Tag Archives: Labour Briefing

Red Pages @ LP conference: Monday, September 25

Click here to download the September 25 issue of Red Pages in PDF format.

Articles in today’s issue:

  • Brexit: To debate or not to debate?
  • We need a positive vision for Europe, not a pro-business one
  • Protest against Iain McNicol
  • Labour First rally: all about Marxism
  • Conference Arrangements Committee: Death throes of the right
  • Success! NPF document on Israel/Palestine is amended

Brexit: To debate or not to debate?

Comrades should be wary of the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’: many of its leading lights do notsupport the free movement of labour

If the anti-Semitism furore in the party has shown one thing, it illustrates that the developing fault lines between left and right in the party produce some strange configurations.

Conference has been seeing an odd debate/non-debate around Brexit. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Momentum really did not want this thorny question discussed at conference and urged delegates not to choose the issue in Sunday’s priorities ballot. (This decides which ‘themes’ are allocated time for discussion).

The CLPD argued that, “it serves no purpose to debate the different views on Brexit at this stage. The NEC’s statement and the plenary session on Monday morning are quite enough at the moment. We should try and limit the damage the right can inflict upon conference”, as Barry Gray said at the CLPD fringe meeting on Saturday.

Ranged against them, you have the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (in formal terms, also on the left) who sided with none other than Labour First’s Luke Akehurst to urge delegates to vote in favour of a Brexit debate.

As a general principle, Marxists argue that organisations in the workers’ movement should be able to have frank and transparent discussions on any issue, even uncomfortable ones. Political differences should not be viewed as a problem per se. A thinking organisation will always have disputes, and it is almost always right to argue them out publicly.

We need to be concrete, however. Labour First and Akehurst wanted this issue discussed because they perceive Corbyn and the left are vulnerable on it. For instance, at the Labour First rally on Sunday, the CLP delegates in the audience were strongly urged to give their first vote in the priorities ballot to a debate on Brexit. Apart from any other considerations, it was given this importance by LF because Momentum is politically fractured on the issue, with deep disagreements between its “Stalinist” and “Trotskyist” factions. (LPM comrades who braved the wrath of the angry rightists at this gathering report that our organisation also warranted a few mentions from the platform. None complimentary – though we would have been mortally offended if any were, of course.)

So, the right has correctly identified Europe as one of Jeremy’s weak spots. While the Labour leader has been reasonably successful in simply standing back and giving the Tory government sufficient Brexit rope to hang itself, the Labour Party’s position is hardly coherent or convincing. Thus, Labour First, Progress and the whole rightwing gang in the party are jostling for a chance to attack Corbyn on the issue and show him up for the benefit of their allies in the yellow press. Concretely, therefore, the demand for a debate on Brexit is a rightwing tactic, another attempt to beat up Corbyn and his allies. 

Balance of forces

Thankfully, they have not succeeded: during Sunday’s priorities ballot, conference voted overwhelmingly to follow the advice given by CLPD and Momentum. Contemporary motions on Brexit will not be discussed, after that subject received 72,000 CLP votes. As a comparison: The NHS and housing received 187,000 votes each, social care 145,000 and the railways 120,000. This gives a useful snapshot of the balance of forces at this year’s conference. 

Mindful of this background, it may seem strange that an ostensibly left organisation like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty should prioritise building a campaign (‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’) that offers platforms to the likes of Tulip Siddiq (who in January resigned as a shadow minister following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50) and Clive Lewis MP, who has of course spoken out against free movement.

In response to Jeremy Corbyn stating publicly that he saw “no need” to curb immigration or impose more controls, Lewis said: “We have to acknowledge that free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut, who feel insecure, who feel they’re not getting any of the benefits that immigration has clearly had in our economy.” 

Now, it would be foolish in the extreme to argue – in the manner of a sect like the Socialist Worker Party – that mass immigration always and everywhere brings unalloyed economic benefits and social harmony to indigenous working class communities. However, this in no way implies that we should oppose the right of working people to free movement; to be able to seek a life for themselves and their families in any part of the world they choose. 

Voluntary unity

The key is unity, won from below. We need to fight for the integration of migrants into the culture of struggle of a native working class (a reciprocal process of learning, of course), into common organisation and unity against our class enemies. 

This voluntary, combative unity is a million miles away from what the likes of Clive Lewis advocate when they call for obligatory union membership for migrant workers (as a precondition of their right to enter the country) to stop them “undercutting wages” – a proposal motivated, he admits, by his core concern to “have an impact on the number of people coming to this country”, to “make it more difficult for employers to bring people in” and thus to push companies to “begin to take people more often from this country”. Fairly bog-standard Brit nationalism masquerading as ‘internationalism’, in other words.

The very fact of the AWL’s involvement in the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’ should set alarm bells ringing for Labour comrades. This is an organisation infamous for arguing against the right of Palestinian people to free movement – concretely the right to return to areas they were forcibly ejected from by the colonialist Israeli state.

Among their leaders are people who are happy to call themselves “Zionists” and this softness on reaction saw them support the purging of Jackie Walker as vice-chair of Momentum. Their ‘fellow traveller’ on the Labour Party NEC, Rhea Wholfson, voted to refer Jackie Walker’s case to Iain McNicol’s compliance unit – and happily speaks at meetings organised by the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many of those who have been so keen to save the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

This campaign needs to be given a very wide berth. As with every other issue and debate in the Labour Party these days, context is everything.


We need a positive vision for Europe, not a pro-business one

Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of staying in the single market (though in an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to backtrack somewhat from this again). Still, there remains a striking paradox. On Europe, Labour is articulating the interests of big capital. Not that big capital will reciprocate and back the Labour Party. It is, after all, led by Jeremy Corbyn: pro-trade union, pacifistic and a friend of all manner of unacceptable leftists.

For the sake of appearances, Keir Starmer pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. More through luck than judgement, ambiguity served the party well during the general election campaign. The contradiction between Corbyn’s historical hostility towards the EU – now represented in the Commons by the Dennis Skinner-Kelvin Hopkins rump – and the mass of Labour’s pro-‘remain’ members and voters resulted in a fudge.

However, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – Labour needs a class perspective. We should have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit perspective.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. We should aim to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation.


LPMers happily joined the 30 or so protestors outside Labour Party conference this morning to demand that general secretary Ian McNicol should resign (actually, he should be sacked!). Not only is McNicol responsible for the suspensions and expulsions of thousands of leftwing Labour Party members, he is also in the frame for attempts to sabotage Labour’s electoral challenge in June’s snap election. He and other right wingers were clearly hoping for a Labour result so dire that Jeremy Corbyn would have to fall on his sword. Thus, many CLPs were woefully under-resourced and a large number received not a single penny. (For example, Sheffield Hallam, where the pro-Corbyn left managed to oust Lib Dem luminary Nick Clegg and win the first ever Labour MP in the constituency, received precisely zip from either the region or HQ).

The rightwing response to the protest was predictable. Johanna Baxter expressed to conference her tremulous outrage at this protest and railed that a demo against “an employee of the party should not be allowed”. Deservedly, she was booed.

