Jill Mountford on Jackie Walker, antisemitism and Momentum

October 7, 2016 at 8:58 am (anti-semitism, AWL, labour party, left, posted by JD, Racism, zionism)

Jill Mountford (writing on her Momentum blog) on the removal of Jackie Walker:

Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)

On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.

Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.

After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).

I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.

Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us

For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:

“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.

“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.

“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.

“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.

“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.

“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”

Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.

To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.

Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.

Free speech on Israel?

To continue quoting from the article above:

“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.

“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean”.

“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.

“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”

Momentum’s statement

The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.

Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.

Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.

At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.

This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)

My motivations

There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.

I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.

I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!

I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.

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Sasha Ismail … in the ‘Telegraph’ (!)

September 24, 2016 at 6:19 pm (AWL, campaigning, labour party, Marxism, posted by JD, trotskyism)

John McTernan isn’t the only Labour person who gets published in the Telegraph:

By Sasha Ismail

Most Labour “moderates” must have expected a crushing Corbyn victory, but this result will surely have left many feeling bewildered. As a campaigner for Corbyn, let me explain what I think is happening and offer some advice.

To listen to some on Labour Right you’d think the party membership had lost their minds. This is ironic given the anti-Corbyn camp’s behaviour over the last year, and particularly the last three months. In any case, we’re far from mad; there is something deeper going on.

The movement which swept Corbyn to office, and has just crushed the attempt to remove him, is fundamentally a class movement. It reflects the deep frustration of various sections of Britain’s working population with the bland, technocratic political consensus which has served the interests of employers and the rich so well for thirty years, and spectacularly enriched them during the decade of “austerity”.

Yes, “Corbynism” is primarily based among big city-based and more formally educated workers (which is not necessarily the same as better-off workers – let alone the absurd idea that Corbyn’s support is a movement of the wealthy). But Labour MPs and the whole middle-to-upper-class social layer who make up the main cadres of the Labour Right cannot understand the anger and frustration which has given such drive to the new Labour Left because they have not suffered in the same way that even better-off workers have since the financial meltdown – from falling real wages, gutted public services, and a spiralling housing crisis.

And to those who didn’t share at all in the “boom years” before 2008 but at best trod water, suffering under New Labour’s regime of “flexible labour markets”, privatisation and burgeoning inequality, the Labour Right almost literally have nothing to say – except to pander to the attempts of nationalists to divide workers. Blairism wanted to exorcise the discourse of class from politics to better serve capitalism. But class reasserted itself with a vengeance, in various ways. In that sense, the Corbyn movement and the rise of Ukip have the same root. The latter represents a reactionary revolt against elite-consensus politics, the former the beginnings of a progressive one. There is a similar polarisation in many countries – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders being an obvious example – for similar reasons.

The Labour Right have numerous advantages, but so far they have failed to stifle the Corbyn movement precisely because it is a movement, whereas they are not. Their attacks on us remind Labour members and supporters precisely of what they hate about “New Labour”, reinforcing our determination and our numbers. That is why Momentum as a whole and its groups across the country have experienced such a remarkable surge of support and involvement since the coup. Owen Smith can talk Left, while Corbyn sounds all too moderate – but Smith “smells” like a man of the capitalist establishment, while Corbyn does not. Labour people are not stupid; we have a good sense of smell. And, at the end of the day, like it or not, antagonistic and clashing class interests do exist. As long as they do, labour movements will emerge and re-emerge, no matter how much they driven down (physically or ideologically).

Of course this won’t happen automatically. The Corbyn movement must conceive of itself as an attempt to revive the labour movement and make it a force in society once again. It needs to radically shake up the structures and culture of the Labour Party, rejecting the idea we can go back to the 2015-16 status quo – but conceive this not as an end in itself, but part of a drive to build a social movement which takes on the rich and helps workers and communities organise in their own interests.

Because make no mistake: even at a time of low strike figures and underlying low confidence among workers, there are plenty of struggles Labour can mobilise behind, help win, and help make the beginning of a wider movement. From newly unionised fast food workers and cleaners to growing housing struggles in working-class communities, from the Picturehouse cinema workers striking for the Living Wage to the junior doctors, the Labour Party needs to organise and act to justify its name. There is a new workers’ movement waiting to be born.

