No more excuses for Jackie Walker!

September 29, 2016 at 8:31 pm (anti-semitism, Jim D, labour party, Racism)

https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/article_large/public/thumbnails/image/2016/09/28/16/jackie-walker-rt-momentum-.jpg

Back in May, when Jackie Walker was suspended from the Labour party for alleged anti-semitic remarks, this blog called for her re-instatement, whilst making it clear that we had serious misgivings about the Facebook comments she’d made.

Like many others, we were prepared to give Ms Walker the benefit of the doubt at the time – especially as the right wing seemed to be using all sorts of pretexts for suspending leftists without due process.

But I have to say that the more I’ve seen and heard about Ms Walker since then, the more I’ve become convinced that she is, in fact, an anti-Semite.

Her latest outburst at a training session on challenging anti-semitism, run by the Jewish Labour Movement, is the final straw. Not only was she offensive, but she demonstrated her extraordinary ignorance by criticising that Holocaust Memorial Day for (supposedly) excluding non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. She also claimed that there was no particular reason for Jewish schools to have security measures in place, and that she had never “heard a definition of anti-semitism that I can work with.”

All decent people must now surely agree with Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement) when he says:

“I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an anti-Semitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address anti-Semitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself,” he said.

“To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of National Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of anti-Semitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour Party today.

“As vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker has consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.”

Walker’s initial reaction to her comments being publicised was to tweet:

Raises issues on the safety of JLM training for Labour

— Jackie Walker (@jjackiewalks) September 28, 2016

Since then, she has issued a mealy-mouthed, hypocritical non-apology beginning “If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I want to do.”

This won’t do. Walker’s increasingly obvious anti-semitism is intolerable. She should immediately resign as vice chair of Momentum, and if she fails to do so, must be removed (I understand that senior Momentum people now agree that she must go – though I fear a lot of Momentum members will see nothing wrong in what she’s said).

Coming just before Corbyn’s closing speech, in which he (for the first time as far as I’m aware) specified anti-semitism in particular (ie not just lumped in along with racism and Islamophobia, etc) as unacceptable within the Party, Walker’s words, attitude and dishonesty amount to an an embarrassment to Corbyn, Momentum and Labour as a whole. As well as further alienating the vast majority of Jewish people from the Party.

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Coatesy on Corbyn’s principled immigration stance

September 28, 2016 at 12:52 pm (Andrew Coates, Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, labour party)

We share and endorse Coatesy’s view:

Corbyn: Pro-Immigration Against anti-Migrants – of ‘Left’ and Right.

Image result for immigration controls UK

Immigration Controls: from pro-Brexit ‘left’ to Rachel Reeves’ Dire Warnings. 

Nothing illustrates the often artificial divisions between Left and Right in the labour and socialist movement more clearly than the issues of immigration and migration.

On the one side are those like the authors of the recent Fabian publication arguing for a hard-line against immigration,

Three of the MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, and Stephen Kinnock – explained in articles for the Fabian Society that the party should change tack on migration rights in response to the Brexit vote that won in many of Labour’s English and Welsh heartlands.

Reeves, in quotes reported by The Huffington Post, said: “Immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brext – otherwise we we will be holding the voters in contempt.”

Kinnock added: “The referendum had a clear message: the limitless nature of freedom of movement, despite its proven economic benefits, is not socially and politically sustainable.”

Reynolds said that “no future deal [with the EU] can retain free movement of people in its present form” adding that Leave voters had asked for migration to be cut whatever the economic implications.

They were preceded by the nationalist British Communist Party (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP),

Robert Griffiths as leader of Britain’s ‘official’ communists in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, argued against the “the super-exploitation of migrant workers”. Not, you understand, to create a Europe wide (EU) system of raising standards, but raising the drawbridges against the said ‘migrant workers’.

The Socialist party has argued for “local jobs for local workers” – sufficiently often to be noticed by the European Press.

Clive Heemskerk is one of the central leaders of the Socialist Party, has argued “The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle, but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.” (Socialism Today September 2016.)

In other words immigration controls-  perhaps on the model of the ‘closed shop’?- should form a central part of ‘socialist’ policy.

Far from being a ‘victory’ against ‘Capital’ the principal effect of their ‘Brexit’ on the labour movement has been the rise in calls for ending the freedom of movement of people.

Rachel Reeves has since issued this warning (Independent).

Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Riots could sweep streets of Britain if immigration isn’t curbed after Brexit.

Former Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves has warned that Britain could “explode” into rioting if immigration is not curbed after Brexit.

The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary warned that there were “bubbling tensions” over immigration that could spill over into violence if the deal agreed with the rest of the EU did not include an end to freedom of movement.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon, the Leeds West MP said the party must listen to voters’ concerns.

She said: “We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.

You had those riots in 2011… If riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinderbox.”

Ms Reeves, who left the Shadow Cabinet last year when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader, rejected claims that she was “Red Ukip” for calling for an end to mass immigration.

She was one of several moderate Labour MPs who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU but said it should accept immigration controls now that the public had decided to leave.

One wing of the pro-Brexit and pro-immigration control ‘left’, cited above, is going to have a hard time explaining away their support for tougher immigration controls..

The ‘best friends’ of Jeremy Corbyn from the CPB and the SP, and others, who back these reactionary policies, will have to answer this.

Corbyn sets out his stall on Labour’s immigration divide

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.

‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’

The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.

Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’

Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.

And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.

With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.

This is a tough issue.

I must say I am immensely encouraged by Corbyn’s speech.

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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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Labour First’s response to Corbyn’s victory

September 24, 2016 at 1:10 pm (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, Uncategorized)

We publish, purely for the information of readers, Labour First’s response to the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn:


Above: comrade Akehurst

Dear

Labour First is a network founded in 1988 as the party was going through a previous crisis of entryism by the Hard Left. It exists to ensure that the voices of moderate party members and Labour voters are heard while the party is kept safe from the organised Hard Left, and those who seek to divert us from the work of making life better for ordinary working people and their families.

As such we take a long view and don’t get over-flustered by short-term setbacks. We take heart that over 193,000 votes were cast against Corbyn.

The result of the leadership election doesn’t change any of these fundamental truths:

  • Labour will only be able to win in 2020 with a Leader who can connect with mainstream voters.
  • Until then our job is to effectively expose and oppose the attacks of this Tory government on public services, social justice and working people’s living standards but also to fight to defend mainstream policies such as Trident renewal, to defend hard-working MPs and councillors from sectarian de-selection threats, to maximise the moderate voice in the party structures at all levels, and to seek to bring in rule changes that will bring stability back to the party.
  • In the meantime we campaign wholeheartedly for Labour victories at every level including the 2 forthcoming parliamentary by-elections.
  • If “functional unity” to take on the Tories can be achieved e.g. people serving in a Shadow Cabinet elected by the PLP, we welcome that.
  • Jeremy should have done the honourable thing and resigned when he lost the Brexit referendum and lost the confidence of the PLP.
  • His political views, lack of leadership qualities and the behaviour and ideology of his supporters mean he can never win over the British public or unite the party.
  • Eventually as in the 1980s we will prevail because our views are nearer to those of ordinary working people. There has to be a progressive alternative to this Conservative hegemony and that can only be a moderate Labour Party.

Best wishes,

Luke Akehurst
Secretary, Labour First

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Review: ‘The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-semitism’

September 21, 2016 at 4:56 pm (anti-semitism, israel, labour party, literature, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, USSR, zionism)

1875742996

Biteback Publishing, 2016, pp. 320.

By Dale Street (this review also appears on the Workers Liberty website)

Dave Rich’s The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-semitism is not quite what its subtitle suggests it is. But that does not make the book, published a fortnight ago, any the less worth reading.

The focus of the book is not Corbyn. At its core is an attempt to provide an explanation of “how and why antisemitism appears on the left, and an appeal to the left to understand, identify and expel antisemitism from its politics.”

The antisemitism in question is not the ‘traditional’ racist version. It is an antisemitism which is rooted in “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel”, albeit one which frequently incorporates anti-semitic stereotypes and tropes. The paradoxical result is that its proponents “believe anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews, while not feeling any visceral hostility towards them and while thinking of themselves as anti-racists.”

The historical starting point of Rich’s explanation is the emergence of the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s. The New Left, argues Rich, turned away from traditional class politics and focused instead on identity politics and anti-colonial struggles in the Third World. In its most extreme form, this involved writing off the working class as the decisive agent of social change. Instead, “Third World struggles were the new focus of world revolution”, and armed conflict was the highest form of those struggles.

