This article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website
A report by Amnesty International released on 7 February 2017 says that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were murdered in a secret prison in Syria from 2011 to 2016. Inmates at the prison were mostly civilians who supported the opposition to President Bashar al Assad. The information comes from interviews with 84 people who were former prisoners, guards, judges and doctors.
The report describes killing and torture on an industrial scale, “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, mass hangings of between 50 and 80 people that took place twice a week. The hangings were conducted extremely cruelly, with those who weighed less taking hours to die. The beatings that took place were extremely severe, and psychological torture was also employed, including forcing prisoners to rape each other.
Prisoners were also denied food and water. Many suffered from scabies, but were denied healthcare. Amnesty says that it is likely that “thousands more” people have been murdered by the regime since 2016, as there is nothing to suggest that the practices have been stopped: the field court is still in operation and people are still being transferred to Saydnaya prison.
A former guard stated in his interview: “Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity.” The accounts of Saydnaya are reminiscent of the accounts of survivors of Auschwitz. This is not the first report of its kind on the practices of the Syrian regime. As the report notes, people have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and “disappeared” since the 1980s under former President Hafez al Assad.
Since the popular uprising in 2011, and as the crisis in Syria worsened “tens of thousands” of citizens have been arrested and detained. Viewed in this context, the soft approach of much of the British left to the Russian and Syrian governments’ actions is both inexcusable and sickening.
In December last year, Peter Tatchell wrote in the Independent: “Stop the War Coalition has betrayed the Syrian people who protested peacefully for democracy in 2011 and have been massacred by Assad ever since. The principles of internationalist solidarity have been dumped. Responding to critics it its own ranks, the coalition belatedly, and somewhat mutedly, condemned the Assad and Putin bombing of civilians but has never organised a march against them.
“Indeed, although quick to demonstrate in opposition to any and all Western interventions, the coalition has failed to even once rally against the military intervention in Syria by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”
Workers’ Liberty have been a long-standing critic of the left’s Stalinised “two-pole” view on imperialism. Chris Nineham’s response as Vice Chair of Stop the War Coalition was that the organisation had to “focus on what our government is doing” as protests wouldn’t “make the blind bit of difference” to what Putin does to prop up Assad’s regime. Yet STWC protests against Trump, another leader whom Brits do not have democratic control over.
Tatchell wrote, “STWC has refused requests to have Syrian democrats and left-wingers opposed to Assad speak at its Syria events; but it has offered a platform to Syrians Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes, who have respectively defended the Damascus regime and claimed that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad’s forces are fabricated.”
The report from Amnesty shows the extent of the brutality of the Assad administration. The left should stand against this torture and murder of Syrians and not be silent.
Above: Steve Bell, Guardian
Also published on the Workers Liberty website and in the current issue of Solidarity:
Organise, on the streets and in the labour movement! Argue for socialist, democratic, internationalist ideas which offer a real answer both to Trump’s rancid, right-wing, regression, and to the discredited status quo. That is how we can block Trump.
Trump’s “executive order” of 27 January has stirred up protests across the world. Trump’s “Muslim ban” halted the entire US refugee programme for 120 days, and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees fleeing Assad’s butchery and the sectarian Islamist militias. All travellers who have nationality or dual nationality of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are not permitted to enter the US for 90 days, or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. Customs and Border Protection agents have defied the orders of federal judges halting deportations.
Besides this outrageous act of anti-Muslim and racist discrimination, Trump has also signed executive decisions:
• To build a wall along the US-Mexico border
• To withdraw US federal grant money from “sanctuary cities” in the USA which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants
• To advance construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines
• To order the commerce secretary to develop a plan (likely to breach WTO rules) requiring US-made steel for the pipelines
• To order public agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” all portions of Obama’s Affordable [Health] Care Act that create financial burdens on states, individuals, or healthcare companies
• To ban federal money to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions
• To withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. Trump has suggested that South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons and US forces withdraw from those countries.
He has courted Russian president Vladimir Putin, but talked of rescinding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Russia was an interested participant. He has favoured the use of torture, but suggested for now he will defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis on that. He has promised to build up US militarism. He has given a green light for more-or-less unlimited Israeli settlement and creeping annexation in the West Bank.
On 27 January, too, the Holocaust Memorial Day statement from Trump’s White House, unlike previous such US presidential statements, omitted Jews and antisemitism. Trump’s chief of staff defended the omission: “I mean, everyone suffering in the Holocaust including, obviously, all of the Jewish people affected… is something that we consider to be extraordinarily sad”.