A reinstatement of class politics means reviving trade unions. It also means talking about the idea of workers’ representation – not just how we select our candidates for Parliament, for instance, but who they are. Why should Labour candidates be mainly Spads, highly paid lawyers, heads of think tanks and NGOs? Why shouldn’t they be train drivers, teachers, cleaners, fast food workers, social workers, posties, care workers? Why shouldn’t they be people with a record of trade union and community struggles?

All this requires us to challenge some of the fuzzier populist ideas among Corbyn supporters. A lot of Corbyn-supporters’ organisational thinking inadvertently mirrors a Blairite, media- and internet-driven version of “democracy” (cleansed of its more unpleasant aspects). A new model Labour Party can and should be much more ambitious about its use of new media, but more “online consultation” and policies cooked up in the leader’s office are not what we need – a structured democracy based on an active membership is. Most urgently, we need to deal with the party bureaucracy. If we don’t it will continue to act as a permanently organised factional machine to undermine Corbyn and trample the membership. A “clean slate” won’t do.

A democratically organised party, freed from its bureaucratic tethers, inspiring and mobilising hundreds of thousands of members and linked to a revived trade union movement, could become powerful, reach out to wide layers of society and win millions over to its ideas. It could finally create a force capable of bridging the divisions of origin, ethnicity and religion which the Right in various forms has so capably entrenched over the last two decades – a force allowing the majority to act unitedly in their own interests.

Potentially, it could go further and restore to the political agenda the unsettled aspiration of the old Labour Left – the task of replacing this society of inequality and exploitation with a new one based on meaningful democracy, collective ownership and sustainable provision for human need.

I don’t think I’m naive. Posing the question of socialism is a long way off. It will be a hard struggle even to transform Labour, oust the Tories and change society’s direction. But we need to begin the work now, not go on as we did before.

Let me finish with an appeal to the Labour “moderate” rank and file. You should be angry at your leaders. You should be angry at self-styled Labour loyalists who have done their best to wreck our party; at self-styled social democrats who have strained every muscle to defend unrestrained neo-liberalism and the interests of the rich. There is a place for you in a transformed Labour Party and labour movement, but not for the professional wreckers. Help us call them to account.

Sacha Ismail is a campaigner in Momentum’s Lewisham branch

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Sasha Ismail of AWL responds to ‘Dispatches’

September 20, 2016 at 8:34 am (AWL, campaigning, conspiracy theories, labour party, mccarthyism, posted by JD, trotskyism)

One of the speakers secretly filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches (for the programme that went out on Monday 19 September), responds:

Comrade Coatesy comments, here

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Pete Radcliffe: “I will not accept my expulsion from the Labour Party”

September 16, 2016 at 7:53 pm (AWL, democracy, labour party)

Comrade Pete Radcliffe wrote this on his blog a week ago, having just received notification of his expulsion:

Please support the Stop the Labour Purge campaign acting on behalf of all witch-hunted socialists in the Party

I have been informed today that I have been expelled from the Labour Party after a total of 35 years of Party membership and in spite of being Chair of Broxtowe Constituency Labour Party.

This follows an anonymous complaint about me to the Party. I don’t know what has led anyone to complain to the Party about me. I cannot believe that it comes from anyone in my constituency party where inclusiveness and comradely respect is genuinely shown by all party members. I am very grateful for the quick statement of support made by all of my fellow officers of Broxtowe CLP.

I am told that I am expelled because of I am an ‘active supporter of the AWL’ .

The AWL publishes a very useful and educative paper Solidarity and I welcome and am proud of  its significant contribution to debate in the Party and the wider labour movement.

My expulsion appears to have been activated without the knowledge of either myself or my fellow constituency officers – 2 days before I was notified. It was only hours before Owen Smith renewed the attacks on the AWL as ‘hard left’ and made preposterous claim that the AWL is anti-Semitic. The implication is therefore that I, as an individual, am also anti-Semitic. I have campaigned virtually all of my political life against anti-Semitism within the labour movement and I have evidenced some of my work on it below. I consider that implication and the action against me are motivated and contribute to slander against me.