Of course, the issue wasn’t really Ian McNicol’s employment rights, but Baxter’s solidarity with his politics. Before she was booted off the NEC last year, she managed to use the then wafer-thin right wing majority on the NEC to push through changes to give Wales and Scotland two extra NEC seats. This was not prompted by democratic concerns around regional devolution. No, Baxter was confident that the vacancies would be filled by supporters of the right in the party.

Subsequently, of course, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has resigned and been replaced (temporarily) by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley. This produced a small left NEC majority. In turn, this was enough to push through the ‘Corbyn review’ and expand the CLP representation from six to nine, producing a leftwing majority on our leading body for the near future. Clearly, the right is in some pain. Happy days!

Labour First rally: all about Marxism

The crowd at the Labour First rally on Sunday afternoon was a pretty riled up bunch. Luke Akehurst and his mates are clearly feeling under pressure from left-wing delegates at this year’s Labour Party conference … and they are not handling the stress at all well. The chair launched an attack on LPM as “not real Labour” – unlike the rows of Tory-lite manikins in the hall, for whom genuine Labour principles are as expendable as autumn leaves. Furthermore, our very name is a “a contradiction in terms” – a short course in dialectics might clear up any confusion.

The ever-delightful John Mann MP scowled at our comrades, but didn’t deign to speak to them – presumably because there were no cameras nearby. However, he did prevail upon a minion to pick up a copy of the latest issue of Labour Party Marxists Bulletin.

Not surprisingly, given the general election result and Jeremy’s huge spike in popularity and profile, Luke Akehurst and his chums didn’t attack Corbyn directly. Instead, they concentrated their attacks on his supporters – the organised Corbynistas particularly. These were “Stalinists” who “fetishise military dictatorships” like Venezuela and Cuba. The June poll was run down, however – “We have even fewer seats than under Neil Kinnock”, Chris Leslie MP complained. He went on to illustrate his encyclopaedic ignorance of Marxism, which he dismissed as a “destructive, hate filled ideology”. In comments that must have shocked many in the audience, he also revealed that Marxism is “revolutionary” and wants to “overturn capitalism” (well spotted).

Akehurst suggested that the Labour Party should “purge the Anti-Semites” (for this, read “the left”) and “stand up to the bullies” (that is, “silence all criticism of the right”). Pretty classic -and pathetic – tactics of bureaucrats who are politically incapable of answering critics and are aware the game is moving away from them. For instance, in one of his more honest moments, Akehurst had to acknowledge that the right’s forces are now too weak to “stop the McDonnell amendment”.

Conference Arrangements Committee:
Death throes of the right

The Conference Arrangements Committee reported two records: there have never been so many delegates at Labour Party conference – almost 1,200. And over 1,000 of these are first timers. Of course, that reflects the tremendous sea change within the party. But it also presents the left with a problem. We have the numbers, but we do not have the organisation yet to halt the undemocratic shenanigans by the right.

Take the CAC, which is still dominated by the old guard. Their report on Sunday morning provoked angry responses from conference floor. Two disputed issues should really have led to votes being taken to refer the report back; but the left was not organised enough to see this challenge through.

First was the CAC’s sneaky move to provide time for London mayor Sadiq Khan to address conference, although this is clearly not within the CAC’s remit. The NEC had previously decided not to allow any of the city mayors to speak, to give more space for delegates to contribute. Once the CAC had made its invitation public, the NEC caved in, presumably for fear of media ridicule and scathing headlines. If Khan uses his allotted time to undermine Corbyn or belittle the scale of the party’s achievement in June, then we trust delegates will not be shy about voicing disapproval.

The other issue is related to the CAC’s implementation of last year’s rule change to allow the partial reference back of National Policy Forum documents. Any delegate can now challenge part of the NPF’s (extremely long-winded) documents and demand that the issue is revisited by the body. Of course, if the chair is happy with a challenge, s/he will simply “ask conference if the reference back is agreed”, as it says in the CAC report.

However, if the chair is not happy about the issue in dispute, then it will be up the person chairing that session to decide if a vote is conducted by show of hands or by a card vote.

The difference between the two is crucial. The unions and other affiliates have 300 delegates at conference, the CLPs have sent 1,200. But in a card vote, the affiliates’ vote counts for 50% of the total vote, ditto the CLPs’ vote (which is then further divided according to how many members a CLP has). Roughly, a union delegate’s vote counts four times as much as the vote of a CLP delegate – and that can make all the difference in a dispute.

This chair’s discretion over the format of voting is within the current rules, but normal practice in recent years – when it comes to reference back of a CAC report, composite motions etc – has been to allow any delegate to make a call for a card vote, which the chair is then obliged accept.

This posed almost no problem in the Blairite period of the party: real disputes were absent from conference floor, which had become a tedious, stage-managed affair. The election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed all that. Last year, a huge row broke out at conference over the NEC’s “reform package” that snuck in two additional NEC seats for the leaders of Welsh and Scottish Labour. Delegates were on their feet, shouting “card vote, card vote” – but the chair simply refused and declared that the hand vote had “clearly won”. In a card vote, the result would have gone the other way, as the unions were firmly against the addition of two right wingers.

This shows how important it is for the left to show its muscle in every party arena – including the middle layers of the party bureaucracy, of which the CAC is a part. Yes, Momentum and CLPD successfully campaigned for two leftwingers, Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani, to be elected onto the committee by direct ballot of the membership. But the CAC is made up of seven members, five of whom will be elected by other methods. Therefore, we are not entirely confident that the left will actually be running next year’s conference.

Success! NPF document on Israel/Palestine is amended

The National Policy Forum is a relic of the dark days of Blairism; a body Blair established to outsource the party’s policy-making. When it published its dire, 90-page annual report in June, Palestine campaigners quickly noticed a glaring omission. The 2017 election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic democratic demands had been dropped from the NPF document, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Had conference supported this document, it would have overridden the pledges in the manifesto, as conference is – at least on paper – the sovereign decision-making body of the party. This omission was no ‘oversight’. Campaigners went into overdrive; LPM joined others calling on delegates to refer back this section of the document.

But page 14 of yesterday’s Conference Arrangements Committee report includes, without explanation, this small paragraph:
“The following text, as agreed in the Labour Party Manifesto 2017, is now included in the National Policy Forum Annual Report 2017. On page 56, column 2, line 43, add:

‘There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve. That means both an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements, and an end to rocket and terror attacks. Labour will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution. A Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine.’”

It is not the kind of programme we would write on the Middle East (there is clearly a tendency to equate the violence of the oppressor state Israel with the struggle of the oppressed Palestinian people – note the mention of “rocket attacks”). But a return to the original formulation is a victory against those (like the Jewish Labour Movement) who want us to take the side of the Israeli state. The fact that the JLM has perversely been given the ‘best practice award’ by Ian McNicol serves as a reminder of how well connected this organisation is to the party bureaucracy.

Uncritical support for Corbyn

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on last weekend’s LRC conference.

The February 20 ‘special general meeting’ of the Labour Representation Committee was a strange affair, not least because of the poor attendance of only around 150 comrades. The leadership had gone out of its way to insist that there could be no annual general meeting – the 2015 AGM should have been called in November – because of the election of Jeremy Corbyn.