Trump’s style is often fascistic: authoritarian, demagogic, militaristic, nationalist. The analytic difference between this and full-fledged fascism has importance. As Trotsky explained in the 1930s, when the Stalinists had the habit of describing all they disliked as “fascist”, fascism requires a street-fighting “movement of large masses, with new leaders from the rank and file… a plebeian movement in origin… from the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even to a certain extent from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialistic demagogy”.
The reactionary mass movement gives fascism the facility, which ordinary decree from above lacks, to crush the labour movement, civil society, and civil liberties, and to impose demagogic, nationalist, racist, protectionist, militaristic policies which even the majority of the bourgeoisie dislikes. “Such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots into his face”. In return:
“From fascism the bourgeoisie demands a thorough job; once it has resorted to methods of civil war, it insists on having peace for a period of years”.
To declare a right-wing government “fascist” before time amounts to declaring that social civil war has been lost in advance. Trump’s turn, however, can do great damage, and build conditions for actual fascism after the next great economic crisis. Already it shatters complacencies. Already it breaks up the comforting assumption that even if things get worse under neoliberalism, not all of them do, and worsening is slow, so if you have an established citizenship and good jobs you can keep ahead.
The globalised neoliberal world order has resilience. It has negotiated and absorbed many shocks. A great swathe of top-level opinion considers Trump maverick and dangerous. Within a few days of Trump’s “Muslim ban”, over 9,000 US academics, including 50 Nobel prize-winners and 82 winners of Fields medals or similar, had signed a protest, and they included the doyens of neoliberal economics, Eugene Fama and Robert Lucas. Yet, as the conservative writer Jonathan Rauch pointed out last year, the system of political mediations, consultations, information-flows, safeguards for continuity and coherence, in the USA, had substantially fractured even before Trump, replaced by a chaos of demagogues negotiating an atomised and disinformed electorate and a welter of wealthy lobbyists. In this fracturing, and with the confidence of orthodox bourgeois leaders shaken by the crash of 2008 and the disarray since then, a militant and cohesive bourgeois minority — and Trump may be able to assemble that — can take the initiative. The rest will mostly adapt (as Theresa May and Boris Johnson are doing) or shrug ineffectually.
In the USA’s State Department (equivalent of the Foreign Office), top officials had, as a conventional formality, submitted resignation letters on the arrival of a new president. Usually new presidents ignore most such letters and maintain some continuity of management. Trump has accepted all the resignation letters and made a clean sweep.
Against a determined push by Trump, the liberal bourgeoisie will not safeguard the moderate extensions of women’s and LGBT equality, the modest opening of opportunities to ethnic minorities, the relative freedom of movement for some across some borders, the mild cosmopolitanism, on which it prides itself. Having already let so many civil rights be swallowed by the “war on terror” and the drive for “labour flexibility”, it will be no bulwark for the rest. The liberal bourgeoisie may not even safeguard the achievement of which it boasts most, the reduction of economic barriers between countries.
Before the USA’s Smoot-Hawley tariff law of 1930, which started a catastrophic spiral of protectionism and shrinking world trade, “economics faculties [in the USA]… were practically at one in their belief that the Hawley-Smoot bill was an iniquitous piece of legislation”. Over a thousand economists petitioned the US administration against it. It went through, and its effects spiralled. It falls to the labour movement to defend even the limited bourgeois ameliorations.
The labour movement cannot do that unless it mobilises; unless it cleanses itself of the accommodations to nationalism now so common over Brexit; and unless it spells out socialist answers which can convince and rally the millions of the economically marginalised and disillusioned. It falls to the left to make the labour movement fit for those tasks.
Long-standing Labour MP (43 years in the House until he retired in 2005) Tam Dalyell, who died yesterday, supported many good causes, was personally honest and courteous and (to judge by the tributes pouring in) was much-loved on all sides of the Commons. In many respects, he was an exemplary MP. So it may seem churlish — distasteful, even — at this time, to raise the matter of remarks he made in 2003 about the supposed influence of Jews on British and American politics (and especially, foreign policy), and the response this evoked from his friend Paul Foot. Nevertheless, it is important as an illustration of how prevalent casual anti-semitism and conspiracy-theorising about Jews was (and remains) commonplace even on “respectable” sections of the left and amongst otherwise decent individuals – and of how dishonest and slippery the stance of “anti-Zionists” like Foot and the SWP often is.
By Sean Matgamna
A small outcry greeted Tam Dalyell MP’s assertion that there are too many Jews in the entourages of Tony Blair and George W Bush, and that those Jews make Britain’s and the USA’s policy on the Middle East.