I believe that this is not an attack solely on me as an individual. It is intended to disorganise my constituency party and demoralise its members. It is also part of a national witch hunt conducted by figures still powerful in the Party who are attempting to drive away the hundreds of thousands of new members who have moved it to the left.

I have long advocated that our Party should be open to all who want to fight for a Labour victory. Free speech and free debate are fundamental to socialism. They are essential to anything claiming to be a socialist political party.

Hundreds of thousands of energetic people are being attracted to our Party. We should welcome them and I believe that in my role as Chair of my CLP I have the responsibility to contribute to that.

That is why I, along with the other officers of my CLP, wrote in protest to the General Secretary and Chair of the PLP against the attempt to oust our leader unconstitutionally by trying to force him to resign without allowing a vote by the Party membership.

It is why, as officers of Broxtowe CLP, we protested to the General Secretary and the NEC about the further discourtesy shown to new members by instituting an unexpected freeze date that denied them the right to vote.

Later still on August 9th individually I organised an accredited online petition calling on the Party to refrain from using the full force of the appeal courts to enforce that freeze and give yet further offense to our new members. Over a 21 hour period, the petition was signed by over 1,000 Party members.

The day after sending that petition to the General Secretary, Tom Watson released his dossier on far left entryism. The following day I first began to hear from journalists, briefed by persons unknown, asking me to respond to accusations of being a ‘Trotskyite entryist’.

For the next 2 days I had journalists contact me before an article appeared in Politics Home claiming that I had been reported to the Labour Party as a ‘hard left’ activist and was being ‘probed’ by the Labour Party. That was on August 17th –  over 3 weeks before the notification of my expulsion. During that time, I heard nothing from the Labour Party and presumed this was a fictional provocation intended to damage the Party. It appears I was wrong.

In the original press attack upon me I was accused of speaking at a recent AWL event. However I spoke on the same platform as Ian Hodson, President of the BFAWU. Other speakers at the week-end event also included prominent representatives of the Progress/ Labour First right wing of our Party, Luke Akehurst, John McTernan. I cannot therefore believe that these are the real reasons for the complaint made against me.

There are no secrets about my politics. The paper Solidarity has been kind enough to cover much of my campaigning work in its news coverage. They have occasionally republished articles I have written elsewhere or on my blog. I find it scandalous that having an association with that paper and the policies it advocates, can be used to witch-hunt me or anyone else out of the Party.

The real reason some want me out of the Party must be is because they want to stop my political activities both for the Party and to influence its policies.

I list below most of the important work I have done over the last 6 years for and within the Party with links to more details. In the absence of my right to appeal, I leave others to make their own judgement on my record and the legitimacy of the attempts to remove me from the Party.

  • Building my local Party and the referendum campaign
  • Campaigning for the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader
  • Challenging the government’s support for Saudi Arabia
  • Campaigning against anti-union laws
  • Campaigning against war and terrorism and for a 2–state resolution in Israel/ Palestine
  • Campaigning against anti-semitism
  • Campaigning in support of oppressed Kurdish people in Syria and Turkey
  • Campaigning against the government cuts
    Details of my work can be read in the Appendix to this article

My history and my views have never been a secret. In 2001 I resigned from the Labour Party after, then, 29 years membership. Whilst I continued to campaign for Labour general election victories in the days of Tony Blair’s leadership, I feared that some of the changes of the Labour Party might be irreversible. Firstly, the Party’s turn away from working class communities and towards ‘Middle England’ and secondly, the marginalisation of trade unions. I stood as a protest candidate in the very safe Labour constituency of Nottingham East in 2001 and then again in 2005 after the Iraq war. Read the rest of this entry »

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Owen Smith’s ignorant and slanderous allegation of “anti-semitism” against the AWL

September 12, 2016 at 4:59 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-semitism, AWL, Jim D, labour party, mccarthyism, trotskyism, truth, zionism)

Owen Smith’s comments about anti-semitism and the AWL are at about 48.00

Hapless challenger for Labour leadership, Owen Smith, in the course of the BBC Question Time debate last week, mentioned the Alliance for Workers Liberty in the context of “anti-semitic attitudes” within the Labour Party. Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the AWL will know that it is the one group on the left with a consistent record of opposing all forms of anti-semitism, including “left” anti-semitism and “absolute” anti-Zionism.