The new circumstances apparently meant that no motions from members or affiliates could be entertained, and there could be no elections for the executive or national committee. But, apart from that, the meeting had all the features of an AGM – officers’ reports and constitutional amendments, for instance.

The reason why only the leadership’s own motions were permitted was obvious. You and I might propose an ‘extremist’ policy or course of action that might embarrass comrade Corbyn and his number two, John McDonnell, at a time when they are under constant scrutiny and attack in the media. So the membership was permitted only to move amendments to the leadership’s own motions.

Having said that, however, the NC’s statement – ‘After Corbyn’s victory – building the movement’ – contained some useful points. For example, it correctly stated: “While participating in, and encouraging, industrial and social struggles, at the present time the LRC has to emphasise the internal battles in the movement.” It also declared: “… we need to work at every level in the unions to encourage participation, democracy and transparency …” Once again, quite correct – although the leadership was not best pleased by the attempt of Labour Party Marxists to add some meat to the bones when it came to union democracy (see below).

However, there was certainly some ambiguity over the LRC’s original and continued purpose. The statement claimed that, unlike others on the left, the LRC had always accepted that “the radicalisation of working people will at some point attempt to create a mass left wing within Labour”.

However, NC member Mike Phipps usefully pointed out that the “origin” of the LRC actually lay in the possibility of an “alternative to Labour” during the days when the right was firmly in control. In fact I seem to recall comrade McDonnell himself hinting on more than one occasion that such a possibility was not ruled out. But let’s not talk about that!

Nevertheless, taking into account such an “origin”, what today is the LRC’s purpose, now that the mass-membership Momentum has come into being? The statement read: “There is no contradiction between the LRC participating fully in the creation of a national network of local and internet-based Momentum groups and maintaining the existence of our own organisation – for the time being.” Indeed it foresaw a time when the LRC “has outlived its usefulness”. This point was also made by comrade McDonnell himself in his address to the conference. He thought that “maybe in the future” there will be “just one organisation”, but apparently we are “not ready for that yet”.

Mick Brooks, in presenting the leadership’s statement, said that Momentum was a “genuine mass movement” and we “have got to be in there”. The LRC has a “critical political role to play”, he continued – it is our job to help shape Momentum’s politics, it seems (even though the NC wants to keep those politics within safe bounds – ie, bounds determined by the rightwing media and its eagerness to blacken the name of the new Labour leadership in whatever way it can).

As the statement put it, our aim is to “advance the Corbyn agenda in the party as a whole” (my emphasis). The overwhelming majority at the meeting favoured more or less uncritical support for Corbyn – there was a clear consensus that the most important thing was to get him into No10 in 2020. According to Jackie Walker, speaking for the NC in the afternoon session on Momentum, we should “go to meetings, knock on doors” to “get Jeremy elected as prime minister”. There were several other such comments. Many were couched in the language of socialism – including the Labourite ‘socialism’ of the 1945 Attlee government.

Despite this, the meeting accepted an amendment to the statement, moved by Sacha Ismail of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which called on Corbyn and McDonnell to be “politically bolder” – it specified “taxing the rich, nationalising the banks, reversing all cuts” and explaining how such demands fit into a vision of a “different society from capitalism”. Within Momentum, the amendment proposed, the LRC should fight to go “beyond ‘progressive’ and ‘new politics’ towards a clearer political programme based on class politics, working class political representation and socialism”.

One comrade said the amendment “misunderstands where we are” – Corbyn and McDonnell are in a “precarious position”. We shouldn’t tell them “we know better”, that “they’re not being bold enough”. Our task is not to advise – “our task is to build”.


While there were guest speakers from the junior doctors and Heathrow 13 campaigns, the star speaker was undoubtedly the shadow chancellor. John McDonnell was pleased to bring a message of “solidarity and thanks” from Jeremy Corbyn – who had, after all, been a “founder member” of the LRC.

Comrade McDonnell stated that the shadow cabinet was an example of the Labour “left, right and centre working together” – the implication being that this can only be a good thing. But the left was gaining ground: “When they realised we had momentum, they started taking some of our ideas.” According to him, most of the Labour right had now “bought into our idea of Labour becoming a social movement again”.

So Labour as a whole, it seems, is now attempting to “transform the social and economic system” and establish a “radically fairer and more equal economy”. And the LRC’s role should be “to the fore” – that of “campaigning to develop policy”. We should “aim for the election of a socialist government” in 2020. It was the “opportunity of a lifetime” – what he had been waiting for all these years: “Now it’s here, let’s grab it with both hands.”

Following a standing ovation, it was announced there would be questions from the floor, although only three were taken. In response, comrade McDonnell stated, among other things, that if there was a challenge to the Corbyn leadership, the left would “organise just as hard” as last time – but it would “do it in a way that holds the party together”. Answering a question from Pete Firmin on the party’s attitude to the European Union and the coming referendum, comrade McDonnell said that Labour should be “working with socialist and social democratic parties across Europe” in order to achieve “a workers’ Europe, a social Europe”. Otherwise we would be left with a “capitalist club”.

He ended by saying: “Now we are the Labour Party. We’re the mainstream!” Which earned him a second standing ovation.

Following this, Mick Brooks presented the leadership’s statement. He began by stating that we were attending a special general meeting, rather than an AGM, because it “was not a question of business as usual”. Since the 1980s Britain had been dominated by rightwing politics, where the situation for socialists was unfavourable. But now there is “radicalisation to the right and to the left”. In contradiction to McDonnell’s claim of a growing unity, comrade Brooks said that within Labour Corbyn is “surrounded by enemies”. Our job was to mobilise his potential support and “channel it into the Labour Party”.

Liz Davies spoke next from the platform. She was delighted to be “back in the Labour Party” after a couple of decades in organisations like the Socialist Alliance and Left Unity. Then she had thought that Blair and Brown had “changed Labour irrevocably”, but “I am delighted I was wrong.” Now Labour was once again opposed to the “wicked” Tory policies on welfare, housing, migration and so on.


The first amendment to the NC statement was moved by Pete Firmin representing Brent Trades Council. This mandated the NC to “call the overdue 2015 AGM within three months”. The last AGM had been in November 2014 – when comrade Firmin himself had been elected political secretary – and there was no real reason why we should not now have a proper conference, where a full range of motions are heard and the leadership is elected/re-elected.

The excuses given by a range of NC and EC speakers opposing this were truly abysmal. The intention was to “call an AGM as soon after the Labour Party conference as possible” – didn’t comrade Firmin know that an AGM “takes time and money to organise”? It had been “a difficult year” and now was not the time for “the usual resolution-passing” (unless they are resolutions from the leadership, of course). It would be “an enormous distraction” to organise a “second major event”.

But Graham Bash, LRC treasurer and editor of Labour Briefing, was the most embarrassing: “For goodness sake, in the next three months there are local elections”, plus lots of local Momentum meetings, he said. Organising the AGM would “take the LRC out of politics” and we shouldn’t let such things “get in the way of the struggle outside”!