Especially in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, this way of looking at the world increasingly identified Israel as a bastion of imperialist oppression. The Palestinians, on the other hand, were allocated a place in the front ranks of the anti-imperialist forces. Two other factors reinforced this overly simplistic and ultimately anti-semitic conceptualisation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Firstly, the Soviet Union relaunched a massive state-run “anti-Zionist” campaign based on thinly disguised — and sometimes not even that — antisemitism. Traditional anti-semitic themes — rich, powerful, cruel, manipulative Jews — were recast in the language of “anti-Zionism”. The Soviet campaign portrayed Israel itself as an outpost and bridgehead of US imperialism in the Middle East. It was ultra- aggressive, ultra-expansionist and committed to the military conquest of the surrounding Arab states.

Secondly, British Young Liberals, trying to replicate the success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, recast Israel as an apartheid state in which the indigenous Arab population suffered the same levels of discrimination as Blacks in South Africa. Rich writes: “The Young Liberals established an enduring template for left-wing anti-Zionism in Britain. … It is common to blame Trotskyists and other Marxists for the spread of anti-Zionism on the left. In reality, this movement was kick-started by Young Liberals and Arab nationalist activists, funded by Arab governments.”

Peter Hain, a future Labour MP but then a leading figure in the Young Liberals, played a particularly prominent role in the creation of this “anti-Zionist” template: “The world cannot allow its shame over its historic persecution of Jews to rationalise the present persecution of the Palestinians. The case for the replacement of Israel by a democratic secular state of Palestine must be put uncompromisingly.”

“They (Israeli Jews) can recognise now that the tide of history is against their brand of greedy oppression, or they can dig in and invite a bloodbath. … [Israel keeps Palestinians] in far more oppressive conditions in fact than many black South Africans live.”

By the mid-1970s the main elements of what now — and long since — passes for “anti-Zionism” on sections of the British left were already in place. Zionism was not just another nationalism. It was a uniquely evil ideology, inherently racist, and necessarily genocidal. Israel was an “illegitimate” apartheid state, a colonial enterprise equated to the dispossession of the Palestinians, and incapable of reform.

Rich goes on to provide examples of how such themes were amplified and built upon in subsequent years. If Israel was, as claimed, an apartheid state, then it was a “legitimate” target for a comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. This has now “climaxed” in the decision of some British union to boycott the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union federation. If Zionism was, as claimed, a form of racism, then it was “legitimate” for Student Unions to refuse to fund Jewish Societies which failed to disavow Zionism.

The mid-1970s and the mid-1980s saw repeated attempts to ban Jewish societies on this basis. If Zionism was, as claimed, inherently genocidal, then it was “legitimate” to equate it with Nazism — an equation which became increasingly common in sections of the left press and on placards on pro-Palestine demonstrations. And if Israel and Zionism were guilty as claimed, then a common “anti-imperialism” made it “legitimate” to ally with forces hostile to the most basic values of the left. This found expression in the SWP-Muslim Association of Britain alliance in the Stop the War Coalition.

As the ultimate example of this “way of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” Rich quotes from a letter published by the Morning Star, written by a veteran reader and Communist Party member: “Israel, and all that Israel has done and is doing, is an affront to all those millions who fought and died fighting fascism before, during and after the war against fascism. … A few years ago [an Italian partisan who survived Dachau] committed suicide. He left a note saying that the good Jews were all killed in the concentration camps.”

As Rich points out, such “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” bring those sections of the left which espouse them into conflict with most Jews in Britain (and the world): “Israel’s existence is an important part of what it means to be Jewish today. The idea that Israel shouldn’t exist or that Zionism was a racist, colonial endeavour rather than a legitimate expression of Jewish nationhood, cuts to the heart of British Jews’ sense of identity of who they are.”

Rich concludes: “There has been a breakdown in trust and understanding between British Jews, the Labour Party, and the broader left. There are parts of the left where most Jews feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. … It’s not too late to bring this relationship back to health.”

Despite the book’s subtitle, Corbyn himself appears only spasmodically in the book. Rich rightly criticises Corbyn for various statements on Israel which he has made over the years and for his patronage of campaigns which have served as incubators for left antisemitism. Corbyn’s inability to understand left antisemitism is also highlighted by Rich. Corbyn seems to hold the view that left antisemitism is an oxymoron – only the far right can be anti-semitic – and that accusations of antisemitism are raised in bad faith to undermine criticism of Israel.

