Tom Watson is worried about ‘infiltrators’: Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists is less than impressed with his conspiracy theories
“I was first taught to spot a Trot at 50 yards in 1965 by Mr Bert Ramelson, Yorkshire industrial organiser of the Communist Party,” Jack Straw wrote in a briefly infamous letter to the Independent1. It is a matter of some regret that Straw never passed any tips on to Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party.
In the raging civil war over Labour’s future, Watson is playing a most particular role. He is, of course, a partisan of the right, according to the current polarisation, albeit historically a muscular centrist and Brownite. Yet his role is to present a lawyerly facade; he is the ‘responsible’ guy who does what he does for the good of the party. Frankly, it was a threadbare outfit even when he became deputy, and it is even scantier now. Loyalty to the party means, so far as Watson and his like are concerned, hostility to the left. For all his ‘fixer’ credentials, Watson has screwed this one up royally: all his backroom manoeuvres, all his ‘talks’ and press briefings, and where has it gotten his colleagues? Merely back to exactly where they were last year: staring down the barrel of another humiliating defeat at the hands of ordinary members.
It is perhaps that which explains the sheer desperation of Watson’s behaviour recently – and, to return to Straw’s Stalinoid missive to the Indy, the desperation of his ‘dossier’ of evidence concerning far-left infiltration.2
Rather inevitably, given the return to public consciousness of the 2003 invasion of Iraq since the Chilcot report was published, Watson’s evidence has acquired the ‘dodgy dossier’ soubriquet; and there are certain similarities between it and the notorious ‘evidence’ of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction presented to the press and parliament in September 2002. Principally, there is the fact that much of it is simply false, deliberately or otherwise; and of the rest, everything is presented in an entirely misleading light.
So who are the nefarious Trots steamrollering into the Labour Party? At the top of the list – inexplicably, given that they might be the smallest of the lot – is Red Flag. Watson and his valiant team of hurried Googlers have managed to work out that RF is the continuation of Workers Power. The comrades are guilty of – shock, horror! – distributing a model motion against the manoeuvres of the parliamentary party against the leadership.
Next is Labour Party Marxists – in Watson’s view, a “project” of the CPGB, which is in turn a “Trotskyist party” (it is neither Trotskyist, nor a Party; but the distinctions probably appear theological to the intrepid Trotspotters of Brewers’ Green, for whom no doubt Maoists are Trotskyists for present purposes too, and also our handful of confused old left-communist friends who find themselves today with Labour Party cards … ). Our great crime? Arguing for global proletarian revolution, for wholesale purging of the right, for winning Labour to a full revolutionary Marxist programme? Er, no: we support reselection of MPs (something already allowed for, to some extent, in the party’s rules … ) All the rest, we thereby conclude, must be just fine by brother Watson, which is certainly a pleasant surprise! Elsewhere, Watson & co are horrified to discover our call for more people to join the unions, and more union members to engage in the life of Labour; old Tom wants none of that rubbish. The unions are quite large enough for him (especially, no doubt, as most of them are behind the leadership).
Next up is the Alliance for Workers Liberty, which is ‘guilty’ of much the same sort of stuff, so we will not belabour the point: much outrage, of course, is dedicated to AWL comrade Jill Mountford’s senior position in Momentum. Mountford was suspended from Labour membership; it is obviously quite unacceptable to Watson that Momentum does not allow Labour’s blatantly compromised Compliance Unit to determine its membership requirements. It is also worth noting that it is hardly the case that Labour is suddenly flooded with AWL members, even adjusting for the group’s size: most of those to have fallen foul of disciplinary proceedings have been Labour members for years. Their membership can hardly be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn.
The three groups aforementioned, though all tiny compared to the massive influx of new members, at least have the virtue of operating within it.
Tom Watson wants to go further, however. We can see why: there’s simply not enough Trots on that list for even the most gullible idiot to consider it an invasion. Add us all up, and there is probably a numerically greater scourge of 9/11 truthers to worry about. There is a wider Trotskyoid fringe in the Labour left that Watson could have mentioned, of course, but most of these people – like AWL members – have been hanging around for a long old time. It is still not enough.
Thus he insists on trying to rope in the two largest Trotskyist organisations in Britain – we speak of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, and the Socialist Workers Party. At this point, Watson’s document descends entirely into stupidity. For both these organisations have refused to urge people to join the Labour Party.
Thus the ‘evidence’ against SPEW, which amounts in the first instance to the fact that they claimed to help organise a few Momentum meetings, and secondly that a motion passed at Unite’s policy conference in favour of mandatory reselection was moved by a SPEW member. What, does Watson want SPEW members out of Unite now? Does Unite not get to decide its own policy? Is it not a greater concern for greaseball careerists like Watson that people were willing to vote for it?
The punchline to Tom’s tour of the British far left is the SWP. Surely not? “SWP sets up training course to infiltrate Labour”, screams the sub-headline. You can imagine the embarrassment at Weekly Worker towers, dear reader! We have been keeping close tabs on the SWP for decades; how can we have missed such a major change of course? Except, of course, that the truth is the exact opposite: the link Watson helpfully provides brings us to a list of articles in SWP publications, all of which urge readers not to join the Labour Party.3 It is as if some neo-Nazi had a headline along the lines of ‘Finally, proof that the holocaust never happened’, and then linked readers to Raul Hilberg’s Destruction of the European Jews.