Other comrades, including Andrew Berry, pointed out that democracy was not a “bolt-on extra” and there was no reason why we could not fully engage in politics while preparing for an AGM. Although the amendment was defeated, the vote was close enough to necessitate a count – there were 35 in favour and 57 against.

This was followed by the LPM amendment mentioned above. This stated: “The fight to democratise the Labour Party cannot be separated from the fight to democratise the trade unions.” It was essential to ensure that both Labour and union officers are fully accountable and recallable, and are paid only the average wage of a skilled worker. The amendment put forward several other concrete proposals – we should, for example, aim to abolish the Bonapartist post of Labour leader.

In introducing the amendment, Stan Keable insisted that democracy must be seen to be implemented. Democracy was our best weapon against the class enemy, in that it could help to transform our movement into a genuinely powerful force. That applies to the trade union movement as well as to the Labour Party.

Once again there were some very weak arguments against such a basic proposition. One comrade said that it was “not for us to tell our affiliates how they should organise”, while another said that at last we have our own leader and yet here we have Labour Party Marxists making the “mad” proposal to abolish the post! Surely everyone knew it was our job to “get behind Jeremy’s agenda”? And you would have to be “bonkers” to expect him to get by on a worker’s wage.

LPM’s Jim Grant argued that if it was wrong for us to tell the unions how to organise, presumably we should not ‘interfere’ in their affairs by calling on them to support the junior doctors, for example. But it was to no avail: the amendment was defeated, with about 25 comrades voting in favour.


After the lunch break NC members Michael Calderbank and Jackie Walker introduced the session on Momentum. Comrade Calderbank said that Momentum was “crucial to the Corbyn movement” and to “getting Labour elected” in 2020, while comrade Walker stated that the aim must be to double Momentum’s membership. She was very enthusiastic about her local Momentum group and its ‘consensus democracy’ – “and, you know, it works!” What is more, “If you say something unpleasant, we ask you to leave!”

Comrade Walker also thought it was better to have “more people who don’t have experience” coming into Momentum than members or ex-members of the organised left. But there were “too few blacks and too few women” – which was all down to people (like members of the experienced left, no doubt) “saying unpleasant things” and others (like herself, it seems) “being intimidated”.

In a similar vein Andrew Berry had raised a point of order in an earlier session objecting to the use of certain words – he specified “losers”, “mad” and “bonkers” – the last two having been directed against LPM. We don’t mind, Andrew, honestly!

The final session dealt with organisational matters, which revealed the poor state of the LRC. As Norrette Moore for the executive said, “Last August we got down to about £100 in the bank.” This was one of the reasons why the “very large national committee” had to be streamlined. The ‘streamlining’ consisted, amongst other things, of a constitutional change that would end the current two-tier structure, whereby the executive committee “takes proposals to a national committee”. Instead there would be a single national executive committee. The NC was proposing that the AGM (when it is eventually called) should elect not only the NEC, but eight individual officers (at least four of whom “should identify as female”), including a “treasurer”, “web manager” and “administrator”.

Our amendment called for all officers to be elected by the NEC itself, not the AGM. In moving it, I pointed out that very few LRC members knew which of those standing for election would make a good “web manager”, for instance. What is more, if the comrade elected turned out to be a total incompetent, then, under the current method of electing officers, there would be nothing anyone could do – they had been elected by the membership and could not be removed until the next AGM.

But comrade Moore said that if we elected the committee as a whole and gave them the job of allocating the various responsibilities from amongst themselves, that would make them a “clique”. No, I’m not sure how she worked that one out either. In any case, the amendment was lost, with, once more, around 25 voting for it.


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.

Not in the Weekly Worker

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists attended the AGM for Greater London 

Accountability was at a minimum at the Greater London Labour Representation Committee annual general meeting on December 13. Minutes were not available of the previous AGM, nor even of the previous meeting. There was no annual report of work, no reports from those who held posts during 2014, and no summary of facts and figures about membership and branches.

However, I understand that the Brent and Harrow branch is still holding weekly discussion meetings and is busy campaigning on housing issues, as well as mobilising people in protests against zero-hours employers. Although it was previously said that Brent and Harrow was the only functioning branch within London, I am pleased to note that Hackney branch has surfaced again: Jeremy Corbyn MP recently addressed a meeting there of nine on international issues – hopefully a step towards a more consistently active branch.

Greater London LRC itself is more like a branch of the organisation, rather than a regional committee of delegates from across London, as had been the aim back in 2010. Efforts to build a network of local branches failed: a number were formed, but quickly withered away. So the meetings still consist of individual members, not representatives.

Consequently, the AGM was in fact open to all LRC members in the Greater London area, who would have had a vote if they had turned up – but, given the low level of advanced publicity, many of them may have been unaware of the meeting, or may not have realised that it was open to them, rather than for delegates. The email circular did not explain this, and I never saw the meeting even mentioned on the Left Views Facebook page, nor on the London LRC email discussion list. In the event, there were 18 comrades present, if we include the single Young Labour activist who dropped in for part of the meeting.

Perhaps worst of all with respect to accountability, no report was given of the deliberations of the first national committee meeting since conference – despite the presence of several leading NC members: namely Graham Bash, Andrew Berry, Mick Brooks, Michael Calderbank, Simon Deville, Norrette Moore and Mike Phipps. Given the stressful battles over the election of London officers (see below), which occupied most of the three-hour meeting, one could be forgiven for thinking these comrades had turned out more for the purpose of preventing the election of LRC bête noire Graham Durham as London organiser and fellow oppositionist Judith Atkinson as London delegate to the NC than for building the LRC in London or advancing the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory, which conference voted to support.

Unfortunately, I was unable, for personal reasons, to attend and report on the December NC meeting – its first since the November national conference. So, like most of the several hundred LRC members in Britain, I am in the dark about the alleged ‘complaints commission’ (or whatever its correct name is) set up by the NC to deal with disciplinary matters and the “bad behaviour”, which is supposedly “driving people away” from the organisation. Or whether the NC set about systematically allocating tasks to implement conference decisions – an acknowledged failure of the 2014 NC. The customary NC report of work was missing from national conference too.

The one thing which was reported from the December NC meeting was its decision to sponsor John McDonnell’s February 15 pre-general election conference of the Labour left, and to seek sponsorship from individuals and other organisations, such as the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, in order to give the call for Labour left unity around socialist policies the “broadest” possible basis. That is a self-defeating method, of course, as trying to get the party ‘centre’ on side in order to defeat the right wing necessarily means watering down a socialist programme.

As I said in discussion, we need socialist MPs to act as ‘tribunes of the people’ to give leadership to the coming mass struggles against capitalism, but a capitalist Labour government will be counterproductive for the struggle to rebuild the workers’ movement and to re-educate it in the politics of socialism. Our fight must be to end capitalism – which necessarily requires socialist organisation across Europe at the very least – not for tried, tested and failed Keynesian capitalism.