I found the responses to Dalyell encouraging, but also seriously off the point. The important and effective antisemites now are not those who talk like Hitlerites about Jewish influence and Jewish “cabals,’. Such people can usually expect the response Dalyell got.
Their talk is too close to what the Nazis said to justify genocide. It begs too-obvious questions and implies preposterous answers to them. Do all Jews have the same politics? How can the presence of “the Jews”, or of people of Jewish faith or Jewish background, add up to “Jewish influence” or “Jewish conspiracy”, when the individuals involved often have different opinions and advocate different policies?
How, where the neo-conservatives of Jewish origin who are close to George Bush are out of line with the thinking of most American Jews, the big majority of whom are liberal Democrats? Where, though there may be a number of Jews who share the same opinion on certain questions, they are not alone in such opinions, and Jews can be found defending the opposite view?
Where some Jews helped create the recent anti-war movement, while others fervently supported the war, or, in Bush’s camp, helped initiate it?
There is only one coherent version of the idea that where there are Jews around, irrespective of whether they agree or fight with each other, then that is a Jewish influence. And that is the Nazi doctrine that Bolshevik Jews and Jewish international financiers, irrespective of all that divides them, are all nonetheless part of one Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. It is the only version that allows you to note the truth that there are bourgeois Jews and Bolshevik Jews, red Jews and Rothschilds.
That stuff doesn’t, I guess, have much of an open following now, though such bits of that old anti-semitism as Dalyell spewed out should of course be stamped on. A number of writers in the Guardian did stamp on it. It was left to Paul Foot to defend Dalyell and put the most important present day anti-semitism back in focus.
Foot wrote: “Obviously [Dalyel] is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure. But that is a mistake that is constantly encouraged by the Zionists” (Guardian 14 May 2003).
Foot advises Dalyell on how he should have expressed the same idea in widely acceptable words. Call them “Zionists”, not “Jews”, Tammy, and no-one can accuse you of being an anti-semite without also having to take on the bulk of the “revolutionary left”.
Learn how to do it in the modern fashion, comrade Dalyell’ Of course you didn’t mean “Jews”, you meant “Zionists”, didn’t you? Anti-Jewish feeling and ideas are usually now wrapped up in anti-Zionism. Not all “anti-Zionists” are anti-semites, but these days anti-semites are usually careful to present themselves as “anti-Zionists”.
For that reason, it is lightshedding to find a prominent pseudo-left “anti-Zionist” recognising as his political kin someone who denounces Jews – and, Foot thinks, was at fault only in lacking the finesse to say Zionist when he meant Jew.
“Anti-Zionism” is the anti-semitism of today. “Anti-Zionism”, that, is root-and-branch denunciation of Israel, involves comprehensively anti-Jewish attitudes – rampant or latent and implied – because it starts out from a stark refusal to recognise that the Jewish nation that had formed in Palestine by the mid 1930s had the right to exist, or the right to fight for its existence against those who would have destroyed it if they could.
In onslaughts the most important of which began in 1936, and in a series of wars, 1948, 1967, and 1973, Arab chauvinists tried to destroy the Jewish nation in Palestine. The “Zionists” had no right to defend themselves, still less to prevail! Arab pressure on the British overlords in pre-World-War-Two Palestine led to the closing of the doors to Palestine for Jews who otherwise faced death in Europe, and kept them closed all through the war and for three years after the war ended.
In his own way, Foot expresses the logic he himself sees in the “anti-Zionist” language he advises Dalyell to adopt. “There are lots of Jews in Britain who are bitterly opposed to the loathsome Israeli occupation of other people’s countries and the grotesque violence it involves” (emphasis added).
Countries, plural? Which countries does Israel occupy other than the West Bank and Gaza? Foot does not mean the ex-Syrian Golan Heights, Israeli-occupied since 1967. He means pre-1967 Israel.
The attitude to Israel which Foot expresses, that it does not have the right to exist at all, begins with denial of equality to the Jews of Palestine and with demonising the Jewish nation there.
From that denial comes grotesque anti-Jewish bias and misrepresentation in accounts of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and the origin of Israel. The Jewish nation had no right to exist; Jews who fled to Palestine from the Nazis had no right to do that; they never had the right to defend themselves, and they don’t have it now.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in the world, in whose post-Holocaust identity Israel is engrafted, are guilty of racism and betrayal of Jewish internationalism when, however critical they may be of Israeli governments, they defend Israel’s right to exist.