More open to challenge is Rich’s description of Corbyn as being “ambiguous” on Israel’s right to exist. It is certainly true that the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine which Corbyn supported in the early 1980s was rabidly hostile to Israel’s existence. (The campaign was set up by Tony Greenstein.) But Corbyn’s overall record has been one of backing a “two states solution”.

But Rich is not overly concerned with Corbyn’s own views on Israel and antisemitism. For Rich, Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader “symbolises” — and Rich uses the word on more than one occasion — something more profound. Corbyn’s “political home” was the New Left which spawned left antisemitism. His election as party leader means that “what was once on the fringes of the left” is now centre-stage. Corbyn’s election was “the ultimate New Left triumph rather than a return to Old Labour.”

This is true in the sense that some people around Corbyn, including ones in senior positions, espouse the left antisemitism which began to emerge in the years of the New Left and then spread like a cancer in subsequent years. But it is also very wrong, in the sense that the primary factor which galvanised support for Corbyn’s leadership bid was the fact that he was seen as, and presented himself as, the pre-Blairite Old-Labour anti-austerity leadership contender.

In an isolated moment of clutching at straws to back up an argument, Rich even cites preposterous claims by arch-Stalinist Andrew Murray and his fellow traveller Lindsey German that the Stop the War Coalition — now little more than a rump and a website — was the decisive factor in Corbyn’s
victory.

Such secondary criticisms apart, Rich’s book is a valuable summary of the historical development of left antisemitism in Britain: not just a timely reminder of older arguments but also a source of new insights into its emergence. And no-one should be put off reading Rich’s book by the fulsome praise which Nick Cohen has heaped upon it, albeit at the expense of ignoring and misrepresenting what Rich has actually written: “How a party that was once proud of its anti-fascist traditions became the natural home for creeps, cranks and conspiracists is the subject of Dave Rich’s authoritative history of left antisemitism. … Representatives of the darkest left factions control Labour and much of the trade union movement, and dominate the intelligentsia.”

Cohen once wrote a serious critique of sections of the far left at a certain stage of their degeneration. But now he just bumbles along as a political court jester and professional Mr. Angry. Rich, by contrast, is trying to open up a political argument.

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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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Corbyn – Smith hustings on Israel, anti-semitism, etc

September 19, 2016 at 8:40 am (anti-semitism, democracy, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, zionism)

img_1623

Hustings jointly organised by Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, JW3 and Jewish News. Recording of hustings at:
 
http://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/labour-hustings/
 
Hustings Twitter account at:
 
https://twitter.com/hashtag/JewishLabourDebate?src=hash
 
A lot of the tweets just don’t get the point. Comments on some of the tweets by Gary Spedding at:
 
https://twitter.com/GarySpedding
 

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The Corbyn Party and the Working Class

September 18, 2016 at 5:23 pm (class, elections, Guest post, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Marxism, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, workers)

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn Len McCluskey

Above: McCluskey and Corbyn, the leaders of the two wings of our movement

By Johnny Lewis

Corbyn’s victory in 2015 and what by all accounts will be a victory by an even larger margin later this month is the second attempt to remake the Labour movement – the first being Blair’s. Both differ from Gaitskell or Bevin – their political ancestors, as they have arisen at a time of fundamental change to the structure of class in the UK and throughout the advanced  capitalist world.  The essential consequence of this change in the UK has been the unions’ inability to overcome the competition between workers: it is this which informed both Blair and Corbyn’s rise and informs what the Corbyn party should do.

Competition between workers 

From the 1870s, for about a century the manual working class formed an overwhelming majority, of the population, and workers’ were concentrated in ever larger workplaces. Both its size and cohesive character determined how the ruling class had to rule, gave rise to the modern unions and the Labour Party – the labour movement which Marxists, socialists and Stalinists engage with. The centre of gravity for this constellation was the unions, and although their economic power ebbed and flowed their potential to struggle against the employer remained a constant threat to capital.