In the course of a longer article posted at Tendence Coatesy, Andrew Coates commented:

A  few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time:

Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,

“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.

“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”

“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”

Politics Home.

The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),

On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.

This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.

Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.

You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!


Below: comment from Jewish Voice spokesperson on LBC:

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Matgamna: What is Trotskyism?

August 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm (AWL, class, history, labour party, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, Shachtman, socialism, trotskyism)

We publish the following piece by Sean Matgamna (of Workers Liberty) in the light of recent scare stories about alleged ‘Trotskyist’ infiltration of/influence over, the Labour Party:

Shachtman (rt) with Trotsky & Frida Kahlo in Mexico, 1937

What is Trotskyism? (written 2007)

Click here for the debate around this contribution.

19th and 20th century socialism is a house of many rooms, cellars, attics, alcoves, and hidden chambers (not to speak of private chapels and “priest-holes”).

There are in it the utopian socialists of our pre-history reformists and revolutionists, parliamentarians and insurrectionists, “direct action” anarchists and union-building syndicalists, council communists and kibbutz-building utopian Zionists.

And then fascists sometimes proclaimed themselves socialists (national-socialists). So did many Third World political formations, often more fascist than socialist, such as the “Ba’th Arab Socialist Parties” of Iraq and Syria.

And Stalinism. The political reflections and tools in the labour movements of the Russian Stalinist ruling class proclaimed themselves “communists” and “socialists”, and for much of the 20th century were accepted as the main force of communism and socialism, in bourgeois propaganda as well as their own.

The great names of real socialism are numerous, and are far from being at one with each other: Gracchus Babeuf, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, Etienne Cabet, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Auguste Blanqui, Mikhail Bakunin, Ferdinand Lassalle, Louis Michel, Wilhelm Liebknecht and his son Karl, August Bebel, George Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, Jules Guesde, Jean Jaures, Victor Griffuelhes, Paul Lafargue, Laura Lafargue, Eleanor Marx, Pavel Axelrod, Peter Kropotkin, James Connolly, Daniel De Leon, Jim Larkin, Eugene Debs, Christian Rakovsky, Henry Hyndman, Ernest Belfort Bax, William Morris, Keir Hardie, Klara Zetkin, Sylvia Pankhurst, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Shliapnikov, Leon Trotsky, Chen Duxiu, Antonio Gramsci, Leon Sedov, James P Cannon, Leon Lesoil, Pantelis Pouliopoulos, Abram Leon, Ta Thu Thau, Henk Sneevliet, Max Shachtman…

The Communist International picked up and subsumed many of the threads of earlier socialism, and wove them into a more or less coherent strategy of working-class struggle for power — the direct action of the French and American syndicalists, the political “syndicalism” of the De Leonites, the revolutionary parliamentarianism of Liebknecht, the sometimes acute criticism by communist-anarchists of the parliamentarians of the pre-1914 Socialist International, the concern with national liberation of such as James Connolly, and all that was healthy in previous socialist activity and theorising.

They denounced bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism in the name of the fuller democracy of workers’ councils — their criticism of bourgeois democracy would later, like so much else, be annexed and put to its own pernicious uses by totalitarian Stalinism.

The Russian working class, in their unprecedented creativity — for instance, in creating soviets (workers’ councils) — and the Bolsheviks who led them to victory had in life found solutions to many of the problems that had perplexed earlier socialist thinkers.

What had all the different strands of socialism in common? What, with their different methods, tempos, and perspectives, did they seek to achieve?

All of them — the socialist reformists such as Keir Hardie, too — sought to abolish capitalism and the exploitation and wage-slavery on which it rested, and to replace it with a non-exploitative, rational, humane society.

Their ideas of what would replace capitalism differed greatly, for instance between anarchists and Marxists, but all the socialists sought to replace private ownership of the means of production and exchange with collective social ownership by the workers and working farmers.