Beginning with denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist, this “anti-Zionism” spreads out to also demonise most Jews in the world. The “Zionists” who are demonised by the “anti-Zionists” of foot’s kind are always Jewish Zionists, not non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. (The exception is when they are those who can be denounced as renegades from pseudo-left orthodoxy on Israel and “Zionism” – like the non-Jewish supporters of Solidarity).
“Anti-Zionism” is the most potent anti-Semitism in the modern world. It is especially and most venomously a property of the pseudo-left, as Dalyell’s statement and Paul Foot’s gloss on it shows clearly.
In fact Dalyell didn’t even get his facts right. Of the three “Jews” he named in Blair’s circle, two, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson, do not identify themselves as Jews, though both have some Jewish ancestry. The daft old duffer blundered into a racist, “tell-me-who-your-ancestors-were” definition of Jewishness. By the time Foot came to defend Tam Dalyell, his mistake had been pointed out. Foot didn’t notice. Just call them “Zionists” Tammy and you can’t go wrong.
This “anti-Zionism” is no help at all to the Palestinians. For over half a century the Arab chauvinist demand for the destruction of Israel has been the best helper the expansionist Jewish-chauvinist Israeli right has had. If the Arab states and the Palestinians had accepted the Israeli proposal of September 1967 to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in June that year in return for Arab recognition and normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states, then the colonialist horrors of the last 35 years on the West Bank could not have happened.
People like Foot, are not socialist internationalists but vicarious Arab chauvinists. They are no friends of the oppressed Palestinians, for whom the only just and possible settlement is an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
The main thing “socialists” like Foot and his mentor Tony Cliff have achieved is to infuse old left-wing anti-colonialism with virulent anti-Semitism, dressed up in the way Foot advises Dalyell to dress it up, as “anti-Zionism”.
We should vote for Len McCluskey in the Unite general secretary election for which nominations open on 16 January because it is a first-past-the-post poll, and without left-wing votes going to McCluskey there is a real risk Gerard Coyne will win.
Coyne is heavily backed by the Labour right wing around Tom Watson and Progress. If he wins, he will swing Unite decisively to the anti-Corbyn camp. That could close down all the openings for Labour revival opened by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victories.
Vote Coyne, and get Watson and Progress: that’s the deal.
In the 2013 general secretary election there was no right-wing candidate. In the 2010 poll the right-wing vote was split between two right-wing candidates. Their combined vote was only 16,000 less than the vote for McCluskey.
A good chunk of the 53,000 votes won in that ballot by Jerry Hicks will have been by no means tightly anchored to the left. Many members who voted Hicks because they saw him as closer to the old AEU strand in Unite, or because they backed his promise to boost the role of retired members, or because they liked his complaint about “the relationship with Labour being put ahead of members’ interests” (as Hicks put it), may be seduced by a well-crafted Coyne campaign.
Coyne probably has a better “machine” behind him than Bayliss or Cartmail did in 2010. The media will be much more aggressively anti-McCluskey than in previous elections (partly using ammunition which, it has to be said, McCluskey has manufactured for them.)
If there were no difference between McCluskey and Coyne, then we could dismiss the “splitting the left vote” argument. But there is a real difference.
We have many criticisms of McCluskey, including as regards his role in the Labour Party. But McCluskey is right about one thing: Unite’s backing for Corbyn “in 2015… was a decision of our elected lay Executive Council, and in 2016 of our 600-strong Policy Conference, by a vast majority… Gerard Coyne’s campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members’ interests. It is being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party… in their political project to bring back Blairism”.
The Unite Executive Council election:
The United Left (UL) has a slate of candidates that we support: a mixture of old and new candidates, some with years of experience on the Executive Council plus a new generation of candidates striving to serve for the first time. All of them are, as far as we can judge, effective lay activists from all regions, sectors and equalities strands who are Rule 6 compliant and determined to ensure UNITE remains strong and continues to grow stronger. We advocate voting for them.
Attached; full slate of UL candidates with branch and membership nos + unite4Len leaflet
For guidance nominating branches should pay special attention to the
following in the UNITE Ballot Guidelines:
- Nominations can be made by branches and workplaces (where there is no
workplace branch). Branches will be sent nomination forms. Forms for
workplace reps will be available from Regional Secretaries and, for branches
only, online. Nominations can only be made at a meeting properly convened
for that purpose during the nominating period. All notices of meetings must
be made available to the Returning Officer when nominations are submitted.
