how obviously anti-Semitic the dodgy painting is; many on the left are engaged in this rather futile debate. But blogger Jonathan Cook reminds us of the bigger picture:

Interestingly, the issue of Corbyn’s support for the mural – or at least the artist – originally flared in late 2015, when the Jewish Chronicle unearthed his Facebook post. Two things were noticeably different about the coverage then.

First, on that occasion, no one apart from the Jewish Chronicle appeared to show much interest in the issue. Its ‘scoop’ was not followed up by the rest of the media. What is now supposedly a major scandal – one that raises questions about Corbyn’s fitness to be Labour leader – was a non-issue two years ago, when it first became known.

Second, the Jewish Chronicle, usually so ready to get exercised at the smallest possible sign of anti-Semitism, wasn’t entirely convinced back in 2015 that the mural was anti-Semitic. In fact, it suggested only that the mural might have “anti-Semitic undertones” – and attributed even that claim to Corbyn’s critics.

Both points are fascinating. They show how dramatically the narrative around anti-Semitism has changed in the last two and a half years; how successful the right has been in portraying the Labour Party as being awash with anti-Semites. Now the gutter press, along with The Guardian, have become such experts on the matter that they are certain the mural was “obviously anti-Semitic”. This shift also includes the views of a certain Jeremy Corbyn (see below).

What is indeed “obvious” is the fact that this latest faux outrage was clearly orchestrated – building up ammunition for an upping of the witch-hunts of Corbyn supporters. He had already been hammered for his ‘unpatriotic’ response to the ‘Russian agent’ crisis – surely everyone supports another cold war with Russia?

Crucially, local elections are taking place in less than six weeks time, on May 3. The hope of the right is that we will not see a repeat of the surprisingly good result for Labour that we witnessed in the 2017 snap general election, which brought Corbyn some reprieve. The right in the party is clearly prepared to risk a bad election result in order to put pressure on him.

None of this is surprising. Only the most naive will believe the nonsense about the new-found ‘unity’ behind Corbyn in the Labour Party. The right will continue to fight the genuine left, the socialists and the Marxists in the Labour Party to the bitter end. They could split, but the first-past-the-post British electoral system punishes such attempts. The disastrous failure of the Social Democratic Party serves Labour’s right as a reminder of that.

March 26 demo

web-Zionist-hundreds-of-people-protest-outsWeb-ide-parliament-against-antisemitism-in-the-labour-partyThe March 26 demonstration in Parliament Square has to be firmly seen in this context. It had nothing to do with any mural, Facebook group or anti-Semitism. Trying to get rid of Corbyn has so far proved futile. As long as the man remains popular among Labour members, they just cannot get shot of him. Having weathered a storm of attacks at the beginning of his leadership with admirable aplomb, he is also unlikely to resign.

Hence we are in the middle of phase two of operation anti-Corbyn: tame him to become a reliable manager of British capitalism and pliable ally of the US when it comes to the politics of the Middle East.

As an aside, we note in this context that Donald Trump’s newly appointed security advisor, John Bolton, has proposed a ‘three-state solution’ for the Middle East, where Gaza would be given to Egypt, and the West Bank to Jordan. It is a mad plan, but not so mad that somebody like Trump would not go for it under the right conditions – especially as it would solve the problem of Jerusalem: “The contentious issue of Jerusalem’s status as the purported capital of ‘Palestine’ would disappear, since Amman would obviously be the seat of government for an enlarged Jordan.” Problem solved!

Both the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), which called the demo, are, of course, far from the ‘independent community organisations’ that they have been portrayed as. The BoD’s president is Jonathan Arkush, a member of the Conservative Party. The chair of the JLC is Jonathan Goldstein, a director of M&C Saatchi – an advertising agency network owned by Maurice Saatchi, former chair of the Conservative Party.

A dozen or so of Tory MPs attended the demo, including Eric Pickles, as did a number from the Democratic Unionist Party, including loyalist hardliner Ian Paisley junior, who was posing happily for selfies with Norman Tebbit. They were joined by quite an assortment of nasties: we spotted David Collier, one of the people behind the vile and racist blog, GnasherJew; and Emma Feltham and Jonathan Hoffman, both from the no less vile Labour Against Anti-Semitism.

Among the Labour traitors at the demo were pretty much all the usual suspects, including MPs Chukka Umunna (who was literally rubbing shoulders with Tory cabinet member Sajid Javid), Luciana Berger, John Mann, Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall, John Woodcock, Chris Elmore and Wes Streeting. The latter promised in his speech to “drain the cesspit of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party” and has announced on Twitter – somewhat ironically – that his campaign will also target supporters of Labour Against the Witchhunt.