All of them — in one way or another, with one qualification or another — looked to the working class, the slave-class of the capitalist era, to achieve this great social revolution.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rhea Wolfson: “The left needs to recognise that the Jewish community does not feel welcome”

August 13, 2016 at 8:59 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, labour party, posted by JD, zionism)

Rhea Wolfson for Labour NEC

Newly-elected Labour NEC member Rhea Wolfson interviewed by the Alliance for Workers Liberty‘s paper Solidarity:

Congratulations on your election to Labour’s NEC. What do you see as your priorities now?

The first thing is to see that the recommendations from the Chakrabarti Report are implemented. The Labour Party needs clear and transparent procedures for individuals and organisations accused of misconduct. I am particularly concerned about the suspensions of Wallasey Labour Party and Brighton, Hove and District Party. Those Labour Party organisations need to be reassured that any accusations made against them are investigated promptly and properly.

A number of Labour Party members have been expelled for being associated with Workers’ Liberty. Is this reasonable?

I oppose political expulsions. We should recognise that there are many strands of socialist opinion and Labour will be stronger if we accept that. Minimally we should expect that the Labour Party abides by the principles of natural justice in disciplinary matters, that those accused are listened to, that processes are clear and transparent, that there is an appeals procedure.

Some of the problems come from the Compliance Unit. Is there any role for this organisation?

Perhaps – if it operates using clear rules and regulations. No part of the Party should work on the basis that it can operate outside of a clear set of rules. In particular, those accused of misconduct should be able to see evidence which is said to exist against them.

Personally I have another problem because I am getting a lot of abuse through Twitter. I have had received a lot of unpleasant comment since the NEC election results were announced. There are no clear guidelines or mechanisms for me to try to stop this sort of abuse which may come from other Party members.

One of the live issues for the Labour left is what we should do about the anti-Corbyn right-wing MPs. Do you think we should deselect them?

Jeremy Corbyn is building a vibrant movement of half a million Labour Party members. Corbyn is uniting the membership. The onus is on others to show they are not harming or splitting the Party.

The relationship between the PLP and the membership has clearly been damaged. I hope it can be repaired and for that we need open political discussion and debate.

Reselection is a powerful tool. It should be used with respect and care, and not with abuse. It is not a threat. It is a democratic process.

What should the priorities of a future Labour government be?

We should pursue an anti-austerity programme. We must invest in public services to promote growth. We should borrow in order to invest. And we should increase taxation on the wealthy.

You made a strong speech at a recent Lewisham Momentum meeting set up to discuss the problem of ‘left’ anti-Semitism. What should be done about this very real problem?

We need open debate on the issue. The Lewisham Momentum meeting was a start. Although some of the contributions were shocking, I think they were not made from hate – and poor comments were challenged in the meeting.

The left needs to recognise that the Jewish Community does not feel welcome. The rhetoric of anti-Zionism is off-putting. There are progressive Zionist organisations we can and should work with.

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AWL statement: Oppose Watson’s witch-hunt!

August 11, 2016 at 12:50 pm (AWL, conspiracy theories, labour party, posted by JD, Socialist Party, trotskyism)


The anti-Corbyn majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party is losing the battle for the Labour leadership.

The membership – seemingly, in its big majority – wants a Labour Party which will tax the rich, rebuild the NHS, introduce free education and abolish the anti-union laws. The members want to remake Labour as a party that fights for the interests of workers.

The Labour right finds the movement behind Corbyn threatening and they are becoming increasingly desperate. The Labour machine has attempted to rule out thousands of members from voting in the leadership election. Wallasey Constituency and Brighton, Hove and District Labour Parties have been suspended.

Now Tom Watson is attempting a “Trotsky” scare. Watson accuses “the Trotskyists” of “caucusing and factionalising and putting pressure where they can,” and “arm twisting.” In fact, this is a description of Watson’s own, normal, natural behaviour. (As we have documented elsewhere, Watson was a “fixer” for Gordon Brown during the early New Labour years: see here.)

In contrast Workers’ Liberty’s influence has been won through open debate, and by acting as honest activists inside the movement.

The Guardian (10 August) reports Watson demanding Corbyn supports bans on the Socialist Party and on us, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). Watson attempts to adopt a reasonable, matey tone – but he’s not very good at it. He is a hack, someone who wanders around in the background, causing trouble.

Corbyn and the left should certainly defend the right of all socialists to be Party members. The Party should only require that socialists back Labour candidates in elections. The AWL backs Labour in elections.