Sample notices which can be used are included here for convenience, as an
- Branches need not give special notice of the meeting if their branch
meeting details are up-to-date on the membership system. Otherwise at least
seven days’ notice of the meeting must be given, and it must be clearly
stated that EC nominations will be considered at the meeting. All workplaces
must give such notice of their meetings. At least five members eligible to
vote must be in attendance at Branch meetings, which may only nominate for
national equalities seats, for the regional seats in the region in which the
branch is located and for the sectoral seats(s) in sectors which the branch
has at least five members. Workplaces may only nominate for the relevant
sector seat and for national equality seats at least three members eligible
to vote must be in attendance at the workplace meeting.
Follow and retweet @ULnational and @uniteforlen see http://www.unitedleft.org.uk for full details of the UL slate
Workers’ Liberty member Daniel Randall spoke on a panel at Limmud, a Jewish cultural and educational conference, on a panel entitled “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The other speakers were Jon Lansman (Momentum), Anna Lawton (Labour Party member and Limmud 2017 chair), and Barnaby Raine (RS21). The session was chaired by Andrew Gilbert (London Jewish Forum and Labour Party member).
This is a slightly-edited version of Daniel’s speech at the session.
I’m Daniel Randall; I work on the underground in London, where I’m a rep for the RMT union. I’m also a member of the socialist group Workers’ Liberty; we’re a Trotskyist organisation, but a rather heterodox one. I should also say that I’m not currently a member of the Labour Party, having been expelled, twice, for my membership of Workers’ Liberty. So I’m speaking here somewhat as a Labour Party member “in exile”.
The title of this panel is “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. I’m going to approach the issue slightly differently, because I’m not a communalist; I’m not a Zionist, or a Bundist, or nationalist or cultural autonomist of any other stripe. I don’t believe in a unitary “Jewish interest”, and I don’t believe there’s any essentialist, innate “Jewish characteristics” that ought to compel Jews to join Labour, or any other political party. Fundamentally, I think Jews should join the Labour Party if they support its foundational purpose: to represent in politics the interests of working class.
I should also say that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The Labour Party belongs to its members, not to its leader, and has always been a politically contested space and a site of struggle. You might not like the current political composition of the leadership, for whatever reason, but if you believe in labour representation, you should be in the Labour Party.
But to say nothing more than that would be a missed opportunity, I think, so I will use the not-very-much time I have to say a bit more on what a Corbyn-led Labour Party might imply for the relationship between Jews and the left.
I think the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to recompose and renew the left. Hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them new to politics and without the training and baggage of years spent organised under prevailing far-left common sense, good and bad, have become politicised, and some have become mobilised and active.
If you’re a Jewish leftist or labour movement activist who has felt uncomfortable with, or alienated by, the ‘common sense’ that has prevailed on the left around certain issues, and I agree that there has been much to feel uncomfortable about, then the febrile political atmosphere created by the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to challenge and change that ‘common sense’. You should get involved in and be part of those discussions, but that means making a commitment to attempt to see this political moment through, on its own terms.
Much has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal, individual attitude to Israel/Palestine and antisemitism. On substantive questions of policy he has a much better position, in my view, than the one which has predominated on much of the far-left: he is for a two-state settlement, rather than the destruction of Israel, and against blanket boycotts of Israel. That puts him one up on much of the far-left.
His weaknesses on these issues, his historic softness on Hamas, for example, reflect the reality of him as a product of the existing left – a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues. But the new left in the Labour Party is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn himself and, as I’ve said, represents an opportunity to challenge those politics.
I think it’s also important for me to say here that the view that the entire far-left is institutionally antisemitic is a calumny, and I think some of the antisemitism scandals in Labour have been blown out of proportion and manipulated for factional ends, by figures on the right of the party.
Nevertheless, left antisemitism is a real and distinct phenomenon which needs a specific analysis and response. We don’t have time to say much here, but briefly, I think we can understand antisemitism on the left as a form of implied political hostility to Jews, distinct from the racialised antipathy of far-right antisemitism. This has its roots in the efforts by Stalinism, from the 1950s onward, to cynically conflate “Zionism” with imperialism, racism, and even fascism, which established a ‘common sense’ which came to dominate even on the anti-Stalinist left. Only an analysis that understands the historical roots of left antisemitism, and which sets as its aim the renewal of the left, on a politically healthier basis, can meaningfully confront it. The required response is fundamentally political, rather than moralistic or administrative or bureaucratic; to be part of recomposing and renewing a movement you must first be part of the movement.
The key is a culture of open debate, discussion, and education, conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, on all sides. We’re not there yet; far from it. But I believe we have an opportunity to build a left that is characterised by those things, and if you believe in them too then I urge you to help shape it.
I will finish by offering a different, perhaps more fundamental set of reasons why Jews should join the Labour Party.