Very bad

I would like to thank all those comrades who have assured me that the bureaucratic “LRC culture” proposals put before conference by the NC, but ignominiously withdrawn before the vote, were “never about you, Stan”, and had not been intended to curb my reporting or my alleged “misrepresentation” – a baseless accusation which, needless to say, has never been substantiated or made specific. But neither has it been withdrawn. So, one must assume, Andrew Berry still believes that my report of the November NC meeting in Liverpool was a “deliberate attempt to undermine the LRC”. Perhaps the comrade doesn’t take his own words seriously, and believes such an irresponsible accusation can be irresponsibly forgotten.

If the clauses forbidding, on pain of expulsion, “wilfully misrepresenting the views of the LRC, its elected national bodies or officers,” etc were not aimed at curbing reporting of LRC meetings, perhaps they were aimed at excluding comrade Graham Durham – about whom some NC members continually complain in email and Facebook discussions. In that case, apart from being a proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut, the attempt to eliminate the opposition on the basis of generalised accusations of bad behaviour has spectacularly backfired. Graham has now been elected London organiser.

Although the censorship proposals were withdrawn, the desire for secrecy still festers. Some leading comrades still behave as if socialist politics are about secret, behind-closed-doors decisions by those who know best, rather than the transparency and openness necessary to draw the masses – or even the members – into our work. What else am I to think when, at the end of the London meeting, I was approached by Graham Bash and Mike Phipps and told, like a naughty child: “If any of this appears in the Weekly Worker that would be …” (pregnant pause while Mike considers what to say next) “…very bad”. So, thankfully, there was no actual threat of disciplinary action; but evidently Graham and Mike would like London LRC to be as secret and unaccountable as the first NC meeting. Why on earth? Both comrades are undoubtedly very hard working and self-sacrificing. Political secrecy undermines their effectiveness. I believe their opposition to openness is a self-inflicted wound.

Lack of honest reporting and commentary, about the discussions and decisions in the meetings of our leading bodies, is an important factor inhibiting the involvement of the LRC rank and file and the growth of the organisation. Comrade Lois from Hackney expressed her frustration at not being privy to the real political differences of opinion underlying the hostility that was evident during the election of officers at the London AGM. There was plenty of friction, she said, but the political arguments were not out in the open. So any newcomer, or someone like herself who had not been attending recently, could not fathom the underlying hostility. And, she added, “it always seems that only a small group makes the decisions”.


Although the email announcing the meeting set a deadline for nominations, this innovation was set aside by chairperson Judith Atkinson (with no objections), and nominations for all posts were invited from the floor. First to be elected was Judith herself, who was the only nominee for chairperson. A job-share was agreed between Graham Bash and Norrette Moore for the key job of London secretary, and it was agreed to drop the post of treasurer as superfluous – the London organisation does not normally handle money and has access to central funds when necessary.

When it came to the post of London organiser, there were two nominees: Graham Durham versus retiring 2014 organiser Steve Ballard. Comrade Durham asked that each candidate present their views before the vote, which chair Judy agreed, and – as in Labour Party councillor selections – we were invited to ask questions, so long as the same question was put to each candidate. It was all about aspirations for the future, as no-one could point to anything concrete that London LRC had done during the past year – and, obviously, comrade Ballard’s year in post had not made a difference to that. Comrade Durham, on the other hand, was able to point to the lively Brent and Harrow branch, which he had helped to build, and promised to promote active branches which will “campaign on the street against the coming destruction of adult social services and children’s services, and the record levels of cuts and closures coming this year, after the general election”. He added: “There should be at least 10 London branches, and 20 nationally.”

Then we had question time. Michael Calderbank kicked off, asking the candidates to “give an undertaking not to campaign against LRC policies” – to which Steve answered “No”, he could not give such an undertaking, while Graham simply said “Yes”. Norrette Moore, who has played the role of moderator of the LRC’s online discussion, asked if the candidates accepted her role. Both candidates replied negatively. Graham answered that she had refused to circulate details of specific campaigning actions which he had posted, and Steve said she should not have been placed in a position to make such decisions.

In turn, I asked two questions: “Are you a member of the Labour Party?” and “Do you agree that the LRC should campaign for all socialists to join the Labour Party in order to change it?” It emerged that not only is Steve not a member, but he regards the struggle to win socialist policies in the party as a lost cause, while Graham has been a member for 44 years and is committed to bringing socialists into the party: “I know many people who want to join the Labour Party, but will not come in so long as Tony Blair is still a member.”

From the candidates’ replies in these hustings, Graham Durham was clearly the best candidate for London organiser, in the interests of building the LRC and raising its profile. But the vote was tied at five each (with several abstentions), with several – not all – of the leading NC members desperately voting for comrade Ballard, simply to defeat comrade Durham at all costs. But Judy Atkinson resolved the tie in favour of comrade Durham by using the presiding chairperson’s casting vote – her second vote for comrade Durham. This controversial decision was upheld after Rail, Maritime and Transport union veteran (and now vice-chair) Carol Foster confirmed that this was standard practice in the RMT. A motion from Andrew Berry declaring “No confidence in Graham Durham” was declared “not competent” (after all, he had just been elected, and objections to his candidacy could have been made during the hustings session), and a motion from Simon Deville and Andrew Berry of “No confidence in the chair” was then defeated when the meeting voted 9-4 in favour of next business.

‘Next business’ was the election of two vice-chairs, for which there were three candidates. However, Steve Ballard decided to withdraw, after which Labour Briefing editorial board member Simon Deville and Brent and Harrow activist Carol Foster were unopposed.

Next came a surprising controversy over the election of London’s representative on the LRC NC. Chairperson Judy Atkinson claimed that she had been elected London rep at a previous meeting and was already in post until the next AGM; she therefore ruled that the post was not up for election. Whatever may have happened at a previous London meeting a couple of months ago (sorry, I do not know the facts), this was an intolerable infringement of democracy. Understandably, Michael Calderbank’s motion of “No confidence in the chair” succeeded this time, by eight votes to three, and vice-chair Carol Foster took over for the rest of the meeting. Andrew Berry was then elected NC rep by seven votes to Judy’s five, and comrade Keith Dunn was elected unopposed as deputy NC rep.

At the end of the meeting, the thorny procedural question – whether a vote of no confidence can unseat a chairperson permanently, or can only challenge the ruling in hand – remained unresolved. But Judy Atkinson was reinstated as London chairperson by six votes to five.

Frustrating as these shenanigans may be, nevertheless a difficult meeting resolved all issues through discussion and votes and, importantly, the acceptance of majority decisions – essential if the LRC is to survive and flourish.


Threat of witch-hunt averted

Stan Keable reports on the Labour Representation Committee’s November 8 annual conference (this article first appeared in Weekly Worker No1034, November 13 2014)

Thankfully, the “thoroughly bureaucratic, intolerant and dangerous” proposal1 put before the Labour Representation Committee’s annual conference was pulled at the last minute.

Michael Calderbank, on behalf of the LRC’s national committee, agreed to remit the ‘LRC culture’ section of the NC statement that had been presented to the conference in Friends House. This, amongst other things, threatened to “suspend or terminate” the membership of individuals, affiliates or local LRC groups that are guilty of “wilfully misrepresenting the views of the LRC, its elected national bodies or officers, whether to other LRC members or the wider public, by any means” (item (c)).