For the last 40 years developments in the accumulation process, primarily through growth in productivity, alterations in the international division of labour and technical advances have reordered work both the type of work workers do and how they work. For the first time in history we have a working class in which manual workers constitute a minority, while large workplaces have declined in number with an attendant rise of SME’s, outsourcing, sub-contractors the ‘gig economy’ and under-employment.  Combined, these changes to work have cracked and fractured the cohesive character of the working class. It is no longer possible, as EP Thompson did, to view the working class as one where shared material conditions had enabled them to arrive at an understanding of their social position. Gone then is a working class commonality of shared experiences with a set of common markers and understandings which arose from lifestyles and communities rooted in similar experiences of work. Today we have something approaching the opposite, where it is quite possible to find Thompson’s working class but it does not share a singular experience of class: rather there are many radically different practical experiences amongst workers. This redrawing of class would be of little consequence if it had not triggered the political and ideological fragmentation of class. If anyone needs proof of this, they only need to look at the post-2015 election analysis and the prognosis for 2020: commentators universally consider Labour’s chances of winning as  bleak. Not only will they have to win 100 seats, but the voters they need to win back are highly differentiated between North, South, inner city and suburbia, and of course Scotland – all have a different view as to what Labour should represent.

Under the impact of this transformation of class, the unions and the Labour Party entered parallel processes of prolonged change punctuated by more or less acute crisis, this manifests itself as a loss of an authoritative and coherent working class voice to articulate its interests, and it could not be otherwise.

Both class fragmentation and the loss of a working class voice have a single source they are a direct consequence of the labour movement’s failure to control competition between workers. As the Communist Manifesto makes plain `…This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves’.

Competition between workers is a natural consequence of capitalism, meaning that workers and their organisations are always confronted with how to overcome it, and the answer is always the same: organisation. However accumulation shapes what and how workers produce, consequently it shapes the organising tasks workers face. While the accumulation process (eg mass production) prior to the 1970s tended to homogenise class, developments since have generated the opposite. Of course the growth in competition between workers is not simply a product of changes in the accumulation process: rather it has facilitated capital’s victories over labour which have, in their turn, enabled the institutionalisation of competition at the workplace by government and through the legal system.

The unions’ inability to win is due to their inability to organise new types of employment and in most cases to stop the race to the bottom of many traditional workers. This is not because they don’t want to win, they don’t know how to and neither does anyone else – at this moment in time.

For the first time since before the great wave of industrial militancy, which began with the new unionism; unions’ are unable to function as the backbone of the working class as they are unable to defend workers’ economically. The corollary is political activity now dominates over economic struggles a situation entirely contingent on the unions’ inability to end the competition between workers. We are then functioning within the template of a fragmented class / weak labour movement. While this predates the miners’ strike it became part of the movement’s DNA with their defeat.

This is the context in which Corbyn and Blair should be understood as twins of a sort, both owe their ascendency to the competition between workers and both propose a resolution to it – albeit diametrically opposed solutions. For Blair the weakness of the movement and class fragmentation provided the potential to bury the institutions of the labour movement and with it class politics, throwing us back into a reworked liberalism – and he nearly succeeded. Corbyn aspires to offer the opposite, however to do that the movement has to answer the question how can we practically end the competition between workers or to put it another way how can we organise to unite our class?

Parallel worlds

The primacy of political activity has come to dominate what the movement does and it is also the hallmark of a radical activism which has sprung up since the crisis – all to the good. Now political activism is de rigueur there is also a prevalent view of equivalence between different types of political activity But this is not the case. Campaigning activity, demos, social movements, cannot offer a governmental alternative, if for no other reason than they are not mass movements they fall into the category of pressure or protest groups. Labour movement politics are different in that they focus on their own internal political struggles which have taken us from Blair to Corbyn and the need for a governmental alternative to stem or stop competition between workers. A Labour government including a Blair government, offers limited protection from competition. Blair’s introduction of the minimum wage is an example, while Corbyn’s proposal for mandatory collective bargaining would to all intense and purposes end the competition between workers. There is then a substantial difference between protest and the parliamentary politics of the labour movement, and it is equally wrong to counterpose one to the other as it is to think they are equivalent both are essential elements in any working class strategy.

Although political radicals and the far-left have got Corbyn (after a fashion), they spent the last two decades, particularly since the crash and until Corbyn’s victory, demanding a New Party (NP) and in effect calling for an alternative labour movement: the crassest examples being the Socialist Party (SP) and the SWP.