We did not spot Harriet Harman at the protest, but she tweeted: “Standing with Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council. Anti-Semitism represents everything that @UKLabour is against.” The demo was also supported by BAME Labour (run by Keith Vaz MP).

However, former Labour MP Chris Mullin took a different view in his comments on Twitter:

I am not a Corbynista, but I can see what’s going on here … Alleged anti-Semitism [is] yet another stick with which to beat Corbyn – along with Corbyn, “friend of the IRA, Hezbollah, Hamas, Czech spy, Soviet spy …” You name it. Whatever next?

Mullin gave us some possible answers to that question in his fascinating novel A very British coup, which imagines the tools the British state might employ in order to get rid of a leftwing prime minister. In short, it will stop at nothing. Monday’s demonstration was only a little taster – much, much more is to come. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has already called for a demonstration “against anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn” in London on April 8.

Not surprisingly, with that kind of crowd, frequent calls for Corbyn’s resignation from the speakers were interjected with shouts of him being a racist and worse. Speaker after speaker said former London mayor Ken Livingstone had “no place in the Labour Party” and placards were held aloft, bearing the slogan, “Labour for the many, not the Jews”, amid chants of “Enough is enough”. They shouted “Shame on you” at the counterdemonstrators – organised with eight hours notice by Jewish Voice for Labour and supported by Labour Party Marxists, Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Jewish Socialists Group and Free Speech on Israel. Former Socialist Workers Party leader Lindsey German, now of Counterfire, was among those addressing them. Her former comrades, who usually jump on anything that moves, were absent, however: The SWP probably still have their knickers in a twist, having allied themselves with hardcore Zionists in their front campaign Stand up to Racism.

Corbyn and IHRA

Most conspicuous by its absence (and general silence) was, however, Momentum. This is an organisation that has been set up explicitly to defend and support Jeremy Corbyn – yet it does nothing in the middle of the latest attack against him. The dozen or so employees at Momentum HQ have not even managed a single Facebook post or tweet since March 20 (apart from sharing a couple of posts put out by Corbyn’s office).

Momentum owner Jon Lansman has published one singe tweet on the subject, in which he writes: “We need a serious proactive programme of education and training about anti-Semitism within @UKLabour but we should also recognise the seriousness of the determination to stamp it out by @JeremyCorbyn.”

Is this lack of public support payback for Corbyn not backing him for the post of Labour general secretary, as some have speculated? But his closest supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party – Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Chris Williamson – have remained silent on the issue too. So the real answer is unfortunately more simple: Corbyn has, quite simply, folded on the question.

He has not only accepted the false narrative of the right – that the Labour Party indeed has a serious problem with anti-Semitism that needs to be “stamped out”. He has now gone a rather dramatic step further. In the crucial paragraph of his March 26 letter to the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies, published just before their demo, he writes:

Newer forms of anti-Semitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments. Criticism of Israel, particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people, cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as ‘Zio’ all constitute aspects of contemporary anti-Semitism.

Firstly, we note Corbyn’s strange phrase that criticism of Israel “cannot be avoided”. That sounds very apologetic. I wish I could avoid it, but … No, criticism of the actions of the state of Israel is, in fact, essential for any socialist with a democratic bone in their body.

The rest of the paragraph is clearly inspired by the controversial ‘Working definition of anti-Semitism’, published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The definition itself, adopted by the Labour Party at last year’s conference, is not the problem. But now Corbyn also seems to have accepted the disputed list of examples that shows what the definition is really about: conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and support for the rights of the Palestinian people.

For example, Corbyn’s assertion that the mere use of the word ‘Zio’ constitutes anti-Semitism, is, frankly, absurd. ‘Zio’ is simply a – yes, highly critical – abbreviation of the word ‘Zionist’. Zionism is not a religion or a nationality: it is an ideology. You are not born a Zionist – you choose to believe in the right of Israel to oppress another people. And if you do, hell, you deserve to be criticised.

According to Corbyn, it is now also anti-Semitic to compare “Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis”. We wonder if he has read a newspaper recently. The heroics of Britain in World War II (with a tiny bit of help from the Soviet Union and the US) are utterly ingrained in British culture. Comparing anything and anybody nasty to the Nazis is a short-hand for ‘bad’. Just last week, Labour MP Ian Austin called for the England football team to pull out of the World Cup, because “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics.” Boris Johnson replied: “Yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right.” Bombastic PR from both of them, obviously. But clearly, it is a common feature in British politics.

So should only Israel be immune from comparisons to the Nazis? They are said to be offensive to Jews, who were victims of the holocaust. What about the Roma? After all, hundreds of thousands of Roma people were killed by the Nazis. Or do only those countries currently involved in systematically oppressing another people get this special status? It is nonsense and Corbyn knows it. His son, Tommy, has posted a comment on his Facebook page, pointedly asking, “Why is it that I can criticise my own or any other government, but criticism of the Israeli state is immediately branded anti-Semitic?” Yep, ask your dad about that one.