As Watson knows very well the Socialist Party and the AWL are very different types of organisation. The Socialist Party has spent over two decades denouncing the Labour Party as irredeemably bourgeois. And as Watson also knows the Socialist Party boss, Peter Taaffe, has spent a considerable amount of energy attempting to stop his members joining the Labour Party.

Taaffe’s position is idiotic, as usual. Nevertheless – with the exception of, perhaps, a handful of strays – no Socialist Party member currently has a Labour Party card.

So why all the fuss about the SP? Watson’s target is really Corbyn, but he can’t directly denounce Corbyn. So he picks on the Socialist Party because of its Militant past. Then he pretends the Socialist Party are a threat to the Labour Party. He links the Socialist Party with the AWL because he wants to spread around as much muck as possible. Nothing about this narrative makes sense. But that doesn’t matter given the press and the media are on Watson’s side and don’t care if he makes sense, or not.

The AWL is nothing like the SP, or its forerunner, the Militant. We are not a closed, secretive sect.

The AWL openly debates differences in our paper, Solidarity. Our events are open. Our conference documents, constitution and positions can be found in plain view on our web site. Read them and find out what we do.

And we are consistent advocates of class-struggle socialism. You would not find a clown like Derek Hatton, for example, acting as our spokesperson.

The Socialist Party’s main concern in the Corbyn surge is to recruit a few members, encourage a scandal, and get some headlines. Our main concern is to defeat the Labour right wing and transform the labour movement. By acting as honest militants within the movement – people who are concerned for the movement’s strength and political health – we think we will grow in influence and also membership.

And do you know how big we are? We have 120 full AWL members. Tom Watson knows very well that we are a small group among half a million Labour members. This is the extent of the Trotskyist threat.

And yet, in the end, Tom Watson – despite his intention – has half a point. We are a potential problem for people like Tom Watson. Not because we manipulate behind the scenes – but because our message is becoming increasingly popular in the Party. We are serious Marxists, serious about ideas and consistent about their application.

Watch out, Tom Watson.

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Corbynomics – a friendly critique

July 27, 2016 at 7:37 pm (AWL, banks, capitalism, economics, labour party, left, posted by JD)

Based on a pamphlet from the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

There is a buzz about “Corbynomics”. That’s positive. For the first time in ages the neo-liberal economic orthodoxies insisted on by the Blairite Labour Party are up for debate and discussion.

What Corbynomics means, though, isn’t clear yet. It remains to be defined, not just in detail but even in broad outline. The left should plunge into the debate – and be bold.

There is a problem about the lack of left-wing Labour economic policy for Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to draw on. On ssues like the NHS, say, or renationalising the railways and Royal Mail, there is policy and they should do more to promote it – a lot more. On wider economic policy,there is more of a vacuum on the left, and a need for socialist ideas to fill it. But some of what Corbyn has said points in the wrong direction.

So, for instance, in the steel crisis, Corbyn and McDonnell said that if no capitalist buyer for Tata’s plants was found, they would support nationalising them – but only in order to find a buyer, and then sell them off again! Why didn’t they take the opportunity to argue to nationalise steel permanently, safeguard jobs, workers’ terms and conditions and communities, and run things differently to produce what we need for social purposes, like building housing, public service and public transport infrastructure?

Fiscal responsibility?

In his speech on 11 March, John McDonnell talked about “fiscal responsibility” – presumably in order to buy space to attack George Osborne’s 16 March Budget cuts. But anxious promises that a future Labour government will balance current spending with current revenues – which Osborne had not done after six years as chancellor! – only feed the superstition that the economic problems since 2008 are due to the Blair and Brown governments overspending” on public services. They aren’t. The reason for the crash and the slump was giddy profiteering and speculating by the banks, not public spending.

Now, there is no special merit in a government increasing its debt burden. However, a rigid rule of balancing current spending with current revenues is foolish. As Simon Wren-Lewis, professor of economics at Oxford University and an adviser to McDonnell, has pointed out, “the rule is likely to make the deficit much less of a shock absorber, and so lead to unnecessary volatility in taxes or spending”. Also, since raising taxes is politically difficult, often slower in effect, and involves running uphill in times of economic crises which reduce the tax base, the rule has a built-in bias towards panic “volatility” (cuts) in spending. McDonnell has long campaigned against cuts. It looks as if he was pushed into these statements by the conservative elements in the Labour leadership office – part of a more general problem.