We live in a grossly unequal world, characterised by exploitation and oppression. Just in this country, one of the richest in the world, over 500,000 people use food banks. In 2016, nearly 200 employers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage – a wage which it is now widely acknowledged it too low to live on anyway. Various forms of social oppression persist, and ecological degradation continues. It’s a bleak picture. And against this backdrop, the wealth of the richest continues to skyrocket. The richest 1,000 in Britain have increased their wealth by 112% since 2009.
All of that is grotesque and obscene. It should offend you, “as Jews”, and as human beings. It should make you want to change it. The only way we can change it is on the basis of a movement based fundamentally, structurally, on the relationship and conflict that animates it all: class. That is what the Labour Party and wider labour movement is for. And if you believe that it is the mission of the labour movement to change the world, and you find the labour movement before you inadequate or deficient in some way, then it is your responsibility not to abandon it, but to help transform it.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, I don’t believe in any innate Jewish characteristics that ought to compel us in a particular direction. But perhaps there is something in our historical experience that can help us gain an understanding of why our world is organised in that way, and how it might be different. In his essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Isaac Deutscher explores why Jews have seemed to be over-represented in the ranks of the thinkers and organisers of the left. Considering various figures including Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, he writes:
“Have they anything in common with one another? Have they perhaps impressed mankind’s thought so greatly because of their special ‘Jewish genius’? I do not believe in the exclusive genius of any race. Yet I think that in some ways they were very Jewish indeed. They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect. They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions, and national cultures.
“They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilised each other. They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations. They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”
That is our history. We do the most honour to our heritage when we attempt to use that history and experience to go beyond our own experience, into perspectives for universal emancipation.
That is why you, as a Jew, should dedicate yourself to the struggle to change the world. That is why you should join the Labour Party.
See also: Comrade Coatsey
Jon Lansman and Tony Benn in 1981
I’m glad to read your statement to the Guardian that you’re “not walking away from Momentum”. I hope it will help quiet the split talk from some high-profile people around Momentum – Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Laura Murray – since the 3 December national committee meeting.
I hope, even, that it means it may be possible to talk quietly, without media-provided megaphones and howling about sabotage, to discuss what adjustments or compromises can best keep Momentum on the road.
We are for unity. If we find ourselves on the losing side in some future votes about Momentum structure or policy, as we’ve found ourselves on losing sides in the past, we won’t split. We’ll only take up the democratic rights that every minority should have, to try to convince the majority.
As you know, I’ve sought you out for off-the-record conversations about Momentum, to find common ground and to clarify and explore ways of dealing with differences, since before Momentum was launched. I’m glad you agreed to those conversations, and disappointed that more recently you haven’t responded to requests for further talk.
This has to be an open letter; but it is also a letter, an attempt to restart dialogue.
You and I were effectively co-organisers of the Labour Party Democracy Task Force in 2010-11, when Ed Miliband made a promise (effectively, in the end, annulled) of an open review of Labour Party structures. We were also effectively co-organisers of the campaign against the Collins Report in 2013-14.
Further back, we worked together in the Rank and File Mobilising Committee for Labour Democracy in 1980. I was only a backroom activist, while you were the secretary of the committee, but the organiser of the committee, your partner in the day-to-day running of that campaign, was my Workers’ Liberty comrade John Bloxam.
Thus you know from long experience that Owen Jones’s, or Laura Murray’s, squalling about us as “saboteurs” and “sectarians” is nonsense.
We have never agreed on grand political philosophies. I am, or try to be, a Trotskyist, a revolutionary Marxist. As you said in an interview with me in 2014, you are “not from [our] political tradition”; if I understand right, you are a reform-socialist, a “Dererite” in the sense of the gradualist strategy advocated by Vladimir Derer (founder of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), but, unlike Derer, not a Marxist. Read the rest of this entry »
This statement also appears in the present issued of Solidarity:
After the Momentum national committee on Saturday 3 December voted that Momentum should have a decision-making delegate conference — the big controversial decision! — figures on the fringes of Momentum, and some within it, have launched a social-media and mass-media outcry against Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity.
This outcry should be resisted with an insistence on unity, a focus on positive campaigning, and a refusal to let the mass media or the Labour machine’s notorious Compliance Unit split us.
Although we were only a small part of the 3 December meeting, the whole majority is being denounced as manipulated, controlled, or even bullied by the few Workers’ Liberty people there, and the decision to have a democratic conference as a “Trotskyist takeover”.
Some people are signalling that they want to split Momentum on this issue. Our reply is clear: the majority is much broader than us. It is not controlled by us.