At bottom they rejected the reality of a fragmented class / weak movement template – a rejection which pushed them away from a class based politics towards a political radicalism. The most direct outcome was to detach them from the movement’s norms and rhythms and most importantly the political struggle by which it began to reform itself. The core justification for a NP was the notion that Labour was unreformable. This was always the propaganda of misdirection as the Blairites’ success was predicated on the support (active and passive) of the unions. However pusillanimous one may wish to paint the union leaders and however guileful the Blairites were, this was a matter of power – and the powerlessness of the unions decimated by relentless numerical decline and the collapse of their economic muscle. Any cursory understanding of the labour movement brings you back to this underlying problem of the weakness of the unions.

Those of us who insisted Blair’s project could be rolled back based our view on two propositions. First the dynamic which had propelled the unions to form the Labour party was, in the face of the anti-union laws (and the collapse of collective bargaining) reasserting itself. Unions need a political party to enable, what the Webbs called ‘legal enactment’ to counteract the decline of collective bargaining and legal constraints on the unions. This need and the Blairites’ unwillingness to countenance it, provided a potential for a fight-back within the party. The second factor was the CLPs. Historically party members have time and again shown an ability to form a left wing and struggle over control of the party. In spite of being hollowed out by wars and marginalised by party ‘reforms’, by 2010 the members were ready for change. Yet experience showed that outside support for the CLPD they were unwilling to organise, nor were the unions individually or collectively (with the partial exception of Unite) willing to push for change within the Party.

There was then a stalemate – which existed since at least 2010 – between a Labour movement, large parts of which wanted or needed to move beyond Blair’s party, and on the other hand the party machine and the MPs. With Miliband’s resignation those in the Party who understood it was essential for an anti-austerity candidate to beat Kendal got Corbyn onto the ballot paper by the skin of their teeth. As soon as he was nominated he became a conduit for those politicised to the left by the crisis and his victory showed in a starker manner than anyone believed possible, the mismatch between Blair’s party machine and the CLPs and associate members.

The significance of the leadership ballot remains, lost on the majority of NP advocates: they focus on the element of luck which saw Corbyn get nominated and on the potential of the Corbynistas. As in any endeavour one needs luck but such an argument obscures the activity of the many activists arguing with MP’s to nominate him and then organising and running his campaign. While focusing on the Corbynistas obscures the fact that the centre of gravity was the constituencies who threw off the dead hand of the party machine and reasserted control over the party – the act of a movement rather than a sect and which would be equally significant even if Corbyn had lost. We have witnessed a readjustment from below – something many Marxist did not believe possible and for sure played no part in – their absence highlighting the absurdity of the politics of the ‘alternative party’.

The rejection of the ‘template’ I have described (ie: of fragmented class / weak movement) also meant the rejection of the terrain and tempo of struggle it necessitated and the boundaries it imposed on the class struggle. These boundaries were replaced with the assertion (liberally peppered with bombast – listen to any SP or SWP speaker) of the alternative made possible by an act of will if only enough effort was expended. However much they asserted themselves it was not possible to break free of the constraints imposed by ‘the state of the class’ – if they could we would be living in a radically different political landscape.

This attempt to ‘jump over’ the fragmented class had the consequence of turning its advocates into the very opposite of what a Marxist organisation should aspire to be. Time and again ideas were overextend to the point of becoming irrational, illustrated by the assertion during the general election that there was little or no difference between Labour and the Tories and, yes, they (eg the SP’s front organisation TUSC) were a serious alternative to Labour. It was noticeable that the organisations supporting this perspective became increasingly illiberal and quixotic; guided by a hugely inflated self-image (the small propaganda group as the Party) chasing an imagined working class, they attempt to make history `under self-selected circumstances’, we have over the last decade or so been witness to a reprise of Third Period Stalinism as farce.

It seems highly unlikely they will reorient to see themselves as a tendency whose main task is one of contributing to the `organisation of the proletarians into a class’, instead they will, in all likelihood, recalibrate their alternative labour movement to run through the Labour Party. We will bear witness to politics as an historical reenactment society preforming the French turn with Corbyn in the role of Blum and the Party’s left as the ILP.

Although Corbyn’s victory has shifted the terrain and tempo of what is possible the fundamental constraints of a fragmented class remain intact. However it is inconceivable we will not see further attempts to `jump over’ the fragmented class not just by some Marxists but also from the influx of radicals buoyed up by Corbyn’s victory. For those who see class as central our question is how we practically organise class and this can only be done by linking existing struggles and anti-Tory campaigns to winning the working class to vote Labour. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Israel/Palestine: Corbyn and Smith back two states

September 15, 2016 at 3:20 pm (Andrew Coates, Human rights, israel, labour party, Middle East, palestine, reblogged)

Andrew Coates reports:

Image result for Labour friends of palestine

Jeremy Corbyn:

Dear Karl,

Thank you very much for your email from Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. I have read your six pledges and am in support of them all. I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.