Who are the “wealth creators”?

Probably also a reflection of that section of the Labour leadership office were McDonnell’s off-key statements about “the wealth creators”.

“The Labour party are the representatives of the wealth creators — the designers, the producers, the entrepreneurs, the workers on the shop floor.” He claimed that his policy “has been welcomed this morning by [people] right across the business sector, business leaders, entrepreneurs as well as trade unions. The wealth creators have welcomed it”.

According to Mike Savage, a researcher at the LSE, inherited loot is 70% of all household wealth in Britain today, and is rising towards 80% by 2050. One of the most booming industries in slump-ridden Britain is the rise of “family offices”, where financiers work fulltime on managing and conserving the wealth of rich families. “Wealth creator” is conservatives’ pet term for capitalists. In fact capitalists’ riches come from the exploitation of the real wealth creators, the wage working class – or from active exploitation done not by the capitalists, but by their parents and grandparents.

McDonnell added “the workers on the shop floor” atthe end of his list of “wealth creators”, and put“designers” (i.e. some particularly skilled workers) at the start of the list. But the idea that a good economic policy can be pursued in alliance with the whole “business sector” is false. It can only prepare the way for a collapse when the CBI and other bosses’ groups denounce left-wing policies from Corbyn and McDonnell, which they will.

Is a National Investment Bank a left-wing policy?

Similarly, the leadership has focused on the call for a “National Investment Bank”, a publicly-owned bank able to borrow more cheaply than commercial banks because of its government backing, and lending for infrastructure and industrial projects.

The model must be the KfW, the German state’s federal investment bank, set up under the Marshall Plan in the 1940s and still going strong. It’s a safe, conservative model, maybe useful as a capitalist technique, but in no way anti-capitalist or socialist. The current chair of the KFW Supervisory Board is German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Europe’s sternest austerity-hawk and central to the crushing of the anti-austerity rebellion in Greece.

There is nothing really socialist or even left-wing about the proposals for a Schäuble-bank in Britain. In fact it seems more like a way of avoiding a clear left policy about what to do about the banks.

Expropriate the banks!

Replacing capitalism with socialism requires public ownership, democratic and workers’ control and planning of the giant corporations and enterprises central to the economy. That is hardly even conceivable without an insurgent workers’ movement challenging the capitalist class on every level – which is what we must work for, rather than damping it down with appeals to “wealth creators”.

To even move in this direction requires transitional demands to campaign for. An obvious one to make central is public ownership and democratic control of the banks and high finance – a sector central to the economy’s functioning and to the economic chaos which has engulfed us over the last decade.

Banking should become a unified, democratically run public service providing banking, pensions and mortgages for everyone who needs them, and funds and resources for investment in public services and all areas of social need – instead of acting as an engine for devastating them while promoting inequality.

Public ownership of the banks has been official TUC policy since it was proposed by the Fire Brigades Union in 2012, but left dormant. We should fight to activate it, and make it active Labour policy too.

All this poses the question of what kind of Labour government we want. In place of an alternative capitalist administration, the left should set ourselves and shape our campaigning around the goal of a workers’ government, accountable to and drawing strength from the mass organisations of the labour movement, and willing and able to force through measures like expropriating the steel industry and the banks – and much more.

Motion for expropriation of the banks and a workers’ government, passed at Labour Representation Committee conference, 20 February 2016, here

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AWL statement: Stop the anti-Corbyn coup!

June 28, 2016 at 2:36 pm (AWL, labour party, MPs, posted by JD)

Daily Mirror front page calling on Jeremy Corbyn to quit
Above: The Mirror joins in

By Martin Thomas

Labour’s right is trying to stage a coup. If the Corbyn leadership and the unions stand firm, and force the right wing to put up a candidate against Corbyn in a new leadership contest which Corbyn wins, this attempted coup could turn into a rout.