We, and as far as we know all the majority, are totally for unity and against a split. Momentum should unite to fight the Tories and the Labour right wing.
We are not even “hard-liners” on the organisational issues. We, and the majority, do want democracy in Momentum: we believe democracy is necessary for stable unity. But we always have been, and are, open to dialogue and compromise about modalities, details, forms.
We have kept our tone comradely. We have repeatedly sought off-the-record discussions with those who led the minority on 3 December to explore adjustments, common ground, maximisation of consensus.
The ones who are reluctant to compromise, and who run their debates in tones of violent denunciation of those disagree with them, are elements in the minority, and, even more, their media outriders, who are not even active in Momentum.
The writer Paul Mason told the BBC Daily Politics on 8 December that, although he had “never been to a Momentum meeting”, he demanded a purge. “If Jill Mountford [a National Committee member of Momentum]… remains basically an expelled member of the Party and remains in Momentum, I will not remain in Momentum”.
Labour “auto-excluded” 618 members during the Labour leadership contest this summer, and 1038 members are still suspended, according to figures at the last Labour NEC. Thousands more leftwingers (no-one knows exactly how many) were expelled or suspended during the 2015 leadership contest. Many of those expelled are long-standing Labour Party members, whom no-one talked of expelling during the Blair, Brown, or Miliband years.
Until now the left has agreed that we do not trust the Compliance Unit’s decisions on who should or shouldn’t be allowed in the Labour Party. Momentum has voted to oppose the purge. Other left groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy have a long-standing policy of including unjustly expelled left-wingers.
The Compliance Unit wants to split the left. We should not allow them to do that.
Remember: the Compliance Unit could well expel Paul Mason — he is an ex-member of a Trotskyist group, and surely has said unkind things about Labour right-wingers on social media.
Owen Jones, another figure on the fringe of Momentum, another one who could well be expelled by the Compliance Unit if they choose, has used the Guardian to claim that the issue in Momentum is “a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians”.
Mason, Jones, and others should put aside their megaphones. They should come and discuss the best way to build unity and effective campaigning for Momentum.
Voting was quite closely divided on 3 December, but delegates agreed on a decision-making national conference, to be on 18 February, 25 February, or 4 March. Both local groups and individuals (via the online platform MxV) will be able to submit motions to the conference. The existing Steering Committee will remain in place until after the conference. The 3 December meeting elected a conference arrangements committee.
We were not in the majority on everything, but we are confident that the 3 December decisions will command a broad consensus in most of Momentum’s local groups.
As Michael Chessum, a Momentum Steering Committee member (and not one of us), has said: “[if the meeting was polarised] The Steering Committee has to accept the lion’s share of the responsibility … By bypassing and undermining the national committee – a body to which it was technically subordinate – the Steering Committee substantially overreached its mandate and infuriated grassroots activists. As a result, attitudes hardened and
the regional delegates, who make up a majority of the NC, almost all arrived mandated to vote for a purely delegate-based conference.”
More calm, more space for discussion and appreciation of the hard voluntary work of comrades in the national office and in local groups, fewer meeting-cancellations, fewer attempts to pre-empt decisions, would have helped improve the atmosphere on 3 December. Whether it would have stopped the recent Trotskyist-baiting, we don’t know.
In the media storm, our ideas on imperialism, on Israel-Palestine, on Europe have been misrepresented, and the great warehouse of Stalinist slurs against Trotskyists has been called into use.
Yes, we are Trotskyists. We say what we think, and we organise openly for our ideas. We believe Momentum is a tremendous opportunity for the left. We have played a constructive role in it since it started, in local groups, nationally, and in initiatives like Momentum NHS.
20,000 people have joined Momentum as members since it launched. There are 150 local groups.
Those groups must be allowed the means to develop a democracy — a continuously thinking, adjust, rethinking process of debate and decision-making which evolves a collective majority opinion — and that needs a conference, not just decision-making via online plebiscites run by the Momentum full-time staff.
At the 3 December meeting we supported a successful motion from Momentum Youth and Students for a campaign to make Labour stand firm on freedom of movement and to fight against the Tories’ post-Brexit plans. Momentum should be uniting to put such policies into action, not using the mass media to stir a storm against
the 3 December majority.
Some in the 3 December minority oppose a decision-making conference because they think Momentum should not have policy beyond being generically left-wing and pro-Corbyn. There is a case, and we accept it, for moving quite slowly and gently on many policy issues in a new movement like Momentum. But without policies — on issues like freedom of movement, for example — Momentum cannot campaign coherently in local Labour Parties or on the streets (or, as we found this September, at the Labour Party conference).