I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.

I fully support a two state solution based on 1967 borders where a fully independent Palestinian state can exist alongside an Israeli state in peace. I would aim to aid the achievement of this by reaffirming the Labour Party’s decision, made under Ed Milliband, to recognize the state of Palestine and would lobby governments, multinational institutions and other political parties around the world to do likewise. I believe that this recognition is essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israel and Palestine.

Both British and American governments have rightly criticised illegal settlements in the West Bank. It is clear to me that the only hope of ending this policy is if the international community intensifies its pressure on the Israeli government. In order to further the peace process, I am, therefore, in support of targeted boycotts with the aim of requiring the cessation of all settlement activity.

To reduce the UK’s role in the perpetuation of this conflict, I have also called for the UK government to cease selling arms to Israel.

Whilst a lasting solution between Israel and Palestine is being sought, it is imperative that the matter of Israeli human rights abuses is addressed urgently. The siege of Gaza, the detention of civilians without trial (including the detention of children) and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life must cease.

I have previously called for, and will go on demanding, that the strongest possible protests be made to the Israeli government, with escalating consequences, if they do not uphold the human right norms we would expect all those seeking warm relations with Britain to maintain.

Jeremy Corbyn

LFPME

Owen Smith:

Dear Grahame,

Thank you for your letter on behalf of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East on this issue of profound importance. I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.

I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security. The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised, within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises. Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.

I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.

I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that, beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation. As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of LFPME makes an important contribution to that understanding.

I hope this reply is helpful and thank you for giving me the opportunity to set out my views in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Owen Smith

As signalled by AT and DO: and already being debated. 

Both Labour candidates back the “two state” position, a proposed “solution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.”

Without going into the complexities of this, not to mention the broader context of the conflicts in the region, the two statements show a great deal of common ground, within the Party, the left internationally, and, most importantly, within important sections  of the people affected.

The debate remains live on “targeted boycotts” aimed at illegal settlements, wider “boycotts”, or the justification for this kind of action against Israel, at all.

We agree with the views of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: opposing all-embracing boycotts of Israel as advocated by the BDS movement.

Boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS)

Barghouti is quite upfront that BDS ultimately means ostracising everything Israeli. The campaign is “working to expel Israel and its complicit institutions from international and interstate academic, cultural, sporting… environmental, financial, trade, and other forums. He soft-soaps that “groups that for tactical reasons support only a subset of BDS, or a targeted boycott of specific products or organisations in Israel, or supporting Israel, are still our partners. Boycott is not a one-size-fits-all type of process. What is important to agree on, though, is why we are boycotting and towards what ends”. He distinguishes between advocating such a targeted boycott as a tactic, leading to the ultimate goal of boycotting all Israeli goods and services, and advocating such a targeted boycott as the ultimate strategy. While the former “may be necessary in some countries as a convenient and practical tool to raise awareness and promote debate about colonial and apartheid regime, the latter, despite its lure, would be in direct contradiction with the stated objectives of the Palestinian boycott movement”.

Barghouti is also clear that the boycott of settlement goods alone is not sufficient. The BDS movement, he says,” views the approach of focusing on banning only settlement products as the ultimate goal – rather than the first, convenient step towards a general Israeli products boycott – as problematic, practically, politically and morally”. At a practical level “Israel has made it extremely difficult to differentiate between settlement and other Israeli products, simply because the majority of parent companies are based inside Israel or because colony-based companies have official addresses there”. Politically “even if distinguishing between produce of settlements and produce of Israel were possible, activists who on principle – rather than out of convenience – advocate a boycott of only the former may argue that they are merely objecting to the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of 1967 and have no further problems with Israel”. Finally, there is a moral problem with accepting these “two grave… violations of human rights and international law as givens”.

BDS may seem in the ascendant for now. It may make progress in places, on the back of the Israeli state’s next atrocity. BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region. It wants civil society, which includes not only NGOs and unions but bourgeois governments and business internationally to make things right for the Palestinians. There is another road. The Palestinian workers in alliance with Israeli workers fighting for a two state democratic solution to the national question, is the force that could deliver peace and much more besides.

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