So neither the ‘LRC culture’ section, proposed by the NC, nor the Labour Party Marxists amendment to it was voted on. This amendment would have deleted all but the first two paragraphs, and listed examples of “bureaucratic tendencies” which “we must guard against” in order to defend freedom of discussion and the “open, inclusive and mutually supportive atmosphere” which the NC statement claimed to defend.

Moving the section, comrade Calderbank had reminded us that the first priority is “getting the politics right” and stated, quite rightly, that “the culture of the organisation is important too”. Debate is essential “within a shared viewpoint”. I agree. Interestingly, he explicitly upheld the right to heckle, praising comrade Walter Wolfgang of Labour CND – who was present – and had been manhandled out of the 2005 Labour Party conference for heckling Jack Straw over the invasion of Iraq. As James Marshall wrote recently, heckling is a “time-honoured way for the weak to challenge the power of the strong”.2

Accepting the right to heckle was not the view of all, however. Communication Workers Union activist Gary Heather, who had been chair of Greater London LRC for a number of years, “reluctantly” supported the NC’s proposal, and was “disappointed that it was necessary”. He could not “see why heckling is necessary”. Likewise Susan Press, who had “chaired the worst meetings of the national committee, where people were shouting each other down” (I believe this must refer to the notorious April 2012 NC row, which broke up in disarray, and was never minuted). She said: “Heckling is not acceptable in any shape or form. It is the last refuge of those who have no rational argument.”

I would ask comrades Press and Heather to reconsider this one-sided, negative, fixed view of heckling, evidently born of bad experiences. A heckle can be a quick way of contributing to a debate without wasting time, whether in support of a speaker or critical of what they are saying, and is not always and inevitably disruptive of the discussion.

Of course, heckling might sometimes be unacceptably disruptive – the chair should intervene when appropriate – or it might be off-putting for a particular speaker, who is certainly entitled to say ‘No heckling, please’. But a blanket ban would be overkill, and accusing those who do not want such a ban of being in favour of disruption, as some do, is inaccurate and unfair.

Bad behaviour

Explaining why the NC had found it necessary to make its proposals, comrade Calderbank surprised me by referring to “bad behaviour” in the Workers Revolutionary Party and Socialist Workers Party. Both of them, he said, had “covered up bad behaviour” – something the LCR must not do, if it is to be a ‘non-sectarian’ organisation, free from the deficiencies of the ‘sectarian’ left. The reference to the SWP is, of course, its cover-up and mishandling of the ‘comrade Delta’ rape accusation.

Comrade Calderbank here spectacularly misses the point of the SWP’s deficiencies in respect of the Delta case, in my view. The SWP did not have a policy of tolerating rape – or sexual abuse or discrimination: quite the opposite. It did, however – and still does – run an extremely bureaucratic regime – by which I mean a regime which restricts debate to such an extent that anyone expressing a dissident viewpoint soon finds themselves subject to a silencing order or even summary expulsion. It is precisely the outlawing of free speech, and the forbidding of public criticism, that creates fertile conditions for cover-ups by a ruling or dominating bureaucracy. It is precisely the open reporting of NC meetings, and Labour Briefing editorial board meetings, which can help to guard against bureaucratic cover-ups and keep our leadership accountable.

“A lot of nonsense” has been written about the NC proposals, said comrade Calderbank, and assured us that the NC was not “preparing for a witch-hunt” – but, there was “no place in the LRC for sectarian activity”. Not very reassuring. Now “sectarian activity” must certainly be a very bad thing, not to be tolerated, but in case anyone wondered what he meant by “sectarian”, he went on: “Telling lies to discredit the LRC or to build their sect” might help to sell “sectarian gossip sheets …”

Having been explicitly accused of “misrepresentation” in “a deliberate attempt to undermine the LRC” in my report of the October NC meeting3 (an irresponsible accusation not backed up by any explicit quote, nor by ‘putting the record straight’ with a public reply), I cannot avoid the conclusion that he was talking about my article, and the “sectarian gossip sheet” was a reference to the Weekly Worker. Item (c), quoted above, in the NC’s “examples” of behaviour which the LRC will “refuse to tolerate”, fits perfectly with comrade Calderbank’s hopelessly, if unintentionally, sectarian phrases.

Nevertheless, in moving Labour Party Marxists’ amendment, I accepted comrade Calderbank’s, and the NC’s, good intentions. But, I said, “the best of intentions can lead to the worst of outcomes”. They do not intend a witch-hunt, and they do not want to be expelling people – they just want comrades to toe the line and obey their interpretation of acceptable behaviour. Sorry, comrades, no thanks. The inclusive and tolerant atmosphere we all yearn for must, above all, be tolerant of the free expression of minority views (within a shared socialist viewpoint, of course). It goes without saying that violence or the threat of violence should not be tolerated, but the NC proposals are “superfluous” in this regard, I said.

In the discussion, comrade John Moloney also asserted that the proposals were superfluous. Points (c), (d) and (e) (“wilfully misrepresenting” etc, “disruptive behaviour” etc, and “bringing the LRC into disrepute”) were “totally subjective”, while “expulsion for violence or threats of violence don’t need new rules”, he argued. And points (a) and (b) (“physical, sexual or verbal abuse, attacks or harassment”; and “discrimination or abuse on the grounds of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion/belief”), he said, “we do anyway”.

Graham Durham said the NC proposals were “politically motivated”. “The class wants to fight”, he said. “This is a motion to expel those who want to fight.” And the alternative NC slate led by comrade Durham, in their flyer, said: “We support the right of socialist political groups and individuals to have freedom of discussion in the LRC and are opposed to any attempts to introduce codes to allow exclusion or expulsion.”

John McDonnell MP, unusually, intervened in the debate to correct an assertion by comrade Durham that the origin of the NC’s concerns about LRC culture had been an incident in a meeting in a House of Commons committee room, where he had been accused of supporting the “fascist” government in Kiev – but, as he had explained at the time, he had been misquoted, and had never said that he supported the Kiev government (leaving aside whether it is fascist). The misrepresentation had been resolved immediately, in that meeting. In fact, explained comrade McDonnell, the ‘LRC culture’ proposals arose in response to bad behaviour at NC meetings at which he had been absent, due to ill-health.

Any instance of “disruptive”, “threatening” or “bullying” behaviour should, likewise, be dealt with at the time, and not stored up as a perpetual complaint against those you disagree with. The “worst” behaviour was undoubtedly at the April 2012 NC meeting (which I did not attend), and I do not envy Susan Press the extremely difficult task of trying to keep order as chair of that meeting. I understand it broke up in disarray and, as minutes of the meeting were never distributed, I have never seen a proper report of what happened. So we are left with mutual recriminations and vague, unsubstantiated allegations and generalisations. After two and a half years, it is futile to attempt retrospective disciplinary action by inventing an inappropriate catch-all code – which is what the NC’s proposals amounted to.

In the conference itself – despite sharp political “attacks”, difficult moments of heckling, individuals occasionally speaking over or ignoring the chair, sometimes continuing speaking after being told to stop – all these instances were handled with reasonable discretion at the time. The organisation showed itself tolerant of debate, and thankfully did not give way to the few philistine voices wailing against “wasting time” on debate, or complaining about “sectarian divisions” – read ‘political debate’.