There will no doubt be some who think this comparison a little gauche. Alas! What else do we have before us than a conspiracy theory quite as absurd? At least holocaust deniers, 9/11 truthers, birthers and anti-vaxxers actually believe the nonsense they peddle – which Watson surely cannot. How thick does he think his audience is?
Come to think of it, who does he think his audience is?
The memo was ostensibly for the information of Jeremy Corbyn and his ‘people’, but they are surely quite aware of the limited extent, such as it is, of Trotskyists coming to the Labour Party. Perhaps it is a last ditch appeal to wavering voters in the Labour leadership poll, suggesting that the voice they hear telling them to vote for Corbyn is the same voice that shrilly hawks them a copy of Socialist Worker outside the tube on a Saturday morning … but can there be any waverers at all?
Let us advance another, more likely hypothesis: Tom’s dossier has the same purpose as Tony Blair’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ intervention in last year’s Leader contest: that is, to raise a standard for the troops on his side. It will yield an infusion of publicity from the yellow press. It will rally the despondent among the Progress youth, and give them another absurdity to hurl at opposing forces in CLP meetings. It will remind them, like a good fighting song, of the justice of their cause and the perfidy of their enemies.
From the point of view of the ‘Trots’ – or, indeed, of anyone with an attention span north of ten seconds – such accusations as are contained therein are richly amusing. For what is the picture painted? That “they”, the Trots, are playing silly buggers, taking things over by stealth, fighting dirty, lying about their true intentions and political outlook. Remind you of anyone?
Here is the situation as it is, not as Tom Watson would like you to think it. There is an electoral contest going on, between Jeremy Corbyn, a more-or-less principled, run-of-the-mill Labour leftist of some years standing, and Owen Smith, whose politics are entirely undistinguished, and is running on the basis that he is not Jeremy Corbyn. Smith, in other words, is deliberately obfuscating his politics, since it is plain to him that he would not win on the basis that he was a jolly competent paid lobbyist for Pfizer. His supporters routinely manufacture scurrilous accusations – of physical intimidation, anti-Semitism, misogyny – against the supporters of his opponent. Those of his supporters on the National Executive Committee – including Watson – attempted to keep Corbyn off the ballot entirely, and – when that failed – aggressively gerrymandered the contest.
Now, some number among them whisper that – quelle surprise – they will not accept the result of the election if, as looks nigh on inevitable, Corbyn is returned as leader; they will instead attempt to seize the Labour Party’s name, assets and status as Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. This may be a serious threat, or perhaps merely more mind games; either which way, the sense of entitlement is breathtaking, as is the hypocrisy of Watson, the arch-manipulator, fishing around for reds under his bed. In truth, more than 200,000 people have joined the Labour party in the last year and a half. We doubt there are 200,000 Trotskyists in the world.
Is there any truth to Watson’s ‘dossier’?
Well, there always is – somewhere. There certainly are some number of far-leftists in the Labour Party, and some smaller number more than there were prior to last summer. Even those who have not joined up, like SPEW, who insist on maintaining a pseudo-Labourite electoral profile even under the new conditions, will vent forth about their ‘support’ for Jeremy, which must nevertheless come from ‘outside’ … We ‘Trots’ are not so daft as not to recognise helpful movement in the Overton window.
There is another thing, which is more deeply ironic. The most immediate effect of little curveballs like Watson’s dossier is to put the Corbyn camp on the defensive (‘no, we’re not Trots, honest!’). This attitude leads to desperate attempts to be doing something, which means tacitly accepting the justice of the right’s hysterical accusations. The clearest recent example is the ‘anti-Semitism’ panic, but there have been depressingly many. Where the Corbyn inner circle go, Momentum’s unaccountable leadership clique is sure to follow – nothing must be allowed that would embarrass the leadership, and thus people are leant on to obey Jeremy’s call for a “kinder politics” (ie, do not criticise the right, do not pursue political struggle against them, and so on).
This attitude greatly benefits two groups: the first, naturally, is the right. The second is … the ‘Trots’.
For, if the official leadership of the Labour left is paralysed by timidity – if it is unable to meet even the instinctive understanding of angry Corbyn-supporting Labour members without patronising and demobilising them – then who will? We expect that more than a few will have a positive appreciation of Lev Davidovich Bronstein.
Who will provide you a model motion to get rid of your traitor MP, and pack them off to their panic room? The Trots. Who will call for militant countermeasures against any further coup attempts by the right – the occupation of party premises whose fate lies before some judge, for example? The Trots. (We would like to stress, parenthetically, that local Labour organisations ought to plan for such action starting now – the right may well be desperate enough to try something of this kind.)
Who will urge street stalls, picketing, fighting for policy at conference, setting up papers, initiative at the rank and file, rather than damping down enthusiasm wherever possible? Who will dare to suggest that you think further ahead than the next general election, or even the current Labour leader, who will need replacing at some time or another? Who will give you permission not to be held hostage by the right, and by extension Rupert Murdoch? The Trots, the Trots, the Trots!
Long may Tom Watson, and his perverse co-conspirators in the Momentum leadership, continue to do us such favours l
1. November 16, 2004.