Otherwise Momentum can only be a support organisation for the current Labour leadership, a database or phone bank for exercises like the leadership elections.
Let’s go forward to build Momentum, build the Labour Party, resist the Compliance Unit’s purges, fight the Tories, and argue for socialist policies.
Those who disagree with the decisions at the National Committee should discuss within Momentum: on our side, they will find no closed doors, and a strong will for unity.
Labour must seek to persuade Leave voters, but make no concessions to nativism
By Martin Thomas
It is conceivable that within a year or so there will be no European Union, or not much of an EU, for Britain to quit.
In Italy, Salvini’s right-wing nationalist and anti-immigrant Lega Nord may be able to seize the initiative after the likely defeat on 4 December of prime minister Matteo Renzi in Renzi’s referendum on increased executive powers. Or it may be the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, who has tacked left sometimes but who greeted Trump’s election with right-wing bombast. Trump, Grillo said, had defeated the “journalists and intellectuals of the system, serving the big powers. Trump has screwed over all of them — Freemasons, huge banking groups, the Chinese”. The Lega Nord wants Italy to quit the euro, though not the EU; so does Grillo; so does Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia.
In Austria, also on 4 December, neo-Nazi Norbert Hofer may win the presidency. Next March and April, Marine Le Pen of the Front National could win the much more powerful French presidency. She is way behind in the polls at present, but then so was Trump for a long time. She wants France to quit the EU as well as the euro. Her likely second-round opponent, François Fillon, is not quite a “call out the border guards” type, but he is a social conservative, a Thatcherite, who rejoices that “France is more rightwing than it has ever been”.
The Netherlands also has elections in March 2017. Since Britain’s Brexit vote, Geert Wilders’ anti-immigrant PVV, which wants the Netherlands to quit the EU, has usually led the opinion polls. Maybe none of these dislocations will happen. 65 years of European capitalist integration, since the Coal and Steel Community of 1951, have created a web of connections with staying power. But even one upset, in Italy, France, or the Netherlands, could unravel an already-shaky EU.
Probably, in the short term at least, a looser free-trade area would survive, rather than a full return to frontier fences, heavy tariffs, and high military tensions, but “Brexit” as such would dwindle to a detail. If the EU survives on present lines, its anxieties and tensions will work against easy terms for Brexit. They will make “hard Brexit” probable whatever the Tories want.
Already many of the Tory ministers positively want “hard Brexit”. That will be regression. A break-up of the EU would be worse regression. It would increase divisions between the working classes of different countries. It would threaten the rights and security of 14 million people in Europe who live, currently as EU citizens, outside their countries of origin.
The new border barriers would make things even harder for refugees from outside the EU. The break-up would sharpen competitive pressures on governments to squeeze their working classes, and reverse the mediocre and patchy, but real, processes of social levelling-up which have come with the EU. It would expose each country more to the gusts of the world markets. Foolish is the idea, circulated in some parts of the left, that a break-up or partial break-up of the EU would be good, because all disruption of the existing system must be good.
Salvini, Grillo, Hofer, Le Pen, Wilders will not replace the EU’s neoliberalism by anything more generous. They will only add anti-immigrant and nationalist venom. The mainstream left, the “centre-left” as it shyly says these days, is alarmed, but unable to respond with flair.
In Austria, the Social-Democratic SPÖ has a coalition government with Hofer’s neo-Nazi Freedom Party in the Burgenland province. In Italy, the Democratic Party, the main remnant of the once-huge Italian Communist Party, is led by Renzi, whose drive for strong executive powers and anti-worker policy has given the right their opening. In France, on 25 October a poll found only 4% of voters “satisfied” with the record of Socialist Party president François Hollande, whose latest move has been to slash workers’ rights with a new“Labour Law”.
The choice, not just between progress and stagnation, but between progress and rancid regression, depends on the clumsily-emerging new forces on the left, like the Corbyn movement in Britain. We must stake out political ground, win arguments, rally people to principles, remobilise the labour movement at ground level, pull together into political effectiveness young people who still overwhelmingly reject the new nationalism and racism.
Neither the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership of the Labour Party, nor Labour’s biggest left grouping, Momentum, is doing well on this. In the run-up to the June 2016 Brexit referendum, John McDonnell said, rightly, that: “One of the fundamental rights the EU protects for its citizens is freedom of movement. I think this is critical. The right of working people to live and work where they choose is a hard-won gain of the labour movement… We should stand foursquare for freedom of movement in Europe. The right to travel and seek employment is a fundamental one”.