Left ‘pressure’

Last year I reported a one-third drop in attendance at the annual conference – it was down to a little over 100 in 2013. This year, however, I am pleased to report no reduction in attendance, with approximately 110 comrades packed into the small hall at London’s Friends House. Perhaps we have passed a low point, and can now start to grow. In any case, tolerance of minority views, debate and majority decisions is the way forward. United action requires that minorities be heard – or else why should they join, and why should they stay?

No NC report was presented to conference, and no membership figures or list of current affiliates were given. But comrade McDonnell candidly reported the views of some affiliates, who have said, “We can’t send delegates, because you don’t do anything”. Sussex LRC, with a record of effective organisation, public meetings and campaigning rivalled only by Brent and Harrow, submitted an emergency motion to “restructure” the NC, which NC member Clare Wadey described as “too large at 67 members, or inquorate” and her admission that “it has been totally ineffective” was not challenged. Political secretary Pete Firmin confirmed that “everyone agrees” that the NC needs to be restructured, but “the question is how to do it”. And, on that basis, conference voted to remit the Sussex proposal to the new NC.

Guest speaker Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union brought “greetings from the TUC general council”, and said that to get rid of this coalition government the only alternative is a Labour government – “but we need to have a discussion about that”. He contended that “Toning down the rhetoric to get Labour elected is a disastrous route” and was very critical of the trade unions’ role in the Labour Party. After a unanimous anti-austerity vote at the TUC congress in September, almost all union delegates at the national policy forum had voted down an “emergency budget” resolution. Instead of posing “austerity lite” against “austerity armageddon”, we need a “socialist renaissance”. He commented: “People are prepared to fight, but do not think the organised left is the answer.”

Disagreement over our assessment of the state of the workers’ movement was brought out in the hustings session, where two of the three rival candidates for the post of political secretary presented their cases. In the event, Pete Firmin was elected with 59 votes to Graham Durham’s 21, while Louise Reece, who did not speak, received 12 votes. Comrade Durham’s oft-repeated charge that Pete Firmin and the LRC leadership are pessimistic and defeatist, while the working class is itching to fight if only it is given a lead, was countered by comrade Firmin’s sober assessment that the “bad state of the movement is reflected in the bad state of the LRC” – the sort of honesty that is necessary to face up to, and remedy, the weaknesses of the organisation and the workers’ movement as a whole. Self-deception does not help at all.

Vicky Morris of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty moved the successful motion, ‘Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory’. This commits the LRC to “advocate a Labour government as the best outcome of the May 2015 election” and to “advocate a Labour vote, at the same time as advancing working class measures as demands for the labour movement to press upon the Labour leaders …” Comrade Morris said that Labour had adopted policies to abolish the bedroom tax and repeal the Social Care Act as a result of pressure, and such pressure could achieve similar results with respect to a Labour government in office. Assessing the “condition of labour movement forces”, she said that the “direness of the Labour Party reflects and feeds back onto the direness of the trade unions, which, in turn, reflects and feeds back onto the direness of the socialist left”. In these circumstances, she argued, “there is no realistic alternative to voting Labour and the election of Labour government”.

The NC statement, moved by comrade McDonnell and adopted by conference with minor amendments (apart from the ‘LRC culture’ section, of course), offered a similar perspective: “Our task is to campaign for the Labour leadership to represent the interests of the working class by offering a real alternative to austerity in the form of socialist policies.” Left MPs, said comrade McDonnell, must resist the attempted rightwing coup against Ed Miliband: “The first meeting of the LRC NC must set about the task of bringing together left MPs and councillors on a socialist platform, so they can become a distinct socialist element influencing the Labour government after the May general election.” The election may produce a small Labour majority – in which case we must ensure “the socialist left is a distinct element in the coalition of forces behind the Labour government”. Labour may be simply the biggest party, in which case we must argue against a coalition with other parties, and for a minority Labour government to “enact policies in the interests of the working class”.

Comrade McDonnell welcomed the Greater London LRC amendment to the NC statement, under which “the LRC will prioritise support for Labour candidates that support LRC policies”. This is an improvement on the AWL’s call for an across-the-board Labour vote, and sensibly allows us to direct our limited forces in support of leftwing and socialist candidates.


1. See http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/the-culture-we-need-comes-with-thorns.

2. Ibid.

3. ‘Inclusivity and intolerance’ Weekly Worker October 9; and http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/lrc-inclusivity-and-intolerance.

LRC: Inclusivity and intolerance

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

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

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

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

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

Oppose nationalism across the board

Use the May 2014 Euro elections to fight for socialism and internationalism, argues James Marshall of Labour Party Marxists

Opposition to the European Union continues to embarrass, vex and divide rightwing bourgeois politicians.

The current situation is easy to summarise. Under severe pressure from the UK Independence Party, David Cameron has committed the Tories to an in-out referendum following the next general election in 2015. If returned to No10 he solemnly pledges to negotiate a root-and-branch reform of Britain’s relationship with Brussels. Smelling blood, Nigel Farage wants to turn the May 2014 European election into a referendum against Bulgarian and Romanian migrants and continued EU membership. And, worryingly, an Open Europe poll puts Ukip on 27% – significantly ahead of Labour (23%) and the Tories (21%).1 Meanwhile, the swelling anti-EU mood gives rise to further rifts within Conservative ranks. Eg, Adam Afriyie – tipped by some as a future Tory leader – has been agitating for a referendum this side of the general election.2

Disgracefully, not a few in the labour movement have aligned themselves with the xenophobic right. Among the Labour MPs who signed up to the People’s Pledge – a cross-party (now semi-defunct) campaign calling for an EU referendum – are Ronnie Campbell, Rosie Cooper, David Crausby, Jon Cruddas, John Cryer, Natascha Engel, Jim Fitzpatrick, Roger Godsiff, Tom Harris, Kate Hoey, Lindsay Hoyle, Kelvin Hopkins, George Howarth, Iain McKenzie, Austin Mitchell, Graham Stringer, Gerry Sutcliffe, Derek Twigg and Keith Vaz. The RMT was the first union to give official backing. Brian Denny of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain sits on its national council, as does Mark Seddon, former editor of Tribune. Other council members include Tory MPs Zac Goldsmith and Douglas Carswell, Nigel Dodds (Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader), Marta Andreasen (Ukip MEP till February 2013, when she defected to the Tories), Jenny Jones (Green Party) and Jim Sillars (SNP deputy leader 1990-92). Bob Crow, Boris Johnson, Caroline Lucas and Bill Greenshields (CPB chair) are prominently listed as supporters.

The foul nature of the People’s Pledge can be gathered from the protest it staged outside the treasury on July 21 2011. That was the day when EU leaders launched a second, £96 billion, bailout for Greece. The campaign said that there should be no further contributions from Britain. Bob Crow in particular singled out article 122 of the Lisbon treaty, which “obliges” British taxpayers to “risk” billions of pounds at a “time of cuts to public services at home”.3 Presumably Greece should be abandoned to a disorderly default and forced to exit from the euro zone.