The way will be open for the unions to get through Labour Party conference democratic reforms which they have already put in draft form, and for the Labour Party really to be revived as a living movement, close to the unions, and with the right wing discredited.

But if it goes the other way – if the unions swing over to back a rotten “compromise”, or if Corbyn buckles – then the right wing be in pole position to shut down all the channels reopened in the last year. They won’t be able to do it all at once, but they will be well-placed to destroy today’s possibilities of creating a real working class alternative in British politics.

With their staged series of shadow cabinet resignations, Labour’s right have seized the chance of the dismay and disarray caused by the Brexit vote to try to reverse the Labour revival generated by the 2015 leadership contest and Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory.

As we go to press, they are staging a stand-off, an open split in the Labour Party, and using it to press Jeremy Corbyn to resign.

They could force a leadership contest by getting 50 MPs to nominate a rival candidate. For now at least they are not doing that, because if they do that then Jeremy Corbyn has to be on the ballot paper in the leadership election, and will probably win.

They want to force Corbyn to resign, confident that if he does then they can deny any left-wing candidate the MP nominations necessary to get on the ballot paper, and so deny the members a choice.

There is talk of setting up a rival Parliamentary Labour Party in opposition to the one led by Corbyn, or even splitting the Party outright. Probably this talk is designed to panic and pressure the Corbyn camp.

Some of the coup-plotters talk about the desirability of Labour wining the next General Election. But that is clearly low in their priorities. Otherwise they wouldn’t be splitting the party now. Otherwise they would shelve for now their criticisms of Corbyn and focus on unity against the shocked, dislocated, and divided Tories.

Some of them talk about unity. Some of them claim they have no difference with Corbyn’s politics, and praise his kind and friendly manner. They so value unity… that they make a split! When they claim to have no serious political grounds!

Some of them say Corbyn has been weak. Sometimes he has: often because he has constrained by them, or allowed anxiety to conciliate them to mute his message against the Tories.

The role in the script for those soft-soap types is to serve as cover for someone with a vaguely soft-left profile to emerge as front-person (while the hard right-wingers pull the levers in the background), and to try to persuade the members and the unions to support them as promising both unity and not-too-wrenching a reversal of Labour’s course. To be for 2016 what Neil Kinnock was for 1983.

Some of them talk about Jeremy Corbyn being poor in the Remain campaign. But what about them? What about the Labour figures who joined platforms with the Tories, copying Labour’s wretched policy in the Scottish separation referendum? What about Tom Watson and Ed Balls, who gave Leave a last-minute boost by saying that Labour should limit EU migration?

What about the Labour right-wingers from whom we heard nothing at all? What about Corbyn-baiter Gloria de Piero, whose safe-Labour constituency returned a 70% Leave vote? Or Stephen Kinnock, another Corbyn-baiter, who got a 57% Leave vote in his ultra-safe Labour area? Or Labour right-winger Alan Johnson, appointed to lead the Labour Remain campaign. Did you ever hear from him? His Hull area voted 68% Leave.

They wail and scream about one-third of Labour voters backing Leave. That is bad, but not surprising: one-third of Lib Dem voters, and one-third of SNP voters, also went for Leave. Especially not surprising when for many older Labour voters, anti-EUism has been a major and sometimes dominant thread in Labour politics for the last half-century; when the 2015 Labour election campaign organisers, backed by most of the anti-Corbyn plotters but not by Corbyn, produced a “campaign mug” inscribed “Control Immigration”; when most pro-EU Labour politics has had, for 20 years, the neoliberal face of Blair and Brown, blandly praising “modernisation” and ignoring the havoc caused by free-ranging global capital in many working-class communities.

The coup-plotters want to return to the same soft-Tory politics and undemocratic organisation which have gutted and enfeebled Labour’s base for decades now, and block the possibilities of a renewal.

Anti-Corbyn Labour MP Yvette Cooper talks about “broader arrangements to build a wider consensus” with the Tories in the management of Brexit. Corbyn’s own response to the 23 June decision has been weak – he should be more vigorous, from our angle, in defending freedom of movement and European ties, than the Tories now pressing the “Norway option” are from theirs – but these people want to be even weaker.

Stay strong! Stand firm! Labour members and trade unionists must rally in defence of our movement’s democracy.

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