We also fear that the formulation could be used to discipline Labour Party members who commit the crime of pointing out that in the 1930s the Zionist movement cooperated with leading Nazis in the attempt to persuade German Jews to migrate to Palestine. This is historic fact. But it is an unpleasant one that the Israeli government and its Zionist supporters in Britain do not want to be reminded of. Ken Livingstone has been suspended for two years now after pointing it out. After Labour’s national executive committee made noises that Livingstone might soon regain his full membership, the right seized on the case and demanded his permanent exclusion.

After all, Corbyn had already proven with this entirely unnecessary public “apology” over ‘Muralgate’ that he is indeed prepared to give even more ground on the issue of false and exaggerated allegations of anti-Semitism. So why not kick him while he’s down?

After the March 26 demo, Jonathan Arkush, director of the Board of Deputies – and a Tory, remember – has let it be known that before “Jewish community leaders” can “sit down” with Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the matter, a list of “their demands” needs to be met: “Ken Livingstone really cannot remain. His views are shameful and disreputable. He will have to go.” The Guardian speculates in the same article that

demands for the expulsion of Jackie Walker, a former vice-chair of Momentum, were also expected. Walker has been suspended after being filmed saying there was no definition of anti-Semitism ‘that she could work with’ [she actually meant ‘in that meeting’].

Arkush also said he would like

action to be taken against those who minimise reports of anti-Semitism, including Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who suggested it was “mood music” to undermine the leadership; and Labour MP Chris Williamson, who claimed the Labour right was “weaponising” anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, judging by Corbyn’s own grovelling apologies, we are far from certain that he will not jump to the tune of the right and at least urge that the NEC permanently expel Livingstone and Walker. That would truly be a scandal and has to be opposed by all socialists.

We are not surprised that somebody like Keir Starmer uses the opportunity to stick the knife in – he is a Blairite at heart, after all. Ditto Chuka Umunna, who complains to the British media about the “shameful” way Corbyn has behaved. More problematic and telling are the comments by shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Corbyn ally. She has echoed the comments of Jon Lansman, promising “education” and “a zero-tolerance approach” on the question of anti-Semitism, stating that it was “devastating to realise that the Jewish community had lost faith in our approach to anti-Semitism”. Nonsense, of course – there is no homogenous “Jewish community”, as should have been clear from the two mobilisations on March 26 and the success of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour.

We hear that the shadow cabinet “informally” agreed on March 26 – in Corbyn’s absence – that the recommendations from Shami Chakrabarti’s report should be implemented in full, which apparently “will require a significant overhaul of party machinery, including appointing a general counsel, and an in-house team of lawyers to ensure procedure is followed properly”.

It goes without saying that we are all in favour of disciplinary cases being handled much more quickly and efficiently, to avoid good comrades being unable to get involved in party work for years, while they are  suspended. But we fear that, in the current climate, this call may not necessarily be the good news it appears. It could be used to institutionalise the witch-hunt against leftwingers and pro-Palestine campaigners.

In this context, we note with great concern in the same Guardian article the reported demand “to establish specific accounts on social media platforms that would identify and call out supporters using anti-Semitic language”.

So instead of the Zionists from Labour Against Anti-Semitism and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism reporting people to the compliance unit, it should be the Labour Party itself hunting down its own members! Monitor them to make sure they behave like good children.

This is a slippery slope into a very undemocratic culture of thought crime and (self-)censorship. This is exactly the opposite of the kind of open and democratic working class culture we need.

We also wonder if this suggestion for a social media police force has anything to do with the fact that Jon Lansman (or those running his Facebook account) has suddenly been sending ‘friend requests’ to hundreds of leftwingers, having previously been very cautious about accepting the ‘friend requests’ from others. Once you are friends with somebody, you can see not just their posts and comments, but also the postings of their friends …

The main problem with dancing to the tune of the right is the simple fact that appeasement does not work. Once he delivers the scalps of Livingstone and Walker, Corbyn will be faced with demands for more of the same. John Mann MP claims in the Daily Mail that the Labour Party bureaucrats are currently dealing with “more than 200 claims of hatred”, with “shocking anti-Jewish sentiment” – though not a single example is provided.

The right in and outside the Labour Party must be very pleased with how successful the weaponising of anti-Semitism has proven to be. There is now very little to stop them from demanding that Jeremy Corbyn next looks again at some of his other political principles – be it the renewal of Trident, increasing the defence budget, supporting military action for ‘humanitarian’ reasons, etc, etc.