For its part, the British National Party roundly condemns international bankers for “strangling the Greek economy”, demands that the UK “withdraw from the European Union” and wants to reserve government funds for “more useful projects”.4 Sadly, a position which almost passes for common sense on the left nowadays too. Both the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales are set to partner the Morning Star’s CPB in the No2EU electoral front – note the line-up of speakers for the North West constituency launch meeting: Bob Crow (RMT), Roger Banister (SPEW) and Michael Lavalette (SWP).5 According to a recent No2EU bulletin, a break with the EU will allow Britain to “be rebuilt with socialist policies.”6 A clear case of national socialism. And, unfortunately, where the CPB, SWP and SPEW have led Socialist Resistance, Respect, Alliance for Green Socialism, Socialist Labour Party, Solidarity, etc have followed.

What appears to be an incongruous, puzzling and unnatural alignment between left and right in actual fact stems from a common source. Uniting 28 countries, having an agreed legal framework, committed to the free movement of labour and capital, the EU stands as an existential threat to the nation-state cherished by those for whom the future lies in the past. After all BNPers yearn for a white, 1950s Britain with traditional weights and measures and close trading relations with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In a similar way, the nation-state is viewed as the natural vehicle for socialist transformation by left reformists, ‘official communists’ and former Trotskyites alike. The dream is of a referendum which in due course will see a return to Keynesianism, welfarism and “British sovereignty”.

As an aside, it is worth noting the deep distrust Marxists have generally had for referendums. So-called ‘direct democracy’ is a chimera in any complex society. Nuances have to be considered, likely consequences predicted and alternatives closely studied. That is why we advocate indirect democracy: ie, the election of recallable representatives who are tasked with debating and deciding political positions and stratagems. Marx certainly denounced – and in no uncertain terms – Louis Bonaparte’s deployment of successive referendums to consolidate his dictatorship and excuse foreign adventures.7 The wording of the question is, of course, everything. Eg, to vote ‘no’ was to declare oneself opposed to democratic reforms, to vote ‘yes’ was to vote for despotism and war. Referendums bypass representative democracy, political parties and careful deliberation. Something not lost on Adolph Hitler. He managed to get a 90% mandate for his dictatorship on August 19 1934 – despite an almost unprecedented campaign of intimidation, there were millions of spoilt ballot papers.

Standing out

Against this dire background the position of the Labour Representation Committee stands out positively. The November 2011 AGM was presented with resolution 15, which reads as follows:

1. That the Europe-wide capitalist crisis requires a Europe-wide working-class response.

2. That we should no more oppose European capitalist integration than we would oppose the merger of two companies, even though the bosses use mergers as an excuse to attempt job cuts and other attacks. When Britain PLC merges into Europe PLC, the answer is to link up with other European workers in solidarity and struggle.

3. That demanding withdrawal from the EU, or opposing British entry into the European single currency, is a British nationalist position which misidentifies the enemy as ‘Europe’ rather than the ruling class. This is not altered by tacking on a slogan like ‘Socialist United States of Europe’.

4. The road to a socialist united Europe is the road of responding to European capitalist unification by organising for cross-European workers’ and socialist struggle. We advocate the following programme for this struggle:

Oppose all cuts; level up wages, services, pensions and workers’ rights to the best across Europe;
Tax the rich and expropriate the banks, Europe-wide;
Scrap the EU’s bureaucratic structures; for a European constituent assembly;
Against a European defence force; for a Europe without standing armies or nuclear weapons;
For a European workers’ government.

5. In a referendum on British entry to the euro, our position will be to advocate an active abstention and our slogans will be along the lines of ‘In or out, the fight goes on’; ‘Single currency – not at our expense’; and ‘For a workers’ Europe’.

The resolution concludes with a three-point commitment:

1. To organise public meetings and debates about Europe across the country.

2. To initiate a short statement setting out this position and circulate it around Britain and Europe for signatories.

3. To produce a short pamphlet setting out this position.8

Given that the resolution originated with and was moved by the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, it was perhaps surprising that the AGM voted in favour. But, thankfully, it did. True there are some problems with it. Eg, a European workers’ government is perfectly fine as a programmatic position, but is a sad joke when it comes to immediate agitation. At present there is no serious revolutionary Marxist party anywhere in Europe. Nevertheless, the resolution was eminently supportable and it was good to see it gain a clear majority.

That said LRC leaders such as Graham Bash, Andrew Fisher and Mike Phipps evidently thoroughly disapproved of the resolution … and, as far as I am aware, the concluding three-point commitment remains unfulfilled. Of course, this may well be due to the decline and disorganisation of the LRC over the last couple of years.

Next May

However, the AWL has presented this year’s LRC national conference with another resolution on Europe. Noting the 2011 policy, the growth of Ukip and the rerun of No2EU, the AWL’s resolution 13 once again condemns British nationalism and xenophobic calls for an EU withdrawal. The position on organising an “all-European working class and socialist struggle”, etc is also reiterated. Nevertheless, the conclusion is questionable. The AWL calls for a “campaign advocating a Labour vote” in the May 2014 EU elections on the basis of opposing cuts, supporting the levelling up of wages across Europe, striving for the pan-European organisation of the working class, scrapping the EU’s bureaucratic structures, etc. Slogans such as ‘For international working class solidarity – for a workers’ united Europe’ are recommended in that spirit.

Frankly, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Ed Miliband and his candidates for 2014 will hardly be standing on the principles of internationalism and the perspective of a European workers’ government. Nor will they oppose all cuts or advocate a European constituent assembly. No, Labour candidates will be standing on a version of British nationalism barely distinguishable from that of the Tories and the Lib Dems. In the pointed words of deputy leader Harriet Harman, the “top priority” of Labour MEPs will be to “make sure they get the best deal” and “bring jobs and growth here in the UK”.9

That does not rule out voting Labour. Indeed, it has to be admitted, most LRC affiliates and individual members are firmly within the auto-Labour fold. But surely it would be far better for the LRC to use the May elections as an opportunity to make propaganda for its vision of a Europe ruled by the working class. Instead of running a campaign “advocating a Labour vote”, the LRC should challenge British nationalism across the board and spread the message of pan-EU working class unity, democracy and socialism. An election dominated by Ukip and British nationalism needs the input of the LRC and other leftwing organisations.


1. Daily Mail May 28.

2. The Daily Telegraph October 12.

3. http://communist-party.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1377:article-9-demonstration-no-bail-out-without-a-referendum&catid=78:eu-a-popular-sovereignty&Itemid=91.

4. www.bnp.org.uk/policies/foreign-affairs.

5. www.socialistparty.org.uk/campaign/Election_campaigns/no2eu/17420.

6. www.tuaeuc.org/no2eu-wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/a5_no2eu.pdf.

7. See Marx’s The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) and The civil war in France (1871). Also there is Kautsky’s book, Parliamentarism, direct legislation and social democracy (1893).

8. Resolutions booklet November 2011, p11.

9. www.labour.org.uk/labour-party-european-election-candidate-selection-results,2013-08-02.